Sunday, March 18, 2018

Digging In by Loretta Nyhan

Happy Sunday fellow readers! Today I bring you a simple novel with a simple story of learning to let go of the past and live again. This was a Kindle First book (Prime members get one free book a month and I'm usually quite underwhelmed by the books - lucked out this time!)

Digging In by Loretta Nyhan follows the life of Paige Moresco after the loss of her beloved husband Jesse. I'm not giving anything away here - this is in the first few pages of the novel and from the beginning of page one the reader can see Paige is struggling - to hold onto herself, her job, and her relationships with her teenage son, Trey. To add insult to injury, her boss of more than a decade in the advertising firm she works for dies suddenly and his young, hip son takes over the family business. (You can already see the trouble brewing?!?!?)

Mr. "new boss" has decided that two people need to go and they are going to fight for their jobs - including Paige and Jackie, the mainstays of the company. He says the competition will be fierce to which Paige counters, “Fierce like BeyoncΓ©, or fierce like Vladimir Putin?” There's some lovely wit interspersed within the family drama.

Paige is overwhelmed, as anyone would be, trying to keep her life together. And one night after her grouchy neighbor comments on her yard going to dandelions, she kind of snaps. She rummages through the pantry, finds a bottle of wine - "I poured the wine and took a sip. Heavenly." and begins to dig. Literally dig up the dandelions and in the process of purging her anger, her sadness, her soul she digs and digs and digs. Now with a giant hole of dirt and nothing to do with it, she takes a chance in her life on gardening - something she's never done before. 

With the help of her friends, her son, and a funky gal she meets at the farmer's market named Mykia that has an entire story of her own, Paige learns to live again - to become who she is now, and let go of who she was then.

Digging In is a novel of redemption. Of finding your way out of a terrible storm that would pull anyone to their knees. Nyhan writes with a depth of emotion that is cathartic and creates believable characters and scenarios that allow the reader to thrive within the lives of all the personas embedded in this great work. I especially enjoyed the way the writer dealt with grief through a surprise personality that domineers the ending of the book - appropriately. Our instinct is to always say we are sorry when someone else is hurting - and yes, we're sorry they are hurting, but our apology will not help them. Nyhan writes through the verbiage of a character:

“Then you should ask for a good memory that best describes him or her. Let the grieving person have a moment with that person again.” “Couldn’t that be too painful?” I asked. “It’s all painful. Listening to a hundred people apologize for something they had nothing to do with is excruciating, isn’t it? They can’t reverse anything with their apologies.”

I loved the developing relationship of Paige and her son, Paige and her boss, Paige and her friends, Paige and her neighbor, Paige and the police officer, Paige and our final character. Each connection was organic and profound. 

I give Digging In  an enthusiastic ☕☕☕☕☕ because this was just a great story - a human story. This book will be published on April 1, 2018. 

Nyhan has a couple of other novels, that I promptly purchased via Amazon for $1.99 each! A steal if they are as good as this one. 


She also co-wrote three additional novels that I hope to add to my collection: I'll by Seeing You, Empire Girls, and This Heart of Mine.

What's Next?
I'm currently reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and I'm 10% in and in love. So excited to see how this book develops.

Happy Reading my friends! Cheers! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Quick update for today - Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini.

My simple advice - pass on this novel.

It's not poorly written, I don't want to be entirely negative; however, it is incredibly dull. It really should have been titled Mary Todd Lincoln's Life as Observed by her Dressmaker. This novel had such potential to bring to life a person from history - several persons from history - and it just falls flat. I was actually bored reading this book. The narrative lacks depth - for historical fiction there is no characterization, no connection, no development of the plot. It's a textbook - plain and simple.

In a nutshell: This book is set amid the start of the Civil War as Abraham Lincoln comes into the Whitehouse. It's 1861 and Mrs. Lincoln will need a dressmaker to fill her closet with appropriate styles for her new position as first lady. Elizabeth Keckley is selected from a variety of modistes that apply for the job - her ability to create a frock that is exquisitely for its wearer is beyond reproach. She becomes not only her "designer," but also her "ladies maid" (to borrow a term from the British) and her confidante because apparently everyone hated Mary Todd Lincoln (not quite heard it told that way before). And that's pretty much it.

While the women become far closer to one another than employer/employee, the novel lacks the intimacy that this relationship should inspire. We learn, yet again, the struggles of the Lincoln family, only this time it's through the limited narrator of Ms. Keckley and from what I can tell in this novel, wasn't keen on the observation. I wanted more from their friendship - I was left feeling empty and bland.

It has a rating of 3.43 on Goodreads - and I should have looked first. Rarely do I find a book rated less than 4 stars that I like - those numbers don't lie folks.

