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

Monday, June 20, 2016

THE SOUND OF GLASS (Karen White)

I am becoming quite the Karen White fan.  Who knew?  This is, in some respects a difficult book to read given that the main these is multi-generational spousal abuse, but things work out in the end.

Merritt Heyward has lived in Maine all of her life and has been widowed for 2 years.  Her husband, Cal, died while fighting a fire and Merritt feels that comments she made during an argument may have directly contributed to Cal's death.  When Merritt receives the news that Cal's grandmother has passed away and that she is heir to the family home in Beaufort, NC, she decides to move south and start a new life.  Nondescript, modest, and shy, Merritt, who hides her physical beauty, is a typical abused wife and is shocked and horrified when she meets Cal's brother, Gibbes, and initially mistakes him for her late husband.  Soon after her arrival Merritt's widowed stepmother, Loralee, arrives with her son, 10-year-old Owen.  Merritt believes Loralee to be a bimbo and has never accepted her as her widowed father's wife, but now begins to regret having missed the opportunity to know her half-brother.

White unravels a long and complicated history of not one, but two troubled families, revealing surprising interconnections and patterns of abuse that span generations.  The added mystery of Grandmother Edith's seemingly bizarre hobby in the attic (in addition to making sea-glass wind chimes) is fascinating.  I have to admit that I sometimes found Merritt's reserve and Loralee's incredible wisdom and fortitude a bit too much, but I ended up loving them both.  This is kind of a combination tear-jerker, redemption, and romance.  I want to read more of Karen White!

SPLINTERS OF LIGHT (Rachel Herron)

Maybe writing novels about Early Onset Alzheimer's is the latest trend.  I think that people are both fascinated and terrified when confronted with an insider's view of this devastating disease, kind of like seeing a horrible accident and not being able to look away while simultaneously being grateful that it wasn't you.

Herron's protagonist is Nora Glass, a successful 44-year-old writer who believes that she is most likely experiencing early signs of menopause: forgetfulness, the inability to find certain words, fatigue.  When she goes through extensive testing and finally receives a diagnosis of EOAD, she seeks a second opinion, a third, and even a fourth, all confirming that she does have the disease.  As a successful newspaper columnist for the past 10 years, Nora has been offering insightful advice on living and surviving life as a single mother to Ellie, now a rebellious 16-year-old, but she now finds herself at a loss as to how to deal with the news that she won't live to see her daughter graduate from college, marry, and have children of her own.  Telling her twin sister, Mariana, her neighbor/lover, Harrison, and her daughter about what the future holds feels like an impossible burden to unload on her loved ones, but as her episodes of "getting stuck" and her forgetfulness get worse she is finally forced to share the news with her loved ones.

The relationships in this novel are volatile, yet intensely loving.  As we have seen in many other novels, tragedy can bring people together or tear them apart, depending on their commitment to each other.  At first I was worried about reading this, especially since I've read two other novels about EOAD fairly recently and I tend to develop moods based on what I'm currently reading.  I shouldn't have worried, though.  Herron, if you believe this is possible, manages to present the reader with the positive side of a terminal illness, although it takes a lot of angst to get there.  I would wholeheartedly recommend Splinters of Light.  It was a wonderful experience.

Friday, June 10, 2016

ALL SUMMER LONG (Dorothea Benton Frank)

I have seen Dorothea Benton Frank's novels, of course.  I've ordered them for our library!  I have never read one until now, though, and I am excited to read more.  There is enough depth to her characters and their relationships to keep you interested, and it is, quite frankly, refreshing to read about people who are truly and realistically in love with each other.

Olivia is a high-end interior designer who has agreed to move from new York City to South Carolina's Low Country with her retired history professor husband, Nick.  Moving back to the South of his childhood has been a longtime dream of Nick's, but what he doesn't know is that with the move Olivia's client base is drying up and their finances have become precarious.

All Summer Long is filled with exotic locales, a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous, a lovely sense of place, and several interesting story lines.  Some of the characters are ridiculous, but the central theme revolves around commitment to marriage, communication, and loyalty.  I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it as a great vacation read.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (Betty Smith)

This book is the selection for the second meeting of the Vintage Book Club.  I will write a review soon.  There is SO much to say about this brilliant novel!  Come back soon.

