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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A PERFECT PROPOSAL (Katie Fforde)

Currently reading....

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD (Anne Tyler)

I'm not sure about Tyler's latest, but I feel somehow that this might indicate a lack in me rather than a fault with the novel.  I've read a lot of Anne Tyler over the years and I greatly enjoy her quirky view of ordinary life.  This has all of the personalities that you might expect from this wonderful novelist, but I'm still not sure.  As in other Tyler novels, everyone walks the fine line between good and bad, likeable and repulsive, enigmatic or just plain boring.  (to be continued)

Friday, March 20, 2015

STILL ALICE (Lisa Genova)

I would call this beautiful novel life-changing.  I am fortunate that no one close to me has ever had Alzheimer's, but I feel like I now have an understanding of the horror, fear, and frustration that come with being diagnosed with this incurable disease.  Genova has written an unusual book in that it has a first-person point of view.  Alice, a prominent Harvard Psychology professor, is at the height of her career when she starts to notice little mental lapses that she attributes to menopause.  When she finally consults a doctor and submits to numerous tests she is given the devastating news that she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's.  The reader follows the progress of her symptoms from the inside looking out, which is a scary experience.  When I say that this book was life-changing I mean that I feel that I have new insight into something that I never imagined I might be able to understand.  I'm sure you know that Still Alice is now an award winning film.  I haven't seen it yet, but I intend to.  Read the novel first if you can (the book is always better).  You will be in awe of Genova.  She is certainly on my list of authors to read more of!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FIERCOMBE MANOR (Kate Riordan)

This novel brought me back to my days of reading Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier, and Mary Stewart.  Riordan has written a wonderful Gothic novel set in rural England in the early 1930's, when strict social conventions warred with personal needs and desires.  Imagine Downton Abbey's Edith Crawley as a younger middle-class girl, struggling with her love for her child and the tremendous pressure applied by society to hide her shame by giving up that child.  This is Alice Eveleigh, a naive office worker whose promising future is all but destroyed by one night with the married man whom she mistakenly believes loves her.

When Alice realizes that she is pregnant, her mother arranges for her to spend the summer with an old school friend, Mrs. Jelphs, the housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor, the remote Glorcestershire estate of the Stanton family.  Mrs. Jelphs, by the way, is very nice, but remote and mysterious in a Mrs. Danvers kind of way.  We are never sure how much she knows or if she is completely trustworthy.  Mrs. Jelphs was a housemaid and, eventually, lady's maid at Fiercombe Manor back in the 1890's, when Lady Elizabeth Stanton was married to the erratic Lord Charles.  Riordan alternates between the stories of Alice and Elizabeth, and if you have ever read this blog before you know that I love this technique!  Elizabeth is pregnant and desperately hoping for a male heir, fearful of what will happen if she loses another child or produces a second daughter.  Her journal, discovered and read avidly by Alice in the summer house on the property, reveals the musings of an increasingly desperate woman whose abrupt disappearance leads Alice to fear that she may also be cursed and that her unborn child may be in danger.

This novel is full of everything that true a gothic-lover could want - cobwebs, dark, deserted rooms, mysterious servants, ghostly presences, and more.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

THE DAY THE RABBI RESIGNED (Harry Kemelman)

I'm not really sure how Rabbi David Small is the main sleuth in this mystery, which was my impression of his role before reading this entry in Kemelman's popular series. The rabbi's role seems to be that of advisor and friend rather than of taking an active part in solving the crimes. Despite the fact that it was not what I expected, I did enjoy this novel.  I did find it difficult keeping track of the many characters, but perhaps someone who has read others in the series would not have that problem.

This story centers around Cyrus Merton, a wealthy, self-made man and devout Catholic who has been  guardian to his plain, socially inept niece, Margaret, for a few years, since the deaths of her parents, Cyrus's half-brother James and his Puerto Rican wife, Theresa.  Margaret has spent her formative years in a Catholic boarding school, but when she professes to have a vocation and decides to join the convent, Cyrus and his widowed sister Agnes quickly ship her home and proceed to look for a suitable husband.  Handsome, success-oriented Victor Joyce fits the bill quite well aside from his extracurricular activities with the opposite sex.  Victor is a literature professor at Windermere Christian College, where Cyrus is a powerful member of the Board.  Victor is thirty-two years old and anxious to be granted tenure.  He starts courting Margaret with the encouragement of Cyrus, who would, of course, would want Margaret's husband to enjoy a successful and lucrative career.  One night, several months after the unhappy union of Victor and Margaret commenced, Victor, who had been drinking heavily, was found dead after crashing his car into a tree on a remote road.  The question is, did the accident actually kill Victor, or did foul play come into the picture?  A missing watch is the clue that leads Chief Lanigan and his friend, Rabbi Small, to question the idea of accidental death.  If it is murder, who did it and what was their motive?

I'm not sure that I would read more Rabbi Small mysteries, but I wouldn't discourage anyone else from doing it!  Rabbi Small is an appealing man, one that I wouldn't mind sitting down and chatting with for a while.  This series is a bit dated, more than 20 years old, but that adds to the atmosphere.  Take a look and see if this would appeal to you!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

SOMETHING MISSING (Matthew Dicks)

When Matthew Dicks spoke at our library a few weeks ago he emphasized that, contrary to what one might think after reading this novel, he is not and never has been a burglar.  That is, I admit, a little hard to believe after finishing Something Missing!  If Matt has never actually burgled, he certainly could take it up as a 16th career if the other 15 don't pan out!

Martin is a thief.  He is a fascinating character, meticulous about preparation, suffering from OCD, and highly intelligent.  He also has a well-developed sense of right and wrong and never steals anything that someone would really miss or that would have a negative impact on their lives.  Martin's "clients" all fall solidly into the upper middle class, well-to-do but not wealthy.  They are usually childless, married, dual career couples who are completely unaware that someone has been visiting their homes repeatedly, sometimes for years, and taking odd pieces of jewelry, extra groceries and household products, and other things that will not be noticed.  Martin leads a comfortable life, living in the home he inherited from his mother and working part-time at Starbucks for the benefits.  After reading a poorly written set of directions he has invented a fake "career" for himself as a writer of instruction manuals.  Martin has never hurt anyone and he has never been caught.

After a close call at the home of a client, Martin begins a new and not entirely welcome phase of his career, breaking his own rules and taking chances to "save" several his clients from near disaster, while in the process risking his own life and livelyhood and coming to the realization that perhaps it is time for change, maybe even love.

Something Missing explores a "criminal" mind from an entirely new perspective, illustrating both the big gray area between black and white and the fine line between good and bad.  Martin is a character unlike any other I have encountered in my reading.  I look forward to reading more by Matthew Dicks!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

PEMBERLEY or PRIDE & PREJUDICE CONTINUED (Emma Tennant)

As the title suggests, this is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice.  I have to admit that I am more of an Jane Austen movie watcher than a reader (although I loved reading Northanger Abbey), but I found Tennant's treatment of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy to be very believable.  I can imagine Jane Auten writing something along the same lines.  All of the familiar characters are there with the exception of Elizabeth's beloved Mr. Bennet, who had died.

Elizabeth is in despair because after a year of marriage she still has not produced an heir for Pemberly.  Through a series of invitations and some conniving, the entire cast of characters assembles at Pemberly for Christmas, including Jane, who is expecting her second child momentarily, Mrs. Bennet (fussing and criticizing, as usual), snooty Lady Catherine de Bourg and her daughter Anne, who was meant to be Mr. Darcy's bride, and the despicable Wickham along with his wife, Lydia, and their 4 children.  Everyone gets up to their usual antics and Elizabeth suffers mightily both from criticism over her housekeeping and questions as to whether or not she will be bearing a child in the near future.  To top it off, Darcy's tendency to disappear without communicating causes a misunderstanding that prompts Elizabeth to plan on leaving her home to work with the poor.  All in all, Tenant has done of great job of recreating the chaotic atmosphere of life with the Bennet family and the Darcy relations.  I would read more.

