Category Archives: Book Review

Park Avenue Summer Book Review

It’s not exactly a secret that men underestimate women. But that is often our secret to success.

Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen was released earlier this year. Alice Weiss is 21 in 1965, a transplant from Ohio and dreams of becoming a photographer. But like many young people who come to New York City with a dream and not much else, Alice has to get a job.

She gets a job as the secretary for the late Helen Gurley Brown, the author of Sex and the Single Girl and the new editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. At that time, the magazine was on it’s death bed. It was up to Helen to turn the magazine around, but it seemed to be a Herculean task. The magazine was shedding employees like a snake sheds it’s skin and the men who run the parent organization are more than ready to shut the magazine down.

When a fellow employee tries to pull Alice in into a plan to spy on her boss, Alice goes the other way. She will do everything in her power to help Helen succeed. Along the way, Alice learns a few things about life, men and success.

Described as a literary love child of The Devil Wears Prada and Mad Men, this book is more than the story of a young woman discovering herself. It is the story of an unconventional woman who succeeds in a man’s world on her own terms.

I recommend it.

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The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith Book Review

Sometimes it seems like everything and everyone is conspiring against us. Nothing goes right, no matter how hard we work and/or pray.

According to author and speaker Gabrielle Bernstein, nothing is as bad as it seems. You need only to trust the universe and have a little faith that things will work out.

Her most recent book, The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith, was published at the tail end of last year. In the book, she writes that it is possible to let go of fear and embrace life to the fullest. Guiding the reader from fear to faith, she uses real life examples, prayer and meditation to help them release what is holding them back.

Unlike many self help books, this book is neither out there or too hippy dippy. The author does not judge her reader, she speaks to him or her as if speaking to a friend. Her advice comes from love, experience and encouragement. Though she speaks of faith, she speaks of faith in a spiritual sense without relying too heavily on any specific religion.

As someone who lives with mental illness, I absolutely loved this book. I loved that I felt like I had a way to release my feelings in a much needed healthy and emotionally profound way.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Winemaker’s Wife Book Review

Both love and war have a way of forever changing our worlds. When they come together, that change can span generations.

The new novel, The Winemaker’s Wife, by Kristin Harmel is set in two different time periods: World War II and 2019. In 1940, Ines and Michel are newlyweds. Michel is the owner of a prestigious champagne house Maison Chauveau. Soon after the wedding, the Germans invade. Michel starts to treat his wife as if she was his child.

Feeling angry, alone and desperate for affection, Ines makes a foolish connection with a collaborator. She is unaware of her husband’s work with the resistance and that his chef de cave‘s half Jewish wife, Celine is taking a chance by falling in love with a man who is not her husband.

In 2019, Liv’s marriage is over. When her imperious and wealthy French grandmother announces an out of the blue trip to France, Liv has no choice but to go. The trip will be nothing short of life changing.

I loved this book. The characters felt alive and real, as if I was watching a movie instead of reading a book. I loved that this book reminded me that there were good people during World War II who did not stand idly by during the Nazi occupation. They fought back with whatever means they had.

About halfway through the book, I thought I knew how it would end. But Ms. Harmel surprised me with a twist that thoroughly shocked, surprised and delighted me.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Evvie Drake Starts Over Book Review

Grief has a funny way of changing our lives. We may not see it at the time, but in the long run, we can look back and see how the change that the grief created.

In the new book, Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes, the titular character, Eveleth “Evvie” Drake lives in a small town on the coast of New England. Newly widowed, Evvie hides a secret about her late husband, who was a much beloved local doctor. In New York City, Dean Tenney was the greatest thing to happen to major league baseball since Babe Ruth. But since his pitching arm stopped working, his career and reputation have been in decline.

Dean and Evvie are connected by a mutual friend. Dean moves into town and rents an apartment in Evvie’s house. Bonded by their individual grief, they strike a deal. Evvie does not ask Dean about baseball and Dean does not ask Evvie about her late husband. That deal slowly erodes away into friendship and something more.

But unless Dean and Evvie deal their pasts and the truth of their pasts, neither will be able to move forward.

I loved this book. If I were to compile a top ten of best new books of 2019 today, this book would be on the list.

The reasons that I loved this book comes down to two generic themes: grief and romance. From a writing perspective, it would be easy to write a character who eats too much, drinks too much, watches sappy movies and throws themselves a pity party. But neither Evvie or Dean throw themselves a pity party. The arc from hiding their emotions to releasing their emotions felt natural and authentic.

While this book can technically be classified as a romance, the romance between the main characters is subtle, understated and a perfect slow burn that made me wonder if they were ever going to get together.

I absolutely recommend it.

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March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women Book Review

Little Women turned 150 last year. Louisa May Alcott‘s classic novel about the March sisters has thrilled, comforted and inspired multiple generations of readers.

In the new book, March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women, four modern women write about the importance of Little Women and why this book still has an impact on readers a century and a half after it’s initial publication.

