Fourth of July Recommendation

A Book Barmy recommendation for making it through what is bound to be a most unusual 4th of July.

 

 

I’m planning to work in the garden, visit some friends and watch fireworks from our deck (barring our usual fog on the 4th)  

Not to mention polishing off three books I’m reading concurrently

I know, I know ~~ just barmy…

 

 

Happy Fourth of July to all my Barmy American followers!

A trip to Maine

We had quite the heatwave here a couple of weeks ago.  I escaped the heat by taking a short trip to Maine.  Not really.  I dragged out our only fan, lounged in the cooler downstairs, and read two books set in Maine. 

 

One takes place during a blizzard and the other in a small fictional village. Both were page turners and both helped me forget the heat.

 

 

 

 

The Remedy for Love

by Bill Roorbach

This book has been on my shelves forever and with the snowbound cover and this little blurb on the back, I was ready to dive in and cool off:

Snowbound in Maine, two strangers struggle to survive — fighting, flirting, baring secrets.  Their sexy, snappy dialogue will keep you racing through. (People)

The state of Maine is predicted to be hit with “the storm of the century.” Small-town attorney Eric stops by the grocery store to stock up on some high-end provisions (fancy cheese, good wine, etc.) in preparation for a visit from his estranged wife. He finds himself in line behind Danielle, an unkempt woman he assumes to be homeless, who is having trouble coming up with all of the money she needs to buy her groceries. Rather than cause a scene, he pays the difference, then offers her a ride.

When they arrive at the fishing cabin where Danielle has been staying, Eric becomes increasingly concerned. This cabin is not winterized, Danielle needs water and firewood, not to mention more food than she had bought at the store.  And while she’s willing to accept a bit of his help, she’s more than ready to be left alone. But when Eric hikes back out to the road, he finds his car towed and himself stranded.  Without a car or a cell phone, the only place he can go is back to Danielle’s cabin—and she’s not a bit happy to see him again.

The two forge a prickly agreement to ride it out together. But, as the storm unleashes its fury, Danielle and Eric aren’t sure if sticking together is the best idea.  These are intimate strangers having intimate conversations to pass the time.   Lies are told, truths are revealed, and emotional wounds are opened.  The storm both outside and inside the cabin continues —  they banter, eat Eric’s fine cooking, share Danielle’s favorite Pop tarts, and try to stay warm, clean, and dry.  But questions arise  — is Danielle unstable and possibly dangerous? Is Eric the victim he has painted himself out to be?  It’s not clear which of these awkward misfits needs rescuing.

Some parts dragged for me — especially when we are presented with the details of Eric’s failed marriage and his soon-to-be ex-wife.  There are also some parts that strain believably, but on the whole I found Remedy for Love gripping.

This is no “two people caught in a blizzard” novel, this is a story of self-discovery, coping with the past, and perhaps even finding a future.  The author’s note at the end of the novel tells how three actual events were the genesis for this novel.

 

 

 

Oh, Henry

A Vintage Maine Novel

by T. L. Chasse

 

You may remember THIS POST where I discovered Ms. Chasse, a self-published writer who is happily crafting a series set in the fictional village of Vintage, Maine. The author kindly granted me a copy of her newest in the series.  So, for the second day of the heatwave, I opened the book to visit this verdant and more temperate village in Northern Maine.

Henry Titan is a young man who has Achondroplasia (dwarfism) and is living with his parents and sister.  He doesn’t let his disability get in his way, he’s happy, has a good job, enjoys watching baseball and playing video games.  But then one evening, after he’s been laid off from his job, he accidentally discovers he was adopted.  He learns he was left as a newborn outside the hospital in in small town of Vintage, Maine.   Angry with his mother for hiding the truth, Henry decides to go to Vintage to locate his birth mother.

He finds an apartment, secures a job as a janitor at the hospital, and while working at the hospital tries to find out if anyone knows about a baby left there 21 years ago.  He starts to adapt to this small town, its scandals, gossip and microscopic view of residents.  Henry makes friends, falls for a girl, eats a great deal of pizza, and gets involved in a very surprising love triangle.

He finds, despite the fact that his dwarfism makes him noticeable (and talked about), Vintage accepts him into their community. Henry is dealt with a curveball as he learns about his birth and there’s an surprise twist which I hadn’t figured out but had me chuckling. But in the end, Henry gets his answers – some very unexpected.