Monday, May 23, 2016

WEEKENDERS (Mary Kay Andrews)

Mary Kay Andrews never fails to produce a great story full of interesting characters and beautiful settings where you can almost smell the air and feel the breeze in your hair.  Here, Riley Griggs and her daughter, Maggy, who suffers from juvenile diabetes, are waiting for the ferry to take them to their summer home on Belle Isle, NC.  Husband Wade (I have to go back and check on this name.  I apologize if it is incorrect.) is late and fails to answer his cell phone, so they travel to the island with Riley's best friend Parrish to await Wade's arrival, discovering on arrival that their home is locked and in foreclosure.  Eventually Wade's body is discovered, leading to more and more discoveries about Riley's marriage, the family business, which Wade controlled, and some insidious family secrets.  Riley grew up summering on Belle Island as part of a wealthy and respected family, so she has a large support system, including her family and longtime friends on the island.

This is a great book for summer, with just the right blend of intrigue, local color, angst, and romance.  I enjoyed it very much.  It's interesting that Ms. Andrews returned to her mystery roots in this novel.

TUMBLEDOWN MANOR (Helen Brown)

If you like Hallmark movies or are a fan of HGTV, you'll enjoy Tumbledown Manor.  Lisa Trumperton has left her chic life in New York and her philandering husband behind to move back to her native Australia to stay with her sister Maxine.  When she discovers that her great-grandfather's dilapidated manor house is for sale, she decides to consolidate her resources and restore Trumperton Manor to some semblance of it's former glory.  Alternately hilarious and heartwarming (and sometimes both at once), Lisa's journey to independence is a delightful story.  With the aid of quirky local handymen (the Gray Army) and various new friends, including hunky Scott Green, the landscape designer, Lisa is able to transform the rundown house into a home despite various catastrophes (flood, fire, skepticism) she encounters along the way.

Lisa is a writer and a breast cancer survivor and her two grown children who have their own issues.  Daughter Portia, who lives in California, seems to be anorexic, and son Ted, who lives in Australia, is gay.  Ex-husband Jake, whose affair was discovered when Lisa accidentally discovers that her beautiful birthday flowers were actually purchased for Jake's mistress, is just a jerk.  Will Lisa accept Jake's apology?  Will her children find their own paths to happiness?  Will Lisa and Scott forma  lasting bond?  Read it and find out!  I enjoyed it from start to finish.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MASTERS OF DECEPTION: ESCHER, DALI & THE ARTISTS OF OPTICAL ILLUSION (Al Seckel)

I have to admit that I didn't actually READ this book.  I mostly looked at the pictures, and I enjoyed every minute if it! I won't really "review" this book, but I will say that if you enjoy optical illusions or are a fan of M.C. Escher or Rob Gonsalves you should definitely consider taking a look.  Seckel has provided commentary and a wonderful selection of works by each of these astounding artists.  It's mind-boggling!

WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD BUTTER (Beth Harbison)

Gemma is a private chef and caterer, loving her career but struggling to make ends meet.  Her clients range from the bizarre to the mysterious, with demanding and utterly charming thrown in. When she starts losing clients and discovers that one of her former clients is sabatoging her catering career, Gemma is naturally worried about being able to continue her work and pay her bills. Lex, one of her favorite clients, suggests that she take on a new client and work cooking healthy food for his cousin Willa, an independently wealthy,  but grossly overweight young woman who prefers not to leave her home.  One of Gemma's most mysterious clients (there are several) turns out to be in a profession that provides Gemma with some encouragement and some much needed insight into possibilities for the future.

This is not deep reading.  You probably won't be inspired to change your life or gain new insight into business or your love life, but you will enjoy the progression of Gemma's career and relationships.  If you like good chick-lit and women's fiction, try this one.

A FATAL GRACE (Louise Penny)

C.C. de Poitiers is one of those characters that you hope will be the victim of foul play.  Recently moved to Three Pines, the beautiful Quebec village featured in Still Life, the first Armand Gamache novel, CC is a narcissistic, abusive, amoral businesswoman.  She is disliked by everyone, including her own wimpy husband, her overweight, somewhat pathetic daughter, and her photographer/lover.  CC fancies herself a guru whose reworking of a supposedly ancient philosophy called Le Bien will make her wildly successful and famous worldwide despite her abusive personality and complete lack of empathy or background.  When CC is electrocuted at a curling match, Armande Gamache is called in to investigate.  Three Pines is brimming with suspects, one of whom may actually be CC's unknown mother.  Could her husband have killed her?  What about her business rival, her lover, or any of the people that have been the target of her vindictiveness?  How, exactly, was the crime committed with no witnesses?  Louise Penny keeps her readers on their toes and on the edge of their seats.  This is a great series!

Monday, May 2, 2016

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HAPPILY EVER AFTER (Jenny Colgan)

Sigh!  I can't believe that I just finished another Jenny Colgan novel and I think I may be running out.  This one hasn't even been published in the US yet!  According to Amazon, that won't happen until September 20, 2016, but look for the American title, The Bookshop on the Corner.  I really love Amazon used books!