I give this ☕☕ because I respect the research done to write this novel, but then again - I could have learned most of this from Wikipedia in a far shorter amount of time. This was bland enough for me that I won't be tempted to check out any of her other novels. Her Elm Creek Quilts series does seem to have an impressive following so I may give that a go - but there are other series to read right now. #cozymysterieslove

If you want to read a truly gripping novel about The Civil War check out Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott - that is a great book!

What's next for me? Hopefully something a bit more entertaing!

I just started Digging In by Loretta Nyhan and I'm still reading Paris by Edward Rutherford - I promise it's so good!

Looking forward to spring and Spring Break folks where I can tackle my TBR pile!

Until then - Happy Reading. Cheers!


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain

Happy Sunday fellow readers. I hope your day has been filled with joy. Mine has been filled with rain and chances of snow (doesn't Mother Nature know it's MARCH!) but I can't complain as that is pretty great reading weather - of course, I believe all weather is great reading weather.

Admittedly I used to feel a little guilty when I spent entire days reading (or writing - or at least trying to write) but I don't anymore. My hubs spends all day working in the garage, my son with him, and this is what they love - reading is what I love.

And wow do I have a novel for you today!

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain tells the story of Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway's third wife - yes...third. If you don't already know much about Ernest, this book will shed some light on the "man" he was. I use the word man loosely because while he was a brilliant writer, everything I've ever read about him clearly indicates that he was a whiny, childish, self-absored prick. He possessed very few qualities that I believe a real man should possess - namely the fact the he was a philandering asshole, and no self-respecting man spends his time falling in love with other women while he's married. But, that's not really what Love and Ruin is about (although you learn a lot of this!). Love and Ruin is about another woman that loved this impossible man and how she poured everything she had into him and almost lost herself in the process.

Martha Gellhorn is a writer - she's a real woman as this novel is historical fiction - and on a trip to Key West with her mother and her brother stubmles into Ernest Hemingway's life. He's married to Pauline right now (wife #2 after Hadley - The Paris Wife - another amazing novel by McClain). He has two boys (three children total) and has somewhat settled down in Key West. After meeting Marty though, he finds a spark in her that seems to be missing from his life, and for her, he is her literary hero - her white whale - her giant of the page. And her fascination with him is real and binding.

He takes such an interest in her and her writing as she's recently published her first novel, too and acts as mentor until they both land in Spain covering the war with Franco; that's when mentoring ends and a torrid and long love affair begins.

McCain captures the essences of their tragic love that is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights to me - both characters are flawed, both are deeply disturbed, and both are dreadfully dependent on each other. Their relationship is painted as a series of desperate attempts to control one another under the guise of love and failing miserably. We watch as she loses herself in him and then as she attempts to regain the strength and passion she once had for writing, he steals away bits and pieces of her out of spite. I found myself in awe of and angry at them both! Her for loving a married man and pursuing a relationship with him with very little resistance, and him for...well, see everything I wrote above. BUT - there's also something uniquely dynamic about Martha Gellhorn and her gumption to persist against the odds, her love for Ernest no matter how destructive, her maternal passion for his children, and her eye for finding the story of real people during tumultuous times. McCain makes her both a hellion and a hero.

McCain's writing is flawless. She stirs the reader right from the prologue with forceful introspective ideas, "It may be the luckiest and purest thing of all to see time slow to a single demanding point. To feel the world rise up and shake you hard, insisting that you rise, too, somehow..." to giving the reader an understanding of hope with the design of "...a talisman we were braiding back and forth, repeating the words without variation until they were links in a chain of hope, or faith, or whatever lies between."

She also exposed the life of a writer in these pages and many of the lessons I've taken to heart. Ernest Hemingway's comment that "if you force yourself into the yoke before dawn, you can do whatever yo like after," and her analysis of the writer noting, "[that] it had been my general understanding that if you were a writer, you pummeled your own soul until some words trickled out of the dry stream-bed, enough to fill a saucer or a teaspoon or an eyedropper. And then you wept a little, or gnashed your teeth, and somehow found the fortitude to get up the next day and do it again."

Love and Ruin not only gives insight into the life of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, but also into the life of a writer with all its disastrous beauty and dangerous liaisons of the heart and soul.

"The page was snowy white. It still held all of its secrets.
There was nothing to do but begin."

I give this novel a resounding ☕☕☕☕☕ and recommend in to anyone that wants to real historical fiction done right. A truly great story - truly great writing.

I received this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Love and Ruin will be published May 1, 2018. I'd reserve my copy now!

What's Next:

Still plodding through Paris (will this book ever end? But seriously, it's meticulously fantastic!)

Starting Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiavereni

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall is an historical fiction novel that toggles between 1949 and 2018. The overarching premise of the novel is women attempting to dominate a "man's world." It has a definite feminist approach to it, but not in a negative way.

