Book Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

Title: Real Men Knit
Author: Kwana Jackson
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.

Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.

Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.

A book about men knitting? Yes, please!

In Real Men Knit, the Strong brothers are all super attractive, muscular, successful men… and they knit. These four adult brothers were all adopted as children by Mama Joy, who rescued them from the foster system and turned them into a family. Mama Joy ran a small Harlem knitting shop that was more than just a play to buy yarn — Strong Knits was a community home away from home, a place to gather, interact, and improve lives.

But when Mama Joy dies, her sons are devastated, and the fate of the shop is up in the air. Perhaps as devastated as the Strong brothers is Kerry, the neighborhood girl who grew up in Mama Joy’s shadow, always present and helping out, and devoted completely to Mama Joy (while totally crushing on Jesse). Now an adult with a degree in art therapy, Kerry works at the community center with neighborhood kids, but agrees to stay on at the shop to help Jesse reinvigorate it and make sure it has a future.

I love any scene where the brothers casually knit. It’s such an “in your face” to stereotypes about male and female hobbies. There’s nothing gender-specific about knitting! And I really enjoyed the brothers’ complicated relationships, their resentments, their sibling squabbles, and their clear and abiding love and respect for Mama Joy.

I also really appreciated reading about the positive change a single dedicated woman can make. Mama Joy used her yarn store as a jumping off point for changing lives, and it’s beautiful to see how many different people were affected by her influence and contribution, in so many different ways.

In fact, it’s only the romance parts of this story that left me feeling a little blah. I really liked all the characters and thought the premise was unique and original, but Jesse and Kerry as a couple didn’t really seem all that special to me. I mean, they were fine, but I wasn’t actually cheering for them or particularly invested in whether they got an HEA.

That said, I did feel invested in the overall story, and wished that it had continued long enough to see how everything turned out with the shop! Of course, there are four Strong brothers, all single, and only one featured in a relationship in this book… might there be more Strong Knits stories still to come? One per brother, perhaps? Because I’d definitely read those!

With gratitude to Reading Tonic, whose review was the first I’d heard of this sweet and satisfying book. If you’re looking for a summer beach read with romance, heart, and a diverse set of characters, Real Men Knit would be a great choice.

Shelf Control #218: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: Rooftoppers
Author: Katherine Rundell
Published: 2013
Length: 286 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“The beauty of sky, music, and the belief in ‘extraordinary things’ triumph in this whimsical and magical tale” (Publishers Weekly) about a girl in search of her past who discovers a secret rooftop world in Paris.

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive—but “almost impossible” means “still possible.” And you should never ignore a possible.

So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian, threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, they takes matters into their own hands and flee to Paris to look for Sophie’s mother, starting with the only clue they have—the address of the cello maker.

Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers—urchins who live in the hidden spaces above the city. Together they scour the city in a search for Sophie’s mother—but can they find her before Sophie is caught and sent back to London? Or, more importantly, before she loses hope?

Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, calls Rooftoppers “the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination.”

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy several years ago, thinking it would be a good choice to read with my son. He didn’t bite, though, and I never ended up reading it on my own.

Why I want to read it:

I don’t remember how this book came to my attention, but I remember reading about it somewhere and thinking that it sounded like a sweet and magical adventure — and the fact that Philip Pullman recommends it doesn’t hurt a bit!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Cover reveal: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs!

Few things make me as happy as getting to see the cover of the next book from Patricia Briggs!

The cover for Wild Sign, the 6th book in the amazing Alpha & Omega series, was just revealed today. As always, cover artist Daniel Dos Santos has done gorgeous work. The book is scheduled for release in March 2021.

Beautiful, right?

There’s no preorder link yet on Amazon, but believe me, I’ll be anxiously waiting for it. I love this series so much!

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Summer Reads

Once again, I’m joining in with the Top 5 Tuesday meme this week! Top 5 Tuesday is hosted by Bionic Bookworm, who posts the month’s topics at the start of each month. Today’s topic is Top 5 Summer Reads. This topic could go a few different ways… book set in the summer? books to read in the summer? books I’ve read in the summer? books about beaches? I guess I’ll do a little of everything — here’s my list of five books that are great to read in the summer or that have a summer theme! 

1. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: 
The story of a teen girl and the two boys she spends every summer with at their families’ shared beach house is just so perfect for reading on a beach or by a pool. It’s surprisingly deeper than you might expect, getting into family loyalties and loss and grief. (It’s the first in a trilogy, and all three are good!)

2. Beach Read by Emily Henry
I just finished this terrific love story, set in a beach cottage over the course of an eventful summer. A perfect summer read!

3. Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe
This awesome collection of robot and fairy stories includes several by favorite authors of mine (Including Seanan McGuire and John Scalzi), and maybe it’s because I took this on vacation with me a couple of years ago and read it on the beach, but I feel like it’s just so fun and entertaining and low commitment that it’s perfect for summer.

4. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
This book is sweetness and light, and so full of happiness that I can see it as a perfect summer reading option.

5. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
There’s no obvious connection to summer, but the four books of the Finishing School series are light, funny, and exciting, and feel to me like a perfect choice for reading poolside with a frosty drink in hand.

 

What do you consider summer reads? Let me know, and please share your Top 5 link if you have one!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/25/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

This is a first for me — I attended a Zoom wedding!

Sunday was the original wedding date, then the couple decided to cancel about a month ago in light of the health crisis, and then decided to go forward and include friends and family via Zoom! The bride and groom and their parents were present, the rabbi officiated via Zoom, and they had a few other close family members present, plus about 120 Zoom logins. It was actually so sweet!

What did I read during the last week?

Beach Read by Emily Henry: Really enjoyable love story with a light touch. My review is here.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: Austen-inspired historical fiction set in post-war England. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

Netflix kept me busy every night! First, my son finally convinced me to jump on the Tiger King bandwagon…

So weird, So disturbing. But so hard to look away from!

On a lighter note, I decided that now would be the perfect time to go back and watch a show I see through to the end:

I watched season 1 of Jane the Virgin back when it aired, and really liked it… so why didn’t I keep up with it and continue watching? Probably just too much TV, too little time. Anyway, I’ve picked back up with season 2, and I’m loving it. It’s so over the top, and that what makes it so much fun.

Fresh Catch:

I had some Amazon credits, and naturally had to spend them all immediately:

Hurray for book mail! I’ve already read Chosen Ones, but really wanted my own copy, and can’t wait to read the rest!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson: This is fun! I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across this book on my own, but then I read Reading Tonic’s review, and just had to give it a try.

Now playing via audiobook:

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor: The sequel to Akata Witch, which I really loved. Sadly, I was so slammed with work this week that I only managed to get outside for walks a couple of days, and that means I barely had chances to listen to my audiobook. I’m making progress, but sloooooooowly.

Ongoing reads:

Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve mentioned that I’m not a short story reader… well, I’d have a lot more dollars than I do now! Laughter at the Academy is a story collection from one of my favorite authors, so I can’t NOT read it. But knowing how I tune out if I read too many short stories in a row, I’ve decided to take a slow but steady approach, and I’m trying to read just one or two stories each day. And so far, these are excellent! Content warning, though — Seanan McGuire loves to write about world-ending diseases, so now is kind of a freaky time to be reading some of these. Still, I’m delighted to be reading this book finally (I bought it last fall), and I’m just a wee bit proud of myself for sticking with it!

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Why is this still on my ongoing reads list? I’m now five chapters behind, and I don’t see myself getting any closer to catching up with my book group’s reading schedule any time soon. But… I’m just not ready to walk away completely!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Title: The Jane Austen Society
Author: Natalie Jenner
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: May 26, 2020
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

The Jane Austen Society is historical fiction set in post-war England, in the small town of Chawton. The main estate of the village has been in the Knight family for generations, and centuries earlier, became the home of Jane Austen’s brother and Jane herself.

But after World War II, the last remaining members of the Knight family are Frances Knight, a woman in her 40s who never leaves her home, and her ailing, elderly, unpleasant father. With Mr. Knight’s demise looming, the future of the estate is at risk — and if the estate passes out of the family hands, so too will the priceless objects and books that once belonged to Jane Austen.

The characters of the book all seem to have some sort of special connection to Jane Austen, her fiction, and her memory. Through their love of her fiction, the various characters find common ground, and ultimately band together to find a way to save the cottage that was once Jane’s home and to preserve the books that were an important part of her life.

