Recommend Reads for May

Despite being distracted by a crochet project, I still managed to read a few books during April.  Three of them I highly recommend.  One I suggest you pass up.

WIDOWS OF CHAMPAGNE by Renee Ryan: Full disclosure here, Renee is one of my dear friends. After years of writing romance, she’s broken in Historical Fiction with Widows of Champagne.  Harper Collins gave me an advanced read through Netgalley.

I must admit, I was nervous to read Widows.  I am very picky about my historical fiction.  What if I didn’t like it? I believe in providing honest reviews. 

Turns out my worries were unfounded.  Widows of Champagne is a beautifully written story about family and the sacrifices ordinary people make in extraordinary circumstances. Josephine, Helene and Gabrielle are three generations of the LeBlanc champagne dynasty. – all widowed. When the book opens, the women are running LeBlanc vineyards on their own when World War 2 breaks out. Soon France is invaded, and each woman is faced with making a difficult decision.  Their individual choices change them and their family forever.  

Ryan does a great job of showing the messiness and shades of gray that come with war. The characters do what is necessary to survive.  I confess I would have made one slightly different editorial decision, but that’s me.  (I won’t spoil the book by saying what.) I’ll leave readers to decide for themselves. I recommend you pre-order a copy. Not because Renee’s a friend, but because the book is that good.  AVAILABLE JULY 27, 2021. (PRINT BOOK WILL BE SOLD EXCLUSIVELY AT WALMART THROUGH AUGUST; ELECTRONIC VERSION AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE.)

IN AN INSTANT by Suzanne Redfearn: I wasn’t sure I would like this book, but I was looking for a break from Historical Fiction, and this book had gotten some online buzz, so I bought it. Boy, am I glad I did!  In an Instant is the story of a tragic automobile accident as told by sixteen -year-old Finn Miller. It’s a complex story about guilt, the decisions people make, and the aftermath. By the end of the book, I was crying.  AVAILABLE NOW.

WHAT ABOUT THE BABY? SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ART OF FICTION by Alice McDermott: I won’t lie – I love me a good book about writing. No sooner did I finish this book then I went online looking for Alice McDermott’s email address so I could send her a fan letter. This book is fabulous, amazing, fantastic, incredible, and excellent. Hyperbole? Yes, but I loved this book. 

McDermott is a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist as well as the winner of both the American Book Award and National Book Award for best fiction. In What About the Baby?, she manages to capture all the complex emotions swirling inside a writer’s head and put them down on paper. Fear? Check. Insecurity? Check. Writers’ Block? Check  She delivers her wisdom through anecdotes drawn from her own career as well as the writings of other writing greats. It’s the equivalent of a semester long class on writing life.  (Coincidentally, McDermott has been a visiting professor at some of the country’s leading colleges.)  

I should note that McDermott is a devout Catholic, and as such, does devote a chapter to how her faith (and faith in general) affects fiction.  However, one can easily skip the chapter without losing any of the book’s excellence.  If you are a writer, I recommend you preorder a copy today.  AVAILABLE AUGUST 2021. (Thank you Netgalley for the advanced reader copy.)

Not Recommended

PROHIBITION WINE by Marian Leah Knapp.  I was super excited to read this book which was billed as the story of a female bootlegger during prohibition. What I got was a family history (albeit a meticulously researched one). 

There is no narrative or tension in this book.  Simply a relaying of facts of Rebecca Goldberg’s life from birth to death.  In fact, the highly anticipated bootlegging story is less than ten pages.  I’m sure this will be a wonderful heirloom for the Goldberg family that they will cherish for generations.  As for the general reader, I would recommend they pass. Available now.

A Quick Note:

Three titles that I’ve previously recommended are now available. Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, Three-Martinis Afternoons at the Ritz (a must-read biography for fans of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) and Lost in Paris by Elizabeth Thompson. All three can be grabbed at your local bookstore or online.

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