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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A SUPERIOR DEATH (Nevada Barr)

Currently reading for Christie Capers book club...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

FETA ATTRACTION (Susannah Hardy)

For some reason I haven't gotten around to reading this book until now, but I can't wait to get hold of the second in the series, Olive and Let Die.  This author has a long and very successful career ahead of her with both of her cozy mystery series (She is also Sadie Hartwell, author of the Tangled Web series).

Georgie Nikolopatos manages Bonaparte House, a Greek restaurant located in a historic octagonal house in upstate New York.  Bonaparte House, which is also the family home, is owned by her mother-in-law, Sophie, and Georgie's gay husband, Spiro, neither of whom seem all that interested in actually WORKING in the restaurant.  That falls primarily on Sophie.  The historic location of the restaurant is based on a real house supposedly built by Joseph Bonaparte for his brother, Napoleon.  Unfortunately, the original house is now gone, but it has been recreated in glorious detail by Hardy.

Spiro is missing, which is not unusual given that outside relationships with men seem to have become more frequent for him.  This time something is different, though.  Spiro had arranged for people from the popular TV series Ghost Squad to investigate the legend that Bonaparte House is haunted. yet he has not been seen or heard from for days.  When Georgie hitches a boat ride with old friend (and possible romantic interest) Keith to her friend Liza's spa, they make a gruesome discovery, the body of rival restaurateur Dom DiTomasso floating in the river.  Of course, Georgie is a suspect.

Hardy's wonderful novel is part mystery, part zany comedy.  Georgie is one of those practical yet headstrong heroines (think Perils of Pauline), often taking action without thinking through the consequences or danger.  When handsome Coast Guard Captain Jack comes into the picture she can't quite decide if he is friend or foe, and her determination to deliver the demanded ransom (the identity or location of which she is completely in the dark about) to Spiro's kidnappers creates some really hilarious scenes.

Very likable characters (Georgie doesn't seem to have a mean bone in her body), an interesting mystery with a lot of twists, a great sense of place, and the historical aspects of the setting all combine into a great book.  I would highly recommend it!

Friday, January 22, 2016

THE BLESSING WAY (Tony Hillerman)

I have very mixed feelings about this novel.  Friends in my book club who have read Tony Hillerman extensively say this is not representative of his work and that the others are much better.  The Blessing Way is poorly titled, since there is little connection to the story aside from one or two mentions in the book.  Apparently the publisher (erroneously) thought this was a better title than the one suggested by the author!

Here are the bad points:  The first half of the book is very confusing, full of multiple Native American names, brief mentions of customs and traditions, and uncertainty about who the main characters actually are and how they are related to one another.  because of the incredible number of names and references it is almost impossible for the reader to keep track of the action, location, or whereabouts of the characters.

Here are the good points:  The second half of the novel is a great, action-packed thriller and would make a terrific movie.  It seems as if Hillerman cleaned out the dust and milling hoards of people somewhere in the middle of the book.  Once he focused on a few people and stopped focusing on minute details it became very enjoyable to read.  While I think that the Native American background information is valuable, it should have been presented in a different, more organized way.

The good news is that this, Hillerman's first in the Joe Leaphorn series, was apparently the jumping off point for an excellent and well-written series.  It might not hurt to skip this one, but if you do read it keep in mind that it DOES get better!


BLOOD WILL TELL (Jeanne Dams)

This is a bit unusual for a Dorothy Martin  & Alan Nesbitt mystery because there is no murder!  After Dorothy discovers a pool of blood on a laboratory floor during a conference at St. Stephen's College at Cambridge University, she and Alan set out to discover from whom or what it came, how it got there, and, most importantly, who cleaned it up so thoroughly and so quickly!  Was it a student prank?  Is there a murder victim whose body has not yet been discovered?  Who pushed Dorothy down a flight of stairs?  Enlisting the aid of a local police Superintendent Elaine Barker (a woman with secrets of her own) and her nephew, Tom, Dorothy and Alan stir up unrest on campus and with the local police as their questions lead to yet more questions. When Tom disappears, finding out where the blood originated becomes urgent.

Widowed American ex-pat Dorothy is, as always, wonderfully refreshing and real.  She is an older woman, cautious about her balance and her knees, happy in her adopted country, and comfortably in love with her second husband, a retired police official.  It's amazing that author Dams is American, because to me she seems to capture the essence of England - the weather, then customs, the rules - beautifully.  If you look at her website you's discover that she loves hats as much as Dorothy does!

As always, anything Jeanne Dams writes is highly recommended!

Monday, January 4, 2016

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON (Kate Morton)

After having read Morton's 4th novel, The Lake House, I couldn't wait to read more!  I think that if I had read The House at Riverton first I would still have been interested in more, but not quite so anxiously.  It is obvious that Morton has developed as a writer since this, her first novel.

What bothered me about The House at Riverton was not the story.  I am always game for an aristocratic family saga and one thing that I really LIKED about reading this was that it was set during the same time period (WWI through the mid-1920's) as Downton Abbey, one of my absolute favorite TV shows.  What I DIDN'T like was the way the story evolved in the novel.  The story is told from the point of view of 98-year-old Grace Bradley, an esteemed academic who worked as a maid at Riverton while the events of the story unfolded. We learn early on that a young poet died at the lake on the family property and that the 2 daughters of the family, Hannah and Emmeline, were present when the tragedy occurred.  I don't think that author gives the reader enough information at the beginning about the fatal event.  I felt frustrated throughout because I couldn't fit what was going to happen (and what was the focus of the book) into the context of what was being related to us by Grace.  Does that make sense?  Probably not!  I guess what I am trying to say is that I think the telling should have been rearranged.  At one point I realized that both daughters were dead in Grace's reminiscing and that the main event of the story had not been addressed.

I know that this review is confusing, but I guess it reflects my own confusion as I was reading.  Now that I'm finished I like the story.  Following it from beginning to end in my mind, having all of the facts and characters in their proper places, I can appreciate the historical details and sense of place. I just wish I could have read it with enough knowledge to anticipate the ending.  Don't count it out, though.  The details of the time period alone make Morton's first book worthwhile reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A CHRISTMAS FEAST AND OTHER STORIES (Katie Fforde)

If you love Katie Fforde you will enjoy this book of short stories, especially if you are in a Christmas mood when you read it.  The only negative comment I have is that I wished that many of the stories were full-length novels instead!  Die-hard Katie Fforde fans should definitely look for this one (you can get it used on Amazon).  The stories are typical (that's not a negative quality!) Katie Fforde, romantic and positive, and will definitely brighten up your day.  Picture reading one with a nice cup of tea or chocolate (and perhaps a scone?) in front of a crackling fire.  It almost makes the winter cold worth it!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

THE CINDERELLA MURDER (Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke)

I KNEW that I had read something else that I forgot to post!  I simply have to try and keep up with this blog even if I feel like I'm buried under family issues, holiday baking, and Christmas shopping and wrapping!

I haven't read any of Alafair Burke's books (not because I'm not interested, but because there are SO many books out there, and as a librarian I have a "to read" list with about 1000 titles on it!), but this one seemed to me to be very much Mary Higgins Clark.  It would be interesting to see who contributed what, or if their styles are already similar.

Television producer Laurie Morgan, whose first true crime special, Under Suspicion, was a popular success, wants to open the investigation on another cold case, the 20-year-old murder of college student Susan Dempsey.  With a large number of suspects, the case of the aspiring actress is an intriguing challenge for Laurie and her crew.  Susan, a brilliant budding scientist, was found strangled in a park near the estate of a famous movie producer who had invited her to audition.  One of Susan's roommates ended up getting the part (her big break), her boyfriend belonged to a mega-church supposedly devoted to helping the poor (while the head of the organization becomes increasingly rich), her other roommate drops out and disappears, eventually changing her name, and the boy who loved Susan from afar quit school to start a phenomenally successful tech company with the handsome professor rumored to be dallying with several attractive female students.  So many suspects!

This novel reminds me of why Clark has remained popular for so many years.  It is well-paced and the characters, although involved in some pretty out-of-the-ordinary adventures, are believable and, in many cases, even likable.  It's a good novel with which to pass a quiet weekend.

Friday, December 18, 2015

CHRISTMAS AT ROSIE'S SWEET SHOP OF DREAMS (Jenny Colgan)

I downloaded this onto my Kindle Fire from OneClickDigital (via Windsorlockslibrary.org).  All you need is a Windsor Locks library card and a PC, Mac, or eReader.  OneClick Digital provides simple-to-use downloadable apps for different devices.  This is the first time I tried it, and although I prefer paper books (easier for reading a page or 2 whenever you have a chance), this worked really well.  I'm going to download more!

As for the book, it was sweet and charming.  Jenny Colgan's characters are very much like Katie FForde's (one of my favorite authors).  They are usually women embarking on new careers, often by chance.  They are just a little bit insecure, very generous and sincere, never model-perfect, and have often been unlucky in love.

In this sequel to Rosie Hopkin's Sweetshop of Dreams, Rosie is still running her Aunt Lilian's candy store and loving the little village of Lipton,  She loves Stephen even more, but wonders a bit what his long-term plans might be.  When Rosie's mother, Angie, announces that she, along with Rosie's brother, Pip, his wife, and 3 rambunctious children, are coming from Australia to visit Rosie and Stephen for the holidays, Rose does what any red-blooded woman would do - she puts off telling Stephen that their tiny cottage will soon be overrun with Rosie's family.  When an accident throws the whole village and Stephen and Rosie's lives into chaos, life gets even more complicated.