Just as in her previous installment, Ms. Chasse delights with her setting and characters.  And while there is a bit of over writing and excess detail,  which slows the pacing — she has a bullseye lens on small towns and their inhabitants’  kindness and idiosyncrasies.  Oh, Henry transported me to Vintage, Maine and it was just the escape I needed.

Oh, Henry is very much worth seeking out.  You can purchase it here on Amazon.  Author interview HERE

Get it?  Oh, Henry not to be confused with this GUY

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

I cherish my friends and firmly believe that friendship is one of the best things about living. But, I also recognize that friendship takes work.  It requires one to stay in touch, to be proactive, to plan that lunch date, and to go out when you’d rather stay home and read a book.  I’m not perfect, some friends have drifted away — others, I don’t see enough and I sometimes wonder if I prefer the concept of friendship to the actual participation.

With that preamble, you’ll see why I found Rules for Visiting immediately intriguing.

Here is May Attaway, a middle-aged landscape gardener who is introverted, socially awkward, and living with her father and a cat. She and her father live in a small town and have their routines.  May and her father are equally unconventional and often cranky, but try not to be:

My father and I aren’t great at doing things at the same time as other people:  planting on the last frost date, reading the latest bestseller, eating turkey [at holidays].  I don’t know if it’s chronic procrastination or a dislike of team sports.

May planted a Yew tree on the university grounds where she is employed as a landscape gardener.  She carefully started this Yew tree with a cutting from a famous 3,000 year old specimen in Scotland and has carefully tended it for years.   The beautiful tree inspired one of the university’s professors to write an award-winning poem which has brought the university many accolades. To reward May for her part in cultivating the tree, the university grants her a month of paid vacation.

May takes her time and many pages to figure out what she wants to do with this gift of unscheduled time.  She reads an article about the death of an author, who sadly died while on tour promoting her first novel.  The outpouring of grief from her friends was overwhelming and shared on a webpage which May obsessively pours through.  People shared beautiful stories about Amber and it wasn’t her book or her writing, so much as her ability make people feel good being around her — to be a good friend:

What was obvious in post after post was that Amber had a talent for friendship, which, I suddenly understood, was something that one could be good at, like cooking or singing.  You could be good at being a friend, and no sooner had I had the thought, than I knew I was not.

Inspired to learn to be a friend, May decides to visit four friends from her past.  While she has uncertainties about these friends and her friendships with them — armed with hostess gifts, Emily Post’s guide to etiquette, and her rolling suitcase named Grendel — she sets off.

Her journey is filled with contemplation and mental journeys into the past.  Her mother was a recluse and, as May herself is venturing into this uncomfortable territory, she ponders the plight (and perhaps the advantages) of being sequestered:

People feel sorry for the housebound, but it can be a position of strength, a refusal to meet the world on its terms… The recluse decides when and to whom she will speak, access is limited.

After perusing Emily Post, May makes some rules for her visits, and shares some delightful musings about visiting.  She recounts that Hans Christian Anderson ruined his friendship with Charles Dickens by staying with him three weeks longer than planned.  And these great quotes:

It was a delightful visit — perfect, in being much too short (Jane Austen)

Fish and visitors stink in three days. (Benjamin Franklin)

I won’t go into the details of her visits, except to say that she meets with perfectly appointed guest rooms with matching guest towels and planned itineraries, often including tours of local gardens — afterwards followed by the host’s Facebook posts about her visit.  May muses on this:

…one of the questions I most wanted to ask my friends was: Can I see an average day in your life right now? A real day, not one curated for social media or filled with the best activities to entertain a visitor. On the one hand, it’s a simple question. On the other, it’s almost too intimate. And it might be impossible, because the presence of a visitor changes a day, no matter how close the friends are.

But May also gets to see her friends’ troubles — she wipes some tears, deals with precocious children, and receives unexpected affection.  Her friends aren’t perfect and can’t possibly meet May’s expectations.  But, she soon realizes one of the most important facets of friendship – overlooking the annoyances, the sharp edges, the unintended hurts — and learns to enjoy these friends just as they are — themselves.

