Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. To end off the year, I’m sharing my reviews for five different books I read this year that I hadn’t had a chance to feature yet on my Sunday reviews – The Worst Noel by Amy Reade (A Christmas Cozy Mystery), Life Work by Lesley Hayes (A women’s relationship character study), It’s Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny (Finding laughter even in grief), Baking Bad by John Dolan (An off the wall diary of a crazy guy) and Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley (Mysticism)
The Worst Noel
The Worst Noel is a cozy mystery, perfect read for the holidays or anytime – Book 1 of the Juniper Junction cozy Holiday mysteries by Amy Reade.
On the busiest shopping day of the year, Lilly opens her jewelry store to discover it’s been burgled. Then she trips over a body. Talk about a Black Friday.
When a second victim is murdered, Lilly finds herself squarely in the crosshairs of suspicion. The clock is ticking as Lilly tries to unwrap the mystery of the real killer’s identity.
As the bodies pile up like so much snow, Lilly is shocked to discover her ex-husband has returned to town after a fifteen-year absence. Could his reappearance have anything to do with the murders? One thing is sure: Lilly doesn’t want him anywhere near their two teenage kids, neither of whom remember him, or her mom, whose mental health is declining.
Can she figure out who killed the victims before she becomes one herself?
Find out if Lilly is about to have herself a merry or scary little Christmas in this cozy, small-town mystery. Recipes included!
My 5 Star Review:
A fun cozy mystery read with mom Lilly as the protagonist divorced mom with two teenagers, her mother with early dementia, and her jewelry store on main street in the cozy town of Juniper Junction. Just as Lilly has prepared her store for the big day, Black Friday, she discovers her store has been broken into and one of the town’s other store owners was found dead in her store. The woman was not well liked among the chamber of commerce circles and besides this fact, Lilly’s store is closed down by the police for the investigation, Lilly finds she is also a suspect in the mysterious murder case because her fingerprints were found on a pearl necklace, but heck, it’s her store where she helps customers try on her jewelry. It’s a good thing her brother Bill is a cop who also keeps her in the loop and safe from an elusive ex-husband who mysteriously shows up at the same time-frame as the murder. But wait, there is another murder. Herb the yoga instructure from down the road of businesses is also found dead. Lilly didn’t particularly like Herb, so she may again be a person of interest.
All kinds of characters and shenanigans are happening. While Lilly is ridiculously, a suspect, someone is also after her. Her house is broken into, her dog goes missing, and then she is ultimately, kidnapped. What else could go wrong? Every few chapters the author will have us sidetracked choosing a new suspect.
With the colorful characters and all the mayhem around the snowy holiday season, this cozy little whodunit will keep you turning the pages as we read along to try and figure out what is going on in Juniper Junction. A perfect read for the holidays or anytime.
It’s Okay to Laugh
This is the third book I’ve read from Nora McInerny, who I refer to as the ‘grief author’ who shares slices of humor in her heartfelt and sometimes funny stories in the midst of her grief, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)
“Thank you for the perfect blend of nostalgia-drenched humor, wit, and heartbreak, Nora.” — Mandy Moore
comedy = tragedy + time/rosé
Twenty-seven-year-old Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to dopey “boyfriend” until she met Aaron—a charismatic art director and comic-book nerd who once made Nora laugh so hard she pulled a muscle. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron’s hospital bed and had a baby boy while he was on chemo. In the period that followed, Nora and Aaron packed fifty years of marriage into the three they got, spending their time on what really matters: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each other, and Beyoncé. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora’s arms. The obituary they wrote during Aaron’s hospice care revealing his true identity as Spider-Man touched the nation. With It’s Okay to Laugh, Nora puts a young, fresh twist on the subjects of mortality and resilience. What does it actually mean to live your “one wild and precious life” to the fullest? How can a joyful marriage contain more sickness than health? How do you keep going when life kicks you in the junk? In this deeply felt and deeply funny memoir, Nora gives her readers a true gift—permission to struggle, permission to laugh, permission to tell the truth and know that everything will be okay. It’s Okay to Laugh is a love letter to life, in all its messy glory; it reads like a conversation with a close friend, and leaves a trail of glitter in its wake.
This book is for people who have been through some shit.
This is for people who aren’t sure if they’re saying or doing the right thing (you’re not, but nobody is). This is for people who had their life turned upside down and just learned to live that way. For people who have laughed at a funeral or cried in a grocery store. This is for everyone who wondered what exactly they’re supposed to be doing with their one wild and precious life. I don’t actually have the answer, but if you find out, will you text me?
