Shoulder Season

Description:

The small town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is an unlikely location for a Playboy Resort, and nineteen-year old Sherri Taylor is an unlikely bunny. Growing up in neighboring East Troy, Sherri plays the organ at the local church and has never felt comfortable in her own skin. But when her parents die in quick succession, she leaves the only home she’s ever known for the chance to be part of a glamorous slice of history. In the winter of 1981, in a costume two sizes too small, her toes pinched by stilettos, Sherri joins the daughters of dairy farmers and factory workers for the defining experience of her life.

Living in the “bunny hutch”—Playboy’s version of a college dorm—Sherri gets her education in the joys of sisterhood, the thrill of financial independence, the magic of first love, and the heady effects of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But as spring gives way to summer, Sherri finds herself caught in a romantic triangle—and the tragedy that ensues will haunt her for the next forty years.  

From the Midwestern prairie to the California desert, from Wisconsin lakes to the Pacific Ocean, this is a story of what happens when small town life is sprinkled with stardust, and what we lose—and gain—when we leave home. With a heroine to root for and a narrative to get lost in, Christina Clancy’s Shoulder Season is a sexy, evocative tale, drenched in longing and desire, that captures a fleeting moment in American history with nostalgia and heart. (publisher)

My take:

Sherri Taylor spent most of her high school years caring for her sick mother. When she died Sherri had no idea what the future would hold. College wasn’t an option so when her best friend announced she was going to interview at the Playboy Resort in nearby Lake Geneva, Sherri went with her on a whim. That interview set the course for her life. Sherri’s story is that of a small town girl moving into a fast paced life style. Bunny culture was a world apart from the first 18 years of her life. A naive, innocent and trusting girl, newly orphaned, finds a new family with her co-workers and staff at the resort. Shoulder Season is a look back at the devil-may-care early 1980s. It’s a coming-of-age story that kept me turning the pages. I loved the local Wisconsin mentions as well as pop-culture references. I appreciate that Christina Clancy neatly wrapped up her story with a where-are-they-now ending.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an advance reader copy and Macmillan Audio for the audio via NetGalley. Narrator Karissa Vacker did a fabulous job with the narration – especially the perfect pronunciation of the names of various Wisconsin towns! I’ve listened to several books narrated by Vacker and, as with Shoulder Season, her performance is always top notch.

About the author:

Christina Clancy is the author of The Second Home. Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Chicago TribuneThe Sun Magazine, and in various literary journals, including Glimmer TrainPleiades, and Hobart. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her family.

Praise for SHOULDER SEASON:

Shoulder Season is a delightBriskly plotted, the book moves like a river through time, sweeping the reader along for an unexpected, humorous, and surprising journey of friendship, exploration, and discovery.”

––Nickolas Butler, bestselling author of Shotgun Lovesongs

Shoulder Season shines a bright light on a neglected moment in history and tells a coming-of-age story I’ve truly never read before. In Sherri, Christina Clancy rescues the Playboy Bunny from ridicule and illuminates her inner life with all of the richness and complexity she deserves.”

 ––Lauren Fox, author of Days of Awe

“Christina Clancy’s story of a young woman’s difficult road to independence hums with contemporary resonance. Clancy is a gifted storyteller, and Shoulder Season is a riveting tale of ambition, romance, friendship, heartbreak and hope.” 

––Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party

“I adored the story of Sherri, an unlikely Playboy Bunny, and her wild and poignant adventures inside the Lake Geneva Playboy Resort. Both a tender coming of age novel and a sun-drenched ride through the 1980’s poolside and in Hugh Hefner’s glamorous suite, Shoulder Season is an absolute pleasure.”

––Amanda Ward, author of the New York Times bestseller The Jetsetters

Shoulder Season is a triumph of heart, of courage, and of resilience — and a message that the tragedies that spark our journeys don’t decide their endings. I loved it.”

––J. Ryan Stradal, bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Shoulder Season is a beautifully-written, thrilling, heartbreaking story of a bumpy coming of age. A page-turner full of twists and surprises, Bunnies and bad boyfriends, and lasting sisterhood found in unexpected places. I loved it.

––Julia Claiborne Johnson, bestselling author of Be Frank With Me

Expertly researched and flawlessly executed, Shoulder Season has a bit of everything: adventure and excess; love and heartbreak; shocking tragedy. You’ll start reading for the wild ride of the Playboy Resort but stay for Sherri, the complex protagonist at the heart of this exquisite novel.”

—Amy Meyerson, author of The Bookshop of Yesterdays and The Imperfects

I tore through this vibrant coming-of-age tale of small-town girls seduced by a new life of sex and glitter just miles from their quiet Wisconsin towns. Clancy’s vulnerable characters come roaring to life in full eighties glamour—before spiraling toward a central tragedy that will define their adult lives and the very definition of home.”

—Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus

The Switch

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Narrated by Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones

Expected publication date:  August 18, 2020 – Macmillan Audio

Audiobook courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

About: When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some long-overdue rest.

Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

So they decide to try a two-month swap.

Eileen will live in London and look for love. She’ll take Leena’s flat, and learn all about casual dating, swiping right, and city neighbors. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire: Eileen’s sweet cottage and garden, her idyllic, quiet village, and her little neighborhood projects. (publisher)

My take:  When Carla Cotton died (before the novel begins) she left her mother, sister, Leena, and grandmother, Eileen, in the throes of grief. They’ve tried to move forward but aren’t having much success.

This is mainly Leena and Eileen’s story. As things play out Leena and Eileen decide to switch things up and change places. Leena will spend her sabbatical at her grandmother’s house in a village and Eileen will live in Leena’s London apartment. This might be the change they need to jumpstart their lives. I really enjoyed the spots these two found themselves in – some laugh out loud scenes. I know this: I want to be like Eileen when I’m her age! I loved her willingness to try new things while, at the same time, reconsider people who’d always been in her life.

Beth O’Leary wrote about serious and relatable subjects with a light touch and yet just enough weight. I think fans of Jenny Colgan and Jojo Moyes would enjoy The Switch. I loved listening to the audiobook (alternating between 1.5x and 1.75x speed). I was thoroughly entertained by the narration of Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones. I thought their performances were spot on as they brought the characters (main and secondary) to life and made me cheer on Eileen, Leena and all the rest.


 

That Summer by Lauren Willig (audiobook)

  • that summer (CD)Title:  That Summer
  • Author:  Lauren Willig
  • Narrator:  Nicola Barber
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
  • Published:  June 2014 – Macmillan Audio
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  2009: When Julia Conley leads that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. When she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house she discovers a Pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house’s shrouded history begins to open.

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur’s collection of medieval artifacts. When Arthur hires one of the artists to paint her portrait, no one can guess the outcome of events that the hands of fate have set in motion.  (publisher)

My take:  Lauren Willig had me from the synopsis with the dual-storylines (1800s and 2009).  I’m a fan of historical fiction especially when it involves art. At first I wasn’t sure listening would be as good an experience, in terms of distinguishing between the two eras, as reading a print copy but it wasn’t a problem.

Although Julia is the one trying to solve the mystery of the painting it is the reader who comes to know most of the details from Imogen’s story. Lucky for Julia that she is introduced to Nick, a dealer in antiques and friend of Julia’s cousins. From the start Julia (as well as the reader) is not sure of his motivation so there’s a trust issue. Julia has trust issues with a lot of people in her life so that isn’t surprising. That conflict worked well with the plot.

Not only is Julia looking for answers about the painting but she’s also seeking answers about people in her immediate family. Living at Herne Hill brings past experiences to the forefront in her memory. She needs to figure out if the memories are true or not.

I enjoyed the flow of the story. The resolution was satisfying if not a little surprising in how it came about. If you enjoy historical fiction (with light romance) and dual-storylines having to do with art I recommend That Summer.

Nicola Barber’s narration is wonderful. Her voicing of both female and male voices was easy to listen to and I wouldn’t hesitate to select any book she’s narrated. My thanks to Macmillan Audio for providing the review copy.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

  • the assassination of marg. thatcher (sept)Title:  The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
  • Author:  Hilary Mantel
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  September 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Publishers Description:  One of the most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary stories

In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.

Stories of dislocation and family fracture, of whimsical infidelities and sudden deaths with sinister causes, brilliantly unsettle the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way.

Cutting to the core of human experience, Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex. Unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

My brief take:  I want to begin with a disclaimer: I haven’t read any short story collections that wowed me so I tend to avoid reading them. Why did I accept a review copy of Hilary Mantel’s latest collection? Because I haven’t read her books and wanted to sample her writing. In hindsight, I probably should have read a chapter or two in one of her chunky historical fiction novels. I like historical fiction. At any rate, all of the stories in the collection are immensely readable. If pressed to name a favorite in this collection I’d say it was How Shall I Know You? in which an author honors a commitment to a book group despite being quite ill.

The title story was not included in my review copy (embargoed until publication date) so I can’t speak to that.

I think if you enjoy the author and short stories you’ll probably like this collection.

It is also available in audiobook from Macmillan Audio

 

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

  • small blessings jacketTitle:  Small Blessings
  • Author:  Martha Woodroof
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  August 2014 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  From debut novelist Martha Woodroof comes an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year old son he never knew he had. 

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.

Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop’s charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner, out of the blue, her first social interaction since her breakdown. Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon, a feeling confirmed upon his return home, where he opens a letter from his former paramour, informing him he’d fathered a son who is heading Tom’s way on a train. His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness. And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom’s ready or not.

A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings‘s wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.  (publisher)

My take:  Small Blessings is filled with quirky characters who seem kind of like some people I know in my life. On the surface you’d think they don’t have a problem in the world. But when you get a glimpse of what’s actually going on in their lives you find they’re like many people who, for various reasons, are just trying to get by one day at a time.

My favorite character was Agnes, Tom’s mother-in-law. She was vibrant and unafraid – at least that’s how she appeared to most people. She reminded me of a character Kathy Bates might play in a movie version – strong yet sensitive in a no nonsense way. She had every right to be bitter because of how life had played out for her but she kept moving forward.

I loved the small twists Martha Woodroof slipped in when I least expected them. The plot would just turn on a dime! That kept me flipping the pages because I had to know what happened next. I was never disappointed. Also, I love it when I laugh out loud while reading – that happened more than a few times while reading Small Blessings.

So, read the synopsis above to get an idea of what the book is about and then grab a copy and read it. I bet you’ll like it! This is one I’ll recommend to my friends.

____

If you enjoy listening to audiobooks check out this sample of Small Blessings:

Audiobook: The Good House by Ann Leary

the good house

Synopsis (Publisher):  The Good House tells the story of Hildy Good, who lives in a small town on Boston’s North Shore. Hildy is a successful real-estate broker, good neighbor, mother, and grandmother. She’s also a raging alcoholic. Hildy’s family held an intervention for her about a year before this story takes place – “if they invite you over for dinner, and it’s not a major holiday,” she advises “run for your life” – and now she feels lonely and unjustly persecuted. She has also fooled herself into thinking that moderation is the key to her drinking problem.

As if battling her demons wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Hildy soon finds herself embroiled in the underbelly of her New England town, a craggy little place that harbors secrets. There’s a scandal, some mysticism, babies, old houses, drinking, and desire – and a love story between two craggy 60-somethings that’s as real and sexy as you get. An exceptional novel that is at turns hilarious and sobering, The Good House asks the question: What will it take to keep Hildy Good from drinking? For good.

My take:  Hildy Good is like that neighbor lady who knows everybody and will tell you everything about them. She’s lived in the quaint New England village of Wendover her entire life and knows all the secrets of the town’s major players. She has a big chip on her shoulder due in part to her family’s intervention which made her feel betrayed and downright angry. Also, the real estate market has suffered in recent years and Hildy needs to sell some houses.

Now, as crusty or salty as Hildy may seem she does have a softer side. She will quietly help people in need without making a big deal out of it. BUT pity the person who crosses Hildy or suggests she might want to stop drinking because she will turn on the poor soul and lay him or her out in no uncertain terms. Hildy sometimes feels as persecuted for her drinking as she might imagine her ancestor felt when she was tried for being a witch in Salem!

As the novel progresses, drama unfolds in Wendover that involves people who are close to Hildy. I began to wonder if certain characters were who I originally thought they were. This is Hildy telling the story so how reliable can she be given she’s still drinking. Ann Leary kept me guessing in the second half of the book.

I enjoyed The Good House and look forward to reading more of Ann Leary’s books. Hildy Good is a character that will stay with me and will undoubtedly bring a smile when I think about the book. I love it when that happens. Recommended.

Narrator:  I adored Mary Beth Hurt’s performance. The voice she gave to Hildy Good was perfect. I also liked how she voiced Frank, the man who was Hildy’s boyfriend when she was a teen. I’m so glad I decided to listen to this book!

  • TItle:  The Good House: A novel
  • Author:  Ann Leary
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Mary Beth Hurt
  • Published:  January 2013 – Macmillan Audio
  • Source:  I bought it