Today, I have the great pleasure of reviewing MOMMS: The Mountain of Mis-Matched Socks by Bob Bulick and Jocelyn Whitney, aka, Santa Claus of Tulsa and Jossie Claus. MOMMS is illustrated by Sandy Hall. To be candid, I must admit that Santa Claus of Tulsa and Jossie Claus are my dear friends. That friendship in no way colors this review, however.
When he becomes distressed about dwindling coal supplies for naughty children, Santa also expresses his concern about continuing to use coal because of the dangers of mining it; people and the environment are at risk because of coal mining. Santa also believes each child should get a toy as well and some other kind of reminder to be good. Such a dilemma!
Ever resourceful, Jossie Claus suggests convening an Elf Congress to solicit suggestions for what to give children to remind them to be good along with Santa’s gift. The elves are creative and suggest a number of solutions. Santa is not satisfied, however.
When “the always-late-for-everything Elf Argyle,” wanders into the Elf Congress, Santa stares with open mouth until Jossie Claus reminds him of his manners. While everyone at the North Pole loves bright colors as contrast to so much snow, Argyle has outdone himself in a “coat that was beyond description.”
The elves go on to explain to Santa what happens to those socks people constantly lose in their dryers. But you must read MOMMS in order to understand what happens to those socks people lose and also to discover what the elves propose for Santa’s dilemma of replacing the coal as a reminder for children to be good.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn has received praise and condemnation from a wide variety of readers. It has already been made into a movie; perhaps it was movie fare from the get-go! Finn, who has worked in publishing in NYC and London, says he had always wanted to write. His love of suspense fiction and films, particularly Hitchcock films, inspired the story of The Woman in the Window.
To say that the story has twists would be an understatement. To avoid spoilers, I will not comment on the plot. As I read about Anna’s conversations with Ed and Olivia, her husband and daughter, I realized a connection to Eleanor Oliphant’s conversations with her mother in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Anna drinks far too much wine and combines the wine with her prescription drugs which forms a lethal combination. The alcohol and drugs keep her from seeing clearly. As she spies on her neighbors, she becomes obsessed with them. Her frequent calls to the police are also problematic and cause others to see her as a nuisance.
Anna has suffered a terrible blow. Her response to that blow is to retreat into her home and into her wine and prescriptions until she is jolted out of the hole she has dug for herself. Readers of psychological fiction will find this story compelling for the wild ride on which it takes them.
In the New York Journal of Books, Carolyn Haley writes of Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman that “intentionally ‘feel good’ books are, by default, predictable. You know there will be a happy ending. But that’s why we read them, and the joy of discovery comes from seeing how somebody else’s problems get happily resolved.” Pandemic, social distancing, continuing political unrest, shootings of unarmed men and women—all just the news of the day. I needed an escape from those dire happenings. And I found it in Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies.
In an article I read, I saw a short blurb about Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies, so I checked on Hoopla and quickly found the book. I checked it out, downloaded it, and began reading. I did hesitate because one review calls Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies chick lit, a term I dislike. Another calls it modern women’s fiction, a description more to my liking.
Kate Parker is on the fast track to forty. She has a computer geek boyfriend, Nick, who is oblivious to anyone’s needs but his own. Kate continues to think he will improve until he makes a startling announcement while they are on holiday in France. His pronouncement leaves Kate reeling, uncertain about the relationship, but more importantly, she questions her own self-worth.
Kate works a dead-end job for a grocery chain. She writes slogans and ads to entice people to buy new products or to describe carrots in some new fashion to persuade people to buy them. She likes the creative side of the work, but she knows she will never advance and that the job will continue the next twenty years as it has the previous twenty.
Kate begins volunteering at the Home For Exceptional Ladies doing cooking demonstrations for the residents. Mrs. Finn, 97, heckles Kate and complains about the food choices. After a few of the cooking demos, the manager of the home suggests that the demos are not working out. Instead, she asks Kate to visit with Mrs. Finn, one-on-one, as her volunteer project.