Colgan has a way with developing her characters that makes the reader feel invested in their lives.  We worry about Lilian and Rosie and are rooting for happy endings for all.  Colgan throws an interesting twist of fate into the mix this time.  This novel is a wonderful way to spend a weekend.  It's not available in any library in our system yet, so check out OneClickDigital soon!

HAUNTED SEASON (G.M. Malliet)

Like Susan Wittig Albert, G.M. Malliet is a master of character and sense of place.  Her characters in the Max Tudor series are a bit less "believable" in the sense that they are exaggerated versions of what we might imagine English villagers to be.  It's a bit like walking into the village of Dibley (Vicar of Dibley is a British comedy featuring some very strange locals and a female vicar who  tries to be the voice a reasonin the village).

Max Tudor is an Anglican priest who found his vocation after years as an MI5 operative who witnessed his partner being blown up by a car bomb meant for Max.  Max is everything you'd ever want in a leading man / detective: handsome, compassionate, intelligent, and worldly.  He is now married to Awena, a pagan and owner of the local new age shop, and their different spiritual outlooks add a special sense of depth to their marriage and role as new parents, especially considering Max's profession.

The murder in this outing was a bit gruesome.  A local landowner, father of 2 rather obnoxious college age children, married to a much younger and very attractive women, is decapitated when someone sets up a wire across the riding path just at his neck level.  Max discovers the body and becomes involved in the investigation, which features several likely suspects.

I read a few reviews of this novel on Amazon and they were mixed.  Negative reviews cited ease of figuring out the murderer, the author losing interest part of the way through the book, etc.  I think it really depends on what you are looking for in a mystery.   I am not one of those people that NEEDS to try and solve the mystery as I read, although I do enjoy attempting to figure it out.  I am much more entranced by the setting, especially English villages, and the relationships among the characters.  I would definitely give this one a thumbs-up, although I can understand why more hard core mystery readers might not.  personally, I couldn't put it down!

MISTLETOE MAN (Susan Wittig Albert)

Susan Wittig Albert has another winner in this older China Bayles mystery.  She successfully and seamlessly weaves together several plots, including China's new marriage to retired police detective Mike McQuaid and her new role as step-mother, her friend Ruby's sudden disappearing act, the quirky, flower-growing Fletcher sisters and their senile aunt, and, of course, the hit and run murder of Carl Swenson, her mistletoe supplier.  For those of you who are not familiar with China Bayles, she is a 40-something herbalist and teashop owner in Pecan Springs, Texas who also helps solve mysteries on the side.

This is the 9th of 23 China Bayles mysteries and I would recommend that you read the series.  The characters could be your own friends and neighbors and the relationships are always realistic.  Best of all, Wittig is a consistently fabulous writer and you'll never go wrong with one of her novels.

Monday, November 30, 2015

GO SET A WATCHMAN (Harper Lee)

I vacillated quite a bit about reading this novel.  The reviews were mediocre, the book was described as badly in need of editing, and people were disappointed in how Lee's characters, especially Atticus Finch, seemed to have "evolved."  Then a very intelligent and articulate friend of mine shared her thoughts on the book and suddenly it became a priority to read it.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that Go Set a Watchman was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was suggested to Lee that she take her original characters into their pasts and write a novel set 20 years earlier, in the 1930's, which she successfully accomplished.  This, her first manuscript, was recently rediscovered and Lee agreed to its publication provided that no edits were made.  Well. she is apparently a pretty good writer!  Yes, there were areas that obviously needed work, where the language needed sprucing up and the flow didn't work, just as there were pages that glowed with the same light and life as To Kill a Mockingbird.  The difficulty for the reader is to successfully separate the 2 works.  This was not intended as a sequel; the characters here have not developed nor evolved.  They were here first!

One of the things that struck me about this novel (in my apparently simple minded prioritization of what's important to note), was that the Atticus Finch described here looks JUST like an older Gregory Peck.  How strange is that?

I have heard that people were disappointed in the story because Jem was dead and because Atticus seemed to be a racist.  I didn't see the character of Atticus as racist in this novel, but rather as an intellectually curious product of his time, a time when civil rights for people of color were still in the formative stages and society as a whole had still not accepted racial equality after being brainwashed about the intelligence and abilities of black people for 150 years. Atticus didn't join the KKK or work against the NAACP because he hated black people, but because he wanted to be sure that they were NOT treated in a hateful and bigoted way.  Perhaps he was misguided in some of his thinking about the black race, but he definitely was not a racist.

As for Scout, I can imagine her growing up to be just as she was portrayed in this novel.  She reveres her father and is distraught and disappointed when she discovers that Atticus and Henry are consorting with racists.  She is a modern young woman in a changing world, having trouble deciding between the lure of her tradtional southen family and hometown and the culture of New York City.
I think that anyone who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird should consider reading Go Set a Watchman. It will be well worth the few hours you devote to it and you'll still be thinking about it days after you reach the last page.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

YARNED AND DANGEROUS (Sadie Hartwell)

This is the first in the new Tangled Web series by the author of the "Greek to Me" mysteries (written as Susannah Hardy), now writing under a new name (she is actually Jane Haertel in real life!).  This series is a little atypical and promises to be very appealing. I'm already looking forward to #2.

The first unexpected element in Yarned and Dangerous is Josie Blair, a non-knitting fashion designer who is called upon to travel to the Litchfield Hills in Connecticut to care for her recently widowed great uncle Eben, who is nursing a broken ankle and cannot drive.  Eb's wife, Cora, was killed in the car accident that injured Eben and, while Josie's mother is on a Mediterranean cruise, someone needs to help out the stubborn but lovable old man with his farm and also close up Cora's yarn shop.  Miss Marple Knits seems to be one of the few viable businesses in Dorset Falls and sits in the middle of a block filled with abandoned storefronts.  Since Josie's career has recently been derailed by her demanding and lecherous boss, Otto, it seems like the perfect time to take a break and head for the hills.  Josie is not your typical city girl who hates the country and is anxious to get back to the big city.  She is intelligent, caring, and apparently has never picked up a freshly laid egg or a pair of knitting needles in her life.  She manages to cope very well, though, with the help of Eben's handsome and very kind next-door neighbor, Mitch.

The second unexpected element in this novel is the townspeople.  None of them are conventional cozy stereotypes, expect, perhaps, for Diantha.  Someone has to take on the role of the unappealing antagonist though, or there wouldn't be enough tension in the book!  Hartwell allows her readers to know just enough about each of the townspeople to make us like them and want to get to know them better, as you would an interesting person that you look forward to seeing again.

I forgot to mention that the mystery involves the death of one of Cora's knitting group members, Lillian, whose body is discovered in the storeroom of Miss Marple Knits with a knitted blue cord around her neck.

I enjoyed this out-of-the-ordinary cozy very much and, as I said, I'm ready to start reading the next one, whenever it may appear!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

THE LAKE HOUSE (Kate Morton)

I've had 2 of Kate Morton's books sitting in my house for months, just waiting to be read!  In my usual way, though, if I own it I can save it for a rainy day when I really need something to read.  Working in a library, however, means that the rainy day never comes, since I'm immersed in great books every day!

Several friends have read and raved about Kate Morton, so when The Lake House was published I placed a hold and just went ahead and read it (despite excellent weather)!  What a joy!  This is just the type of novel that I especially like: set in several different historical eras and employing alternating narrators.  Morton engages the reader in a long unsolved disappearance, the mystery of an abandoned estate, and a modern-day investigator slowly becoming obsessed with solving the 70-year-old case.  Best of all, it's set in Cornwall, which has to be the most dramatic, romantic, mysterious part of England.

Alice Edevane was sixteen in 1933 when her 11-month-old brother, Theo, disappeared without a trace the night of the Edevane family's annual Midsummer's Eve party.  The Edevane family abandons Loeanneth soon afterwards, never to return.  Loeanneth was originally the childood home of Alice's mother, Eleanor DeShiel and is eventually willed to Alice, who is now a very successful mystery writer in her 80's.  Alice seems to prefer to keep the mystery of her beloved brother's disappearance unsolved.

When Sadie Sparrow is ordered to take a "holiday" from the Metropolitan Police after her over-involvement in a controversial case endangers her reputation and her career, she travels to Cornwall to visit her beloved grandfather, Bertie.  When she discovers Loeanneth she becomes interested in the family's history and in Theo's disappearance and begins to investigate "unofficially."  Morton is a superb writer.  I became convinced several times during the course of the novel that I knew what happened to Theo, and each time, as the story unfolded, I was proven wrong.  This is one of those books that you want NEVER to end, but at the same time you can't wait to find out how it ends.  all I can say is that if you want to spend several hours completely immersed in a story that you don't want to put down, read this one!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

GOOD MAN FRIDAY (Barbara Hambly)

Benjamin January is an educated man of color living in an era where possible slavery lurks around every corner and race limits almost all opportunity to succeed in life.  In 1838 Benjamin, freed slave and Paris-educated physician, is not allowed to practice medicine in the white community, so he supports his family as a piano player.  After a vindictive slave-owner ruins Benjamin's opportunity to earn money by having all of his bookings cancelled, he is willing to accept an offer from Henri Viellard and his young wife, Chloe, to travel to Washington City to discover the whereabouts of Chloe's old friend, Mr. Singletary, who has disappeared without a trace.  Benjamin's sister, Dominique, is Henri's mistress, so she and her daughter and maid also accompany the group to Washington.

