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Mailbox Monday #716

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Spare by Prince Harry The Duke of Sussex from Audible.

It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow—and horror. As Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, billions wondered what the princes must be thinking and feeling—and how their lives would play out from that point on.

For Harry, this is that story at last.

With its raw, unflinching honesty, Spare is a landmark publication full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.

Grip by Yvette Neisser, which I purchased at her reading at DiVerse Gaithersburg.

Praise:
“From the horrors of the Holocaust to the grace of plié, from the pyramids of Egypt to her father’s passing, Yvette Neisser Moreno’s noble voice in Grip explores the ‘arc out of thinking’ between a dawn that ‘trembles with faint prayers’ and death like a ‘fluidity of grain.’ Neisser Moreno’s yearning for comprehension and her pristine sensitivity ‘grip’ the reader from the start. In her delicate poems she reminds us that strength rises from understanding and that poetry, at its core, is always a way to ‘untwist language from dreams.’ Enter the ‘stillness before snow,’ the compelling landscape of this extraordinary collection.”–Clifford Bernier, judge and author of The Silent Art

“’Some of us live at a slant’,” the poet Yvette Neisser Moreno writes in Grip and then proceeds to show us how, in language soothing and startling, both. The poems are ‘a slow plea/for the beating of human hearts,’ whether among the conflicts and struggles of the Middle East or within a single family or a single one of us wrestling with her grief. These are poems of great humanity. Read them for their crystalline truths and for the joy they find in our difficult hearts.”–Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock and author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden

“Yvette Neisser Moreno’s poems shimmer in that mysterious space between rib and spine, body and sky, farewell and departure. This is where she seeks equilibrium. “–Barbara Goldberg

“With quiet precision and evocative narratives that take us from lovely Hussein smoking a sheesha after losing his sight to an inner landscape of the Great Pyramid and a passage into eternity with its endless, circling shades of deeper blue, Yvette Neisser Moreno takes us on a journey where the senses are the compass for being present in the world. This fine first book of poems takes us along the uncharted spaces between the body and the experience of the world, calling us into its winding, into the warmth and joy of its eloquent movements. The poet draws us up close and releases us into our own bodies, our own mindful breath.”–Naomi Ayala

What did you receive?

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 15+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

If It Bleeds by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, Danny Burstein, and Steven Weber, is a collection of novellas, with Holly Gibney reappearing in the title novella.

The opening novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is reminiscent of a young boy coming-of-age story in which Craig befriends Mr. Harrigan right as cell phones start providing information at our fingertips, including newspapers and stock information. This friendship, of course, takes a darker turn. I enjoyed this piece, but wanted more development and a longer story.

The Life of Chuck, set in Boston, opens with the end of the Internet, but there’s billboards everywhere with Chuck on them. Who was this man that no one seems to know, but who is loved enough to be on a billboard? The ghosts of his past provide us with a glimpse of this finance man and how he did indeed “contain multitudes.” The best part of this story is when Chuck begins dancing on Boylston Street in Boston to the beat of busking drummers. But it is also about that age-old question of whether we would want to know when we’re to die? Would we use the time wisely? Would we while it away. This story was not as engaging as the others, at least not on audio.

Holly Gibney returns in If It Bleeds to find herself in a similar situation as to when she was in The Outsider (my review). It helps if you have read the previous novel where she appears because it is referenced, but I don’t think it is necessary, as King provides enough background for readers to follow along. Gibney is a spitfire who is overcoming her own self-esteem issues, and I absolutely love revisiting this character. This was my favorite novella.

Rat is the final novella in the collection and reminded me of King’s earlier works involving writers – Secret Window, Secret Garden (which became a movie with Johnny Depp), The Dark Half, and The Shining. But don’t expect that rat to appear until midway and do expect a Faustian bargain to occur. This one was a traditional horror yarn. It was definitely a solid story, though I didn’t like Drew Larson much.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King was a bit hit-and-miss for me, but there’s definitely something for everyone in these pages. The best of these for me was If It Bleeds, though Mr. Harrigan’s Phone was a close second for me. Each of these deal with our sense of mortality and how knowing the end is near or even possible can impact how we act or don’t.

