"The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it." (James Bryce)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE WEDDING DRESS (Rachel Hauck)

Review coming soon)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

DAY OF VENGEANCE (Jeanne Dams)

I just never tire of Dorothy Martin and Alan Nesbitt!  Their bittersweet memories of their deceased spouses, their aches and pains, and  their obvious affection and respect for each other combined with all of the little details of their everyday lives in Sherebury (their quaint old cottage, neighbor Jane, dog Watson, and their 2 cats) make for a wonderful cozy series.  Somehow Dams manages to involve Dorothy in murder after murder, but it all seems perfectly logical.  This time one of the candidates for Bishop (Alan is on the selection committee) is found dead, so naturally Alan and Dorothy become involved in the investigation.  I like the way Dams involves old friends and new in each investigation.  She always leaves me wanting desperately to visit a quaint English village and, perhaps, stumble over a body or two (but not that of anyone really nice, of course).  These are wonderful English village cozies.  I love them!

AN EXPERT IN MURDER (Nicola Upson)

Review coming soon....

Friday, July 4, 2014

THE BUNGALOW (Sarah Jio)

A deserted bungalow on a remote and romantic island during World War II is the setting for Jio's lovely story of young nurse Anne Calloway and Westry, the intriguing and mysterious soldier that captures her heart.  Anne decides to postpone her elaborate wedding to sweet but boring banker Gerard Godfrey to sign up for a year's stint as a nurse in Bora Bora with her headstrong best friend Kitty.  Her expectation is that she will find adventure, self-actualization, and peace of mind in Bora-Bora.  Instead, she finds love with Westry.  They discover an abandoned artist's cabin (the artist is eventually identified as Paul Gaugin) near the beach, a cabin that becomes both their sanctuary and a place of violence when Anne witnesses a horrifying murder on the beach.

We realize at the beginning of the novel that when Anne returns from the war she does marry Gerard and has lived a happy, fulfilled life with him.  She is an  elderly widow as the story begins in contemporary times, still wondering what became of Westry.  As in Morning Glory, Jio provides the reader with some twists and turns that, while perhaps just a little bit cliche, keep you wanting to read more.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BEST TO LAUGH (Lorna Landvik)

I am fortunate that Beth, my friend and coworker, went to Book Expo America recently, because she came back with a signed advance reader's copy of Lorna Landvik's latest (and semi-autobiographical) novel, Best To Laugh! It's been a while since Lorna came out with a new novel and this one was worth waiting for. If you are familiar with Landvik's work (which means that you also love it) you know that quirkiness is her hallmark.  No on does a better job of taking a group of disparate, slightly off-kilter people and making you love them.

Candy Pekkala is half Korean, one quarter Swedish, and one quarter Norwegian, so it shouldn't be surprising that comedy is her forte.  Losing her mother at a young age and her distant, broken-hearted father when she was a teen, Candy forms a close bond with her paternal grandmother, a loving, supportive, and stabilizing influence in her life.  After drifting through her college years in a haze of recreational drugs and casual relationships, Candy is offered the opportunity of a lifetime when her cousin sublets Candy her apartment in the heart of Hollywood for 3 months.  Her decision to move from Minnesota in the late 1970's set the direction of her life and career and she pursues her dream of making people laugh.

Landvik has created a wonderful troupe of supporting characters, some of whom are based on real people in her own life.  Candy's close-knit group of friends include a handsome writer/musician with a girlfriend,  an elderly European clairvoyant named Madame Pepper, a disgraced Hollywood club owner, an aspiring punk rocker whose primary hair product is glue, and a female body builder overshadowed by her famous and beautiful actress mother.  Best To Laugh is a testament to the power of laughter and the warmth of true friendship.  I wish I were a better writer so I could express the real depth and breadth of this novel.  Suffice it to say. I loved it.  The official publication will be in September.  Look for it!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN (Wendy Webb)

I just finished Wendy Webb's latest and chills are still running up and down my spine.  I might also be a little bit afraid of the possibility of investigating strange noises in my house at night!  There have been so many incidents of people feeling a draft or a touch on their arm or smelling the special perfume of someone long gone from this world.  My son once heard a voice saying "get out" on a video that he and a couple of friends made in a cemetery while looking for a relative's grave.  None of them heard the voice while they were filming!

The Fate of Mercy Alban revolves around Alban House, an old estate on the shores of Lake Michigan, built in the late 19th century by an Irish immigrant who found success in the new world.  When 70-year-old Adele Alban, widow of Johnny Alban, suddenly succumbs to a heart attack, her daughter Grace returns home along with her daughter Amity after an absence of twenty years to bury her mother.  Despite her long estrangement from the family, Grace is an Alban through and through and takes up the reins of running the estate without hesitation.  Alban House is full of old family retainers and secret passages, and has a history of unexplained tragedies, including the drowning of Grace's own brothers twenty years before, the death of Mercy Alban at a young age, and the mysterious disappearance of Aunt Fate in 1956, on the same night that famous journalist and family friend David Collville committed suicide at the house.  Alban House is alive with the spirits of the dead and it is not long before Grace finds herself  immersed in mysteries of the past, mysteries that might better be left undisturbed.  When a journalist named Harris Peters arrives at the funeral with an elderly woman whom they all believe to be the long missing Aunt Fate, Grace finds her family history suddenly full of unanswered questions.  (to be continued)

Friday, June 20, 2014

THE MOURNING HOURS (Paula Teick Deboard)

Imagine that your family, established for generations in a small Midwestern farming community, is suddenly the focus of interest in a criminal investigation. The Hammerstrom family is thrown into a storm of controversy when Johnny Hammerstrom's girlfriend, the beautiful and popular Stacy Lemke, vanishes into a blizzard after Johnny's truck slides off the road after a date.  When search crews find no trace of the 16-year-old, Johnny is the logical suspect in her disappearance, especially after no one can confirm the couple's whereabouts in the hours before Johnny arrives home, his hand bleeding and his truck in a ditch.  Even 9-year-old Kirsten, the narrator, doubts her brother's innocence.  As the family endures relentless press attention and escalating attacks from the community, the search for Stacy fruitlessly continues.  Eventually even the family, with the exception of Johnny's father, John, begin to look to Johnny to somehow provide answers and relieve the relentless shunning from their neighbors and former friends.

Although the ending was a bit less satisfying than I expected it to be, I couldn't put this novel down once I got started.  Any family could  end up as the Hammerstrom's did, which is the really scary thing.  None of us knows how much pressure we are capable of enduring and what unknown facets lie beneath the surface of  the people that we believe we know the best.  This is a thriller well worth reading!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

MORNING GLORY (Sarah Jio)

What a beautiful, heart-wrenching story!  Morning Glory is actually 2 stories separated by 50 years. Ada Santorini moves from New York to Boat Street in Seattle to escape an unspeakable tragedy that has altered her life forever.  In her rented houseboat she finds a trunk filled with mementos from 50 years earlier, including theater tickets and a wedding gown.  She discovers that the trunk belonged to Penny Wentworth, the young bride who lived in the houseboat and disappeared without a trace in 1959. Ada also finds a friend (and, perhaps, the key to discovering how to live again) in Alex, who lives on a neighboring houseboat.

The story alternates between Ada in the present day and, in the past, Penny, a glowing young bride who soon discovers that her artist husband has little time to focus on their life together. Weird neighbors, a neighbor named Collin with a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, and a lonely boy named Jimmy define Penny's life on Boat Street.  When Penny vanishes, never to be heard from again, after a neighborhood cocktail party, the neighbors form a pact of silence, vowing never to reveal what they believe they know about the tragedy.  Can Ada, 50 years later, solve the mystery of what happened to Penny?

Jio's book is a wonderful mixture of mystery and love story, moving from one end of the  emotional spectrum to the other.  You'll cry, but love every minute of this novel.  

THE VACATIONERS (Emma Straub)

The Post family's vacation to Mallorca is, well, complicated.  Franny and Jim, married for thirty years, are in the midst of a marital crisis brought on by Jim's affair with a beautiful summer intern and subsequent loss of his job.  Son Bobby, a Florida real estate agent with a much older girlfriend, has gotten into financial trouble and is being pressured by his girlfriend, Carmen, to ask his parents for help.  Seventeen-year-old Sylvia plans to lose her virginity before returning to the USA to begin college at Brown University and family friend Charles and his husband Lawrence are conflicted about adopting a child.  Written from multiple perspectives, Straub's story is an enjoyable panorama of family dysfunction, love, compromise, and forgiveness.

Every family has disagreements, failed communications, secrets, and frustrations.  The key to survival is commitment, and the Posts, while enduring some major crises and minor growing pains, are committed to one another.  All you need is love!  As for the vacation, you'll have to read this to find out how that turns out.

MURDER ON THE CLIFFS (Joanna Challis)

This is the first in Challis's Daphne Du Maurier mystery series.  Having previously read "Villa of Death," I can venture to say that the "mystery" aspect of the series improves as the series progresses.  I enjoyed the character of Daphne Du Maurier.  Having read a bit about her life and being familiar with some of her work, I think that Challis does an excellent job of portraying the writer's personality. As for the story itself, I feel like there were some weak areas, although the atmosphere was great and  I loved Ewe, Daphne's mother's old nurse, whom Daphne stays with when she visits a small Cornish village in order to gain access to  some historical documents in a local abbey.

While out walking on the beach toward Padthaway, the home of the local aristocrats, Daphne comes across the dead body of a beautiful woman, dressed in a nightgown and shoeless. I mention the lack of shoes because it is brought up several times during the course of the story as if the shoes are an important clue to the murder, but I don't quite get why.  Daphne also finds a teenage girl, Lianne Hartley,  daughter of the Hartley family of Padthaway, looking at the body.  Lianne's brother, the handsome Lord David, was set to marry the deceased in a few days.  The victim, former kitchen maid Victoria Bastion, has died of causes unknown.  It could have been an accident, but was it, in fact, a murder? There was no love lost between Victoria and her future mother-in law, and Lord David himself seem unusually complacent about the loss of his fiance.  It was a bit disconcerting that Daphne immediately began imagining herself as Lord David's future wife before the body was even cold, and he seemed to be interested in her as well (quick recovery from his grief).  One thing I did enjoy about this novel was Daphne and her references to her future novel, "Rebecca."  I'm not sure I would recommend reading this for the mystery, but it might be interesting if you are a fan of Du Maurier!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS (Liz Trenow)

OK.  I admit that I've been so busy reading lately that I haven't had time to WRITE about the wonderful books that have come why way in the past few weeks.  This one was a great, a mix of real and imaginary characters and situations that make you wonder, "Could this have really happened?  DID it happen?"

