The Monday Check-In ~ 5/9/2022

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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.

By the time you read this post, I’ll be on vacation! It’s just a mini-trip to spend a few days in the sun in Southern California, but as I write this post (Saturday), it’s making me happy just to think about it! This will be my first time traveling other than for family reasons in 2 years.

I’ll be away for three nights only, but in a shocking development, I’m planning to be offline for those days! I’ve never not traveled with a laptop, but this time, that baby is staying home without me.

Meanwhile, since we’re headed out of town on Mother’s Day, my husband and kids took me out for an early Mother’s Day dinner on Friday, which was lovely.

And now, all that I still need to do is pack and choose my books! (Kidding… I may still need to pack, but I’ve had my books picked out for weeks!)

What did I read during the last week?

It’s actually been a fairly slow reading week, with long hours at work and lots of busy-ness at home. Plus, I happened to have started longer books this week… so, I only managed to finish one book!

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner: I love how this author captures family dynamics so well — the good and the bad, the funny and the tragic. The Summer Place was a great read! My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

This Is Us brought on the waterworks last week with its Miguel episode! Can’t believe the show is ending so soon — only three episodes to go!

I’ve started watching the final batch of Grace & Frankie episodes, but for whatever reason, they’re not loading on my TV… which left me sitting on my couch watching on my phone, definitely not ideal. I still have a bunch to go.

Fresh Catch:

Three new books this week! The first is one I preordered ages ago; the other two were spur-of-the-moment buys when I stumbled across a buy one, get one 50% off deal on Amazon.

I also made a last-minute impulse purchase of a jigsaw puzzle that caught my eye… but I’ll share that one once I actually get it done!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire: I started this as an audiobook, and as much as I liked hearing Amber Benson as the narrator, the story was just too complicated for me to be able to follow it by listening. After a day, I switched to print, and I’m having a much better experience! This book is long (over 500 pages), and I haven’t had very much time to really devote to it… but I hope to wrap it up shortly.

In related news, I attended an online author event with Seanan McGuire over the weekend, which was awesome! Her cat even made an appearance:

Now playing via audiobook:

By the Book by Jasmine Guillory: The 2nd book in Disney’s adult fiction Meant To Be series is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, featuring a 20-something editorial assistant trying to get an ill-tempered celebrity author to finish his memoir… by moving in with him in his gorgeous Santa Barbara mansion. It’s cute so far!

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s newest classic read. We’ll be going at a pace of one scene per week — now underway.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

Title: The Summer Place
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Publisher: Atria
Publication date: May 10, 2022
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When her twenty-two-year-old stepdaughter announces her engagement to her pandemic boyfriend, Sarah Danhauser is shocked. But the wheels are in motion. Headstrong Ruby has already set a date (just three months away!) and spoken to her beloved safta, Sarah’s mother Veronica, about having the wedding at the family’s beach house on Cape Cod. Sarah might be worried, but Veronica is thrilled to be bringing the family together one last time before putting the big house on the market.

But the road to a wedding day usually comes with a few bumps. Ruby has always known exactly what she wants, but as the wedding date approaches, she finds herself grappling with the wounds left by the mother who walked out when she was a baby. Veronica ends up facing unexpected news, thanks to her meddling sister, and must revisit the choices she made long ago, when she was a bestselling novelist with a different life. Sarah’s twin brother, Sam, is recovering from a terrible loss, and confronting big questions about who he is—questions he hopes to resolve during his stay on the Cape. Sarah’s husband, Eli, who’s been inexplicably distant during the pandemic, confronts the consequences of a long ago lapse from his typical good-guy behavior. And Sarah, frustrated by her husband, concerned about her stepdaughter, and worn out by challenges of life during quarantine, faces the alluring reappearance of someone from her past and a life that could have been.

When the wedding day arrives, lovers are revealed as their true selves, misunderstandings take on a life of their own, and secrets come to light. There are confrontations and revelations that will touch each member of the extended family, ensuring that nothing will ever be the same.