Kate is reluctant to meet with Mrs. Finn alone because the lady has been so acerbic in her comments. Still, Kate agrees to give the visits a trial. Kate, who loves to read and to cook, is astounded by the number of books in Mrs. Finn’s small room. The books even spill over into the bathroom.
On one of the early visits, Mrs. Finn tells Kate she can take a book home to read. However, each book that Kate chooses, Mrs. Finn says, “No, not that one!” Finally, a book sticking slightly out of order catches Kate’s eye and she pulls it out: Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies. Mrs. Finn tells Kate she may borrow that one.
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies, the cookbook, intrigues Kate from the moment she opens it. The cookbook is set apart from other cookbooks because of the humor and the menus for very specific occasions. For example, one event is titled “First Dinner Given by Bride to her Parents.” Then the menu follows with these items: “melon salad, chicken Provençal, Green salad (Webb’s Wonder if possible), Baked apples with walnuts and raisins, Coffee.” Titles of other occasions include the following: “Dinner for Husband’s Managing Director and Wife (Solid Type?” “After Board Meeting (Held to Discuss Crisis)?”
Kate continues to meet with Mrs. Finn and to try recipes from the cookbook. The story appeals to me because Kate through her interactions with Mrs. Finn learns about herself and makes good decisions not only about Nick, the recalcitrant boyfriend, but also about her career. She begins seeking out experiences that enrich her, not someone else, but she also continues meeting with Mrs. Finn and learns from Mrs. Finn’s life experiences.
Vicky Zimmerman, a pseudonym for Stella Newman, lives in London. She, like Kate, worked in marketing and as a food tester for a UK supermarket chain. Readers will delight in knowing that Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies is a story based loosely on her own grandmother who wrote a cookbook, published in 1957, called Thought for Food by Cecily Finn and Joan O’Connor.
Read a review of Thought for Food at this link: https://www.tomdoorley.com/book-reviews/mm5e194laoum2olqq4uswa2r4o7i9u. I thought it would be a real treat to read the book myself, but, alas, it is not available. At least in my quick searches on sites such as Abe’s Books and Thriftbooks, I was unable to find a copy. Even Amazon has a page devoted to the book, but then indicates it is not available.
Frequently, I find lists of books such as “12 YA Novels for Adults,” “12 Fantastic Short Books to Read in a Weekend,” and “Laugh-Out-Loud Funny Books for Adults.” I take note of the authors and titles if the descriptions intrigue me. A recent article on Scottish novels caught my eye. Twelve novels by Scottish authors were highlighted in an article titled “12 Bonnie Novels That Will Make You Fall in Love With Scotland.” I chose to start with Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans.
The blurb on Wild Wood includes the following enticements: “Fairy tales! Ancient secrets! Scottish scenery! Wild Wood has it all.” I should have been suspicious of too many exclamation marks! True, Wild Wood does feature a Norse fairy tale of a young, beautiful woman found wandering in the woods; she marries the lord of the manor who finds her, gives birth to his daughter, dies, and her body disappears. The story is that the child will either be a curse or a blessing to the family. The beautiful woman bewitches the lord and leaves him deeply saddened, but with a daughter who looks very like the mother.
At twenty-five, Jesse Marley discovers she is adopted. She has always lived in Sydney, Australia, with her parents and has no inkling she was born in Scotland and adopted before her parents moved to Australia. The discovery puts her into a tailspin. She takes off for London and ultimately Scotland to discover more about her birth parents, leaving her adoptive parents not knowing what she plans. The year is 1981 and along with information about her birth, Jesse hopes to get a glimpse of Charles and Diana on their wedding day.
I became more than a bit irritated with Jesse for whining about being adopted and for saying she seeks “my real mother.” The real mother and father are the parents who have loved her, cared for her, fed, clothed, and educated her. Until she discovers she is adopted, she is content with her parents and her life. No doubt, her parents should have told Jesse about the adoption, but they thought they were doing the right thing. Their hearts were in the right place and they love Jesse.
Wild Wood, like so many other novels these days is told in two parts. Jesse’s story takes place in 1981 while the other part takes place in 1321 at Hundredfield, an estate ruled by the Dieudonne family who were “arrogant descendants of the Norman invaders” whom Saxon peasantry fear and hate—and with good reason.
The connection between the two stories is, of course, Jesse. After an accident in London when Jesse steps in front of a motorcycle and is knocked down, Jesse must be hospitalized and treated for her injuries. She begins drawing with her left hand although her dominant hand has always been her right and she has not been an artist before the accident. She draws pictures of the buildings at Hundredfield, a place she’s never seen or even heard of before.
Readers will have to accept a number of coincidences in order to continue with the story. Alicia, a waitress in a café where Jesse stops for tea after the accident, becomes concerned about Jesse and insists she go to the hospital. At the hospital, Jesse’s doctor is Rory Brandon, who grew up on the Hundredfield estate. And did I mention that Alicia is Lady Alicia, current owner of Hundredfield estate? Are these people brought together by coincidence? Fate?
Frankly, I became impatient with the dual story-line in this book because it took too long to make real connections between the two periods of time and because the story from 1321 is so brutal.
I did see the book through to the end, but I had figured out the family secrets early on. I did some research on the Norse myth, but I could not find the exact story described in Wild Wood. Perhaps Posie Graeme-Evans tinkered with the myth for her own purposes in the story. Or perhaps I did not do enough research on the tale!
Several customer reviews on Amazon indicate that some of Graeme-Evans’ earlier books are more interesting than Wild Wood, her latest book. Graeme-Evans says she is “passionate about history, particularly European history between, say, the end-ish of the first millennium up until the 1480s.” Posie Graeme-Evans lives in Australia and is a novelist, TV and film producer, editor, and screenwriter. She has several other historical novels including the following: The Innocent, The Exiled, The Beloved, The Dressmaker, and The Island House. Her Web site is currently under renovation.
Once again, belonging to a book club means moving out of my comfort zone occasionally when the leader chooses a book I most likely would not have read on my own. Such is the case with The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, a debut novel published in 2016. Thorne has since published Second First Impression and 99 Percent Mine. The Hating Game has been optioned to be made into a movie. Thorne received the honor of having The Hating Game being named in the top 20 romance novels of 2016 by the Washington Post. Thorne maintains a Web site about her life and her work at this link: https://www.sallythorneauthor.com/.
Lucy Hutton has a job as executive assistant to a co-owner of a publishing firm, a dream job. Lucy is efficient and well-educated. Helene, her boss, had merged her firm with another publishing firm in order for both of them to survive.
Lucy works in a mirrored glass office across the desk from Josh Templeton, executive assistant to the other co-CEO, Mr. Bexley. He, too, is well-educated, efficient and gorgeous, according to Lucy’s thoughts.
Unfortunately, Lucy and Josh are oil and water—at least that is what readers see in the beginning. Given the fact that the story is a romantic comedy, however, readers expect the malevolent stares between Lucy and Josh to turn into romantic sparks. How long will it take for the changes to occur between the two?
Adding the tension in the office, Lucy and Josh are both vying for a promotion—the same promotion. If Josh wins the promotion, Lucy knows she must quit since she cannot work for him. She believes if she wins, Josh will also quit the job.
Then in a team-building event on a Friday at a paintball site, an event that Josh promotes, the relationship between Lucy and Josh changes dramatically, or does it? As with any romance novel, the writer builds in a continuous tug-of-war between Lucy and Josh. Will the hatred win or will that hatred turn into romance?
Following the tense paintball team-building event, Lucy becomes very ill. Josh steps up and takes her home and cares for her as she suffers through what could be food poisoning or a virus. Josh even calls his brother Patrick, a doctor, to check on Lucy.