As these people form the Jane Austen Society, we get to know them as individuals as well. There’s the widowed doctor who may be ready for love again, the young war bride who suffers unimaginable loss, the local farmer who never got to pursue his dreams of higher learning, and the teen-aged girl whose passion for Austen leads to some truly amazing discoveries.

And then there’s the outsider, a Hollywood star whose love for Jane Austen and her admiration of the author’s works and life inspire her to imagine a different sort of career and life for herself, other than being a property of the studios who want to make money off of her beauty — but only until she ages out of starlet status.

I enjoyed The Jane Austen Society and its characters, but I can’t say that I felt particularly invested. The story develops slowly, and it was only at around the midpoint that I started to feel any sort of excitement building.

This is a quiet sort of story, and it’s lovely to see how these very different group of people, all suffering and struggling to recover from loss after the war, find new purpose and connection through their love of literature. I really enjoyed all of their conversations about the meaning they find in Austen’s works, which characters they most relate to, and how the characters’ actions help them understand elements of their own life.

I wished for something more, somehow. It’s a sweet book, but just lacked a real oomph as far as I was concerned. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It was a nice read, and I didn’t mind it a bit, but I also couldn’t quite care very strongly about the stakes or how the various personal entanglements would all work out.

The Jane Austen Society is a good choice for fans of historical fiction, and of course, for fans of Jane Austen! And after reading this book, I’m feeling the need to go reread a little Austen myself… maybe Persuasion or Mansfield Park this time around?

Opinion: I’m tired of creepy people on Goodreads

Stop. Just, please stop.

This is getting out of hand.

Okay, deep breaths.

When I first joined Goodreads, my friends list consisted of people who were really and truly my friends, or friends of friends — for the most part, people I knew in real life in some way, or who had an actual connection to me.

Over the years, especially since I started blogging, my friends list has expanded, and that’s usually quite fun. I love seeing what everyone else is reading (yes, I’m that person on the airplane who looks at everyone else’s book as she walks down the aisle), and I love getting feedback and ideas and inspiration from the people I meet.

BUT… has anyone else noticed lately the proliferation of creepy people who seem to think Goodreads is a hook-up site?

My policy over the last couple of years has been to accept all Goodreads friend requests, because why not? The more, the merrier! We’re all book lovers, after all, so why not be friends?

Except now I find that at least every couple of weeks, I’ll accept a friend request only to get a follow up message that creeps me out. Like the one that arrived today:

You are truly a beautiful woman. Honestly I will like to be your good friend. 

Um. Thanks? But no.

Here’s one from a couple of weeks ago:

Are you on hangout so we can have a good time and good privacy for ourselves

Ick.

There are also bunches of more innocuous messages, that all seem to be variations on Joey Tribbiani:

Not casting aspersions based on gender or anything… but 100% of the creepy Goodreads messages, as well as the “how you doing” messages, are from men. Make of that what you will.

I’m just ignoring for now. If I pretend not to see them, maybe they’ll go away? If anyone really crosses a line (or if I end up seeing something I deem offensive on their profile), I’ll delete them… but otherwise, I’ve mostly just been shrugging and moving on.

It does feel like these kind of messages are showing up more frequently lately. Maybe everyone is just at home with more time on their hands these days? For whatever reason, it’s often enough that I’m starting to get annoyed.

So….

Anyone else experiencing the same thing? And if so, how do you handle it?

Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really. 

Sometimes you pick up a book and it’s exactly what you need in that moment. And for me, Beach Read was it this week — as evidenced by the fact that I read it in about a day and a half, ignoring the real-world obligations nagging for my attention.

Beach Read is sweet and uplifting, but also a little heavier than you might guess from the title and the cover.

Main character January is a young, successful romance writer. She’s known for her swoony love stories and happy ending. However, she’s been thrown for a loop, and isn’t able to summon her inner belief in the power of true love — and her looming book deadline isn’t helping at all.

January’s father recently died, so she’s dealing with the loss of her incredible dad — but on top of that, at his funeral, she met That Woman. It turns out that her father had an on-again, off-again mistress for years, including during her mother’s battle with cancer. January is shattered and angry, and feels like her foundation has been swept out from under her. After all, it was her parent’s shining love story that taught her to believe in love-story-quality love — and if that was all a lie, then what is she supposed to believe? And how can she possibly write a believable love story when she’s not sure her heart will ever be in it again?

