Tag Archives: love

Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein

First of all, I’d change the title from Chemistry Lessons to Love Potion Number Nine, at least that’s the tune I was humming while reading this G rated love story perfect for young teens. A loving family is torn apart when Mom succumbs to cancer. Dad turns to physical activities to work out his grief, while daughter Maya finds an internship transcribing notes at the MIT lab where her mother did research in Epigenetics. A high school graduate, Maya is looking forward to her Freshman year at Cambridge, but the summer is ruined when her boyfriend Whit, already a film major at Boston University, decides he’s ready to move on to greener pastures. Devastated at this betrayal, she turns to her best friend Bryan, for comfort. Theirs is an unusual relationship, with this talented fellow, immersed in the acting world, a pal to not only Maya, but also Whit, and even her dad. Obviously gay, Bryan is a welcome overnight guest, and her father even feels comfortable when Maya finds herself after hours at his place. Of all the characters, Bryan is the most grounded, with excellent advice and a huge shoulder to cry upon.

When Maya discovers that her mom was working with pheromones to manipulate romantic relationships (make love last), she decides, with the help of her mother’s former graduate student lab assistant, to continue the experiment with the hopes of reawakening the attraction of her former boyfriend. In order to make the study more valid, she needs to test the procedure on two other subjects. The selections have results which are definitely a surprise to Maya, but the reader will certainly have a premonition that this scientific query with a lack of definite controls, does not have a foregone conclusion.

Meredith Goldstein has come up with a rather crazy idea for a research topic, but a fun little way to write a teen romance. It was nice to read a story for once involving loving parents, good friends, and moderately behaved teens where higher educated is expected and welcome. Perhaps the scenario sounds like a fantasy, but there’s just enough tension to keep the silly plot interesting. Great for fans of the Boston area and Willy Wonka (two words – Whiff Walk).

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

It is misleading to say that The Unbinding of Mary Reade (please note the extra “e”) is based on historical facts since the author, Miriam McNamara plays fast and loose with the so called “truth”. Yes, Mary Read, Anne Bonnie, and Calico Jack Rackham were pirates together, but the timeline is ignored leading to a misleading narrative. What is true is that the illegitimate Mary Read was brought up disguised as her half brother Mark so as to financially benefit off her “grandmother” with the proceeds of her deceit supporting her mother. Eventually she joined the British Military and fought against the French in the Nine Years War. Mary married, settled in the Netherlands, and ran an inn, but after her husband’s early death she once again took up the role as a man and ended up on a ship traveling to the West Indies which was taken hostage by pirates who she gladly joined. She accepted the governor’s pardon in 1718-19 and became a privateer, basically a pirate for the crown, but the ship mutinied and it was at this point she joined the pirates Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny (who also was disguised as a man). Eventually both their true identities were revealed. Ironically, Anne’s father had unsuccessfully forced Anne to take on a boys identity in her youth to hide the fact she was his illegitimate daughter.

While in the book McNamara portrays the two female pirates as roughly the same age, in fact, Mary Read was thirteen to fifteen years older. Of interest is the gender fluid nature of both these female buccaneers who seemed to take pleasure from men but were rumored to have an intimate relationship with each other as well, switching back and forth between the sexes as the situation dictated. That they were fierce fighters is not in doubt, shown by their efforts to hold off the invaders intent on taking them captive, although they were eventually outnumbered and captured because the male crew were too drunk to fight. Both ladies were “with child” so spared the fate of their male counterparts who were hanged for high treason. While Mary is believed to have died of child fever in a Jamaican prison (buried April 28, 1721), Anne was luckier, possibly rescued by her influential father, William Cormac, ending up in her birthplace of South Carolina.

As you can see, Mary’s life was actually quite fascinating, but the author somehow found a way to make it mundane. I had to force myself to finish this book, which seemed to drag on and on.

Back and forth between 1704, 1707, 1717, and 1719 alternating between the locales of London and the Caribbean, the backstory comes too late, leaving the reader confused as to exactly what is happening. Ultimately, the intriguing details of the lives of these two rebellious woman are not used to their best advantage. There was too much tell, not enough show, with the author too often describing the events rather than putting the characters in the midst of the action.