Because of his visit to help Lucy, Patrick elicits a promise from Josh that he will attend Patrick’s upcoming wedding and that Josh will bring Lucy as his plus one.
The wedding becomes a pivotal point in the relationship between Lucy and Josh. Lucy learns a great deal about Josh as secrets and long-hidden hurts surface.
Readers may find The Hating Game uneven and perhaps even a bit cut short. Who wins the coveted promotion?
Of late, I have discovered several delightful books. The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, and surprisingly The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary all have been engaging reading. The latter is not my usual fare, but I found the book charming. All three of these books are ones I have shared with others, pressing them to read the books. Now, I have another: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley. I may become like the ancient mariner who buttonholes the wedding guest, but I will beguile my listeners with what they should be reading next!
The Authenticity Project starts with an entry by Julian Jessop, septuagenarian artist, who writes this entry: “Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the Internet, but with those real people around you?” Julian continues describing more of his life, past and present. One line stands out: “I AM LONELY.”
Julian leaves the journal on a table in Monica’s café. Monica finds the book and looks for Julian on the sidewalk so she can return it. When she cannot find him, she opens the book and starts reading his story. Soon, Monica decides to add her story to the journal, which is really “a plain, pale-green exercise book, like the one Monica had carried around with her at school, filled with details of homework assignments.”
While Julian tells some of the truth, interestingly enough, he begins The Authenticity Project with a lie too. Readers will be taken aback when they learn the truth near the end of the story.
Monica writes her story, revealing her innermost heart and before she can change her mind, she drops the book off on a table in the wine bar across from her café. From there, the journal continues its journey.
While we often use words like twists and unpredictable in describing mystery novels, those words do not fit well in describing The Authenticity Project even though Pooley surprises readers with unexpected turns in the story—revelations that are truly unpredictable.
The Authenticity Project brings together a disparate group of people, in age, education, and background. Through Monica’s careful planning, they form a group of friends. As with any group, the people within it experience ups and downs. Overall, the characters are people readers will care about. They have warts and beauty marks, like real people.
Hazard, for example, is a drug and alcohol addict who finally realizes he has hit bottom and turns his life around. Alice, known as @aliceinwonderland on her Instagram page, struggles with being a new mother and the responsibility of her daughter as she fears her marriage is crumbling. The other characters have compelling lives as well.
Read The Authenticity Project. You will certainly be glad you did!
At the end of The Authenticity Project in the acknowledgements, Clare Pooley describes how she came to write the story. I will let readers discover that for themselves. I only suggest that you read the book first and then read the why and how at the end. Discover more about Clare Pooley on her Web site: https://clarepooley.com/.
Since Janie Chang grew up hearing old stories her family told of life in a Chinese village, she pulls those stories from the past to write mesmerizing fiction today. The stories she learned as child are complete with encounters with dragons, ghosts, and immortals. Change weaves the legends into her modern story seamlessly.
The Library of Legends opens in 1937 with a group of university students fleeing from Minghua University in Nanking as Japanese planes bomb the city. We focus on Hu Lian, the narrator, and her companions Liu Shaoming, called Shao, and his maidservant Sparrow. They are helping the university professors save the Library of Legends, books about the ancient myths of China, by smuggling the books out of harm in the students’ backpacks.
The students and professors hope to go to Shanghai and safety. Lian’s mother is also supposed to be in Shanghai, so Lian desperately wants to find her. The constant threat of bombs by the Japanese and fear of encountering Japanese soldiers on the roads creates a great deal of tension.
Chang keeps the story moving with intrigue within the group and by inserting stories about the immortals. Lian learns she cannot trust everyone in the group, but knowing whom to trust is also difficult. Lian’s family secret including the fact that she and her mother have changed their names following Lian’s father’s untimely death haunts her too. She fears what will happen to her if anyone learns her secret.
