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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN (Sarah McCoy)

Currently reading....

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 storylibne 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 in an effort to discover the identity of owner, whom he calls "Freckles."  Information gleaned from the tapes and his increasingly strained relationship with Christine lead him on a road trip that will change his life.

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 book, 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!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

SOMETHING MISSING (Matthew Dicks)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

PEMBERLEY or PRIDE & PREJUDICE CONTINUED (Emma Tennant)

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

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

LAST WOOL AND TESTAMENT (Molly MacRae)

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

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

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

THE WIZARDS RETURN (Michael Walsh)

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

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

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

DEATH OF A LIAR ( M.C. Beaton)

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

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER (Julia Spencer-Fleming)

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

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

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

AS CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST (Alan Bradley)

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

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

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

A DEMON SUMMER (G.M. Malliet)

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

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP (Donna Leon)

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

LET IT SEW (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

SUMMER OF LOVE (Katie FForde)

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

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

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

PACK UP THE MOON (Anna McPartlin)


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

Friday, December 26, 2014

ONE HUNDRED NAMES (Cecilia Ahern)

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

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

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

MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND (Matthew Dicks)

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

VIOLETS OF MARCH (Sarah Jio)

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

GRAVE UNDERTAKINGS (Ralph McInerny)

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

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

THE LOOK OF LOVE (Sarah Jio)

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HELLO FROM THE GILLESPIES (Monica McInerney)

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

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

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

BLACKBERRY WINTER (Sarah Jio)

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE HAUNTED ABBOT (Peter Tremayne)

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

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

QUEEN BEE GOES HOME AGAIN (Hayward Smith)

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

THE LOVELIEST CHOCLATE SHOP IN PARIS (Jenny Colgan)

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

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

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

THE DIVORCE PAPERS (Susan Rieger)

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

SEASON OF STORMS (Susanna Kearsley)

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WICKED AUTUMN (G.M. Malliet)

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

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

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

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

MEET ME AT THE CUPCAKE CAFE (Jenny Colgan)

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

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A DEATH IN THE ASYLUM (Caroline Dunford)

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

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

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

SWEETSHOP OF DREAMS (Jenny Colgan)

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

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

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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

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

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

THE SEA GARDEN (Marcia Willett)

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

GOODNIGHT, JUNE (Sarah Jio)

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

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

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

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A FRENCH AFFAIR (Katie Fforde)

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

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