12 August 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Fiction and Nonfiction to Read Right Now

3 short book reviews for August 2019Good morning! I hope your week is already off to a good start. I love the cooler temperatures and blue skies of late, even though I'm in a work crunch until after Labor Day and can't get outside much.

The county fair is starting soon, and I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibits (quilts, photography, farm products) and animals (including the horse show). The best part, though, is eating our way through the fair. All the really bad for you but so, so delicious food. We never miss the fair.

As far as reading, I realized the other day that I totally failed on my goal of reading a short story every week this year. Thus I'm not quite sure why I'm starting a new goal, but here goes. I was going through my bookshelves and book piles and saw so many books I really, really wanted to read but never got to. My new goal is to try to read at least two books a month from my personal back list -- whether it's a print book, a digital book, or an audiobook.

Do you also get drawn in by the new and shiny? I hope I'm not alone.

review of Marilou Is Everywhere by Sara Elaine SmithMarilou Is Everywhere by Sara Elaine Smith (Riverhead, July 30). I was attracted to this book because it takes place in Pennsylvania and features socioeconomic issues that are often overlooked in contemporary fiction. Cindy and her older brothers are on their own after their mother abandons them (yet again), leaving no word of her whereabouts. The family didn't have much to begin with, but now food is scarce and the electricity is turned off. When her brother Virgil's girlfriend fails to return after a girls' camping weekend, everyone assumes she simply ran away, leaving behind her half-crazy, alcoholic mother (Bernadette) and rural, nowhere town. Cindy gets her first glance at another kind of life, when she starts to look after the wealthy Bernadette. Soon Cindy begins to feel more at home at the big house--enjoying hot baths, fancy foods, good music, and a full home library--than she does around her brothers. At 14, though, Cindy's choices are self-serving, and she eventually must face the consequences of her behavior. Marilou Is Everywhere is about a young girl who is ultimately forced to do the right thing and the surprising things she learns about herself, her family, and the possibilities of the world. If you like coming-age-stories, you'll like this. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 6 hr, 45 min) is wonderfully read by Kristen Sieh, a new-to-me narrator. Her expressive delivery nicely captures all of Cindy's moods, from her dreams to her fears to her everyday getting on with a hard life. (digital and audiobook editions provided by the publisher)

Review of The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman; July 23). I don't what I expected when I started this story of two Minnesota sisters who stopped speaking to each other when their widowed father left his entire farm to Helen (the younger), who sold the land to fund her dream of starting a brewery. Helen and her husband grew rich producing light beer in the typical American style, though the company has a hard go of it in the new millennium, as the big producers merge, as the economy sags, and as the craft beer movement takes hold. Edith (the elder) struggled all her life, along with her husband, to make ends meet and raise their children. Edith finds a little success when the pies she bakes for a nursing home win statewide acclaim. However, after her husband dies, and then her daughter, she struggles once again to feed and raise her orphaned granddaughter, Diana. Thanks to the generosity and faith of an IPA brewer, Diana is saved from a juvenile criminal record and discovers her true passion and talent. The story is about how the three women carve out a place for themselves, find redemption and hope, and stay true to their very different natures. Despite the heavy-sounding themes of loss, grief, ambition, and betrayals, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is, ultimately a charming and engaging novel with believable characters whom you want to help and root for. I highly recommend it, even if you aren't a beer lover or a pie eater. The unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 13 min) was read by Judith Ivey, whose performance is terrific. I loved her characterizations and subtle Minnesota accent. (digital copy provided by the publisher; audiobook provided for a freelance review)

Review of The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen AbbottThe Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott (Crown; Aug. 6). Jazz Age, bootlegging, and true crime? Yes, please. Abbott's newest nonfiction account is primarily set in southern Ohio and begins with the Volstead Act and how George Remus, a one-time lawyer, positioned himself to be one of the major dealers in the whiskey trade, making millions selling booze all over America to day laborers, famous politicians, and everyone in between. The story of Remus and his double-crossing wife goes well beyond a single marriage. Their story (and that of the Prohibition Era in general) had far-reaching effects on the U.S. attorney general's office, government agents, law enforcement, criminal justice, plea bargains, and criminal defense. I was surprised to learn that much of what happened to Remus foreshadowed the fates of more famous Prohibition mobsters of later years. The Ghosts of Eden Park introduces us to a host of real-life characters, including U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the highest-ranking woman in the federal government at the time; a young J. Edgar Hoover; and several presidents and their families. Abbott's sense of drama, accessible writing style, and natural storytelling ability brings this well-researched account of Remus's rise and fall to life. I read this book practically in one go.  As a side note: I had a great-uncle who served in Leavenworth for rum running. I got a small thrill when I read that Remus had runners from Toledo. I wonder if my great-uncle (who, I'm told, drove a yellow Cadillac convertible in the early 1920s) was one of Remus's boys. (copy provided by the author)


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 8/12/19, 7:56 AM  

The Ghosts of Eden Park sounds fascinating. I love good nonfiction, and it's always fun to find a story I haven't heard.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota looks like it has elements I look for in fiction, with themes of sister rivalry and women power. Oh, and of course, food.

I read a mix of the new and the old. I am such a fast reader that I have time to get to both, but, if I had to choose, I'd pick mostly the old.

Have a wonderful week!

bermudaonion 8/12/19, 8:15 AM  

I definitely get caught up in the new and shiny!

You know I loved The Lager Queen of Minnesota - I was so glad to be listening to it when I got caught in horrible traffic last week. It's obvious Stradal knows his beer. Marilou is Everywhere sounds good to me too.

Susie | Novel Visits 8/12/19, 9:49 AM  

Maybe I just got distracted too often while listening to Marilou. I liked it a lot, but also felt like I needed to go back and reread certain parts and that's the one big flaw of audiobooks for me. Still, it was very unique. My one big question though is why the whole baby thing at the end? It seemed so unnecessary and hard to buy into.

Harvee 8/12/19, 10:31 AM  

I like coming of age books so Marylou is Everywhere looks great to me.

Tina TBR Etc 8/12/19, 10:39 AM  

You've really sold me on The Ghosts of Eden Park!

Kathy Martin 8/12/19, 2:19 PM  

Nice sounding assortment of books. I have to admit that I've never been to our State Fair. The heat, the crowds, the 3 hour drive to get there, and the difficult parking are all reasons why. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Yvonne 8/12/19, 3:50 PM  

I love county fairs. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go this year. Hope you have a great week and enjoy your reading.

Greg 8/12/19, 7:11 PM  

I like your book goal. Reading off my shelves and not just all new releases all the time is something I want to do more of too. and county fairs are the best. Ours is starting soon and I can't wait. Plus yes- the fair food haha!

Laurel-Rain Snow 8/12/19, 7:31 PM  

I really like the sound of Marilou Is Everywhere. Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog. Enjoy your week.

rhapsodyinbooks 8/13/19, 8:49 AM  

The first two are of interest to me. Thanks for the tantalizing summaries!

Tina 8/13/19, 10:06 AM  

Country fairs are fun. I also love seeing the animals.
The Ghosts of Eden Park sounds good.

Daryl 8/13/19, 12:51 PM  

i was fascinated with the title The Large Queen of Minnesota .. and had to re-read the synopsis twice before i realized it said LAGER not LARGE .... sigh ...

(Diane) bookchickdi 8/18/19, 5:24 PM  

The Lager Queen is on my wish list, I really liked Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

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