LAST WOOL AND TESTAMENT (Molly MacRae)

This was my first Molly MacRae Haunted Yarn Shop mystery, despite the fact that I have been LOOKING at her books and been friends with her on Facebook for quite a while!  It was well worth waiting for.  I have to say, in case you are not a huge fan of ghosties and, like me, usually prefer feet firmly on the ground in your cozies, that the spirit in this novel is very well done.  MacRae's ghost is an integral part of solving the crimes and she is a perfect foil to heroine Kath Rutledge.

Kath is a textile preservationist living and working in Chicago who heads home to Blue Plum, Tennessee when her beloved grandmother, Ivy, dies and leaves her a cottage and yarn shop.  Kath is shocked when she discovers that the locks on Ivy's cottage have been changed, leaving her with no access to her grandmother's belongings.  Shocks continue to accumulate for Kath when she discovers a letter from the landlord demanding back rent on the cottage that Ivy had so proudly owned and when she is unceremoniously let go from her Chicago job as a result of inadequate funding.  To add to the mix, she discovers an unidentified ghost haunting the caretaker's cottage where she is staying.  Before she even has a chance to spend the night in the cottage she discovers that her grandmother's "landlord" was recently murdered in the main bedroom of the cottage.  What else could go wrong, except perhaps more murders?

MacRae's Haunted Book Shop series is cozy with a little edge.  Kath and the staff of Ivy's yarn shop promise to deliver an enjoyable and, perhaps, hauntingly appealing series of adventures in books to come (a couple of which have already been published).  Try them!
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

THE WIZARDS RETURN (Michael Walsh)

In a world where we are inundated with greed, lust, self-aggrandizement, and obsessive technological competition, is is refreshing to a read a novel that focuses on our basic humanity.  Author Mike Walsh obviously believes in the power of good over evil and how effective simple trust and teamwork could be in changing the world for the better. Yes, it also helps to have the power of wizardry behind you when you set off to save the world, but it is how that power is used, not just the fire balls, thunderbolts, telepathy, and miraculous healing talents of the wizards, that make this story special.

Daniel has spent his 25 years living on a mountaintop with his grandfather.  When he loses his grandfather, the only family he has ever known, Daniel is faced with leaving his home and peaceful life to join a group of people living in the desolate and nearly lifeless country of Now.  Once a beautiful, thriving community, Now was destroyed in a great war and its remaining inhabitants are barely surviving.  Despite the devastation, danger still lurks in the person of Peter, a contemporary of Daniel's grandfather whose life's obsession is to possess the magic staff that he believes will give him ultimate power over Now.  The staff is currently housed in a museum and legend has it that only the true owner, a descendant of the original Wizards of Now, can use the staff's power to save Now and restore life to the country.  When Daniel meets his grandfather's friend Gavin and his  niece and nephew, Anna and Marcus, he is shocked to learn that he might be destined to play a role in finding the staff and restoring peace and tranquility to the country.

The Wizards Return has some of everything a young adult reader might want: action, intrigue, romance, and some good old-fashioned battles.  It even offers some telepathic communication with the local wildlife.  For me, though the main thread that runs through the novel is that we can overcome almost any obstacle and get through the worst imaginable situations if we have faith in ourselves and in our own power to achieve the impossible.  Oh, and the magic powers don't hurt, either!  I am not really a fan of fantasy or wizardry, but The Wizards Return offers much more than just magic and adventure.  It offers both a scary glimpse of how our world might end up and a glimmer of hope that enough of our innate humanity will survive to save it.  I like a book that leaves you thinking, and this one does.

DEATH OF A LIAR ( M.C. Beaton)

Hamish MacBeth is getting to feel like an old friend, a frustrated, love-lorn friend who can never achieve true happiness.  This time around Hamish investigates several murders while his cohort, Dick, finds happiness in a new relationship and new career.  This time it looks like an international drug ring might be operating in Scotland and Hamish is anxious to find a connection between this and the seemingly unrelated local murders.  Of course, Inspector Blair continues in his relentless quest to get rid of Hamish by shutting him out of the investigation and attempting to discredit him at every turn.  Needless to say, if you love Hamish you will love Death of a Lair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER (Julia Spencer-Fleming)

We read this, the first in Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Clare Fergusson series, for our Windsor Locks Library mystery book club, the Christie Capers.  I absolutely loved it!

Clare is an Episcopal priest and ex-army helicopter pilot who drives a snazzy MG and doesn't own a decent pair of winter boots.  She is also the first female priest ever to serve in the small upstate New York town of Miller's Kill (If you live in New York or New England you know that "kill" in the town's name has nothing to do with the mystery at hand).  Soon after the newly ordained Clare arrives in town, she finds a baby on the doorstep of St. Alban's Church along with a note instructing that the child be given to a childless couple in town.  When a young mother is found brutally murdered soon afterwards, Clare is torn between her pastoral duties and her desire to bring a killer to justice.  Complicating things is her tendency act on her instincts and growing friendship with and attraction to married Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne, who suspects that the murdered girl and the baby are connected .

In the Bleak Midwinter is a delight from start to finish.  Spencer-Fleming has created a near-perfect combination of mystery, action, local color, and developing relationships. Clare's profession is blended beautifully and believably into the plot. Will I be reading any more in this series?  Watch for reviews soon!  In the meantime, pick up this book and give this series a try.  You might be a little disoriented by the dated technology in the story since it was written in 2002, but it won't really matter to your enjoyment.  What a difference a cell phone makes in a mystery, though!

AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST (Alan Bradley)

This seems to be my month for beloved characters in some of my favorite series to be vexing me by being in an unusual setting!  First, Rev. Max Tudor, and now Flavia de Luce!  Still, Flavia is still as charming as ever even thousands of miles away from home.

For the first time in her life (and ours), Flavia travels away from her family and her beloved Buckshaw, all the way to Canada to attend her mother's alma mater, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy.  Soon after her arrival at the school a mummified body wrapped in the Union Jack falls out of the chimney in her room.  This incident vastly improves Flavia's predicament, a mystery to be solved literally being dumped at her feet.  Attempting to discover the identity of the victim and figuring out how to distinguish between friends and enemies ease some of Flavia's homesickness and sense of isolation.  Being granted access to the school's state of the art science labs and the veiled references to "duty" and following in her mother's footsteps spur Flavia on to solve this new mystery.  Of course the question in every reader's mind will be, "What about Buckshaw?"

I have to admit that this was my least favorite Flavia de Luce mystery so far,.  The crumbling estate that Flavia calls home and her relationships with her family, Dogger, and the local police all serve to add a special flavor to the series that is missing here for me.  I would definitely recommend this book, but fans should be aware that it's going to feel a little bit different from what you might expect.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A DEMON SUMMER (G.M. Malliet)

Father Max Tudor is an Anglican priest and former MI5 agent who is in love with a pagan, Awena Owen.  They are expecting a child in a couple of months and are planning their wedding in just a few weeks.  When Max is summoned to see the bishop he worries that his superior may have gotten wind of Max's unusual nuptial plans, which he has yet to discuss with the bishop.  Instead, Max is asked to go to Monksbury Abbey, a local nunnery.  Lord Lislelivet, a benefactor of the abbey, was recently poisoned (inconveniently, but not fatally) by a fruitcake baked at the abbey and the bishop would like Max to look into the matter.  There is also the question of possibly misdirected funds and, naturally, a murder to solve.

Malliet has created a fascinating cast of characters and wonderfully communicates the ambiance of the abbey.  She manages to trick the reader at every turn with red herrings and secrets.  I have to say that while I enjoyed the mystery, I wasn't as fond of this as I am of the previous three novels in the Max Tudor series.  I think it may have been because I missed Nether Monkslip and its citizens through most of the book.  I did enjoy Max's references to Lousie Penny's novel, How the Light Gets In.  They made the story strangely more real and contemporary!  Also, don't let my lack of enthusiasm convince you to pass by this book.  Malliet is a wonderful novelist and this series is great.  I just hope that for the next one (if there is one), we can get back into life in Nether Monkslip.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP (Donna Leon)

Currently reading (on my Kindle Fire!)...

LET IT SEW (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

If you have never visited fictional Sweet Briar, South Carolina, you need to give some serious thought to how you are spending your free time!  Casey's wonderful series is full of Southern charm and really endearing characters.  You will fall in love with Sweet Briar librarian Tori and her gang of Southern Sewing Circle ladies as soon as you meet them.