Hambly's novels are meticulously researched and expertly written (she also writes the Abigail Adams mystery series under the name Barbara Hamilton) and after reading Good Man Friday I felt as if I had had a very enjoyable and enlightening history lesson.  In New Orleans freed people of color, while still limited by the laws and tempers of the white population, could live freely, hold jobs (within limits), own businesses, and raise their families in relative peace.  In Washington, by contrast, free black people lived in constant fear of being kidnapped and sold as slaves.  While investigating Mr. Singletary's disappearance Benjamin lives in a rooming house owned by a black family while Henri and Chloe stay in separate, white-only quarters, socializing with the upper crust while Benjamin hob-nobs with the servants and slaves.  Interesting, Edgar Alan Poe appears in this novel, helping Benjamin with his investigation at a time when Poe actually would have been living in the Washington area!

I would highly recommend this novel.  The mystery is complicated and intriguing, yet it all makes sense in the end.  The sense of history is wonderful, as is the sense of place.  The characters are well-developed and generally interesting.  A warning, though...this novel does require some brainpower and an interest in history.  If you have these, you'll love it!

NOBODY HOME (Jacqueline Masumian)

I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline Masumian at our library a couple of weeks before reading this beautiful memoir.  She is a lovely and very interesting person, one that I felt I could be friends with if she lived close by.

Jacque's childhood was unusual, to say the least, and haphazard, to be perfectly honest.  Her parents divorced at a time when divorce was uncommon, leaving her mother, Jean, depressed and adrift in a world where she no longer fit the acceptable mold.  Thanks to Jean's affluent parents, she was able to house and feed her family, which included her own 4 children (Jacque is the second youngest) and her deceased sister's two daughters.  Her mother's mood swings and drinking, erratic behavior, and apparent lack of affection for Jacque and her siblings created a difficult atmosphere in which to grow up.  One of the most shocking anecdotes in the book is Jean allowing her children's 18-year-old babysitter to take Jacque, age 12 and insistent that she was too young to date, out for the evening.  The young man showed up at the front door with a pair of 4" stiletto heels for Jacque to wear on their "date." Jean's inability to realize the inappropriateness of this situation and to notice her daughter's discomfort illustrates the difficulties Jacque and her family faced throughout their formative years,

This memoir is filled with sadness, but also with humor.  A reflection on a turbulent childhood viewed from an mature perspective, Jacque's story is eloquently worded and thoughtfully composed, It was a pleasure to read.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

APART AT THE SEAMS (Marie Bostwick)

Well, I skipped a few in this series because this one, #7, was available!  I am really enjoying the Cobbled Court series, which reminds me of Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street books.  In this one the main focus is on Gayla, a rather impulsive and technology-challenged woman who discovers that Brian, her husband of 26 years, has had a a brief extra-marital affair.  While using his computer she accidentally opens an unsent memo, written to her, in which he confesses the affair and suggests that it would be best to end their marriage since neither of them is happy.  Gayla reacts by fleeing New York City on the spur of the moment to their summer home in, where else, New Bern, CT, home of Cobbled Court Quilts.

Gayla is not quite as likable at first as some of the other women in this series.  First of all, she is impulsive.  She acts first and thinks about it later, failing to communicate with her husband at several crucial points and shutting him out of her life completely when she should be demanding an explanation.  Gayla also tends to be destructive, taking out her anger and frustration on innocent china (a horror to me, who collects beautiful dishes and teapots) or by digging up her yard.  Of course, by now we know that she is going to be asked to join the Cobbled Court quilting circle and that the friendship of the other women is going to have a positive effect on her life decisions, but that's OK.  This group is so supportive and so interesting that it doesn't matter if you can guess what's going to happen.  Gayla has told them all that she is "on sabbatical," so everyone in the group decides to plan a sabbatical project for themselves, to try something new over the summer that will take them out of their comfort zone.  This makes for some interesting subplots!

Several new characters were introduced between books 2 and 7, so I'm kind of anxious to go back and see what brought Phillipa, Tessa, and the others to New Bern.  This group of ladies are starting to feel a little like friends at this point.  I've already convinced 2 of my co-workers to read the series.  Why not join the fun with us?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A THREAD OF TRUTH (Marie Bostwick)

This is novel #2 in the Cobbled Court series and I enjoyed it just as much as the first.  This series focuses on real women with some big problems that are made somehow smaller with the help and support of friends.  While the first in the series featured quilt shop owner Evelyn Dixon, this one focuses primarily on Ivy Peterman, a mother of two on the run from an abusive husband in Pennsylvania.  Ivy finally left when her husband hit their 6-year-old daughter, Bethany.  Seeking shelter in the New Bern women's shelter, Ivy is hired part time at Cobbled Court Quilts and is soon welcomed as part of the quilt circle.  Reserved and not completely honest about her past (she has told everyone that she is the widow of an abusive man), Ivy lives in terror that her husband, Hodge, will discover her whereabouts and come after her.  After accidentally appearing on camera during a Quilt Pink special being filmed at the shop, her fears are intensified.

I don't think I will ever get tired of stories about women banding together in mutual support and friendship.  This series has a bit of an inspirational element, but it is not cloying or preachy.  It's just nice.  I know that I will continue to read the series, just because it makes me feel good about humanity. The big message here is that you can overcome, or at least cope with, practically anything as long as you have true friends in your life.

WHO DO YOU LOVE (Jennifer Weiner)

This novel would make a great movie.  Rachel and Any meet in a hospital waiting room one night when they are 8 years old.  Rachel, the daughter of an affluent Florida family, was born with a "broken heart" and is recovering from her most recent surgery.  Feeling better and touring the hospital in her wheelchair, she meets Andy who is all alone, nursing a broken arm with no parent in sight.

Throughout the years their paths cross again and again.  Rachel marries a man approved by her family and has 2 children, living a picture-perfect life in an affluent suburb.  Andy, son of a poor single mother, discovers a talent for running, his ultimate escape from fear, poverty, and loneliness.  When their lives fall apart, both Rachel and Andy are forced to confront their good and bad decisions and to re-evaluate their priorities, eventually discovering that it all boils down to who you love.

Some of the reviews on Amazon describe this novel as disappointing or boring, but I didn't find it to be so.  I enjoyed it from the first page to the last.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for stories where people end up figuring it all out at the end!  I'd recommend it!

Monday, October 5, 2015

AGONY OF THE LEAVES (Laura Childs)

Who could have wanted restaurateur Parker Scully dead?  This is the question being asked by tea shop owner Theodosia Browning after she discovers the body of Parker, her former boyfriend, floating in one of Charleston's Neptune Aquarium's tanks during its grand opening, one of the city's premier social events.  Theo disagrees with the local police, who believe that Parker drowned accidentally, after she notices what appear to be defensive wounds on his hands.

Author Childs leads Theo and her friends on a merry chase as they juggle business with amateur detective work, blending and serving tea, baking, and catering social events while tracking down clues and suspects.  Could one of the area's competing restaurant owners have had a hand in Parker's death?  What about the new restaurant he planned to open?  Several near miss accidents, a charity scavenger hunt, and a lot of exciting action blended with Childs's delightful tea-related details make this one a winner.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BOOD (Julia Spencer-Fleming)

Clare Fergusson is a 35-year-old former army helicopter pilot who is now an Episcopal priest.  She has been pastor at St. Alban's in Miller's Kill, located in New York's Adirondack Mountains, for less than a year.  Russ Van Alstyne grew up in the Miller's Kill area and recently returned to serve as chief of police.  He is in his late 40's and married to Linda, his faithful wife who is mentioned frequently but never seen.  Clare and Russ have been fighting off an unacknowledged mutual attraction for months.

A series of horrific attacks on local gay men might be hate crimes, or they might have a more sinister meaning.  Claire is shaken when she discovers the body of one of the developer's of a local upscale spa in a local park during the town's 4th of July fireworks display.  This victim, who was also known to be gay, had his throat cut and his death could be related to the previous attacks, or perhaps there is a connection to alleged PCB contamination problems at the building site.  Clare discovers a connection between the couple she is preparing to marry and the victim and she launches her own investigation into the murder.  The result is an action-packed mystery brimming over with appealing characters, ecclesiastical detail, unrequited love, and a great helicopter rescue.

Julia Spencer-Fleming Fleming has produced an incredible follow-up to In the Bleak Midwinter, her first Clare Fergussen novel.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

DISHING THE DIRT (M.C. Beaton)

Agatha's back!  I wasn't really sure if I was going to continue reading this series because Agatha was starting to get on my nerves, a little too abrasive, a little too stupid about men, and surrounded by people who were a bit too unfeeling.  M.C. Beaton has a winner with Dishing the Dirt.  I think that Agatha was at a kind of evolutionary standstill, but now she HAS evolved. Thank you, M.C. Beaton!

When Agatha discovers that Jill Davant, a therapist new to the area, has been digging into her past, Agatha is incensed and threatens to kill the woman.  You can guess what happens next!  For fans of the series, I won't go into the plot in much detail (more bodies, Agatha in danger, James and Charles show up periodically, and one handsome man piques Agatha's interest).  What I especially liked about this, the 26th in the series, was that Agatha seemed a bit more human and less of a caricature than usual, Charles and James were more caring and compassionate.  I REALLY want Agatha and Charles to realize that they are soulmates and belong together.  I think that Charles is beginning to realize that, but Agatha still seems clueless!  I guess we'll have to wait until number 27 to see what happens!

A SINGLE THREAD (Marie Bostwick)

I just discovered Marie Bostwick, and I like what I've found.  Think Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street novels, Kate Jacob's Friday Night Club, or Nancy Thayer's Nantucket-based novels.  Women's friendships are a wonderful basis for stories focused on dealing with change and overcoming adversity.  I think that's one of the reasons why the TV series The Golden Girls still has just as much charm and appeal as it did 30 years ago.  Women reaching out to each other in friendship and supporting each other in times of trouble, with or without men in the mix, is a theme that never grows old and stale for women readers.