What do I love about this particular novel?  To start with, it's set in a lovely area of Scotland.  The heroine is a librarian, like me.  There are a lot of really nice characters.  The main character, Nina, despite her kind of mousy "librarian" personality, turns out to be a spunky, creative woman who takes a chance on not just a whole new career, but a great concept, a bookstore in a van that travels around the area meeting the reading needs of the little village of Kirrinffief and beyond.  Nina Redmond is a genius at matching readers to books and discovers that the people of rural Scotland are starved for good books.  She stocks her van with books from libraries that are closing, estate sales, and remainders, and overstocks and soon has a thriving business.  Of course, the little guest house where she is living just happens to have a hunky, brooding landlord who has been hurt in the past and is reluctant to get involved with anyone new.

This novel, like all of Jenny Colgan's, is a wonderful escape.  It's a romance, it's women's fiction, it's a great story for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the social culture of rural Scotland.  Highly recommended!

THE MOVING FINGER (Agatha Christie)

I recently realized that I have done much more watching of Agatha Christie movies than reading of her books, so one of my goals this summer to remedy that situation.  As a librarian and co-facilitator of a large mystery book club, it makes sense, doesn't it?  One thing that has surprised me is how little Poirot and Miss Marple actually appear in Christie's novels!

Jerry Burton, a pilot, has been recovering form a bad crash for months.  His doctor suggests a sojourn in the country to help complete his recovery, so he and his sister, Joanna, rent a house in Lymstock from a Emily Barton, a maiden lady overburdened by taxes and other debts.  Their relaxing vacation takes a dark turn when Jerry receives an anonymous letter composed of cut and pasted words, accusing him and his sister of lying about their sibling status.  Jerry disposes of the letter but eventually discovers that others in the seemingly quiet village have received them as well.  When Mrs. Symmington, the wife of the local lawyer is found dead, the verdict is suicide prompted by a similar anonymous letter accusing her of infidelity.  When a maid in the house is murdered a week later, the whole community is on edge, pointing fingers first to this suspect and then to that, the only agreement among the authorities being that the letter writer must be a woman and must also be responsible for the deaths of Mrs. Symmington and the maid. Could it be sweet Emily Barton, or Mrs. Dane Calthrop, the vicar's wife, or Miss Ginch, Mr. Symmington's (possibly lovesick) secretary, or perhaps Aimee Griffiths, the doctor's sister?  Could it be the Symmington's nanny, the beautiful Elsie Holland, or even neighbor Mr. Pye, the "middle aged spinster?"  What about Megan, Mrs. Symmington's directionless daughter from her first marriage?

Fortunately, Miss Marple comes to visit her old friend Mrs. Dane Calthrop at the vicarage and quickly puts together the clues with the help of Jerry's observations.  All in all, a satisfying mystery!  But what else would you expect of Agatha Christie?


SUMMER AT THE LITTLE BEACH STREET BAKERY (Jenny Colgan)

(Sequel to The Little Beach Street Bakery)
Poor Polly!  She is an incredibly hard worker, getting up at the crack of dawn every day to make bread in her bake shop in Polbearne, just off the coast of Cornwall.  She is also kind, honest, well-liked, and madly in love with an American honey expert and bee-keeper called Huckle.  When her landlord and bakery owner, Mrs. Manse, dies, misguided and somewhat evil nephew Malcolm decides that it would be more profitable to fire Polly and bring in packaged baked goods, so Polly is out of a job.  Burdened with the mortgage on the lighthouse where she and Huckle live, Polly desperately needs income.  She has already started over once after the failure of her graphics design business, the breakup of a 7-year relationship, and bankruptcy.  She knows she can start yet again, but her love of the little bakery that she built up from nothing and for the people of Polbearne make it difficult to consider moving. Huckle comes up with a solution that will involve much sacrifice and finger-crossing, but it could be a success.

Polly has an indomitable spirit, plus a vulnerability that makes her SO appealing. One of Colgan's greatest talents as a writer is making the reader care about her characters.  No matter how outlandish the situation (and there are some outlandish things happening here), you can't help but root for Polly.  She doesn't have a unlikable bone in her fictional body and her strength of character and devotion to her friends is unshakable.  You will laugh and you will cry, but mostly you'll just enjoy.  This is a wonderful novel for a rainy weekend, especially when you need a little reaffirmation that life and relationships really can work out over insurmountable odds.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

FALLING HOME (Karen White)

Some of my friends reads Karen White, so I thought I'd take a chance and find out why.  This was actually Ms. White's first book, reworked years later and republished.  The author herself points to the difference all of those years of writing experience have made in the quality of her novel!