However, this book’s one saving grace is bringing Mary and Anne to our attention and I suggest a look at A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, which provides the basis of many of the myths surrounding this fascinating period on the high seas.

Two stars and a thank you though both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon

When I was in college, my boyfriend, for some reason, had to miss one of his upper level advanced mathematics courses and asked me to tape the class and copy down the notes written on the chalkboard. (Obviously this was quite a few years ago). The teacher was Asian with a stilted accent, but even if he had been totally fluent in English, my year of Introductory Calculus was not enough background for me to make heads or tails of the subject matter which the professor was attempting to impart, so I just nodded and copied and pretended that I had an inkling of the topic under discussion, flipping the tape over as appropriate.

This sense of confusion is similar to my experience in reading Incendiaries: A Novel by R. O. Kwon. Flitting from character to character giving little to no reference point with statements which only at times resemble sentences, flipping back and forth with tenses and pronouns so I wasn’t sure who was speaking and when the event occurred, I waded through this book (which was fortunately a quick read) until I finally got the gist of what was happening and was able to confirm my suspicions by going back to the beginning and skimming the chapters after my first go around with the text.

Not a traditional narrative, this book is about a group of students attending Edwards College in Noxhurst, a city somewhere in New York State (I think). There are side trips to New York City with a visit to other locations in the Northeast, although the main characters are originally from California and think nothing about bopping home. Ultimately the story is about a cult started by John Liel which entraps Phoebe Lin and almost ensnares her boyfriend, Will Kendall. The main characters all have some Korean blood and have experienced a past which makes them vulnerable to brainwashing, taking advantage of their questions concerning faith and Christianity. The Pro Life contingent is also a theme which reoccurs throughout the book.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to be sympathetic to any of these protagonists who are all self absorbed, with personality flaws that makes them largely unlikeable. Their college education is alluded to, but for the majority is more a setting than an activity. Bars and other gathering places abound with drinking, drugs, and sex which seem to be the primary activities mixed in with religious allusions. It’s a very jaded view of the college scene.

While the majority of the narrative is disjointed, there is a brief glimpse of a book which I could have liked – the section describing Will’s job as a waiter at an upscale restaurant and the difficulty he had with one of the patrons. Unfortunately, this is a mean spirited episode with more than a touch of misogyny, but at least it was readable.

So, if you like a challenge and are in the mood for a negative plot line, go for it. I, for one, plan to find a book which will make me laugh so as to remove the bitter taste which is currently lingering, just as I decided to major in English and not in Math.

Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Summer Wives: A Novel by Beatriz Williams

Summer Wives, or paramours, are perfect for the three months of June, July, and August for the men who love them prior to returning to those women who, for better or worse, take up the mantle as their duly married spouses. It kind of reminds me of the sign on our motor boat, “All marriages performed by Captain good one trip only”.

Here are young virginal girls full of passion who are attracted to men who aren’t necessarily destined to be their mate. When villager Bianca Medeiro gives herself to the handsome, prosperous Hugh Fisher she considers herself his wife, so imagine her distress when said husband intends to wed fellow socialite Abigail Dumont. Despite Hugh’s pledges of love and devotion, too late she realizes that it’s just a summer romance which he intends to continue each year when their nouveau riche family returns to Winthrop Island for the season. That’s in 1930.

Twenty one years later Hugh Fisher’s nineteen year old daughter, Isobel, is engaged to the affluent Clayton Monk, yet she’s not sure they’ll suit over the long haul. Anyway, her dad is remarrying and she needs to spend time with her new sister, Miranda Schuyler. Step sister “Peaches” is attracted to the son of the light house keeper, Joseph Vargus, who makes a good impression when he rescues an elderly Portuguese fisherman who fell off his boat. There’s an instant chemistry between the two, even though Isobel warns her “he’s mine”. Not to worry, they barely have any time together when a tragedy occurs which sends Miranda spinning off in a new direction.

Eighteen years after that, Miranda returns, now a successful actress who needs some time away to recuperate after a car accident. She hasn’t spoken to her Mom or Isobel since her departure and the house where she spent that fateful summer is in disrepair, especially since her stepfather is dead and the money has dried up. Isobel never married and Miranda’s husband, well let’s just say he’s the reason she’s hiding out in Long Island Sound. An added plus is the fact that Joseph might be somewhere around the island after his recent escape from prison, just a couple of years before he was set to released from his twenty year murder sentence.