Recently divorced, 50ish Evelyn Dixon arrives in New Bern, CT from Texas to experience the beautiful autumn colors of New England for the first time.  While exploring the town she discovers an empty storefront in an alley called Cobbled Court and decides to follow her life's dream of opening a quilt shop.  After 6 long months of renovation and almost all of Evelyn's savings, she opens for her first quilting class, a breast cancer benefit.  Her customers include Abigail Burgess, a wealthy, uptight scion of the town, Abigail's troubled niece, Liza, who is in Abigail's custody due to an unfortunate brush with the law, and Margot Matthews, a downsized marketing expert.  This unlikely group forms a friendship, which strengthen even more when they pull together to help Evelyn through an unexpected  (but not to the readers!) illness.

Bostwick creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere in this first of the Cobbled Court series.  If you are anything like me, you'll be anxious to read the next installment because you'll feel like you've made some new friends. too.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS (Matthew Dicks)

Everyone has those moments in life, usually during high school, that they REALLY wish they could do over, or at least tell someone off for.  Caroline Jacobs is just such a woman.  After speaking her mind for the first time in years (and using some language just a little too shocking for a PTA meeting), she realizes that her doormat-like behavior and lack of career success (she is a very talented photographer) all hark back to the day that her best friend Emily snubbed her in the high school cafeteria, leaving her friendless, alone, and thoroughly humiliated.  Caroline decides on the spur of the moment, to drive from her home in Maryland to Blackstone, Massachusetts, her teenage daughter Polly in tow, to confront Emily about that life-changing moment.  During the trip she periodically checks in by phone with her bewildered (but supportive) husband and begins to see her recalcitrant daughter, Polly, in a new light.  She finally tracks down Emily in her beautiful upscale home, Caroline is at first intimidated, but after spending time with her old friend she begins to see that perspective can be skewed by age and circumstances.

Matthew Dicks is one of my favorite authors.  It takes a great man to write convincingly from a female perspective and he succeeds admirably.  In fact, considering that he has in the past written from the perspective of an autistic child, a brilliant but obsessive-compulsive thief, and a quirky (also OCD) male nurse, I guess that he could probably write from almost any point of view.  His specialty is getting into the heads of people that are lovable but just a little bit off kilter.  I have met Matthew Dicks.  If you have not, you might come to the conclusion that this is a man with deep-seated psychological problems, but that's not the impression I got.  I think he's just brilliant!

FINDING SKY (Susan O'Brien)

Last month I wrote a blog post about the Christie Capers, our library's mystery book club, for the Wicked Cozy Authors, a group of talented New England mystery writers.  The most exciting result of that post (other than being somewhat famous for a day) was that Susan O'Brien sent us a couple of copies of her novel, Finding Sky.  I admit that I have a hard time getting around to reading books that I actually own (they are stockpiled in anticipation of the day that I become housebound or all of the libraries close due to lack of funding), but I felt that Susan's gesture deserved to be rewarded with my endangering our circulation statistics by reading a non-library book.  I'm glad that I did!  By the way, this novel will be in the Windsor Locks collection and available for checkout very soon as will the next in the Nicki Valentine series, Sky High.

Nicki Valentine, the single mother of two young children, Sophie and Jack, was widowed when her cheating scoundrel of a husband was killed while out boating with his secret mistress.  Nicki is an aspiring private investigator and has enrolled in a PI training course with an instructor named Dean, whom she finds to be very hot in addition to being very helpful and an expert in his field.

When Beth, the birth mother of her next-door-neighbor and best friend Kenna's adoptive baby-to-be, disappears, Kenna and her husband Andy are in despair.  Has Beth changed her mind?  Does her disappearance have anything to do with the gang-related activities of the baby's father?  Do her grandparents in West Virginia know anything?  With a little help from Dean and a lot of babysitting from her mother, Nicki sets out to use her developing investigative skills to try and find Beth.  She brazenly follows the baby-daddy, Marcus, witnesses a gang-style shooting, and worms her way into the lives of nearly anyone who might know something about Beth's whereabouts.

Nicki is not your typical amateur, zany housewife investigating a crime or solving a murder.  She is special, and very likable.  O'Brien does an exquisite job of blending humor, friendship, single parenthood, and some exciting action into a very appealing series.  I'm looking forward to reading the next one!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ASSAULTED PRETZEL (Laura Bradford)

Laura Bradford is a favorite author at Windsor Locks Library!  This is the second in her Claire Weatherly Amish series, which takes place in quaint (yet murder-prone) Heavenly, Pennsylvania.  Claire relocated to Heavenly after her divorce, moving into her Aunt Diane's B&B, Sleep Heavenly, and opening up her own gift shop, Heavenly Treasures.  In the first of the series, Hearse & Buggy, the body of her shop's former owner is discovered in the alley outside of Claire's shop and she begins to develop friendships with two local men: Benjamin, and Amish widower, and Jakob, a formerly Amish detective recently returned to his hometown. And, of course, she gets involved in solving the murder!

In Assaulted Pretzel, Heavenly is abuzz at the arrival of toy manufacturer Rob Karble, who is in town to discuss working with the Amish to manufacture a line of Amish toys that promises to boost the local economy by creating new jobs for the Amish (since farmland is becoming scarce, many Amish are forced to find occupations other than working the family farm).  After the locals circulate a letter stating Rob's intention to manufacture the Amish-designed toys in his own plant, Rob's dead body body is discovered behind a booth at the local Amish festival and suspicion naturally falls on the Amish.  Bradford keeps the reader guessing the identity of the killer until the very end.  Along the way we are treated to the further development of the Jakob-Claire-Benjamin triangle and more insight into the working of the Amish community.

Laura Bradford does her research well, making frequent trips to the Lancaster, PA area to help create the authentic characters and ambiance for her series.  If you are looking for a relaxing cozy with an interesting mystery and fascinating glimpse of the Amish culture, choose this one!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

LIFE IS SHORT (NO PUN INTENDED) (Jennifer Arnold, MD & Bill Klein)

Whether or not you are a fan of TLC's The Little Couple (a.k.a. Bill Klein and Jennifer Arnold, MD), you will find this tender memoir fascinating.  For those of you who don't know, Bill and Jennifer are little people, both born with skeletal dysplasia.  They married in 2006 and eventually adopted a son and daughter who are also little people, albeit with a different form of dwarfism.  Their story is told in alternating chapters and all of it is eye-opening, from their multiple surgeries to correct the bone deformities caused by their dysplasia, to the wonderful ground-breaking work done by their mutual doctor, Steven Kopits, and their experiences with bullying, friendships, and romances.  They traveled seemingly parallel routes in life.  Both were the only little person in their respective families, both sets of parents eventually divorced (though Jen's would remarry), both were treated by Dr. Kopits at Johns Hopkins, and both started college intending to become doctors (Bill eventually became a successful businessman instead). Bill and Jen actually did meet once at the hospital when Jen was 11 and Bill was 10, and a nurse friend desperately tried unsuccessfully to get them together in their early twenties, but it wasn't until they posted profiles on an online dating site for little people that they actually met at around age 30.  The rest is history!

Today Bill and Jen and their children Will (from Inner Mongolia) and Zoey (from India) allow the world into their lives for few weeks each year through The Little Couple.  Their challenges have included moving to Houston for Jen's medical career, Bill opening a new business, building an accessible house, Jen's bout with cancer, Bill's back surgery, and, of course, traveling halfway around the world twice to meet and adopt their children.  This wonderful book is full of grace, humor, and love.  I am amazed at what this couple has each endured just for a chance at a normal life, and the devotion , love and support of their families throughout.  If you want to be inspired, read it!  I wish I could thank them personally for sharing their stories.

PRAY FOR SILENCE (Linda Castillo)

Well, my worst fears were realized.  Not only was the second book in this series very violent and graphic, but it was also extremely well-written, the plot was well-thought out, the characters are growing on me by leaps and bounds, and the research into the Amish culture and language was meticulous.  I'm nott too sure where I stand now!

The Planks are an Amish family that had recently located to Painter Mill from Lancaster, PA.  Early one morning a neighbor, over to help with the milking, discovers a horrible scene at the Plank farm:  Father Amos and his two sons have been shot inside the house.  It appears that Amos murdered his sons and then took his own life, but appearances can be deceiving.  Formerly Amish police chief Kate Burkholder and her team discover evidence that belies their initial murder/suicide assumption.  They also discover the bodies of Amos' wife and toddler son in the yard and his two daughters in the barn.  The teenage girls appear to have been tortured before being ritualistically murdered in the barn.  Finding the killer and the motive for the slayings before anyone else is killed is Kate's goal.

As the story unfolds we discover that there exists an Amish porn industry (not run by the Amish, but featuring Amish girls) and that 15-year-old Mary Plank, one of the murder victims, is in love with an English (non-Amish man) and had become pregnant with his child.  According to her journal she had confessed all to her family, so Kate believes that the father of her unborn child must be connected with the crime.  John Tomasetti, Kate's lover, has been put on leave from his job at CBI to deal with his post traumati drug and alcohol abuse, so he is available to help out on the sly.

I found this novel both disturbing and compelling.  I couldn't put it down, but the storyline was so disturbing that I didn't want to pick it up, either.  Overall, I would recommend Linda Catillo, especially to anyone who is interested in the Amish.  Just be sure that you have  a strong stomach!