My 5 Star Review:
This is the third book I’ve read by Nora. As a new widow myself, I find Nora so relatable and her stories, although heartfelt and crushing, always offer something humorous betwixt her grief that sparks a light. Nora tells stories of her past through her triple journey of grief and loss, losing her her father, her husband, and a miscarriage, all in the span of a very short time.
I love how Nora tells us how she creates her own kind of grief therapy, whatever works for her, escaping to the gym or into a TV program to take her away from herself. I also love how she explains, she is not depressed, just sad. These two emotions are very different. She explains the difference between ‘clean pain’, the actual pain of loss, and ‘dirty pain’, the part where us grievers go through the pain of guilt for 101 different things we shoulda, coulda done, as we beat ourselves up mentally. She touches on some of the small things that are very big – like coming home to an empty house and upon entering, shouting, ‘I’m home’. This is me. Nora talks about all the things she does to vent frustrations and a good list of things to do in those moments – as well as, what not to do.
One of my favorite lines, “Marry someone who thinks you’re funny.” Such an important piece of advice. I am blessed that I did, and my husband found me equally amusing. It was our sense of humors that brought and kept us together.
Nora talks about the difficulties of being around family when there is a loss, because everyone’s grief is personal. That of a parent’s grief is different to the grief of the spouse left behind, how lonely grief leaves us, not feeling like ourselves anymore, the loneliness of once being someone’s person and now we aren’t. Nora uses her great sense of humor to emphasize all the emotions a griever endures and more, by sharing some of her crazy stories about trying to find herself back in social standing – and The Widow’s Club.
While the book reads as though it’s about her life with Aaron, it encompasses much more of her personal life, other people, her family, other relationships she’s had, and stories about her growing up and being a blacksheep.
“I wrote this book in the six months after my husband and father died, right after my miscarriage. What you read is me sifting through emotions and memories.”
The author has learned how to move on with her life and is remarried with more children. Her words about doing so are: “This is not moving on. This is moving forward. Aaron is forever a part of my life, and a part of me. Falling in love again didn’t mean replacing him, because there is no replacing the people we love. It meant finding space in my heart to fit all of us.”
Nora on people who never know the right things to say to a griever: “It can be hard to know what to say to a person who is going through something difficult, but you can probably wipe these options from your list of conversation starters.” She proceeds to list quite a few common things that come out of people’s mouths – some with good intentions, some without thinking how silly they sound.
All round, this was an entertaining read that had me nodding my head in agreement to plenty, and appreciating some of the interlude stories with humor, to lift weight of grief a little.
I was drawn to Life Work by Lesley Hayes because of my interest in observing relationships – both the functional and dysfunctional. This fictional book involves six different stories and romantic relationships depicting different women, all with a story to share – their struggle and how they handled their situations.
Women – looking for, disappointed in, and learning about love. Some are mothers, while others are lovers. Friendships with other women reveal that not all are loyal to the sisterhood, especially when it comes to men. A new collection of stories from Lesley Hayes that opens windows into the minds of six different women, caught in the searchlight of romantic realism as they navigate the turbulent waters of relationships.
My 4 Star Review:
Hayes takes us into various short stories about women and relationships. In each of these stories we get to stand outside the box and glimpse in at how a woman values herself in romantic relationships. In the first, Placebo – Caroline complains to her best friend Imogen how she is tired of being taken advantage of by men, not treated well, used, unappreciated, and always left ghosted. She pines for a man who will treat her right – ironically, when she meets the perfect man, Andrew, who treats her like royalty, she feels smothered and breaks up with him. It leaves me thinking that she was so used to being treated like crap that she couldn’t handle a good man. In Double Dealing, we learn that Chrissie is either under a spell or has such low self-esteem when her cheating husband Jack talks her into thinking it’s cool to have affairs as Jack says, they have an ‘understanding’. Oddly enough, he gets tossed by all his conquests. In Springtime, a nameless woman sharing a flat with her friend Jane, complains about her studious boyfriend Mike coming back home from university. She’s been fooling around on him all the while he’s been gone and makes it clear to her friend Jane that she couldn’t care less anymore about Mike, that is until Mike notices the change in her and lets her know he’s been seeing Jane now for sometime. Just desserts.
This book is a short read with some well written stories about various relationships, human nature, and characters that make us think.
I am going to preface my review here by saying – Baking Bad – Notes from my Diary by John Dolan is definitely not for everyone. Dolan writes this short book with a warped sense of humor including some very dark comedy, definitely not for the faint of heart.
“I need to spend some time reburying in the garden. Next door’s dog has dug up a foot.”
Thus begins a surreal journal the like of which (if you’re lucky) you have never encountered before.
Author John Dolan’s unnamed diarist plumbs the depths of black comedy in a way that might make your hair stand on end. Not recommended for the PC-aware or those with a weak stomach.
