Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Review: Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me Come Away With Me by Erika Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this novella!

I'm including it in Christmas, because it takes place in the week after Christmas.

This is the only book in the series I've read; and it did not matter. I enjoyed it so much I want to look for the other books in the series.

Skylar is the single mother of four year old Rocco. She was in college when she got pregnant; her high school sweetheart, who she had been with for years, abandoned her, leaving for LA to be a rock star. Since then she's managed on her own, as has a successful business. (Her business is a sort of fashion consultant/makeover business, and I didn't quite get how that works financially but hey it worked very well in the book.)

Jinx works at her brother's motorcycle shop: his specialty is artwork on motorcycles and he's really good. He's also had a crush on her for ages, but she's ignored him and given him the cold shoulder.

At the start of the story, she wakes up to the fact that hey, Jinx is a pretty good guy, why not open herself up to love? Reasons: she sees how good he is with her son; and she sees him with his new girlfriend and gets jealous.

Jinx likes what she does, observing how it's more than a new dress that gives people new confidence in themselves and their futures. So, he asks her to help with his mom, who has been in a rut / depressed for years.

Plot twist! Mom lives in Las Vegas, so road trip.

It's a romance, so of course it's also about them getting to know each other. And before you worry this is a cheater book: the new girlfriend, just that, is new; she's a good person, as is Jinx; and I'll just say that Jinx handles it honorably.

My only quibble is for how much it's "oh I'm a single mom," we see very little of her son, Rocco. He has gone to visit his paternal grandparents (his father may have been terrible, but his parents are great.)

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Review: One Charmed Christmas

One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In July, 2020 my family was supposed to take a Rhine River Cruise. Obviously, that didn't happen and who knows when we will be able to travel like that again.

One Charmed Christmas takes place on a Rhine River Cruise; it's during December, so it's all about Christmas and Christmas markets. Also, it's in a post-Covid 19 world. There are scattered mentions of "when Covid-19 hit" and lots of sanitizer; also a mention of bringing masks for a plane. But other than that, nothing about social distancing so it's a few years in the future, I guess.

Honestly: what I loved about this was it satisfied, a little, the travel bug. I mean, it's not the same as traveling but I enjoyed seeing what might have been. (And what may be).

Honestly: I did not really care for any of the characters. It's nice that there are a bunch of main characters so there are two main couples. And some are in their sixties, or older! I love when romance isn't just twentysomethings.

But, individually? Eh. I didn't feel any connection; and I also found some of them a bit annoying. There was a guy complaining how shallow all his girlfriends have been with little contemplation that he, not the women, is the problem. A maybe hypochondriac wants to marry a doctor so she'll always have someone to treat/diagnosis her. Someone else was so whiny, but had a legit complaint about how her kids didn't rally round after a sickness... and then at the end we found out she'd never told them. She just expected them to ... know?

Still. Want to go on a Rhine River Cruise, cannot afford it, or waiting for them to be offered again? Read this.

I know am thinking December, not July, may be the time to go!

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Review: The Twelve Dates of Christmas

The Twelve Dates of Christmas The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read some books and think, "movie." For this, I thought "miniseries."

Thirty-something Kate lives in one of those English villages that I think exist only in TV shows. Also she has one of those jobs that makes me think, "that's a real job?" She designs fabric. I'll say this: the details of how that is done, and where she gets her inspiration, had me answering that question with "oh, yes, and how fascinating."

It's quaint and since she grew up there, she has many friends. But there isn't anyone special so she signs up for a dating agency. But it's with a twist: twelve dates in December, "the twelve dates of Christmas." Each date is an event arranged by the agency (a cooking class, ice skating, hiking, etc.), and each one will be with a different person. Each chapter is a "date."

Kate and Matt are best friends from childhood, and he's dating someone else, but their chemistry is clear from the beginning and one of the delights of this book is seeing how they get to a place where it makes sense they can be together. That it does so even though he's dating someone else -- I won't give it away, but it's done very well and convincing and with no "bad guys."

Kate's dates are a mix, and it's very realistic: there are some with potential, some are "eh," some that she really likes. I love how she is willing to entertain the possible.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Review: In a Holidaze

In a Holidaze In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maelynn Jones is returning from her usual Christmas holiday: a week spent with family and friends in a cabin. Her parents friends from college have stayed in touch for decades. This tradition is so special to everyone that even after Mae's parents divorced, they all kept going to the cabin.