From “the undisputed boss of the beach read” (The New York Times), The Summer Place is a testament to family in all its messy glory; a story about what we sacrifice and how we forgive. Enthralling, witty, big-hearted, and sharply observed, this is Jennifer Weiner’s love letter to the Outer Cape and the power of home, the way our lives are enriched by the people we call family, and the endless ways love can surprise us. 

Jennifer Weiner excels at depicting families in all their messy glory — day-to-day life, tensions, love, secrets, and joy — and making it all feel significant and real. In The Summer Place, we meet a large family through the eyes of each of its members, and learn how deeply secrets can run and how much damage they can do, even in a family fully of love and acceptance.

The Summer Place takes place post-pandemic. People are going out again, reuniting with far-flung family members they’ve only seen on FaceTime for two years, experiencing life outside the home and shaking off the long stagnation of quarantine.

For Sarah Levy-Weinberg, it’s a relief, but problems linger. Sarah spent the pandemic working from home alongside her endodontist husband, her stepdaughter Ruby and Ruby’s boyfriend Gabe, and her two younger boys — and the impact on her marriage has not been good. Sarah and Eli had been doing great, but something changed during these two years. Eli, once loving and attentive, has become distracted and cold, and refuses to talk to Sarah about why. It’s driving her crazy, and so are all those little habit of Eli’s that might not have bothered her so much if they weren’t stuck in the house together ALL DAY LONG.

Like his flipflops. Oh my, there’s something so real about the descriptions of Sarah being driven absolutely bonkers by hearing Eli’s slap-slapping footsteps as he paces while he works. I mean, who can’t relate to that sense of utter craziness brought on by someone else’s innocent but totally annoying habits?

When Ruby announces her engagement, the plot wheels are set in motion. The family will gather at grandmother Ronnie’s Cape Cod house for the wedding, and each person who’ll be there will be bringing secrets that they may or may not want to reveal to others.

The story is told through chapters from the points-of-view of most of the main characters, including not just Sarah, but also Ruby, Gabe, Eli, Ronnie, Sarah’s brother Sam, and more. We don’t know everything right from the start, but as the book progresses, we learn about each character’s past, the decisions that haunt them, the choices they regret, and the secrets and shame that they carry with them.

The plot is not terribly complex — this is a character-driven novel, and I enjoyed getting to know each of these people and their inner lives. We can judge characters’ actions or disagree with their choices, but through the lens of the point-of-view chapters, it’s impossible not to empathize and at least understand the reasons for what they’ve done and what they’ve hidden or given up.

There are perhaps too many coincidences in The Summer Place, which make some of the big reveals feel a bit contrived. How likely is it that these people, whose paths cross accidentally in the story, would have secret connections that go back decades? Not very… but it’s okay. Even if I had to suspend my disbelief in parts, I still really enjoyed how the various story threads were woven together to form a cohesive whole.

In each section of the book, there’s a brief interlude narrated by, of all things, the Cape Cod house itself. I’m not a fan of this kind of anthropomorphism, and thought it was a bit hokey… your mileage may vary. Thankfully, these interludes are short and don’t feel weighty, so they didn’t negatively impact my reading experience as a whole.

The Summer Place exists in the same general world as That Summer, which I absolutely loved. To be clear, The Summer Place is not a sequel and is absolutely a stand-alone… but for those who’ve read That Summer, some familiar names and places will pop out.

The Summer Place is not as emotionally impactful as That Summer, which has much heavier themes and consequences (and which I really loved). Still, I did very much enjoy The Summer Place. The characters are relatable and feel grounded in the world we know.

Families are messy. Family members can be annoying. Lives aren’t always logical, and everyone, no matter how happy or successful, carries regrets and what-ifs and secrets they’d prefer to forget about. As The Summer Place shows, even families with messy and unpredictable connections and weird communication patterns love and need each other, and if that love is strong enough, bad choices and unintended consequences won’t keep a family from coming together and sharing life’s ups and downs.