1949 - we meet Claire; a woman attempting to earn a career in the male dominated advertising industry. She meets with rejection after rejection, even to simply enter the typing pool, and finds herself discouraged. She has a doting boyfriend who wants to marry her, but honestly she's not quite sure about the seriousness of his proposal. On a whim, a friend enters her into the Miss Subway contest and she finds herself a finalist. Shocked by this, Claire enters a world of beauty pageant life that she'd never found interesting and it changes her is ways she didn't expect.

2018 - we meet Olivia; a brash and egotistical woman that works in advertising. She consistently pits herself against the men around her and volleys between love interest and arch nemesis. After losing a huge pitch campaign she's down in the dumps drowning her sorrows at the local bar with her gay pal James (this felt a bit contrived) and...wait for it...shockingly meets Jack who happens to be a big whig in transportation and just happens to be seeking a new advertising campaign. Of course he doesn't tell Claire this as he listen attentively to her saga and the NEXT DAY the company she works for is offered a chance to pitch. Hmmmm....

Claire later decides to revive the Miss Subway pageant as a last ditch effort to save face in this industry at which she's failing. Her neighbor just happens to be a former contestant. thoughts.

I didn't like this book. I wanted to - the premise is sound but the execution is flawed. I found the dialogue clunky, Claire desperate, and Olivia ridiculous and unnecessarily foul at times. The love stories didn't quite add up either and the side story about James felt like it existed for the sole purpose of being able to say "look...I have a gay character in my novel." It wasn't organic and this detracted from the novel.

The writing surprised me for being professionally edited. A lot of trite imagery in the form of unneeded adjectives, adverbs, and similes that often didn't make sense. I understand creating a world for the reader, but this was a world I couldn't get into because it felt false. There was an inauthenticity to this novel I couldn't get past.

I think the juxtaposition between time periods decades apart is a solid idea and I've seen it work - most recently with Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, but this just didn't connect for me. Claire and Olivia's paths don't merge in the seamless way a "time-hop" novel should and this causes the story to be lost.

I wanted to like this book because I love historical fiction. I wish I had, but I cannot recommend. I give it ☕☕ because the idea is good and the cover is lovely - I just didn't care for the writing or characters.

The Subway Girls will be published on July 10, 2018. While I didn't care for it doesn't mean it's not for you!

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton and Photo Finished by Laura Childs

Happy Sunday fellow readers! I hope today's sunshine (if you're in TN) brings you a smile.

This week I finished reading Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton.

The book follows the lives of two women decades apart - Elisa and Marisol. Elise has grown up in the 1950s version of Cuba when Batista fell and Fidel rises to power. In the midst of her privileged upbringing she meets Pablo, a revolutionary fighting against everything her father has supported. Elisa is torn between her family and the man she loves, and when her family flees Cuba in order to escape the prosecution of Fidel's rise to power, she has to leave all that she loves behind. Making a new life for herself in Miami - she marries, she moves on, she has children - and those children have children and enter onto the scene Marisol. Marisol is now living her grandmother's life decades away after Fidel has died and her grandmother has passed. Her grandmother's wish is for Marisol to return to Cuba and spread her ashes in the land that she loved. But travel to Cuba is precarious and when Marisol finds herself on native soil, she learns the truth about her grandmother's life in Cuba and the battles there are still to fight.

Next Year in Havana runs parallel stories between a grandmother and granddaughter that heighten the understanding of genuine love. The novel is part romance, part love story, part political lecture, and part redemption. The life Marisol chases in an attempt to learn more about her grandmother Elisa past takes the reader (and Marisol) on a journey through the history of Cuba and its fate for the future.

I learned a lot in the book about not only the extraordinary lives of the characters, but also about Cuba and its deep roots and shallow government. The juxtaposition of the United States against the tumultuous backdrop of Cuba creates a powerful lesson in what it means to have freedom not only on paper, but in real life. As Marisol learns and articulates in the novel, "The United States isn't perfect; there's injustice everywhere I turn. But there's also a mechanism that protects its citizens - the right to question when something is wrong, to speak out, to protest, to be heard. It doesn't always work, sometimes the system fails those it was designed to protect, but at least that opportunity - the hope of it - exists" (Cleeton 305).

This is a novel of hope. And knowing that hope exists. ☕☕☕☕
For more about Chanel Cleeton's other novels visit her at:

Photo Finished by Laura Childs is book two in the Scrapbook Mysteries. This is a fun series about a woman named Carmela who owns a scrapbooking supply store - and just happens to dabble in some side sleuthing. When her business neighbor Barty is murdered one night in the alley behind the shop, Carmela starts the hunt to find the killer. Weaving through red tape, lost romance, and possible new beginnings, she seeks to find the guilty party and put them in their place.

The Scrapbook Mysteries is entertaining and delightful - an easy read, especially if you find yourself immersed in something pretty serious. There's just enough suspense balanced with humor against the beautiful setting of New Orleans to bring a smile to any mystery lover's face.  ☕☕☕☕

For more about Laura Childs and her other novels visit her at: