Book Review: The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August
by
Anne Rivers Siddons

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m working on my library’s summer reading Bingo card and picked The Girls of August to fill one of the squares, to read an eBook from the library’s staff picks.

The Girls of August is a beach read about four southern women, Madison, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda, who become best friends when their husbands are in medical school. Every August since, they’ve rented a beach house for an all-girls week of sun, wine, food and gossip. The story, narrated by Madison, opens when the women are in their forties. After a three-year lapse, plans are underway to meet again, but this time it will be without their beloved Melinda, who died in a tragic accident.

After much discussion, the women agree to meet at a new place, but there’s a catch. Melinda’s husband has remarried and his new wife has volunteered to host. Problem is, the new wife, appropriately named Baby, is a free spirit and twenty years younger. She’ll never be able to fill Melinda’s shoes.

Baby’s house is located on the remote fictional Tiger Island where Baby grew up, among the Sea Islands of South Carolina. The women will be all alone, for two weeks this time, except for the Gullah people who live on the other side of the island. The house is gorgeous and fully equipped and Baby shows it off with pride. Madison, Rachel and Barbara settle in, but they can’t let go of Melinda’s memory. To ease their pain, they target Baby with snide remarks and eye rolls. To be fair, Baby is a puzzle. On the surface, she’s immature, acts erratically and prances around the rooms and on the beach half-naked and sometimes naked! Is she reacting to the women or are the women reacting to Baby? In addition Madison senses trouble with her dear friends. Barbara hasn’t stopped drinking since they arrived and Rachel’s dark mood frightens her.

Small calamities, storms and plenty of drama frame this story about friendship and acceptance. To be honest, these weren’t my kind of women. The older friends are selfish and petty, the kind who wield power from inside their clique. Readers will learn more about Baby’s life and why she acts mysteriously. That makes her the most relatable, but none of the characters are fully developed. Siddons also brings the culture of the Gullah people into the story to tie together some of the plot lines. I thought this was the most interesting part of the book.

Anne Rivers Siddons was an American writer of nineteen novels, including The House Next Door (1978), Peachtree Road (1988) and Outer Banks (1991). I realized later that I read Peachtree Road years ago! The Girls of August (2014) was her last novel. Reader reviews suggest it wasn’t her best and I’m thinking about going back to her earlier books to get a better taste of her stories, including Peachtree Road because I don’t remember much! Have you read any of Siddons’ books? Which would you recommend? Leave a comment!

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Book Review: Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

Sea Wife
by
Amity Gaige

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You don’t always know what you’re going to get when you pick a random book off the shelf. As a reader, I sometimes feel boxed in by reading lists. So I occasionally like to choose books spontaneously. I picked Sea Wife during my latest Read React Decide YouTube video. It took me a bit of time to get to it, but I’m so happy I did. I also thought it was especially good to read during the summer, since it’s a book about sailing. Good timing, even though I take no credit!

I had never heard of Sea Wife, published in 2021, but it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I’d describe it as suspenseful literary fiction that looks at the complexities of marriage and parenthood.

What would you do if your spouse asked you to pick up and embark on a year-long sailing trip in Panama? Michael Partlow had been feeling the itch to get away from suburban life in Connecticut. Restless and distracted at his job, he finds himself hanging around a marina during his lunch hour. There he meets Harry Borawski, a boat dealer, who helps him find a 44-foot sailboat. Harry may be trying to close the deal when he tells Michael, “What you want is a holy human right, and you shouldn’t give it up… to feel the burden of carrying your own life,” but there’s truth in what he says.

Now it’s just a matter of convincing his wife, Juliet that a trip like this with their two young children, seven-year-old Sybil and two-year-old George, is what they desperately need. Michael may be restless, but Juliet suffers from debilitating depression. Motherhood is not what she expected. She’s inches away from earning her PhD in confessional poetry, but can’t seem to finish.

Michael is ultra-prepared but problems are inevitable and the family must rely on each other to get through storms and other difficulties. The children adapt, the family begins to enjoy their life at sea and Juliet emerges from her depression. Michael and Juliet also confront long-simmering serious conflicts in their marriage (many about politics). What they don’t know is if they can overcome everything that happens.