And oh, the glory of a beach house in summer! Reading this book made me yearn for a slow, unscheduled summer of my own. Beach house, swimming, good food, good books… a relaxed appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. It feels very far away from reality for me… but it’s certainly nice to dream about!

Shelf Control #318: One By One by Ruth Ware

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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!

A scheduling note for Shelf Control: Next week, I’ll be away for a few days, and rather than schedule a Shelf Control post in advance, I’m planning to go easy on myself and skip a week! So, for May 11th, I will not have a Shelf Control post up on Bookshelf Fantasies, but if you’re participating in the meme, please add your link to this week’s post so I don’t miss it!

Title: One By One
Author: Ruth Ware
Published: 2020
Length: 372 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

How and when I got it:

I bought a hardcover edition during a pre-Christmas book sale in 2020.

Why I want to read it:

I love snowy mountain vacations… and I also seem to be drawn to books and/or movies that feature snowy mountain disasters! What does this say about me, I wonder?

One By One caught my attention as soon as I stumbled across it and read the synopsis, and when I saw it available at a deep discount, I just had to grab a copy. Now, I’m not usually much of a thriller reader, and I’ve only read one book by Ruth Ware so far (The Turn of the Key), which I had decidedly mixed feelings about. Still, the subject matter and description for One By One make it sound like a twisty must-read for me.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Two-word word association for the last 10 books I’ve read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is One-Word Reviews for the Last Ten Books I Read. I tried, but I couldn’t think about how to do this — my list would have been basically: scary! funny! sweet! etc… not very enlightening.

So, I thought I’d do a bit of word association. Remember playing word association games? Say the first word that comes to mind…

In this case, I decided to do the two words that come to mind when I think about the most recent books I’ve read. Here goes!

Hollywood & Hyenas


Narwhals & Cheese


Mule & Pajama Party


Lawyers & Scones


ASL & Anarchy


Bonedog & Dustwife


Doll-children & Surveillance


Tudors & Shapeshifters


Cake & Kissing


Dating & Demons

How did you do with this week’s TTT prompt? Did you have better luck than I did writing one-word reviews?

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/2/2022

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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.

Oof. I got my second booster on Thursday, and it knocked me out for about a day and a half. I’m not sorry I got it — but I definitely did not feel okay the next day. I mean, my head was so fuzzy and achy that I couldn’t even read!

Other than that, it’s been another intense work week, and this coming week should be more of the same. Fortunately, I have a couple of days away next week to look forward to!

What did I read during the last week?

True Biz by Sara Novic: I absolutely loved this book set in a school for the deaf. Five stars! My review is here.

The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson: This follow-up to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is interesting, but lacks the emotional connection of the first book. My review is here.

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian: Wow, talk about a page-turner! I couldn’t put this book down, despite how anxious it made me feel throughout the reading process. My review is here.

In audiobooks, I finished a re-read of The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan, the first book in the Mure series, and immediately started book #2, The Endless Beach, which I finished over the weekend. Not surprisingly, I’m loving this series. Jenny Colgan’s books are always a ray of sunshine! I can’t wait to start book #3.

Outlander!!

The 6th season of Outlander has now come to an end, after last night’s agonizing season finale. This episode covers a section of book #6 that I absolutely loathe — it feels like such needless torture for our belove characters. And on top of everything, the episode (and thus the season) ends without finishing this segment of the plot… which means we’ll be picking up this storyline again in season 7. Ugh! Make it go away so we can move on!

Pop culture & TV:

Drop everything and watch Heartstopper on Netflix! This series is short and so, so sweet! I was just a big pile of FEELINGS after watching it. It’s eight 30-minute episodes, adapted from Alice Oseman’s graphic novels and webcomics. Just loved it.

And of course, if you haven’t read the comics, why not start now? Check out the webcomic, or the four graphic novels (with the 5th and final due out in 2023).