January’s father left her a beach-side bungalow in a small-town in Michigan. With her book deadline looming and a serious lack of funds, she decides to spend her summer writing at the cottage, while also cleaning, sorting, and getting it ready for sale. And the fact that this was her father’s place with That Woman is not helping in the slightest.

Also distracting is her next door neightbor, who turns out to be the revered young writer Augustus Everett — whom January knew as Gus back in their college days, when they were fierce competitors, and shared one steamy “almost” at a party.

As January and Gus reconnect, initially with resentment and animosity, they realize they’re in the same boat when it comes to lack of inspiration and dire writer’s block. Gus is battling his own inner demons and past hurts, and he can’t seem to make progress on his next book.

In the book’s central (cute) twist, they challenge each other to write each other’s genres. Gus has always mocked January’s belief in the HEA — now, he needs to find a way to see the possibility of happiness, rather than going for the gloomy conclusion. And January needs to be open to grim reality and the idea that love isn’t always perfect, that messiness and secrets and hard choices are parts of life, and that fairy tales never (rarely) come true.

Beach Read is so much fun, start to finish, but it’s not only sunshine and swooning. (But yes, there is swoon-worthy romance, to be sure.) The author has a lot to say about families and love, how the ideals of childhood can be tarnished by the realities of adulthood, how families can hurt one another but can also save one another in all sorts of different ways… and how true love doesn’t mean no one ever makes a mistakes or hurts the other person, and that sometimes love takes work, compromise, and second chances.

January and Gus have a great chemistry together, and I loved the scenes of them writing in their respective cottages, but communicating through notes held up to the window. It’s adorable — so much better than texting!

The small-town setting is charming, and there’s a wonderful bookstore, so that’s a plus! One of the central plot elements of the book is Gus and January’s series of field trips/dates, where each exposes the other to something that feels related to their own writing style and genre. So, line dancing alternates with going to the site of a tragic fire at a cult compound… and all their excursions bring them closer to each other and also give them each different insights into their own process and emotions.

The writing is cheerful and light, but the author doesn’t shy away from harder emotions. January and Gus both have baggage to deal with, and we do see their pain and confusion as they deal with the events in their lives and try to move forward.

Bonus points too for a terrific female friendship, which helps January realize that true love can also be the bond between two lifelong friends who have each other’s backs and love unconditionally.

Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are.

Beach Read is a wonderful depiction of falling in love, but also a moving exploration of the messiness that comes with growing up and facing real life and accepting the fact that parents aren’t always perfect.

As I mentioned at the start, this book came into my hands right when I needed it, and I enjoyed every minute. A great summer reading choice — and also a great way to escape our current isolation through fiction!

Shelf Control #217: The Blue Salt Road by Joanne M. Harris

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: The Blue Salt Road
Author: Joanne M. Harris
Published: 2019
Length: 215 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

An earthly nourris sits and sings
And aye she sings, “Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in.
(Child Ballad, no. 113)

So begins a stunning tale of love, loss and revenge, against a powerful backdrop of adventure on the high seas, and drama on the land. The Blue Salt Road balances passion and loss, love and violence and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless, wild young man.

Passion drew him to a new world, and trickery has kept him there – without his memories, separated from his own people. But as he finds his way in this dangerous new way of life, so he learns that his notions of home, and your people, might not be as fixed as he believed.

Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.
 

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy last year.

Why I want to read it:

This is a slim little hardcover book, and on my copy, the cover design is in silver, not white. So eye-catching! I just happened to be at my favorite bookstore one weekend and saw this book in the window, and felt completely drawn to it. I love folk tales and fairy tales, and a story about a selkie sounds just about perfect.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Opening Lines

Once again, I’m joining in with the Top 5 Tuesday meme this week! Top 5 Tuesday is hosted by Bionic Bookworm, who posts the month’s topics at the start of each month. Today’s topic is Top 5 Opening Lines. 

This is such a great topic! So many to choose from… but here are the five that come to mind for me:

1. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

2. There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

3. I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

4. Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked in to the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

5. People disappear all the time.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

And one extra, because how can I leave out this classic?

6. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way […]
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

What are your favorite opening lines? Let me know, and please share your Top 5 link if you have one!