Gaige tells the story from two points of view: Juliet’s first-person account of their trip, told upon the family’s return, and Michael’s sea log which reads more like a diary. Readers sense a tragedy, adding a layer of suspense to the book.

I liked this book very much. It’s a fast read because you’ll want to know what happened. But it’s also a deeper look at marriage and parenthood.

I also made a short video about the book. I surprised myself by something I said!

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Book Clubs – they come and go and now they’re on Zoom!

A couple days ago, I read an excellent post by Donna at Retirement Reflections about the benefits of being in a book club. Donna knows her stuff. She is a book club pro!

Book clubs have changed a lot over the years. And the pandemic has moved a lot of book groups to Zoom and other virtual formats. That hasn’t stopped Donna and her friends from having fun by jazzing things up with drop-off treats (that means snacks and wine) to enjoy together during their Zoom. Way to go, Donna – you guys do things right!

Years ago, I was in three clubs, but life got busy and stressful. My main in-person book club fell apart and my Facebook group has become inactive because it needs a logistical overhaul. Now I’m only in the mystery book club at my library job. It’s a great group and the Zoom format has attracted new people. One friend attends during her lunch hour and that could never have been possible for an in-person meeting. I think people are a lot more comfortable with virtual book clubs now that we’ve ironed out the kinks.

My first book club started in 2001. We were a bunch of new moms and we met every month at each other’s houses for nineteen years, as soon as we got our babies to bed. I often got home well after midnight! Ack – I can’t believe I had that much energy back then!

Last night I looked at the list of books we read. Our first book was The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. You can view the complete list here.

Here are six books I missed that I would like to read now.

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The World to Come by Dara Horn

Are you in a book club? Do you meet in-person or virtually? Leave a comment!

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Man books – books with “man” in the title

We see our fair share of books with “woman” in the title, so I thought it would be fun to see what “man” books are out there. Turns out plenty! I’ve only read one of these, but many of the books listed here are from bestselling authors. I included one steamy one, so read that one at your own risk 😉

Here are 10 “man” books and there are many more! All links and descriptions are from Goodreads, Amazon or my blog.

A Better Man by Louise Penny – I’ve read a few Louise Penny books, but not this one. Book 15 in the Armand Gamache series. Catastrophic spring flooding, blistering attacks in the media, and a mysterious disappearance greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he returns to the Sûreté du Québec in the latest novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny.

A Gambling Man by David Baldacci – Book 2 in the Archer series. Aloysius Archer, the straight-talking World War II veteran fresh out of prison, returns in this riveting #1 New York Times bestselling thriller from David Baldacci.

The Gray Man by Mark Greaney – Book 1 in the Gray Man series. To those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham – John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction: a true crime story that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence. “Both an American tragedy and [Grisham’s] strongest legal thriller yet, all the more gripping because it happens to be true.”—Entertainment Weekly

The Lost Man by Jane Harper – This is the one I’ve read: Nathan and Bub Bright were shocked when their middle brother, Cameron died in the outback’s unrelenting heat. It didn’t make sense that he’d had gone out on foot to the legendary Stockman’s Grave, miles from his truck and the family’s cattle ranch. At forty, Cam was a successful and capable rancher and ran the family’s business. And he knew the dangers of the desert heat. Despite signs that Cam was desperate to find shade, investigators suggest that Cam took his own life.

The Memory Man by David Baldacci – Book 1 in the Amos Decker series. Amos Decker’s life changed forever–twice. The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect–he can never forget anything.

Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw – I’d forgotten about this one! This New York Times–bestselling saga of two brothers in postwar America, the basis for the classic miniseries, is “a book you can’t put down” (The New York Times).

This Man by Jodi Ellen Malpas  – Steam warning!! Named one of “The 20 Greatest Ever Romance Novels According to Goodreads Reviews” by O, The Oprah Magazine. Young interior designer Ava O’Shea has no idea what awaits her at the Manor. A run-of-the-mill consultation with a stodgy country gent seems likely, but what Ava finds instead is Jesse Ward—a devastatingly handsome, utterly confident, pleasure-seeking playboy who knows no boundaries…

Have you read any of these “man” books? Leave a comment!

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🆕On YouTube today: all-new Read React Decide!

Hi Everyone,

I’m on YouTube today doing an all-new Read React Decide. I grabbed three books from the library, picked random passages and chose one book to read. Something silly happened in the middle – I hope you’ll get a chance to watch! 😅

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Who’s That Indie Author? Mark Paxson

Author Name: Mark Paxson

Genre: Primarily literary, but a little bit of everything, including a legal drama (my first novel), and a domestic thriller (my current WIP)

Books: One Night in Bridgeport; Shady Acres and Other Stories; The Marfa Lights and Other Stories; Deviation; The Irrepairable Past; and The Dime

Bio: A semi-retired government attorney, I live in California. Two adult sons, two dogs, a wife, and a whole bunch of interests like painting, writing, cycling, hiking, gardening, cooking and baking that keep me motivated to keep exploring.

What got you started as a writer? I’ve always been a voracious reader but didn’t believe I could write, although I spent years imagining writing a novel. One day, almost 20 years ago, I outlined a story in my head on my drive home and I’ve been writing ever since.

What is your writing routine? I have a bit of a block that has lasted for a number of years and I allow all of life’s distractions to deprive me of a writing routine. But … these days, I write when I can and am making a little bit of headway. Typically Saturday or Sunday afternoons when I’m simply worn out by all of the distractions.

What route did you take to get published? With my first novel, I tried a little bit to get an agent. Without success there, I turned to what was then CreateSpace to publish a paperback and used KDP to publish the eBook. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. With my last novel, The Dime, I tried again to get an agent without any success. I apparently don’t know the secret handshake.

What things do you do to promote your books? I have two blogs that I use to share news about my writing and publishing. I also use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook but not relentlessly like some authors. When I publish something, I post and tweet about it. And occasionally when I get a good review, I’ll use that to remind people that I’ve got books out there. I also try some of the promo sites, but have found almost no success with them lately.

What is your favorite genre to read and why? This may be the most difficult question to answer. I’ll read anything. The books that have the most meaning to me are the ones that make me feel something deeply. I’m not ashamed to cry while I’m reading.

Do you prefer to write dialogue or description? Dialogue. I’m not a fan of a lot of description when I’m reading and I think that comes across in my writing as well. I want to leave things to the reader’s imagination and just tell the story. If the description isn’t relevant to the story, I try to avoid it.

Have any of your characters ever surprised you? Did this change the plot of your book? I’m a pantser so I’d have to say that my characters don’t surprise me. I generally start with an idea, a concept, and then I start writing. The entire thing is somewhat of a surprise for me as a result, which is what helps me write. It’s when I figure out the “rest of the story” when the block settles in because the surprises are over.

What is the most difficult thing you have accomplished in your life? Raising two boys to adulthood. Nothing else compares.

What three events or people have most influenced how you live your life? I can’t deny the influence my parents had. My dad was (still is at the age of 89) a writer. My parents gifted to me a love of reading and my mom has always been one of the biggest fans of my writing. And then there is the birth of those two boys—two little munchkins who changed my life forever.

What would you tell your younger self? Be bolder, don’t be so scared.

Have you ever met up with a bear on a hike? If so, what did you do? If not, are you looking up what to do right now? Great question. No and I hope I never do. Where I hike, I’m more concerned with mountain lions. All I know is “make yourself as large as possible!”

You’re locked in your local library for the night with no dinner. Thank goodness you have water, but you only have enough change to buy one item from the vending machine. Choices are limited to Fudge Pop Tarts, Snickers or Doritos. Which would you choose and why? Totally a Snickers. Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts are the only ones worth eating. Doritos are meh. Snickers has everything that makes a candy bar a candy bar.