Fresh Catch:

I bought myself a present! This is a “miniature” library of Jane Austen’s novels, and it’s adorable! (The photo of Persuasion with the Four Aunties book is included as a size comparison…)

(For sale from The Jane Austen Online Gift Shop)

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner: After reading this author’s most recent novel, That Summer, last year, I was eager to get my hands on an ARC for her upcoming new release. This one comes out later in May — I’ve only just started, but I like it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire: I’m actually just starting this audiobook today, with some hesitation, because I’m afraid it’s going to be more complicated than I can absorb via audiobook. That’s okay — I have both e-book and audiobook ARCs, so I can switch if needed… but Amber Benson is the narrator, which motivates me to at least give it a try! (Unfortunately, I barely remember the details of Middlegame, which this is the sequel to… I’m hoping I don’t find myself too lost.)

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s newest classic read. We’ll be going at a pace of one scene per week — now underway.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian

Title: The Lioness
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication date: May 10, 2022
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebra storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film “Tender Madness”—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: Fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: A kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding them into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: To see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.

Chris Bohjalian proves once again that he can tell a story with any subject, in any genre, and make it unputdownable. The only reason I didn’t read The Lioness straight through was the pesky issue of needing to sleep. (And even once I stopped for the night, did I dream about kidnappings and safaris? You bet I did.)

From his devastating, engrossing novel about a Puritan woman accused of witchcraft in 1660s Boston (The Hour of the Witch), the author shifts tone and subject matter completely with The Lioness, bringing us a tale of Hollywood glamor, deadly Cold War proxy wars, and the terror of being utterly defenseless in a place that has far too many ways to kill a human.

Katie Barstow is the biggest movie star of 1964 when, at age 30, she marries art gallery owner David Hill, then brings their closest friends and family with them on a luxury African safari. Led by renowned “great white hunter” Charlie Patton, they’ll travel through the Serengeti viewing wildlife and taking photographs, “roughing it” with canvas bathtubs filled by porters and living in tents, while protected by rangers and having their every need catered to. For Katie, a warm-hearted friend and sister who truly cares about the people with her, it’s the adventure and experience of a lifetime.

But within a few days, things go very, very wrong. The expedition’s camp is attacked by armed men — white men with Russian accents and over-the-top firepower — who kill several of the group’s guides ruthlessly before taking the Americans hostage. As the group is divided in two, they’re left at the mercy of their kidnappers, who don’t hesitate to use violence. The deeper they’re taken into the Serengeti, the worse their odds of survival look: Even if they do manage to escape their captors, then what? Unarmed, without provisions, alone in the wild, how long could they survive the leopards, hyenas, and other predatory animals who stalk their every movement?

In chapters that shift perspective amongst the nine members of Katie’s entourage, we follow the events of the kidnapping as they unfold, but also see each character’s thoughts and memories of their lives before the trip and the events leading up to this point. We come to understand their inner lives, their early struggles, and the individualized fears they carry with them into this moment of extreme crisis.

I won’t say too much more about the plot. It’s complex and includes twists and red herrings, but we’re always fully present in the moment with the characters. We experience the terror of these events alongside the characters, never knowing from moment to moment what might be happening to the others, what the kidnappers’ plans are, or whether what’s coming might be even worse than what’s happening at that very moment. The characters must react and choose what to do based on very limited information, always weighing the odds of survival — is it better to attack their kidnappers, or to wait and hope for rescue or ransom? Which way offers the best chance of living for one more hour, one more day?

I did find myself lacking some key information about the state of affairs in East Africa in the mid-1960s, and relied on many quick Wikipedia searches to shore up my historical knowledge enough to get better context for the plot developments. The plot is so character-driven that the historical details are really more background than essential, but it helped me a lot to have quick access to the information I needed, and helped round out the stakes, the players, and the settings of the Cold War machinations that drive the story from behind the scenes.