The Summer Wives: A Novel by Beatriz Williams is told from three perspectives, Bianca Medeiro in 1930, eighteen year old Miranda Schuyler in 1951, and the now 36 year old Miranda “Thomas” in 1969 – each time period divided into the months of June, July, and August, where the details are eked out a little at a time until the complete picture (via the two epilogues) is revealed.

Is there a true villain in this saga, or a series of miscommunications which result in actions that simply can’t be undone? Either way, there’s a bunch of questionable plot points which make one wonder, “oh, no, you didn’t just go there” and though the end run isn’t exactly rocket science, this is still an enjoyable, if not predictable, read.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

March by Geraldine Brooks

If one were to ask my favorite childhood author, although a difficult choice, I would have to say Louisa May Alcott, specifically Little Women (although there are other of her novels which I also hold dear). There’s a reason I named by third daughter Elizabeth, though she’s a Liz or Izzy and not a Beth.

Perhaps I was responding to the authentic voice of the author. Certainly basing her novel on members of her own family brought a touch of normalcy to the words. Of course, as a nine year old I didn’t ponder these things, I only knew that I had grown to love each of the sisters, reveling in their interactions with one another and their struggles in their daily lives. I was also attracted to the time period and the formal language, so different than the common vernacular of Brooklyn in the 1960s. Jo’s love of books and writing was another draw, binding her to my heart in a way that few other literary characters managed to accomplish.

So when I discovered that the title of the book March by Geraldine Brooks was actually in reference to the absentee father in Little Women, I decided that this was a novel which needed to jump to the top of my “To Read” list. Although I had heard of March (after all it was published over ten years ago), at that time in my life the focus was on children’s books as I was working in an Elementary/Middle School Library. Luckily, a good book remains readable whether opened the day it’s published or years later, especially one which has been so thoroughly researched.

I can see why March won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2006 due to the talent of Brooks who was able to successfully replicate Alcott’s style from the original novel. Bronson Alcott, a teacher not a preacher, was a fascinating man who obviously had a big impact on Louisa’s life. The chance to get a better glimpse of this individual, even via a fictional lens, is an opportunity not to be missed. Using the background of Alcott’s family (with a few poetic liberties) plus the details from Little Women set during the time frame of the Civil War, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of Robin (Father) March who is off at War throughout a major portion of Little Women. We get his young years as a peddler in the South, eventually becoming a preacher and settling in Cambridge where he meets his wife Marmee, with their abolitionist tendencies leading to his decision to meet the battle cry as a Chaplain at the age of thirty nine leaving behind his wife and four daughters.

Here we experience the conflict through March’s eyes with all the horror and inhumanity which war entails. We get the cleaned up version which he includes in his letters to his family, then the nitty gritty including the moments which he would rather forget but feels guiltily compelled to reveal. Occasionally there are reflections he shares which mirror the original work, but the majority of the story veers off into his own previously unreleased past. It’s not until Marmee gets the letter that her husband is gravely wounded that we begin a true parallel to Little Women as details from this book intertwine with her discoveries about her husband’s past. While most of March is from the father’s point of view, while he lays sick in the hospital, it is his wife who picks up the story and reveals the events leading up to his eventual return home to his daughters, including the gravely ill Beth.

While some of the actions of wartime made me squeamish, the realism of the story, along with memories of my childhood favorite, kept me engaged throughout the novel. That events which occurred at the beginning of March’s tale had an impact on later circumstances shows the talent of Brooks who was able to draw the entire contents of her plot full circle. The PTSD which infiltrates the protagonists being, makes one wonder about his future as a husband and father as even common events seem to bring up ghastly memories of his guilt ridden experiences from over the previous year, forcing him to live a double life, presenting an artificial front to hide his own internal conflicts. While not necessarily reflected in Alcott’s work, it gives the reader a new perspective into the inner workings of a patriot who has discovered that supposed “heroism” comes with a lot of baggage.

