The Sleepwalker: A Review

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The latest Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) this pedometer geek reader read was Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker. This is not the first of his novels this reader has read, nor will it be the last. In fact, the first was his The Law of Similars, which was discovered (and subsequently read) when this reader was studying for a degree in homeopathy. Since then, there have been others (Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind to name a few) that this reader has read. Each has been so different, but all have been compelling reading. So, too, is this one, and this is the extended review.

The Sleepwalker

By Chris Bohjalian

Published by Doubleday, 2017

A division of Penguin Random House, LLC

ISBN: 9780385538923

The subject of the novel is a woman, Annalee Ahlberg, who has parasomnia (sleepwalking) and disappears one night. She sleepwalks all too often, but only when her husband is away. Finally after months and years in which he hasn’t traveled for his job as a professor, he goes to a conference in Iowa, and this is when she disappears and is presumed missing or dead.

Her two daughters, Lianna and Paige, are looking for answers and clues to her whereabouts as the novel opens. Paige, especially, is concerned and willing to swim the river Gale near where a scrap of her nightgown was found.

Enter detectives and police including one detective, Gavin Rikert, looking for information.

Told through Lianna’s perspective, the story is told of her mother’s sleepwalking habits and how it has affected/affects the family. The story also includes a secret romance between Lianna and Gavin. Despite Lianna’s pushing for information, Gavin doesn’t give up information about the case.

Eventually, months later, Annalee’s body is found, but it only produces more questions than answers for Lianna and her family. Yet, Lianna keeps trying to figure out more about the circumstances of her mother’s death. Frankly, she can’t let it go.

Complex and disturbing, full of lies, half-truths, and family secrets, this novel is interesting for various reasons, one of which is the snippets of a journal describing parasomnia and its manifestations. All the way through, this reader wondered: Who is writing the journal? There are several possibilities, making this as much a mystery as Annalee’s disappearance and subsequent death.

This reader found the descriptions of parasomnia particularly riveting, and it appears that the author did his research on the subject. If, for no other reason, this makes the novel worth reading; however, there are plenty of other reasons to recommend it (and suffice it to say, this reader does!).

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The Mother’s Promise: A Review

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The latest Advanced Reader’s Edition this pedometer geek reader had the pleasure of reading was a First Reads Goodreads giveaway uncorrected copy of Sally Hepworth’s The Mother’s Promise. This is the first of Hepworth’s novels that this reader has read, but it probably won’t be the last. This is her third novel; the previous two are The Secrets of Midwives and The Things We Keep. Another novel is slated to be released in early 2018,but this is the extended review of The Mother’s Promise.

The Mother’s Promise

by Sally Hepworth

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-07775-2

As the author indicates in her acknowledgments, nothing moves her more than the lengths a mother is prepared to go to for her children. In a nutshell, this explains this story. From the blurb on the back of the copy: “The author delivers a powerful portrait of a single mother’s love for her teenage daughter.”

Alice Stanhope and her daughter Zoe are close…real close. It has just been the two of them since the day Zoe was born. They are basically complete as is; no others need apply (including a non-existent father). Until it becomes necessary.

The day Alice receives a cancer diagnosis of Stage 3 ovarian cancer, things radically change even as they appear to stay the same. Always optimistic, Alice shields Zoe as she keeps the diagnosis to herself. She does this to protect her daughter, who deals with an extreme case of social anxiety disorder. It is so bad that Zoe rarely, if ever, speaks up in class, avoids the other kids, and often skips school with her mother’s tacit approval. So, as far as Alice is concerned,  there is no benefit and could be harmful to Zoe to inform her until it becomes absolutely necessary.

Enter two women: Kate and Sonja. Kate is a caring oncology nurse; Sonja is a social worker who is helps with patient issues. Both will have integral parts to play in Alice’s and Zoe’s lives. Yet, they both have lives of their own, which are fraught with their individual, painful issues.

Throughout the novel, each character’s life is shown individually as well as in regards to the two main characters. Told from each woman’s perspective, this story explores what is going on in each of the women’s lives. Ultimately the reader experiences the difficult realities of  Alice, Zoe, Sonja, and Kate.

