31 July 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: This Week's Picks & Pans

Book reviews: this week's picks and pansIs it terrible that my mood seems to be linked with the weather? We have had a string of absolutely spectacular summer days: little wind, low humidity, lots of sun, and highs in the 70s. Can it be like this every single day of the year?

My good mood sparked a pretty great reading week. It was so lovely be sitting on the deck with a book or taking a walk with an audiobook. I'm trying to be grateful for every second of these perfect days.

What I Read Last Week

(All books discussed in this post were provided to me for review or feature consideration.)

Review: The Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan HenryThe Bookshop at Water's End by Patti Callahan Henry (Berkely; July 11): I enjoyed this story of women's friendships, mothers and daughters, and coming to terms with the past, but I didn't love it as much as others have. I don't know why, but I often don't connect strongly to women's fiction, and that was my first issue with this novel. My second problem is probably related to the editor in me: the story revolves around two families who formed strong bonds after vacationing together for three summers. Each family had a daughter and a son, but one of the boys is mentioned only in passing, and I can't help but wonder where he was during that long-ago pivotal event that so affected the other three children, even into their adulthood. This really bothered me. Finally, the writing was a little overwrought and the plot was ultimately predictable. On the other hand, maybe that's just what's needed for a light summer read. The book is told from four perspectives, and the audiobook (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 28 min) appropriately had four narrators: Andi Arndt, Lauren Fortgang, Shannon McManus, and Dorothy Dillingham Blue. The performances blended well together, and each narrator did a fine job picking up on her character's personality.

Review: The Black Witch by Laurie ForestThe Black Witch by Laurie Forest (Harlequin Teen; May 2): I love epic fantasy, and this first installment of a new series holds lots of promise. After being orphaned, a girl and her brothers are raised by their uncle in a small town far away from the major city where their late-grandmother was known as one of the strongest witches to have ever lived. Their uncle's sister remained in the city, where she has been seeking both political and magical power. Although tests show Elloren to have no magical abilities, her uncle eventually allows her to move to the city to attend university with her older brothers. There she meets a diverse set of beings and becomes entangled in a grass-roots civil rights movement. I liked the world building and the varied characters, although the several love matches seem a little convenient. Regardless, there is a good balance between action and narrative, and the novel is deserving of its starred reviews. My only complaint is the number times the main characters end up in tears. The audiobook (Harlequin Audio; 18 hr, 10 min) was wonderfully read by Julia Whelan. Whelan's voice sounded believable as a teenager, and I had no trouble distinguishing among the characters. She also has an excellent sense of pacing, pulling me through the action scenes and slowing down through the more emotional, quieter moments. I can't wait for the next book in the series.

Review: Koi: A Modern Folktalke by Sheldon Harnick with photographs by Margery Gray Harnick and Matt HarnickKoi: A Modern Folktalke by Sheldon Harnick with photographs by Margery Gray Harnick and Matt Harnick (Beaufort Books; June 21): I don't read a lot of poetry, but I couldn't resist giving this book, written by a Broadway legend, a try. The story is inspired by a traditional tale of how the Japanese koi came to be and how they can sometimes be transformed into dragons. The tale is told in a series of haiku that are easy to read and follow. Here is a section describing the beautiful fish before their contact with humankind: "In Far Eastern streams, / there swim resplendent creatures, / golden as sunlight, // silver as moonlight / iridescent as rainbows: the creatures called koi." The accompanying full-page photographs, taken by Sheldon Harnick's wife and son, are simply stunning. Some are straight shots, some emphasize reflections or rippling water, and others have been creatively edited. This is a delightful book that can be enjoyed by readers young and old. It would make a fantastic gift, and I know I'll look through and read this book many more times. (Note: the introduction was written by Alan Alda.)

