Friday, May 29, 2015

The Month of Summer

The Month of Summer
Lisa Wingate

A Month of Summer (Blue Sky Hill #1)

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): For Rebecca Macklin, an ordinary summer brings about an extraordinary change of heart when she discovers that her aging father has been wandering the Dallas streets alone, and his wife, Hanna Beth, has landed in a nursing home. Now Rebecca must put aside old resentments and return to her childhood home. In this moving story of separation and forgiveness, two women will unravel the betrayals of the past and discover the true meaning of family.
 
Review: While this book dealt with difficult issues (aging, recovering from a stroke, dealing with Alzheimers) it managed to remain uplifting and hopeful.  As always, Wingate's characters are well-drawn and sympathetic; I could feel Hanna Beth's frustration when she was unable to communicate after her stroke.   This was a quick and engaging read, perfect for summer.

Rating: 4 stars

Lizzy & Jane

Lizzy & Jane
Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane's needs, Elizabeth's powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?

 
Review: This book combined so many different themes that I enjoy - discovering a new path in life, developing a relationship with a sister, exploring new recipes - but the addition of Jane's struggles with cancer and chemotherapy took this book to an entirely different place.  While it was difficult to read the details about a woman battling cancer, it brought a seriousness and depth to the book that made it even more satisfying than I had expected.  I'm not an Austen addict, so I found the references to Austen not in keeping with the other themes of the book, and frankly, a little distracting from the story.

Rating: 4 stars

The Firelight Girls

The Firelight Girls
Kaya McLaren

The Firelight Girls

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): The summers you spend at summer camp are indelibly etched on your heart. But what happens when the camp you love is about to close? Can you ever really say goodbye to the place that made you who you are?  These are the questions that plagues Ethel, the seventy-year-old former camp director who is nursing a broken heart after losing the love of her life as she now faces the impending closure of the camp on Lake Wenatchee that she called home. It's also a question that inspires change in forty-year-old Shannon, who spent the summers of her youth as a vibrant, capable camp counselor and is now directionless after watching her career implode. And there's Laura, who has lost all intimacy with her husband and doesn't know if she can save what seems to be gone forever.  Finally, Ruby, who betrayed Ethel years ago and hasn't spoken to her since, hopes this will be her chance to make amends. When the four women learn that a homeless teen has been hiding at camp, they realize camp is something much more immediate for all: survival.

And so the three generations of women search for a way to save the place that saved them all, finding in the process a way back to themselves and each other in The Firelight Girls, Kaya McLaren's novel of love and loss, heartbreak and healing.

 
Review: This would make an enjoyable beach read.  It's the kind of book that I love to read - women rediscovering friendships and finding their paths in life; what made this book stand out from others I've read in this genre is that it involves three different generations of women all coming together.  One of the main characters is a lesbian, and it was interesting to read how things were difficult for her growing up in the 1950s.  Never having been to summer camp, I find it a little odd that everyone in the book is so fixated on how amazing their experiences were and how summer camp shaped their entire lives, but perhaps that's how it really is for people.  I don't know.  I loved the stories about all the mischief the girls got into at camp, and the descriptions of nature surrounding the camp were so beautiful that it made me want to go camping (which says a lot).

Rating: 4 stars

A Second Bite at the Apple

A Second Bite at the Apple
Dana Bate

A Second Bite at the Apple

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Sydney Strauss is obsessed with food. Not with eating it--though she does that too--but with writing about the wonders of the gastronomic world, from obscure fruit hybrids to organic farming techniques. Since food journalism jobs are more coveted than Cronuts®, Sydney pays her bills working for one of TV's biggest egomaniacs--until she's left scrambling for shifts at a local farmers' market.

Stacking muffins for the Wild Yeast Bakery isn't going to win her any James Beard awards. But soon Sydney is writing the market's weekly newsletter, and her quirky stories gain attention from a prominent food columnist. After years of putting her love life into deep freeze, she's even dating again. And then Sydney gets a shot at the story, one that could either make her career or burn it to a crisp--along with her relationship and her reputation...

