Time to Try Something Different

I read If, Then by Kate Hope Day this weekend and cannot stop thinking about this debut work of speculative fiction.

In present-day Oregon, several neighbors who live in the shadow of Broken Mountain, a long-dormant volcano, begin having visions of themselves living alternate realities. These vision worlds are ‘could have been’s for some and ‘still could be’s to others, leaving the affected characters to wonder if they still have time to make better choices in their lives.

Among those with visions is Mark, a dad and scientist who is studying the effects of geothermal activity on animal behavior. Mark has visions of himself living in a tent in the wilderness. Convinced by this other Mark that a life changing environmental event is about to occur, he begins to build an underground shelter for his family. Meanwhile, his surgeon wife Ginny sees a different, happier version of herself, one in which she has left Mark to be with a coworker.

While not much action occurs in this well-written novel, I was swept up the possibility of what was to come with every page I turned. Pick up If, Then for an engrossing read with themes of regret, choice, and consequences. It’s good domestic drama that just happens to ask you to question the possibility of alternative universes along the way.

-Carol

A Read You’ll Race Through

Geraldine Brook’s new novel Horse weaves together real and imagined history to tell the story of Lexington, one of the most famous racehorses of the 19th-Century.

In Georgetown in 2019, Theo, an art history grad student, discovers an abandoned painting of a racehorse in his neighbor’s trash. Intrigued, he visits the nearby Smithsonian to research pre-Civil War horse paintings. There, he crosses paths with Jess, an Australian osteopath who oversees the animal bones in the Smithsonian’s collections, including, coincidentally, those of Lexington’s. The two work together to uncover the stories behind Theo’s found painting.

Moving back and forth in time and told through the eyes of multiple characters, this novel is about more than the mystery of a painting of a famous horse. It also tells the imagined story of Lexington’s Black groom, an enslaved man named Jarrett, whose dedication to Lexington costs him everything.

By the end of this riveting read about art, race, slavery, and antebellum South, readers are left wondering how little life has changed through the decades. A great choice for book clubs, Horse is a fascinating blend of historical and literary fiction that is well-researched, imaginative, and unforgettable.

-Carol

This Book is Your Perfect Match

Sara Glickman made waves in her New York Lower East Side neighborhood as a female matchmaker in a Jewish community where devout men traditionally played that role. Sara discovered her talent as a young girl in 1910, and despite having to keep it secret, she used her gift to bring couples together for decades.

When Sara dies, her granddaughter Abby, a high-powered Manhattan divorce attorney, inherits Sara’s collection of handwritten journals. At the same time, Abby begins to have notions that a couple she is helping to divorce shouldn’t untie the knot. Despite her jaded outlook on love, Abby realizes that she has inherited her grandmother’s gift. With her eyes newly opened, Abby begins to think that love at first sight might truly exists. But, is she willing to sacrifice her career in order to fulfill her destiny?

The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman is a charming novel that is filled with fascinating details about Jewish history and culture. Part historical fiction, part contemporary fiction and with a sprinkling of magic realism, this funny and poignant read is about people finding each other. This book is sure to delight.

-Carol

What we’re reading now…..

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng 

 In the dystopian world of Celeste Ng’s latest novel, books are banned, children are re-homed, and Asian Americans are outcasts. Amidst it all, twelve-year old Bird is left with a handful of memories of his mother. Her presence and poetry have faded from his life, but a familiar image sparks his curiosity and forces him to revisit her disappearance. Melinda

The Making of Her by Bernadette Jiwa

Raised in a Dublin housing estate by an alcoholic father toward the end of the 1940s, Joan and her sister had to grow up fast. Working in a factory by age fourteen it made sense she would find the love of her life at eighteen. Martin Egan, son of a successful business owner, promised Joan the world until she became pregnant and he persuaded her to place the baby up for adoption. Thirty years later when their secret child makes contact, how will they each respond? Family relationships are seen from the women’s perspective and as we get to know the characters better, we understand how difficult and limited their choices truly were, making Joan, in particular, even more endearing. If you enjoy spending time with interesting characters, this is the book for you! Stacey

Juniper and Thorn by Ava Reid

A sheltered wizard’s daughter falls in love with a ballet dancer while a monster stalks the streets and the bodies of brutalized men appear all over the city. A reimagining of the classic fairy tale “The Juniper Tree.” Shannon

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher 

Marra is a princess on a quest to save her sister with the help of a reluctant grave-witch and a dog she creates out of bone and wire. Along the way, their party grows, with the addition of Marra’s fairy godmother, whose blessings turn out to be curses and a loveable disgraced knight, whose heart is in desperate need of rescuing. Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is an adult, revenge-filled fairy-tale that is equal parts action-packed, humorous, and original – a perfect feminist fantasy novel.  Carol

The Divorce Colony:  How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White

In the 19th century, Sioux Falls, SD, became a haven for women seeking a divorce. Among the laxest laws in the country, women came from all the States and Europe to gain their freedom during a time that women had few rights. The book explores not only the  social drama but political and religious drama, while telling detailed and entertaining stories of the women who took hold of their futures. Christine

Murder in the Park by Jeanne M. Dams

This story takes place in 1925 in Oak Park, an affluent suburb of Chicago. Elizabeth Fairchild is a close friend of Mr. Anthony, owner of a quaint antique store. Mr. Anthony is found stabbed to death and the local police think they have the killer. Elizabeth and a few others, including Mrs. Hemingway are certain the police have arrested the wrong man. At this point in the story the search is on for the real killer. Please stay tuned… Emma

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

In post-WWII Japan, Detective Kindaichi is called and warned that the reading of a local magnate’s will is certain to set off a series of murders. Though skeptical of the prognostication, Detective Kindaichi travels to the small town and awaits the reading. However, immediately upon his arrival, he is witness to a life-threatening accident that portends the danger to the magnate’s family yet to come. The detective must first uncover the family secrets to unravel the mystery. Trent

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

The final installment in the Beartown trilogy, about the resilient and closely knit community that puts hockey above all else. Taking place over two weeks, Beartown residents must prove their love for each other and for their town, struggling to move on from the past in the wake of numerous changes. Told in Backman’s signature reflective style, it’s hard to put this one down. Linnea

Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor

When a 12-year-old girl goes missing in a rural Australian town during the worst heat wave in decades, tempers flare and townspeople with skeletons in their closets, and long histories together, begin to fall apart, and also to come together to search for the young girl. Kept me guessing for quite awhile. Sara

Fall into New Fiction

Flying Solo
by Linda Holmes 

When Laurie Sassalyn’s cherished Aunt Dot dies at the age of 93, Laurie returns to her hometown of Calcasset, Maine to settle her estate. Laurie is also licking her wounds after calling off her wedding, having decided that like Dot, she never wants to marry. Dot’s house is filled with mementos from her adventure-filled life, and while Laurie was young, it helped provide Laurie with a retreat from her own home that she shared with four brothers and never-ending chaos. Now that Laurie is almost 40, she’s built a life and home like Dot’s for herself in Seattle, where she lives in peace as a freelance nature writer with a busy social life with friends.

Laurie believes that Dot’s things deserve respect and intends to go through each item before returning to Seattle. She has hired a professional declutterer to help her with the valuables. This man takes a keen interest in a wooden duck that Laurie uncovered hidden in Dot’s cedar chest. Laurie knows that this duck was somehow important to Dot, and isn’t sure she wants to part with it, but the declutterer insists it is worthless. Laurie lets the duck go, but cannot stop thinking about it, and when she enlists the help of her life-long friend June and her high school boyfriend Nick Cooper – now the (divorced) town librarian, the two encourage her to dig into the duck’s history.

The more time Laurie spends in Maine, the more she begins to doubt her life choices. She is drawn to Nick, but knows she will be leaving soon. She misses her hometown and friends there, but isn’t willing to sacrifice her independence. Laurie has some choices to make -but first, she has a duck to recapture.

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes is a warm and funny, cozy romantic read, perfect for these early Autumn days. With likeable, atypical characters who have real-world problems and no easy solutions, this novel is about being comfortable in one’s own skin, celebrating one’s independence and ability to compromise, and the road not taken.

-Carol

It’s Fall!

Welcome, Autumn Equinox! As we enter chillier fall days, visit pumpkin patches, and begin to don our cozy sweaters, let’s remember we are also entering spooky season!  

On this day in 1692, the last witches were hanged in the Salem Witch Trials. Seven women and one man were hanged on September 22, 1692, totaling about twenty lives taken. After this set of executions, public opinion began to shift and witch trials subsided. Over 250 years later, Massachusetts formally apologized for the events in the late 1600s. Now Salem has plenty of witchy attractions, to educate and entertain visitors, from the official courthouse documents at the Peabody Essex Museum to the witch wax models at the Salem Wax Museum. 

Embrace your inner witch and get the most out of spooky season with these titles: 

In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women are Still on Trial by Mona Chollet 

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill 

The Salem Witch Trials: A Primary Source History of the Witchcraft Trials in Salem, Massachusetts by Jenny MacBain 

The Crucible by Arthur Miller 

A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts by J.W. Ocker 

The Path of the Witch: Rituals & Practices for Discovering Which Witch You Are by Lidia Pradas 

-Linnea

Fall into New Fiction

Mika in Real Life
by Emiko Jean

Mika Suzuki is 35, single, and broke, living in her best friend’s house and has just lost her most recent job. She is floored when she receives a phone call from Penny, the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years previously when Mika was a college freshman. The two begin to talk regularly and truly start to bond. Mika is overjoyed to get this chance to connect with her birth daughter, but when Penny decides she wants to visit Mika in Portland, Oregon, Mika panics.

Mika, ashamed of her life, has lead Penny to believe that she owns her own home, is a successful art gallery owner, and has a long-term boyfriend. To prevent a catastrophe, Mika’s friends decide to help her construct her fabricated dream-life for Penny’s visit —one that quickly falls apart when Penny discovers Mika hasn’t been honest.

As Mika wrestles with how to repair their new relationship, she must confront issues from her past, including her family’s immigration from Japan when she was young, her relationship with her impossible-to-please mother, and the circumstances of Penny’s birth. Mika also needs to decide what to do about her budding feelings for Thomas, Penny’s adopted, widowed father. As Mika spends more time with Penny and Thomas and begins to work on herself, she wonders if she will ever feel she deserves good things.

Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean is a smart, endearing, and sometimes funny novel about relationships between mothers and daughters, the power of good friendships, and learning to love oneself. Mika is a flawed and realistic character that you’ll root for from the first page. Pick up Mika in Real Life and prepare to be surprised by this tender and sincere story.

-Carol

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Today marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which will last until October 15. On September 15, Mexico celebrates their independence from Spain, with most Central American countries celebrating on September 16, and Chile celebrating on September 18. It is a time for the United States to acknowledge and commemorate the contributions and achievements of Hispanic Americans. The influence of Central America is everywhere in the United States, from food to culture to language.  

Interested in cooking? Try these Mexican cookbooks: 

Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen by Esteban Castillo 

Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in México by Ricky Martínez 

Plant Powered Mexican: Fast, Fresh Recipes from a Mexican-American Kitchen by Kate Ramos  

Planning your next vacation? Explore Central America and beyond: 

Lonely Planet’s Best of Central America 

Fodor’s Essential Chile

Footprint: Belize, Guatemala & Southern Mexico

Love history? There’s plenty to learn: 

Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration by Alfredo Corchado 

Diego Rivera by Pete Hamill 

Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States by Felipe Fernández-Armesto 

El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson

And of course, there are plenty of authors with rich bibliographies to further expand our appreciation: 

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Violeta by Isabel Allende 

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez 

-Linnea

A Book You’ll Love-Love

Were you among the 6.9 million people who watched Serena Williams play her probable-last tennis match at the U.S. Open last week? If so, you helped break a record. It was the largest audience of any tennis match in ESPN’s 43-year history! And, while this year’s action wrapped up at Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday, fear not, you can still get your tennis on. Just pick up this winner of book, Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Carrie Soto is a tennis legend who rises to fame in the 1980s under the coaching of her father Javier. She is fierce and unrelenting, and her determination to win and unapologetic style of play have earned her the nickname, “the Battle Axe” and made her unlikable to most of her competitors and plenty of fans. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world, having shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. Now, it is 1994 and at age 37, Carrie has been retired from tennis for six years. When she learns that seasoned-player Nicki Chan is attempting to break her record, Carrie decides to come out from retirement to defend her status. Will she be able to reclaim her place in tennis history against the odds?

Carrie Soto Is Back is more than just a book about a fictional tennis player. This novel explores the ups and downs that accompany celebrity and the double standard that exists between how men and women are treated in the world of sports. It is also a story of personal growth that features a beautiful father/daughter relationship, a slow-building romance, and a complex protagonist who struggles with how she presents herself and is seen. Readers of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and the Six and Malibu Rising will recognize some cross-over characters in Carrie’s story, finishing the author’s “quartet” on women and fame. Carrie Soto is Back, like those others, can be read independently, but why not deep dive into all of these smart and compelling novels that put women front and center?

-Carol