Five stars.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I was happy with this simple, but witty little story of three Australian families. The first wife is struggling with her unfaithful husband, well, not quite unfaithful yet, but thinking about it. It’s who he’s been playing mind games with that has her completely in a dither, so it’s off to Mummy’s with her little boy to sort things out. Then there’s the widow who has never gotten over the tragic death of her teenage daughter. She’s the school secretary who everybody pussyfoots around in deference to her sensibilities. Finally there’s the -oh so perfect wife – who isn’t quite sure how or why she and her husband haven’t done the deed in like forever, or at least six months. Is she losing her appeal? After all, she’s given birth to three daughters who command a lot of her attention and he does travel a lot. Then she finds “the letter”!

These minor crisis were enough to keep my interest, but then, bang, half way through The Husband’s Secret, author Liane Moriarty pulls her first twist and my attention notches up a level or two. Of course, I expected this, after all, twists are this author’s trademark, and I remained open for the next surprise which braided these three lives together. While there is a satisfying resolution, this is not a happily ever after tale, just as life itself isn’t without its complications due to the numerous minute choices we make. An epilogue gives us the “what ifs” that we each can’t but wonder about our own lives.

An engaging, well written novel (even though I listened to the audio version, expertly performed by Caroline Lee who has read other books by this author). My only complaint is that I didn’t get to this book sooner.

Five Stars

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Everyone in Brooklyn was a Dodgers fan at Ebbots Field, at least until the team moved to Los Angeles. If you lived in this borough of New York City from 1951 to 1952 you probably attended Brooklyn College (my father did) and spent time at Coney Island eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. The sand was hot, the ocean cold, the beach was so crowded you had to stake out a good spot, but it was home.

In Brooklyn you lived in a building, often in tiny apartments, saving up money to move where you could have a plot of land of your own. (Actually our apartment was large, inherited from my grandmother who was the original tenant – gotta love that rent control). Having a house with a yard was a dream which every child carried in their heart (and we had to move to a suburb in Buffalo to get that house).

Despite being a large, crowded city, the neighborhoods kept life intimate. You knew the people in your building and the vendors in the local shops, mainly family owned. Yet in between was the busyness of Brooklyn which carried a flavor not found in the surrounding small towns in upstate New York.

Being a diverse metropolis, the rules were a little different. While the various ethnic groups congregated amongst themselves, the shopping centers had to be open to all, whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or Black, especially here where so many immigrants settled after making the trip across the Atlantic.

This is the city where I was born (at the Caledonia Hospital on Caton Ave). It’s not necessarily the exact place described in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, but my childhood occurred a few years later. (My grandparents were also born in Brooklyn, but their folks came over from Eastern Europe at an earlier, even more desperate time in the late 1800s). Yet, the feel is recognizable.

Enter Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant from the small town of Enniscorthy, who is sponsored by Father Flood in her move to his Irish Parish. He sets up a room for her in an Irish Boarding House with 5 other Irish girls, and arranges for a job as a salesgirl at Bartocci’s, a local department store. Then when Eilis gets homesick, he signs her up for night classes at Brooklyn College to earn her certificate as a bookkeeper, a subject she studied back in Ireland. She meets a nice boy at the Friday Night Dances at the Parish and her life seems perfect, but “stuff” happens.

Eilis is the type of person who goes along to get along. She’s from an era and a culture where women don’t have much of a say in their lives. They are obedient children who marry, keep house, and have children of their own. Ellis seems to go with the flow, unable to speak up when events spin out of control forcing her on a path which she isn’t sure is the right one for her. Her first job back in Ireland is at a local grocery store and the owner simply sends for her, unasked, when she discovers Ellis has a talent for figures. Rose, Ellis’ older sister, arranges for her to travel to America, and “surprises” her with the “fait accompli”. Her behavior at the rooming house is dictated by the owner, and her free time is guided by her housemates. It takes feigning an illness to get out of the Friday night dance, since Ellis doesn’t have the courage to outright refuse to go. Even her beau decides when their relationship should go to the next level and she just guesses that this is okay, although in her heart she is unsure. Fate seems to be her guideposts, and the tide of life sweeps her along its path to the next steps on the most convenient road.

I’m not judging, since her life doesn’t seem to be a hardship, one just wonders what “might have been” and the author even gives us a taste of that before he pulls the rug out from under the reader and has circumstances steer Ellis’ direction back on track.

A delightful and easy read on a bygone era in a beloved (for me) spot. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.