From Zoe’s school issues to Alice’s chemotherapy and aftermath to Kate’s and Sonja’s marriages, this is a finely drawn drama. The reader roots for Zoe to overcome her fears and anxieties; the reader hopes that Alice’s chemo will bring about remission; the reader worries about Kate as she struggles in her marriage; the reader wants to help Sonja find a way out of an abusive situation.

If it seems as if this could be a bit depressing of a read, it is ultimately hopeful. Yes, not everything the characters experience go exactly as planned, but then does anyone’s life go exactly as planned? Despite this, it is a book worth reading.

 

 

Snared: An Overview and Review

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Snared

by Jennifer Estep

Published by Pocket Books, 2017

an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4277-7

The latest author giveaway novel this pedometer geek read was Jennifer Estep’s Snared, the sixteenth book in her Elemental Assassin series. This will be less of an extended review than an overview of what makes this series so much fun to read.

To backtrack, I first discovered this author when I was fortunate enough to win one of her YA novels, Crimson Frost, through a Shelf Awareness Book-Buzz giveaway. It was the fourth book in the Mythos Academy series, I soon realized. Thus, I didn’t want to jump into the series somewhere in the middle so I went back and read all the preceding books including most of the short story extras, before tackling it. I then finished the rest of the series.

Having enjoyed the humor and language of the Mythos Academy series, I was hooked on Estep’s easy, comfortable writing style. I then moved on to her Bigtime series, this time making sure I read the first book in the series onward, and except for, perhaps, Fandemic and Nightingale, I have read them all. With this series, I became even more enthralled as I found her hidden gems (Easter eggs) in the series to series references. Only in retrospect did I realize that they were there in the Mythos Academy, but I digress.

Finally, in between reading her other YA series, the Black Blade series, I finally began to read her adult series, the Elemental Assassin series starring the incomparable Gin Blanco, who is also known as the Spider. Despite my arachnophobia, this is one spider I love!  This is urban fantasy at its best with a smart, sassy heroine, who just happens to kill people because she is a well-paid assassin. She takes no prisoners as she literally kicks butts, slices, and dices up baddies:  dwarves, giants, vampires, and humans with elemental powers with her handy silverstone knives. Yet, she takes her share of getting her butt kicked along with other sundry injuries, too. Paraphrasing here, “Someone is going to get dead.”

From the first book in the series, Spider’s Bite, Estep builds the world of Ashland’s Elementals, people who can control elements like Fire, Ice, Stone, and Air. It should be mentioned that these characters are represented by their runes, symbols of their powers. Depending upon the person, control over a particular element can be used for good or ill. In the case of the protagonist, Gin Blanco is a rare double Elemental, which means she  can control two elements: Stone and Ice.

The author introduces her characters and their back-stories carefully, giving just enough information on a need-to-know basis, yet she never tricks the reader. Throughout the series, Gin experiences a whole gamut of emotions, from love to hate to revenge to betrayal, and so much more.

With each successive novel in the series, the journey of Gin Blanco (and crew) is continued with each story building on the previous ones; yet each story stands on its own merit. Moreover, the plots remain fresh with unexpected twists and turns; this is not a cookie cutter series; how Gin deals with each new situation is different, and often unique. The ancillary characters introduced throughout the series are as integral to the plots as Gin Blanco herself. For example, who wouldn’t love Finnegan Lane, Gin’s foster brother?

Lest it not be obvious, this is adult fiction (18+). Yes, there are paranormal, fantasy elements, but there are some spicy moments and strong language as well. As may be imagined, there are descriptions of violence, too (Hey, she is an assassin; she kills people!); however, having said that, there is plenty of humor to be found in the pages, either through the situation or the dialog of the characters.

Which brings me to the sixteenth book in Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series: Snared. With few spoilers as I hope you read this book and the others, the review:

This novel in the series takes Gin Blanco in a new direction. She desires to track down the Circle, a  secret group operating in Ashland, and her focus is looking for information on the members of the group. However, her plans are derailed when she is contacted by Jade, a friend and colleague. Jade begs Gin to find her sister Elissa, who has gone missing, vanishing without a trace.
Tracking down the girl leads Gin down a dangerous and twisted path, which may be linked to this mysterious Circle. It will take all of Gin’s resources and cadre of friends and family to find the girl, who may well be dead at the hands of a ruthless serial killer.