THE SEAFRONT TEA ROOMS (Vanessa Greene)

After reading Greene's sweet Vintage Teacup Club I was anxious to find something else written by her, so I ordered this novel used from England through Amazon.com.  I'm not sure it was really worth it, but it was a pleasant light read.

This is the story of 3 women who literally bond over tea.  Journalist Charlie is up for a big promotion at her London magazine and hopes that her feature on seaside tea rooms in the Scarborough area of Englad will clinch the deal.  She meets Kathryn (Kat), a divorced mother, who convinces her NOT to include the very special Seafront Tea Rooms in her article for fear of drawing tourists and ruining its intimate local atmosphere.  Enter French au pair Seraphine, who is, oddly, spending just several months caring for the daughter of a widowed local businessman while she makes some important decisions about her love life.  The three women become fast friends and visit out of the way tea rooms together and in pairs, Kathryn writing charming vignettes about their visits for Charlie's article.  Of course they all find romance in the end, but there is a surprise twist regarding one of the principle characters.

Some of the reviewers on amazon stated that this was a great light read for travel, and I do agree.  This is a good beach read, not my favorite ever, but not too bad.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SWORN TO SILENCE (Linda Castillo)

I decided to read this first Kate Burkholder mystery because two of my acquaintances LOVE LOVE LOVE Linda Castillo.  I didn't dislike to book.  I thought that it was well written and that the characters were interesting, especially with their flawed backgrounds (no superheroes here).

This story of a serial killer suddenly reappearing in Painter's Mill, Ohio after a 16 year absence definitely held my interest.  I enjoyed the insights into the Amish culture (Kate was raised Amish) and the interactions between the Amish and English and I was intrigued by the developing relationship between Police Chief Kate and John Tomasetti, a special agent from Columbus plagued by his troubled past (his wife and daughters were murdered in his home) and drowning himself in booze and pills in an effort to forget his losses.  The problem is that the book was just too graphic for me.  I just don't find the graphic details of human slaughter, autopsies, and the minds of psychotic killers that appealing to read about.  Many people do enjoy this type of story, so don't let yourself be discouraged by my opinion.  If you are a fan of CSI or SVU you will LOVE this series.  I am going to read another, partly because Castillo is a terrific writer and partly because I'm hoping that the next one might be less graphic and violent.  We'll see!

PRIMATES OF PARK AVENUE (Wednesday Martin, PhD)

Well, I guess it's about time to get writing since I am way behind and currently reading 3 books, only one of which is listed on this blog thus far!

Primates of Park Avenue is a fascinating sociological/anthropological study/memoir of life on the upper east side of New York City.  It is also a sad commentary on the values of many of the very rich and privileged in America. Martin and her husband decided to move to the Park Avenue area in order to have access to the best public schools in the area for their then-infant son.  Culture-shock ensued as they dealt with snobbish real estate agents and co-op boards in their quest to find a new home.  Eventually they did move, only to discover that the rigid social hierarchy and one-upsmanship were just as prevalent among the parents of preschoolers as in the real estate world.  Getting your child into the right preschool ensured a recommendation for the best elementary school and so on.  In other words, neglecting the quality of your child's education at the age of 3 could result in his or her inability to attend a prestigious college!

One of the most memorable episodes in Martin's memoir was her observation of "charging," not in department stores, but by well-dressed society women.  Proving dominance and self-importance in the world of wealthy trophy wives apparently is accomplished in part by "charging" other, presumably lesser women, on public sidewalks, in effect forcing them to step aside because the dominant female refuses to relinquish any space, even if there is plenty available.  It's pretty pathetic. Another characteristic of the successful and wealthy woman is her Berkin bags, which cost between $10,000 and $150,000!  Check out Google images for "celebrities with Berkin bags" and you'll notice a LOT of Kardashians!

Social researcher Wednesday Martin, who holds a doctorate, has written a fascinating book and has created some controversy among those who live on Park Avenue.  She has stated that she changed the chronology and identifying details in the book despite it being a memoir, but their have been some complaints, apparently.  All I know is that I greatly enjoyed this bit of insight into how the other half lives and the author's commentary relating her observations to various social and anthropological studies of primates in the wild.  Highly recommended!

Monday, August 3, 2015

BEACH TOWN (Mary Kay Andrews)

Nothing can keep me away from a Mary Kay Andrews novel!  She always manages to create a rollicking assortment of quirky characters, vivid settings, and budding relationships that blend together into a wonderful story.  Plus, I never expected to learn so much about scouting for movie locations!

Greer is in Florida looking for locations for a new movie that requires an unknown, undeveloped, old-fashioned beach town.  She is excited when she discovers Cypress Key, the perfect setting for a new movie starring America's most beloved ingenue and a currently hot rapper with no acting experience.  Andrews does of superb job of capturing the ambiance of the town, from the slightly run-down motel to the old casino, and Eb, who is mayor, grocery store owner, motel proprietor, town engineer, and guardian to his teenage niece Allie, is the perfect small town foil for a big-time movie scout.

Aside from the expected roadblocks and protests from the locals, Greer also has to deal with constant demands and changes from the producers and her growing feelings for Eb (did you see that one coming?).  Andrews incorporates a lot of additional family and relationship drama into this fast-paced novel.  It actually has everything except a murder!  The ending is perfect and I am looking forward to Mary Kay Andrews's next novel.  If only I didn't have to wait so long!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

THE GUEST COTTAGE (Nancy Thayer)

This must be the right time of year for a good beach read, and this one certainly fit the bill.  It was just a coincidence that 2 new Nancy Thayer novels happened to fall into my hands at the same time, but it was a good one.  Between the hot, humid weather and preparing for my daughter's move (and our trip) to Tennessee for a year-long internship in Clinical Psychology (plus her recent engagement), visiting friends, and work, I needed a nice romance break.

Thayer always infuses her novels with the essence of Nantucket.  Sometimes I even forget that I've never actually been there!  This is a fun concept.  Two rather disorganized cousins, without consulting each other, rent their jointly owned summer house to two separate families:  Sophie and her two children, 15-year-old Jonah and 10-year-old Lacey, and Trevor and his 4-year-old son Leo.  Because the house is so large, Sophie, whose husband is now living with another woman, and Trevor, who is a widower, decide to make do and share the house.  Would you be surprised if these two fell in love?  The usual obstacles fall in their way.  Sophie is 6 years older then thirty-year-old Trevor, and has not yet spoken to her kids about the impending divorce.  Trevor is highly desired by several female family friends who visit over the course of the summer.  Sophie is still married and attracted to a handsome Bulgarian businessman who obviously wants to know her better.

Everyone in this novel is pretty nice, the scenery and food are great (at least they would be if you were actually there), and the developing relationships are warm and appealing.  If you are looking for gore and excitement, run in the opposite direction, but if you are looking for a well-written, light, fun read for summer, check this one out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

NANTUCKET SISTERS (Nancy Thayer)

This week I suddenly found myself craving "beach" reading.  To me that doesn't necessarily mean light romances or thrillers, but novels that actually feature the sand and surf and smell of salt air.  Nancy Thayer's Nantucket-based novels will always provide that vicarious sensation of having spent some time at the beach.

Emily, daughter of a wealthy family that spends their summers on Nantucket, and Maggie, who lives year-round with her divorced mother and older brother Ben in a rented cottage on the island,  have been friends since childhood.  Emily's parents have reservations about her relationship with Maggie, who is "not their kind," but the friendship perseveres.  Emily falls in love Maggie's handsome brother, Ben, but a handsome stranger eventually disrupts all of their lives.

While this is a somewhat predictable romance with an easy to guess ending, the setting and the interesting characters make it all worthwhile.  Maggie's mother and step-father are so appealing and understanding that you want to hug them both.  You want to scream at some of the decisions that Maggie, Ben, and Emily make, but you suspect that all will be well when all is said and done.  If you love the Cape Cod and Nantucket and want a nice, relaxing read, check out this one!

Monday, July 6, 2015

THE BODY IN THE PIAZZA (Katherine Hall Page)

Imagine the sights, sounds, and delicious smells of fabulous Italian food, all enveloping you as you sit in your armchair reading this delectable mystery, the 21st in Katherine Hall Page's Faith Fairchild series.  For those of you not familiar with this series, Faith Sibley Fairchild is a successful Boston-area caterer, married to a minister and mother of 2 children.  She also, somehow, manages to get involved in murder on a regular basis, so when she and husband Tom decide to travel to Italy to celebrate a special anniversary, we naturally expect there to be a dead body somewhere.  In this case it happens in a piazza in Rome and the victim is the charming man that Faith and Tom had met previously on the roof terrace of their hotel.

After the weekend in Rome the couple travel to Tuscany to participate in classes at a new  cooking school just opened by Faith's former assistant, Francesca.  Unfortunately, connections to the murder keep popping up and it also seems that someone is trying their best to sabotage Francesca's new business.   faith can't help but investigate, can she?

This is a mystery that will appeal strongly to foodies.  Page does such an exquisite job of presenting various Italian dishes and ingredients that you can almost smell the sauces and spices.  The mystery itself almost seemed secondary to the cooking.  Our book club was split between great love (those were the foodies) and indifference (those looking for a great mystery).  If you love the series be sure to read it.  Faith and Tom are as wonderful as usual.  Be prepared to need a snack, though, because the culinary aspects of this novel will certainly make your mouth water.

