Almost Famous Women. Finished 2-8-17, rating 4.5/5, short stories, 236 pages, pub. 2015
The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader’s imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions. from Goodreads
I don’t read short stories. I like big books where I can really get to know a character and spend time with a story that has the time to develop and take a few twists and turns. But for book group this month we read Almost Famous Women and I was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, I was the only one since the other seven ladies didn’t care for it as a whole.
Each story started with a picture of the woman so that you could have a visual when you were reading and that was important for the first story.
Violet and Daisy Hilton were joined at the hip, literally. This one was both disturbing and fascinating. People that you know showed up in the stories, Marlene Dietrich, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Lord Byron, Butterfly McQueen, Beryl Markham…but like the title says, most of the women in the book were almost famous. I liked some more than others but particularly liked the one about Joe Carstairs and her private island, Romaine Brooks and her very creepy nurse, and Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter broke my heart. I liked the mix of known and unknown and it made me check out more information on a few of the women.
The book group as a whole found the stories needlessly depressing and I can’t really argue on that point. They were dark. There was a PTSD link in a few and more than one death. We all noticed a homosexuality thread throughout the stories. Most of us could pick out a favorite story or two and the book read really fast so that’s a plus.
So, I really liked it but I was the only one. Read at your own risk 🙂
This counted as one for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, story collection by a woman.
Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey by Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh and Ken Harbaugh
Here Be Dragons. Finished 1-9-17, 4.5/5 stars, parenting, 204 pages, pub. 2016
Before our three kids, we had been decent people. Interesting even. One of us had taught Shakespeare to gang members while the other flew reconnaissance missions off North Korea. But our own children had proven our biggest challenge. We were passionate and service-driven folks, except we were not demonstrating this to our kids. We spent so much time trying to be good parents that we forgot to be good people.
Something had to change.
Two parents challenge one another to find balance between work and family life. Their stories are both uproarious and poignant as they raise children and strive to leave their mark on the wider world. Filled with tender moments and plenty of laughs, Here Be Dragons recounts the adventures of a family trying to stay afloat, and offers a life raft to the rest of us in choppy waters. from Goodreads
When Annmarie emailed me about reviewing the book she had written with her husband it was plum luck that I read it. I confess that I am a book blogger who very rarely opens up requests from people I don’t know. For some reason I clicked it open and saw that that it was being published on my birthday and that Annmarie and her family live in the Cleveland area so I asked her to send me a copy. What fun it was to read about Annmarie and Ken’s journey to parenthood and beyond. I don’t usually use an author’s first name unless I know her but after reading the book I feel like I do and you will too.
Annmarie and Ken met in college and were friends who eventually saw a future together. Both independent and driven they each sought to make a difference in the world, sometimes that meant they were in the same place on a map, but often it didn’t. They married and had kids. Usually this is where the story would become all about raising baby and how life stopped, but that isn’t what happened. Amidst the trials of being a first-time stay-at-home mommy (been there and Annmarie made me laugh with her spot on observations) Annmarie and Ken still strived for more adventure, more purpose.
Their search for adventure and purpose has led them to live from coast to coast and in Ken’s case continent to continent, again, sometimes together and sometimes not. More babies came but that didn’t stop them from moving when they felt called to do so. They spent several years in the village next door (the one I’m always trying to convince Jason we need to move to) before heading to California with three kids and a packed car.
These are two parents trying to teach their kids what it means to be fully engaged by living a fully engaged life themselves. Their giving spirits come through loud and clear. They show the ebb and flow of a marriage with kids and they do it with warmth and humor.
The book is told in alternating voices. They are both skilled writers so the book is beautifully written. If you google them you can find links to some of their writing (Annmarie has quite a few pieces I loved on Huffington Post). They also have a blog.
Ken spends a chapter or so writing about his time with Team Rubicon. They put veterans to work in disaster areas and it looks like a great program that would do good things with a donation.