The always smart and sassy Gin (AKA the Spider) may be snared in a web not of her own making in her quest to find Elissa. For Gin, discovering the truth is always deadly.

Estep continues a series that is fun, humorous, and sexy, but this story is one of the darkest to date. Looking forward to the next in the series, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2018. This reader has become ensnared in Estep’s web. Thank you again, Jennifer Estep, for my signed copy of Snared. Now, if I can only find out if Gwen Frost and Owen Grayson (both with violet eyes) are somehow related.

My suggestion: start with Spider’s Bite, the first in the series, and just keep going. It is easy to get hooked. Or check out any of her series as I have.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunlight Pilgrims: A Review

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The latest novel received from Blogging for Books this pedometer geek read was Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims. This is her second novel;her debut novel is The Panopticon, which has not been read by this reader. Based on this reader’s experience, it is just a matter of time before it will come to the top of the list of books to be read. This is the extended review of The Sunlight Pilgrims.

The Sunlight Pilgrims

by Jenni Fagan

Published by Hogarth, 2016

an imprint of Crown Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Random House, LLC

ISBN: 978-0-553-41887-3

As the book jacket begins: “It’s November 2020, and the world is bracing for what is expected to be the worst winter on record.”

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan is a climate change dystopian/apocalyptic novel, set in Great Britain, primarily in the Scottish Highlands in the village of Clachan Fells. A band of quirky villagers living in a caravan park (what people from the United States would call a trailer park) form a community/family as the snows deepen, icebergs float freely, and temperatures drop precipitously low into what may well become the next Ice Age.

Dylan, rather move south to escape freezing temperatures as most Londoners are doing, travels to Clachen Fells to scatter the ashes of his mother and grandmother. Grieving, he adjusts to a life without his nearest kin. There he meets Constance and her daughter Stella, and they all hunker down, forming a family, becoming the Sunlight Pilgrims over the course of the story.

Wacky family relationships* and what is meant by family/community is explored throughout the novel. Single mother (and survivalist) Constance deals with rearing Stella, who is a girl trapped in a boy’s body (and has chosen to deal with the fallout from bullies when she declares herself female). The author displayed empathy and thoughtful insight into the transgender character(s), and Stella may be the most compelling character in the novel.

As worldwide events become ever more cataclysmic, the villagers, particularly Stella, Constance, and Dylan, experience their own relationships morphing into something new, something light.

A few things that this reader noted and enjoyed. First, the language and descriptions of the climate changes were noteworthy. In only one other novel has this reader ever heard the term frazil ice (the other is in Rob Smith’s Shrader Marks: Keelhouse, but I digress). The author makes the reader feel the cold, experience the deprivations, and live the desolation of the snow relentlessly falling, but she also makes the reader hopeful with the sight of the sun dogs (parahelia), the vision of the aurora borealis, and the explanation of the sunlight pilgrims.

On a personal note, I have to admit that I like the convention of quotation marks for dialogue. Em-dashes used as designating speech made understanding the dialogue between characters difficult especially when it went from dialogue to exposition in the same paragraph. Sometimes it was nearly impossible to figure out who was speaking to whom during any particular conversation; I found it very confusing and annoying (what I disliked about the book). Thus, it took me much longer to read than it normally would, and because of this, I am sure many of the nuances of the story were lost over time.

Quote that I particularly liked:

“There is an ordinariness to their strange.” page 198 (in regards to a relationship)

 

* I even sketched out a family tree to understand it all.

 

 

 

Last Night with the Duke: A Review

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The latest giveaway book this pedometer geek read was an autographed copy of a book received  through a Shelf Awareness Book Buzz giveaway directly from the author, Amelia Grey. Last Night with the Duke is a historical romance, and this is the extended review.

Last Night with the Duke

by Amelia Grey

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-10249-2

This romance is the first in a series of stories called The Rakes of  St. James; there are a couple more planned. The premise behind this series is that three friends, all dukes, wrecked havoc upon the ton or Polite Society (yes, that is the term used throughout the novel) with pranks involving an ill-fated wager, which ruined the reputations of quite a few young women, several years earlier.