Review: A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor BrownA Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown (Putnam; July 4): I loved this collection of 18 essays written by woman authors who shared their personal stories about visiting or living in Paris. As a whole, the collection presents an intimate and authentic view of the City of Light, from the wonderful bakeries to the unclean sidewalks. I was fascinated by the varied experiences: Ellen Sussman was seduced by the city; M. J. Rose discovered some of the romance; Jennifer Coburn had two very different reactions, first with her daughter and many years later with her aging mother; Paula McLain had a frustrating (and, really, almost funny) time trying to capture Paris in photographs; and Eleanor Brown had this to say: "I didn't love Paris. I didn't, most days, even like it." I loved how these essays captured the essence of travel and how a single place can have so many different faces. Yet there were many common threads: the beauty of the city, the crusty baguettes, and the scarves! If you've ever traveled anywhere outside your native country and if you've ever been to or dreamed of Paris, this is a must-read collection. It's also a great way to see a more personal side of some of your favorite authors. The audiobook (Penguin Audio; 8 hr, 23 min) was read by Kimberly Farr, Cassandra Campbell, Susan Denaker, Emily Rankin, and Alana Kerr Collins, each of whom performed several essays. Each performance was strong and well matched to the mood and personality of the individual essays. My full audiobook review will be available through AudioFile magazine.

What I'm reading now

2 Books to Read in AugustTo Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie (Fomite; August 8): I'm about halfway through this incredible collection of short stories. I'll have more to say in another post, but so far the underlining themes are families and friendships and coping with common troubles: deaths, aging, accidents, and conflicting personalities, all told against the clear backdrop of place. (Note: I know Caitlin personally, but my opinions are honest.)

Lockdown by Laurie R. King (Bantam; June 13): I just started this audiobook for a freelance assignment. I didn't realize when I said yes that this standalone thriller, set in a small town on the California coast, would likely take place in a middle school. It's too early for me to say much about the plot, so I don't know if there will be a school shooting or something else. The audiobook is read by Pilar Witherspoon. I'm only an hour in, but I'm enjoying her performance and her ability to pronounce the Spanish names and words.

Bookish Viewing

I finally got around to watching season 1 (7 episodes) of the Netflix original Anne with an E. I have mixed feelings about the series. The acting is fine and the actors' looks and mannerisms more or less match my exceptions. It's been a very, very long time since I read the books, and thus I'm not sure when I simply don't remember certain parts of the story and when the writers have decided to go off the original plot. I'm sure I'll continue to watch the series through to the end--it's Anne of Green Gables after all!--but I'm not feeling the connection I thought I would. Take a look at the trailer:


HannahCassie @ P.S. I love that book! 7/31/17, 6:48 AM  

I have been conflicted about watching Anne for awhile now, I kinda started it but then eventually stopped after few minutes, there is just something that doesn't feel right. I grew up watching Anne's cartoon so seeing it done in real life style is feeling a bit weird...

HannahCassie @ www.psilovethatbook.com

Molly 7/31/17, 7:43 AM  

I'm sorry to hear The Bookshop at Water's End did not live up to expectations. I'm not much a fan of women's fiction either, so I think I may pass on this one.

On the other hand, I'm thrilled to hear such accolades for A Paris All Your Own. I spotted this at the bookstore the other day and added it to the TBR list. Thanks to your review, it is now at the top of that list :)

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 7/31/17, 7:49 AM  

Pretty nice to have some low humidity days thrown into the middle of summer! We've had them too last week. Have a great week!

Vedika @ Poems and Poets 7/31/17, 8:02 AM  

I've watched a few episodes of Anne with an E as well. I quite liked their characterization of Anne, but other than that it is a little bit slow.

Amanda 7/31/17, 8:54 AM  

I just pulled The Black Witch off my library shelves last week. I hadn't heard anything about it but it looked interesting. It was one of the only books I grabbed that made my initial cut after reading a few pages. I'm interested to hear Whelan reads the audio. I've liked her in several audio series now so I'm going to see if my library has an audio copy of this.

bermudaonion 7/31/17, 8:58 AM  

I do enjoy women's fiction but I'm not a big fan of Henry's, so I think I'll skip The Bookshop at the Water's End. I do want to pick up A Paris All Your Own soon.

Susie | Novel Visits 7/31/17, 9:56 AM  

I love Paris despite it's flaws, so I really want to try A Paris All Your Own. I'm happy to hear you liked the audio. Adding it to my audio TBR !