This novel is not only about friendship and families — but also plants. Ms. Kane uses botanical interludes throughout the book. Delightful sketches of trees introduce each section with Latin names given in parentheses. These plant narratives provide cogent analogies between human and plant behavior.  These were entertaining for me, but may not be interesting for non-plant people.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rules for Visiting — it’s a quiet gem of a novel about a complex, wry, yet insecure woman in pursuit of friendship and human connection.  And this reader came away with a renewed sense of the importance of friendships — and gently reminded they require attention, forgiveness, risk, vulnerability —  but mostly love.

In the last chapter we are given May’s Rules for Visiting:

1. Do not arrive telling stories about the difficulties of your trip.
2. Bring a gift.
3. Make your bed and open the curtains.
4. Help in the kitchen, if you’re wanted.
5. Unless you are very good with children, wait until you hear at least one adult moving around before getting up in the morning.
6. Don’t feed the pets.
7. Don’t sit in your host’s place.
8. If you break something, admit it.
9. Say goodnight before bed.
10. Always send a thank-you note.

An advanced readers copy was provided by Penguin/Random House.

A little romance

I don’t often read romance novels — at least not intentionally, but this spring I happened to dive into a couple of romantic tales which turned out to be praise-worthy, so here we go

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

Here at Book Barmy, I’m often asked to review debut novels.  This always presents a quandary, as many established, award winning authors and their books await me.  But I admire any first time author who has the talent and perseverance to complete a novel – not to mention, weathering the gauntlet to publication.  So I’ll give these first novels a good 50 pages to determine if I’ll carry on.  Sorry to say, many don’t pass the 50 page test and I sadly put them aside.

Not only did Letters to the Lost pass my test, I was instantly sucked into the story from the first page and, in the end, was quite bowled over.

Normally, I try not to appropriate a book’s publicity blurb,  but will make an exception — just read this:

Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly vacant old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can’t help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.

In London 1943, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents.

In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope – inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime – will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel.

Not another dual-timeline story I thought, but Letters to the Lost is nicely constructed.  The story seamlessly alternates between the homeless, frightened Jess trying to re-build her life, while hiding (squatting?) in her borrowed house and the romance of Dan and Stella during WWII — and is mostly told through their letters  (I love me a book told through letters.)

During WWII, Stella’s marriage has proven to be loveless and she falls hard for Dan, an American pilot.  Their affair and secret rendezvous take place in the abandoned house where Jess is hiding in present day.  Jess opens a letter that arrives in the mail slot from Dan, now elderly and dying in America.  He is writing to the last address he had for Stella in hopes of finding her again.  This discovery leads to Jess finding the letters Dan wrote to Stella.  Thus starts the journey that grabbed me, spanning sixty years and over 500 pages.

Stella’s story was the more fascinating for me, ranging from the frightening blackouts and bombs falling on London.  But there are also church fetes, arguments over scones, the effects of rationing, and the luxury of canned peaches.

Jess modern story is bit more contrived.  Will, working for a company that finds lost heirs, uses the company’s keys to enter the house in order to find any inheritance papers.  He discovers Jess hiding in the house and after a few strange conversations agrees to let her continue to hide in the house.  Together Jess and Will try to solve the mystery of what happened to Stella and grow closer and closer.  As Jess reads the letters we read them with her, the gaps are filled by our visits to Stella’s world, and the story unfolds for both worlds.

Letters to the Lost is not a perfect novel, but its shortcomings are overshadowed by its many strengths. The ending left me both choked up and melancholy.  The characters stayed with me long after I finished.  I must admit it took me a while to recover from this engrossing read.

An digital advanced readers copy was kindly provided by St. Martin’s Press/Griffin via Netgalley

 

 

Marriage for Rosamond by Louise Platt Hauck

As Book Barmy fans already know, I volunteer at the Friends of the Library Bookstore…and every so often we get vintage books with delightful covers. Like Marriage for Rosamond – just look at the cover.  Can you blame me for wanting it?  For five dollars I took this home. (Volunteering yet still buying books — this is why Husband has gray hair.)

Marriage for Rosamond was written in 1937 and published by Madison Square Books which sports the following marketing blurb on the back with a listing of their titles:

Books for every taste and mood — outstanding novels, delightful romances, thrilling mysteries, two-gun Westerns.

I closed my eyes and pictured these books on musty bookshelves in knotty pine lake homes, with comfortably shabby furniture, porch swings, and long afternoons reading these novels in the shade. 

