Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: California Golden by Melanie Benjamin


Southern California, 1960s: endless sunny days surfing in Malibu, followed by glittering neon nights at Whisky A-Go-Go. In an era when women are expected to be housewives, Carol Donelly is breaking the mold as a legendary female surfer struggling to compete in a male-dominated sport—and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, bear the weight of her unconventional lifestyle.

The Donnelly sisters grow up enduring their mother’s absence—physically, when she’s at the beach, and emotionally, the rare times she’s at home. To escape questions about Carol’s whereabouts—and chase their mom’s elusive affection—they cut school to spend their days in the surf. From her first time on a board, Mindy shows a natural talent, but Ginger, two years younger, feels out of place in the water.

As they grow up and their lives diverge, Mindy and Ginger’s relationship ebbs and flows. Mindy finds herself swept up in celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs, parties at the Playboy Club, and USO tours to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger—desperate for a community of her own—is tugged into the vibrant counterculture of drugs and cults. Through it all, their sense of duty to each other survives, as the girls are forever connected by the emotional damage they carry from their unorthodox childhood.

A gripping, emotional story set at a time when mothers were expected to be Donna Reed, not Gidget, California Golden is an unforgettable novel about three women living in a society that was shifting as tempestuously as the breaking waves.


This book is the best hazy summer read with its sunny location in Malibu California, and the late 60s-70s early surf culture.

It is a story of women in the early days of the sport seen through the eyes of two sisters whose mother is at the forefront of women in a mostly male-dominated sport. A mother who is distant both in being around and emotionally when she is.

As you read, you follow the sisters and their relationship with each other. It is a real relationship, with ups and downs in their differences in personality and their abilities on the surfboard.

It is an emotional read, with tragedy and courage. Well written and well-paced. It is a book you will find hard to put down.

This story is unwashed in the history of the 60s and 70s, from the obvious surf culture history to the Vietnam War to the early days of the Whiskey A Go-Go.

I loved everything about it, and def recommend picking up California Golden and spending the day soaking up the sun while reading.

** This book releases on August 8th. Thank you Net Galley and Random House for the advance copy **

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Book Review: Spare by Prince Harry


Goodreads Overview:

It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow—and horror. As Princess Diana was laid to rest, billions wondered what Prince William and Prince Harry must be thinking and feeling—and how their lives would play out from that point on.

For Harry, this is that story at last.

Before losing his mother, twelve-year-old Prince Harry was known as the carefree one, the happy-go-lucky Spare to the more serious Heir. Grief changed everything. He struggled at school, struggled with anger, with loneliness—and, because he blamed the press for his mother’s death, he struggled to accept life in the spotlight.

At twenty-one, he joined the British Army. The discipline gave him structure, and two combat tours made him a hero at home. But he soon felt more lost than ever, suffering from post-traumatic stress and prone to crippling panic attacks. Above all, he couldn’t find true love.

Then he met Meghan. The world was swept away by the couple’s cinematic romance and rejoiced in their fairy-tale wedding. But from the beginning, Harry and Meghan were preyed upon by the press, subjected to waves of abuse, racism, and lies. Watching his wife suffer, their safety and mental health at risk, Harry saw no other way to prevent the tragedy of history repeating itself but to flee his mother country. Over the centuries, leaving the Royal Family was an act few had dared. The last to try, in fact, had been his mother. . . .

For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. A landmark publication, Spare is full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.

Jacque's Review:

I have been a fan of the Royal Family for as long as I can remember and have read several books about Princess Diana, the Queen, etc. I really enjoyed listening to this book on audio with Prince Harry as the narrator. He did a fantastic job as a storyteller, but as is the case with every autobiography, we are only hearing one side of the story. 

I really felt for him and what he had to go through after his mother died, dealing with the stalking by the media, and the fear for his family's safety. I don't blame him in the least for wanting to be able to live a "normal" life. (He isn't exactly living like a commoner out in LA with the lucrative deals he and Meghan have made selling their story, but it is far more normal than life as a working royal.) 

I found it interesting to read about his tours of duty and the charitable causes he has supported over the years. Being able to use his influence for causes he believes in, similar to what his mother worked so hard for, is very noble. His time in Africa seemed like some of the best times in his life as he was recounting the stories. He could be himself and help others with very little contact with photographers. 

He did air a lot of dirty laundry related to his relationship with his brother, Prince William, and his father. The way Harry views some of their more recent interactions, and I'm sure what ultimately caused him to sell out the family, is really sad. I'm sure his mother would be devastated to see how their relationship unraveled, but like I said...we are only hearing half of the story. I was hopeful that Harry would eventually rejoin the family once all of the media drama died down, but after the Oprah interview, the podcasts, Netflix series, and now this book, I'm afraid he has probably burned that bridge. 

The fact that Meghan and their children did not attend the coronation of King Charles is a pretty clear indication that things are still on shaky ground. Can you think of a better way to celebrate your birthday than to attend the coronation of your grandfather? Instead, they used Archie's birthday as an excuse for the family not to attend. It is sad that the children do not have a real relationship with Harry's side of the family or an opportunity to learn their family history firsthand. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Book Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg


Goodreads Overview:

Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a now-classic novel about two women: Evelyn, who’s in the sad slump of middle age, and gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode, who’s telling her life story. Her tale includes two more women—the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth—who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering good coffee, southern barbecue, and all kinds of love and laughter—even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present will never be quite the same again.

Jacque's Review:

This was the May selection for the Books on Tap book club hosted by the Marysville Public Library. I never watched the movie and didn't really put two and two together that this was the book the movie was based upon until after I started reading it. I did end up watching the movie shortly after finishing the book. As is usually the case, the book is definitely better, but the movie was enjoyable.

The story primarily takes place in a small town in Alabama in the 1920's. Ninny Threadgoode is currently in a nursing home and recounts stories from her youth to Evelyn, who is a middle-aged women experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. She is not happy with her life and has turned to food for comfort, which only makes her feel worse about herself as she continues to put on weight. The two women connect and form a sweet friendship. Each week Evelyn comes to visit, and Ninny continues her story about what life was like in Whistle Stop during her youth. Ninny can see that Evelyn is likely going through menopause and offers some great advice and motivation to help Evelyn through this difficult time. 

The Whistle Stop Cafe is a restaurant opened by Ninny's sister-in-law Idgie and her friend Ruth. We never know what sort of relationship the two of them have, but it is implied that they were more than friends. Idgie was a wild spirit growing up and often retreated to a river community away from her family after the loss of her brother. Ruth is the one person who is able to bring her back to Whistle Stop to finally settle down, or as much as one can tame Idgie. The two are completely different, but they bring out the best in each other. They run the cafe and raise Ruth's son together.

Segregation, the KKK, and the depression are all elements that are woven into this story. Idgie never turned anyone away from the restaurant regardless of the color of their skin or their ability to pay for a meal. She knew what was right and stood up for her beliefs. She was a very admirable character and was willing to put her own neck on the line to protect the ones she loved. While Ninny is the one telling the stories about the past, the book is more about Ruth, Idgie, and the Threadgoode family than it is about her personally. 

I really enjoyed this story and was glad I finally got around to reading and watching this movie. It likely isn't something that I ever would have selected on my own, but I would recommend it if you enjoy historical fiction.