INSIDE THE O'BRIENS (Lisa Genova)

Every time I finish a Lisa Genova novel my first thought is, "Wow!"  I wasn't even sure if I was going to read this one because it was just too scary.  Although there is no Huntington's Disease in my family, the thought of following someone else's journey through this incurable disease with all the hopelessness associated with it just seemed too difficult.  I'm glad that I finally read it.

Huntington's is a hereditary disease that usually strikes between ages 35 and 45, but there are early onset forms as well that may appear in the teens or twenties.  There is no cure and, probably, little hope of one, because it is relatively rare.  Huntington' is caused by a gene mutation and any child born of someone with the gene has a 50/50 chance of eventually developing it.

Joe O'Brien, a 44-year-old Boston cop, has been experiencing problems with his moods and his movements for a few years and his wife Rosie eventually convinces him to see a neurologist.  An active father of 4 grown children, Joe is devastated to be diagnosed with Huntington's.  In retrospect he realizes that his mother, always described as having died of alcoholism when he was a young boy, most certainly died of the disease.  It's difficult and sad to realize how many people back just 30 or 40 years ago must have been vilified as alcoholics or judged responsible for their own condition when, in fact, they were innocent victims of undiscovered genetic flaws.  For Joe, the most horrifying aspect of this disease is the realization that he may have passed Huntington's on to his own 4 children, all of whom are just starting out in life.  JJ, the oldest, is a firefighter, 25 years old and married.  He and his wife, Colleen, are trying for a child.  Meghan is a ballerina and Katie, the youngest, is a yoga instructor and in love with Felix, a man whose race she is convinced will alienate her family.  Patrick, at 23, lives at home and seems to be involved in fighting and sleeping around most of the time.  Each of the children must decide whether to be tested for the disease, to live knowing what their future holds if they test positive or to live with the uncertainty of whether they will eventually develop Huntington's if they choose not to be tested.

The two words that I would use to describe Inside the O'Briens are heartbreaking and life-affirming.  Genova somehow brings us into the inner circle of Huntington's, showing us first-hand both the hopelessness and the hope experienced by a family whose world is nearly destroyed by this devastating diagnosis.  Read it, please!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN (Sarah McCoy)

I think that all of us are fascinated by the Underground Railroad, active before and during the Civil War and instrumental in leading many slaves to freedom in the northern states.  Sarah Brown the daughter of ardent abolitionist John Brown, is a talented artist who puts her skills to work creating maps on cloth, paper, and dolls' faces to help guide escaped slaves out of the south in this fictionalized story of her life.  After an illness leaves her unable to bear children, she eschews love and marriage and instead continues working to free slaves.

In a related story, a modern-day woman, Eden, has moved to an old house in North Carolina with her husband.  Unable to conceive, Eden becomes increasing depressed and plans to end her marriage despite her love for her husband.  When she discovers a painted porcelain doll's head in her root cellar she becomes interested in discovering its origins and how it came to be left in the house.  Hence, the tie-in to Sarah Brown. Personally, while I enjoyed the modern-day issues of the current tenants of the house, I think that this may have been better written as 2 separate novels.  There didn't seem to be enough of a connection between the events of the past and those of the future.

I was curious about whether Sarah Brown was a real person and I found that John Brown actually had 20 children from 2 marriages.  Two of then were named Sarah, one who died at age 9 in 1843 and another born in 1846.  It is the second Sarah that is the focus of this novel.  She actually was educated at Concord and met Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott and she did eventually become an artist of some note in California, but there is no mention in her biography (http://www.saratogahistory.com/History/sarah_brown.htm) of abolitionist activity.  McCoy has done a nice job of taking a real person and expanding her story to what could have been.  As usual, I did enjoy the present-past connection in Sarah and Eden's stories, however slight it was.  This novel wan't the best, but it was worth reading, especially if you have an interest in the Underground Railroad.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A PLACE FOR US (Harriet Evans)

There is nothing like a mansion in the English countryside to draw me to a novel.  I enjoyed this one, but I have some mixed feelings.  The story was good: Martha invites all of her children and grandchildren to Winterfold, the family home, for her eightieth birthday, during which she plans to reveal a long-held family secret (or two).  Daisy, the eldest daughter, left to do charity work in the Middle East more than 25 years ago, leaving her infant daughter, Cat, behind and visiting just 4 times in the ensuing years.  Son Bill, the local Doctor, has a grown daughter named Lucy and a second wife, Karen, who is increasing dissatisfied with Bill's lack of concern over their infertility issues.  Florence, the youngest, is a brilliant but eccentric art historian and professor living in Italy.  Granddaughter Cat lives in Paris and is harboring secrets of her own while Lucy struggles to make a career as a writer.

Martha's husband, David Winter, is a successful cartoonist.  The two were born and brought up in the slums of London and have worked hard to make Winterfold a family home of which to be proud, a place to which all of their children and grandchildren can come home.  Why don't they?  David is keeping the facts about his heart condition from his children, Cat worries about repeating her mother's mistakes, Lucy founders at her job, Bill seems oblivious to his wife's worries,  Florence has let love overrule her good sense, and Daisy is MIA.

I found it difficult to sort out all of the characters in the story because each chapter throughout the novel is devoted to a different person and written from their point of view.  Once I finally figured out who was who, though, the storyline and setting took over and I enjoyed the book.  I felt that at the end there were a couple of loose ends, but nothing major.  It seemed more like a privacy issue for the characters (as if they were real people) than an oversight by the author.  I would read more!

Friday, May 29, 2015

UNEXPECTEDLY MILO (Matthew Dicks)

I wasn't sure when I got into this novel if I was going to like Milo, but his compassion and sense of right and wrong grew on me until I was completely smitten.  Milo is a man with issues, big issues related to obsessive compulsive disorder, issues that he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide from his wife, Christine, who is currently enjoying some "space."  Milo, a sweet home health nurse, finds himself with increasing frequency needing to open jars of Smucker's grape jelly just to hear the seal pop, sing karaoke (99 Luftbalons), and bowl strikes.  He watches movies over and over hoping against hope that the endings will somehow be different, even though he knows in his heart that they won't.

When Milo is walking his dog in the local park he comes across a bag containing a video camera and several tapes.  When no one claims the bag he decides to take it home and watch some of the tapes, becoming engrossed in his quest to discover the identity of the camera's troubled owner, whom he calls "Freckles."  Information gleaned from the tapes and his increasingly strained relationship with Christine lead him on a road trip that he hopes will solve Freckles' problem but will also change his own life dramatically.

If you are familiar with the novels of Matthew Dicks you will open this book expecting quirks and stress and characters who are lovable but just a bit scary, not to mention numerous Hartford, CT area locations.  You won't be at all disappointed.  I think that Memoir of an Imaginary Friend is my favorite of this author's books, but Unexpectedly Milo is an OCD adventure that you shouldn't miss.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

THE LITTLE BEACH STREET BAKERY (Jenny Colgan)

On the surface this looks and sounds like fluff.  A young woman with a failing relationship and a failing business is forced to look for a new life with very little prospect of financial comfort.  She ends up running a bakery on an island in an unfashionable town in Cornwall and eventually brings the place and its inhabitants new energy and happiness and, of course, falls in love.  Colgan reminds me of Katie Fforde,.  They share that rare talent of taking a simple, maybe even trite, chick-lit story and infusing it with such appeal that you can't put it down.  There is something inspiring about women who are self-sufficient and hard-working, and both Fforde and Colgan write about just that.  Somehow the setting, the ambiance, and the characters all come together into a wonderful story.  Maybe there aren't any murders (although there may be sadness and loss) or other major crimes, but characters with a positive outlook and a compassion for others go far in creating wonderful story.  Maybe some prefer mayhem and gore in their reading, but give me a little bakery by the sea and a bunch of quirky, wonderful characters and you'll have me hooked every time!

LEFT NEGLECTED ((Lisa Genova)

Wow!  We are lucky that we have easy access to so much health-related information through books and databases, but to me nothing gets to the heart of understanding an issue like following someone, even a fictional person, on their journey of recovery.  Of course reading fiction cannot in any way compare to the stress and heartache of actually living through a brain injury, but the reader has the advantage of seeing through the patient's eyes and feeling their frustration and sadness.

Susan Nickerson is a happily married superwoman, juggling a fast-paced, successful career, which  requires 80 hours a week of her time, plus 3 children (named, oddly enough, Charlie, Lucy, and Linus), an equally career-oriented husband, and two homes.  Susan and her husband, Bob, have been on the fast-track to success and wealth since school.  Every moment is scheduled, every break used to catch up on email or phone calls or children's activities.  One day, while reaching for her cell phone during her drive to work, Susan crashes her car and sustains a traumatic injury to the right side of her brain, an injury that results in hemispatial neglect, also called left neglect.  When Susan awakes from an 8-day coma she discovers that the left side of her world has disappeared.  her awareness of the left side of her body, her ability to notice things to the left or to draw the left side of a picture, has disappeared.  She will need months of therapy to regain all or part of her ability to perceive the left side of her world.

Genova, a neuroscientist, has again (as in Still Alice) afforded her readers the rare opportunity to share in the experiences of a patient from the inside out.  She does this SO well!  I plan to read all of her novels and look forward to many more in the future.  If you haven't read any of Genova's books, you should run down to the library today and check one out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

THE DROWNING MAN (Margaret Coel)

Are you like me in that there are certain types of books that just don't appeal to you?  I "feel" this way about novels set in certain places and cultures: Asian, Native American, jungles, and desserts, to name a few.  It almost never fails, though, that as soon as I pick up one of these (usually for a book club), I end up loving it!  It happened with Pearl Buck's The Good Earth and  Da Chen's Colors of the Mountain, and now I've fallen in love with everything about Margaret Coel's Wind River Reservation and The Drowning Man.  Father John O'Malley is a perfectly believable and appealing priest (I can say this because I'm a life-long Catholic and have known a lot of excellent priests), the kind that every parish needs.  O'Malley's relationship with Vicky Holden is human, true, and appropriate.  He is obviously a man with a calling to God and service, and the fact that he aids the police in solving crimes makes him even better!