Funnily enough, the bookworm also posted her review of this collection, so check it out!

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Accomplished by Amanda Quain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Accomplished by Amanda Quain, narrated by Deva Marie Gregory, focuses on high school-age Georgiana Darcy who is struggling to find herself after Wickham entangles her in his drug-dealing scheme at her private school.She is a bit dramatic, probably too many regency romance shows for her.

Gregory is an excellent narrator for this young adult’s redemption story. She provides different voices for Georgie, Fitz, Avery, Wickham, and others.

Georgie is crumbling under the pressure of the Darcy name and its expectations. She’s unsure of who she is and unable to rectify her reputation at the private school where everyone hates her for taking away their best trombone player and drug dealer, Wickham. Even though she had nothing to do with the drug dealing and her room was all Wickham needed, her brother is severely disappointed and ramps up his helicopter parenting.

Georgie, on the other hand, is eager to get out from under the glare of her classmates, Wickham’s threats, and her brother’s oppressive supervision. Her lavish family lifestyle is something she wants to get past but even those around her see her like her ancestors and even her brother — untouchable, able to throw money at problems, and so many other privileged trappings.

Accomplished by Amanda Quain, narrated by Deva Marie Gregory, is a charming story of a young woman looking for herself as forces outside of herself try to force her to be someone she isn’t. She’s artistic, musical, and creative, and clearly not the business/medical mold of the Darcy legacy. While Georgie is a bit obsessive and full of anxiety, which can get tiresome, her gradual evolution in this story is delightful, even when she stands up to her brother, not quite in the most rational or tactful way. Quain is a talented writer, and I look forward to others in this series.

RATING: Quatrain

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu (audio)

Source: Purchase
Audible, 2+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

It’s been a Grimm’s Brothers kind of month of reading for me.

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu, narrated by Jim Boeven, weaves in myth from Germanic folklore about wolves and sets it just nearing the end of WWII.

Even as Berlin tries to tell its people that the war is not over, even the villages outside the cities can sense the tide is not in the motherland’s favor.

Uwe Fuchs has always considered himself a weakling and unworthy as he was unable to serve for the Reich and stayed behind to care for his own ailing mother. Despite his lot, he cared for his daughter and loved to share with her the dark fairy tales of the wood and wolves, though he feared she missed the point that the wolves represented the bad in the world. But in many ways it seems he missed the point as well.

The narration by Boeven was a bit stilted in the audio, which kept me from really falling into Katsu’s story fully. That was a real drawback for me. But the story itself is definitely a reaction to the political climate we find ourselves in and how it mirrors that of Nazi Germany with its fervor and us vs. them focus. The story itself is a cautionary tale that has roots in reality.

Katsu has knack for creating characters who are flawed and find themselves in otherworldly situations. Uwe is definitely flawed and those flaws are amplified by what happens to him, especially when he takes matters into his hands with the village fighters against the Allies in an effort to be part of the community. Will he be a man who cannot return to his former life?

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu, narrated by Jim Boeven, is a short story set in a historical period that highlighted much of the worst in humanity from eugenics to mass extinction efforts. Uwe is a man who is struggling with his own place in society and his community until he finds his pack. But will his one decision to join those working against the allies at the end of the war ruin his life forever?

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 24+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Fairy Tale by Stephen King, narrated by Seth Numrich and a bit by King himself, is a dark Gothic story in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. In a parallel world beneath an Howard Bowditch‘s shed, Charlie Reade‘s worldview and his promise to be a better man if only his father would stop drinking alcohol. Reade’s blossoming relationship with Mr. Bowditch is touching and odd all at once, but I expect nothing less. But the fairy tale doesn’t begin until Reade learns about what’s in the shed and what it could possibly mean for the dog, Radar, they love.

In an adventure that Reade never expected to have when he sought to save the life of an old dog, he learns a great deal about human frailty and how dreams and ideals do little in times of crisis. Even Mr. Bowditch was aware of those failings, noting that cowards bring gifts. King is so adept at creating flawed characters and adventures to strange worlds where young men must test their metal against the deep dark evil of an unknown and scary place.