What’s the largest number of people you’ve had in your kitchen at one time? Probably around 10-12. I make pizza and occasionally have pizza parties. Instead of hanging out elsewhere, most of the attendees like to hang out in the kitchen while I make the pizza.

Closing thoughts: Thanks for giving me this opportunity to share my writing. I’m a big fan of indie writers and think we need to do everything we can to support each other.

Website and social media links:
Blog: kingmidgetramblings.wordpress.com
Website: markpaxson.com
Writers group: writerssupportingwriters.com
Twitter: @mkpaxson


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

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

The Booker Prize – what’s it all about?

It occurred to me last week that I didn’t know much about the Booker Prize. First established in 1969, the annual prize is awarded to the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Each year a new panel of five judges votes on the best book. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. The winner also receives global recognition and is what the Booker Prize website calls “a prize that that transforms a winner’s career.” It’s actually a big business and publishers also get into the thick of it when they nominate potential winners.

You can read all about the history of the prize here.

There is also the International Booker Prize, for a book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

The prize has had plenty of controversy. In 1980, Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers) was up for the award, along with William Golding (Rites of Passage). Burgess demanded to know the winner ahead of time and said he wouldn’t attend if Golding won.

Anthony Burgess – Wikipedia

According to anthonyburgess.org, “Burgess did not attend the ceremony, reportedly informing Martyn Goff, the administrator of the Prize, that there was ‘no way I’m putting on evening dress and coming unless I know I’ve won’. Looking back, Burgess claims that missing out on the Booker didn’t cause any anxiety. ‘It was evident to me,’ he writes. ‘that my novel was not Booker material.”

In 2019, the judges split the award (and the prize money) between two authors: Margaret Atwood (The Testament) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other). Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize and critics were outraged that she had to share it with another author. When asked if she would have preferred to be the only winner, she replied, “What do you think? Yes, but I’m happy to share it. That’s the kind of person I am.”

Pictured below: Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo.

I’ve read a few of the winners – all excellent (The Blind Assassin by Atwood, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) and I recognize several others among the winners. But otherwise, most of the books on the list of winners have passed me by. This may be too literary a list for my tastes!

You can see all the winners here.

What do you think? Do you regularly read the Booker Prize winners?

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Thanks to the following sources:

thebookerprizes.com
The Booker Prize – Wikipedia
britannica.com
 “Backlash after Booker awards prize to two authors” from The Guardian
“Inside the Booker Prize: arguments, agonies and carefully encouraged scandals” from The Guardian
Anthony Burgess – Wikipedia
Burgess’s Booker Prize nomination from anthonyburgess.org

Book Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

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Shuggie Bain
by
Douglas Stuart

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I couldn’t stop reading this award-winning debut novel about a young boy, his alcoholic mother and the family’s efforts to either set Agnes Bain straight or run away fast. Shuggie Bain won the 2020 Booker Prize and was a finalist for several other awards including the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. In 2021, the American Library Association named it a notable book for adult fiction.

Set in Glasgow, Scotland during the post-industrial 1980s, this autobiographical coming-of-age story follows young Shuggie Bain and his working-class family over a period of eleven years. In 1981, Agnes, her husband, Shug and their three children live with her parents in a cramped tenement apartment in Sighthill. Catherine and Leek, teenagers from Agnes’s first marriage, are desperate to escape. Agnes drinks, Shug drives a taxi on the night shift and cheats on her between fares. Agnes’s parents look back at the mistakes they made with their only child. And Shuggie, at five, already knows he’s different but he can’t articulate why. And he can’t distance himself from Agnes. He needs his mother.

Shuggie is six when the family moves to public housing in Pitthead, an abandoned mining town. With no work, the men drink and the women struggle to feed their large families. Agnes, however, thinks herself better than the other women. And although she’s careful with her appearance and keeps the house clean, inside, she drinks away their weekly benefits. On the days when Shuggie goes to school, he comes home to find her slumped in a chair, with empty cans of lager wedged in the seat cushions.