The theft of an ancient sacred petroglyph from the Wind River reservation is devastating to the Arapoho who live there, especially since it appears to be an inside job.  Travis Windsong is in prison for the murder of the man with whom he is believed to have stolen a similar piece from Wind River 7 years ago, but he has always insisted on his innocence.  Vicky is asked by Travis's grandfather, Adam Lone Eagle, to represent him in a possible new trial, and soon Vicky is convinced that there is a connection between the two thefts and the murder.  Someone obviously doesn't want the old case re-opened or Travis's guilt questioned.

Margaret Coel spends time each year on the Wind River reservation doing research and spending time among the Native Americans who live there.  Her thorough research shows in this excellent novel, especially in her depiction of conditions and attitudes on the reservation.  She also researches her Catholic clergy and the sub-plot involving the elderly pedophile priest add a lot of additional human interest to the story.  Will I be reading more of these?  I believe I will!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I BRAKE FOR YARD SALES (Lara Spencer)

Some people train for marathons.  I train for flea markets and antique shops!  It's tag sale / Brimfield / thrift shop / auction season, prime time for browsing "junk" and becoming inspired to redecorate, refurbish, and re-imagine all sorts of stuff.  Spencer's book takes the reader on a tour of hints and tricks for finding and transforming "finds" with paint, fabric, and elbow grease, then using them to create a beautiful home.  Spencer, as you probably know, is an anchor on Good Morning America. She is also a decorator and host of Flea Market Flip on HGTV.

This isn't really a "how to" book.  There are no step by step instructions for turning an old telephone table into wall art or refinishing a dilapidated  coffee table.  Instead, we are given a great overview of styles and resources with a lot of before and after pictures to inspire us to create our own unique looks. Spencer's humorous, conversational style and in-depth knowledge of the wheres and hows of finding and transforming ugly old things make this a really fun read for anyone who enjoys rescuing and loving other people's cast-off treasures.  One great feature of this book is that Spencer is very honest about  when to seek professional help (for refurbishing, I mean...the antique addiction might be job for mental health professionals) and what can realistically be done at home.  She's even realistic about costs.

With sections featuring things like how to haggle and bargain, the language of decorating, estimated yardage for re-upholstery, and steps for successful painting, this is a great resource for any thrift store or flea market junkie.  It doesn't hurt that the photos (by Michael McNamara) are terrific.  Spencer has a light-hearted and personable writing style.  I keep hoping that I'll run into her at Brimfield, but it hasn't happened yet (maybe this week?).  Keep this book close at hand for reference and enjoyment if you are, like me, addicted to stuff with potential and a history.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A DESPERATE FORTUNE (Susannah Kearsley)

Susannah Kearsley will always, I think, be one of my favorite authors.  I love the alternating plot lines and the incredible historical research.  I always finish her books feeling like I have learned something about history.  This story alternates between present day France and 1732 and, as usual, Kearsley brings both worlds to life beautifully.

In the present day, Sara Thomas has been hired by a famous author to decipher an encoded journal written by a 21-year-old woman named Mary Dundas in the 1730's.  Sara's background in computer science and her expertise in problem solving make her (she also has Asperger's) an ideal choice for the job, so she travels to France with her protective cousin to begin work.  As she breaks the code she discovers that Mary Dundas led a life of unexpected excitement and intrigue.  After being reunited with her long-estranged brother, a Jacobean sympathizer, Mary is sent by him to France to pose as the sister of a man being protected by the Jacobites and who is accused of being the central figure in a London financial scandal.  Hugh McPherson is the dark, mysterious man who travels with the group, seeming not to blink an eye at killing or lying to protect them.  I enjoyed Mary's reaction during her early days with the group. After nearly every observation of or thought directed at McPherson she mentally adds the phrase, "Don't kill me."

In the afterward Kearsley talks about finding a grave for a baby girl, named Mary Dundas, who lived for only a few weeks.  Through this novel Kearsley created a life for Mary that she never had the chance to live.  We see only a few short months of Mary's life, and of Sara's, but I keep wondering what happens next.  Maybe someday we'll find out!  Kearsley's knowledge of the Jacobean period, including travel conditions, politics, and social mores, make for fascinating reading, definitely better than a dry history textbook!

THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON (Sarah Addison Allen)

Well, I said that I was going to read more of Sarah Addison Allen's novel, so I did!  I love any novel that involves baking!

Seventeen-year-old Emily Benedict comes to live with her grandfather, the Giant of Mullaby, after the death of her mother, Dulcie.  Shocked to discover that her mother lived a life that she never shared with her daughter, Emily sets out to discover who her mother really was and why her past, including the existence of her grandfather, was kept a secret from her only child.  Emily knew Dulcie, as a advocate for justice, a defender of the poor and downtrodden, a woman whose purpose in life was to create a better world.  Apparently the citizens of Mullaby remember Dulcie differently, as the popular girl who could make or break anyone in town with a glance, the woman who destroyed a life and a family for her own pleasure.  As Emily begins her journey of discovery of where she came from, she also has to come to terms with changing wallpaper, ghostly lights, and secrets involving her new friend Win Coffey and his disapproving family.

Addison fills this novel with the smell of cakes, baked by Julia Winterson, who is desperately trying to earn enough money to pay off her late father's debts by running his barbecue restaurant and selling bakes good.  Her two year plan is settle the debts and return to Baltimore, where she plans to open her own bakery.  She is kind to Emily and welcomes her to Mullaby, but is distracted by relationship problems related to her own past.

Some people have suggested that this novel is best suited to teens, but I disagree.  I think that it has a little bit of something for every age and enough magic to attract anyone who believes, even just a little bit.

YOU CAN TRUST ME (Sophie Mckenzie)

It's been a while since I read a psychological thriller, but this one caught my eye when I cataloged it for our collection.  It was both suspenseful and emotional, involving parents and children, ambiguous murders, close friendships that may not be all that they seem, and, most important of all in a suspense novel, terror!  This is, I believe, McKenzie's first novel.  I am not going to suggest that she is the world's next Maty Higgins Clark, but she could be,  There were a few aspects of this story that were a little bit unrealistic.  Could Kara's long-ago murderer REALLY have managed to spend so many years without anyone suspecting that something about him/her was just a little bit off?, Could Julia REALLY have kept her close relationship with Damien a secret from Livy, her best friend, and why would she?  Nonetheless, overall it was a terrific story.  Livy, the main character, is a wife and mother who is thrown into investigating the sudden death of her best friend while dealing with her daughter's  pubescent moods and suspicions that her husband may be unfaithful.  Livy has a full plate in this fast-paced thriller.  You may not be able to put it down!  I'm looking forward to McKenzie's next book.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

THE PEACH KEEPER (Sarah Addison Allen)

I am not absolutely sure where to begin talking about this novel.  I liked it and definitely plan to read more of Sarah Addison Allen's books.  The Peach Keeper (still not sure about the title) is part mystery, part romance, part paranormal, and part women's fiction.  It's the story of an old mansion, the Blue Ridge Madame, which was owned by Willa Jackson's family until their financial ruin in the 1930s and is now being restored to its former glory by the Wall of Waters Women's Society Club under the guidance of socialite Paxton Osgood, one of Willa's high school classmates.

Willa owns an organic sportswear store in Wall of Water, North Carolina.  She had returned to her hometown 8 years earlier when her father passed away, leaving Willa his house and business.  Willa's grandmother, Georgie, who once lived at the Blue Ridge Madame, is now confined to a local nursing home and suffering from Alzheimer's.  Her best childhood friend, Augusta, who is Paxton's grandmother, resides at the same home.  When an old peach tree is removed from the Blue Ridge Madame property a skeleton is discovered along with some other puzzling objects.  What do Georgie and Augusta know about the mysterious discovery under the peach tree?

Allen has infused this sweet little novel with both whimsy and mystery.  You will find yourself rooting for a happy ending for all of the angst-ridden characters populating this novel.  Maybe a little bit of magic will help them to make sense of life and love!

P0RTRAIT OF AN IMMIGRANT (Steven A. Bachleda)

This short biography (167 pages) was of special interest to me because the author's father, Anton Bachleda, and mother. Maria Oleksakova, were born in the village of Zdiar, Slovakia.  This is the same village where my great-great-grandfather, Gregory Oleksak, was born in 1873.  The similarity in names and birthplaces of Gregory and Maria leads me to believe that the author and I may be distantly related!

Steven (Stefan) Bachleda was born in Trstany, Slovakia, in 1931, just a few months after his father left for America, supposedly to seek a better life for his family. Steven was the youngest of Anton and Maria's five surviving children.  During the first years of his life his mother struggled to feed and clothe her children and keep a roof over their heads .  Anton sent very little money back from America and eventually Maria lost their home, which was heavily mortgaged, and the five children were sent to live with relatives and neighbors.  Bachleda vividly describes the difficult living conditions in Slovakia during the 1930's and the family's first attempt to immigrate to America, an attempt thwarted when Hitler closed the borders. Eventually , thanks to the generosity of a dying American widow, the family is reunited with Anton in New York after an arduous sea journey.

Bachleda takes the reader through his hardscrabble childhood in the Bronx with an alcoholic father and lack of money (all of the Bachleda children were forced to leave school early to help support the family), but his story is tempered by friendships formed and a fierce determination to belong to and succeed in this new land.  In spite of way too many commas (editing could have been better), I would recommend this book.  It illustrates the strength of family and the pride many immigrants take in contributing to their adopted country through hard work and military service.  Anyone who believes that immigration is a bad thing should try to imagine themselves working as hard or needing as little to make a life as the Bachleda family did.

THE GENTLE ART OF MURDER (Jeanne Dams)

Dorothy Martin and her husband, Alan Nesbitt, are truly the world's most wonderful senior citizens.  They eat, read, make love, and travel together.  They are affectionate, caring, and compassionate, they love animals, and they make a really great crime-solving team.  Despite the travails of "older" age (Dorothy has been widowed and had knee replacement surgery, while Alan has been retired from the police force for a few years), they still manage to maintain strong friendships and solve the occasional mystery.

Dorothy and Alan are touring the local art college when they are trapped in an elevator (Dorothy is also claustrophobic!).  The grim discovery of a body tangled in the elevators cables with a chisel in its neck propel the couple into investigating a series of accidents and sabotages that all point to political intrigue and possible murder at the college.  dams doesn't disappoint with this fast-paced mystery full of twists, turn, and red herrings.  I am looking forward to the next one!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

LOVE ANTHONY (Lisa Genova)

Anthony is an autistic boy who has died.  His grieving parents, Olivia and David, are exhausted and financially drained after 8 years of raising a non-verbal child who could not express love or interact with his peers, and they realize that their marriage has been irrevocably broken.  David remains in the family home in Hingham, MA, while Olivia moves into their rental cottage on Nantucket to try and make sense of Anthony's life and death.

Beth is a permanent resident of the island who discovers after 14 years of marriage and 3 daughters that her husband has been cheating on her.  Devastated at her husband's betrayal, Beth kicks him out of the house and he moves in with his lover.

Both Olivia and Beth struggle to understand the paths that their lives have taken, facing hard decisions and uncertain futures, each grieving for what could have been.  Although the women's stories are separate, their paths cross casually several times before they make a real connection.  Like Still Alice, Love, Anthony is a story of struggle, acceptance, and understanding.  Genova does a wonderful job of portraying the realities of dealing with a severely autistic child, but she also goes one step further.  She delves into the inner thoughts of an autistic person, allowing the reader to take a step outside of the neurotypical world and into the thoughts of an autistic person.  I found that oddly calming and reassuring.  We can't help but to assume that autistic people are trapped within a world that they can't escape and that they need our help to be more social and "fit in" in order to be happy.  Thjis novel makes me question whether those assumptions are true.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

THE HOUSE OF MEMORIES (Monica McInerney)

This is a sad, sad novel, but full of healing, as well.  Australian Ella O'Hanlon is a woman trying desperately to escape her grief after a fluke accident turns her idyllic life upside down and rips apart her family.  She leaves Aidan, the love of her life, her mother and step-father, her much-loved half-brother Charlie, and her spoiled step-sister Jess behind as she travels from job to job in Australia to try and escape the sadness and pain that have taken over her life.  She eventually ends up with her Uncle Lucas Fox in London.

Lucas, the brother of Ella's late father, has always been her rock and her escape.  Ella's parents divorced when she was a young girl and her mother, Meredith, remarried soon afterwards, to Walter, a German-born man with a son who would become Ella's best friend.  Half-sister Jessica, the adored and, apparently, perfect child, is born when Ella is 11 and soon afterwards Ella's own father is killed in a plane crash in Canada.  Ella and Lucas, her only living relative on her father's side, maintain a close relationship through letters and faxes throughout her childhood.  Lucas is an academic, maintaining a crumbling old house where he provides housing for a group of elite tutors.  It is there that Ella met and fell in love with Aidan, an Irishman fluent in 5 languages.  The two eventually moved back to Australia, married,and started a family together while Ella's mother, after being "discovered" in a shopping mall, becomes a rising star on Australian television with her comedy cooking show.  When her own life falls apart Ella is unable to share the grief process and begins her isolated journey towards a future without her son.

This novel is an emotional roller coaster of a journey.  You will find yourself alternately teary-eyed and amused, fascinated and horrified.  McInereney has a way making you feel personally acquainted with her characters, as if they are friends and colleagues instead of people who are not actually real, living human beings.  Maybe it's because some of the things that happen are the things that we all fear and hope will always happen to "someone else," despite the fact that we know in our hearts that any one of us could be Ella.  It's kind of a shock when you finish this book and realize that you are not going to spending any more time with Ella or Lucas, but you truly wish them the best because you are deeply invested in their lives and their future.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SAVING GRACE (Jane Green)

Grace has long hidden the details of her unhappy childhood from those closest to her.  Raised by an largely unmedicated manic depressive mother in England, Grace couldn't wait to get away and start a new life in America with Ted Chapman, a moody, demanding, and very successful author who is the love of her life.  With the help of a wonderful personal assistant, Grace manages Ted's moods and sometimes abusive behavior for years while playing the part of the perfect society wife and mother.  Grace also works as a chef at a local home for abused women.  Her secret fear is that she might have inherited her mother's condition.

When their longtime assistant leaves to care for her elderly mother, Grace is faced with juggling household responsibilities, organizing Ted's schedule amid his unpredictable mood swings, and her own career.  Just as things reach chaos, Beth appears out of nowhere, apparently the perfect person to organize their home and their lives.  Energetic, proactive, and upbeat, Beth seems a Godsend, or is she too good to be true?  Little by little Beth seems to be stealing Grace's life and, perhaps, her sanity along with it.

If you enjoy a well-done Lifetime movie, this novel is for you.  It has everything you could ask for: the scheming assistant, the too-trusting wife, the clueless husband, and some interesting medical shenanigans.  I really enjoyed it from start ti finish and I would recommend it.  At the end of a long, cold winter, Saving Grace might be just the thing to get rid of those lingering blahs!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A PERFECT PROPOSAL (Katie Fforde)

Katie Fforde is the perfect remedy for blues brought on by the never-end grayness of winter.  Will spring ever really come?....

Sophie is the much put-upon adult daughter of an academic family whose finances are perpetually shaky.  Sophie longs to go to school for tailoring or design.  She is a talented seamstress, organized, efficient, good-natured, and viewed by her intellectual family as rather stupid and not worth educating.  In truth, Sophie is endowed with both common sense and generosity, seeing people for who they are rather than what they can do for her.  She has had a couple of really bad boyfriends, mostly guys who ask her to pay for their dates and only have time for her when they are not busy watching TV or out with the guys. In an effort to scape her family's derision and constant criticism, Sophie arranges to work as a nanny in New York for a month, hoping to track down some family contacts and settle some drilling rights for her adorable uncle Eric (referred to as "Evil Uncle Eric" by her avaricious family).  When the job falls through she decides to look for temporary work and stay on for w few weeks.  One day, while at an art show, Sophie spots and elderly woman looking rather wobbly on her feet and runs to help her.  Of course Sophie's humanitarian gesture results in a wonderful new friendship with Matilda, a very rich American woman, originally from Cornwall whose very handsome lawyer grandson immediately gets off on the wrong foot with Sophie.  Hmm!  I wonder what will happen with these two?

A Perfect Proposal is enjoyable from page 1 through to the end.  Fforde books are always refreshing and uplifting to read.  She offers a particular type of substance that is missing from a lot of "chick lit" or romance and I always walk away liking her characters and  wishing that I could find out what happens to them later.  I loved this book!

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD (Anne Tyler)

I'm not really sure if I loved 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 one has all of the personalities that you might expect from this wonderful novelist.  As in other Tyler novels, everyone walks the fine line between good and bad, likable and repulsive, enigmatic or just plain boring.  The focus here is on the Whitshank home and the family that has occupied it for years.  Abby and Red Whitshank raised their family in this home, originally built by Red's father, Junior Whitshank, for the Brills, a local family who soon decided that the house was not right for them.  Junior purchased the home and moved his reluctant wife, Linny, and two children, Red and Merrick, into his dream home, where Red will eventually raise his family.

Red and Abby have 4 children, efficient, businesslike lawyer Amanda, sweet, maternal Jeannie, Denny, the black sheep, and Stem (Douglas), who has the talent and drive to take over his father's building business someday.  Denny is the on who comes and goes.  We are first introduced to his character when he calls to tell his parents that he is gay, but then he is getting married, then a father, then divorced, working here and there at all sorts of jobs, usually out of range of his family, disappearing for years at a time, seemingly resentful and dysfunctional and unable to sustain any sort of log-term commitment.  There are several surprises regarding the Whitshank family.  I won't reveal them here for fear of ruining them for you, but one involves Junior and Linny's relationship and the other, youngest son Stem.  All in all, there is a lot going on, all of it thought-provoking, some of it confusing.  I still have questions about the title.  The "spool of blue thread" makes a brief appearance in the novel after a death.  I have obvious theories about its significance: the thread of love linking Red and Abby, or perhaps family history, or maybe even the unraveling of the Whitshank family.  All I know is that, although it wasn't my favorite book of all time, any novel that makes you think and wonder is worth reading!

Friday, March 20, 2015

STILL ALICE (Lisa Genova)

I would call this beautiful novel life-changing in some ways.  I am fortunate that no one close to me has ever had Alzheimer's, but I feel like I now have a much better understanding of the horror, fear, and frustration that must inevitably 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, who orders numerous tests, she is given the devastating diagnoses of 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 it has provided me with truly 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 Gloucestershire 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!