The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I was really looking forward to this as a light romantic romp and while it did live up to that, I just didn’t like it as much as all the good reviews led me to believe I would. I did really like the characters, and I also enjoyed that they were very competent successful professionals-he a doctor, she the mayor of Berkeley’s right hand woman.  The meet-cute (trapped in an elevator, pretend to be a date at a wedding) was charming. There was a TON of sex in this, so much that I actually found it off putting! (have I become a prude? Or did it just detract a bit from the story for me??) I also spent a lot of time wondering how anyone can afford to fly somewhere every other week.

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Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Oh man, Lisa Jewell is such a good writer. I couldn’t wait to read this, despite it being described as “sad and harrowing” to me. Indeed, as soon as I started it I was feeling very anxious about the possibility of one of my children ever vanishing without a trace. This reminded me a bit of The Lovely Bones. A teenage girl vanishes and yet sometimes she is one of the narrators of the story, telling us exactly what happened to her. The reader knows, but her mother does not. And most of the story is told from the mother, Laurel’s, point of view. Laurel has had a difficult time since her family fell apart from that event, but when she meets Floyd it seems like she’s finally able to find some new happiness in her life. But then….     I wouldn’t call this a psychological thriller or suspense novel, but there were definitely some elements where you were watching everything unfold and wondering what would happen next and there was certainly psychological discomfort.
I think what impressed me most was the way the story unfurled in parts, through different points of view, and how much I really liked and felt for Laurel (who at first seemed, frankly, a bit unlikable to me, but then she had lost her child, so understandable.) I was also fascinated by the character Poppy-a young girl who was inappropriately mature in dress and mannerisms. A delightful child, but at one point described as “entertaining in a gauche kind of way.” [I loved that phrase.]

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

An intriguing time travel like premise + the author of A Boy Called Christmas? Sign me up!

Our character (Tom? that’s his name for now, but he changes it often) is literally hundreds of years old. He has a rare condition that makes him age so slowly that by the time he is 400 years old he only looks about 40. Turns out he’s not the only one, and these people have joined together into a sort of secret society to protect themselves from being found out. Although this is the main plot point of the story, it is the part I liked the least. Why did Hendrich (the mastermind) have to be so evil/threatening? Why was he so sure they’d be found out? (Tom, and others, would move and take new identities so that people didn’t catch on to the fact that they looked exactly the same.) And so manipulative to the people he’s found? A lot of that made no sense to me. However, I loved everything else about the book.
Tom has rubbed elbows with Shakespeare and Captain Cook, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He’s lived through not just WWII and WWI, but also the American Revolution and the Elizabethan age. I loved his stories of those times and the back and forth between the present and those time periods. Tom has truly been a witness to history and what I thought was unique was that he was a witness to such a looooooong time of history that he saw the changes in humanity as a whole, and the ebb and flow of civilization.
This was great!

*although this isn’t really time travel, it has the elements of time travel that I enjoy in it, and it is a time manipulation novel, so I’m grouping it with the others.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I put this on hold when I saw it was forthcoming based purely on having enjoyed The Nightingale so much. But when I got it in hand I thought “hmm…do I really want to read this?” and let it sit around the house for a week and a half before picking it up. At which point I became so consumed, and had a free weekend, that I spent a weekend reading it and couldn’t stop until I reached the end. I have a lot of Thoughts about this book, and can’t wait to discuss it with Melissa, who is also reading it.

<There will probably be some spoilers in this brief recap.> In 1978, Leni and her parents head off to Alaska, the Last Frontier, to make a new start in life. Things have been rough since her dad returned from Vietnam-a POW for 6 years he clearly was tortured and has horrible PTSD. He isn’t great at holding down a job and is tormented by nightmares and prone to drinking. They arrive in Alaska with plans to homestead on property left to her dad. They are woefully unprepared for life up there, and appropriately frightened by the number of people who warn them that they need to spend all summer preserving or storing food, or they’ll never make it through the winter. Physical survival turns out not to be their greatest concern, though, as, much like in The Shining, the isolation and endless dark of the winter exacerbate her dad’s (Ernt. His name is Ernt. That right there was the perfect character name.) mental illness and proclivities towards violence. This was a pretty long book and yes, much of it I read while fearing for Leni’s survival. It seemed from the get go that someone would need to die-whether from Ernt, a weather related mishap, or something else. It’s mentioned many times in the book that 5 out of 1000 Alaskans simply vanished every year and there were thousands of ways to die up there. I really enjoyed all of the characters, especially Large Marge.