Maria Romano, an orphan, is chosen at a young age to become a seamstress for royalty at Buckingham Palace during the Edwardian era.  Her exceptionally  fine needlework and youthful naivete result in a friendship with the Prince of Wales, and she finally embarks on an affair with the young man, falling deeply in love with him.  During the course of her employment at the palace she finds scraps of royal wedding silks, specially woven for the future queen, and begins to create a beautiful patchwork quilt depicting events in her own life.  When it is discovered that she is carrying the prince's child she is sent to a mental hospital where she is told after giving birth that her child has died.  In a horrifying depiction of the treatment of women in the early 20th century, she is confined to the hospital for 50 years, diagnosed as a fantasist who has created the whole story of her affair with the prince.

Years later, Caroline inherits the quilt, handed down from her grandmother, and discovers from a designer friend that the fabric is rare and royal. so Caroline sets out to discover who created the beautiful quilt and how it ended up in the hands of her grandmother.

Trenow expertly weaves together the stories of Maria and Caroline.  She uses a graduate students's interviews with Maria (as a former mental patient during the 1970's) and  intersperses them with Maria's story in early 1900's and Caroline's quest to trace the history of the quilt while also trying to pull together her own life and career.  The Forgotten Seamstress is a wonderful mix of historic and contemporary fiction with a fascinating dash of quilting thrown in.

POISONED GROUND (Sandra Parshall)

I was just thinking about what words would best describe Poisoned Ground.  It's a mystery, it's a thriller, it's a political, neighbor vs. neighbor tug-of war over money and property, and it's a love story.  It is also the last in Parshall's Rachel Goddard series.  I can understand the thinking behind this decision.  The author herself commented that she didn't want Mason County to become the next Cabot Cove, and I suppose it is pretty unrealistic for one veterinarian to end up in jeopardy over and over again.  I will look forward to reading Parshall's stand-alone thrillers in the years to come, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Rachel Goddard and Tom Bridger.

In this book a development company is looking to build a giant, upscale spa in Mason County, expecting to cater to a rich and famous clientele.  The problem is that they need to buy up land in order to accomplish their goal, which will surely ruin both the landscape and the charm of the area.  Offering exorbitant amounts of money for local properties, the developer pits neighbor against neighbor.  Naturally, those who need the money or are thinking about moving on or retiring are starry-eyed over the prospect of the financial security of selling, while those who wish to remain on their property, continuing to enjoy the land where their parents and grandparents lived and worked, have no interest in the spa project.  The catch is that it's an all or nothing deal.  The developers want ALL the land or the deal is cancelled, so when someone starts killing off land owners, the natural speculation is that the deaths are related to the spa deal.

Parshall, as usual, maintains suspense and keeps the reader guessing from the first page to the last.  I had a hard time putting this novel down once I started.  The sad thing is, though, that I can't wait for the next installment, but there won't be one!  I guess I'll survive as long as Sandra Parshall comes though with her promised stand-alone thrillers.  Hopefully by this time next year I'll be writing enthusiastically about one of those!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BLEEDING THROUGH (Sandra Parshall)

This novel has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read for months.  My only excuse is that I own the book and I always seem to have something else that's due at the library that I have to read first!  Well, I can tell you that I'm definitely not waiting so long to read the next book in the Rachel Goddard series, Poisoned Ground.  I just wish that Sandy Parshall lived in New England instead of the DC area, so she could visit with our Christie Capers book club!

There is something very special about this series.  Parshall expertly combines elements of intense pyschological suspense, traditional police procedurals, and strong, likable characters whose relationships are realistic.  The setting, rural Virginia, comes through loud and clear.  This series couldn't possibly be set anywhere else, in my opinion.

Veterinarian Rachel Goddard and her love, Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, discover the plastic-wrapped body of a young woman, a missing law student, while cleaning up roadside trash with a group of local teenagers.  As Tom begins investigating the girl's murder, Rachel's younger sister, Michelle, shows up in Mason County to stay with Rachel and Tom.  Michelle has a stalker that her husband, Kevin, believes may be a figment of her imagination, but it soon becomes apparent that the man harassing Michelle is VERY real and soon Rachel is also targeted by a stalker.  Is it the same man?  Is there a connection between Rachel and Michelle's tormentors, the death of the law student, who had been investigating what she believed to be the wrongful imprisonment of a local man, and events from Rachel's past?  Trust me, you won't be able to put this novel down!  It has it all - heart-pounding suspense, intriguing characters, and just enough romance. This works just fine as a stand-alone, but for the best reading experience start with Heat of the Moon and then read the next 3 books in this series.  You will love each and every one!

Monday, May 19, 2014

SWEET SALT AIR (Barbara Delinsky)

This novel, I think, harkens back to Delinsky's earlier romances.  Set on Quinnipeauge, a small island off the coast of Maine, the story revolves around childhood friends Nicole and Charlotte,  who have reunited after a 10-year separation to collaberate on a cookbook.  Nicole is a popular food blogger whose husband, Julian, a prenatal surgeon, is desperately seeking a miracle to halt the progression of the MS that could destroy his career.  Charlotte is a travel writer who has spent the last 10 years in search of great local color and, possibly, redemption for past sins.  Both women have been harboring secrets that we know will inevitably come out over the course of their summer together.  Throw in Leo, a local recluse with a big secret of his own, and you have all of the elements for a terrific summer read.

MURDER AT MIDNIGHT (Elliott Roosevelt)

Who knew that Eleanor Roosevelt could be so calm in the face of murder, marital infidelity, and sexual perversion!  I need to do some research to make sure which of these characters are real and which are fictional.  Roosevelt has done a great job of mixing fact with fiction, and the thing I like best about this series is that through it all Eleanor maintains her dignity and behaves in a way fitting to the First Lady of the United States.  I was expecting her to be skulking around like Jessica Fletcher or Hetty Wainthrop, but she never did!

When Judge Horace Blackwell, a member of Roosevelt's elite Brain Trust, is found murdered in the White House (security certainly has been beefed up since the 1930's), one of the black maids is accused of the crime, but Eleanor doesn't believe that she is guilty.  Roosevelt (the author) combines traditional sleuthing with a backdrop of political and social history in this delightful mystery.  Eleanor is an intelligent, take-charge detective who works closely but discreetly with the police and Secret Service to solve the crime.  i would recommend this series to anyone who asked!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

VINTAGE (Susan Gloss)

When I saw this book I was thrilled.  There's nothing like a novel full of vintage clothing and women's friendships with some stressful financial dealings and relationships in transition thrown in.  Vintage did not disappoint.  If you are looking for heart-pounding car chases or hi-tech devices, forget it. This book is sweet and a lovely way to spend a weekend.

Violet Turner is the owner of Hourglass Vintage, a clothing shop in Madison, Wisconson.  The shop becomes a haven for several women whose lives are in transition.  April Morgan is a recently orphaned and very pregnant 18-year-old who returns her vintage wedding dress to the shop after her fiance buckles under to the demands of his wealthy, socially conscious parents and allows them to cancel the wedding plans. Amithi is a seamstress, originally from Indai, who discovers that her husband of 40 years has been unfaithful.  Violet herself is in danger of losing her her life's dream, her shop, and her home, to her greedy landlord and ruthless developers.  The three women become friends, supporting each other and finding hope and possibility in life despite their problems.  Uplifting, charming, life-affirming - all of these adjectives could describe Gloss's novel.  If you are a fan of novels like this, as I am, read it.  You won't be sorry!

DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW (Joanna Trollope)

This is vintage Joanna Trollope.  I love the FEEL of her novels, so ordinary, yet so intriguingly English.  The story is told from multiple points of view, so the reader has an advantage over any of the characters.  Rachel Brinkley is the mother-in-law, a woman whose life for years has revolved around taking care of her three sons and her husband, Anthony, a noted painter of birds, plus hosting family gatherings, and dispensing welcome advice.  Edward, a London-based businessman, is married to Sigrid, a Swedish beauty with whom he has an 8-year-old daughter, Matilda.  Middle son Ralph, a socially awkward nonconformist is married to Petra, who was essentailly chosen for him by his parents. Ralph and Petra are the parents of two very young sons.  Both Edward and Ralph have long viewed Rachel and Anthony's home as "home," and their wives have gone along with the idea.  

When youngest brother Luke marries the beautiful and spoiled Charlotte, things begin to change.  Charlotte feels that it is important to establish themselves as independent and self-sufficient, choosing to invite Rachel and Anthony to their home instead of running to theirs at every opportunity, upsetting the established balance  and precipitating crises throughout the family.  Rachel is one of those matriarchs who is used to being in charge and the changing dynamics of the family threaten her relationships with her husband, sons, and daughters-in-law.

Don't look for amazing plot twists and non-stop excitement here.  No one is going to murder anyone or turn out to be hiding their true identity.  Trollope is master at taking an ordinary family with ordinary feelings and making the reader care about what happens next.  Enjoy it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE BEST OF US (Sarah Pekkanen)

This is a pleasant novel about 3 friends who attend a 35th birthday party at an exotic retreat in Jamaica.  The honoree is their college friend, Dwight,whose Bill Gates-like success has made him rich beyond all of their wildest dreams.  His beautiful wife, Pauline, has organized the week-long party and invited Tina, Samantha, and Allie with their husbands.  Tina is an exhausted mother of 4 whose marriage is happy and solid as a rock.  Samantha hasn't told any of her friends that she and her husband are in the midst of a bitter divorce and Allie, despite her seemingly happy marriage, finds herself dealing with unresolved feelings for Dwight.  During the course of the party we also discover that uber-organized Pauline has secrets that she has neglected to share with her husband.  All in all, Pekkanen's novel is a is a nice escape from the every day work week.