Although time has passed, the memories of those affected have not forgotten these pranksters, and it is about to affect two more young ladies especially as the scandal is being resurrected through the gossip rag, Miss Honora Truth’s Weekly Scandal Sheet as the novel opens on this historical (or regency) romance.

Basically, the romance is between a duke and a governess, who is really the grand-daughter of a viscount. From the moment Benedict Mercer, the Duke of Griffin, overhears Esmeralda Swift counsel one of her employees, he is intrigued. He needs to hire a chaperone for Lady Vera’s and Lady Sara’s, his twin sisters, debut Season, and he decides she is perfect for the job.

Esmeralda, for her part, doesn’t want to have anything to do with Polite Society or dealing with Griffin (or his sisters). Having had her mother disowned for a marrying the wrong man (a common poet, can you imagine?) and leaving the family to survive on their own, she throws up every possible roadblock to her employment. Eventually, after his agreement to all of her demands (her younger sister Josephine and dog Napoleon to be included), she reluctantly relents despite the fact he is considered to be one of the Rakes of St. James.

From their first interaction onward, sparks ignite between the two. Each one knows the etiquette of class, but obvious chemistry simmers throughout: heated gazes, feisty interchanges, and slow sensual scenes. Neither wants to cross the line society has imposed, but will they finally admit their true feelings for each other?

A bit slow to start, the romance does a slow burn until it reaches an inferno. While not full of graphic scenes, this romance is still spicy with the ratcheting sexual tension of two people who want to be together, but can’t and won’t because of societal mores. This makes for a satisfying read.

Loved the chapter headings of quotes from Miss Mamie Fortescue’s Do’s and Don’ts for Chaperones, Governesses, Tutors, and Nurses (the manual of the business that Esmeralda Swift manages). Not only is any particular one appropriate to the chapter itself, but people would be wise to follow many of its tenets. Several examples:

“Do choose your words carefully. You never know when they might be said back to you.” (p. 58)

“Don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.” (p. 266)

“Don’t think that you will never be wrong. You will be.” (p. 273)

The secondary characters are as interesting as the principle characters of Griffin and Esmeralda. The identical twins, Lady Vera and Lady Sara, have distinct personalities of their own, and Josephine is a charmer. Napoleon, the dog, plays his part as well.

Per usual, there are several What-the-tuck trends seen like characters with green eyes (Josephine for example), and one of the newer trends recognized by this reader: the title being that of duke as the principal male character; earls and viscounts having obviously gone out of fashion, or aren’t as high up in society. Yet, it is not a cookie-cutter romance; the author introduces some distinct differences. One particularly humorous (to this reader at least) difference was the fact that the duke hated and complained extensively that the chaperone always chose to wear gray dresses and gowns. Eventually, he made sure there was some more colorful gowns for her to wear.

This was the first of this author’s novels read by this pedometer geek; however, this reader doesn’t plan on stopping with one. Planning on reading more of this author’s works, particularly the others in the series. The next one is entitled To the Duke, With Love, and its expected publication date is in December.

In this reader’s opinion, the title didn’t seem to reflect the story too well; not sure what it should have been, but it just didn’t seem to fit. Maybe it is the WTT Duke thing.

 

 

The Second First Time: A Review

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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway this pedometer geek read was a Kindle  edition of Elisa Lorello’s The Second First Time. Recently Goodreads has added this option to their giveaways, but I digress. Although this was an e-book, it is available as a book as well. This author has several other novels to her name, but this is the first of hers that this pedometer geek has read. This is the extended review.

The Second First Time

by Elisa Lorello

Published by Lake Union Publishing, 2016

a division of Amazon Publishing

ISBN: 978-1503941243

Lorello’s novel is a contemporary romance that is all about finding home, and finding the person that makes you feel that you are home. As the synopsis of the novel indicates this pair of novelists, Sage Merriweather and Jonathan Moss, should be a perfect match. They share the same publisher, have become best friends, and have mutual respect for each other. They may even have deeper feelings for each other so they plan a cross-country trip together to explore possibilities of taking things further. That is, until Jon bails out at the last moment, leaving Sage devastated.

