The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

“Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born: just a change”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende was born in Peru to Chilean parents and became an American citizen in 1993. Her first book, The House of the Spirits, was published in 1982. This book began as a letter to her dying grandfather. Since then she has sold more than 77 million books that have been translated into more than forty-two languages. Allende is an accomplished writer who devotes much time to human rights causes. She has also received fifteen honorary doctorates as well as more than 60 awards in over 15 countries, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Allende has been on my radar for many years, but I had never read any of her books. After talking to another librarian, I decided to read The House of the Spirits. I’ll admit it took me some time to get involved in the story, but listening to the audiobook definitely helped (it’s over 19 hours though)! Let’s talk about this sweeping family generational novel.

Spanning four generations, The House of the Spirits weaves a story of triumphs and tragedies and all the small moments in-between. The patriarch of the family, Esteban, is a very proud man. His volatile attitude sets his tennants and family on edge. Over his entire life, Estaban’s political ambitions defined his actions and behaviors. His ambitions and explosive behavior are only softened by his deep love of his wife Clara. Clara is a delicate woman with a mysterious connection to the spirit world. Living in a world of her own, Clara floats through life, managing the family, their friends, and the two properties they rotate between.

Clara and Estaban have three children: one girl and two boys. Their eldest daughter Blanca proves to be a headache to her father when she starts a forbidden love affair with a man she has known since she was a small child. Estaban is vehemently against their relationship, threatening her lover with bodily harm. The result of their union is his granddaughter Alba. He adores her. She is a beautiful child, who proves to be just as strong-willed as her grandfather. Alba’s beliefs vary greatly from her elder family members. As she grows older, Alba begins to explore revolutionary ideas, which she introduces to her family in the hope that their beliefs will change.

This novel covers multiple individuals in the Trueba family, even venturing back to Esteban and Clara’s parents and various other family members. This is a sweeping generational family saga full of eccentric characters. In addition to learning about the family members, readers learn about the area’s history, politics, and the forces of nature behind the actions of others.

This book is also available in the following format:

“The point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle.”
― Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

The Setup by Lizzy Dent

‘There are two men in my life. But this is not a love triangle.’ – Lizzy Dent, The Setup

The Setup by Lizzy Dent is a romance novel with an interesting twist: the main character, Mara, relies on her horoscope to help guide her in all of her decisions. Mara’s life goals all revolve around her horoscope, but fate, and other people, have other plans for her.

Mara Williams works as a bookkeeper for a crumbling beachside pool club in the English seaside town of Broadgate. Desperate for an escape, Mara and her best friend plan a vacation away. When her best friend backs out at the last minute, Mara decides to go anyway. After a chance meeting with a very pregnant fortune teller, Mara soon finds herself impersonating said fortune teller when Josef, a gorgeous Austrian cellist, walks into the shop for a reading. Convinced that Josef is the one, Mara tells him that his destiny will be in a pub in Broadgate on the last Friday of August. Oh, and her name is Mara.

After coming back home to Broadgate, Mara starts a new project: Project Mara. She has three months to turn herself into the gorgeously stylish and confident woman she has always wanted to be. After all, Josef is her destiny, as proven by her horoscopes. The more she works woards that goal however, the more the universe intervenes. The pool club where Mara works is under threat, so she and her colleagues must work together to save it. Mara’s new flatmate Ash also volunteers to help. He turns out to be funny, kind, and incredibly sexy. Mara starts to doubt whether or not Josef is ‘the one’, but feels as if she must stick to her plan and go to meet Josef at the end of August. The closer she gest to her deadline, the more confused she gets. Will Mara be able to recognize her destiny?

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Your faith in yourself drove you to the top once. And it can drive you there again,” my father says finally. I know that he is right. For decades, my talent and drive were utterly devastating to those who stood in my wake. If each person is blessed with an individual gift, determination is mine.”
― Taylor Jenkins Reid, Carrie Soto Is Back

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, Carrie Soto is Back, proves once again that Reid is a master of writing books involving multiple characters and threads. The audiobook versions of her books feature an ensemble cast and added audio details that make them some of my favorites: Carrie Soto is Back is no exception.

Carrie Soto is determined to be the best tennis player in the world. Her determination however hasn’t made her very popular, amongst fans and other players alike. When Carrie retires in 1989 at the age of thirty-one, she is the best in the world. She has broken every record in the world and has claimed twenty Slam titles. Carrie believed she deserves and is entitled to every record and title she has won. Her dad has trained her since she was a toddler to be the best. Javier, Carrie’s dad, is a former championship tennis player.