Along the way, one classmate, a Communist advocate, is murdered. Later, another Communist sympathizer is arrested. Lian, Shao, and Sparrow decide they must part from the group and make their way alone to Shanghai.
Chang includes enough mystery to keep readers turning pages to see what happens next. Readers will have many questions which will all be answered satisfactorily by the end of the book.
Author Kate Quinn describes Janie Chang’s writing “as pure enchantment!” I would agree. I found myself immersed in the story including the parts about the immortals.
Part of that enchantment centers on a story from the Library of Legends, “The Willow Star and the Prince.” Moving the Library of Legends creates another story as the immortals and guardian spirits awaken. Chang weaves in the historical truth with the ancient Chinese legends to fashion a complete story.
Chang’s first novel, Three Souls, became a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prizes. Her second book, Dragon Springs Road, became a best seller. Chang has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. Currently, she and her husband live in Vancouver, Canada. Learn more from Chang’s Web site: https://janiechang.com/.
Reading and/or re-reading classic literature for all ages marks a true reading enthusiast. We learn from a book each time we read it. A group of friends meets to have conversations, deepen friendships, and learn from one another. We share many interests in common from cooking to crafting; we also read books together and discuss them. Our current book is a look back into childhood of the past by reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In doing a little research about Laura Ingalls Wilder, I discovered this statement she made: “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” Doesn’t that fit our times well? Readers can find it on this site: https://lauraingallswilderhome.com/. The site is Laura Ingalls Wilder: Historic Home & Museum, information about Wilder’s home in Mansfield, MO, where she lived until her death. Visitors to the site will learn about the home’s preservation and about opportunities to visit there.
Little House in the Big Woods is the first of Wilder’s stories about life with her mother, father, and two sisters. This story takes place in Wisconsin in 1871 when Laura was four. Wilder writes the autobiographical stories in third person using real family names. Wilder describes family life including the joys, sorrows, and difficult work of farming. She does not spare herself either, telling about times when she sulked as a child or got into trouble for not wishing to follow her parents’ rules. Eight other books follow Little House in the Big Woods.
Melissa Gilbert, actress, played Laura on the popular Little House on the Prairie TV show which ran from 1974 to 1982.
Andrea Wilson Woods has written an emotionally charged story of caring for Adrienne, her teenage sister, as Adrienne undergoes treatment for stage IV liver cancer. Andrea is Adrienne’s legal guardian, a young woman in her twenties herself when she faces caring for her sister through cancer treatment.
Better off Bald: A Life in 147 Days takes reads on emotional highs and lows. It is not spoiler for readers to know that Adrienne dies from the cancer. Still, as Andrea Wilson Woods points out in “Author’s Notes” at the end of the book, “We lost Adrienne, but did she lose?” That line is in response to a friend’s mother who said, “You will win if you measure winning in terms of good days and good hours.”
Much of the praise for Better off Bald comes from the medical community. Nicholas Borys, MD, Executive VP and Chief Medical Officer of Celsion Corporation, for example, writes “Better Off Bald is a raw story about two sisters, one a teenager and the other barely an adult, facing cancer. Andrea works hard to be the grown-up and a mother to her younger sister, Adrienne, when the diagnosis of cancer crashes down on them. Read this book to learn what goes on in the minds of patients fighting cancer. This book will jolt you emotionally and hopefully inspire all medical professionals to do a little better, and all patients to fight a little harder.”
For anyone who is facing or has faced a serious medical diagnosis, especially cancer, Better off Bald will be a touching story that will resonate with the reader. Readers will weep and laugh with Adrienne and Andrea and the medical personnel involved in Adrienne’s treatment.
Andrea Wilson Woods started a nonprofit called Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. Woods also loves to tell stories. She has been a coach, writer, teacher, and advocate. She maintains a robust Web site: https://www.andreawilsonwoods.com/. I received a copy of Better Off Bald from BookTrib which has in no way influenced my review.