I really liked this one and think any parent will too. They have given me inspiration to do more (and move to Chagrin Falls ;)).
D is For Deadbeat. Finished 9-10-16, rating 4.5/5, mystery, 307 pages, pub. 1987
When Alvin Limardo walks into P.I. Kinsey Millhone’s office, she smells bad news. He wants Kinsey to deliver $25,000. The recipient: A fifteen-year-old boy. It’s a simple matter. So simple that Kinsey wonders why he doesn’t deliver the money himself. She’s almost certain something is off. But with rent due, Kinsey accepts Limardo’s retainer against her better judgment…
When Limardo’s check bounces, Kinsey discovers she’s been had big time. Alvin Limardo is really John Daggett—an ex-con with a drinking problem, two wives to boot, and a slew of people who would like to see him dead. Now Kinsey is out four hundred dollars and in hot pursuit of Daggett.
When Daggett’s corpse shows up floating in the Santa Teresa surf, the cops rule the death an accident. Kinsey thinks it’s murder. But seeking justice for a man who everyone seemed to despise is going to be a lot tougher than she bargained for—and what awaits her at the end of the road is much more disturbing than she could’ve ever imagined…
This fourth of the series was longer than the others and therefore able to provide more plot and suspects, two things I enjoyed. I love Kinsey. She’s independent, tough and flawed (I might even call her a nasty woman). The only thing about reading this beloved series from the beginning is that they can sometimes feel a little dated. This was published in 1987 so no cell phones, Google or 24 hour news.
I really like this series and while I missed a few of the usual folks I did like the extra-large edition.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Finished 8-22-16, rating 4.5/5, fiction, pub.2012
Unabridged audio read by Amy Rubinate. 12 hours.
1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again. from Goodreads
Fourteen year old June loved her Uncle Finn and his death of AIDS had her experiencing a grief that no one could really understand until she met Toby and let him into her life. Reviled by her family, Finn’s boyfriend of nine years, draws June into his world, a very adult world, but one with shared loss. The two form an odd relationship that helps them both cope with a life without Finn. Greta, the over-achieving older sister and once best friend, is crying out in her own way and the portrait done by her famous-in-the-art-world uncle before he died, in its secure hiding spot, became a way for the sisters to communicate without words. June’s life will never be the same.
I really don’t want to say a whole lot more about he plot of this debut novel. There are so many layers to the relationships that it’s best read with a fresh mind so that you can form your own opinions, and you will have them since this novel pushes more than one button. Perfect for book group discussion.
Will this end up on my favorite list at the end of the year? I don’t know. In some ways I didn’t even like it, but in others it will stay with me in its richness. It’s an old one and lots of you have read it. What did you think?
Bad Luck and Trouble. Finished 4-12-16, rating 4.5/5. thriller, 477 pages, pub. 2007
I went back and read my reviews of the first 10 books of the series because I’m running out of ways to describe the mysterious Jack Reacher. I’m going to give you a taste of what I’ve sad in the past.
“Jack Reacher is a man’s man, but one that women are drawn to because of his sheer masculinity and unavailability. He is who he is, take him or leave him and that confidence and physical presence makes him a force to be reckoned with.” (Die Trying)
“Many series have a main character or two and many recurring characters. This series only needs one, loner extraordinaire, Reacher. He’s a badass. He makes his way around the country righting wrongs and fighting injustices. He doesn’t have a home, an ATM card, close friends, but he does have a heart and lots of confidence. He’s retired military police so he knows his stuff and his talents and he is not afraid to give into his baser instincts for vengeance. Oh, and he absurdly attractive to women. Me included.” (Without Fail)
“Jack Reacher, loner extraordinaire, wasn’t always such a hard man. There was a time when he had a job, a family and friends. He was a star in the military police force and he was content with life.” (The Enemy)
With that out of the way, I can say that this has been one of the better ones of the series. Since 9/11 he’s been forced to get an ATM card, but other than that he’s the same Reacher. It’s the ATM card that enabled one of the members from his old elite military group to find him and get him to Los Angeles. One of their old team met a grisly death and they need to find the rest of the team to assess the damage. What Reacher finds in the those old friends shatters some of Reacher’s confidence. It was enlightening to see Reacher with his old squad, those who knew him well and respected his talents, and it was also great to see Reacher questioning his life, something we haven’t seen until this point.