As the book opens, it’s a year later, and Sage is finally beginning to heal from his Dear Jane letter. The story is told through Sage’s perspective, and the reader is treated to both her inner dialog as well as the action going on between characters. Her writing of romances allows her to create stories of happily-ever-after loves rather than abandonment.

For Sage, home has always been Long Island with her mother and sister Gaia, especially after her (now estranged) dad divorced her mother and abandoned his daughters. So when she finds out about his death and upcoming memorial service, she still calls the man who broke her heart…the man who was her best friend, the man with whom she had decided to go on a cross-country road trip a year ago…until he bailed out on her with a devastating letter.
Jon suggests they give the trip another try, their relationship another try as well as offering to go to the memorial service with her. This is a second first time for both, but can they forge a relationship, can they forge a love when one is still reeling from the hurt? And even if the trip is successful, and with them living on separate coasts, can they find where “home” truly is?

This contemporary romance is about letting go of hurts, finding that best friends can also be in love, that sometimes less is more, and home is where the heart is. Writers Jon and Sage deepen their friendship and love on a road trip fraught with emotional potholes.
The romance does not have graphic sex scenes,  but it’s definitely a story similar to the kind she is described as writing. (Does life imitate art, or just the reverse?)

Both main characters are fleshed out. Both Sage and Jon seem realistic; they are not so exotic and rich as to be unbelievable, which is part of the charm of the story. Their experiences on the road trip as they go through awkward moments are both funny and poignant.

There are some minor typos in the text, but not enough to make it irritating. The story is not full of  What-the-tuck trends, which is refreshing. The book was a pleasant surprise, and makes this reader want to read more by the author.

A few quotes of note:

” There’s always a defining moment in your life where, if you had to do it over, you’d go back and change the trajectory.” (3%, beginning of Chapter 2)

“As with so many things, the day the depth of one’s desire surpasses the depth of one’s fear one’s life is always when one’s life changes for the better.” (66%, Chapter 16)

 

 

 

The Bookshop on the Corner: A Review

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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway book that this pedometer geek read was Jenny Colgan’s novel, The Bookshop on the Corner. It was originally published in the United Kingdom by Little, Brown Book Group under the title of The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After. Personally, this reader prefers the original UK title as it seems to represent the book better, but then perhaps, it wouldn’t have been read at all by me. Regardless, this was the first novel of hers this pedometer geek has read, but it probably won’t be the last. Fortunately, Colgan is the author of over sixteen titles. Here is the extended review.

The Bookshop on the Corner

by Jenny Colgan

Published by William Morrow, 2016

an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 978-0-06-246725-6

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” –Voltaire

This is the epigraph at the beginning of this novel. It definitely seems fitting as the protagonist becomes a bookseller, but that is getting ahead of the story.

As the blurb states: “Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion…and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.”

Nina, an out-of-work librarian, reinvents herself when the library she works for downsizes. She loves books and finding the right book for each person, and she pairs this talent into a mobile bookshop after she buys a van and stocks it with nearly new copies of books from libraries which are closing down.
In the process she moves to a hamlet in Scotland and travels to all the little villages in the area, plying her special book magic. Books are bought; people’s lives are transformed; and happy-ever-after do happen for her patrons. But will Nina find her happy-ever-after?

This is a feel good book that celebrates book lovers and the books that make an impact. Some real books are mentioned as well as some fake titles like Up on the Rooftops. This reader has to admit that this children’s book seemed like an awesome story, and in fact, was disappointed to find that it wasn’t available. Alas…

Characters are multi-faceted and realistic, and some were even a bit quirky. The two love interests of Nina were not the usual run of the mill males. Ainslee, her teenage helper, was a particular favorite. There are enough adventures that keep the story fresh and interesting, making this a magical read.

Here are a few quotes from the book that I found both interesting and philosophical.
“If you thought of all the tiny things that divert your path one way or another, some good, some bad, you’d never do anything ever again.” (page 27)
“Just do something. You might make a mistake, then you can fix it. But if you do nothing, you can’t fix anything. And your life might turn out to be full of regrets.” (page 40)
“There was a universe inside every human being every bit as big as the universe outside them.” (page 235)

Oh yeah, in regards to how fitting the epigraph is: obviously there are books galore, but there are a few dances as well.

