Tuesday, June 15, 2021

a winter night by Anne Leigh Parrish

a winter night
by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published March 2021 by Unsolicited Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
34-year-old Angie Dugan struggles with many things-anxiety, her career as a social worker in a retirement home, and her difficult family. Her biggest struggle, though, is finding love. When she meets Matt, she’s swept away by his attention. As issues from his past come up she wonders if she can trust him. Should she break it off, or give him another chance? In the end, all she can do is listen to her heart, and evaluate what she wants most.

My Thoughts:
Does this summary strike you as a romance? It seemed like one to me, albeit a bit heavier than the usual fare. Lately it seems like more and more people are turning to romance as the perfect read in these difficult times we've been experiencing and I thought that maybe, for that same reason, it was time I started giving that genre a shot. 

In looking into this book, I discovered that a winter night is not Parrish's first book about the Dugan family. An one earlier book deals with the early years of Angie and her siblings and what happens with their mother walks away from the family (to be fair, she does come back for the children); another deals with their mother after her second husband dies. It would have been interesting to pick this one up having had that background but it's not essential; Parrish fleshes out the family history to such a degree that it never occurred to me that I had missed something. 

Another thing I learned is that Parrish is not only an novelist but also a poet and it certain shows, especially in her descriptions (it's obviously winter in this book and I often found myself forgetting that it was summer while I was reading, despite the fact that I was wearing shorts, sitting under a fan). There are some real gems here: "To receive unconditional love is a gift. To be able to accept it is another, rarer gift." How true is that? 

Now, about the idea that this book falls into the roman genre - it doesn't. While Matt and Angie's relationship is certainly a key element of the book, this is absolutely a book about a 34-year-old woman growing and, finally, finding her place in life and relearning how to trust people. There are a lot of forces at play getting her to that point and it often felt, to me, like it was a bit too much. I think I wanted to either be getting that romance novel I was expecting or a story where the focus was more on Angie learning to accept the family and life she has. Between Matt and Angie, there is a lot of baggage to be unpacked her - both come from broken families; both families deal with addiction; there is infidelity, parent/child issues, care of the elderly, finding your purpose in life, living up to your potential. 

It's a quick read, packed with plenty for a book club to discuss, and if you look at Goodreads reviews, and other reviews on this tour, you'll find this book is very well liked. But it's not a romance so don't go in thinking you're getting a love story. 

For other reviews, check out the full book tour here. Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. 

About Anne Leigh Parrish:

Parrish is the author of seven previously published books of fiction: What Nell Dreams, a novella and Stories (Unsolicited Press, 2020); Maggie’s Ruse, a novel (Unsolicited Press, 2019); The Amendment, a novel, (Unsolicited Press, 2018); Women Within, a novel (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By The Wayside, stories (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories, (Press 53, 2011). She is the author of over forty-five published short stories, and numerous essays on the art and craft of writing. Learn more by visiting her website at www.anneleighparrish.com.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Life: It Goes On - June 13

Happy Sunday! The sun is shining, it's going to be very warm today, and the list of to-do's is long so I should be dressed and outside working. Instead, I've been lounging, watching cooking shows and drinking coffee. I needed this. But as soon as I finish this, it's time to get moving so I can be done in time to spend the evening with friends. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Heartland and now I'm finally back to Truly, Madly Guilty, which I'd gotten about 1/3 of the way through before my loan expired a few months ago. I'd intended to finish it up on my Nook copy but completely forgot about it. 

Watched: We've watched some more of Outlander, some America's Got Talent, and, as I said, cooking shows. Of course, now I want to abandon my plans for the day and just cook. Too bad there's no time for that. 

Read: I finished The Last Chance Library and now I'm reading A Winter Night, which I'll be reviewing this week for TLC Book Tours. 

Made: Burgers, brownies, beef and bean enchiladas - and then it was back to salads. How can my evenings feel too busy to cook these days when I used to be able to find the time when there were five of us with so many activities to do?

 This picture Mini-him sent me of my dad at the Cornhusker's football practice facility. Mini-him and I went in to have dinner with my dad on Tuesday and Mini-him asked if my dad would like to go with him to the facility on Thursday when he had to go work on their scoreboard. I love that my kids want to spend time with my dad and that my dad was able to go do this. My dad's patiently waiting for the guys to finish up there work, but doesn't he look like a bored teenager?!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finally getting that desk finished. I know, I know - I keep saying that. But today I start painting the body and staining the drawers. 

Thinking About:
What it takes to learn how to drive a new vehicle these days. I thought we were buying out the lease on the vehicle I had. Suddenly Thursday the dealership called with a sweet deal we couldn't pass up and Friday I picked up my new vehicle. We drove to Lincoln and back yesterday trying to figure out how to make the things that are new to us work. Two old dogs trying to learn new tricks. 