The Lioness is a totally engrossing read, I was low-key anxious and/or terrified throughout my reading experience. We know right from the prologue that most of the characters will not survive — but it’s not clear who survives or how events wind up until the very end. Meanwhile, we get to know each of them as individuals, and while not all are people I’d want to actually hang out with, it’s still tragic and terrible to see how, one by one, those who die meet their ends.

I rarely give 5-star ratings — I think of 5-star books as being those where I wouldn’t change a thing. And with that in mind, I couldn’t give The Lioness any less than 5 stars. I was immediately captivated, and then couldn’t look away. My emotions and my brain were engaged right from the start.

This isn’t an easy read — the subject matter is very tough to take — but the book itself is impossible to put down once you start. I’m a big fan of Chris Bohjalian’s books, and The Lioness doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. (In fact, despite having an e-ARC, I think I’m going to need a hard copy for my shelves as well).

Don’t miss The Lioness. I have a feeling it’s destined to end up on many of the “best of” lists for 2022.

Book Review: The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

Title: The Book Woman’s Daughter
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Bestselling historical fiction author Kim Michele Richardson is back with the perfect book club read following Honey Lovett, the daughter of the beloved Troublesome book woman, who must fight for her own independence with the help of the women who guide her and the books that set her free.

In the ruggedness of the beautiful Kentucky mountains, Honey Lovett has always known that the old ways can make a hard life harder. As the daughter of the famed blue-skinned, Troublesome Creek packhorse librarian, Honey and her family have been hiding from the law all her life. But when her mother and father are imprisoned, Honey realizes she must fight to stay free, or risk being sent away for good.

Picking up her mother’s old packhorse library route, Honey begins to deliver books to the remote hollers of Appalachia. Honey is looking to prove that she doesn’t need anyone telling her how to survive. But the route can be treacherous, and some folks aren’t as keen to let a woman pave her own way.

If Honey wants to bring the freedom books provide to the families who need it most, she’s going to have to fight for her place, and along the way, learn that the extraordinary women who run the hills and hollers can make all the difference in the world.

I loved the 2019 novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and was excited to hear that a sequel would be released this year. Sadly, The Book Woman’s Daughter doesn’t quite live up to the first book.

The story picks up about 15 years after the end of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The first book’s main character, Cussy Mary Lovett, and her husband Jackson are raising their adopted daughter Honey in the backcountry hills — but the people of Kentucky have a long memory, and, it seems clears, a long-lasting capacity for hatred.

Cussy Mary is a Blue, one of the clan of Kentucky Appalachian dwellers with a genetic condition that gives them blue skin. The Blues are despised by white Kentuckians and are viewed as “colored” — and because Cussy is married to a white man, the two are accused of miscegenation. Although they live in isolation in the back woods, the law still catches up with them. As The Book Woman’s Daughter opens, Honey’s parents are arrested, treated violently, and soon thereafter sentenced to two years each in prison.

The law isn’t done with the family, though. Honey, at age 16, is a minor. The county has issued an order for Honey to be taken into custody and sent to a reform institution, where she can be held until age 21, doing hard labor and essentially a prisoner of the state. Honey makes a last-minute escape from the sheriff and social worker who come to seize her, and from there, must depend on the kindness and support of the mountain folk who loved her parents, including an old woman who assumes guardianship of Honey and a moonshiner whose family offers her shelter.

Things don’t go well for Honey, and she’s repeatedly forced to find new ways to survive and support herself, eventually taking up her mother’s former profession as a pack horse librarian. As the area’s new Book Woman, Honey travels the trails and mountains on her mule, but encounters trouble even there as she becomes embroiled in the struggles of a woman suffering abuse at her husband’s hands.

The book follows Honey’s efforts to find a place for herself, protect herself, and ultimately seek emancipation in order to keep herself out of the clutches of the state that wants to lock her up. Her journey involves some terrible experiences and danger, but she also finds new friends along the way and gains a better understanding of the plight of women in that time and place.

The Book Woman’s Daughter introduces us to the world of Appalachia in the mid-1950s, clearly not a welcoming world for women, especially those who don’t fit the traditional mold. It’s a place of economic woes, with children starving in the backcountry and men (and the occasional women) sacrificing their health to the coal mines — the only option for those seeking work and wages.

Honey is an endearing character, and I appreciated her determination, her commitment to her parents and her love of family, and her sense of right and wrong.

I did feel that the book lacks in terms of bringing the setting to life. I suppose there’s an assumption on the part of the author that readers will have read the first book, but even as someone who had read it, I would have liked this book to spend a little more time describing the way of life, the landscape, and the overall sense of the time and place. Instead, we’re dropped into a setting that doesn’t get fleshed out enough, and I always felts something was missing.

My other quibble with this book is a certain flatness. The events move along, and some are moving or frightening, but overall, I couldn’t quite get emotionally engaged. Honey’s parents are almost entirely off the page, which is a shame — they’re the connection to the first book, but they’re rarely seen, and this second book doesn’t create enough of a link back to their story.

I’m still glad to have read The Book Woman’s Daughter, but it didn’t capture my feelings or imagination the way The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek did. Still, for those who read the first book, it’s worth reading this follow-up to see what happens next for the family.

Book Review: True Biz by Sara Nović

Title: True Biz
Author: Sara Nović
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Length: 386 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A transporting novel that follows a year of seismic romantic, political, and familial shifts for a teacher and her students at a boarding school for the deaf, from the acclaimed author of Girl at War.

True biz (adj/exclamation; American Sign Language): really, seriously, definitely, real-talk

True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history final, and have doctors, politicians, and their parents stop telling them what to do with their bodies. This revelatory novel plunges readers into the halls of a residential school for the deaf, where they’ll meet Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who’s never met another deaf person before; Austin, the school’s golden boy, whose world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing; and February, the headmistress, who is fighting to keep her school open and her marriage intact, but might not be able to do both. As a series of crises both personal and political threaten to unravel each of them, Charlie, Austin, and February find their lives inextricable from one another–and changed forever.

This is a story of sign language and lip-reading, cochlear implants and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss, and, above all, great persistence, daring, and joy. Absorbing and assured, idiosyncratic and relatable, this is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection. 

This book was an impulse read for me… and I’m so glad I gave in to my whims! True Biz was the Hello Sunshine book club pick for April, and while I don’t always follow celebrity book clubs, I find the Reese picks often include terrific stories I might not have come across otherwise. Such is the case with True Biz.

In this excellent novel, we follow the lives of the River Valley School for the Deaf’s headmistress, a hearing woman named February whose parents were deaf, as well as several of the school’s students. As the book opens, we learn that three students have disappeared from the school, leaving their cell phones behind. This is potentially a catastrophe, and a police search is launched. From this opening, we go back six months to learn how these events unfold.

The school, located in the Ohio rust belt, has served generations of deaf students, providing a safe haven, a home, a community, and a chance for education and language not available in mainstream programs. Some of the students come from families with long histories of deafness; for others, they’re the outliers in their families, and receive varying levels of support — or sometimes, almost none at all — before coming to RVSD.

While True Biz tells a compelling story about the lives of the characters and their personal stakes and struggles, it also provides a window into the Deaf community. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been ignorant about many of the issues described in the book, and the most shocking and eye-opening for me was the discussion about language deprivation and cochlear implants.

As depicted by the characters in this book, while cochlear implants (technical devices that include a piece implanted in a baby or child’s head, that allows sound signals to bypass the ears and be received and decoded by the brain) are often seen as miraculous solutions to a problem, they represent something potentially cataclysmic to the Deaf community. As part of “fixing” deafness, the recommended approach for implanted children is to make them completely reliant on the implants so they’re forced to learn to interpret sounds and speak out loud. Often, this means denying them access to American Sign Language.

But CIs are often imperfect, and for some children, don’t work well enough for them to get by or truly learn to master verbal English. Without ASL, the children are essentially language deprived — they grow up without mastery of any language and suffer throughout their education and beyond because of this.

The other large issue with CIs seems to be the impact on the Deaf community itself. By “fixing” deafness, the devices (and those who advocate for them) seem to be pushing an agenda that erases the Deaf world, which is a culture unto itself, with a rich history and linguistic traditions.

I loved that the book includes illustrations of ASL words, as well as explanations of grammar and syntax, historical notes, and all sorts of other information about the Deaf community that I had little to no awareness of. As I said earlier, I’m somewhat embarrassed that so much of the cultural elements portrayed in this book are new to me, and that’s something I want to remedy.

A note on presentation and style: Initially, I was put off by the lack of quotation marks when characters speak — in general, a pet peeve of mine when it comes to fiction. Here, though, the stylistic choices appear to be deliberate. Depending on the placement and format of the different lines being spoken, we can tell by looking at the way the words are written whether the characters are speaking ASL or English, when a signing character finger-spells a word, and when a character misses a word that’s being spoken out loud or signed. It’s very effective and very clever.

I also want to point out that while I’ve mostly written about the issues depicted and brought to life in the book, the characters and plot are excellent and make for engrossing, compelling reading. In fact, my only complaint is that the ending felt too abrupt, as if the author simply decided to stop rather than go a little bit further in the timeline and wrap it up. I was left with questions about what comes next and feeling unsatisfied… but that’s okay.

The reading journey was enjoyable every step of the way, and I came to really care about the characters of True Biz. A lovely book — I highly recommend it.

Shelf Control #317: House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

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!

Title: House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery
Author: Liz Rosenberg
Published: 2018
Length: 339 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

An affecting biography of the author of Anne of Green Gables is the first for young readers to include revelations about her last days and to encompass the complexity of a brilliant and sometimes troubled life.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maud who adored stories. When she was fourteen years old, Maud wrote in her journal, “I love books. I hope when I grow up to be able to have lots of them.” Not only did Maud grow up to own lots of books, she wrote twenty-four of them herself as L. M. Montgomery, the world-renowned author of Anne of Green Gables. For many years, not a great deal was known about Maud’s personal life. Her childhood was spent with strict, undemonstrative grandparents, and her reflections on writing, her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression, her “year of mad passion,” and her difficult married life remained locked away, buried deep within her unpublished personal journals. Through this revealing and deeply moving biography, kindred spirits of all ages who, like Maud, never gave up “the substance of things hoped for” will be captivated anew by the words of this remarkable woman.

How and when I got it:

I bought a hardcover edition just over a year ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been a voracious reader from childhood onward, but it’s only been in the last few years, as a (ahem) mature adult, that I’ve filled in a major gap in my childhood reading — the works of L. M. Montgomery!

How I managed to get through my younger days without someone pushing a copy of Anne of Green Gables into my hands, I just can’t quite understand. But that’s how things stood until about three years ago, when I finally read AoGG and then proceeded to read the seven following books in the Anne series. By now, I’ve also read the three Emily Starr books (loved them!) and one of the author’s rare books for adults, The Blue Castle. (Loved that one too!)

But what do I actually know about the author? Not very much, other than that she was a beloved Canadian children’s author who grew up on Prince Edward Island — so I was eager to get my hands on this biography of L. M. Montgomery, which has some truly stellar reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere.

House of Dreams is marketed as a middle grade book, although from some comments on Goodreads, it sounds like it deals more directly with the author’s depression than might be expected in MG.

I know I’ve commented at least a thousand times (grain of salt applied here…) that I tend not to read non-fiction, but this book is one I think I’ll make an exception for. I’ve gotten so much joy from reading L. M. Montgomery’s books over the last few years. I think it’s about time for me to get to know the author herself.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with BOOKS on the cover

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books with [___] On the Cover (Pick a thing (a color, an item, a place, an animal, a scripty font, a sexy person, etc.) and share covers that have that thing on the cover.). I took what seemed like an easy-ish approach and went with books!

I love books about books and readers — how about you? Do you have a favorite?

What was your TTT theme this week? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!