 

Public Library and Other Stories: A Review

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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway book this pedometer geek read was Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories. She has many other books to her name, but this is the first book of hers that I have read. Because she is a British author, that may be why I was unfamiliar with her body of work, many of which have nominated for various literary awards such as the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, How to be both, was a Man Booker Prize finalist and winner of the Bailey Women’s Prize, the Goldsmith Prize, the Costa Novel Award, and the Saltire Literary Book of the Year Award. Here is the extended review of Public Library and Other Stories.

Public Library and Other Stories

By Ali Smith

Published by Anchor Books, 2016

a division of Penguin Random House LLC

(Originally published in Great Britain

by Hamish Hamilton, a Penguin Random House company, 2015)

ISBN: 978-1-101097304-2

As the blurb on the back cover states: “The stories in Ali Smith’s new collection are about what we do with books and what they do to us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser, and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make.”

“Woven between the stories are conversations with writers and readers reflecting on the essential role that libraries have played in their lives.”

Alternating the author’s thirteen short stories with various people’s perceptions of the power of libraries to change their lives, this collection showcases the essential nature of libraries, especially in a time of funding cuts and closures.

Although most of the libraries mentioned are British, the same is true for libraries everywhere. Libraries provides more than just books. As Sophie Mayer indicated: “…the public library is the ideal model of society, the best possible shared space, a community of consent…where each person is pursuing their own aim (education, entertainment, affect, rest) with respect to others, through the best possible medium of the transmission of ideas, feelings, and knowledge: the book.” (page 75)

The short stories are varied. Some appealed to this reader more than others, but all were  literary in nature and worthy of being read. The story of the Traveling Etymologies (about the meanings of certain words and how they came about) called “Last” was a particular favorite; as were “The Ex-Wife,” “The Human Claim,” and “The Beholder.”

Wedged between the short stories were recollections of libraries past and present. Those snippets of conversation about libraries and their effect upon the people who contributed were some of the most compelling aspects of the book. I must admit that I probably gave some of Smith’s stories short shrift to get to these interludes, and I probably need to re-read the stories just to savor her words.

Quotes of note: “I believe that within every library is a door that opens to every other library in time and space: that door is a book.” (page 75)

“…that the important thing about the notion of a public library is that’s it’s the one place you can just turn up to, a free space, a democratic space where anyone can go and be there with other people, and you don’t need money-…And you can just go. It’s somewhere you can just be.” (page 58)

As a voracious reader, I can state that I come from a state known for its libraries (and library usage). It may be due to the fact that the state has a clause in its constitution mandating a percentage of its General Fund to be used to help fund its libraries. Regardless of why the state is known for its libraries, large and small, I have a love for my library, spending a good deal of my time there (both volunteering and perusing the shelves for my next read). I have had held library cards from all of the municipalities in which I have resided over the years. I have possessed at least six different library cards and have used more libraries than I have had cards. I have served on levy committees to help my local library; I am a member of the local Friends organization of the library. To me, libraries are a treasure trove of  wealth that cannot be measured. In other words, libraries rock, and I can’t imagine my life without my library. They are essential (and with an upcoming levy on the ballot, this reader, now donning a campaign hat, says, “Vote YES! Support your library!” but I digress).

Overall, the book is a literary smorgasbord of stories about books, words, and literary figures. There is a story for everyone, and its message of the power of libraries resonates through every page.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Picasso: A Review

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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway novel this pedometer geek read was Camille Aubray’s Cooking for Picasso. This is Aubray’s debut novel although according to her bio, she has writing credentials for various television shows like “One Life to Live” and “Capitol” as well as writing and producing for ABC news, PBS, and A&E. She has also taught writing at New York University. This is the extended review.

Cooking for Picasso

by Camille Aubray

Published by Ballantine Books,

an imprint of Random House,

a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-17765-1

Cooking for Picasso is a novel that is inspired by a little-known interval in the artist’s life. As the copyright page indicates, it is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and aren’t intended to change the fictional nature of the story. Despite the fictional nature of the story, it is a story that seems all too plausible and as such, it was a delight to read.