Great series. It makes me want to start the next one right away. Oh, and I really should have been keeping count of Reacher’s conquests since the beginning of the series. In the span of a couple of weeks he made two this go round.
I read my very own paperback. I think I prefer reading them, the narrator of the series, Dick Hill, is good but the books read so much faster than the audio allows.
The Silkworm. Finished audio 2-1-16, rating 4.5/5, mystery, pub. 2014
Unabridged audio read by perfect narrator for this series, Robert Glenister. 17.5 hours
When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before… from Goodreads
Book 2 of the Cormoran Strike series. (1-The Cuckoo’s Calling)
I love Cormoran Strike. I loved him in the first of the series and I loved him in this one. He’s smart, grumpy and a hero who came back to London after losing a foot in Afghanistan. He could have milked the media because of his being the (illegitimate) son of a famous rock star, but he chose, instead, to live a quiet life of purpose. In the last book his private investigating business was in danger of going belly up, but after the acclaim from the last case his business is doing just fine. He still has his trusty and attractive assistant, Robin, who is about to be married to a jerk, and they are ready to find missing author, Owen Quine, at his wife’s insistence.
Owen has only been missing a short time but the fact that he has written a tell-all about the major and minor players in the publishing world leave Strike with a long list of suspects. I loved that it took place amongst the writers, editors, publicists and publishers, but it was large group to keep straight. I became more familiar, but no less savvy as to the culprit. The murder itself was surprisingly gruesome and hard to accept as real.
So far, the star of the series is Strike, but he can only shine with a great supporting cast and a great mystery to solve. Rowling gets everything right. Strike has more physical struggles and interaction with his family, half-brother Al, that mad his story fuller this time around.
I’m already looking forward to the third in the series and if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, what are you waiting for?!
The Gates of Evangeline. Finished 2-20-16, rating 4.25/5, fiction, 416 pages, pub. 2015
When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.
After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined. from Goodreads
From the beginning I’m drawn into Charlie’s world, not as a driven, successful New York professional, but as a mother, one who has a son the same age that Keegan, Charlie’s son, was when he unexpectedly passed away. Charlie is in a tailspin professionally and personally. When she begins having dreams/visions of children she thinks that she is losing her grip on reality and she makes a drastic decision. From suburban Connecticut to the swamps on Louisiana, Charlie’s journey is one full of unexpected friendships, mystical visions, a cold case kidnapping, and healing. There is also romance, but that storyline is the weak link for me and I could have done with less of it.
I loved the atmosphere of Evangeline. Not only was the heavy, steamy air full of evil, but the Deveau family itself harbored long kept secrets. Hettie, the dying matriarch, managed to raise two annoying daughters and a son who managed the family business. Charlie was there to write about the family and a 30 year old kidnapping but ended up finding a purpose for her visions.
This was a fun southern gothic read for me. And I admit that the last scene in the book had me in tears (and not in a bad way). This is the first of a trilogy and I’m looking forward to seeing what Charlie does next.
The Rosie Project. Finished 1-22-16, rating 4.5/5, fiction, pub. 2013
Unabridged audio read by Dan O’Grady. 7.5 hours
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
I’m a Big Bang Theory fan and mother to a boy on the spectrum and I loved this book. I was afraid to read it, characters on the spectrum make me nervous, wondering if the characterization will make me cry in my bed at night instead of getting what sleep I can. No worries here though, Don hilariously lectures to a group of Asperger kids about the diagnosis never for a moment making the connection that he is talking about himself. Somehow the story never laughs at Don, but with him as his quirks and earnest truthiness win the reader over quickly.