My only Alaskan frame of reference is the tv show Northern Exposure, which I loved. I couldn’t help but think of Tom Walker as a bit like Maurice-someone with money who has made a beautiful house out there in the wilderness. But as much as the little town in Northern Exposure was a small Alaskan town, they did have electricity and running water. That’s what I really couldn’t get over-homesteading up there was practically like being Laura Ingalls-but with even more danger all around. So all that food had to preserved without convenient stove tops. They didn’t really have furniture and I’m sure Leni’s sleeping bag wasn’t REI rated for below zero temps.
Alaska itself is basically a character in the story-it’s so important to every aspect of the book and the characters.  The natural beauty of Alaska definitely came through in the story and made me long to see it–but unspoiled, as Leni originally experiences it.
This was a terrific book with so much to think about and imagine and ponder.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal

Why didn’t I read this when it came out?? Was it too popular to get a copy? Did I somehow think “I’ll get to it later” and then forget about it?” Honestly, I didn’t even know what it was about except it has an appealing to me title and that food is in it. Then Melissa read it last week and loved it and there it was on the shelf at the library so I had immediate gratification-starting it on Saturday, yesterday was Easter, and today I still have off so I finished it up this morning, feeling very indulgent. I loved this. It hits many notes that I especially enjoy in books. There’s the food, of course. A few recipes included, and many descriptions of food. Also many descriptions of characters who are a lot of fun to intensely dislike, including pretentious foodies. But what I especially liked  was the format of this story: Eva is a baby born to a man with an intense love of and appreciation for food. The novel is about Eva, but it’s never told from her point of view. Instead, each section of her life is told through the eyes of some other character who may be close to Eva or tangentially related to her. So there is a lot of enjoying seeing how people are connected and each section is also has a bit of an epilogue feel to it as you say goodbye to the previous story/characters.

I couldn’t wait to see how things would turn out and also get to each new section. Like many good entertainments it left me wanting a little bit more each time.

Oh, I also loved the Lutheran women and hot dish and lutefisk.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa De Los Santos

I loved her first (and possibly second?) book, but not whatever came after. She was an author I’d kind of soured on, but had high hopes for this one,which features some of the same characters from the first book.  Well, phew! I loved this.  This was told in a format I really enjoy: two stories told in alternating chapters, the story in the present day is a character who is trying to figure out a story in the past (a  bit of a mystery, or puzzle), and the alternating story, set in the past, is that mystery story happening. There was a Lisa Jewell story done this same way and I really enjoy it, especially when everything comes together in the end.

The characters in this story are the same characters from the first two books, but would you believe, despite some tidy summarizing, I really still can’t remember those books or what happens in them at all??! As you can see, though, it doesn’t matter if you knew those characters, you can read this as a full standalone novel. [*I just went back and read my 2008 post about Belong to Me, which did a tidy job of refreshing my memory. Interestingly the review also contains a nearly identical sentence to the one preceding this aside. I have no review of Love Walked In, so I must have read that pre-blog.]
In present day Clare is about to marry a seemingly perfect guy, but she bails on the wedding. She had misgivings about the whole thing and a conversation with a sweet old lady pushes her to take the step to cancel.  Weeks later she finds out the sweet old lady has died and left her a beautiful seaside house.  In the house she finds some mysterious ledgers and believes the sweet old lady, Edith, had something going on in the house that she is meant to figure out and embarks on a quest.  Meanwhile, the alternate chapters show us Edith as a young woman, in love, in that house, and the fascinating story of her life unfolds.

A couple of the things I liked about this story were the historical take on domestic violence, and also the natural beauty of Delaware and the wildlife they observed, very beautifully woven into the story. Edith’s love story is a bit Notebook-y (that is to say, so perfect and you can kind of visualize it in a golden glow, and also so sad.)

I really liked how the two stories were woven together and I was even a bit surprised at the ending (and delighted.) And though it’s not obvious to Clare, it will be obvious to literally every reader from the get-go how her romantic life will turn out.

*One very exciting part was when the character said there was a scene in a book she loved as a child and I thought “oh I wonder if I’ll recognize the book” and not only did I recognize it, it was from The Four Story Mistake, which is one of my all time favorites. It felt like a wonderful personal detail just for me and made me like the author even more (because I assume that she personally loves that book, too.)

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

My mom passed this one on to me and it’s so the sort of thing I like I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. Time travel + fairy tale origins! I thought it had a bit of a slow start, but I got really caught up in it and couldn’t wait to see how it worked out. Ivan basically kisses a sleeping beauty  (defeating a bear to do so) and ends up saving her and in the year 950 (her time.) I loved the time travel aspect of this. As a linguistics scholar Ivan is fascinated by the history and the language of this ancient Russian place (which, as a scholar of the language, he happens to be one of the few modern people who can speak his Old Slavonic language.) He’s landed in a time that believes in and uses magic, thinks he is a weak sissy, and is embroiled in magic/political war with Baba Yaga. I’m familiar with Baba Yaga and her stories from library school studies and general children’s librarianship, though not super into her. Still, I really liked seeing how all of that tied together.  This was a unique take on these ancient stories, and somewhat wonderfully meta since Ivan himself is pondering the old stories and how they survive and change with modern times.