 

Turns out this was one of their romances — the chick-lit of the 1930’s.

The plot revolves around the innocent but privileged Rosamond who falls in love with Jim.  But in this period piece they don’t just fall in love they ‘woo’, for pages and pages.  I almost gave up but when they get married and Rosamond moves to Jim’s grand home in Kansas City the plot actually got more interesting and there were some simple, but unforeseen developments.  Turns out Jim has a sickly brother Rich, who Jim dotes upon.  Rich moves into their house and while he doesn’t seem that ill, he has trouble recovering from small health setbacks.  Rosamond has mixed feelings, recognizing that Jim is being manipulated — but she decides to stick with her role as a loving and devoted wife:

The young wife learned hard lessons during these weeks.  She learned to sit quietly by while Jim talked of Rich; his accident, the possible weakening of his reserve strength, his childhood illnesses.  She learn to eat her meals with Jim sunk into depressed silence or starting up when one of the nurses came downstairs.  She learned — and this was the bitterest lesson of all! — that she did not count at all with Jim, at least while Rich was so ill.

When Rosamond is called upon to be Rich’s full time caregiver — the situation becomes intolerable.  Rosamond leaves, fleeing back to her devoted grandfather and their vast family home.  All seems over with the marriage — but in the end the story revolves around to a satisfying ending.

What I found most interesting about Marriage for Rosamond was the author’s writing style — typical of the period.  The literate vocabulary was a joy with proper usage of words such as ~~ benighted, quiddity, indubitably and vivant.  And the often sentimental passages, which I found lovely, old-fashioned and somehow touching:

She dropped a velvet cheek against his hand…

Jim was too close to the weaving to see the pattern…

For me, this romantic novel was a master-class in 1930’s American domestic drama and while it was sometimes over-dramatic, it was never overwrought.  I had a grand time reading Marriage for Rosamond.

Paris By the Book by Liam Callanan

I am truly hopeless.  Despite a house full of books, I’m nonetheless tempted by the librarian recommendation shelf at my branch library.  Often there are gems that haven’t received much publicity.  Paris by the Book seemed like just such a gem.  The cover called my name and the description reached out to shake my hand.  A setting in Paris, a cozy bookstore and a family mystery. Then there was the first sentence: “Once a week, I chase men who are not my husband.”  

I had it checked out and under my arm in no time.

Milwaukee novelist Robert Eady is gone, but his wife, Leah and daughters aren’t too concerned. They’ve become accustomed to his ‘write-aways’ — when Robert, an author of children’s books, leaves for a few days of writing, and then returns. He always left a note saying when he’d be home again, and he always came back.

But this time he doesn’t leave his usual note but instead leaves his wife and daughters plane tickets to Paris.  So to Paris they go and one of their leads takes them to a small, floundering English-language bookstore whose aging proprietor is eager to sell the shop.

So what do they do? They buy the shop and decide to live in Paris.  Okay I really like these people. Especially Leah our narrator, who is usually hapless but always funny, honest, and snarky.

The daughters, who are mature beyond their years, integrate themselves easily into Parisian life and their new school — all while they continue to search for their father.  But, we soon learn from Leah’s story  that her marriage had its issues, and past hurts reveal themselves to her daughters:

We should have stayed in Milwaukee. Or we should have moved to the desert. Jupiter. Some place he’d never find us. Some place we’d never find him.

So the reader is drawn into the mystery — Robert may or may not be dead.  Is Leah abandoned or widowed? Does she really want him back?

We learn about Paris through two of the couple’s favorite Paris things. Robert admired the Madeleine books and their fanciful  depiction of Paris.  Leah, on the other hand, adores the film The Red Balloon and its realistic version of the city just after the war.

Some parts of the story are nonsensical, but Paris by the Book is a fast-paced read and I didn’t bother to ponder the logic of the story line.  I got caught up in Mr. Callanan’s depictions of Paris which are breathtaking and his unique characters who aren’t always likeable, but compelling in their own right

I didn’t love this book, but I certainly enjoyed it.  Paris by the Book is a clever concoction — a rickety marriage, a faulty mother, a family mystery — all stirred up with books, bookshops and the stunning beauties of Paris as a backdrop. 


I’ll leave you with this photo from the top of Notre Dame before the fire.