This pedometer geek reader is not a gourmet cook, unfortunately, because this review just calls for all kinds of adjectives that refers to cooking; however, having said that, this is a story of cooking, art, and love told through the past as well as the present. Divided into the past and present, the narrative follows three generations of women who are connected to the artist Picasso.

1936–In a small village in southern France, a seventeen-year-old girl is recruited by her parents to cook and then deliver lunch daily to a new patron, a mysterious man by the name of Ruiz. Bicycling up one of the steep hills of Juan-les-Pins, Ondine finally meets the man, Picasso, who is hiding out from everyone. Over time, she meets Matisse and Cocteau, but through her daily association with Picasso, she ends up modeling (and a bit more) for him.

2014–Celine, Ondine’s granddaughter, has heard stories from her mother Julie about her grandmother all her life. When Celine turns thirty, her mother tells her about the relationship between Ondine, Picasso, and a mysterious painting. With her mother in a nursing home following a stroke, Celine travels to France in her mother’s place with her aunt for a cooking class, and to search for this painting, that is, if it really exists.

This is just a well-constructed story that brings three generations of women together in a story that is connected to an enigmatic artist and his art. Added to that, there are French cuisine references throughout (just reading the story, I think a few pounds were added to this reader’s waistline), and lovely impressionistic pictures of southern France were painted. The suspense builds throughout as to the veracity of a narrator who may or may not be reliable as regards to this painting.

Overall, the novel is recommended for anyone who has interest in gourmet cooking, art, and love, for ultimately it is a love story written in a historical context of the missing years of Picasso. Could it be that a chance encounter with a young woman was enough to spark a new period for this artist? This novel answers this question, and a bit more.

Quotes to remember/consider:

“Yes, we cook and eat things that were once alive–be they vegetables or animals–in order to stoke the fire of life in us; but in return, we must keep our end of the bargain, which is to handle them humanely with great respect; and when it’s our turn to die, we should do so gracefully and willingly, so that we, too, feed the fiery furnace of the earth’s future plants and creatures.” (p. 267)

Leaving Lucy Pear: A Review

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The latest Advanced Reader Copy (actually an uncorrected proof obtained through a First Reads Goodreads giveaway, but I digress), this pedometer geek reader read was Anna Solomon’s Leaving Lucy Pear. This is her second novel; her debut novel is The Little Bride. This is the extended review.

Leaving Lucy Pear

by Anna Solomon

Published by Viking Books, 2016

a division of Penguin Random House

ISBN: 978-1-594-63265-5

As the novel opens, a wealthy young woman, destined to go to Radcliffe as a gifted pianist, finds herself pregnant out of wedlock in 1917. Leaving the newborn underneath one of her uncle’s pear trees the night the “pear-stealers” usually appear, Beatrice (Bea) Haven hopes one of the families will claim the child as their own. She waits and watches as Emma Murphy finds the baby and rescues her, making her part of her own family.

Ten years later, the two women meet and are brought together once again through a series of coincidences. Each of the women has personal secrets to protect, but the biggest one is when Emma realizes that this woman, Bea (now) Cohn, is Lucy Pear’s biological mother. Does Beatrice know about her, and if she does, what will happen?

Set in Massachusetts during the time of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, and post-World War I, this is a novel of families and unfulfilled dreams. This is also a time of rampant xenophobia, worker’s struggles, and class distinctions (reminding this reader of what is going on even today).

The novel is literary in nature; it is a bit slow to start, and keeping track of all the characters and their relationships is, at times, difficult. After what was a story that was revealed slowly, the ending almost seemed rushed, and it took this reader a few re-reads of the last several chapters to understand all the little nuances of the story.

The title character, Lucy Pear, is a ten-year-old cross-dressing girl, who is bright and bold, doing whatever jobs she can to escape a father who is cruel. Finally, discovering her birth mother has a heart-wrenching effect upon Lucy and the whole Murphy clan, and once again, the title comes into play.

Overall, this is a story of motherhood and the sacrifices that women make for love. The author looks at fundamental relationships, that is between mothers, children, and lovers, and how they all intertwine in subtle ways.