The story seemed a little bit familiar when I started the book and I remember thinking, Sweet Home Alabama!  A southern girl runs away to New York City when events in the small town of her youth threaten to overwhelm her.  She reinvents herself, achieves success, becomes engaged to a sophisticated successful man, and loses her accent.  When she returns home after years away she is resistant to being drawn in to the bucolic, unsophisticated life she left behind, but strangely drawn to the past she has worked relentlessly to erase.

This isn't Sweet Home Alabama, although it is definitely romantic and a tear-jerker, just what we look for in women's fiction.  I found Sam's undying love for Cassie a bit too predictable (duh, what is the inevitable ending?) and Harriet to be just a bit too saintly (does the woman EVER get angry at anything or anyone?), and the town was just a bit too supportive and respectful of pretty much everyone and everything.  But, you know what?  This is fiction.  Most of us want to escape into a book, to experience vicariously emotions and situations that we might fear, avoid, or long for in our real lives.  Who wouldn't want to return to their hometown to discover that people from the past are still willing to embrace and forgive?  Who wouldn't want to discover that the nerdy yet compassionate boy that they barely noticed has grown into a successful, hunky man with the patience of a saint and relentless devotion to his first love?  Who wouldn't want to be able to look at their life through a different lens and see it for what it really is?  I think that White has given most readers exactly what they want, a story about overcoming the worst that life can dish out and still being able to enjoy a happy ending.  This is a great book for a rainy day.  Just be sure to have a few tissues handy for the second half!


A WEE DOSE OF DEATH (Fran Stewart)

I'm not really sure why I love these Peggy Winn ScotShop mysteries, but I do!  I can't wait for the next one!  Maybe it's Ms. Stewart's crisp writing style, the Scottish theme, the friendships, or the ghost (who wouldn't want someone like MacBeath (a.k.a Dirk) in their lives?), but it all comes together into a delightfully funny mystery series.  I have to admit that I thought the end of this one was a bit abrupt and I'm still not sure why Emily Wantstring seemed so neurotic and unable to communicate normally with her children, but the sheer enjoyment of the reading makes up for that.  Let me put it this way: if characters and setting are of prime importance to you, you will adore the ScotShop mysteries, but if you are one of those mystery readers that needs to follow the clues and try to solve the crime before the end or who needs to trace back the clues to justify the conclusion, you might feel that there is a bit lacking.  This is not meant as criticism, just an observation.

This series has everything a cozy series needs: close friends, an interesting business/profession (one of my favorite things in any novel), a not-quite-there-yet budding romance, and a heroine who's not a wimp.  The addition of a 14th century Scottish ghost intent on learning all he can about 21st century life add a wonderful twist.  Read this!

DEATH IN LACQUER RED (Jeanne Dams)

This book was the April selection for the Christie Capers.  For those of you aren't familiar with Jeanne Dams, she writes the wonderful Dorothy Martin series, contemporary mysteries set in England and featuring an 60-something American ex-pat and her retired policeman husband.

This series is historical, set in South Bend, Indiana around 1900, and it portrays very vividly the life of a servant at that time.  Hilda Johansson works as a maid in the Studebaker mansion for the fictionalized real-life Studebaker family of automobile fame.  She, along with her two sisters, has been in America for several years, toiling in the homes of the very wealthy with the goal of bringing the rest of their family over from Sweden.  Hilda has a gentleman friend, Patrick, an Irish Catholic fireman, an equally hard-working immigrant who is obviously head-over-heels in love with her.

When Hilda discovers a body in the hedge behind the Studebaker house she is, naturally shocked, even more so when it is discovered that the victim is the newly returned missionary sister of the the judge next door.  Despite her minimal free time (as we know from Downton Abbey, servants had little opportunity for personal lives back in those days), Hilda feels compelled to investigate the crime, especially after someone else is murdered. Hilda is relentless in her pursuit of justice and takes quite a few chances that, quite frankly, seem a little over-the-top considering the era and her station in life.  She does, however, remain appropriately modest and moral throughout!

While I like the Dorothy Martin series better, Hilda is an enjoyable character to get to know. She is headstrong and impulsive, yet respectful and socially correct in all ways.  There are, I think, 6 books in this series and the last I heard ms. dams was looking for a new publisher.  Hopefully, she'll find one and continue on with the adventures of Hilda Johansson.  If you have read and enjoyed any of Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy mysteries, you will definite enjoy this series as well.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

ALL OF US & EVERYTHING (Bridget Asher)

If your family is on the dysfunctional side, take heart!  The Rockwells will make you feel like you grew up in a 60's sitcom.  Eccentric Augusta Rockwell raised her daughters, Esme, Liv, and Ru, in her ancestral home on Asbury Avenue in Ocean City, New Jersey during the 1980's.  All  she has told her daughters (presumably facetiously) about their absent father is that he was a spy.  The rest was left up to their imaginations until the grown sisters return to their childhood home on Asbury Avenue after Hurricane Sandy.