Don’s Wife Project leads him on a series of dates, hands full of a 16 pages questionnaire to weed out the women who were unsuitable (which left about .0001 percent of the population). When his slimy friend, Gene, sends Rosie to Don, he thinks it’s because Rosie has ‘passed’ the test. Don is looking for a wife and Rosie is looking for her biological father and the two embark on one adventure after another that leads Don to rethink his questionnaire.
I loved this charming love story and fans of The Big Bang Theory will too. Stories about ‘Aspies’, those intelligent people on the high functioning end of the spectrum, too often make people think most people on the spectrum are this high functioning. They are not. I do hope my guy will eventually grow up and find someone to love who loves him back, much like Don 🙂 I didn’t care for the ending, I had to go back and listen again to understand what happened, but that’s my only complaint. I know the movie has been optioned and I’d love to see it on the big screen!
The Language of Flowers. Finished 1-16-16, rating 4.5/5. fiction, 323 pages, pub. 2011
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. from Goodreads
Why don’t we use flowers to convey feelings anymore? It’s such a romantic and mysterious thing to do and I think communication these days could use a little more nuance. I loved learning about the hidden language of flowers as I read this intriguing and beautifully written debut novel.
The novel tells the two stories of Victoria, the nine-year old foster care kid who doesn’t believe she will ever find a home and the 18-year-old who is homeless, friendless and in love with flowers. At nine, Elizabeth became her last hope for a mom and her brash decision severed the chance. At 18, she just wants to make enough to eat and if she can do it by working with flowers, all the better. Renata, that friend that we all should have, gives Victoria a job and an opportunity at a relatively normal life.
Victoria was a tough character. Even though, by the end, I came to the point of wishing her a happily-ever-after, it took me a while to get there. She was a foster care survivor (32 foster families before being set free on her 18th birthday) and was so detached, prickly, defiant and complicated that I didn’t realize how much I cared about her until the end. So many of her 18-year-old decisions were tragic and damaging, and had me wanting to shake her out of her own psyche.
This book will rip your heart out with the deeply flawed Victoria and her journey to make a life that she never really let herself think was possible. I loved the people who were there for her to make the journey possible, equally flawed but maybe a little less complicated. Victoria is not a character I will be forgetting about any time soon.
I am so glad that Lloyd loved it and that I won his giveaway a few years ago. I’m even happier that I finally read it!
Web of Deceit. Finished 1-7-16, rating 4.25/5, suspense, pub. 2009
Unabridged audio 12 hours, 51 minutes. Read by Caroline Lee
When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a cry for help. His claim that someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.
Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the terror in his eyes.
Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to interview her and a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane’s house.
Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up and then a shocking turn of events puts even more people in danger.…
What a great way to start my listening year! I won this last year or maybe even the year before but put off listening because I realized that it was the sixth in a series about Ella Marconi. I don’t like to jump into the middle of a series, but I’ve been working on Mt. TBR and thought I’d give this one CD to win me over. That one CD did the job and I was hooked.
The series is based on Detective Ella Marconi and her partner, but has a revolving door of paramedics in each installment. I didn’t know this and I grew invested in the stories of Jane and Alex. I’m still not sure how I feel about reading the next one if they’re not in it. Ella was great and the characters of this suspense were excellent, not a stereotype to be found. It was fast-paced and I love the way that the story came full circle by the end, excellent plotting. I doubt that I’m going to go back and read the first 5 in the series, but knowing how good this one is I’m sad that I didn’t start with 1. If you are reluctant to start another series I should tell you that, according to Goodreads, there are only 7 in the series, so there is a set number and it’s not too high.
I thought this Aussies series set in the world of paramedics and detectives was really good and would recommend it to lovers of thrillers, mysteries or crime novels.