Feeling: Relieved. Miss H has not been feeling well for several weeks. This weekend she got worse and last night finally relented to letting her roommate take her to the emergency room. Finally an answer, some relief from the pain, and meds to get her back on track. Being a mom is the greatest and worst thing in the world all in one and being three hours away when your kids' health becomes an issue is so hard!

Looking forward to: Holy smokes - it's going to be the third Tuesday of the month this week, which means it's book club week. Completely lost track of that so I need to get ready for that but also, yea!, I get to see my friends!

Question of the week: I like to think I'm organized and on top of things. And then I completely drop the ball. Give me your best tip for keeping track of the things on your calendar!

Friday, June 11, 2021

River of Dust by Virginia Pye

River of Dust
by Virginia Pye
Published May 2013 by Unbridled Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
On the windswept plains of northwestern China, Mongol bandits swoop down upon an American missionary couple and steal their small child. The Reverend sets out in search of the boy and becomes lost in the rugged, corrupt countryside populated by opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. This upright Midwestern minister develops a following among the Chinese peasants and is christened Ghost Man for what they perceive are his otherworldly powers. Grace, his young ingĂ©nue wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband begin to beckon to her from across the plains. The foreign couple’s savvy and dedicated Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, accompany and eventually lead them through dangerous territory to find one another again. With their Christian beliefs sorely tested, their concept of fate expanded, and their physical health rapidly deteriorating, the Reverend and Grace may finally discover an understanding between them that is greater than the vast distance they have come.

My Thoughts: 
When I started blogging, Unbridled Books was one of the publishers that came to me time and again offering books for review. It didn't take me long to figure out that anything they offered me was worth the reading. Through Unbridled I discovered Peter Geye, Masha Hamilton, and Emily St. John Mandel. I was thrilled when they picked up local author, Timothy Schaffert's The Coffins of Little Hope. But it's been a long time since I've picked up a book from Unbridled. 

Some years back I requested River of Dust on Netgalley and then never got around to reading it, which I regretted. Recently I discovered that it was available at my library; I decided it was time to rectify that oversight. As soon as I started reading, I remembered one of the draws of Unbridled Books - here was a story I have never read before. 

The book opens with Grace arriving at a country home Reverend and Ahcho have built for the family to enjoy outside of the small village the mission compound is set in. Life feels marvelous to Grace - she is married to a man she admires so much that she only calls him Reverend, she has a adorable little boy, and she is, blessedly, pregnant again. And then the worst imaginable thing happens; two men ride out of the dust and, for reasons Grace can't begin to imagine, steal their son. Reverend and Ahcho immediately ride off after the bandits and only Mai Lin's skill as a healer save Grace from having a miscarriage. 

Things only get worse from there. Both Reverend and Grace begin to mentally fail, a terrible drought brings on famine that not even people with money can survive, Grace contracts "consumption," and Reverend's faith is lost. I suppose the title and the cover of the book should have been my first clues that this was going to be a dark read. It didn't take long to figure out that there would be no happy ending. It's incredibly sad but, I suppose, sadness is likely to follow where arrogance, ignorance, and misguided intentions lead. For me the most compelling part of the book was the exploration of faith. 

The book is set just two years after the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising that started in North China because of growing resentment against Christian missionaries and foreign influence. To set out into any new territory to do missionary work was dangerous; to set off into an area that had so recently made it obvious that they didn't want to hear about your faith was, perhaps, the ultimate act of your own faith. Pye's story is drawn from the journals of her own grandfather, which makes the book all the more compelling in retrospect. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Death of a Cad: Hamish Macbeth #2 and Death of a Hussy: Hamish Macbeth #5

Death of A Cad: Hamish Macbeth #2
Read by Antony Ferguson
Published February 1987 by St. Martin's Press
Death of A Hussy: Hamish Macbeth #5
Read by Shaun Grindell
Published December 1990 by St. Martin's Press
Both written by M.C. Beaton

Publisher's Summaries:
Death of a Cad: 
When Priscilla Halburton-Smythe brings her London playwright fiance home to Lochdubh, everybody in town is delighted . . . except for love-smitten Constable Hamish Macbeth. Yet his affairs of the heart will have to wait. Vile, boorish Captain Bartlett, one of the guests at Priscilla's engagement party, has just been found murdered-shot while on a grouse hunt. Now with many titled party guests as the prime suspects, each with a reason for snuffing out the despicable captain, Hamish must smooth ruffled feathers as he investigates the case. When the hidden culprit strikes again, Hamish will find himself trying to save Priscilla from a miserable marriage-and catch a killer before he flies the coop.

Death of a Hussy: 
Wealthy Maggie Baird is neither nice nor kind nor generous. Once she was beautiful, but now, although middle-aged, she retains the appetites of a beautiful woman. When Maggie's car catches fire with her inside it, suspicion focuses on the five houseguests staying at Maggie's luxurious Highlands cottage: her timid niece and four former lovers, once of whom Maggie had intended to pick for a husband. All five are impecunious. All five had ample opportunity to monkey with Maggie's car. So finding who did it requires all Police Constable Hamish Macbeth's extraordinary common sense and insight into human nature. And lazy lout though he may be, Hamish lets no grass grow under his feet when it comes to solving a murder. Especially when he may be the next target.