Kate Bolick compares her own infatuation with status and physical beauty to Meg’s feelings while attending the Moffatt ball. Jenny Zhang remembers disliking Jo for her lack of femininity as a girl, afraid of being identified as un-ladylike. Carmen Maria Machado shines a light on Lizzie Alcott, the youngest Alcott daughter (and inspiration for Beth) and how important it is for a young girl to control her own story. Finally, Jane Smiley turns the image of Amy March on it’s head. Instead of presenting Amy as spoiled and materialistic, Smiley presents Amy as a feminist who has as much to contribute to the movement as her older sister.

As a Little Women fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each writers puts on her own spin on the character she is writing about. In the process of comparing their lives and experiences to that of the characters, the reader is reminded why this book continues to be loved and cherished.

I recommend it.

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Sophia, Princess Among Beasts Book Review

In a traditional fairy tale, the princess/young female heroine is not an active character, in spite of being the lead character. She is a passive character, reacting to what is happening to her and waiting for someone else (i.e. the prince) to rescue her.

Sophia, Princess Among Beasts, co-written by James Patterson and Emily Raymond was released in July. Sophia is a teenage princess who loves books, her widower father and her people. Then her kingdom is invaded. Sophia is taken into a world in which beasts that only exist in storybooks live. Somehow, she must return to her world and save her kingdom from the coming invasion.

Initially, I didn’t know what to think of this book when I picked it up at the library last week. As a writer, I have heard of James Patterson, but I had yet to read any of his books until I started this one.

To say that I was impressed with the novel is an understatement. It is well written and has some predictable elements of the traditional fairy tale/fantasy genres. However, there are elements in the narrative that make the story stand out from the traditional fairy tale/fantasy story.

As a feminist and a writer, I appreciated Sophia’s story arc. She may start out as the typical fairy tale princess, but does not end the story as one would expect.

I recommend it.

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The Wedding Date Book Review

A wedding is a joyous event. But for someone who is single, there can be one of two reactions. The first reaction is the excitement of meeting new people and perhaps meeting one’s own future romantic partner. The second reaction can be utter dread, a reminder of one singleness.

In Jasmine Guillory’s 2018 novel, The Wedding Date, Alexa and Drew meet in the the most ordinary of places: an elevator. When the power briefly goes out in the hotel they are staying in, Drew asks Alexa the oddest of questions: would she pretend to be his girlfriend at his ex’s wedding?

What starts as a pretend relationship builds first into a physical relationship and then something more. But Drew lives in Los Angeles and Alexa lives in Berkeley. Can they make this relationship work or will it end up as a relationship that was simply not meant to be?

I’ve read quite a few romance novels in my time. There problem with some romance novels is that the love story feels fake and the conflict feels forced. Thankfully, that is not the case with this book. I loved the story. I loved how funny, saucy, sexy and romantic the story is. I also loved how real Drew and Alexa felt.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II Book Review

When it comes to Hollywood personalities, there are sometimes two people: the real person and the image crafted to sell tickets.

Audrey Hepburn is one of the most recognized and revered celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age. Movies such as Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady have endeared her to generations of film fans.

The new biography, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, by Robert Matzen, tells the story of a portion of the late Ms. Hepburn’s life that is sometimes overlooked: her childhood during World War II. She was born in 1929 to a British father and an aristocratic Dutch mother. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her father left the family soon after and Audrey was raised by her mother.

When she was a pre-teen, World War II started. The Dutch believed that because their country was neutral during World War I, nothing would change. Little did they know how history would forever change their country and affect the future film icon that is Audrey Hepburn.

I loved this book. I was aware previously that Ms. Hepburn was a child during World War II, but I had no idea of how much the war would have a life long affect on her.

I absolutely recommend it.

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If You Must Read One Book This Labor Day, Read Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965

In the working world, there are certain things that we are used to: a reasonable wage, a set number of working hours, a safe working environment, etc. But it was not so long ago that it took mass protests and generations of union workers demanding their rights for these to happen.

If you must read one book this Labor Day, I highly recommend Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965 by Annelise Orleck. Telling the story of Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Pauline Newman, Ms. Orleck tells the story of how four immigrant women created and defined the labor movement for their time and for our time.

I think this book is important to read, especially today, because many of us have off today. We take for granted the rights that we have as employees, especially those of us who are protected and supported by a union. In the time of the women whose stories are told in the book, joining a union and protesting at best meant being professionally blacklisted and at worst, meant a trip to the hospital after being beaten during a protest.

These four women and many others paved the way for the working world that many of us know of today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, if you have a chance to read this book today, I highly recommend that you do.

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Caging Skies Book Review

Growing up happens in different ways. However, during war time, growing up often happens quicker than during peace time.

Christine Leunens’s new novel, Caging Skies, is set during World War II. Johannes Betzler is a young man living in Nazi occupied Vienna. Like many young men of his time, he becomes an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth.

Then he discovers that his parents are hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl behind a wall in their home. His initial disgust turns into infatuation and then obsession. After his parents disappear, Johannes is the only person who knows about Elsa. Her fate is in his hands.

I hate to use the “p” word (potential) when writing a review, but that is the only word I can use to describe this book. When I started reading this book, I was engrossed in this story of a boy who goes through quite a transformation. The book is described as a sort of dark comedy. Frankly, I did not get the comedy and I was disappointed by the time I reached the end of the story.

Do I recommend it Not really.

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