This year things changed for Mae, 26. After years of crushing on one son, she kisses the other. And she learns that the cabin is being sold -- the couple who own it just cannot keep it up anymore. In the car to the airport, a truck hits the car -- and the timeline is reset. The Christmas holiday week begins again, and this time, can Maelynn kiss the right man and save the cabin?

A fall down the stairs resets the timeline again. How many tries before she gets it right?

This is a nice, quick read for the holidays. I could easily see this as a made for TV holiday movie. I'll be honest, though: I never quite bought the chemistry between Mae and her crush, Andrew, so I was less invested in that and more interested in seeing how things repeated and changed during the repeating holidays.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Review: The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The end of the nineteenth century and there is no such thing as witches.

It's an alternate history, one where witches are real, except they have been persecuted and killed and they are no more.

Or... are they no more?

Three sisters, the Eastwood Sisters, once close, in a family, well, here is the description of their father: "Our daddy never taught us shit, except what a fox teaches chickens - how to run, how to tremble, how to outlive the bastard - "

Three sisters, once close, now on separate paths. One works in a factory. Another has just fled the family farm and is now joining the suffragettes. A third works in a library. Their paths are about to cross again.

I loved this: I loved the alternate history of witches, and how witches and power and magic could not be totally destroyed. I loved how the three sisters, with others, sought to rediscover their legacy and the world's legacy. I loved the world-building, and the mythology.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Review: Catherine House

Catherine House Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this book.

So, there's this special unique college/university called Catherine House: get admitted, and all expenses are paid, and all graduates go on to wonderful lives. The catch? You have to stay there for three years, with no (or very little) contact with your family. While at Catherine, you also don't talk about your past --family, friends, high school. All are your past, so not to be talked about. And other aspects of life are controlled: what you wear. What you eat. What you listen to.

Ines is starting her first year. She has secrets: she's running from things in her past, and what better place to hide than Catherine House? But as the years go by, she discovers that Catherine House has it's own secrets. One area of study is "plasm," something that is mystical and physical and maybe dangerous.

What this book does very, very well: it captures the college experience. Here, intensified because the students are always on campus with no weekends away, no time off. Who sleeps with who, who falls for who, who takes school oh so seriously and who doesn't.

It also does a good job of keeping secrets. We get hints of Ines's past, and find out that everyone at Catherine House has something in their past. Something that makes the three years at Catherine House oh so tempting. But frustratingly we never get the whole picture. Which can be good -- it's up to us to put the pieces together. To figure things out. To make our own conclusions.

We also don't learn what makes Catherine House function. In many ways, it's a run down place, but hey, it's free, so why complain? What does it matter? Yet I couldn't turn off the part of my brain that wondered about money and endowments and how long Catherine House could go on. And it also seems like there are some sinister things maybe never fully explained: like I never was sure why all the graduates had such guaranteed successful lives. It felt like it should be more than "elite school."

The ending was terrifying, both because of what was happening and what could happen. Ines has to make some choices, and what those choices are is uncertain. I'm not quite convinced about Ines's own feelings about Catherine House and herself and her future.

I'm still not sure what happens at the end and how to interpret it.

This book will stay with me, yes. And it's got atmosphere. And the relationships are true and honest in their depiction, the good and the bad.

But -- I have questions. And I want to talk about it. So I'd also call this a good book discussion group book.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So good and so scary.

So scary that I flew through the last pages, and then had to reread them, first to know what happened, then to understand what happened.

So. Noemi is a young woman from a wealthy family, floating from interest to interest and boy to boy. She's a bit trapped by the family, in that she wants more than marriage but her father has limited her education because it's not the done thing for girls of her class during that time period (it's the 1950s, Mexico City.)

Her cousin Catalina, newly married, sends a weird letter saying her new husband Virgil Doyle may be poisoning her and Noemi's father decides that Noemi should travel to the countryside to discover what's happening. So Noemi leaves the big city for this tiny village and WOWZA. (And it's because patriarchy and the 1950s and family pride that her father doesn't call the police or some such.)

You have: a decaying manor house, a once rich family still leaving like the lords of the manor, who are arrogant about outsiders. And, racist. Noemi needs to figure out what is going on and what to do about Catalina, and also try to figure out who in the family and the nearby village she can trust.

While there is a little of "is Catalina just crazy, or is something going on," and yes, this is a "something is going on" book and it's a doozy. And I won't spoil it, except it plays not just into usual haunted house tropes, and mysterious origins of family wealth stories, but also is about the Doyles' racism. And it's the type of book where you truly don't know where it is going and who will get out, if anyone.

Also good: the writing on a sentence level. Here, a description of a room: "his office was decorated in a modern style which seemed to echo the newness of the occupant's money."

More good: Noemi's wardrobe. Noemi's clothes are described in beautiful detail, and I loved it. I loved them on a superficial level, picturing it, and so able to play this movie in my head. But I also loved how in her own way, Noemi was like Cher from Clueless: yes, she seemed like just another rich and spoiled girl, but there was more to her, and her clothes are both message and armor.

Last point: the Doyle family patriarch, Howard Doyle, I totally pictured as Prince Philip. Which may or may not be deliberate by the author.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Review: The Haunting of Brynn Wilder

The Haunting of Brynn Wilder The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delicious ghost story! (or is it?)

Brynn has had a heck of a year: mom got very sick, and died. She broke up with her partner of two decades. She's unsure about her job. And her dog died.

So she's taking the summer to just relax, and what better place than a cute village on the shores of Lake Superior? She's staying in a hotel that used to be a boarding house, and the other people there are like her: staying for the summer, a little bit older, friendly.

If only the hotel wasn't haunted. Banging in the walls, a voice outside the door, rattling doors.

Another cool thing? A book with no real "bad guy." Just mysteries.

And! A great love story.

The ending was sweet and sad and there were enough clues that made me think yes, that makes sense.
One cool thing about this? It's the type of book were everyone is "ghosts? yeah, we believe you."

Monday, October 04, 2021

Review: You Let Me In

You Let Me In You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok. This is a weird one, and scary, and disturbing, and very open ended -- how reliable is the narrator?

Does the reader choose to read this as the narrator is telling the truth, and so you need to believe in evil fairies and a world of dark magic?

Here's the story: Cassandra Tipp, famous author, disappears, leaving a manuscript for her niece and nephew. It tells her life story, the truth behind not just her writing career, but also the tragedies:

Her murdered husband.

The trial.

The murder/suicide of her father and brother.

So either dark fairies have haunted her and her family; or, (as one of her doctor's suspects) something terrible happened to Cassie as a child and the "fairies" are the way her mind dealt with the unthinkable.

I know what I think! But this works either way, with clues and evidence that support both readings.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Review: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first post-Newbery read! I wanted something fun and this was perfect.

"Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts" -- does she? Or is it wishful thinking, talking to her best friend Abigail who went missing when both where teenagers.

Tuesday is now in her mid-thirties with a job she's good at, a good friend, Dex, and a life she likes. Sure, she's known as the woman who dresses all in black. And she is fine with being close to just a handful of people. And she doesn't talk much about herself, especially not about Abigail and the year she disappeared.

Everything gets upended when a rich, eccentric man dies at the event. And his last bit of eccentricity? A treasure hunt across Boston, for those clever enough and daring enough to join.

Tuesday finds herself pulled into the hunt --

And what a fun adventure! Perfectly made for adults like Tuesday and Dex, whose adult lives aren't quite as fulfilling as they wanted but hey, it pays the bills. And for Archie, a rich playboy with many secrets. And Dorry, whose mother just died last year. And for the assorted others who join the treasure hunt.

There's a bit of romance, some mystery, a hint of the supernatural, and a murder or two.

This is also delightful in terms of sentences -- I am a sucker for great sentences. Like "the quickest route out of childhood was a dead parent." 


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rereading a book is fun. And I confess, it's been way too many years since I read Pride & Prejudice.

I picked the Annotated one because, well, I wanted context and explanations, for things that the reader at the time would have understood, or what scholarship can now tell us.

It was a delight having all that information while I was reading.

My first read as a teen was as someone who didn't get the class differences at play here; they had servants so how where they not rich? Why would people take a walk around the room?

I better appreciated the class differences this time around. I also better saw that Mr. Bennet was part of the problem and hardly faultless. What an odd pair, the parents. And how little was done for the daughters.

I also appreciated the structure, the timing of what was going on when.

Also interesting: how in the background servants are. They are necessary and needed for the Bennets' life, and the lives of all around them, of course, but so little attention is given to them.

But of course what was best was the dialogue! Elizabeth! Darcy! Character growth! The look of a year in the life of a family, the ups and downs.

My big question for you all: what biography of Jane Austen do you recommend?

Review: The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this!!!

The Thursday Murder Club is a bunch of retirees in a retirement community who get together once a week to talk cold cases. They are a mix of people who wouldn't have been friends before, when they were each working and living in different areas of the country. Geography and shared interests have created friendships.

Meanwhile: a new cop in town, a woman who just transferred to the area, and her first big case.

Oh, yes -- because there has been a murder. So now the Club have a case that isn't cold at all.

I LOVED this. There was humor, yes; but it was also so real. The Murder Club members are smart and likable, each with different skills to contribute. And there were so many twists and red herrings, and it kept me guessing and wondering and trying to decide who were unreliable narrators.

I would love to see this as TV series: Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote meets Broadchurch.

I can't wait for the second book!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Review: Trailer Park Heart

Trailer Park Heart Trailer Park Heart by Rachel Higginson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ruby: grew up in a trailer park, with her mother (former stripper, now she manages the strip club.) Ruby dreams of leaving the trailer park and her town behind her.

Levi: rich boy who teases and antagonizes Ruby all through high school.

At a graduation party, Ruby sleeps with Levi's older brother, Logan. She gets pregnant, destroying all her dreams of escape. Logan dies before she can tell him; and since it was a one night stand, she doesn't tell anyone else.

Fast forward: Ruby is a struggling single mom, adores her son, works as a waitress.

Levi returns to town.

Sparks fly.

But the big secret of her son's paternity may destroy their relationship.

OK, there was a lot I liked about this story. At the start of the story, Ruby at 25 still sees the world and terms of us/them and slowly, she does begin to realize that's not how the world works. Everyone isn't against her. Part of the "trailer park trash" label is her judging herself and so she takes everything as a slight, an insult, a judgment. I like character growth.

I also liked the romance between Ruby and Levi.

And I like what Ruby is trying to do for her son, to have a better life, even if on the surface (raising her son in the same trailer she was raised) it looks like it's just repeating the mistakes of her mother and grandmother.

What I didn't like: Ruby's dreams for herself, not just for escape but also ambitions for her future, are all set aside to be a "good mom" but her end goal of "good mom" is so her son can do what she didn't: leave the town when he graduates high school. He's in elementary school, and she's already deciding what he should do as an adult; that he's going to WANT to leave. And I also didn't fully buy that Ruby's college dreams were all or nothing and never returned to.

I couldn't get a handle on Ruby's mom. I think she's supposed to be gruff? Hear of gold? Misunderstood? But honestly sometimes she was just really mean and flip flopped on how supportive she was of Ruby.

And while I liked that the town and the people in it were less judgy than Ruby believes, it was also too much of a turnaround from "ugh I'm the town pariah" to "hey everyone is actually nice.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Review: One by One

One by One One by One by Ruth Ware
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A chalet in the French Alps -- the only way you can get to it is to ski or by a funicular. I am not a skier, so I would not enjoy the skiing or snowboarding --

But! It's a beautiful chalet, rented out to folks (and companies) with money. Nine bedrooms. Staff are Danny, who cooks (and wow the meals that are described!!), and Erin, who does everything else. Not a skier, as I said, but I would like to be there to see everything and eat those meals.

This week's guests: the top echelon of an app called "Snoop." Ten guests. On the first full day the weather reports predict bad weather in the afternoon, with the slopes being closed, so the group skiies all morning -- a mix of abilities, a mix of who is having fun and who is doing it because you can't say no to the boss.

One last run. And only nine come back to the chalet.

And then -- an avalanche hits. They are stranded, isolated. No cell service. And then -- the first death.

And then another.

It can only be someone in the house.

This is told by two narrators, Erin, who is one of the staff; and Liz, one of the guests. It's no spoiler to say that when you have two narrators like this, who both have secrets, that one of them knows more than they are telling us.

The suspense was great; I guessed some things, didn't guess others; and loved the isolation and how that added to the tenseness of the situation, even before bodies started dropping.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review: This Is Not the Jess Show

This Is Not the Jess Show This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jess is a typical teenage girl in the 90s: she has a younger sister she loves, but who is really sick; she's got her friends, and sometimes they are drama but they are there for each other; there's a boy she's interested in; parents who love her but have busy jobs; and she's watching Titanic and etcetera etcetera.

Just as you are wondering WHY the 90s, you find out.

And so spoilers galore. Jess is actually living in the future, a few decades down the road, but her parents are actors and have gone one step further than a reTV show reality TV show. When Jess was born, they started a TV show that is semi reality (Jess is really their daughter! They are her parents!) and semi scripted: for reasons, they decided not just to set the show in the 90s but also to have Jess believe that the TV show is real.

This leads to some hilarious things, funny at least to the reader. Why is half the town down with a mysterious flu? Because the actors are on strike! Why does something terrible or drastic happen every spring? Sweeps and season ending cliffhangers!

There is also a lot to unpack, such as Jess being a loved daughter and also a product that has been bought and sold and packaged. Or that everyone she has ever met is a paid actor playing a role.

Sometimes when you're reading, you sit back and go "ok, but . . . ." Like, the fact that Jess's life was limited to just the town? I may be misremembering -- much is made of a trip to Disney that never took place, but there may have been summer trips to remote areas the could control. Still, most of her life was confined to just her town.

More spoilers: Jess decides to flee, but because the show is really all about her, her parents and the producers want her back at all costs. I enjoyed this part a lot -- seeing Jess figuring out how to escape, her reactions to the world outside, to realizing just how much a part of the world's pop culture she is.

I'm relieved to see this is marked as book one: because I'll be honest. Given how much of Jess's life had always been secretly managed; how all her choices were illusions; all along, until the end, even after, I had doubts about what was really going on. Let's just say, others help her in her escape. And I have questions.

I look forward to a book two to have either my suspicions confirmed or to learn more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Review: The Playground

The Playground The Playground by Jane Shemilt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disturbing and more sad than creepy. Or at least, not "horror" creepy, but more "people can be terrible" creepy. But people can also be good. Oh, people.

So: it's about a lot of things. But a mystery. Let's say it's a mystery, a murder mystery, and there are many clues as to what is happening and what is going on.

But it's also a look at the lives and loves of three very different couples, and the hidden and secret lives of children.

So: three couples, one pretty well off where the mother (Eve) has created the type of family and family experience she wanted for herself as a child. Which means that there's a big backyard that is wild and she gives the kids (11, 6, and 2) freedom to go and be themselves. Others would say, Eve isn't careful enough. Isn't watchful enough.

Then there is the dual professional couple, so busy with their professional lives they barely have time for each other but make sure that their daughter Izzy is always the center of their lives.

Lastly is the struggling family: he's a semi famous author, famous enough to impress everyone but not enough to pay the bills. They are kept financially afloat by the wife, but no one acknowledges that; she is also from Zimbabwe, and there's a bunch of stuff to unpack about the relationship that neither quite admits. Their kids are 11 and 9.

They come together because of the kids, and while we know something bad is going to happen, there is much of how "picture perfect" the friendships become: home made meals in that magical backyard of Eve's, the children all getting along, eventually even a joint trip to Greece. Beautiful images.


Images are not the truth.

There are fissures, issues, some of which the reader knows because the story is told from various viewpoints so we can see a forest when all those adults and children and the trees. Let's just say ... their is adult unhappiness and too much drinking and flirting with other people's spouses. There is a belief that children are innocent and so clues are missed about what is and isn't going on with the children.

Do not read this book if dead children is a deal breaker.

By the end: this is disturbing and sad. And you figure out some things before the characters, and others will surprise you. But this is also about surviving and renewal and moving forward for those who are still left.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review: Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great biography! I read this story of Louise shortly after I read one of Louisa, and so I thought it a bit interesting to think of the two of them, Louise Fitzhugh and Louisa May Alcott, and how they were similar and so different.

Here's the first thing: so, when I was reading "Marmee and Louisa," I thought of their poverty and how that drove LMA and wondered was it necessary to create the artist?

And then I read about Louise.

This was so fascinating, to read about Louise Fitzhugh. I appreciated that it began with the story of her parents, so this told of a family and a person starting with the jazz age and the ill fated marriage between a rich man and poor women who wanted to dance, and how that shaped their daughter. And then a look at life and growing up well to do in the South, an insider because of money and family, an outsider because of her sexuality and having divorced parents.

And then -- after 20 years in the south -- to New York! And a place where Louise could be herself and not hide her girlfriends and love. And this tells not just about Louise, but about New York City in the 1950s and 1960s.

And about Louise and her art: as an artist, a painter, a writer. And part of the art being Louise herself, as she invented and reinvented herself. And part of that was the stories she told others about herself and her family.

And here is what is interesting, a contrast to LMA. Louise Fitzhugh came from money and was left money, so she was able to pursue her art because of that money. She didn't have to "worry" about money. And yet-- that, too, drove her. Because she wanted to establish herself, do it on her own. Money drove her, like it did LMA, just in different ways. (So to go back to LMA and her awful father, my belief is LMA would have still written just with a less horrible childhood.)

Last bit: I had not realized just how young Louise was when she died. So young; and one wonders, what would have been her next act. What would she have done next. What she would have thought of the world changing, in some ways, catching up with Louise.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother

Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My reading on Alcott continues.

My dislike of Bronson grows. Marmee's life sounds like an even bigger nightmare than I thought.

Here is one of my favorite lines that is about Bronson, but also tries to explain the Marmee and Bronson relationship: "[Abigail] tended to idealize Bronson, as he tended to idealize himself."