THE VANISHING (Wendy Webb)

You know how sometimes you don't want a novel to end because it's so good, but you are, at the same time, desperate to get to the end because you're dying to find out what happens?  This is one of those stories.  Unexplained voices, mysterious apparitions, and the disappearance of a famed spiritualist after a séance in a gothic mansion in Minnesota create a wonderful atmosphere of psychological suspense that spans a century.  Webb creates twists and turns and ghostly events enough to satisfy the most discerning horror fan.
Julia Bishop's life is in tatters.  Her husband Jeremy, known as the Midwestern Bernie Madoff, is dead and Julia is broke, friendless, and facing years of legal problems despite the fact that she had no idea that her husband was bilking his clients.  Adrian Sinclair shows up on her doorstep one day and invites her to work as a companion to his mother, who happens to be Julia's favorite author and has been presumed dead for 10 years. Julia can't resist the opportunity to leave her problems behind and move on to a new life, but when she arrives at the beautiful Havenwood estate in the Minnesota wilderness she feels an unexplained familiarity with the mansion and its inhabitants. She attributes the brief blackouts and the voices and apparitions that she experiences at Havenwood to her medication, but when she discovers that Adrian was in Chicago and in the curious crowd when the home she recently abandoned burns to the ground, she begins to wonder exactly what she has gotten herself into.
Webb weaves a tale full of suspense and surprises.  If you are going to be home alone in a remote mansion, you may want to wait to read it.  I can't think of any other reason not to check it out today.  You'll love it!

EMBER ISLAND (Kimberley Freeman)

I have to say that I loved this story of a young woman duped into marriage by an unscrupulous man in need of her money.  I wasn't too fond of the main character, Tilly Kirkland, though.  Young and naïve, she had a little bit too much lust and a bit too little intelligence for my taste.


In 1891 Tilly thinks she is marrying for love after a whirlwind courtship with a man introduced to her by her grandfather.  Her doubts begin during the reception when she realizes that her groom is not as ardent now that they are man and wife.  After her grandfather collapses at the wedding Tilly decides to remain in England to care for him in his final days, leaving her marriage unconsummated as her husband returns home to the Channel Islands to tend to his business. When she receives no replies to her frequent letters to her new husband during this time she begins to fear for his well-being.  After her grandfather's death she finally travels to her husband's estate to join him, only to discover that nothing about her husband and their marriage is as she expected.  After tragedy strikes, the widowed Tilly flees to Australia to begin a new at Starwater with a new identity as governess to Nell, the precocious young daughter of a prison superintendent.
Like Carol Casella in Gemini, Freeman writes two stories simultaneously, but these are connected by place as best selling writer Nina Jones, in the present time, has settled into Starwater, the home of her great-grandmother, Nell.  Nina is suffering from severe writer's block and harboring a secret only hinted at during her portions of the story. She searches Starwater for scraps of her grandmother's diaries and stories in hopes of finding inspiration for her floundering novel.
I would have liked a bit more of connection between the events of the present and the past in this novel.  I also would have liked both Tilly and Nina to be stronger, but I really enjoyed Freeman's historical perspective and both of the storylines.  It's worth reading.

Monday, April 21, 2014

GEMINI (Carol Cassella)

Where is the line between quality of life and mere physical survival?  When Jane Doe arrives in a Seattle ICU in a deep coma, Dr. Charlotte Reese is torn between trying to keep her patient alive, at least until she is identified, and letting her go as her condition deteriorates.  Cassella alternates between the story of Raney, a young girl struggling through life with her eccentric, loving grandfather and her strange friend Bo, and Jane's struggle for life in the ICU.  Charlotte is in a serious relationship with Eric, a man with secrets in his past that color all of his decisions about his future with Charlotte.
I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about this novel.  Maybe I'm obtuse, but I couldn't connect the separate stories until I was well into the story.  I felt like I was reading two different books.  Now that I've learned the outcome (which I won't reveal here), I have a better appreciation of Casella's ability to weave two storylines together into a cohesive conclusion.  A few more connections along the way would have made it a little easier, though.  I have to give the author credit, though, for not falling into a typical happy ending.  I won't say anymore because I'll ruin it for you!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BERTIE AND THE SEVEN BODIES (Peter Lovesey)

Lovesey's main character, Bertie, aka Albert, Prince of Wales and King Edward VII, is as egotistical and entitled as you might expect the heir to the British throne to be.  He is also disarmingly clueless when it comes to his own talent (or lack thereof) as a detective  After Bertie and Princess Alexandra arrive at a hunt and house party at the country home of the lovely widow Lady Amelia Hammond, guests begin expiring at an alarming rate.  Actress Queenie Chimes is the first victim, collapsing face down in a plate of pudding with a single clue, a piece of paper with the word MONDAY, tucked under her plate.  When Queenie's companion is discovered dead in a field the following day with a scrap of paper marked TUESDAY in his pocket,  Bertie begins to suspect a pattern to the deaths.  Alix points out a that the words accompanying the bodies match a children's nursery rhyme, an idea that her husband appropriates as his own .  Bertie, with his healthy libido and over-inflated sense of his own brilliance, is a hilarious sleuth.  The period details of the hunt, the elaborate meals, and the morals of Edwardian society, including musical bedrooms, all combine into a delightful little mystery.  Reading more is definitely in MY future!

THE AVALON LADIES SCRAPBOOKING SOCIETY (Darien Gee)

Women friends!  There's nothing like a novel that focuses on women who support and care about each other.  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society brings together a disparate group: an embittered widow, a grieving unwed mother, an female plumber with a mysterious past, and an older eccentric in the early stages of dementia.  Realistic?  I don't know, but Gee manages to make us care about each and every one of them.


Isabel Kidd has let her house and her life fall apart since her dentist husband left her for his assistant 4 years ago, only to die in a car accident before their divorce was finalized.  He left his new love, Ava, pregnant and lonely, never having had the chance to tell him that he was finally to become a father after years of fertility struggles with Isabel. Frances and her husband are preparing to adopt a baby girl from China to complete their family when they receive the news that their soon-to-be-adoptive daughter has serious health problems. Isabel's next-door neighbor, Bettie Shelton, believes that everyone should scrapbook to preserve their memories and to heal their souls.  Bettie eventually recruits all of the women, some reluctantly, to her scrapbooking society.


When Bettie starts exhibiting strange and sometimes dangerous behavior, relationships and priorities shift for all of the women.  New bonds are formed and old grudges are gradually forgotten and priorities change in each of their lives.  If you enjoyed Lorna Landvik's Angry Housewives eating BonBons or Kate Jacobs' Friday Night Knitting Club, run to the library right now and check this out!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BITCHES OF BROOKLYN (Rosemary Harris)

I was very interested to see what Rosemary Harris would do with women's fiction, since my experience is with her mysteries.  I was very happy to discover that Bitches of Brooklyn is a great mix of female friendship, love relationships, chick-lit, and a little mystery thrown in.  The premise is that 5 longtime friends, Rachel, Claire, Jane, Tina, and Abby, all originally from the Brooklyn area, meet on Cape Cod for a girl's weekend each year.  This time Abby doesn't show up. Instead, she sends a fruit basket and a note saying simply, "I've run off with one of your men."  Each of the women question their relationships, secretly wondering if Abby has stolen her husband or lover, and when a dead body of a woman is discovered at the local train station they fear the worst.

Harris does a terrific job of revealing the evolution of each woman's romantic entanglements and the history of their friendship, with all of its ebbs and flows.  The dialogue is entertaining, the characters are interesting, and the flow of the novel  includes a lot of twists and turns and revelations about 5 women and their years of friendship.  Try it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE BUTLER: A WITNESS TO HISTORY (Wil Haygood)

When I picked up this book I expected it to be a short biography of Eugene Allen, the man who served as White House butler through 8 presidential administrations. It was, but very briefly.  This short (96 pages) tome is not just the story of Eugene and Helene Allen, but a condensed history of both civil rights in America and the making of the film, The Butler.  Haygood provides a brief vignette of each of the presidents (5 of them) portrayed in the movie and their dealings with civil rights issues.

This was a very short book, but thought-provoking.  It's kind of like a photo album, brief glimpses into Eugene Allen's life, the struggles of Black Americans to attain respect and equality, and the dedication that went into making the film.  As I said, it was unexpected, but definitely worthwhile.

By the way, if you haven't seen Lee Daniels' movie, I highly recommend it.  It's terrific on so many different levels.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

THE PIONEER WOMAN: BLACK HEELS to TRACTOR WHEELS (Ree Drummond)

I am not normally a reader of romances, but Drummond's autobiographical story of a young woman's transition from dedicated city girl and aspiring law student to rancher's wife is a true-life romance that delighted from start to finish.  The meeting, the courtship, Ree's last minute decision to change her plans to move Chicago and instead focus on her relationship with her "Marlboro Man,"  their marriage and disastrous honeymoon, and her transition to living on an isolated ranch away from family and friends all combine into a charming and very readable biography.  If you have ever watched Ree Drummond on the Food Network you will LOVE this book, and even if you haven't I suspect that her sense of humor and positive take on almost any setback will charm you.

THE ROSIE PROJECT (Graeme Simsion)

The Rosie Project defies categorization.  Is it romance, humor, educational?  It is very unusual.  I've discussed it with a couple of people and the consensus seems to be that it is hilarious.  I agreed in some respects, but I also agree with my friend that feels the story is sad.

Don Tillman is a college professor with a personality much like Sheldon Cooper's from the TV show Big Bang Theory.  Although the author never states that Don suffers from Asperger's, he interestingly starts the novel with Don filling in as a last minute presenter on Asperger's for a group of 5th graders and their parents, with amusing results. At age 39 Don has decided that it is time to find a life partner, so he embarks on the Wife Project, a scientific questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable partners and help him to meet the perfect mate.  As anyone who has ever read a romance knows, though, science has nothing to do with the connection between two hearts.  When Don meets Rosie, he realizes that she is completely unsuitable, but something clicks between the two of them.  The hilarious aspect of the book is Don's literal interpretation of life, like assuming that a high quality bicycling jacket should be perfectly acceptable to wear in a restaurant where jackets are required.  Anyone dealing with a loved one on the autism spectrum will see the layers below Don's thought processes and have mixed feelings about how funny he really is.  Overall, though, Simsion deals with Don and his issues insightfully and entertainingly.  I would wholeheartedly recommend The Rosie Project.  Wonderful!