Let It Sew is the 7th in Laura Bradford's (writing as Elizabeth Lynn Casey) Southern Sewing Circle cozy mystery series.  Tori Sinclair, the local librarian, is a transplant from Chicago.  She is engaged to Milo, who teaches third grade, and two of her best friends are 60-something twins Leona and Margaret Louise, who are as different from each other in attitude and appearance as a cougar and a koala.  Also close to Tori are Rose, a sweet elderly woman, and Dixie, Tori's predecessor at the library who was forced into retirement.  With these friends and the other members of the sewing circle, Tori tackles investigations into various crimes that pop up in her quaint Southern town.

In Let It Sew, Margaret Louise is devastated to discover that she has been replaced as head of the town's Christmas Decorating Committee by Councilman Avery Jordan.  Jordan's choice as new head of the committee is a newcomer to town, his own live-in girlfriend, the insufferable Maime Wellington. The sewing circle members, in an effort to save Christmas in Sweet Briar, join the committee, but Maime, anxious to entrench herself in Jordan's heart and in the town of Sweet Briar, is determined to wreak havoc with the town's traditional Christmas activities.  In the midst of Maime's antics, Charlotte Devereaux, a talented artist and one of the sewing circle founders,  passes away.  Charlotte's husband, Parker, reportedly deserted Charlotte and their 2 sons for another woman 5 years before.  Or did he?  When Tori is shown one of Charlotte's drawings she recognizes a tree on the library grounds, a tree that is depicted in the picture as an apparent grave site!

I won't say much more or I'll end up spoiling the book for you.  It's cold outside right now, so it's a great time to spend some quality time relaxing with a cup of tea and a good book.  Try the Southern Sewing Circle mysteries.  I think you'll love them!

Monday, January 5, 2015

SUMMER OF LOVE (Katie FForde)

Katie Fforde always makes me feel happy.  I'm at that stage in life where I don't need or want to encounter the depths of despair in my reading.  Angst is fine, but I have to confess that I like a happy ending, and with Katie Fforde you always get one along with endearing characters, humor, romance, and interesting career choices.

Sian Bishop is the single mother of Rory, a rambunctious 5-year-old and the result of a brief, but  never regretted, relationship with a man who was leaving to travel the world.  After agreeing not to exchange contact information, Sian and Gus parted ways before Sian realized that she was pregnant.  With the help of her parents she raises her son and pursues her artistic career, painting wonderful furniture and murals.  When Rory is unsuccessful at school in London Sian decides, with the help of her eager but horribly boring friend Richard, to move to the country to give Rory a better life.  She loves her damp little rented cottage and her wonderful neighbor, Fiona, whose author son Angus is returning home from his travels soon to finish his book and figure out what's next in his life.  In the meantime, Richard, madly in love with Sian, would love for them to be a family.  The only problem is that Sian isn't in love with Richard.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when Angus arrives home during a dinner party at his mother's home.  Suddenly her idyllic country life is thrown into chaos.

Fforde creates characters with heart and soul.  You want them to be happy because they are, for the most part, nice decent people who are looking to succeed through hard work.  Sian is a wonderful mother and as we watch her deal with the ups and down and misunderstandings and triumphs of life we grow to love her and her spirit.  The only thing I didn't enjoy about this novel is that it ended.  I really want to know what happens to Sian, Angus, Fiona, and Rory down the road, but Fforde doesn't write sequels!  Oh well.  I'm sure that he next book will be just as engaging.  They always are!

PACK UP THE MOON (Anna McPartlin)


This is one of those novels that I picked up while cleaning off the NEW shelf in the library to make room for new acquisitions.  The premise is nothing new: a young woman loses the love of her life suddenly and tragically and has to work her way through her grief to find a new purpose in life and, perhaps, new love.  McPartlin takes an ordinary plot and makes it special by balancing very real, gritty drama with humor and friendship.  One of the professional reviewers commented that it was difficult for the reader to decide whether to pity or envy Emma, the heroine of this novel, but I disagree.  Emma obviously is to be cheered on and encouraged.  Are we surprised by an unexpected ending.  Not really.  Are we appalled at how badly a life can be upset by one bad decision or stupid misstep?  No, we are not.  What we are is carried along on this journey of Emma's, knowing full well that it could just as easily be one of us, that life is, after all, just the luck of the draw and that caring friends can make all the difference.  You'll laugh and you'll cry.  You may not remember this as the another Anna Karenina, but you will remember that you liked it and you'll be glad that you read it!  I'm going to check and see what else she has written!

Friday, December 26, 2014

ONE HUNDRED NAMES (Cecilia Ahern)

Kitty Logan is a very flawed human being.  Having barely survived a major network scandal that is still having disgusting personal repercussion, she is mainly focused, not on redeeming herself or making amends for her lack of judgment,  but rather on figuring out what is best for her own survival.  Her dying friend, employer, and mentor, Constance, tasks Kitty with writing the story that she always wanted to write herself but now never will.  The only problem is that Kitty's only clue to what exactly the story involves is a list of 100 names left in an envelope in Constance's desk. 

As she attempts to discover Constance's intent and track down the 100 people on the list, Kitty begins to grow and evolve along with Constance's story.  Ahern introduces a series of weird, but endearing, characters whose names are on the list to join Kitty on her journey towards the story of a lifetime.  Each of these people have a story, but Kitty has difficulty figuring out a connection and worries that she will not be able to present her idea to Pete, her supervisor, by her deadline.  Sadness, frustration, humor, and great joy will be encountered before Kitty realizes what Constance was trying to teach her all along.

I wasn't too sure about this when I picked it up, but I really enjoyed it from start to finish and I think that you will, too!

MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND (Matthew Dicks)

Incredible novel!  I don't know how to put into words how much I loved this novel.  I would venture to say that it now rates in my top 10 of all time along with Mary Chase's Loretta Mason Potts, Morag Prunty's Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.  Dicks's novel is about Max, a 6-year-old with autism, and his adventures, which include being bullied, driving his parents to distraction, and eventually being abducted.  The story is narrated by Budo, Max's imaginary friend, who loves him, watches out for him, and helps him to navigate the social world.  Budo has been imagined to walk through walls and doors and to look like a real boy, but he cannot manipulate anything in the physical world, like door knobs or telephones, and he needs no sleep.  He cannot communicate with anyone "real" except for Max.  He can, however, see and speak with other imaginary friends, some of whom are half-formed humanoids while others are shaped like hair bows or spoons. 

Budo is Max's protector and his guide, but worries about what will happen to him when Max no longer needs him.  Will he fade away to nothing?  Will he go to heaven?  All of these questions and fears take a back seat when Max really needs Budo.  This is a story about intense loyalty and caring, about an imaginary friend who gives his boy the courage to reach out from isolation and connect with the real world.  Matthew Dicks has a stunning ability to imagine and to paint a picture so brilliant that it is almost blinding.  This sounds like a cute little book, but you need to read it to discover that it is much, much, more.  I'd recommend it to absolutely everyone, especially if you have someone even a little bit autistic in your life!

Monday, December 8, 2014

VIOLETS OF MARCH (Sarah Jio)

Isn't it strange that I would read Sarah Jio's FIRST novel LAST?  The first word that came to my mind when reading this was "lovely."  I have to admit that I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that the main character, Emily, hadn't seen her beloved, eccentric great-aunt Bee in 5 years, since they seem to have such a connection.  We find out as the story progresses, though, that Emily Wilson's  marriage, now ended, was the main reason for her distance from Bee. Now, ensconced in Bee's cottage on Bainbridge Island, Washington,  Emily discovers Esther's diary, begun in 1943. As Emily reads the diary she is drawn deeper in the mystery of who Esther and Elliot were and how their romance relates to the present and to Emily's own past. 

This novel is classic Jio, with intertwining past/present stories, wonderful rich atmosphere, and characters that you'd love to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with.  Highly recommended!

Monday, December 1, 2014

GRAVE UNDERTAKINGS (Ralph McInerny)

First of all, I love the title of this mystery!  It's kind of tongue-in-cheek and fits this pl really well.