ANYWAY. Enough about him. This is a great dual biography, of both Abigail May Alcott and her daughter, Louisa May Alcott. It also shows the time and place so well: Boston, in post-Revolutionary years; the New England world that Louisa grew up in; the details of how women make do. The last bit is especially fascinating: how the world tried to limit what women could do, and yet. And yet they did a lot, against so many odds. There is Louisa and her writing, her sister and her art; they also meet others, teachers and doctors and nurses.

And yet: there is so much they cannot do. Marmee does all the work, all the heavy lifting of supporting and feeding her family, but the ways she does that are limited and constrained. I found it especially interesting how many times taking in boarders was a way of earning money, and on my t0-do list once again is to take a look at the way our homes have changed and evolved.

So read this to learn more about Louisa; and how she was raised, and how she was driven to succeed, and how part of that was just to make enough money because of how poor they were. And how she saw how motherhood and career did not really allow for both and so choices were made. One wonders -- what would have been different if the family was not so poor? What would Louisa have achieved? Would Lizzie have died? Would Marmee have lived longer?

But also read to learn more about how people lived then -- a slice of life that is more than cold statistics.

Back to Bronson: I guess he gets some credit for what he was progressive about. BUT. In reading this, I thought the true progressive was Abigail's brother, Samuel Joseph May, and I have to say -- he is someone who is truly interesting, and did more and created more than Bronson.

Bronson was all talk. But I'll say this -- it does show that what he had charisma, and charm. Two factors that don't make one a great person, but does explain why just so many people liked him. Including, apparently, younger women.

He was just the worst.

I hope Marmee had happiness, despite him.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Review: Little Women

Little Women Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say I don't remember when I first read Little Women.

I remember not being sure of their ages, and that both Meg and Jo had to be old because they had jobs. I remember not getting references to things like the Pickwick Papers, but it didn't matter. I remember how real the relationship between the sisters was -- fights, making up, squabbles. I couldn't understand how they could both be poor and have a servant.

And since then, I've seen the various movies and TV series, and so now my memories are jumbled with those images.

So, of course, a reread was in order!

The first section -- the original stand alone -- was great. We are told their ages, I just didn't remember. And I liked the structure, just over a year in the lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

And how great that Alcott shows 4 unique characters from the very first sentence each one speaks.

I also loved how imperfect they each are; and how they each have dreams and hopes. And that self-sufficiency is important; and work is good. And that emotions are OK.

And Jo's anger! And her mother admitting anger! But now my first "but." But. Anger is a tricky thing; that Jo's anger and stubbornness, however justified, resulted in Amy getting hurt. Marmee offers help, but of the "how to conquer it" school, and unfortunately, it's also tied into her husband. For the record, my dislike of Bronson Alcott has influenced my feelings towards Mr. March.

Quick aside: yes, Bronson was wonderful in many ways, and progressive, and an intellect. He also did not do enough to support his family, or to keep them well and fed.

Anyway. That Marmee's advice gets into "your father is perfect and without faults so he helped me fight my own" was quite the "ugh" moment.

On to part two: this one covered so many years, that it was a bit jarring and harder to follow how time passed, especially after how tightly constructed the first was. And this was also the one that veered the most from the Alcott's own story.

The good: Jo and Amy both continuing their art, each in their own way, and Jo and her publishing.
Meg's misadventures of keeping house. The interactions between everyone; how realistic the family continues to be.

The not so good, to me; in both books, the veering into lectures got a bit much. The age differences between Meg and John, and then Jo and Bhaer. That Bhaer is so much like Mr. March, in that he is there to "teach" Jo. There is some of that with Meg and John, but at least there John is show to have faults and it's more mutual change.

I also want to eventually read one of the annotated versions of this, because the details that made sense at the time but raise questions now --- Some, like the casual mention of a rat at Orchard House. Others I can kind of guess at, like pins and collars.

Overall? Still holds up, and recommended if you haven't read it before.

I remember Little Men being one of my favorites, so that will be read soon.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Review: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A different type of biography -- a biography of a book, Little Women.

This had a quote that really stuck with me: "Our culture prefers girls to stay small, young, and full of potential." I thought of how true it is; and how often I see young girls cheered in the media, then condemned as the move from full of potential to making a choice.


So, of course, there is a short biography of Louisa May Alcott; and her writing; and the publication history of the book. All we "know", that the four girls are Louisa and her sisters. But the fiction is also pointed out: the setting is not when these girls were actually teens, and the family is more stable than the Alcotts, and what happens to the March girls doesn't mirror what happens to the Alcott daughters.