Tina 7/31/17, 9:57 AM  

Women's fiction does not always float my boat and right now, I have enough family drama to deal with so I would pass on that.
Haven't seen Anne but i will certainly watch the trailer.

Slogging through When the English Fall now....not loving it but it's so short that I will finish it.

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/31/17, 10:03 AM  

I do want to read A Paris of Their Own, everyone has such great things to say. I've read some terrific books in the past few weeks, Don Winslow's The Force, Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, all winners.

Unknown 7/31/17, 10:24 AM  

So you didn't find The Black Witch to be incredibly racist and homophobic? Interesting.

Beth F 7/31/17, 10:28 AM  

@Caitie: I thought the point was that she was supposed to be learning the error of her ways and opening up her viewpoint and then fighting for (for lack of a better term) civil rights and equality. Or maybe I totally misinterpreted.

Kathy Martin 7/31/17, 11:24 AM  

The Black Witch sounds like one I'll have to add to my stack. I tend to avoid "Women's Fiction" as a genre since I prefer fantasy and science fiction. Come see my week here. Have a great week!

Laurel-Rain Snow 7/31/17, 11:47 AM  

I loved The Bookshop at Water's End. But then I did need something lighter than my usual reads, so that's why I immersed myself in this book.

I have added Anne with an E to my Netflix queue...haven't watched it yet. I am not sure if I'll watch it...it's there, in case I have nothing left to watch.

Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your week. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Vicki 7/31/17, 2:50 PM  

I have The Bookshop at Water's End on audio but after reading your review I'm wondering if I still want to read it. I also have A Paris All Your Own on audio and want to read it soon.

Can't wait to hear more about Lockdown. I'll have to check out Anne With An E on Netflix.

Harvee 7/31/17, 3:38 PM  

A Paris All Your Own is on my wish list. AI'm in the middle of The Bookshop...

pussreboots 7/31/17, 4:34 PM  

Koi looks gorgeous. I love to photograph the koi at a local Japanese tea garden. That book's now on my wishlist.

The old place is nearly ready. Meanwhile, we're happily settled in our temporary apartment. Come see what I'm reading

pussreboots 7/31/17, 4:37 PM  

They took some liberties with Anne of Green Gables for Anne with an E to make things more dramatic for the series. Anne never runs away from PEI.

The old place is nearly ready. Meanwhile, we're happily settled in our temporary apartment. Come see what I'm reading

Sue Jackson 7/31/17, 7:28 PM  

Ahhh...hasn't this cooler, dryer weather been a relief? Climbing back up to the 90's here this week - blech.

Wow, you've been reading quite a variety lately! That's always nice.

I am also watching Anne with an E and loving it! I agree - they cast it very well - the characters closely match what I imagined :) I just read Anne of Green Gables for the first time last summer, and I loved it. But I've only read it once and not as a child, so I'm not too concerned with whether they've stuck to the exact plotlines or not. I expect any TV show based on a book to have to add some stuff to fill in all the episodes. I'm enjoying it.

Enjoy your books this week!


2017 Big Book Summer Challenge

Yvonne 7/31/17, 7:48 PM  

I have The Bookshop on Water's End waiting for me on my Kindle. It looks so good. I'm sorry it didn't turn out that way for you. That's always a disappointment. I do enjoy Women's Fiction, though.

Hope you have a great week!

Greg 7/31/17, 10:04 PM  

I love perfect summer days like that, wish the whole summer (heck, the whole year) was like that. :)

The Black Witch looks like a promising start to a series, and I like the look of Koi. I love that quote and I'm sure the photography is amazing.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 8/1/17, 10:48 PM  

I was pretty sure I'd like (but not love) the new bookshop book. Thanks for sharing the book of essays about Paris. I'll add that to my wishlist.

If you wish you'd live in a place where temps are in the 70's most of the time, you might try the Gulf Coast of Texas! The summers are the exception however. And we do have the occasional hurricane....

Daryl 8/2/17, 9:11 AM  

we just finished Ozark on Netflix .. highly recommend it

i like Laurie R King .. but i will wait on your take

the poetry book and Paris short stories/essays .. both sound like perfect gifts for two friends, so thank you for that!

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