Flash forward six years. Carrie and her dad are in the stand watching Nicki Chan fight for her twentieth Slam title. Carrie is angry that Nicky is even close to hitting her record, let alone that she has the ability to beat her. Her championship record is no longer going to belong to her and Carrie refuses to let that happen. She decides, at the age of thirty-seven, to come out of retirement to defend her title. There are four opportunities to win a title each year. Carrie will win one of them and become the best in the world yet again.

The road to victory is going to be an uphill battle. The sports media believe she is too old to be playing professionally. Her fans don’t want her back. Her body isn’t as limber and fast moving as it used to be. She is going to have to trust her father to be her coach again. Even though there is a slew of negativity determined to push her back into retirement, Carrie won’t have it. She is back and wants that title. She needs to prove to the world, and to herself, that she is the greatest tennis player in the world. After all, Carrie has been told since birth that she is destined to be the greatest. She deserves to fight for that no matter the cost.

This book is also available in the following formats:

‘Twice in a Blue Moon’ by Christina Lauren

“For the first time in my life I get it: home isn’t always a space; it can be a person.”
― Christina Lauren, Twice in a Blue Moon

Twice in a Blue Moon is a standalone novel by Christina Lauren. Christina Lauren is actually two authors: Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. Their books written as Christina Lauren have become my comfort reads when I’m not sure what I want to read. I know that I will enjoy what they have written and my latest read from them didn’t disappoint.

Tate Jones never expected to fall in love on a two week vacation with her grandma in London, but in walked Sam Brandis and his grandpa Luther. Sam was her first love and her first heartbreak. Over those two weeks, Sam and Tate fell head over heels in love. They stayed up late in the garden sharing their hopes, dreams, and secrets. Tate had a life-shattering secret that she had never told anyone, but she decided to share it with Sam. Tate is the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars. She disappeared from the scene years ago, along with her mom, and there has been massive speculation for years about what happened to them both. Sam was the very frst person that she had revealed her identity to. Her trust in him soon proves to be have been a massive mistake when the life she has lived comfortably in for a decade is destroyed in front of her eyes.

Flash forward fourteen years. Tate is now an up-and-coming actress who has been handed the movie script of her dreams. If done correctly, this movie could be her big break. This movie is also the first time that Tate and her father will be acting together. Her nerves are through the roof as their relationship is not as idyllic as it is portrayed to the public. When Tate sets foot on set, the last person she expects to see is her first love, yet there Sam is, looming over everyone, but still as confident and charming as he was all those years ago. Tate feels a pull towards him, even though she has anger for him since he betrayed her. The forced proximity of being on set thrusts the two together many times. Tate’s feelings for Sam become muddled. She must decide if what he did back then could every be justified and if she is willing to move past what he did to her.

This book is also available in the following formats:

‘Daisy Darker’ by Alice Feeney

“Families are like fingerprints; no two are the same, and they tend to leave their mark.”
― Alice Feeney, Daisy Darker

Alice Feeney’s latest novel, Daisy Darker, is a dark and twisty locked-room mystery of a family gathered together for their grandmother’s birthday. It was deliciously messy and full of family drama. This is a contender for my favorite novel of 2022.

Daisy Darker was born with a broken heart. She wasn’t particularly wanted by either of her parents, but nevertheless she survived and was brought home to start her life with her parents and her two older sisters. Flash forward years and Daisy’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party on a tiny tidal island in her crumbling gothic house. The family has been avoiding each other for years, but a fortune teller foretold that Nana would die on her 80th birthday, so the family has assembled per her wishes.

As each member of the family arrives, they bring baggage, both physical and the secrets that they are all hiding from each other. The tidal island that Nana lives on means that the entire family will be shut off from the rest of the world for eight hours until the tide goes out. At midnight, a storm rages across the island. A scream pierces the night. Nana is found dead. An hour later, another family member is discovered dead. A deadly mystery has come to the island and the Darker family is left wondering who is responsible. Stuck on the island where someone is murdering the members of the Darker family one by one, they all must pull out their past secrets until they figure out the present murder mystery. They just have to make it until the tide goes out and they can escape the island. The deadly force on island may not let them leave alive though. Only time will tell.

This book is also available in the following formats:

‘Something Wilder’ by Christina Lauren

‘Just because thoughts are loud or constant doesn’t mean they’re right.’ – Christina Lauren, Something Wilder

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren is the newest novel by authors Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. This novel is full of laughter, romance, wilderness, and the hunt for treasure.

Lily Wilder grew up in the shadow of her father Duke Wilder. Duke was a notorious treasure hunter which sadly made him an absentee father. Lily’s mother left when she was young, leaving her to grow up with her father and her uncle on Wilder Ranch, a property owned by her uncle. After her uncle passed away, her father took control of the ranch, something he detested. He repeatedly left the ranch to go exploring with Lily to handle the day-to-day running of the ranch. Duke’s constant explorations left little money, so running the ranch was what Lily had to do to make money to survive. She grew to detest the treasure hunts that pulled her dad away.

Now that she’s older, Lily uses Duke’s hand-drawn maps to lead tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. Lily would love nothing more than to stop doing these tourist trips, but sadly they are the main way she makes money. She only makes enough money to pay the bills, but nowhere near enough to buy back Wilder Ranch which her father sold years ago. The summer Duke sold Wilder Ranch was also the summer that the man she loved left her and never contacted her again. He broke her, something that Lily swears she will never let happen again.

Imagine Lily’s surprise when her lost love shows up for a treasure hunt with a group of his friends. Her emotions run ragged. Once Leo Grady gets over his shock of seeing Lily in person again, he decides that he is ready to leave the past behind and reconnect with Lily. She however is only interested in keeping their relationship professional – it’s her business after all to make sure they all stay safe on the trip.

Not long into their hunt, disaster strikes, leaving the group scrambling to figure out what to do next. The biggest question: is the legend of the hidden treasure that Duke spent his life searching for actually true? In order to find the truth, Lily and Leo must work through their past. They must decide how much of themselves they are willing to risk.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Romance Reads: Bellinger Sisters series by Tessa Bailey

“What she thought was living life to the fullest had actually been living life for other people to watch. To gawk at. She wouldn’t lie to herself and pretend one month had completely cured her of her deeply rooted yen for attention. For praise. For what she’d once interpreted as love. Now though? She is participating in her life. Not just posing and pretending. The world was so much bigger than her, and she was really seeing it now. She was really looking.”
― Tessa Bailey, It Happened One Summer

It Happened One Summer is the first book in the Bellinger Sisters series. This title was also my first read by Tessa Bailey, an author that I’ve seen pop up on TikTok and other social media sites a lot more recently. This novel also reminded me a lot of the television show Schitt’s Creek as I was reading it. Let’s get into the first book!

Piper Bellinger is a Hollywood ‘It Girl’, well at least she was until she threw a spectacularly outrageous and out-of-control rooftop party that left the influential wild child cut off from her wealthy family and sent to a small Pacific Northwest town. Piper’s stepfather has decided that it’s time for Piper to learn some responsibility. He sends both Piper and her sister to Washington to run their late father’s dive bar.

Piper is shocked that her stepfather would even consider sending her away, let alone cutting her off. With her sister’s support, the two arrive in Westport to hopefully make the next three months fly by so they can head back to LA. As soon as Piper steps foot outside her late father’s bar, she meets Brendan, a big, burly, bearded sea captain who has nothing nice to say to her. He doesn’t think that Piper will last a night in Westport, especially when she sees the state of the apartment where the two women will be staying. Fed up with everyone, men especially, expecting little from her, Piper is determined to show the town of Westport that she’s more than just a pretty face. After all, this is her late father’s town and he is a legend. She has big shoes to fill.

As soon as Piper decides to show up Brendan, she of course starts running into him everywhere (mostly due to Westport being such a small town – but let’s be honest the two have an undeniable chemistry). Piper is bubbly, while Brendan is gruff and set in his ways. Although the two couldn’t be more opposite, there’s a simmering tension and attraction between the two. Piper does not want anything to do with Brendan, especially since she plans to head back to LA as soon as possible. The more time she spends reconnecting to her Westport past and getting to know the area, the more Piper starts to wonder if she really wants to go back home where no one really knows her. Where does her heart want to be?

This book is also available in the following formats:

Bellinger Sisters series:

  1. It Happened One Summer (2021)
  2. Hook, Line, and Sinker (2022)

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Every night Tova works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning floors and picking up trash. She doesn’t really need the income, but she likes to keep busy. Her son Erik died 30 years ago under mysterious circumstances when he was just 18 and her husband Will died a few years ago from cancer. It is here, at the Aquarium, that she finds quiet and solace and some purpose, a balm to her loneliness in Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Marcellus is a Giant Pacific octopus that has spent most of his life in the Sowell Bay Aquarium. He is very smart, very observant and very clever. Now close to end of his life (octopus live for only 4 or 5 years), Marcellus amuses himself by escaping his tank to make brief visits to other areas of the complex (and help himself to tasty critters in the other tanks)

One night Tova is startled to find the octopus in the staff room, tangled up in electrical cords. Carefully she frees him from the wires and helps him return to his tank. The escape remains their little secret and a friendship is born. Of course, Marcellus can’t talk to her, but he responds to her presence and emerges from his usual hiding place when she stops to talk to him. He knows that she is sad and lonely and he wishes he could help her.

One day Cameron walks into their lives. Adrift and a bit lost, an aimless young man trying to get his life on track. His father died before he was born and his mother abandoned him when he was nine, so his only family is an elderly aunt. He takes a job at the aquarium and Tova eventually takes him under her wing. Marcellus realizes immediately that there is a connection between these two. He just somehow needs to let them know too.

This is an utterly charming book. It is also a heartfelt examination of grief, connection, the importance of family and an acceptance of the march of time and preparing for your own end. This is sobering, of course, but it is the way of all living creatures, and the practical and loving ways the characters take care of themselves and of those that will live on is hopeful and uplifting. Marcellus’ thoughts (which appear in separate chapters) are shrewd and his opinions about the humans are funny and insightful. You will learn a lot about octopus’ and you will fall in love with Marcellus.

Highly recommended.

Cozy Mystery Reads: Island Sisters Mystery series by Hannah Dennison

It’s been a while since I have found a new cozy mystery series to read. After talking to some other book lovers, I decided to start Hannah Dennison’s newest series: the Island Sisters Mystery series (I’ll admit that the cover is what pulled me in first – lucky for me, the plot was thoroughly engaging too).

Death at High Tide is the first book in the Island Sisters Mystery series. Evie Mead is devastated. Her husband Robert has suddenly died of a heart attack. During a meeting with his accountant after his death, Evie and her sister Margot learn that Evie may own the rights to an old hotel on Tregarrick Rock, one of the Scilly Islands. At a loss of what to do, Evie wants to leave all the arrangements in the hands of her accountant. Margot has other plans. Having left her glamorous career and fancy life behind in Los Angeles to come help Evie, Margot is determined to help Evie relax. She suggests a weekend getaway to Tregarrick Rock so the two can scope out the hotel and the area.

Once at the Scilly Islands, Evie and Margot realize that the area is not what they thought it would be. When they eventually arrive at the hotel, the two are fascinated by the history. Famous detective novelists used to visit the hotel in its prime, but now the hotel is definitely more of a fixer upper than either of them expected. When Evie starts asking questions, the answers she receives are off. The cranky hotel owner say that he has never met Robert, as do many other island inhabitants. Evie finds evidence to contradict them though, specifically framed photos of Robert with various people she meets over the weekend. She can’t be sure what they are all hiding and why.

When a two murders happen at the hotel in quick succession, Evie and Margot are desperate to escape Tregarrick Rock and forget this place and its weird inhabitants ever existed. Their escape is thwarted by the local police when both are named suspects. With all eyes on them, the sisters start searching for answers and find multiple secrets hidden for years, including their own.

Island Sisters Mystery series

  1. Death at High Tide (2020)
  2. Danger at the Cove (2021)

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello fellow Reading Fans!

How did your reading go for the July Online Reading Challenge? Not surprisingly, July was a pretty tough month. Reading about the Holocaust – even about people who survived the nightmare – is emotionally exhausting. As horrible as it is though, it’s important that we remember. We cannot become complacent and ever believe that “it can’t happen here” or think that mankind is not capable of mass cruelty.

I read the main title this month, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. This book, set in the very center of the horrors of World War II, there is optimism and hope and pure, gritty endurance. As difficult as it is to read about what happened, there is a thread of belief to hang onto – it’s right there in the title.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc and their five adult children live in Radom, Poland located just south of Warsaw. The Kurc’s are affluent and hard-working, respected in the community, well-educated and sophisticated. None of this matters when Germany invades Poland in 1939. The Kurcs’ watch with disbelief as more and more restrictions are placed on Jews, then persecution and outright cruelty. The family begins to separate as the siblings and their spouses leave to join the Polish Army or seek better conditions in Lodz or are trapped beyond the Polish border. They are desperate to keep in contact, but as the war descends on them. it becomes impossible. Flung as far as Siberia, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro family members face starvation, imprisonment, fierce battles and betrayal but never stop searching for each other.

Based on the true story of the experience of the author’s grandfather, this book is a page-turner as the family struggles to survive by courage, smarts and sheer dumb luck – whatever it takes to make it one more day. Highly recommended.

What did you learn from the book you read this month? Would you have had the strength to keep living under such horrible conditions? What did the importance of family hold for the characters? What about people who may have helped the Germans – usually under threat of death – were they collaborators, or were they doing whatever they could to survive? How can we fight such blatant racism and mass genocide today – has humankind learned from the past?

Be sure to share your observations on this month’s Book Flight in the comments below!