{Review} The Royal Secret by Lucinda Riley

the royal secret book cover photo of a crown with bokeh lights in the foreground I love a good romantic chick lit. They’re fun and light, if not a bit predictable. In between the “heavier” stuff I read, it’s good to get lost in some fantasy world. I was pretty sure The Royal Secret would be a book like that, and it is, but with a little twist.

Joanna Haslam, our strong female lead, is a striving journalist waiting for her big break. When she’s sent to cover the funeral of Sir James Harrison, a venerated actor (I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, for some reason…), she comes to the aid of an elderly woman in attendance.  This act of kindness turns out to be fateful as Joanna is plunged headlong into a royal mystery featuring a dizzying array of characters, all with their own stories to reveal. The ending is anything but predictable, and Lucinda Riley keeps us guessing until the very end.

The origins of the book itself even has some intrigue. Originally scheduled to be published back in the early aughts, the Royal family put the kibosh on the book, causing the author to lose her contract with the publisher. I guess enough time has passed at this point that the earlier censorship is now reversed and the book is back with a new title.

Buy It At IndieBound

Buy it on Amazon

Photo of Author Lucinda Riley wearing a rust-orange sundress, standing on a walkway in lush green scenery. The author is leaning on the railing with arms crossed.
Credit: Boris Breuer

FIND LUCINDA RILEY ONLINE:

Website: http://www.lucindariley.com

Twitter: @lucindariley

Facebook: @Lucindarileyauthor

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and the Seven Sisters seriesHer books have sold more than fifteen million copies in thirty-five languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.

 

 

 

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{Review} Motherland by Elissa Altman

It’s really only a coincidence that I’m writing and publishing this review on Mother’s Day weekend.  But here we are, being apropos!

In Motherland, Elissa Altman displays her talent for imbuing the mundane with powerful meaning. The closet the contains a tiny, red plaid umbrella, an old mink coat, a child’s grade school notebooks, baby teeth, a wedding gown, is not just clutter but objects that serve as a balm to a highly anxious, traumatized woman who needs constant reassurance that her life has been a life well-lived, even when she feels strongly it’s been otherwise. Objects that are tangible evidence of her love for her daughter, that she was a good mother even when she wasn’t.

What kind of mother can you be when you’ve never felt enough your entire life, when you carry the weight of intergenerational trauma?  Elissa Altman works to understand this woman who raised her, who made it clear that she could’ve been so much more if she hadn’t been stuck in this motherhood role.  It’s easy to be angry at Rita–how dare she be resentful of motherhood. But I’m inspired by Elissa’s empathy for her mother, her willingness to understand why her mother is the way she is, and it’s impossible to be angry. Frustrated, definitely. Angry, no. Deeply sympathetic for Elissa’s dilemma–to preserve her own sanity by putting distance between herself and her mother, or to take the fifth commandment to heart. The dilemma is made all the more vexing because Elissa’s late father had implored her to remember to honor thy mother and father, always.

Elissa Altman’s vivid storytelling, and uncanny ability to evoke a time, a place, a feeling with mere words make this a book that needs to be on your Must Read list. Motherland is out from Ballantine in August 2019, and available for preorder on Amazon.

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How can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? It’s the universal question that has defined mothers and daughters from Demeter and Persephone to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

“Wise, evocative, and rich in insight, this compassionate and beautiful memoir is ultimately an act of love.”—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter.

Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.

Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.

Advance praise for Motherland

“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

{Review} Fleishman Is In Trouble

fleishman is in troubleBack in the fall, I hopped on a train to San Francisco, leaving the kids behind with dad and indulged in my favorite pastime– wandering around a city alone, like I was in college again.

When I was a student at NYU, I lived downtown in various dorms, all below 14th Street. Most days, I went to class. But I developed a habit of taking mental health days. I would wander the village, both east and west, aimlessly, taking myself shopping, browsing in bookstores,  and treating myself to lunch at Fanelli’s  Sometimes, I would take myself to the movies at the Angelika on Houston or Cinema Village on 12th Street. Even then, still young, uncoupled, and childless, I sought independence and a break from the routine of school and work and LIFE.

Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner,  is the existential crisis that every married person who was once young and free is in danger of suffering. The book opens with our male protagonist, Toby Fleishman, the description of whom immediately brings to mind a nebbishy Jew, and of course, he is. An LA native, raised in a Jewish household, now a doctor and living in New York, Toby paints a picture of himself as a loving, devoted father  and amiable husband who was emotionally abandoned by his wife, a striver who has risen to great heights in her career, far surpassing Toby’s earning power. Toby asked for the divorce, we learn and we think we understand why. Rachel has put her work before her family, her career before her children, chasing after status and acceptance at the expense of everything else.

I found myself wary. I did not want to be on Toby’s side, and tried to remember that there are two sides to every story. Why should I trust Toby, after all? But then, it becomes clear that the narrator is a woman, an old college friend of Toby’s and that makes Toby more credible, because our narrator, Libby, doesn’t like Rachel either.

If I were reading this book with my book club, we’d have so many angles to dissect that we’d probably finish at least two bottles of wine and all the cheese and crackers, and maybe the brownies too.

What starts out as a book about a poor shlub who can’t keep up with his rising star of a wife, becomes a story about what women give up when they choose between career and family. It’s a story in which women can either be a winner in their own eyes or someone else’s eyes but never both at the same time.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is forthcoming from Random House, June 2019.

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{Review} The Farm by Joanne Ramos

the farm by joanne ramos

My Review

Women’s bodies are a battleground– a political battleground, a social battleground, a religious battleground. Bodies that are valuable and glorified at the same time that they are dispensable and interchangeable. They  are a commodity, for men, certainly. And for women, they  are a commodity, whether it’s their own body or another woman’s body.

And that’s what The Farm is about. Joanne Ramos has conjured up a world that will be familiar to anyone that has read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Except that at The Farm, women are compelled to give up their bodies as surrogate wombs with the promise of money and maybe some notion that they are helping another woman in need.

It’s a good story, with an interesting mix of characters to keep the plot moving along, enough to make me emotionally invested in the story.

But don’t expect the depth or complexity of The Handmaid’s Tale. On the surface, this is a commentary on women’s bodies and how they become weapons in a class war. Underneath, it’s just your run-of-the-mill chick lit with on-trend hot button issues layered over it.   A good  beach read, but don’t expect to arrive at any profound revelations.

Pre-Order The Book (Available May 6, 2019)

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NetGalley Description

Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules.

“[Joanne] Ramos’s debut novel couldn’t be more relevant or timely.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (25 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019)

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Advance praise for The Farm

“This topical, provocative debut anatomizes class, race and the American dream.”The Guardian, “What You’ll Be Reading This Year”

“Wow, Joanne Ramos has written the page-turner about immigrants chasing what’s left of the American dream. . . . Truly unforgettable.”—Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story and Lake Success

“A highly original and provocative story about the impossible choices in so many women’s lives. These characters will stay with me for a long time.”—Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles and The Dreamers

“Ramos has written a firecracker of a novel, at once caustic and tender, page-turning and thought-provoking. This is a fierce indictment of the vampiric nature of modern capitalism, which never loses sight of the very human stories at its center. . . . Highly recommended.”—Madeline Miller#1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe

 

 

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California, Here We Are.

Should I have a gif here of someone blowing dust off an long-neglected object? Maybe.

Hi.

It’s 2019. The last time I wrote here, I had just moved to California. It’s been just over six months now since we left Connecticut.

I won’t lie. It’s rough. I’m lonely. I miss my family. I long for my friends, and the easy camaraderie. I have serious FOMO. I’m still struggling to find my “people” here.

Thank god for the internet, right? Makes it easier to hold on. But, also harder to let go. Life might be simpler if I let go but I hold on, painful as it is.

People ask me how I like California. Truth is, I’m neutral. I haven’t fallen in love with it and I left a lot behind that I won’t find here. I can’t complain about California. It’s FINE. The weather is definitely more my speed. That’s the strongest feeling I can muster. I feel like a brat, to be honest.

I try to be grateful, thankful. We’re here because Henry landed his dream job. There are far, far worse reasons that cause a family to pick up roots and move elsewhere.

I don’t want to be consumed by resentment. I want to embrace this as an adventure, a chance to try something new, an opportunity for our family to secure a better financial future.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the feeling of longing for home, because home is not a physical place for me. Home was the people, my people. The kids are feeling it, too. I have hope that they’ll settle in sooner than I will but they still ask often if we’re ever going back home. I ask myself, too.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That’s my answer. This is where we are, for now.

Published.

I wrote a story, an essay, and submitted it for publication in an actual print magazine.  Actually, I pitched my story idea, it was accepted and I was left with the daunting task of having to not only write it, but meet a deadline.

I’ve mentioned this before but it’s been harder than I thought to write about cochlear implant journey. I kind of felt like it quickly become a non-event after I got over the novelty of it. My cochlear implant device, the Kanso,  a part of me now– not any separate from me than,  say, my ears themselves.   Though, I have to admit, I don’t always put it on first thing when I wake up like I do my glasses.  After a night of silence, it can be jarring to re-enter the world, with all it’s little noises.

Anyway, back to the essay.  I had to go to pen and paper to write this essay. I wrote two or three versions of it, then picked one to work with. The theme of the issue was Transformation. When I originally pitched my story idea, I was thinking of some grand transformation vis a vis my cochlear implant, but the more I thought about it and tried to write about it, the more I realized that I didn’t have this HUGE HUGE transformation. I had a series of little transformations that added up to this amazing life change. 

So, did I have this wildly amazing and dramatic transformation? Have you seen those videos on YouTube of babies and other people having their cochlear implant turned on for the first time?  Those videos really tug at heartstrings. How amazing to hear your mother’s voice for the first time or hear someone say I love you. That was not my experience. But don’t feel bad for me! It was still exciting to hear those electronic beeps and boops and know that my brain was working hard to turn all that noise into something meaningful.
The dramatic transformation was in the small details of my life, little things that a hearing person takes for granted. Conversation across the room. Listening to an interview on NPR. Ordering take-out over the phone. All the noisy appliances in my house that cycle on and off all day long. My loud children. (I knew they were loud but I had no idea how loud!)

To read the rest, you’ll have to buy the print magazine or the digital version (only $5!). You can buy it at hollandlanemag.com

I hope you like it. I’d love to hear from you after you read it. 

{Review}: How To Break Up With Your Phone

 

This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written, I’m pretty sure. But first, why did I pick up this book? Because I fully 100% admit that I spend way too much time on my phone, and I have to make a great effort to stay off it. I leave my phone home, I put it on my purse, I leave it in my car when my goal is to stay present. If I have my phone in my pocket, I WILL pick it up. It’s like a nervous tic.

I’m not sure what I was hoping to find in How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price, but  but everything in this book is nothing that hasn’t been written in countless articles in the past decade. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you won’t learn anything new.  The advice here is fairly common sense and the “program” is a little ridiculous.  Just put your phone down.

It’s not a terrible book, by any means. It’s easy to read, enjoyable but just…what was the point? For me, not much.

But if you really have no clue, and want some structure and guidance in giving up your dependency on your phone, then this is probably the book for you. You can buy it HERE.

 

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links, which means I recieve a small commission when you shop from my link.}

sea change.

…. There’s a sea change coming. I can feel it and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  We’re at a particular moment in time but what is that moment? What do we call it?

I was in the middle of reading The Power by Naomi Alderman, on Kindle. I got to One Year and the pages refused to advance. The file was corrupted.  (Here’s some irony: customer support refunded my money and told me to buy the print version.)

The moment before my reading progress was sabotaged, the story was hurtling towards a catastrophic end, it felt like. It was jarring to have it just halt. Come to a full stop. Screeching, almost. It felt conspiratorial. Power is dangerous to men in the hands of women, the book’s men say.  Power is dangerous in the hands of anyone, the universe seemed to say. In the end, we’re all human.

Every little thing is picked apart, it’s subtext examined and deemed sexist or not. Deemed oppressive or not. We’re being gaslighted, we’ve been gaslighted. The evolution of women is gathering strength. This is the part of the timeline where all the events are crammed together on the same stretch, relative to all of time.  Is this what it felt like when women’s lib started?  Was there an intangible feeling in the air? A kind of listening and looking at the horizon, waiting to see what’s coming over it?  It feels like that scene in Mad Max where he comes rumbling over the horizon, kicking up dust. You heard him before you saw him, but you didn’t know what havoc was coming.

I feel…. something. Can’t quite put my finger on it.  Something big is happening. Has been happening.  It’ll all come to a head eventually, somehow. Doesn’t have to be a big boom. Can be a subtle underlying current that knocks everything off it’s feet, one by one. Tumbling down as the wave rushes through, lapping the shore.

After I read this, my mind went to this: these men, they’re all the same. Social conditioning triumphs over biology. I see it in my 4 year old son–he’s comfortable with his feminine and masculine selves at this moment in time.  When does the change happen? When he’s had to time to bear witness to the shitty ways the men behave, sometimes without even realizing what they’re doing, so ingrained and so great is their privilege as men. Some boys start sooner, some boys start later but they all start eventually.  Should I be speaking in generalities? I think so. This experience with men is broad enough that we can speak in generalities. A man can protest and say it’s not fair, that he doesn’t fit this description.  Conscious or subconscious, the behavior still matters.

There is definitely a latent anxiety. That, I can feel.  It manifests itself in sleeplessness, restlessness, a lack of focus. A feeling of floundering, like I’m not sure what to do next. I make list after list, trying to keep myself in line but my attention is fleeting.

Song lyrics run through my head– a change is gonna come/ keep your eyes on the prize/ the times, they are a-changing– trite, maybe but on the pulse.  It’s what I feel.

{Review}: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before, and it made so much sense. This book delves deeper into each of the four tendencies, and I have a deeper understanding of what it means to be an Obliger.  This understanding is immediately applicable in my every day life, which cannot always be said of other self-help books out there!  I admit that after reading the introduction, I went ahead and skipped to the Obliger section of the book. I went back and read the other sections later, I promise!

It is also incredibly useful to understand other tendencies, especially if you’re married to someone who is a different tendency. You won’t ever change that other person but you can change how you react or respond and that might make all the difference in the world.  There’s a quiz to help readers figure out their tendency, so I gave the quiz to my husband and he turns out to also be an Obliger. If I really think about it, it’s not surprising. We seem like really different people, but there have been times that I’ve seen patterns in his behavior that seem so familiar to me, and it’s because I see those patterns in myself, when I’m not in denial.

What I like about this approach is that it doesn’t prescribe a narrow definition of  a personality type. Rather, it highlights tendencies in a person, and helps you shape an effective response or approach to certain behaviors. I always tell my kids, “You can’t control what another person does, but you can always control yourself and what you do.” This book gives you the tools to control your response to someone else, or even to yourself, based on what you know about that person’s tendencies.  If you’re looking to salvage or strengthen a relationship, this book may be what you need.

More about The Four Tendencies, from Amazon:

In this groundbreaking analysis of personality type, bestselling author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin reveals the one simple question that will transform what you do at home, at work, and in life.

During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively.
More than 600,000 people have taken her online quiz, and managers, doctors, teachers, spouses, and parents already use the framework to help people make significant, lasting change.
The Four Tendencies hold practical answers if you’ve ever thought…
·         People can rely on me, but I can’t rely on myself.
·         How can I help someone to follow good advice?
·         People say I ask too many questions.
·         How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask—or who keeps telling me what to do?
With sharp insight, compelling research, and hilarious examples, The Four Tendencies will help you get happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. It’s far easier to succeed when you know what works for you.

Buy This Book Now

{I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy this book using the links in this post.}

 

{Review}: If I Hear One More Knock-Knock Joke…

HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book by Neesha Mirchandani

As the mom of a 4 year old, 7 year old and 9 year old, there is no shortage of knock-knock jokes in my house. In fact, I often hear the same jokes over and over again, all in a row… it’s hard to be annoyed though when even the same old jokes make these kids erupt in peals of laughter like they’re hearing it for the first time.

Some favorites:

Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Boo.

Boo who?

Aww, don’t cry! It’s just a joke!

Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow.

Interrupting co–

Moooooooo.

Cute, right? We love jokes around here, and we needed to change it up a bit, so  I was excited to show my kids the Haha Color-Me! Joke Book, a new social joke book by Neesha Mirchandani.  As it happens, these two jokes are actually in the book, along with a slew of others that were new to us. One of the jokes made my husband groan out loud, which is hard to do!

 

I read some of the jokes with my youngest during a quiet moment, but handed it off to my 7 year old one bedtime. We read the jokes together but really, I wanted her to stay in her room and chill out so she could fall asleep. I proffered some crayons and she got busy coloring while I sashayed  casually out the room, lest she catch on. The book has not left her room since. She keeps it by her bed, and I often find her going through the book during a quiet moment.

What’s equally awesome about this coloring book is that , for every PRINT book Neesha sells, she will be sending one to a child in need who can’t afford one. So when your child laughs, you know you’re sharing the laughs with another child.

I also signed up for the Make Your Kiddos Laugh for 5 Days Straight challenge. It’s super cute and features the HaHa Laugh Bot. Try it out today!

The book launches on October 17th and to celebrate, I’m giving away a free copy of the HaHa Color-Me! Joke Book! Use the Rafflecopter below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own.}