Can you say you loved such an ugly and depressing story? I don’t know. All I can say is that I became completely invested in the characters. Like Shuggie, I hoped that Agnes would pull herself together and that he would be okay. I felt sad when the neighborhood children and his classmates abused him for being a “poof,” a term he didn’t even understand, let alone his own sexuality.

Ironically, Agnes has taught him to hold his head high, something that contributes to his resilience. When Shuggie calls a cab to retrieve her from a drunken party, the driver remarks at how put-together he is for an eleven-year-old. He asks him if he’s headed to a party. “Well, kind of. I also just think it’s important to always look your best,” he tells the man.

And later, with nowhere to go, Shuggie turns to Leek who gives him some hard advice. “How am I meant to raise you? What have I got? No one can help you, but you, Shuggie,” he says.

The author tells an unforgettable story in Scotland during a period of great hardship in which factories, mines and industries were shut down, during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister. A divide between Catholics and Protestants also contributed to tension and violence in Scotland. So a story in a story, another mark of an excellent book. This book reminded me of the memoirs Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Educated by Tara Westover. So if you liked those you would like this one.

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Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic
by
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I picked up Mexican Gothic because of its beautiful cover and because I liked the title, knowing little about the book. Wow, what a story and even more so when you know the back story!

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950 in the fictional ghost mining town of El Triunfo and is based on the actual town Real del Monte. Before the War of Independence in 1810, mines in Mexico were run by the Spanish who used cheap Indigenous people for labor. After the war, the British arrived and took over the mines. Mexican Gothic is about the English family, the Doyles, who have owned El Triunfo’s silver mine for generations and live in an English-styled mansion called High Place. The estate has fallen into decay, however, because the mine has been closed, due to floods and a recurring epidemic that killed most of the workers. From the get-go, readers know there is something strange about this reclusive family.

The story’s main character, Noemí Taboada, is a debutante from Mexico City, sent by her father to check on her cousin Catalina, who has recently married the handsome Virgil Doyle. Catalina had sent the Taboadas a strange letter, claiming she was being poisoned, yet Virgil replies that Catalina is fine and not to worry.

Noemí arrives at High Place and is struck by its eerie atmosphere and the condition of the house. A persistent fog engulfs the place and mold is everywhere: on the walls, in books and possibly in the air. In addition, there’s an air of secrecy about the family’s history. Her cousin Francis seems okay, but his mother, Florence tells her right away about the rules. No talking at meals, no hot showers, no leaving the place and no smoking. In addition, the place is mostly in darkness, lit by only a few bulbs. Virgil seems okay. Noemí had always thought him charming, but something is off…

More alarming is the ancient Howard Doyle, the family patriarch who on the first night tells Noemí all about his interest in eugenics. He’s in poor health due to an unnamed old injury and spends most of his time in his bedroom. Despite his physical absence, Howard’s influence is everywhere. What’s that buzzing sound in the walls and what is up with the scary Doyle crest that is everywhere, a snake eating its tail? Catalina looks mostly okay, but the things she says convince Noemí that something bad is going on.

Mexican Gothic is exactly what the title says, but it’s also a supernatural horror story and uses all the tropes from these genres. I raced through the early chapters because of how easily it began and later because, well you just need to know what’s going on! What made me really appreciate the story is the way the author used Mexico’s history and setting to frame the plot. Themes of race, misogyny, women’s rights and women’s mental health also figure prominently.

I recommend Mexican Gothic to readers who like gothic and horror and anyone who likes a good story.

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Are you a catch-up reader?

I don’t know about you, but something happens when I don’t get around to reading a popular book right away. As time passes, the chance that I will pick it up becomes slimmer and slimmer. Part of me thinks, well if I read it now after all this time, no one will want to talk about it with me. Because it’s fun to talk about something you liked that everyone is buzzing about too.

I like to think I’m a catch-up reader, but I don’t know if I truly qualify. Here are ten fiction books I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t. I still want to read them, but too many other books have gotten in the way. Should they be on a priority list or should they stay lost in my big pile of TBRs? I don’t know.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Are you a catch-up reader? What’s your strategy? Have you read any of these? Leave a comment!

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