Up until this point my only exposure to Father Dowling, McInerny's sleuthing priest, has been the old TV show starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.  I was disappointed that the novels do not follow the same sort of plotting and character development, but I can't blame the author for that!  Still, I found keeping track of the characters difficult and I wasn't a big fan of the way the novel was laid out.  Really, when you come right down to it, I'm just not that big a fan of mob-oriented mysteries. Aside from my own personal taste, though, I can see why McInnerny had a decent fan base.  The development of the plot and gradual revelation of clues is clever and true to the time when it was written.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys and earthier mystery with a touch of humor.

THE LOOK OF LOVE (Sarah Jio)

I am a little shocked that I didn't love this book, although I didn't hate it.  I adore Jio's writing style, the characters were pleasant, and the novel held my interest, but I was expecting another The Last Camellia or The Bungalow.  Instead, this was a fantasy about a young woman, Jane Williams, with the rare gift of being able to "see" love despite never having been in love herself.  When she was born during a Christmas blizzard she was gifted with the ability to know for sure whether a couple has true love.  Each time she recognizes love her vision goes wonky and, as a result, she has been under the care of a neurologist since childhood.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jane receives a letter from a stranger asking to meet with her and telling her that she needs to identify the 6 types of love before she turns 30 or she will never find true love of her own.  Colette, the writer of the letter, gives Jane a journal that she is to pass on after she completes her assignment.  Given that Jane's "episodes" can be quite debilitating and that her neurologist is urging her to have brain surgery (based on her "love" visions) before her cognitive function is destroyed, it strikes me as a little bizarre that Jane would ever consider passing her "gift" to anyone else unless her motive is to get rid of it!

Overall, this was a rather sweet novel about a somewhat awkward young woman hoping to fall in love.  It was a little to "romancey" for me and I think that the neurologist in the story should have her license revoked for all of her talk of Jane's deteriorating cognitive function, since Jane showed no signs of dementia or progressive physical impairment.  There were a few holes in the story, but it was nice that not all of the lovers lived happily ever after together.  I'm not sorry that I read this, but I hope that Jio returns to her past/present formula in her next novel!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

TAKING THE LEAD: LESSONS FROM A LIFE IN MOTION (Derek Hough)

I love watching dancers dance.  Gene Kelly is my all-time favorite and Derek Hough is running a close second,  He is a wholesome looking, disciplined, multi-talented young man who has won an Emmy, choreographed a gold medal winning Olympic ice dance (for Meryl Davis and Charlie White), and won a record 5 mirror ball trophies on Dancing with the Stars.  I know that some of my reading comrades will be snickering over my choice of this book to read.  I thought it would be interesting to browse through, to get a little hint of how Derek arrived at the level of success that he has achieved at age 28.  Surprise!  This is a well-written, thoroughly inspirational, non-self-aggrandizing book.  Even the little Reflections on Derek sections at the end of each chapter, which could seem a little egotistical (you're not going to ask someone to write something bad about you, are you?) offer insight into his work ethic and empathy of his partners' fears and limitations.

There are no "scoops" here, no salacious stories of back-stage romances, no tell-all details of relationships gone bad, no criticism of fellow competitors or stars on DWTS.  This is Derek's story from start to finish.  He was hyperactive as a child and was bullied often, a fact that he kept a secret from his parents.  He was a wild teenager in some respects and describes his adventures (and several lucky escapes) with fellow dancer Mark Ballas in the UK during those important formative years.  He uses various negative incidents in his life to illustrate how he used them to become a stronger, more positive person.  Most of all, his love of family and commitment to constantly changing and progressing comes shining through on every page.  Derek did plenty of drinking, smoking, and making out with girls, as many normal boys do.  What makes him unique is that he has been able to analyze his motivations, reactions, and emotions, take that knowledge, and use it to keep improving and evolving, not just as a professional, but as a person.  This would be a great book for a younger person looking for inspiration and motivation, or for anyone who enjoys Dancing with the Stars and is curious about Derek Hough.  You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HELLO FROM THE GILLESPIES (Monica McInerney)

Every year Angela Gillespie sends out a Christmas letter from Erigal, her family's sheep station in Australia.  For more than 30 years Angela has detailed the ups and downs of her family, which includes husband Nick, twin daughters Genevieve and Victoria (age 32), daughter Lindy (in her 20's), and 10-year-old son Ignatius (know as Ig).  This year has been difficult.  Lindy is back home after having launched a new and, so far, unsuccessful business, Genevieve, in California, and Victoria, in Sidney, are both on the verge of career ruin after being involved in separate scandals, an Ig has an imaginary friend named Robbie.  Nick has kept the station's financial problems to himself, trying to protect Angela from the hard truth about the future of their property, and has shut himself off emotionally from her, leaving her lonely and wondering about the future of her once happy marriage. 

Frustrated, Angela decides this year to write what she REALLY thinks in her Christmas letter.  The result is a scathing and brutally honest expose of all that she is feeling, of the mistakes and poor decisions of her daughters, her worries about Ig (whom she describes as "weird,") and Nick's coldness and distance from her.  She includes a fantasy (in which she has begun to indulge frequently of late) of what her life could have been if she had married Will, the architecture student that she was dating back in England when she met Nick. The catharsis of putting all of her thoughts and feelings on paper helps Angela to vent and to put her problems into perspective, but she realizes that she can never send this letter out as she traditionally does on December 1.  When a family crisis necessitates her leaving Erigal for a few days, all Hell breaks loose after her angry Christmas letter is accidentally sent out by email to 100 people.

Angela is a woman that will be familiar to many of us: taken for granted by her family, overworked, and in a rut.  She suffers from headaches, and when she travels to Adelaide for some medical tests a surprising turn of events results in her family seeing her in whole new light.  I won't say any more because I don't want to ruin the book for you.  I will say that Hello from the Gillespies is more than 600 pages of pure pleasure.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone!

BLACKBERRY WINTER (Sarah Jio)

I will never get tired of Jio's incredible ability to blend past and present so perfectly!  "Blackberry Winter" refers to a freak spring cold snap or snow storm, and when such a storm hits Seattle journalist Claire Aldrich is asked write a feature article on a similar storm that happened 100 years ago.  In 1933, single mother Vera Ray tucks in her son Daniel, reassuring him that he will be safe in their cold apartment, then leaves for her job at a local hotel.  When she returns, Daniel has disappeared.  The police assume that he ran away and the mystery of his disappearance is never solved.

Claire, who works for the newspaper owned and managed by the family of her husband, Ethan Kensington, welcomes the challenge of investigating the mystery of Daniel.  Having recently lost a child of her own, Claire can sympathize with Vera and her profound loss.  As the facts of Daniel's case emerge Claire discovers an unexpected connection with her own story.

While not overly plausible. Jio's story is written with a sense of sadness and empathy that envelopes the reader.  It's impossible not to care about Claire and Vera. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE HAUNTED ABBOT (Peter Tremayne)

Set in the year 660, this novel was a change of pace for me.  Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are Catholic clergy as well as lovers (apparently things were VERY different back then and this was OK), traveling in a bitter storm to answer the summons of Brother Botulf, Eadulf's childhood friend.  Botulf has asked Eadulf to meet him at Aldred Abbey before midnight on the eve of the pagan feat of Yule.  Fidelma and Eadulf are greeted at the gates with the news that the abbey is now a cloistered house for men only and that Brother Botulf has been found dead.  Since Fidelma has been taken ill, the couple are allowed to rest at the abbey with strict orders that Fidelma remain in her room at all times.

Tremayne, who is a historian of note, breathes life into 7th century England.  As brother Eadulf investigates the death of his friend and the strange behavior of Abbot Cild, the reader is transported back to time, with details of everyday life in the 7th century represented in descriptions of medical care,. travel, superstitions, religious customs and life, food, and landscape.  The atmosphere in this novel is wonderful.  It takes a bit of time to get used to the Celtic names and large cast of characters, but the era is fascinating and the main characters are very appealing.  I would definitely read more!

QUEEN BEE GOES HOME AGAIN (Hayward Smith)

Haywood Smith fanes will remember Linwood Breedlove Scott from Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch (2003).  Ten years after the disastrous end to her marriage, Lin has hit rock-bottom yet again.  Lin is now 60 years old and moving back to her mama's house in Mimosa Branch.  Her greedy ex-husband has been living on high on the hog on Lin's money with his stripper girlfriend, far away from the long arm of the law.  Lin has been working as a successful real estate agent, but now that the market has dried up she has lost both her house and her livelihood.  Her father, the general, and his brother are in a nursing home suffering from dementia, her brother Tommy is a recovered alcoholic who finds himself running for mayor, and 90-year-old Mamie, Lin's mother, is trying desperately to hang on to her family home and pay for her husband's medical needs.  When Lin sells the house next door to Connor Allen, the new Baptist preacher in town, she ends up with both a commission and the
potential for a new romance. 

Queen Bee Goes Home Again will make you laugh and cry.  There's something about a 60-year-old woman with guts, determination, and incredible love for family that makes this a winner.  It's not highbrow literature, but it will touch your heart, proving that you CAN go home again.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

THE LOVELIEST CHOCLATE SHOP IN PARIS (Jenny Colgan)

I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Colgan's other books (overload, maybe?), but it was cute novel featuring the parallel stories of Anna Trent and her former French teacher, Claire Shawcross.  Anna is aimless, unfulfilled, and simply treading water in her life and relationship when she is injured in freak accident in the chocolate factory in which she works.  Her accident results in a long sojourn in the local hospital after she loses two of her toes to an infection that she apparently picked up at the hospital.  Her roommate is Claire, Anna's former French teacher.  Anna was a mediocre student at best, but Claire saw promise and begins to tutor Anna, despite the pain of chemotherapy and her losing battle with cancer.

Claire has long held a torch for Thierry, the handsome young chocolatier who stole her heart the summer of her 18th year when she was working as an au pair in Paris.  After her return to England, Claire never heard from Thierry again, but despite her reasonably happy marriage, which ended in divorce, and her two sons, she has always wanted to return to Paris and find out what happened.  Through friends, she arranges a job for Anna in Thierry's Chocolate Shop in Paris.  Anna has issues with her new deformity and has lost her job in the factory, so she travels to Paris to try out a new life.  Of course, things don't work out exactly as planned.

This is a novel of healing, new beginnings, and tying up loose ends.  I enjoyed it, but I think that I never really connected with Anna, which is probably because of me rather than the author.  If you have enjoyed jenny Colgan's novels before, you'll like this one, too.

THE DIVORCE PAPERS (Susan Rieger)

If you've ever read an epistolary novel you might understand what attracted me to this book.  I wasn't sure about the subject matter - divorce - or the characters, since we never really meet them.  Rieger's novel is written entirely in a series of emails, interoffice memos, letters, cards, and legal statutes.  It is set in the fictional state of Narraganset (obviously located in New England), where young, single litigator Sophie Dielhl ends up with her first divorce case.  The reader's only insight into the lives of the characters is through their communications, formal and informal, with each other, and it makes for an intriguing novel.  Reiger is a former Dean at Yale and she is also the mother of Maggie Pouncey, author of Perfect Reader.  If you are looking for something different in terms of style, I would recommend this novel!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

SEASON OF STORMS (Susanna Kearsley)

This is one of Kearsley's earlier books (2001), recently reissued in trade paperback in the United States.  The copy that I have is a mass-market paperback that I found on Amazon a while ago.  One of the things I love about Kearsley's writing is that you can always count on it being superb.  While I can sense her development as a writer comparing this novel versus her more recent works, such as The Winter Sea, it is more a question of maturing rather than improving.  I enjoyed Season of Storms from start to finish.

The principle character is a young British actress named Celia Sands, whose mother, a beautiful, self-involved actress, has left Celia to be raised primarily by her close friends, a gay couple named Rupert and Bryan.  They have for years served as replacements for the father that Celia never knew (and suspects that her mother can't quite identify, either).  Rupert is a prominent theatrical director who has been invited to Italy to direct the first and only production of a recently discovered play written nearly a century ago by the famous poet Galeazzo D'Ascanio for his lover, the first Celia Sands.  The play will be performed in the restored outdoor theater of Il Piacere, the estate that D'Ascanio built for Celia, who disappeared before the play could be produced.  D'Ascanio's grandson, Alessandro, intends to donate the estate and its contents to the Forlani Foundation Trust so it can be preserved and enjoyed by the public for years to come.  His only stipulation concerning the production of the play is that modern-day Celia Sands, who has been acting under the name Celia Sullivan, play the lead role.

So begins a tale that offers the reader mystery, intrigue, romance, backstage gossip, ghosts, and some wonderful glimpses into the history of Italian art.  As she has in all of her novels since, Susanna Kearsley has crafted a beautiful, well-researched novel full of interesting characters.  As usual, events of the past figure prominently in the unfolding of this modern-day tale.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WICKED AUTUMN (G.M. Malliet)

I'm not sure how I missed blogging about this gem of a mystery before (I know I've read it!), but I can't find it among my Bibliophily posts!  As this month's selection for our Christie Capers discussion, it is perfect both for the time of year and the wonderful characters of Nether Monkslip. 

Wicked Autumn is the first in Malliet's Max Tudor mysteries.  Surprisingly, some of the people in Christie Capers didn't enjoy the book.  They found all of the descriptions off-putting, while others, like myself, LOVED all of the character introductions and village quirkiness and found them absolutely wonderful to read!

Max Tudor is an attractive Anglican priest whose previous career was as an MI5 agent.  After his partner and close friend, Paul, is killed in a car-bombing ambush, Max reassesses his life and career, deciding after much soul-searching to follow a new calling to religious life.  His assignment to Saint Edwold's in Nether Monkslip, a charming English village, is met with both disappointment (some of the villagers wanted a woman vicar) and admiration and he soon becomes both a purveyor of spiritual guidance and inspiration for many a romantic fantasy.  When the thoroughly obnoxious and universally disliked president of the local Women's Institute is found dead at the annual Harvest Fayre, it is initially assumed to her severe peanut allergy.  Max believes, however, that events surrounding the  untimely death may not be as simple at they appear.  The police agree.  Investigation reveals that nearly everyone in the village has been a victim of Wanda's bullying  and badgering, so suspects abound.

This is a great series for any reader who loves village cozies.  Demon Summer (the 4th in the series, after Fatal Winter and Pagan Spring) is just coming out and I am looking forward to reading it soon!

MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE (Jenny Colgan)

I enjoyed escaping into the Jenny Colgan novel that I read last week, so I thought I'd try another!  I wasn't disappointed because I loved this one, too.  I have outgrown the shoe-buying, man-hunting sort of chick-lit that used to be ubiquitous.  That doesn't mean that I would never read another (what a great escape they can be under certain circumstances!), but I really enjoy stories about nice young women who put hard work into building a life and a business and, yes, find love along the way.  I'm not going to apologize for enjoying a little romance in my reading.  I actually like it in my life, too!

After Issy (Isabel) is downsized by her company and by her boyfriend, who also happens to be the boss, she decides to follow in her beloved grandfather Joe's footsteps and open a bakery in a quiet Street called Pear Tree Court.  Colgan takes us through Issy's anguish at being so wrong about her relationship, her dealings with financing her new business (with a handsome but scruffy banker who is raising his little brother), her wonderful relationship with her rapidly failing grandfather, who shares personally annotated recipes throughout the book, and the development of new friendships and growing confidence in her ability to succeed on her own.  I think that what attracts me most about this is that it features the good side of people, some of whom start out not all that nice on the surface.  Issy is the type of person I like to have in my own life: not perfect, not overly confident, but caring and compassionate and with an ability to bring out the good in people.  I'm going to be reading another of Colgan's books soon, so don't be surprised when you see the review!  She is the perfect eventual heir to Katie FForde's young-women-of character-and-substance-pursuing-interesting- careers-while-also-hoping-to-meet-a-man legacy.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A DEATH IN THE ASYLUM (Caroline Dunford)

I accidentally picked book #3 in this series, but I still enjoyed it! Euphemia Martins (or St. John - I'm actually not sure which is her real name, but I think St, John is the alias she uses to conceal her true identity) is the disowned granddaughter of an earl now working as a housekeeper for Bertram Stapleford.  After Bertram's new home shows signs of imminent collapse he moves temporarily with some of his staff to the family estate, home of his brother Richard and scene of some previous evil doings involving murder and mayhem involving Euphemia and handsome butler Rory, who has strong feeling for Euphemia and is happy to see her back at Stapleford Hall. 

After an unfortunate séance, mayhem begins again with an attack on Lord Richard's housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, who had a very strange reaction to a "spirit" communicating a message to "Mummy." Euphemia is injured by the blue-eyed attacker when the household responds to Mrs. Wilson's cries of alarm in the night.  She, Bertram, and Rory, along with self-serving society gossip columnist Beatrice Wilton begin an investigation of what may have led to Mrs.Wilson's assault.  Miss Wilton is trying to advance her career by exposing improprieties at local asylums, but she also has her cap set at the malleable and somewhat clueless Bertram, who also seems to hold Euphemia in great esteem (a mutual feeling, it appears).  Eventually Euphemia, Bertram, and Rory (sans the unfortunate Miss Wilton) ramp up their efforts to track down the family secrets that seem to be tied to 2 local asylums.

I would definitely recommend reading this series in order.  While Dunford adds footnotes to explain some of the references to he previous 2 novels in the series, there is a bit too much background information that relates to the current story.  You can enjoy them on their own, because she does do a good job of trying to cover all of her references to previous goings-on, but the best idea would be to just read them in order.  You'll like them!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

SWEETSHOP OF DREAMS (Jenny Colgan)

I have to confess that I picked up this book only because (1) the cover is a pretty lavender color and (2)  it is about a candy shop.  It turned out to be very enjoyable traditional chick lit, but without an air-headed heroine who loves to shop for designer shoes.  Rosie Hopkins reminds me a bit of a Katie Fforde character, unlucky, perhaps even a little stupid, in love, but intelligent, hard-working, and very compassionate.

When Rosie is asked by her mother to travel from London to "the country" to help out her elderly Aunt Lilian, she doesn't hesitate.  Rosie's relationship with her live-in boyfriend, Gerard, seems to be going nowhere after 7 years and she is currently between jobs as an auxiliary nurse in London, so she boards a bus with the intent of installing Aunt Lilian in a nursing home and selling the sweet shop that Lilian has been running for years in the village of Lipton.  On arrival she discovers that her 87-year-old aunt is both feisty and beautiful, albeit weak and malnourished, and that the sweet shop obviously has not been open for a very long time.  Rosie immediately sets about restoring her aunt's health and cleaning and reopening the sweet shop, all while coping with villagers who believe she is (1) ridiculous or (2) slutty and the realization that perhaps Gerard's lack of interest in visiting doesn't really bother her so much.

Colgan's novel is a sweet read for a weekend or a lazy vacation, or just a good opportunity to escape the tribulations of every day life and watch someone else mess things up for a change!
  But don't worry, it all turns out fine for Rosie and Aunt Lil in the end!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

MR. TEA AND THE BOBBIN' BODY (Leslie Matthews Stansfield)

I'm always proud to recommend a novel written by someone that I know, but only if it's good!  This second novel in Stansfield's Mr. Tea series has all the elements that a mystery needs in order to be to be successful: a quaint small-town setting, appealing recurring characters, many of whom could easily be your next-door neighbors, and an intriguing series of murders.  I especially like sisters Terry and Karen Sutter, owner's of Madeline's Teahouse and caretakers for Mr. Tea, a very perceptive and possibly psychic macaw who isn't afraid to express his opinions.

Set during a high school reunion weekend, attended by the Sutter sisters and detective Greg, Terry's beau, the first murder (and the one from which the book takes it's title) is that of Bobby, a classmate and former football player whose body is found floating in the hotel pool. When another reunion attendee is discovered dead, things start to heat up even more.  Who is targeting class members and why?  How many more might be in danger if the identity of the killer isn't discovered soon?  Could the deaths have a connection to a sordid, long-ago incident involving a now-deceased class member?  What about the coach?  These were some of the questions that were going through my mind as I read this delightful novel.  Stansfield manages to combine both cozy and gritty elements into a very appealing traditional mystery that offers something for all discerning mystery fans.  I would suggest that you read Mr. Tea and the Traveling Teacup, the first Madeline's Teahouse mystery (published in  2012), before this to get to know more about the backgrounds and relationships of all of the characters.  It is definitely NOT necessary to read the prior book for full enjoyment of this installment (it can definitely stand alone), but if you like to focus on characters and their interrelationships it will certainly enhance your reading experience.  I'm looking forward to Leslie's next teahouse mystery!

THE SEA GARDEN (Marcia Willett)

I like Marcia Willett's writing.  She reminds me of Rosamund Pilcher, who is one of my favorites, and I always love any novel that involves Cornwall.  Sometimes I get a little confused, though, because, although Willett's novels are stand-alone, she often refers to or recycles characters from past novels.  It can be like stepping into the middle of someone's life and being expected to remember everyone's name and back story when you have only met them briefly years ago!

That being said, The Sea Garden is an interesting novel.  Young Jess Penhaligon is the winner of a prestigious award for her botanical painting.  She travels to Devon and is welcomed by Kate, widow of David Porteous, who established the award.  Jess is soon part of Kate's extended family and discovers connections to her own grandparents that gradually unfold throughout the novel.  Lady Trehearne, the 92-year-old matriarch whose favorite son, Alistair, died in an a boating accident years ago, believes that Jess may actually be Alistair's granddaughter and is single-mindedly pursuing this theory.  Lady T. is definitely one of the most aggravating and unlovable characters in this novel!

Willett is wonderful atmospheric writer.  The reader can almost see and smell the Tamar River and hear the sounds of the sea.  I kind of wish she would leave the old characters in the past and start fresh with  a brand new family, though.  Sometimes the effort of trying to recall how everyone fits together is a little bit too tedious, but it was still worth it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN (M.C. Beaton)

Everyone who has read this blog before knows how much I enjoy M.C. Beaton.  Over the years Agatha has started to become a little tiresome, though, making the same mistakes over and over and never seeming to learn from them.  This newest Agatha Raisin mystery, however, features an Agatha who has become a little softer and a little less desperate, a welcome development, in my opinion.

When an actor in a local amateur production is murdered, Agatha is asked by the theater manager (and suspect) to investigate the crime.  When additional deaths take place it is Agatha who manages to piece together all of the clues and discover the true perpetrator.  During the course of the novel she almost falls in love again, but not quite as hard as usual.  The usual characters appear: Charles Fraith, James, Roy, and lovely Mrs. Bloxby.  Agatha is still jealous of her employee, the beautiful young Toni, and she still manages to get herself into trouble once or twice, but she is starting to emerge as a more thoughtful, discriminating woman.  I really liked the part where, unbeknownst to Agatha, another woman character expresses admiration of Agatha's beauty, something Beaton has never done before.  I also enjoyed the relationship between Charles and Agatha.  They are so well-suited to each other!  This book gives me hope that maybe someday they will realize that they are meant for each other!  I'll look forward to finding out what happens next in Agatha's romantic life!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

GOODNIGHT, JUNE (Sarah Jio)

I've been reading all of Sarah Jio's books, and this is not my favorite.  It's not that I didn't like it, but there were a few things that were a bit contrived that made me feel like the author was stretching belief a little bit.  You'll probably see what I mean if you read it.  That being said, if you are a fan of Margaret Wise Brown and "Goodnight, Moon," or even if you just enjoy a good story about someone whose life is driven by success and power gradually coming to the realization that there are things in life much more precious, you'll enjoy "Goodnight, June."

June is your typical type-A New York banker.  Her job is to foreclose on people who are unable to meet their mortgage payments, with no regard for their hopes, dreams, or future plans.  She is very good at what she does and spends 24/7 thinking about her work.  She also suffers from high blood pressure and other stress-related health issues even though she is just in her 30's, and she hasn't seen her family since a falling out with her sister 5 years before.  She ignores messages and mail and is generally uninterested when it comes to family.  When she finally comes to the realization that her beloved Aunt Ruth has died and left her the bookstore in Seattle where June and her little sister practically grew up, she starts to realize that maybe the life she has been living has veered off course a little bit from what she intended it to be.  As the novel progresses we learn more about June's childhood and the family problems that made June into what she is today.  When June discovers a series of letters written between her Aunt Ruth and children's author Margaret Wise Brown, she begins to understand that things and people are not always what they seem to be.  To her delight, she gradually realizes her aunt's important role in the creation of Brown's most famous book.  She also starts to find room in her heart for love and family as she realizes that perhaps saving the store might be more important than she originally thought.

Although this is fiction and there really was no Aunt Ruth that inspired "Goodnight, Moon," Jio has created a wonderful fantasy of what might have been.  As I mentioned before, I think that some things were a little too far outside the realm of belief, but, then again, this is fiction.  I will continue to read Sarah Jio because I love her books.  This one, I just loved a little bit less than some of the others,

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BEDLAM: THE FURTHER SECRET ADVENTURES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE (Laura Jo Rowland)

The author mentions here that she wanted to give Charlotte Bronte the opportunity to experience some things that she obviously missed out on in real life.  I'm not sure how I feel about that!  I've been enjoying the mysteries featuring real people that we've been reading in Christie Capers this year, and most of them have remained pretty true to the real characters' history, aside from the sleuthing.

What I will say about this novel is that it would make a terrific movie, so don't be surprised if it turns up on the big screen.  Charlotte is arrested for murdering an actress, kidnapped and tortured in Bedlam, involved in a hot-air balloon crash, pursued by Russian agents, and reconnects with a man with whom she is passionately in love.  She also escapes a burning building, visits with the queen, and helps to save the world from a mad scientist.  If you are looking for a quiet fictional portrayal of Charlotte Bronte's life, run as fast as you can away from this novel, because you will probably be disappointed.  However, if you are looking for a fast-paced historical thriller with a beloved writer as the main character and more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at, check this one out because you will love it.  Pauline (of The Perils of Pauline) has nothing on Charlotte Bronte!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A FRENCH AFFAIR (Katie Fforde)

Katie Fforde is true to form in this adorable romance.  Each of Katie's novels features a heroine involved with an interesting career who inevitably meets the man of her dreams and lives happily ever after.  It wouldn't be a romance otherwise, would it?

Gina Makepiece, a talented free-lance Public Relations (PR) professional, and her sister Sally. married and the mother of rambunctious twin girls, have inherited a space in a failing antiques center from their late aunt, Rainey.  Along with Rainey's stock and cupboard in The French House they have acquired the guidance of reserved and somewhat dour Matthew, Rainey's good friend and the center's proprietor.  In order to inherit additional money the women must make a profit, so Matthew takes them under his wing and teaches them the ropes of the antiques business.  Need I say what happens next?  Let's just say that Matthew becomes less reserved as the story progresses, misunderstandings abound, and the loss of The French House to Matthew's annoying ex-wife Yvette is imminent unless Gina can help Matthew come up with a plan to raise enough money to save it.  I went to the Brimfield Antiques Show in the middle of this novel, which seemed exactly fitting and really enhanced my enjoyment of the book.  You don't really need to browse through antiques to enjoy it, though! The thing about Fforde is that her romances are so interesting that you almost forget that they are romances, in case you have negative feelings about that genre.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

Monday, September 1, 2014

SAVE THE DATE (Mary Kay Andrews)

Mary Kay Andrews is always entertaining.  She's an author that you can always count on for an enjoyable few hours of escape from the annoyances of everyday life and her characters are always appealing.  This novel has everything you could wish for: a cynical wedding florist, a runaway bride, a blossoming romance, a dysfunctional family, and an evil professional rival, plus lots of interesting details about the flower business.

Cara Kryzik is a recently divorced, financially struggling Savannah florist who has invested everything in her business.  She is still trying to become Savannah's go-to florist for society weddings when her father calls in the loan he gave her.  Faced with admitting failure and returning back home, Cara is determined to drum up new business so she can pay back her father and establish her reputation.  With her loyal assistant, Bert, at her side, she is working day and night to succeed, even taking on the role of wedding planner for some of her clients.  She realizes that the same, handsome man, Jack Finnerty, keeps showing up at all of her weddings.  He is always an old college friend of the groom's, cousin to the bride, but we, the reader, know what he's really doing there, because what would an MKA novel be without romance?

I like Andrews' deft combing of the romantic aspects, cut-throat business dealings, and high-society shenanigans into really fun novel.  I give it 2 thumbs up, and if I had another hand I'd give it 3!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

MURDER AT HONEYCHURCH HALL (Hannah Dennison)

I'm not positive how I feel about this book, but I'm kind of looking forward to the next installment so I can decide if I plan to continue reading the series.  I found it to be a little bit cluttered at first, like a room that needed to be organized before you could really enjoy it, but the characters grew on me as the novel progressed. 

Kat Stanford and her widowed mother have plans to open an antique business together, or at least those are Kat's plans.  Known as Rapunzel (for her luxurious hair) to her fans, Kat is a popular television personality specializing in in antiques.  She has just quit her TV hosting  job to start their new venture.  She decides to drive to Devonshire to track down her mother, who has purchased a dilapidated carriage house on the grounds of  crumbling estate called Honeychurch Hall.  Kat is horrified at the horrible conditions at the cottage and decides to stay on to help out her mother, who claims that her recent injuries are the result of sabotage attempts by other people on the estate who want her cottage for themselves,  All of the estate people- family, faithful retainers, and visitors - are quirky and a little confusing.  Eventually there is a murder, which Kat gets involved in solving, and in the end Dennison ties all of the story lines together.  I wouldn't give it 5 stars, but Murder at Honeychurch Hall shows promise once you sort everyone out.  It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next installment!

THE LAST CAMELLIA (Sarah Jio)

Sarah Jio never ceases to delight me.  She has a special talent for interconnected past/future story lines and I couldn't put this one down.

The stories of Addison and Flora are set 70 years apart.  The two women have much in common: they share a love of botany, both have secrets that threaten to destroy their lives, and both are fascinated by Lady Anna Livingston, the late mistress of Livingston Manor, and the unanswered questions surrounding her mysterious death.

Flora, whose family bakery in the Bronx is on the verge of failing in 1940, agrees to travel to the English countryside to find the supposedly extinct Middlebury Pink camellia.  The international flower thief who hires her assures her that all she needs to do is identify the plant and for them so they can steal it, leaving Flora with enough money to provide financial security for her parents.  She doesn't plan on falling in love with the Livingston children or on the looming presence of World War II interfering with her plans.

In the year 2000, Addison, a garden designer, and her writer husband, Rex, head to England to spend the summer at his parents' newly purchased estate, Livingston Manor.  Rex is surprised at his wife's sudden agreement to leave her business after her protests that she is too busy to abandon her work for so long, but Addison has secrets that threaten her present happiness and leaving the country seems to be the best solution.  Desperate to hide the shame and horror of her unhappy childhood from her husband, Addison is shaken when she realizes that there is no easy escape from her past, even thousands of miles away from home.

Suspense, romance, intrigue, and history...this novel has it all.  It's one of those novels that you can't wait to get back to (if you are able to put it down)!  Jio is truly an exquisite writer and I look forward to reading the rest of her work.


Monday, August 18, 2014

THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF (Charlotte Williams)

I picked this novel up because I liked the look of the cover and the title.  It is a true modern-day gothic, complete with friendly psychopaths, relationships that aren't what they seem to be, and an old, old Welsh mansion set on a steep cliff overlooking the sea.

Handsome actor Gwydion Morgan consults psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew about his supposed button phobia, which he fears might interfere with his upcoming movie role.  It turns out that he also has a recurring nightmare that Jessica finds intriguing.  Jessica becomes WAY too involved with the Morgan family, believing that Gwydion's dream may have some connection to the untimely death of a young woman 20 years ago.  Because she has been recently betrayed by her now-contrite husband, Jessica throws herself into finding solutions for both Gwydion's problems and the mystery of the death of the family's au pair. She also finds herself attracted to the handsome, but fragile, young man.

This novel would make a great Lifetime thriller.  I really enjoyed the ending.  Williams has definite potential! 

A NANTUCKET CHRISTMAS (Nancy Thayer)


For some reason I was suddenly in the mood to start thinking about Christmas.  Thayer's A Nantucket Christmas has everything a reader could want to get them into a sort of schamltzy holiday mood, including an abandoned puppy (Snix), an older couple (Sebastion and Nicole) who have found love and contentment a second time around, a scheming daughter (Kennedy) who wants her parents to get back together, a self-involved ex-wife (Katya), and a little boy (Maddox) who just wants a dog to love.  Wrap this all up in wonderful images of Nantucket at the height of the holiday season and you have an irresistible little holiday book.  It is predictable, but who cares?  I could almost smell the Christmas tree while I was reading.  The novel is told from multiple points of view, including the 4-year-old boy's and the dog's.  Who knew that a human writer could have such insight into how a dog thinks?

One of the most memorable events in the novel is when Kennedy remarks to her mother that Maddox would like a dog but that it would be too much with the new baby, especially since Kennedy herself was allergic to animals.  Her mother's response is, "You are?"  Obviously Kennedy's mother used her supposed allergies as an excuse not to allow her to have daughter to have a pet.  Annoying!

This is a quick and enjoyable read, not too deep and there are no surprises, but it has charm and will definitely put you in a Christmas mood.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

BIG LITTLE LIES (Liane Moriarty)

Moriarty's newest novel has gotten a lot of press, but I was a bit worried.  I love her books, but her last, The Husband's Secret, wasn't my favorite.  My fears were unfounded, though.  Moriarty has hit a home run with this one!  It's sort of a reverse mystery.  We know from the outset that someone has been murdered at the school's annual trivia night, but we don't know who, how, or why. Comments from "witnesses" and police are interspersed throughout the chapters, heightening both the humor and the suspense factor.

Single mother Jane moves to the close-knit Piriwee Peninsula community and enrolls her son, Ziggy, in the local kindergarten.  Jane is a loner, withdrawn and quiet, and she volunteers no information about the identity of Ziggy's father.  On kindergarten orientation day she meets stylish Madeline, mother of Chloe,  the type of  hyper-organized, energetic mother that both fascinates and frightens us. Maddie is infuriated and saddened that her teenage daughter has become close to ex-husband Nick, who abandoned her and their newborn daughter years ago, Now Nick and his wife Bonnie have a daughter in the same class as Maddie's younger daughter, Chloe. Completing the trio of mother-characters is strikingly beautiful Celeste, pampered wife of incredibly wealthy and impossibly handsome Perry, with whom she has rambunctious twin boys.  Celeste also has some secrets.

Moriarty is a wonderful writer, and this novel is unique.  With each chapter we learn more and wonder more about the death, which is referenced copiously throughout the novel.  The social network at the school is fascinating, with social climber. parents who bully, and more intrigue than anyone would ever expect from a class of kindergarten parents.  Each of the characters is interesting, some lovable and others entirely hateful.  Moriarty deftly explores the consequences of "big little lies."  You won't want to put it down!

I SEE YOU (Patricia MacDonald)

Imagine, as a normal, established, law-abiding citizen, suddenly being thrust into the impossible position of have to choose between (1) giving up everything you have worked for over he years to protect a loved one or (2) having your life and reputation, as well as the lives of your loved ones, irrevocably destroyed. Confronting the reality of dealing with a brilliant psychopath puts Hannah and Adam, comfortably middle-aged and doting on their adorable granddaughter, Sydney, in this terrible dilemma.

I don't want to say any more about the plot of this novel because words cannot express the suspense and desperation evoked by MacDonald in this novel. Suffice it to say that MacDonald is one of the best writers of psychological thrillers that I have ever read and if this is a genre that you enjoy you should be running to the library to check out this book.  You won't be able to put it down!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN THIS (Theresa Caputo)

Not everyone believes in an afterlife and many scoff at the idea of mediums.  No matter what your ideas on the topic of spiritualism, you'll enjoy this memoir.  Theresa Caputo is personable and unapologetic about her gifts.  She shares herself with her readers in a very personal way, recounting her first experiences with "talking with dead people," her tormented, anxiety-ridden childhood teenage years,and  her acceptance and development of her psychic abilities.  She talks about being a wife and mother and about her friend and mentor Pat, who guided her in controlling and directing her encounters with "spirit."

By far the most interesting aspect of "There's More to Life Than This" is Caputo's discussion of the evolution of the soul and Heaven, which makes perfect sense to me in light of my Catholic beliefs.  She believes that our souls live multiple lives, basically moving closer to God with each incarnation.  Some people, the ones who seem to have it figured out, are "old souls" that are closer to perfection.  She suggests that we ask the spirits of those that we have lost to protect and watch over our loved ones and that we open ourselves to the small signs that they leave for us to let us know that they are around. One of the most profound (to me) ideas that she puts forth is that we each need to surround ourselves with positive energy, a sort of buffer of light to deflect negative energy and help us to be open to good things.  I for one found reading this book to be a powerful and uplifting experience.  It helped me to clarify some things.  I'm glad that I picked it up!

THE SUPREME MACARONI COMPANY (Adriana Trigiani)

I am a big fan of Adriana Trigiani, but I didn't LOVE this novel.  It was worth reading, but it was a little flat compared to some of her other novels.  It was almost as if Trigiani was relating a story (which, of course, she is) without engaging the reader with all of the little nuances and details that she usually provides.  It seems as if she skimmed over some major events when I would have preferred to immerse myself in the minutiae.  I wonder if she was under deadline to finish a beautiful story but just didn't have time to pay attention to the characters as much as she usually does?  I wanted more from Valentine.  I wanted to know more about her ambition and how her love for Gianluca really stacked up against her drive to create beautiful shoes, because it kind of seemed to me as if he, the world's ideal man (in my my humble opinion), got shortchanged in this whole marriage business.  He moved to New York from Tuscany (who really does that?) for Valentine's career, leaving his family and business behind, he played house-husband quite a bit, and generally held things together while Valentine did her thing, making time for him whenever she needed something.  The Supreme Macaroni Company is full of memorable characters and has a really interesting premise.  I really liked the story, but I wish it hadn't left me wanting more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE WEDDING DRESS (Rachel Hauck)

I was initially attracted to this novel because of the theme: a wedding dress worn by 4 different women and the mystery of how they are all connected.  I didn't notice that it was classified  inspirational, but that quickly became evident in the gentle tone of the narrative and the frequent references to scripture throughout.

Charlotte Malone owns a bridal boutique in Brimingham, Alabama, yet, with just two months to go before her own wedding to Tim, she is unable to commit to wedding dress for herself.  While visiting the grounds of a local mansion to think about her life and upcoming marriage she is drawn to an old trunk pointed out to her by a stranger in a purple tie.  After purchasing the trunk she is faced with a dilemma: how to open it, since the lock has been welded shut.

Despite having broken her engagement to Tim, Charlotte enlists his aid in opening the trunk. Inside  Charlotte finds a perfectly preserved vintage wedding dress and she resolves to find both the perfect bride for the dress and information about its history.  Hauck intertwines Charlotte's quest with the story of  Emily, the young bride-to-be who commissions the dress from a prominent black seamstress over to objection of her social-climbing mother. Emily is having doubts about the fidelity of her husband-to-be and frustrated over her mother's control in this age of women's suffrage.

Hauck has created a lovely story full of hope, intrigue, and romance mixed in with a little bit of magic.

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)

Mystery author and playwright Josephine Tey (real name Elizabeth MacIntosh) is the star of this series, which closely follows actual events in Tey's career (aside from the occasional murder).  This story takes place near the end of the 14-month run of Richard of Bordeaux, Tey's  most successful historical play, which was written under the name Gordon Daviot.  On a train from Scotland for a London meeting about the upcoming tour of the production, Josephine befriends an animated young woman, Elspeth Simmons, who is a big fan of the play and thrilled to meet Josephine.  After joining her friends on arrival at the station, Josephine learns that a young woman has been murdered on the train. Based on evidence at the scene, Josephine's old friend, Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, believes that the murder must be tied to Richard of Bordeaux.  Josephine is devastated to learn that the victim is her new young friend, but Archie believes that Josephine may also be in danger.  After yet another murder and the discovery of Elspeth's irregular adoption years before,Archie and Josephine look to the past to solve the crimes before more lives are lost.

I am not very familiar with Josephine Tey's life and career, but Upson seems to have done a fine job of remaining true to Tey's life story and personality.  I would definitely recommend this series.

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 and, on the same night, the suicide of famous journalist and family friend David Collville committed suicide.  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. Ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night...this novel has it all.  If you love a good Gothic, check this one out!

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.