Contains helpful tips on cooking and on murdering people.
My 4 Star Review:
I’ll preface my review here by saying, this book will not be for everyone, but if you appreciate dark humor, a bizarre telling, and far from politically correct, there is laughter to be had in this book.
The diary is written by an unnamed character who enjoys stalking the internet, indulging in unhealthy habits and people as he rolls through the days in his bizarro life. He shares his deranged accounting of daily observations, which are sometimes crude and even vulgar, as well as some farout characters, shady women, a few horrifying events, and throws in a little murder and some interesting recipes in between, mostly all taking place in his neighborhood, and a crazy 60s themed party he holds in his home, where one may risk their life just eating or drinking at the venue. If you think that’s a crazy mixture of happenings in one short book, it is. But if you are a fan of Dolan’s tales, which I am, you will find this book a hilarious smorgasbord of entertaining weirdness. Beware of some strong language and sexual content.
Clay Tongue is a beautiful novella by Nicholas Conley. The author writes compassionate stories that usually contain a bit of mysticism. In this case, we’ll learn about an inquisitive girl who searches for what is known as the mythical Golem that she discovered was hidden in her own backyard – at least, that’s what her grandfather’s writings in his notebook told her.
For those of you who aren’t familar with the term ‘golem’, there are many said myths, mostly from Judaic mysticism, said to be a human like structure built of clay and given life and human abilities, created by mysticism. Alice Hoffman uses a golem in her story I reviewed a few years ago – The World That We Knew.
From the author of the award-winning Pale Highway and the radio play Something in the Nothing comes a short fantasy of love, shyness, and the secrets of human communication.
Katie Mirowitz is a small little girl with an even smaller little voice. She possesses a deep love for her grandfather, who suffers from aphasia after a bad stroke cuts loose the part of his brain that processes verbal language. When Katie uncovers a miraculous secret inside the pages of her grandfather’s old journal, as well as an ancient key, she goes out into the woods in search of answers — hoping to uncover a mythical being that, if it exists, may just have the ability to grant wishes.
My 5 Star Review:
Ten year old Katie loved her grandfather who’d recently returned home to live with her and her parents. This home was originally grandfather and grandmother’s house. Grandfather suffered a stroke and was left aphasic and in a wheelchair. He couldn’t speak, only in garbled words, but Katie knew from his animated facial expressions everything he was trying to say when he spoke.
One day Katie found a notebook on her grandfather’s desk, knowing her grandad could no longer speak or read she was curious to see what he was writing. But grandpa noticed her eyeing the book and snatched it away and put it in his drawer. She glimpsed the title – The Golem from Abeodan.
One night Katie awakes in the wee hours to take the book out and read it. She discovers the story is about her grandparents when they first were about to buy the house she was now living in. The realtor told them there was a cave way back on the property and gave them the old rusted key that belonged to it. Grandma thought it was crazy and didn’t believe in any folklore, but grandpa was mystified and kept the key – right beside the book in the drawer. The legend said, a mad scientist, Aszerowicz, had been exiled from the community after trying to erect a 50 foot tall golem there that could grant wishes – only one wish per person. As Katie continues to read, she discovered that when grandpa realized grandma couldn’t have a baby, he decided to take that key to the cave to find the golem to ask his wish for a child. And boom! End of writing! Katie was left hanging (and so were we).
Katie surmised her grandpa couldn’t finish the story because of his stroke, so she took the rusted key, put it in her pocket, and wandered down outback in the still of night to find the cave. She had to find out what happened. As she approached the cave and entered dark caverns she heard voices telling her not to be afraid and sees electrical torches leading a path through a grotto like cave, rocky walls and a pool of water glowing blue. She discovers a small clay sculpture that looked like a baby swaddled in a blanket. Then an enormous stone carved face with Hebrew characters engraved in its forehead, jutted out from the rock wall, and a heavy noise calling her name. The tall golem was made of clay with some resemblance to man. He offers Katie a wish, adding that he’d granted her grandfather one years back. But only one wish. Katie feels as though she’s in between two worlds when the golem asks her to take a piece of his clay and mold it to her wish and witnesses her grandfather as a younger man molding a piece of clay into a baby, signaling he got his daughter, who was Katie’s mom. Katie begins trying to mold a mouth to resemble her grandfather’s so that he may speak again, but her compassion gets the better of her as she felt for the poor golem trapped in this rock wall for decades, so instead, wishes she could free the golem. The next thing she knew, she woke up back in her bed, and that is where I will leave it to learn what happens next.
I hope you enjoyed my Sunday book reviews throughout the year. I managed to exceed my Goodreads Reading Challenge by 22 books this year. Stay tuned for next year’s mixed bag of genre reviews.