Reade comes of age in this story and he is not as too-good-to-be-true as he seems. He faces untenable situations and tough choices throughout his travels. I don’t want to give too much away, but the character not only evolves but even more clearly understands his own limitations. Dark and horrible things happen here, and are their moments of crassness from the evil characters that make you cringe, of course. These elements make this dark world seem even more real.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love reading Stephen King’s books. Not all of them capture my full attention, even if I love them. I even conned my friend Anna (aka Diary of an Eccentric) to read my favorite King book (IT) in a read-a-long. But some of King’s books have not totally absorbed me from start to finish like IT. Fairy Tale is an exception and has entered the pantheon of King favorites.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 1+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor, narrated by the author, is an Audible Original that contains story and musical story. Taylor explores his childhood and his journey to music, against the medical path laid out before him, and explores how his life finds its way into his songs.

There is no shying away from the struggles with drugs, nearly killing a man with a car, or his brief encounter with a killer. He explores his mental illness and drug abuse, and how those stemmed from a childhood that was a struggle for him. I loved how he interspersed his songs and playing with his story. That was the best part of this audio. It was definitely well blended. It was definitely too short of an audiobook, and it left you wanting more.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor is a delightful listen if you enjoy his music, and the interwoven stories that inspired his songs make his story sing. Definitely worth checking out if you like his music.

RATING: Quatrain

More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 3+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman is a collection of bed time stories based on fairy tales and twists them toward tragic endings. These stories are innovative. One story looks at what it would be like to be a princess turned into a frog who is unsure if she would even know how to be human if she found her prince. Another story looks at the veterinary tasks from a dog’s point of view and the story that results is creepy. Not all of these stories are creepy, but many of them look at the darker side of fairy tales.

I enjoyed the multitude of narrators for the stories – Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Elliot Page, Jane Lynch, John Waters, Anjelica Huston, Wendell Pierce, Mike Birbiglia, Rachel Dratch, Matt Walsh, Nicole Byer, Harry Goaz, Aisling Bea, and Gary Anthony Williams.Yes, you read that correctly, the lead of NAILED IT!, Patrick Stewart aka Captain Picard, and John Waters! Nick Offerman is a delight with his asides and conversational style when introducing these stories.

Would you want to listen to these at bedtime? You might; nothing is overly horrifying. What these cemented for me is that I have a dark sense of humor sometimes. Yes, I chuckled at some of these stories.

More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman is a fun collection of stories that will leave you guessing. I really enjoyed these and will probably pick up the next collection of these stories.

RATING: Quatrain

Mailbox Monday #699

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Fairy Tale by Stephen King, which I purchased from Audible.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy—and his dog—must lead the battle.

Early in the Pandemic, King asked himself: “What could you write that would make you happy?”

“As if my imagination had been waiting for the question to be asked, I saw a vast deserted city—deserted but alive. I saw the empty streets, the haunted buildings, a gargoyle head lying overturned in the street. I saw smashed statues (of what I didn’t know, but I eventually found out). I saw a huge, sprawling palace with glass towers so high their tips pierced the clouds. Those images released the story I wanted to tell.”

Persuading the Captain by Rachel John, a Kindle freebie.

Romance at a family reunion is usually the start of a bad joke, but when the hunky neighbor everyone’s talking about turns out to be Anne’s ex, her plans for a relaxing cabin retreat fly out the window. Eight years ago, Anne broke off their engagement, afraid they were too young. It was a decision she’s regretted ever since. But Eric seems fine, and even suggests they stop avoiding each other and enjoy having mutual friends.

Eric Wentworth is not fine. He’s sort of accidentally dating one of Anne’s relatives. He’s introduced his lovelorn best friend to Anne and they’ve hit it off. Worst of all, they won’t be parting at the end of week like he thought. Anne lives in the city he’s moving to, and cutting her out of his life is impossible when she’s taken over his.

They swore they’d never give each other a second chance, but sometimes life has other plans…

What did you receive?