Friday, March 14, 2014

THE TALE OF BRIAR BANK: A BEATRIX POTTER MYSTERY (Susan Wittig Albert)

Susan Wittig Albert has done a superb job of recreating the world of Beatrix Potter, complete with anthropomorphic animals and charming segues from scene to scene.  Beatrix died in 1943, but I would swear that she has been reincarnated in Susan Wittig Albert.  This "mystery" is a delightful combination of actual facts from Potter's life, wonderful scenes of badgers, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and even dragons, socializing and working (it is actually they who unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mr. Wickstead's death), and a narrator who leads us from scene to scene.  This was decidedly different.  It made me want to all of Beatrix Potter's books, especially since I feel that I already know many of the characters!

A SHORT GUIDE TO A LONG LIFE (David B Agus, MD)

Settle in for a couple of hours and read this useful guide to taking charge of your own health.  In a very down-to-earth series of do's and don'ts, Dr. Agus, a leading cancer specialist, presents some very thought-provoking and sensible rules for preventing illness and living a long life.  It's not a trendy booklet hawking the latest diet fads or vitamin supplements.  Dr. Agus provides practical suggestions for good health, like getting 8 hours of sleep each night, eating REAL food, getting regular checkups, knowing the details of your family health history, enjoying regular exercise, and avoiding vitamins and supplements.  He offers interesting facts, like that frozen vegetables and fruits are actually fresher (i.e. more vitamin-filled) than out-of-season foods shipped from other places, and that wearing good, comfortable shoes is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  You might be thinking that everyone KNOWS these things (except maybe the part about avoiding vitamins!), but the fact is that most of us don't practice many of these good health habits.  I'm not doing justice to Dr. Agus's book.  It is inspiring, down-to-earth, and a little scary.  What it boils down to is that many diseases are preventable by simply paying attention to our daily habits and caring for ourselves.  Take the time to read it.  It's amazing how simple changes can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BRIDGET JONES: MAD ABOUT THE BOY (Helen Fielding)

I thoroughly enjoyed this update on Bridget Jones's life, but I have to admit I was almost brought to tears a few times, mainly because I felt like Colin Firth had been killed!  Any Bridget Jones fan probably knows that Firth played Mark Darcy, Bridget's true love, in the movie versions of Fielding's two Bridget books.  Well, Bridget married Mark, had two children, Billy and Mabel, with him, and then was widowed (Oh, no!).  After several years of mourning she decides, with the encouragement of her friends, that it is time to venture out into the dating world again, in typical Bridget Jones style.

At age 51, Bridget tries online dating and flirts madly with the Roxter, a much younger man.  She even considers a future with him, but her destiny is with another.  As she navigates technology, aging, and single parenthood in her usual neurotic way, we fall in love with her all over again.  After 15 years she is still the same goofy Bridget, older and a bit wiser, but still as appealing.

I imagine that there are people who will say that the originals were better, because people always do.  Fielding is, after all, the grand dame of chick-lit.  Would the genre even exist if Bridget Jones hadn't been conceived?  If you loved Bridget 15 years ago, you'll love this one!

DEATH OF A POLICEMAN (M.C. Beaton)

I wonder why I never get tired of Hamish Macbeth?  I do really wish that he would settle down with Priscilla or Elspeth (preferably Elspeth).  He's getting a little too sad and frustrated for my taste.  It's time for him to find some personal happiness.  I don't think it would really interfere with his character because there could be marital spats and misunderstandings mixed in with Hamish's incredible crime solving.  Think about it, M.C. Beaton!

That being said, this is another typical romp through the highlands.  One interesting development is more insight into the character of Inspector Daviot, whom I have found in the past to be fairly supportive of Hamish and somewhat aware of Blair's incompetency, at least to the extent of ignoring it.  This book may be a turning point (for the worse) for Daviot and Hamish, though, when the two engage in a bit of negotiation that is likely to drive Daviot firmly into Blair's camp.  Hamish may have a hard road to travel in the future!

In this entry in the long-running series, Blair has assigned a handsome young police officer to "watch" Hamish in order to gather evidence against him (so, nothing new there).  When the police officer is killed Hamish takes over the investigation covertly, since he has been banned from any involvement in the case.  Hamish's fellow officer and roommate, Dick, the quiz show genius, is the focus of the romantic entanglements in "Death of a Policeman," but, as usual, things do NOT work out well for him on the local front.  Beaton has managed to write an intriguing mystery involving local characters, organized crime, prostitution, thwarted romance, and corruption, all in one little book.  It's a quick read, but fun.  Check it out when you have a free weekend to read!

Monday, February 24, 2014

NO ONE COULD HAVE GUESSED THE WEATHER (Anne-Marie Casey)

I can't say that this is a typical novel about a group of 40ish women whose lives are in transition, because it has an odd, but not unpleasing, edge to it.  Lucy and her husband have moved to New York after his job loss in he UK and she has trouble adjusting to the crowds and the incessant noise of the city. Successful television writer Julia is separated from her husband and children and trying to find herself after a near nervous breakdown. Christy is already married to a much older, wealthy man and the mother of 6-year-old twins when she realizes what her life could have been if she waited for the right man.  Robyn is the outsider, an unhappy woman trapped in a marriage to a "creative spirit," the main support of her family and unfulfilled as a wife and mother, which may be why she has slept with the husbands of two of the other women.

While not overly emotional or inspiring, Casey's novel is enjoyable.  Each woman eventually travels her own path and finds fulfillment in her chosen relationships.  This is not truly a novel of women's bonding, but it will satisfy those who enjoy that type of novel (like me)!

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES (Alan Bradley)


Oh, Flavia De Luce, you just get better and better!  At the end of Bradley's last novel in this wonderful series, Flavia's father announced that her mother, Harriet, who had disappeared in the Himalayas 10 years earlier, had been found.  Of course we have all been waiting breathlessly for this next installment!  Bradley has made the wise (but a little sad) decision that life must go on, and it appears that Flavia will not always remain the amazing 11-year-old detective and chemist that we have come to know and love.  She will soon be 12 and life is becoming a more serious proposition, especially now that Harriet has been found.  When cousin Lena descends on Buckshaw, the crumbling family estate, with her precocious (and weird) daughter Undine, it appears that Flavia may have acquired an apprentice in her sleuthing.  Time will tell!

As the family waits at the station for the train bearing Harriet back to Bishop's Lacey, a stranger whispers a message in Flavia's ear.  Moments later he mysteriously falls under a train and is killed.  Was he pushed or was it an accident?  What did his cryptic message mean?  Flavia is intrigued when she discovers and restores an old home film in which her mother appears to be saying "pheasant sandwiches," the same phrase whispered to her by the dead man.  And why was Winston Churchill there to welcome Harriet home?  For the answers to all of these questions, read this book!  Bradley has written another winner here.  The intrigue, the characters, and the atmosphere get better and better with each novel.  I can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE NINTH DAUGHTER (Barbara Hamilton)

Abigail Adams as sleuth is an intriguing idea.  What I enjoyed most about The Ninth Daughter, though, was Hamilton's minute attention to historical detail.  The author manages to create a seemingly authentic panorama of life in 1773 while treating the reader to charming insights into the married life of John and Abigail.  The cast of characters also includes the rabble-rousing Sam Adams and Paul Revere.  The crime, the murder of the wife of a prominent local man and the related disappearance of one of Abigail's friends, the estranged wife of an older man who is being manipulated by his self-serving children, is interesting.  I was most intrigued, however, by the life of the women of the  era and Abigail's constant concern about her neglected family and household chores!  I would definitely recommend this series to any lover of historical fiction.  Hamilton, who writes fantasy as Barbara Hambly, has done a wonderful job here.  I loved it!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CITY OF LIGHT (Lauren Belfer)

History, intrigue, romance, civil rights - Belfer's wonderful novel has it all.  It has taken me an unusually long time to read this 500+ page novel, partially because of personal obligations, but also because it is so dense with characters, real and fictional, and historical detail that it was hard to keep track of everyone and everything going on. The setting is Buffalo, NY in 1901.  The great Pan American exhibition (where President McKinley would be shot) is in it's final stages of development, giant power stations are producing electricity from Niagara Falls, and the working class are being exploited at every turn.

Beautiful spinster Louisa Barrett is the headmistress of  prestigious girl's school and godmother to troubled 9-year-old Grace Sinclair.  Grace's late adoptive mother was Louisa's best friend, and her father, Tom Sinclair, is the manager of the hydro-electric power plants at Niagara Falls, zealously protecting his project from those who fear that the plants will harm or dissipate the falls.  When a key figure in the project is found dead after an argument with Tom, Louisa begins to question her loyalties while desperately trying to reconcile secrets from her own past.  Excellent book, a BIG novel wonderfully crafted.

Monday, January 27, 2014

TAPESTRY OF FORTUNES (Elizabeth Berg)

My first thought on finishing this novel a few minutes ago was, "I'm so glad that I've only read two of Elizabeth Berg's books.  This means that there are so many more waiting for me on the library's shelves!"  Tapestry of Fortunes is the lovely, life affirming story of a woman, Cece, who has lost her best friend, Penny.  A successful motivational speaker and author, Cecelia Ross is fifty-something when she comes to the realization that the life she has been living has lost its meaning for her.  She decides to take a break from her career, sell her house, and volunteer at a local hospice.  In an unlikely move, she also chooses to rent a room in a beautiful old house and live there with a disparate group of women with whom she develops an immediate rapport.  A postcard from Cece's old love Dennis Halsinger prompts the women to embark on a road trip where each of them revisits past life decisions and embraces new hope for the future.  Along the way, Cece communicates mentally with Penny, who remains an integral part of her life and her decisions and urges her to find her true joy in life.

I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed this novel.  The title is apt, for Berg is a genius at interweaving the emotional threads of each woman's story into a beautiful blend of colors and feelings.  Interspersing the use of tarot cards lightheartedly throughout the novel adds an extra touch of interest.  Anyone who loves women's fiction, stories about friendship, middle-aged romance, local color, and the captivating details of everyday life lived to its fullest should read this novel.  I just loved it!  By the way, it also has one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen.  Look for it!

I was just reading some of the reviews on Goodreads about this book and they were all over the map.  Someone even hated the cover!  It's amazing how varied people's tastes can be!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SIX YEARS (Harlan Coben)

It's been a while since I've read a thriller.  Lately I've been focusing primarily on women's fiction, because I like the emotional component, as well as historical fiction and traditional mysteries.  Six Years was pretty good.  College professor Jake was devastated when, six years before the novel begins, his soul-mate Natalie dumped him and married another man that she claimed was her old boyfriend, asking Jake to leave them alone.  Jake respected her wish for privacy and closure, but when he finds out that Natalie's husband, Todd, has died he decides to contact her at long last, only to discover that Todd left a wife of twenty years and two sons.  None of them have ever heard of Natalie.  Naturally he sets out to find the truth of what happened to Natalie, meeting obstacle after obstacle and realizing that those he thought he could trust may not be what they seem to be.  Jake displays an admirable ability to think on his feet, outwitting evil gangsters and even killing when necessary to save his own life.  I really liked Jake's integrity, his concern for the safety of his students and his underlying shock and wonder at his ability to kill, even in self-defense.  Overall, I would classify this as a satisfying thriller.  It's quick to read, full of both action and psychological suspense, and Coben does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing while unfolding the plot logically and cleanly.

Monday, January 20, 2014

THE OBITUARY WRITER (Ann Hood)

Last week someone returned this book to the library and said "You should read this!"  I did, and I have to say that I am very appreciative of the recommendation.  Hood's latest had already been mentioned in my BookBuggs group and was in the back of my mind to read someday, but I hadn't gotten around to it, partially because Ann Hood often writes about grief and loss and I wasn't really in the mood.  The Obituary Writer drew me in immediately, though.

Claire is a housewife in Virginia in1961, enamored of the Kennedy charisma and expecting a baby that she isn't sure is her husband's.  When her husband discovered her with her lover, the affair came to an abrupt end and her marriage has been understandably strained ever since.  She longs for the easy conversation and passion she enjoyed with her lover and grieves for what is lost.  Vivian, an obituary writer in 1919, has lived for 16 years in California's Napa Valley without closure, grieving for her married lover, David, who disappeared without a trace during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Vivian has put her life on hold searching for David, filling her time with composing beautiful, personal obituaries for bereaved parents, spouses, and children.  The two women's stories are told in 7 chapters with alternating segments.  I spent the first 100 pages wondering about the connection between the two women while enjoying each of their stories.  It did come together beautifully at the end.

Every woman has experienced loss, disappointment, and grief.  I find it amazing that I chose to read this novel directly after finishing David Menasche's memoir, because they tie in so beautifully together.  We all make choices in life and we all experience things beyond our control.  We can choose to accept what we cannot change and move on, living life to the fullest, or we can choose to view our obstacles as a reason to stop living and empathizing.  The Obituary Writer provides an interesting historical perspective on love, loss, and acceptance.  I highly recommend it.

THE PRIORITY LIST: A TEACHER'S FINAL QUEST TO DISCOVER LIFE'S GREATEST LESSONS (David Menasche)

This beautiful, inspirational memoir should be on everyone's "to read" list.  It WILL change your way of thinking about life and what it should mean.  I promise!

David Menasche, a devoted husband and gifted teacher, was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 34 and made the decision to live the fullest, most meaningful life possible in the time he had left.  As a high school teacher, he had effectively incorporated life lessons into studies of literature, earning the unconditional love and respect of his students. The "spiral"  was the initial means by which he described the stages of life and eventual goals to his students.  The beginning of the spiral is birth and infancy, when we are focused completely on our own needs and feelings.  The end of the spiral, the goal of living, is "when you can empathize with others and act with true respect and kindness because to be here is to care more about others than you care about yourself."  From this concept evolved the "priority list," a list of words such as wealth, respect, privacy, security and love, words that can be prioritized and rearranged as we journey through life.  Originally the words were used in Menasche's classes to analyze characters in literature, but students were also asked to apply them to their own lives and goals in order to better understand themselves and their motivations.  It obviously worked.

Six years after being diagnosed, partially blind and partially crippled on his left side, Menasche was finally forced to give up teaching, but he used this disappointment an opportunity to travel the country visiting former students and friends who welcomed him with joy and open arms.  This book is a testament to the idea that life is constantly evolving and changing and that "obstacles" can make the journey more challenging, but not impossible.  This is not a memoir about dying, but about life and how far empathy and kindness can go towards making all of the difference in a life.  David Menasche is still alive today and settled in New Orleans.  He is also on Facebook.  Friend him and follow him as he continues his journey through life.  H is truly a person who sees the joy in living and loving.  We can learn a lot from his outlook.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

JANE AND THE MADNESS OF LORD BYRON (Stephanie Barron)

This novel was a joy from start to finish.  Barron seems to be channeling Jane Austen and the reader is treated to a bird's-eye views of life in Austen's time, written in what could easily seem to be Austen's own words.  There are quite a few "real" characters here in addition to Austen and her brother, Henry, including Lord Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, and the dilettante prince regent, the future King George IV.

Jane and her brother, Henry, travel to Bath after the death of Henry's beloved wife, Eliza.  On their way, they rescue a lovely young woman, Catherine Twining, who has apparently been abducted by the infamous Lord Byron, who had planned to marry her at Gretna Green.  During their sojourn in Bath the young woman's body us found in Lord Byron's chamber, wrapped in the sail from his boat, but the circumstances of the death and discovery convince Jane that Bryon is not the killer,

Barron has infused the novel with rich, believable details of life in Austen's time.  The reader can almost feel and smell the Assembly Rooms at Bath and the combination of real historical characters and details with fictional situations is seamless.  I highly recommend this series.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SHADOWS OF DEATH (Jeanne Dams)

I can never resist Jeanne Dams' Dorothy Martin and her husband, retired Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt.  In Shadows of Death the pair are invited to Orkney, Scotland, by an artist friend to visit the site of an ancient city being carefully excavated.  Naturally, the body of the project's main benefactor is discovered in the middle of the archaeological dig on a remote island and the main suspect soon disappears.  With a terror threat being investigated nearby, the local police rely on Alan and Dorothy to investigate.

One of the most wonderful things about Dams's characters is their authenticity.  Alan and Dorothy are an older couple experiencing the aches and pains of aging (Dorothy had a knee replacement in an earlier book).  The reader is drawn into the middle of their lives in every novel.  We know what they eat, how much they miss their pets, what gives them indigestion,and when they shower or change clothes, and even when they make love, but it is all done so gently and subtly that it never gets boring.  I thoroughly love Dorothy and Alan and I wait anxious for each new entry in the series to be published.  I've even gotten my mother hooked!  Dams always includes enough intrigue and action to entertain and the mystery is always interesting, but somehow she makes the reader believe that this couple could be real.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

PAGAN SPRING (G.M. Malliet)

Max Tudor never ceases to be fascinating.  Malliet's MI5 agent turned Anglican priest continues to be such a fresh concept, even in this third novel of the series.  The secret here, I think, is the continued development of the characters and their relationships.  A lot of cozies have romantic relationships that develop throughout the series, but none so odd as that of haunted, handsome, and devout Max and Awena, the beautiful new-age free spirit.  The village of Nether Monkslip is as much a character as any of the people in the book.

In Pagan Spring, the murder victim is Thaddeus Bottle, an egotistical retired actor and playwright. Thaddeus recently moved back to the village of his birth with his downtrodden wife Melinda.  When he is discovered dead in bed by his wife, the initial assumption is that he suffered a natural death.  He was 78 years old.  Max, of course, becomes suspicious when he notices a small amount of blood on Thaddeus's neck and the inevitable conclusion is murder.

Malliet does a tremendous job of introducing and developing the relationships among the various residents of Nether Monkslip.  The Cut & Curl, the Writers' Square, and Awena's shop / studio all provide the reader with ample opportunity to experience the heart and soul of the village and to gain more insight into the life of this charming place.  I will say that I did have a few suspicions regarding who might be the culprit in this one, but I was still surprised by the ending.  I enjoyed every moment of this mystery and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

THE KITCHEN HOUSE (Kathleen Grissom)

Seven-year-old Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks in 1791 as an indentured servant to Captain James Pyke.  Ill and recently orphaned, the Irish girl is given to the care of Belle, Captain Pyke's illegitimate mulatto daughter.  Living in the kitchen house among the slaves, whom she considers her family, Lavinia witnesses the heart-rending despair of parents and children, husbands and wives, as slaves are sold and bought, beaten and abused.  Miss Martha, Captain Pyke's mentally fragile wife, is addicted to laudanum and unable to cope with the sudden deaths of 4-year-old daughter Sally or the obvious abuse of son Marshall at the hands of his cruel tutor.

The novel begins in 1810, where we see the adult Lydia running with her daughter Ellie, returning to Tall Oaks in an attempt to save her beloved friends from the cruelty of Marshall and the plantation's nasty overseer.  Then we travel back in time to where the story began, with Lavinia's arrival at the plantation.  Grissom's meticulous research and wonderful ability to tell a story bring Lydia's narrative to life.  Belle's story is told in some sections of the book, but her character holds back a bit and the reader is never quite able to fully feel her point of view, perhaps due to the natural reticence of the character.  Overall, I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly.  It offers an interesting historical perspective of slavery, murder, rape, birth and death, great cruelty and great love, something for everyone wrapped in an incredible historical package.

THE PRICE OF MURDER (Bruce Alexander)

Sir John Fielding, the blind founder of Great Britains' Bow Street Runners, is a sort of Nero Wolfe character, the brains behind the investigations that are carried out for him by his assistant, Jeremy Proctor, his Archie Goodwin.  In The Price of Murder, Jeremy investigates the murder of a young girl whose body is found in a local canal after her mother apparently has sold her.  Jeremy's fiancee, Clarissa Roundtree, gets involved after one of her friends disappears as well.  Alexander, basing his series on the career of real-life magistrate Sir John Fielding in the mid-1800's, has crafted an interesting mystery.  The reader is immersed in the world of Georgian England, including the popular sport of horse racing.  When the murdered girl's uncle, a diminutive jockey improbably named Deuteronomy Plummer, gets involved with the case, complications ensue.  Alexander does an excellent job of moving the reader from the upper-class to the working class to the dregs of society and back again.  As a mystery, I'm not sure I would tout it as competition for Christie or Louise Penny, but the characters are memorable and, in many cases, endearing.  I loved the running sub-plot about Jeremy and Clarissa's planned engagement and Clarissa's decidedly modern attempts to pin Jeremy down to a formal commitment.  I also loved the authentic flavor of the historical setting.  This is the 10th in the Fielding series.  I would consider reading others, especially for the historical detail.

BETWEEN A MOTHER AND HER CHILD (Elizabeth Noble)

Let's begin by saying that I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't my favorite by this author.  I have read several other novels by Elizabeth Noble and I think she is a talented writer.  I especially enjoy her character development and the complexity of relationships among her characters.  It took me a long time to read this novel, perhaps because I have been busy with holiday preparations and work crises, so it left me with the feeling that the story had dragged a bit.  It was a bit long, also.

Maggie and Bill Barrett were devastated by the death of their son, Jake, in the Indonesian tsunami of 2004.  Jake, a talented, vibrant athlete and student, was traveling with his 2 best friends when the tragedy struck, leaving his parents, his younger sister, Ali, and his 10-year-old special needs brother, Stan, each coping with the loss in different ways.  As the story opens Maggie and Bill have been separated for about a year.  It is apparent that Bill has attempted to move on with his life, visiting Indonesia to claim his son's body, attending grief support groups, and finally moving out at Maggie's request.  Maggie is unable to move past her grief and get on with her life until she meets Kate, an older woman who moves in with Kate and her two children as a sort of companion and housekeeper.  Kate lost her much-loved husband fairly recently and seeks a family to love and to give her life new purpose. The circumstances of Maggie and Kate's situation are not quite believable.  Maggie's younger sister, visiting from Australia, answers Kate's ad seeking a place with a family and interviews her without Maggie's knowledge.  It is quite an unorthodox means of getting your sister out of her rut!

One of the things that IS very believable about this novel is the tone of the relationships among the characters: the love between the sisters,  the sadness and resulting alienation of the parents, the frustration of the daughter trying to live a life that has been denied to her beloved older brother. There are a lot of complex emotions here.  Although the situation is a bit strange, the ultimate resolutions are realistic and not sugar-coated.  Overall, worthwhile and memorable.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A KILLER'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (Elizabeth Duncan)

Penny Brannigan and her friend Victoria are preparing for the opening of their new spa in Llanelen, Wales, as Christmas approaches.  When a new man, Harry, arrives in town, he charms everyone, especially widow Evelyn Lloyd, who agrees to invest 20,000 pounds with him and hopes that he might take their romance to the next level.  When Harry falls to his death from a popular local tourist attraction, a historic castle, suspects abound, especially after Evelyn's missing letter opener is discovered to be the murder weapon.  A subplot of petty thefts rounds out this pleasant mystery, the third in Duncan's Penny Brannigan series.  As usual, there is a romance between amateur sleuth penny and the local police chief!  This would be a nice read for a winter afternoon recovering from the busy holidays.

THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB (Vanessa Greene)

Any lover of vintage china and novels about women's friendships will enjoy The Vintage Teacup Club. It is a delightful, easy novel full of British charm and cozy camaraderie.  I was sorry to reach the end!

Jenny, Maggie, and Alison meet at a car boot sale when they discover a vintage tea set that each wants to purchase.  Jenny is getting married to Dan and plans an economy tea-party-themed wedding for which the set will be perfect.  Maggie is a florist who needs the set for a wedding she is decorating, and Alison creates and sells handicrafts, including beautiful candles in antique cups.  The three decide to share the set, passing it from Jennie to Maggie and finally to Alison, who will fill the cups with candles and sell them.  Of course the three women, ranging in age from 26 to forty-ish, form a fast friendship and spend time together searching for additional cups.  Jenny is on a budget and still suffering from her mother's abandonment of the family, including her younger brother, Chris, who was born with spina bifida.  Alison and her husband, Pete, are struggling financially after Pete's job loss, and Maggie, divorced for several years, suddenly finds herself rekindling her relationship with Dylan, the ex-husband who left her for greener pastures.

Greene has created a simple, lovely story of friendship and grappling with life's relationships and disappointments.  I was sorry to reach the last page.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

LOVE WATER MEMORY (Jennie Shortridge)

Discovering a new author is always exciting.  I often flip through books before they go out on the shelves in our library, but I seem to come across the most fascinating books when I am changing over records to move books from the "new" area to the stacks.  This novel drew me in from the first page, where Lucie Walker suddenly finds herself standing knee deep in the cold water of San Francisco Bay with no memory of how she came to be there.  She is suffering from dissociative fugue disorder, according to the experts, but why?

You might expect from the opening that this novel is a psychological thriller, but it's not.  It is a lovely story about two broken people finding each other, experiencing a crisis, and each going through the process of finding themselves and working their way back to each other.  Some reviewers were dismissive of Lucie's amnesia as a literary device, but I thought that the way the main characters, Lucie and Grady, interacted and reacted during her period of readjustment was brilliantly and beautifully portrayed.  I enjoyed this novel from start to finish!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

OSCAR WILDE AND THE DEAD MAN'S SMILE (Giles Brandreth)

This is the first in the Christie Caper's discussion series of fiction featuring real people.  As with Brandreth's other novels in this series, the reader is transported back to Wilde's era.  The mystery is complicated and, at times, convoluted, but Wilde's wit and wile shine through, as always.  Here, Wilde and his erstwhile friend Robert Sherard form a friendship with acting great Edmond LaGrange and Wilde agrees to help LaGrange translate Hamlet into French for performance at his famous Parisian theater.  A large cast of characters, including Sarah Bernhardt, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the fictional card sharp Eddie Garstrang, blend together beautifully.  A word of warning, though: if your focus is on the "mystery" you might be disappointed with the progress of the story (where's the mystery?), but the end will make it all worthwhile.  If the Victorian lifestyle fascinates you, however, you will be mesmerized from the first page until the last.  The ending will be the icing on a delicious cake.

Monday, October 28, 2013

HEARTBREAK CAFE (Penelope J. Stokes)

Years ago I read a novel called The Blue Bottle Club by Penelope J. Stokes and to this day it remains one of my favorite books.  I know that she has written other things, but they seemed a bit too "inspirational" for me.  After a friend of mine recommended Heartbreak Cafe I decided to give Stokes another try.  I'm glad that I did!

Dell Haley's life is falling apart around her.  Her husband, Chase, has died, apparently during a tryst with one of his paramours.  No one is saying who the other woman is, but the sudden silence when she walks into a room leads her to believe that Chase's behavior might have been common knowledge in the town of Chulahatchie, Tennessee.  When she goes to see bank manager Marvin Beckstrom (known as 'Bug" along with other unpleasant names) she is informed that Chase has mortgaged their home and that she has barely enough money to survive for the next year.  With the support of her good friends Boone, Toni, and a drifter named Scratch, she rents a rundown restaurant and transforms it into the Heartbreak Cafe.  The cafe soon becomes the go-to place in town for breakfast and lunch, but Dell is barely breaking even financially when a major setback threatens to ruin her.

Heartbreak Cafe is a story about deep friendships, resilience in the face of adversity, and having faith that the truth will eventually set you free.  If you are looking for a wonderful and, yes, inspirational story about working through heartbreak and coming out whole on the other side, try this book!

WHERE WE BELONG (Emily Giffin)

It's been a while since I read an Emily Giffin novel and now I'm wondering if I missed one or two!  I'll have to check.

Deciding to give a child up for adoption, trying to insure that your baby has a better life than you could possibly provide, is a heart-wrenching, life-changing decision.  For Marian Caldwell, her guilt about giving up the daughter she gave birth to at age 18 is compounded by the fact that she lied to the baby's father, Conrad Knight, about her pregnancy.  She hasn't seen him since she broke off their relationship the day her home pregnancy test result came out positive.  Eighteen years later she is a successful New York based television producer and in love with handsome, successful Peter Standish.

Kirby Katherine Rose is a troubled 18-year-old from St. Louis, confused about her future and feeling like a misfit.  She was adopted at birth by loving parents, who conceived another daughter just 2 months after bringing Kirby home. Despite her close, loving family, Kirby has always felt like a bit of an outsider, looking different from her parents and sister, and with different talents and interests.  As soon as it becomes legally possible, Kirby accesses her adoption records and decides to travel to New York, unbeknownst to anyone but her best friend Belinda, to contact her birth mother, Marian Caldwell.  She is relieved that Marian acknowledges and accepts her when she knocks on her door, and the two embark on a rocky emotional journey of mutual (and self) discovery, tying up loose ends from the past and forging new relationships for the future.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Giffin's latest is the positive development of the characters.  Each of them is flawed, as humans are, but when confronted with the facts of Kirby's existence each in their own way ultimately reacts with grace and integrity.  It may not be completely realistic, and perhaps some would consider Where We Belong to be a bit too positive, but who cares?  I enjoyed every minute of this novel.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

THE HUSBAND'S SECRET (Liane Moriarty)

I don't think that this is my favorite Liane Moriarty novel, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy it.  I must be getting old, because again I had problems keeping track of who was who during the first few chapters.

 Efficient, organized Cecilia is married to handsome John Paul Fitzgerald and together they have 3 daughters.  Life seem idyllic until Cecilia finds a letter written by John Paul to be opened after his death.  John Paul is every much alive, but can Cecilia resist opening the letter to discover her husband's secret? 

Tess arrives at her mother's house with son Liam just after husband Will and her cousin and best friend Felicity have revealed that they have fallen madly (but chastely) in love and want to live together.  As business partners, Tess, Will, and Felicity spend nearly every day together, so this revelation changes every aspect of the life Tess thought she was living.  Meeting old love Connor Whitby makes Tess question herself and her commitment to her marriage.

Eleanor, a widow, mourns the unsolved murder of her daughter Janie.  At 17 Janie was strangled in a local park and Eleanor believes that Connor Whitby is the guilty party.  Elanor's husband was away at the time of Janie's murder.

Moriarty's little asides about what was happening  behind the scenes throughout the novel add an extra touch of interest to the story. They put the reader in a position of know more about the story than the characters themselves. I imagine that some might feel that the process of tying up loose ends is a bit contrived, but I liked it.  Overall, I would recommend it!

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (Maria Semple)

This is a really unusual book, mainly because of Semple's odd, yet strangely heroic characters and partly because it is written in epistolary format, which I find very appealing.  Semple uses a combination of emails, faxes, letters, and reports (police, FBI, medical, etc.) interspersed with Bee Fox's commentary to tell Bernadette's story.   It reminded me at times of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, but I think that was mainly because of the crumbling home, brilliant minds, and eccentric behavior.

Where Bernadette Fox actually went is examined on several levels.  Does the title refer to her disappearance from the architectural world after winning a prestigious award just before the destruction of her brilliant signature project, to her apparently fragile mental state and agoraphobic tendencies, or her sudden departure from home after her husband stages an intervention because he believes her to be suicidal or addicted to drugs?  Daughter Bee (short for Balakrishna) and husband Elgie, an inventor who works for Microsoft, love Bernadette unconditionally and don't seem especially bothered by her behavior as the story unfolds.  They even plan a trip to Antartica to reward Bee for her excellent grades.  Bernadette's dealings with her next-door neighbor and fellow Galer School mother (whose name escapes me at the moment) and the email exchanges between her and Elgie's assistant (with the multi-hyphenated, multi-cultural name) are absolutely hilarious, adding an irresistible slapstick element to the novel.  Is it believable?  Absolutely not!  Will you love?  I think so!  Check it out soon!

THREE WISHES (Liane Moriarty)

I've decided that I need to stop myself from starting a new book until AFTER I blog about the one I just finished.  For some reason colder weather increases my need to read, so I'm getting behind yet again!

Liane Moriarty is amazing.  She manages to combine intrigue, psychological drama, humor, and traditional chick-lit elements into one very entertaining novel.  The Kettle sisters, Cat, Lyn, and Gemma, are Australian triplets. Cat and Lyn are identical blondes while Gemma is fraternal and a red-head.  All are tall, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with.  The story opens during a celebration of the triplets' 34th birthday in a Sidney restaurant, a celebration that turns into brawl resulting in one triplet accidentally embedding a fork into her pregnant sister's abdomen.  Moriarty then takes us back almost a year, retracing the events in each sister's life that lead to the fateful birthday dinner.  Lyn, an organizational dynamo, owns her own successful business and is a perfect wife and mother who suddenly finds herself suffering panic attacks.  Cat, a marketing executive who longs for a baby, is devastated to learn that her marriage is not the success she believed it to be.  Gemma is the sister still trying to find her place in life, working as a house-sitter and unable to even consider sustaining a relationship for more than a few months after the death of her fiance, at least until she meets Charlie.  Added into the mix are the girls' dysfunctional parents, whose 34-year relationship (beginning with the conception of the triplets) is fraught with sarcasm and disdain.  Starting the novel with the restaurant incident seems unusual for this type of novel, kind of like one of those old movies that start with the murder and then go back to the beginning so the audience can see how the crime unfolded, but it certainly made me want to read more.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING DEAD (M.C. Beaton)

I've lost track of how many Agatha Raisin mysteries M.C. Beaton has published (Oh, it's 24!), but over the years Beaton has added an increasing streak of niceness to Agatha.  That's not to say that Agatha has lost her edge, of course, but she's a little less prone to self-sabotage and  imprudent romantic liaisons. In this outing she is invited to investigate the sudden death of bleached blonde Gloria French, a recent transplant to the village of Piddlebury.  Gloria has impressed everyone with her enthusiastic charitable efforts, but her welcome has worn thin.  Apparently Gloria has been in the habit of borrowing items from the villagers and refusing to return them.  She is found poisoned after drinking a bottle of Ada White's homemade wine and the village closes ranks against Agatha, trying to convince themselves that an outsider, now long gone, is responsible for the deaths of both Gloria and an itinerant man found poisoned in the woods.  After several close calls for Agatha and her associates it becomes evident that someone local doesn't want the truth about the mysterious deaths to be discovered.  This, of course, makes Agatha even more determined to solve the case.

Beaton has peopled the village of Piddlebury with a host of colorful characters, including a fading actress turned lady of the manor, a vicar's wife who smokes and drinks away from the public (and her husband's) eye, an elderly woman who constantly demands attention, and a handsome schoolteacher who catches Agatha's eye but seems to be hiding something.  All of Agatha's usual associates appear: James, Charles, Roy, and Mrs. Bloxby.  Agatha herself seems more mellow, but not enough to keep her out of trouble! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

THE LAST ANNIVERSARY (Liane Moriarty)

True to form, Moriarty serves up very satisfying, slightly off-kilter story.  Scribbly Gum Island is the home of the Munro baby legend.  In 1934, sisters Connie and Rose discover a baby girl abandoned in a leased house on Scribbly Gum, their family home.  The parents of the baby, Alice and Jack Munro, have disappeared with little trace aside from a small trail of blood, a freshly made cake, and a kettle boiling on the stove.  Thus, the legend is born and over the years the family creates a very successful tourist business revolving around the legend.

Connie, Rose, and baby Enigma, along with her children and grandchildren, have amassed a fortune from the mystery.  When Connie passes away she unexpectedly leaves her cottage on the island to Sophie Honeywell, former girlfriend of Enigma's grandson, Thomas Gordon.  Sophie, nearly 40 and single, was enchanted with the cottage when she visited with Thomas several years before and is thrilled at the prospect of living there, especially after she discovers that Connie has found the perfect man for her right on the island.  Unfortunately, Connie never identified who that man was.  Despite the anger and objections of some family members, Sophie makes a life on the island and soon discovers that secrets abound among its residents, living and dead.  Will Sophie ever find love?  Will Grace ever discover that being a mother can be fulfilling?  Will Veronika ever forgive Sophie for inheriting the cottage?  Will the Munro Baby mystery ever be solved?  I enjoyed every moment of finding out the answers to these questions and more and i think you will, too!

Monday, September 16, 2013

THE COMFORT OF LIES (Randy Susan Meyers)

Tia, Juliette, and Caroline have something in common:  a child named Savannah.  Twenty-four-year old Tia, born on the wrong side of the tracks in South Boston, finds herself pregnant after an affair with Juliette's husband, Nathan. She is devastated to realize that Nathan has no intention of breaking up his picture perfect upper class family to start a life with her.  Tia and Nathan's daughter is adopted by physician Caroline, awkward and non-maternal, and her exuberant, family-loving husband Peter.  As Caroline struggles to be a mother to Savannah, Tia lives for the annual pictures that Caroline and Peter provide each year as part of the open-adoption agreement.  Although she knows that she made the right decision in giving up her child, she still harbors dreams deep in her heart of reuniting her family.  One day she decides to send pictures of Savannah to Nathan, whom she has not seen since her early pregnancy, in hopes that he will contact her. Nathan's wife Juliette, who owns a successful cosmetics company, intercepts the letter and discovers the truth about the child of whose existence she had been blissfully ignorant.

Meyers has created a multi-layered tale of conflicting emotions.  Tia is torn between love and longing for her daughter and the knowledge that she could never provide her the life that her adoptive parents can.  Juliette struggles with the need to preserve her marriage and family and her intense hurt at Nathan's betrayals and lack of interest in his daughter, coupled with a desire to integrate Savannah into her own family.  Caroline questions her maternal instincts and ability to connect emotionally with her daughter and please her husband while secretly wishing she could hide at work and never come home.  This absorbing story of family dynamics and parental love will please fans of women's fiction.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED (Taylor Jenkins Reid)

Imagine unexpectedly meeting your soul mate, falling in love, and moving in together, all within the space of less than 6 months.  Imagine that you marry on the spur of the moment and that your love has not found a way to tell his recently widowed mother about the happiness that he has found with you.  Then imagine that after just 9 days of wedded bliss he is taken from you, killed in a automobile accident while on a mundane errand at your request.  This is the premise of Forever, Interrupted.  As Elsie struggles to come to terms with her guilt (why did she ask Ben to go out and buy her favorite cereal?) and the loss of her soul mate, she must also find a way to connect with Ben's mother, Susan, who is shocked to find that her beloved son had married without telling her.  Reid cleverly alternates between the story of Elsie and Ben's developing romance and Elsie and Susan's journey through grief and healing.  This novel is heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, a wonderful story for anyone who has loved someone.

THE HOUSE GIRL (Tara Conklin)

The House Girl features two heroines.  The first is Josephine Bell, a house slave in 1852 Virginia.  The other is Lina Sparrow, a modern-day New York lawyer seeking a plaintiff in a slavery reparations lawsuit.

Conklin's wonderful novel presents the reader with a first person glimpse of slavery.  House slave Josephine Bell's story is one of physical abuse and desperation born of the fact that she is "owned" by other human beings and gave birth to her master's stillborn child at age 13.  She has been raised in the home of Lu Ann Bell and spends most of her time not in the fields, but caring for her mistress, who, as the story begins, is dying.  Josephine, 17 years old, plans to run despite the fact that she loves Lu Ann in her own way.  She tried to run once before, hours before giving birth, but was turned away at the safe house due to her imminent event.  Josephine is the true creator of many beautiful painting credited to Lu Ann.

Lina is a young lawyer, daughter of admired New York artist Oscar Sparrow.  In addition to seeking a plaintiff, possibly a descendant of Josephine Sparrow, she is looking for answers to the mysterious death of  her mother when Lina was 4 years old.

Conklin skillfully interweaves the past and the present, traveling back and forth between the lives of Lina and Josephine.  This is not a complex novel, but one of complex issues and emotions.  I would give it a definite thumbs up.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE ENGAGEMENTS (J. Courtney Sullivan)

The Engagements is not a chick-lit novel, as the title might lead you to believe, but a novel about marriage: sticking together through the bad times, choosing not to marry, abandoning marriage and finding a new love, nontraditional marriage, and long, happy marriage.  I admit that I was somewhat confused during the early parts of this novel.  I initially had a difficult time keeping track of the stories (5 of them, told in short, alternating chapters) and the characters and I'm not sure that the format was helpful.  I understand the author's choice, though, since the stories were unconnected throughout most of the novel.

Mary Frances Gerety, a copywriter at the Ayers Agency, was the real-life creator of the DeBeers' company's famous slogan, "A Diamond is Forever."  In one segment of The Engagements we follow Gerety's fictionalized career and the developments in the diamond industry through much of the twentieth century.  In another, Evelyn has been happily married for more than 40 years, but husband Gilbert was not her first love nor the first man to put a ring on her finger.  We also meet Kate, a green-living non-profit worker who is madly in love with partner Dan and their daughter but is adamantly anti-marriage. Kate's gay cousin, to whom she is very close, is to marry his true love in a lavish ceremony now that same-sex marriage has been legalized.  In yet another separate story, Parisian Delphine leaves her unexciting but reasonably fulfilling marriage to business partner, Henri, to run away to New York with a much younger man with whom she has been having a passionate affair.  Last but not least, there is James, the down-on-his luck EMT who knows that his wife Sheila married beneath her and strives to prove that he is worthy of her love.

One of the things that I ultimately enjoyed most about The Engagements was the multi-layering of times, places, and people, the very thing that also made the novel difficult to follow initially.  It doesn't become apparent until the end of the novel that all of the stories and characters are, indeed, connected despite the fact that all occur in different eras. Would I recommend it?  Yes!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

ISLAND GIRLS (Nancy Thayer)

Island Girls is a lovely, relaxing summer read, not too taxing on the brain or emotions, but with just enough intrigue and romance to keep the reader interested.  The premise is simple: three sisters, all from different mothers and one adopted, have to spend the summer together in the family summer home on Nantucket in order to inherit the house from their recently deceased father, Rory Randall, a notorious ladies' man.  Arden, Meg, and Jenny are as different as sisters could be. Arden, the daughter of Rory's first wife, Nina, is a sleek, sophisticated TV host in Boston.  Dowdy Meg, with a Marilyn Monroe figure and in denial about her feelings for her younger colleague, Liam, is a professor of English literature at a community college and the daughter of Rory's second wife, Cindy.  Jenny is the daughter of Justine, Rory's widow, and was adopted by Rory as a young girl.  She is now living at the beach house and working as a web designer and IT specialist.

I wouldn't call Island Girls great literature.  The outcome is predictable and problems are resolved a little too easily for real life, but do we really want real life when we open a book on a lazy summer day?  Thayer does a superb job, as always, of communicating the feel and ambiance of Nantucket's summer community, history, and beautiful beaches.  Her characters are likable enough that you care what happens to them and the family dynamics add a touch of excitement.  If you want a gentle, restful read that still engages your interest, this might be the beach read you've been looking for!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

NO. 1 LADIES DETECTVE AGENCY (Alexander McCall Smith)

I may be one of the very few people in the English-speaking world who has never read this book, but it was well worth the wait!  Precious Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional" build, uses her inheritance from her late father to buy a home and to fund her own business, the only detective agency in Botswana run by a woman.  Precious employs unusual but very successful methods to solve local crimes.  To confirm a wife's suspicion that her husband is a philanderer, Precious successfully sets herself up as his next romantic target.  She stakes out river at midnight to discover what became of a missing husband and then confronts a major crime boss to find a missing boy.  She is intuitive, tender-hearted, and has detection skills worthy of Sherlock Holmes.  McCall Smith peppers his novel with Botswanian customs and attitudes, all of which add to its charm.  I don't know why I waited so long, but I'm happy that there are 12 more books in this series to look forward to!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

LADIES' NIGHT (Mary Kay Andrews)

I don't know how Mary Kay Andrews (whose real name is Kathy Hogan Trocheck) manages to do this over and over again.  Some people that I know (yes, a couple of you BookBuggs!) would describe Andrews' novels as "fluff" because they feature women's friendships, humor, and, yes, romance, but I find Andrews' writing to be insightful and entertaining in novel after novel.  I don't believe that to be "worthwhile" a novel has to feature dark themes, angst, and unhappy endings.  We all strive, successfully or not, for happy endings in our own lives, don't we?  If we achieve happiness or enjoy waking up to a new day does that make us less worthy of interest or respect?  People love to laugh and for those of us who see life as a half (or maybe even 3/4) full glass, being able to see the humor in life is what makes it worth living.  Debbie Downer, get away from me!

That being said, "Ladies Night" is a book about infidelity, divorce, anger, and consequences.  Sounds hilarious so far, right?  Stay with me.  Grace Davenport Stanton is an interior designer and blogger.  She and her husband Ben have parlayed her lifestyle blog, Gracenotes, into a very successful career for both of them, with more than 200,000 followers, important sponsors, and a substantial income.  When Grace discovers Ben and her assistant, J'Aimee, in a compromising position in his $175,000 car, she does what any betrayed wife would do: she chases J'Aimee and Ben out of the garage and drives the expensive car into the pool. After fleeing her palatial home for the comfort of her mother's apartment, Grace discovers that she has not only been locked out of her home and her finances, but out of her blog as well.  The judge assigned to their case is notoriously hard on women in divorce cases and some consider him to be a woman hater.  He allows Ben to maintain control of all of their joint assets until Grace completes six weeks in a divorce therapy group to prove that she is over her anger at Ben.  It is here that she meets a diverse group of women (and one man), all of whom have let their anger over their spouse's infidelity get the best of them in ways that can't but make you chuckle.

I won't tell you much more about the plot, except that it will hold your interest and that it does have a happy, satisfying ending.  Real life is not simple and straightforward.  You will meet people that you love and others that you hate, plus a whole bunch that will fill in the in-between spaces with or without impact.  We all deal with frustration, helplessness, anger, joy, sadness, love, and hate, sometimes all in the same day and with the same people.   That's life!  Andrews does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life in ways that many writers do not. You feel their desperation and celebrate their resilience, but most of all, you like them.  I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SUMMER IN THE SOUTH (Cathy Holton)

Multiple layers of mystery and romance, Southern sensibilities, and dark family secrets combine to make Summer in the South one of those novels that you don't want to put down.  On the surface the story sounds deceivingly typical: disenchanted aspiring writer Ava Dabrowski is at a personal and career crossroads when old college friend Will Fraser invites her to abandon her job in Chicago and spend the summer living and writing a novel at his family home in Woodburn, Tennessee.  Ava, who has recently lost her free-spirited mother, Clotilde, and ended a stressful romance, agrees to the arrangement, quits her job in Chicago, and drives to Tennessee with Clotilde's ashes strapped into the front passenger seat of her car.

Will's great aunts, Fanny and Josephine, and Fanny's husband, Maitland Sinclair, welcome Ava to their home and community.  Sweet tea, a friendly flirtation with Will, daily 5 o'clock "toddy time," and breakfasts with her amiable hosts lull Ava into a relaxing routine, but her muse remains elusive and her novel unwritten until she is inspired by the story of the mysterious death of Fanny's first husband, Charlie Woodburn.  A recurrence of her childhood sleep paralysis (complete with a ghostly presence in her room) and access to old family journals inspire Ava to spend her nights writing the fictionalized story of Charlie's mysterious life and death. Ava is intrigued by past and present family secrets and by ostracized cousin Jake Woodburn, but none of  these are things that the Woodburn family wants to discuss.  Complicating Ava's summer are new revelations regarding her nomadic childhood with Clotilde, Will's obvious desire to move their relationship in a different direction, and her friendship with Jake.

Holton has created a quirky small-town atmosphere and intriguing and endearing characters, combining wonderful references to the 1920's and to more recent past.  Multi-layered and mysterious, this one is a winner.  I would recommend it!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

REAP WHAT YOU SEW (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

Hollywood comes to Sweet Briar, SC when the town is chosen as the set for a movie starring Anita Belise, a notoriously difficult actress with an allergy to nuts.  Leona Elkin, 60-something vamp and one of the Southern Sewing Circle group (except that she doesn't actually sew) sets her sights on the movie's famous director, Warren Shoemaker.  The only thing standing in the way of her romance with Warren is Anita, whose sudden death from anaphylactic shock sends waves of shock, suspicion, and relief through the movie's crew and the townspeople.  Unfortunately, Anita's "death by brownie" can be directly linked to a batch of nut-filled goodies baked by Leona' sister, Mary Louise, after Tori facetiously suggests that nuts would be a good way to get Anita out of Leona's way.  As usual, Tori and the Sewing Circle are now persons of interest in the investigation into Anita's murder.  Could Leona actually be guilty?  If so, could Tori and Mary Louise be implicated?  Tori pulls out all the stops to investigate the movie's crew to discover who may have killed the difficult actress before he police zero in local suspects.  Another winner!

DANGEROUS ALTERATIONS (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

Tori's ex-fiance Jeff (the one who cheated on her with a close friend at their engagement party!) shows up in Sweet Briar after the sudden death of his Aunt Vera.  No love is lost between Jeff, Vera's heir, and his cousin Garret, Vera's step-son, an abusive husband who expected to inherit her estate. When healthy, athletic Jeff drops dead during a jog through town it is assumed that he suffered a heart attack.  Will forensic evidence point to foul play?  Naturally, Tori, the jilted lover, will be one of the main suspects, but it appears that there are many other people with more compelling motives.

Casey delves just a little bit deeper into her characters and their pasts with each book in this series, and with each one the reader becomes more entrenched in the lives of the ladies of the Sweet Briar Southern Sewing Circle.  I enjoyed this one even more than the previous books because I know and love the characters better with each book.  I'm looking forward to the new one and to Casey's visit to our library in September!