Oldest daughter Esme married Doug Toomey and eventually they had a daughter, Atty (Atticus), who is a bullied teenager.  Doug, a teacher, was on a class field trip to Paris when Esme received the news (via a school official) that he had left her for his dentist.  Esme had mostly married Doug because he seemed safe after the mysterious disappearance of her college love, Darwin Webber.

Liv has suffered a breakdown after the demise of her third marriage.  Liv is a cherry-picker, targeting rich men in the New York Times engagement page and marrying them, but over the course of the years this strategy has proven less than successful as a means to finding lasting love and Liv has turned increasingly to medication to help herself cope, eventually landing in an expensive rehab facility.  As a girl Liv had fallen in love with a young man named Teddy Whistler and their story seems suspiciously like the plot of younger sister's Ru's best-selling novel, Trust Teddy Wilmer.  When Liv sees Ru's surprise engagement announcement in the Times, her first thought is that her sister's fiance, Cliff, is a perfect cherry-picking target.

Meanwhile, baby sister Ru (short for Ruby) is in Vietnam, living in a tent with a large local family in order to avoid (1) acknowledging her recent engagement and (2) writing the second novel that the world eagerly awaits.

As for Augusta, Hurricane Sandy has reminded her that life is short, so she begins to wonder about whether it's time to tell the girls the truth about their father and perhaps bring some closure to her own love story.  Thus begins an entertaining journey through the lives of the Rockwells, a family badly in need of therapy.  Will family secrets finally revealed destroy the family or create new connections?  Read it and find out!

THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (Agatha Christie)

This wonderful novel has been called one of Agatha Christie's best, criticized by some for too many twists and turns and dead ends and hailed by others for the same thing.  The British Crime Writers' Association named it the best mystery of all time in 2012.

Hercule Poirot has retired to the little village of King's Abbot, settling in next door to Dr. James Sheppard and his overly inquisitive, but surprisingly perceptive, older sister, Caroline.  When Dr. Sheppard's good friend, Roger Ackroyd, is found dead in his study, suspects and motives abound.  The prime suspect is Roger's mysteriously absent step-son, Ralph Paton, a good-looking dilettante who has recently become engaged to Flora Ackroyd, Roger's niece, and stands to inherit the Ackroyd fortune.  But, could the nervous butler, Parker, have had reason to dispose of his employer?  What about efficient secretary (and lover of horse races), Geoffrey Raymond, or Miss Russell, the older, but still attractive, housekeeper who asks Dr. Sheppard about various poisons?  Someone was being blackmailed, but is there a connection to the murder?

Dr. Sheppard becomes Hercule's right-hand man as they investigate the crime, following the clues to the surprising conclusion.  Mystery lovers will find the twists and turns, dead ends, and puzzling clues an intriguing experience.  This is Agatha Christie at her best. No wonder her work remains so popular today!

Monday, March 21, 2016

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (Elizabeth Strout)

Narrator Lucy Barton grew up in rural Amgash, IL, isolated, abused, and yearning to become a writer.  But what would someone who was raised without television, friends, or love write about?  When we talk about people "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" or escaping poverty to make something of themselves, sometimes we forget to consider the social foundation that many of us take for granted, that allows is to "fit in" and pursue our goals.  Lucy is fortunate that she has talent and has built a family and a life in Manhattan, far from her childhood environment.  She has a supportive spouse (with German roots that Lucy's war-scarred father cannot abide) to help her realize her dreams and to help her put her "one story" into words.

Lucy is hospitalized for 9 weeks with an unexplained post-surgical infection.  Missing her husband and two girls, she is shocked to awaken one day to find her mother sitting in a chair in her hospital room.  For 5 days her mother, who has never said "I love you" or shown any interest in Lucy's dreams and aspirations, talks with Lucy about random people from their past and about her family, but never about her own feelings or the reasons for Lucy's emotionally confused childhood. But it is the sound of her mother's voice rather than what she says that brings joy to Lucy's heart, easing her isolation and connecting her again with the family that she has left behind.