Beach Read by Emily Henry (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Beach Read by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan, is laugh-out-loud funny, but also deeply serious. While both January Andrews and Augustus Everett are struggling with writer’s block and personal traumas, there’s a quirkiness to their interactions with people. Henry has a knack for creating oddball situations. How does one broke romance author find herself broke and living her her father’s house on Lake Michigan where he romanced another woman while married? And how does a curmudgeonly literary fiction author find himself in such a small town where his friends take over his house once a year to throw him a birthday party he doesn’t want? Oh, did I mention they are now neighbors?

What do writers who don’t have anything particularly in common do? Why they make a bet that they cannot write a book in each other’s genre! Typical writers, challenging each other with seemingly insurmountable tasks.

I’m not going to share much more than this about the book because I want you to discover all the quirkiness for yourself. My one quibble was that the writing challenge seemed to fizzle out and the reveal was not quite as good as the other resolutions. But this did not detract from my enjoyment of the banter between these two writers and the unraveling of their past hurts and more.

Beach Read by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan, is a fun summer read that will have you laughing, shaking your head at these two, and smiling all the way to the beach. But you won’t catch me jumping into a cold lake for anyone.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens, narrated by Charlotte Beaumont, is a delightful weekend getaway with Laura, a writer for a lifestyle platform (read sponsored content). She heads to Jersey, England, from London to seek out her parents’ love story. on the plane she ends up meeting an attractive man who stoops to pick up her tampons. But she thinks nothing of this meet cute as she strives to find all the places her parents took pictures during their summer of romance. As a writer of happily ever after (HEA) stories, she has a cinematic notion of love.

While Laura is clearly to focused on HEA stories and finding love, her story demonstrates that she needs to learn to accept reality and learn how to find her own direction. When she falls into Ted’s cab and commissions him on her quest, she has no idea how things will change for her.

I cannot tell you how many times I laughed during this book. There are so many hilarious moments. Laura does have her cringy moments where I wondered what on earth she was thinking and whether she is really that clueless. Her boss, Suki, is a maniac and hard-nosed editor. Laura gets herself in hot water when her priorities shift away from that of Suki’s.

Is Laura’s meet cute with the man, Jasper, whose suitcase she ends up with after her flight to Jersey or is it something less cinematic? Jasper is a well-mannered perfect fit in terms of likes and dislikes, but there’s just no zing. Along the way, Laura meets plenty of colorful relatives and Ted’s family and friends. She finds herself immersed in Jersey’s culture and falling in love with the horizon again — much like that summer of love her parents had.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens, narrated by Charlotte Beaumont, is a delightful romantic comedy that I couldn’t help smiling as the narration continued. Laura does grow throughout, and some of that is painful. Ted is a scruffy man at the start who improves upon acquaintance. Cousens is an author I’ll definitely read again.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Sophie Cousens started her career in television, where she produced, among other things, The Graham Norton Show, Big Brother, Ant and Dec and Russell Howard’s Good News. Sophie currently lives in Jersey where she now writes full time. She lives with her husband Tim and has two small children who keep her occupied with important questions such as ‘but did Cinderella have a toothbrush?’ and ‘do giraffe’s know they have really long necks?’ She yearns for a time when she will be able to add a miniature dachshund to the party.

Mailbox Monday #692

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Beach Read by Emily Henry, purchased from Audible.

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes best-selling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

What did you receive?

Mailbox Monday #688

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens, purchased from Audible.

Hopeless romantic and lifestyle reporter Laura’s business trip to the Channel Islands isn’t off to a great start. After an embarrassing encounter with the most attractive man she’s ever seen in real life, she arrives at her hotel and realizes she’s grabbed the wrong suitcase from the airport. Her only consolation is its irresistible contents, each of which intrigues her more and more. The owner of this suitcase is clearly Laura’s dream man. Now, all she has to do is find him.

Besides, what are the odds that she’d find The One on the same island where her parents first met and fell in love, especially as she sets out to write an article about their romance? Commissioning surly cab driver Ted to ferry her around seems like her best bet in both tracking down the mystery suitcase owner and retracing her parents’ footsteps. But as Laura’s mystery man proves difficult to find – and as she uncovers family secrets – she may have to reimagine the life, and love, she always thought she wanted.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry, purchased from Audible.

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming….

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

What did you receive?