The publication history gets into editions, including how the original was basically a year in the life of the teenaged March sisters; the sequel spanned several years, bringing them into adulthood and marriage and motherhood.

This also dives deep into the adaptations as plays, in radio, on TV, on film. I want to watch them all, now, comparing them -- because it is so fascinating to see how the era when a film is made influences how the book is adapted, what is highlighted, what is omitted, what is added (and how often what is added dives into Alcott's own life.)

Yes, this is for Alcott fans. But, it's also a look at how art is created, and why; and how a story is interpreted and reinterpreted over and over.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

I've updated the About section, as well as the sections that list my publications and presentations. They were so out of date!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Review: Long Bright River

Long Bright River Long Bright River by Liz Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite an interesting mystery!

Set in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and one of the things I most enjoyed about this books was the setting of Kensington, the neighborhood and the people.

Next was the unreliable narrator, Mickey, and the truths she's not quite willing to share with the reader.

And Mickey: complicated and messy. Her life and family is complicated but what strikes me the most, what gets me the most, is she tries. And tries. And tries. Just as those around her try. But often fail, because we are human, and, also, because addiction.

Oh, plot? OK, plot. Mickey is a police officer; her sister is an addict and prostitute. Someone is killing women, killing prostitutes, and Mickey's sister has disappeared. No one seems to care, because they are poor and addicts and hookers.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Review: Daring and the Duke

Daring and the Duke Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

ARGH. I hate to say this, but this book didn't do it for me.

I LOVE Sarah MacLean. Love, love, love her books. But this one, and this series, just didn't work for me. I was actually hesitant to even post this, because I tend not to write about ones that don't like.

See how often I say "for me," because I know it may work for you? I think it's because the setting here veered too much to an alternate-England; an alternate history, and perhaps what I need to do is to reread this embracing that possibility. I also think it's because part of the alternate history is about the three Bareknuckle Bastards creating a world that, well, fixes poverty. Again, I'm torn: on the one hand, I like that the poverty of the time is addressed. Too many regency/historicals don't talk about class and poverty and just how bad it was for anyone who wasn't rich and connected. But, again, maybe I have to reread with a shift in how I view this and believe this, because I kept thinking -- things aren't changed. This isn't offering a different view, a realistic view, it's as much a fantasy as the Dukes and Ladies, except it's crime lords.

All that said, one thing I really liked was how easy it was to picture everything. Great descriptions; and strange as it may sound, I think if this was a series on Netflix or Hulu, I would like it.

I know. Just a book. I'm overthinking.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Review: For Black Girls Like Me

For Black Girls Like Me For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another flashback, to a book I read a few years back.

This is a heartbreaker.

Keda is eleven. She is moving cross country with her family, starting in a new place, New Mexico, because of her father's job. Keda is African American, the only one in her family, adopted as an infant.
Keda's mother was a musician; she still is, except her father's job took priority in the family and her mother plays less and less.

This is a story of a girl moving to a new place, and having to start again with new friends. A school that calls itself diverse, but the diversity does not include her.

Keda loves her parents; she loves her older sister, the miracle baby born to them.

For Black Girls Like Me explores transracial adoption, and the harms that even well-meaning, loving parents can inflict. Some of them I saw and winced; some of them I didn't realize until Keda pointed it out; and some I saw and Keda didn't make a big deal about because it is her life and she cannot make a big deal out of everything.

It is also Keda moving to a new place and the difficulty of making new friends and finding a place and a voice.

It is also about a mother who is sick and people don't know it. As an adult reader, I quickly picked up on the fact that her mother was exhibiting the highs and lows, the manic actions, of someone with bipolar disorder. Keda, her sister, and her father don't see it; and I imagine that most readers won't. They will discover it as Keda does. And this captures beautifully the heartbreak of being the child when a family member is sick, and feeling responsible, and feeling resentful.

All in all, a wonderful book about many things, and it works beautifully, and I am hopeful for Keda and think that readers will love her as much as I do.

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of a flashback; I read this a few years ago.

If anyone was wondering about how to write a book for middle schoolers about consent -- this is it. This book does a terrific job.

It's unsettling. Mila and her friends are in seventh grade and the beginning description shows them as typical seventh graders, some still interested in tag, others beginning to notice each other as more than friends.

Mila begins getting unwanted attention from a group of boys. It's mainly unwanted hugs, a hand brushing against a shoulder, that type of thing. Things she doesn't want; things that maker her uncomfortable; things that escalate. Things that some of her friends don't get ("it's because he likes you, you're just immature not to realize that") and that teachers don't see or understand ("ignore it, and it will stop.")