Lucy's story is told in retrospect, and we learn much more about her during the course of the novel, about the deficiencies of her childhood, the important relationships that have formed her character and her writing career, and of the strength of her marriage.  Strout's novel is simple, yet powerful.  I am not really sure I understood the true theme of My Name Is Lucy Barton, but I believe it is about family and connections and the fact that all of us are the sum of our experiences and relationships.  We are never truly alone.

A WINDOW OPENS (Elisabeth Egan)

We've all faced difficult times.  For suburban mother and part-time magazine editor Alice Pearse, everything seems to be falling apart at once.  He attorney husband decides to leave his prestigious law firm and strike out on his own, burning his bridges behind him and soothing himself with alcohol.  Her beloved father suffers a recurrence of the throat cancer that robbed him of his voice ten years before.  Alice accepts what sounds like a dream job to shore up the family finances while her husband builds his new law practice, but her dream gradually turns into a nightmare of juggling family obligations, work responsibilities, and some questionable ethical issues.  Soon Alice is exhausted and missing her role as hands-on mother.

This isn't traditional "chick lit."  There are no shopping emergencies or blossoming romances.  A Window Opens is about a woman in danger of losing sight of what's really important in life while she struggles to be everything to everyone.  I don't mean to sound like this novel is depressing, either.  It's a wonderful story about human beings dealing with what life dishes out, supporting each other in good times and bad, maintaining friendships, doing what's right, and recognizing that love is the most important component in a life well lived.

Just one more note:  I'm wondering if the name of the main character, Alice Pearse, is a subtle homage to Allison Pearson, the author of I Don't Know How She Does It, another excellent novel about the problems and pitfalls of working motherhood?

Friday, March 11, 2016

A SUMMER AT SEA (Katie Fforde)

Katie Fforde always makes me smile.  She transports her readers to a different world (unless you live in the UK, in which case things might not be so different!) in each novel and subtly introduces us to an insider's view of a variety of professions.  In A Summer at Sea (which, by the way, is not yet available in the U.S. as far as I know - hooray for Amazon.com used books!) we learn about both midwifery and running summer cruises in Scotland and, of course, there is a happily ever after for all (which makes this a romance).  The thing about Fforde's romances is that they don't involve any bodice-ripping or sinking into each other's eyes.  The characters, especially the women, are always involved in interesting pursuits and tend to be quite practical and self-sufficient.

Emily Bailey is a nurse-midwife in need of a short break.  Conflicts with doctors and husbands who believe that germ-filled hospitals are the best alternative for giving birth have exhausted her, so when her friend Rebecca calls for a favor, Emily requests a leave, packs up, and commits herself to spending the summer in the islands west of Scotland, cooking for guests on a "puffer" steamboat owned by Rebecca and her husband, James.  Rebecca, who usually does the cooking on the boat, is in the last trimester of pregnancy (so we suspect what's going to happen here!).  Emily comes to love both Scotland and James' taciturn brother Alasdair, the local GP, but when an almost-too-good-to-be-true offer to run the new birthing center at the hospital back home comes up, what will she decide to do?  Will Emily stay in England pursuing her new career, or will her heart take her back to Scotland and the people she has come to love?

As soon as this book is available in the US we will be adding it to our library collection.  If you're a Katie Fforde fan who just can't wait, check out Amazon for a used copy.  You'll be glad you read it!

Friday, February 26, 2016

DEATH OF A NURSE (M.C. Beaton)

What do I need to say?  Hamish is discontented and wishes he had someone to love, as always.  When a beautiful nurse is found murdered on the beach, red herrings abound, Blair interferes, and Hamish ultimately solves the case.  If you love Hamish and you love the antics of the strange people of Lochdubh (lock-doo) and the Scottish Highlands, you'll thoroughly enjoy this latest (32nd!) addition to the series.  It's a great weekend read!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

THE THINGS WE KEEP (Sally Hepworth)

This is a scary book.  It will remind you of Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which is also about a woman with early onset Alzheimer's.  Like Alice, Anna has family support, to an extent, and the reader experiences the progression of the disease through Anna's eyes and mind.  Anna is just 38 years old when the story begins and has recently moved to a nursing home.

Unlike Still Alice, The Things We Keep is written from the point of view of several other characters, Eve and her daughter, Clementine, as well as Anna's.  Eve is a recent widow whose husband, Richard, was a financial manager convicted of cheating his clients out of millions of dollars with a Ponzi scheme.  After his suicide Eve and their daughter, Clementine, were left penniless and disgraced to face the contempt and hatred of Richard's victims, most of whom are convinced that Eve herself shares responsibility for Richard's crimes.  Eve meets Anna when she is hired as cook and cleaner at a private nursing home in her daughter's school district, where Clem can continue to attend the same school.  From Clem's narration we see the stress and anguish of a 7-year-old child missing her father, outcast and bullied by her classmates, and desperately trying to hang on to memories of her past life with both of her parents.

