Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Blog Tour: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan [+ Excerpt]

Review copy. 
Amazon UK link (*) is an affiliate.


Today I am honoured to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan. You'll find an excerpt at the end of the post, thanks to Graydon House.

"Lady Sunshine" is the nickname given to our protagonist, Jackie Pierce, by her musician Uncle Graham in 1979. The book flits between 1999, when Jackie is given the task of dealing with Graham's estate after she inherits it, and 1979 - the Summer that changed everything. 

The sprawling estate in California was home to Graham, his wife Angela, and their daughter Willa. Jackie is sent there for the Summer when she's seventeen, and after a shaky start, her and Willa forge an incredibly close bond. In the present, Willa doesn't seem to be in the picture at all, so what happened? Jackie is busy packing up the estate for sale, but a promise was made to a group of musicians to allow them record there one last time. The music brings back a lot of memories for Jackie, could this finally give her some closure and help her move on from the events of that Summer? 

This has (and will be) compared to Daisy Jones and the Six and I don't entirely disagree - it has that same lazy, hazy seventies vibe and the musical element does play a part - but that's where the similarities end. This book is a look at friendships, families and forgiveness. I really loved this book. I think it's definitely one of my favourites this year and I would highly recommend it as a good Summer read. It's lovely. 

Lady Sunshine will be published on June 29th and will be available from all good bookshops, your local library, and at the links below.

Kindle US | UK*

You can keep up to date with the author on her website, or on her socials - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest


A Girl, Her Cousin and a Waterfall
I rattle the padlock on the gate, strum my fingers along the cold chain-link fence.
I own this place.
Maybe if I repeat it often enough I'll believe it.
All along the base of the fence are tributes: shells, notes, sketches, bunches of flowers. Some still fresh, some so old the petals are crisp as parchment. I follow the fence uphill, along the coast side, and stop at a wooden, waist-high sign marking the path up to the waterfall. It wasn't here the summer I visited.
The sign is covered in words and drawings, so tattooed-over by fan messages that you can barely read the official one. I run my fingertips over the engravings: initials, peace symbols, Thank you's, I Love You's. Fragments of favorite lyrics. After coming so far to visit the legendary estate, people need to do something, leave their mark, if only with a rock on fog-softened wood.
Song titles from my uncle's final album, Three, are carved everywhere. "Heart, Home, Hope."
"Leaf, Shell, Raindrop."
"Angel, Lion, Willow." Someone has etched that last one in symbols instead of words. The angel refers to Angela, my aunt. The lion is my uncle Graham. 
And the willow tree. Willa, my cousin.
I have a pointy metal travel nail file in my suitcase; I could add my message to the rest, my own tribute to this place, to the Kingstons. To try to explain what happened the summer I spent here. I could tell it like one of the campfire tales I used to spin for Willa.
This is the story of a girl, her cousin, and a waterfall...
But there's no time for that, not with only seven days to clear the house for sale. Back at the gate, where Toby's asleep in his cat carrier in the shade, I dig in my overnight bag for the keys. They came in a FedEx with a fat stack of documents I must've read on the plane from Boston a dozen times - thousands of words, all dressed up in legal jargon. When it's so simple, really. Everything inside that fence is mine now, whether I want it or not.
I unlock the gate, lift the metal shackle, and walk uphill to the highest point, where the gravel widens into a parking lot, then fades away into grass. The field opens out below me just like I remember. We called it "the bowl," because of the way the edges curve up all around it. A golden bowl scooped into the hills, rimmed on three sides by dark green woods. The house, a quarter mile ahead of me at the top of the far slope, is a pale smudge in the fir trees.
I stop to take it in, this piece of land I now own. The Sandcastle, everyone called it.
Without the neighbours' goats and Graham's guests to keep the grass down, the field has grown wild, many of the yellow weeds high as my belly button.
Willa stood here with me once and showed me how from this angle the estate resembled a sun. The kind a child would draw, with a happy face inside. Once I saw it, it was impossible to un-see:
The round, straw-colored field, trails squiggling off to the woods in every direction, like rays. The left eye - the campfire circle. The right eye - the blue aboveground pool. The nose was the vertical line of picnic benches in the middle of the circle that served as our communal outdoor dining table. The smile was the curving line of parked cars and motorcycles and campers.
All that's gone now, save for the pool, which is squinting, collapsed, moldy green instead of its old bright blue.
I should go back for my bag and Toby but I can't resist - I move on, down to the center of the field. Far to my right in the woods, the brown roofline of the biggest A-frame cabin, Kingfisher, pokes through the firs. But no other cabins are visible, the foliage is so thick now. Good. Each alteration from the place of my memories gives me confidence. I can handle this for a week. One peaceful, private week to box things up and send them away.
"Sure you don't want me to come help?" Paul had asked when he dropped me to the airport this morning. "We could squeeze in a romantic weekend somewhere. I've always wanted to go to San Francisco."
"You have summer school classes, remember? Anyway, it'll be totally boring, believe me."
I'd told him - earnest, sweet Paul, who all the sixth-graders at the elementary school where we work hope they get as their teacher and who wants to marry me - that the trip was no big deal. That I'd be away for a week because my aunt in California passed away. That I barely knew her and just had to help pack up her old place to get it ready for sale.
He believed me.
I didn't tell him that the "old place" is a stunning, sprawling property perched over the Pacific, studded with cabins and outbuildings and a legendary basement recording studio. That the land bubbles with natural hot springs and creeks and waterfalls.
Or that I've inherited it. All of it. The fields, the woods, the house, the studio. And my uncle's music catalog.
I didn't tell him that I visited here once as a teenager, or that for a little while, a long time ago, I was sure I'd stay forever.

Excerpted from Lady Sunshine © 2021 by Amy Mason Doan, used with permission by Graydon House.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Watermelon Sugar, Why?

*Amazon UK link is an affiliate


It's not often I want to write a full blog post about a book mere moments after finishing it, but that's exactly where I am with this one. 

The Idea of You is creating a bit of a buzz online at the moment. Originally published in 2017, it's being re-released by Penguin Michael Joseph UK in July 2021.

 I first heard of this book in a Vogue article from last December that dubbed it "The Sleeper Hit of the Pandemic". Described as a "romance novel inspired by Harry Styles", I forgot all about it until I saw a group of people share PR images on Twitter yesterday. The PR package states in bold writing "THIS WILL KEEP YOU UP ALL NIGHT" - I mean, I had to read it after that. I downloaded it on Kindle* and tore through it (although it did not, in fact, keep me up). 

The basic premise is this: Soléne is the thirty-nine year old co-owner of a chic art gallery in L.A. that focuses only on art by women or people of colour. She's divorced, her husband having moved on with a new relationship, and they share custody of a twelve year old daughter, Isabelle. Soléne gets roped into taking Isabelle and a group of her school friends to an August Moon concert and meet-and-greet. August Moon are a five-piece British pop band. One of the members, Harry Styles Hayes Campbell, catches Soléne's eye and so begins our affair. 

Hayes is twenty, a mere eight years older than Isabelle. And therein lies the problem for me. I actually surprised myself with how judgemental I became while reading this - there's a nine year age gap between myself and my own husband. I don't bat an eyelid at an age gap usually. But something about this made me feel really uncomfortable, even though both are consenting adults. Maybe it's because Hayes is only a couple of years older than my own eldest child? I couldn't see Hayes as anything but an older teenager, and those have never been anything but scary to me, even when I WAS a teenager. 

Try as I might, I couldn't enjoy this at all, and here's why: 

- Several times, the characters make reference to how Soléne could be Hayes' mother. I don't know how this is supposed to be a turn-on (unless you're Oedipus). It just took me out of the story and reminded me of how young this guy was. 

- Hayes was super immature. This didn't feel like a sexual relationship despite the copious amounts of quite graphic sex. It was very much a codependent mother/son dynamic and that gave me the creeps. 

- I couldn't get past the Harry Styles stuff. A lovely young man by all accounts with some great music, but not my cup of tea personally and not someone I want to fantasize about. I fear that the unthinkable has finally happened - I've aged out of my pop star fantasy. 

- Isabelle, at twelve/thirteen, had more maturity than Hayes. She handled the situation much better even though she felt completely betrayed and embarrassed by her mother. At one point Hayes looks at this literal child and says to Soléne "she has your mouth". Considering the only mention of Sol's mouth up to that point had been how great it looked/felt when it was attached to a certain appendage, VOM. 

I read over that Vogue article again and I fully appreciate where the author is coming from - there's a severe shortage of romance novels or movies that feature women in their late thirties or early forties. At one point in the book, Soléne mentions how dismissive people can be once a woman hits that age - she is reduced to either "mom" or "businesswoman". I completely agree, and I think there is this notion that "women of a certain age" don't enjoy being sexual or passionate. Ultimately, this is a novel about women reclaiming their sexuality and living out their fantasies. This is all fantastic - this just wasn't it for me.

My reaction to this book surprised me, considering the fact that I'm no stranger to a romance novel and I love a good daydream. That's not to say you might not enjoy it - I'm a big fan of reading something for yourself before jumping on a bandwagon going in either direction (it's why I read the Fifty Shades trilogy back in the day - I wanted to be informed in my ranting) so if you do give it a go, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If the success of books like this and the aforementioned Fifty Shades series show anything, it's that there's a huge market for rom-coms and erotica featuring women in their thirties and forties. Hopefully this will lead to more being published, and who knows - maybe the next one will be the one I fall for.