 
Review:  I enjoyed reading this book about a young woman making her way through a career change from an okay job with a morning show to a dream job as a food writer.  The research that she does to write articles for the farmer's market newsletter was quite interesting, and the descriptions of the food sold were mouthwatering.  But I thought the story was lacking in two ways.  First, her fixation on her high school and college relationship was a little strange, wouldn't most people have moved on after five years?  And secondly, it drives me NUTS when girls do completely stupid, selfish and thoughtless things in books (SPOILER ALERT - Sydney stole emails from her boyfriend to write an expose that got him fired) and then everything works out alright.  She should have been forced to live with the real consequences of her actions and not get her happy ending.

Rating: 3 stars

Bread and Butter

Bread & Butter
Michelle Wildgen

Bread and Butter

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Kitchen Confidential meets Three Junes in this mouthwatering novel about three brothers who run competing restaurants, and the culinary snobbery, staff stealing, and secret affairs that unfold in the back of the house.

Britt and Leo have spent ten years running Winesap, the best restaurant in their small Pennsylvania town. They cater to their loyal customers; they don't sleep with the staff; and business is good, even if their temperamental pastry chef is bored with making the same chocolate cake night after night. But when their younger brother, Harry, opens his own restaurant—a hip little joint serving an aggressive lamb neck dish—Britt and Leo find their own restaurant thrown off-kilter. Britt becomes fascinated by a customer who arrives night after night, each time with a different dinner companion. Their pastry chef, Hector, quits, only to reappear at Harry's restaurant. And Leo finds himself falling for his executive chef-tempted to break the cardinal rule of restaurant ownership. Filled with hilarious insider detail—the one-upmanship of staff meals before the shift begins, the rivalry between bartender and hostess, the seedy bar where waitstaff and chefs go to drink off their workday—Bread and Butter is both an incisive novel of family and a gleeful romp through the inner workings of restaurant kitchens.

 
Review: This book was a little strange and didn't really work for me.  The author clearly knows her food and writes about it in amazing detail.  But I thought the food was too complicated and pretentious for the small town setting, and too unusual for me to really enjoy reading about.  The relationships between the brothers could have been fleshed out a little more, and the female characters were pretty much devoid of personality.   And the main drama in the book, Harry's nervous breakdown, didn't really hold my attention or get resolved in any satisfactory way.  So while this book sounded like it would be right up my alley, it didn't live up to my expectations. 

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Evening Chorus

The Evening Chorus
Helen Humphreys

The Evening Chorus: A Novel

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Downed during his first mission, James Hunter is taken captive as a German POW. To bide the time, he studies a nest of redstarts at the edge of camp. Some prisoners plot escape; some are shot. And then, one day, James is called to the Kommandant’s office.

Meanwhile, back home, James’s new wife, Rose, is on her own, free in a way she has never known. Then, James’s sister, Enid, loses everything during the Blitz and must seek shelter with Rose. In a cottage near Ashdown forest, the two women jealously guard secrets, but form a surprising friendship. Each of these characters will find unexpected freedom amid war’s privations and discover confinements that come with peace. The Evening Chorus is a beautiful, astonishing examination of love, loss, escape, and the ways in which the intrusions of the natural world can save us.

 
Review: This is a well-written book that presents glimpses into the lives of three related people during World War II and five years after the end of the war.  The descriptions of nature, especially birds and other wild animals, were beautifully done.  And the author captured the thoughts and emotions of the characters in an insightful way.  But this book was too bleak for me too truly enjoy.  The ending offered a modicum of hope that the characters' lives would improve, which saved it from a lower rating.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Birth House

The Birth House
by Ami McKay

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  An arresting portrait of the struggles that women faced for control of their own bodies, The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare—the first daughter in five generations of Rares.

As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.
from GoodReads

Review:  For some reason I am intrigued by stories about midwives.  I thought I would enjoy this book but I just couldn't get into this book at all.  The beginning was just heavy, full of historical stories/lore that didn't make sense to me.  The format was also confusing.  There would be narrative and then all of a sudden a diary entry and it made the reader wonder if the whole thing was a diary entry.  Perhaps if I had kept reading to the part where Dora learns about being a midwife I would have enjoyed it more but I just couldn't get past the beginning.

Rating: Abandonded