My Thoughts:
When I decided to start listening to all of the Hamish Macbeth books from the beginning, I paid no attention to whether or not I'd listened to the book before or not. So when I finished the first book, I started the second, Death of a Cad, and immediately realized that I'd listened to it before. Twice, in fact. But the point of reading from the beginning was to catch all of the relationships and details of the village that I might have missed or forgotten. 

So I listened on and was reminded of several local characters I'd forgotten about, enjoyed the description of the Scottish Highlands, and was, once again surprised when the murderer was uncovered. Which doesn't say much for how these books hold up your memory, I suppose. But I'm going to give myself a break, in that regard - it has been 12 years since I first listened to this book and 7 since my second reading. A couple of things that I noticed on this re-reading: a) Beaton herself points out the "what are the odds" aspect of a whole group of people who all dislike a particular man being together in one house at the same time which is something I'm always wondering in these kinds of books; and, b) the murderee is a kind of chameleon, in the case changing his hobbies depending on the people he's around, which is the kind of behavior that's come up in several conversations I've had lately. 

After I finished Death of a Cad, I did make the decision that I'd skip over the books that I've already listened to, even if it meant that I might miss a couple of pieces of character history that I don't recall. So I skipped on over to the fifth book, Death of a Hussy. This one's got some plot devices that are pretty contrived. Maggie was kind enough to take in her niece after Alison's mother died but then treats her terribly for the rest of her life. Time and again the men who end up as suspects in her death remark on how Maggie has changed but we never get an explanation as to why, what caused her to be the kind of person who treats her own niece as a servant. Then there's the idea that Maggie was so determined to get remarried that she gathered together some of the men she'd previously had relationships with, knowing they all needed money, and telling them that she would bequeath all of her money to whoever agreed to marry her and that she had a bad heart. Beaton makes much of how much Maggie had let herself go over the years, seeming to imply that Maggie's appearance would prevent her finding a new man much more than her hideous personality. It's a thing I'm starting to notice now about Beaton's books - she really seems to value a woman's looks. I have to keep reminding myself that these books were written 30 years ago but this feminist is having some trouble with that aspect of the books. 

I'm going to take a break before I pick up the next book in the series; otherwise I fear they will all start to blend. Also, jumping from one reader to a new one when you're listening to the same characters is a bit jarring. I never did come to like Grindell as much as I liked Ferguson but I might have liked him better had he not followed right behind Ferguson. Cozy mysteries, though, especially Hamish Macbeth mysteries, are just the thing I need right now so I imagine I'll pick up Death of a Snob

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Life: It Goes On - June 6

Happy Sunday from hot Omaha! We've gone straight from early spring to summer - almost none of those Top Ten kind of days we usually get in May. But it is still cooling off enough in the evenings to enjoy time at the end of the day on the patio, which you know I love. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished the fourth Hamish Macbeth book then started Sarah Smarsh's Heartland which is really making me think. Smarsh grew up poor in rural Kansas and she's got some interesting comparisons we don't always think about - rural versus town (not necessarily urban), poor versus middle-class. As someone who's lived her entire life in flyover country, you'd think I could empathize but I'm finding that there are a lot of ways my life differed and a lot of ways I like to think my life differed. 

Watched: We started watching Outlander this week. I've only read one of the books and I had major issues with it but The Big Guy wanted to give the show a shot. So far I'm finding that some of what really bothered me about the book has been left out of the show so maybe we'll keep watching. 

Read: Virginia Pye's River of Dust, which was published by Unbridled Books. I used to read a lot of Unbridle's books and now I remember why. 

Made: Salads, salads, and more salads. I'm not sure we've had the oven on all week. 

View from the terrace at BG's 
brother's terrace - the Nebraska
state capital.

 Time with two of BG's siblings and one spouse (his brother's wife couldn't make the trip). We haven't seen in brother in more than a year and his sister maybe only once since COVID started so it was great to be together with them at last. And to get those "we're all vaccinated" hugs!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finally finishing that desk project I've been working on for a couple of weeks. I didn't have much time to work on it last weekend and it's by far the hardest project I've ever taken on. And I still haven't decided if it will get painted or stained or a combination of both. BG doesn't care at this point; he just wants to be able to get his car back in the garage!

Thinking About: What my next project should be. I've got some things I want to get done in the gardens but also I'd like to get my laundry room painted and new flooring down in there. BG is always nervous when I start saying "I have an idea about..." 

Feeling: Excited about being a great-aunt again and grateful that my niece lives somewhere where they have great health care. The new little guy arrived three weeks early so he's tiny but both mom and baby are doing well. Can't wait to meet him!

Looking forward to: A quiet week. 

Question of the week: It looks like it's hot this week all over the country. How are you keeping cool?