This novel raises a lot of questions about what is "right" for victims of Alzheimer's.  Should they be allowed, as adults, to engage in adult relationships (even if they do need to be reintroduced to people every day)?  Can people with Alzheimer's fall in love?  Where should the line be drawn between physical safety and emotional well-being? Anna's story is one that we all hope that neither we nor a loved one will ever have to live.  Hepworth presents us with 2 women of similar age and intelligence.  Each suffers a devastating setback in life.  One has the means and opportunity to fight her way back to some semblance of a normal life, always defined by her past, while the other faces the reality that her past is disappearing and her future is nonexistent.  I'm still thinking about this book.  I would highly recommend it.  I may add more to this review later on!

A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP (Fran Stewart)

Delightful and endearing are two of the words that come to mind when trying to describe Stewart's first ScotShop mystery.  I am a lover of all things Scottish (well, except for maybe the food) and I embrace my Scottish ancestry wholeheartedly, so I reveled wholeheartedly in the talk of tartans, bagpipes, and sporrans and Peggy's treks around the Scottish countryside.

Peggy Winn (of Welsh, not Scottish descent) owns the ScotShop, a store devoted to all things Scottish in the tiny Vermont tourist town of Hamelin.  each year she travels to a village in the highlands of Scotland to purchase stock and make connections for her shop.  This year she discovers a small shop on a dark side street, where purchases a beautiful antique tartan shawl that comes with something extra.  When she unfolds the shawl and places it on her shoulders a handsome, 14th century ghost appears!  On her return to Vermont she discovers that not only has the ghost, "Dirk," traveled back with her, but that the dead body of her unfaithful ex-boyfriend, Mason, is under a fallen bookcase in her shop.  Since her cousin Shoe's baseball bat was used in the attack on Mason, Shoe is accused of the crime and jailed, prompting Peggy to investigate with the aid of handsome police detective harper.

While the mystery is fine, the best part of this novel is the series on verbal exchanges between Peggy and Dirk, who turns out to be a very intelligent and curious ghost, asking constant questions about language, customs, and technology.  This is fun read!

Monday, February 15, 2016

THE CHRISTMAS SURPRISE (Jenny Colgan)

Jenny Colgan just has a way of making you fall in love with her characters.  Rosie Hopkins and Stephen Lakeman are back and it's just after Christmas time in the village of Lipton.  Stephen's mother is still horrible and Aunt Lilian is still the voice of reason and love.  If you read the previous Rosie novels (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams and Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop) you'll know that Rosie and Stephen have recently gotten engaged.  They are, however, in no hurry to get married, mainly because Stephen's aristocratic mother, Henrietta, will inevitably demand a "society" wedding rather than the simple, joyful ceremony the couple would prefer.  After a tragic personal turn of events, the couple decides to take a trip to Africa to visit the village where Stephen had taught and been injured by a land mine that killed two young boys.  Now the boys' sister is pregnant and Stephen and Rosie travel for days by plane and jeep to see the family and offer support to the new mother and baby.  When they return to England they bring back a joyous surprise (I won't tell you what), but complications ensue.

While Rosie's friend and sweet shop coworker Tina is planning her wedding, Stephen's sister Pamela breezes into town from America and decides to settle in Peak House, a dwelling on the Lipton estate where Stephen and Rosie had been tentatively planning to live because they needed more room.  Chaos ensues, of course, with Pamela's Peak House renovations, a fire in Tina's planned wedding venue, and dealings with nasty dentist Roy Blaine.  Of course, it all comes out fine in the end, but throughout the novel you will worry about Rosie and Stephen, two of the nicest and most adaptable people you would ever want to meet.  Don't confuse "nice" with boring, though.  These two have their struggles, but they always love and support each other and pitch in to help and nurture anyone else in need.  There's just something about Jenny Colgan.  It's not rocket science, but her stories have such a warm, appealing quality.  You want her characters to be happy because they make you happy.  That's the best thing about her novels.  I want to read more!

SUMMER SECRETS (Jane Green)

I read Summer Secrets on my Kindle, which is not my favorite way to read.  I like being able to go back and check previous details, like dates and names, and reading an e-book makes that difficult.  Still, it's free and easy with our library's OneClickDigital database!

Main character Cat, a divorced mother, is an alcoholic.  The novel mainly covers 1998 through the present, starting in 2014 and then going back to earlier times in Cat's life and to the early years of her parents' marriage.  Cat started drinking young and her dependence on alcohol spiraled out of control until she has evolved into a full-blown alcoholic by her early 20's.  Typical of some alcoholics, Cat doesn't really believe that she has a "problem,", but tries to sober up when she meets the recovering alcoholic who will turn out to be the love of her life.

The story here is not unique:  Girl grows up in dysfunctional family, becomes dysfunctional herself, discovers secrets in her past, falls in love, tries to get her act together, fails and tries again.  While there is much family drama here, it is basically a novel about a woman's struggle with alcoholism. My impression is that Jane Green must be close to someone who has struggled with a drinking problem, or that she is a great researcher, because she gets right to the heart of alcoholism, bringing us into the inner world of an alcoholic.  Don't look to be uplifted.  I found the book kind of depressing, but insightful and informative.  I have to admit that I picked it because it was by Jane Green without really paying attention to the subject matter.  I am glad that I read it and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in a look at the inside world of an alcoholic.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A SUPERIOR DEATH (Nevada Barr)

Nevada Barr is an expert at creating a strong sense of place.  In A Superior Death readers can almost feel the icy water of lake Superior closing in over their head and experience a sense of panic at diving far beneath the surface of the lake with a precise amount of time to return to the surface.

Barr's Anna Pigeon, a ranger with the U.S. National Park Service, has been reassigned from the Texas desert to remote Isle Royal in Lake Superior, where the waters are deep and mosquitoes in amply supply.  Hidden in the frigid waters are the wrecks of several sunken boats, including Kamloops, where the bodies of six crew members have been partially preserved for almost 70 years. Divers discover a 7th body, that of Denny Castle, a newlywed and expert diver, floating inside Kamloops dressed in old fashioned sailor's garb.  So the investigation begins.  Barr has managed to include possible cannibalism, domestic abuse, pedophilia, a federal agent obsessed with the idea of drug smuggling, grief, betrayal, incest, a missing person, teen angst, assault. and the bends into this action-packed (yet a bit slow-moving) story.  Unbelievably, it all fits successfully.  Barr, who has worked as a ranger herself, presents her readers with incredible detail, leaving us feeling as if we have just returned from a trip to Isle Royal, and grateful that we have escaped with our lives.

Nevada Barr is not for the reader who wants to breeze through an unrealistic techno-thriller.  She is for the reader who wants to immerse themselves in another life and another place, being drawn into the setting so far that sometimes the feeling of being in Isle Royal stays with you long after you've put the book down and gone about other business in your life.  This is a book that you can sink into.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

FETA ATTRACTION (Susannah Hardy)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

THE BLESSING WAY (Tony Hillerman)

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

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

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

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


BLOOD WILL TELL (Jeanne Dams)

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

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

As always, anything Jeanne Dams writes is highly recommended!

Monday, January 4, 2016

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON (Kate Morton)

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A CHRISTMAS FEAST AND OTHER STORIES (Katie Fforde)

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

THE CINDERELLA MURDER (Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke)

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

HAUNTED SEASON (G.M. Malliet)

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

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

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

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

MISTLETOE MAN (Susan Wittig Albert)

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

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

GO SET A WATCHMAN (Harper Lee)

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

YARNED AND DANGEROUS (Sadie Hartwell)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

THE LAKE HOUSE (Kate Morton)

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

GOOD MAN FRIDAY (Barbara Hambly)

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

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

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

NOBODY HOME (Jacqueline Masumian)

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

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

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

APART AT THE SEAMS (Marie Bostwick)

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

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A THREAD OF TRUTH (Marie Bostwick)

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

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

WHO DO YOU LOVE (Jennifer Weiner)

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

AGONY OF THE LEAVES (Laura Childs)

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

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BOOD (Julia Spencer-Fleming)

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

DISHING THE DIRT (M.C. Beaton)

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

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

A SINGLE THREAD (Marie Bostwick)

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

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

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


Saturday, September 19, 2015

THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS (Matthew Dicks)

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

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

FINDING SKY (Susan O'Brien)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ASSAULTED PRETZEL (Laura Bradford)

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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

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

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

PRAY FOR SILENCE (Linda Castillo)

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

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

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

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

THE SEAFRONT TEA ROOMS (Vanessa Greene)

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

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

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SWORN TO SILENCE (Linda Castillo)

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

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

PRIMATES OF PARK AVENUE (Wednesday Martin, PhD)

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

BEACH TOWN (Mary Kay Andrews)

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

THE GUEST COTTAGE (Nancy Thayer)

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

NANTUCKET SISTERS (Nancy Thayer)

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

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

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

THE BODY IN THE PIAZZA (Katherine Hall Page)

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

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

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