Mila handles it -- or doesn't handle it -- as best as she can. As an adult reading this? Yes it was upsetting but the resolution was great and I liked where Mila, and her friends, ended. Yes, this is a book where the reader can learn a thing or two (about empathy; about what not to do; about what to d0) but also can just enjoy a good book about a group of friends, and the changes in friendships and dynamics.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2021

2021 Newbery Committee

A big thanks to my fellow 2021 Newbery Committee members!

Chair Dr. Jonda C. McNair, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; 

Sarah Bean Thompson, Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, Missouri; 

Elizabeth A. Burns, New Jersey State Library, Talking Book & Braille Center, Trenton, New Jersey;

Timothy D. Capehart, Beavercreek Community Library, Greene County, Ohio; 

Arika J. Dickens, Sunset Elementary School, Bellevue, Washington; 

Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California; 

Hyunjin Han, Mandel Public Library, West Palm Beach, Florida; 

Susan Dove Lempke, Niles-Maine District Library, Niles, Illinois; 

Maren C. Ostergard, King County Library System, Issaquah, Washington; 

Dr. Linda M. Pavonetti, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan; 

David C. Saia, Heim Middle School, Williamsville, New York; 

Jo Phillips Schofield, Stark County District Library, Canton, Ohio; 

Eva Thaler-Sroussi, Wellesley Free Library, Wellesley, Massachusetts; 

Lisa M. Thomas, Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, Colorado; 

Alicia S.Q. Yao, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, California; 

and Award Administrative Assistant Gretchen Schulz, Schaumburg Township District Library, Schaumburg, Illinois.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, February 01, 2021

Newbery 2021

This time last year, I was starting the year of reading for Newbery with certain expectations.

As with everything in 2020, things didn't go exactly as planned. In-person meetings became Zoom meetings. Who knows what the planned celebration in June will look like?

But some things were exactly as planned: reading and rereading a ton of books. Rereading the rules and figuring out what "distinguished" means. Persuading, and being open to being persuaded. Becoming friends with the people on my committee.

And one big, unexpected bonus: being on the Newbery gave me a focus during this year. Now that it's over, I guess it's time to make a sourdough starter.

Oh, what did we pick?  

2021 Medal Winner

When You Trap a Tiger, written by Tae Keller, published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House.  "This masterpiece of magical realism is an evocative story of love, loss, and hope that brings Korean folklore to life. Through her halmoni’s tales, Lily learns that with stories we can share our past and shape our future."
“Keller’s riveting tale about the power of stories can help readers embrace the tiger within themselves—by displaying their strength and courage when necessary,” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Dr. Jonda C. McNair. 

2021 Honor Books

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, written by Christina Soontornvat, published by Candlewick Press.

Soontornvat skillfully describes the dramatic real-life rescue of the Thai Boys’ soccer team in 2018 by highlighting the teamwork of the cave divers and the drilling and medical teams which were crucial for the survival of the coach and the twelve boys. All Thirteen exemplifies superb narrative nonfiction writing.

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood, and published by Candlewick Press. 

Weatherford masterfully recounts the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, who shipped himself to freedom in a box. All 51 poems, with the exception of one, are sixains—representing the six sides of a box. The poems are filled with emotional intensity and have implications for the present day. 

Fighting Words, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House. 

Della depends on her fierce older sister Suki, especially after escaping an abusive home. In foster care, though, Suki begins to unravel. Bradley creates a survival story that transcends—addressing the toughest of topics with honesty, hope, and humor. Della’s powerful voice lingers long after the last page is turned. 

We Dream of Space, written by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Erin Entrada Kelly and Celia Krampien, and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

In the days before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the Thomas siblings navigate the dangerous space of middle school and the fractured constellation of their family.  With a deftly constructed 80’s backdrop, Kelly’s realistically imperfect characters struggle to connect, only finding success when they abandon their own lonely orbits. 

A Wish in the Dark, written by Christina Soontornvat, published by Candlewick Press.  

Told in the alternating perspectives of two memorable characters, Pong and Nok, Soontornvat sets this story in the Thai-inspired world of Chattana, where light and dark symbolize contrasts between the rich and the poor. A timeless, yet timely, fantasy that highlights social disparities and the value of friendship and justice.

Link to the ALSC webpage with the announcements, where I got the descriptions from: Welcome to the Newbery Medal Home Page.

The ALA Press Release for the 2021 Youth Media Awards

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy