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

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.  (to be continued)

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.

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.