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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

BY INVITATION ONLY (Dorthea Benton Frank)

Currently reading....

THE GIRL IN THE WOODS (Patricia MacDonald)

When Blair Butler is called to the bedside of her dying sister, the last thing she expects is a confession.  Celina tells Blair that she deliberately lied to avoid the wrath of their mean-spirited, racist guardian, Uncle Ellis, resulting in the conviction of an innocent black man who has spent 15 years in prison for a crime that he didn't commit, the murder of Blair's best friend, Molly.  Blair promises to find a way to free the man, but is met with resistance on every front, even being thrown out by the victim's parents, who refuse to consider that the case may not be closed after all.  To add to Blair's problems, Celina has arranged for her close friends to become guardians to her 10-year-old son, Malcolm, failing to discuss the issue with Uncle Ellis or the boy and leaving it up to Blair to inform them both.

Blair, who is a partner in a successful computer company in Philadelphia. stays on in her home town to look for ways to free the wrongly imprisoned man, unsuccessfully enlisting the help of local newspaper reporter, who was blacklisted after in California after faking a source, and the local police, who refuse to reopen the case.

This is a terrific thriller with all of the atmosphere you would expect from a twisted, reluctant guardian, an unhappy childhood reluctantly revisited, and lots of back roads and dark woods.  Blair is a  resourceful but realistic heroine and a cast of supporting characters is interesting and unpredictable.  I enjoyed it from start to finish and found the ending to be both believable and  satisfying.  If you've never read Patricia MacDonald before, try one of her novels.  I think she is very underrated.

Monday, May 14, 2018

TURNING THE TIDE (Edith Maxwell)

I can't say enough wonderful things about this series.  As I finish each book I feel as if I have been educated as well as entertained.  The details of Quaker life in the 1880's, the excellent research into midwifery, and the historical context are all presented so beautifully.  Maxwell manages to make the reader invest themselves in each and every character.  Rose Carroll is a treasure, motivated by her religious faith and her deep sense of justice. 

In this, the third book in the series, Rose discovers the body of Rowena Felch, a lawyer and local leader of the suffragist movement, under a bush in front of the Felch home the morning after a planning meeting attended by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  At this point the local police have come to recognize Rose's keen powers of observation and welcome her help in solving the case.  She is convinced that the man they have arrested, the intriguingly named Hilarius, is innocent, and she puts herself in danger as she works with the locak police to solve the crime.  On a personal front, Rose's mother comes to Amesbury to attend the suffragist rally on election day (Grover Cleveland would probably have been reelected if women had the vote) and is instrumental in building bridges between Rose and her future mother-in-law, Clarinda Dodge.  Between the Rose's Quaker meeting and her fiance family, Rose despairs of every being able to marry her beloved, Dr. David Dodge.

Rose is likable, intelligent, brave, resourceful, and gentle, and dedicated to her profession, looking forward to building a life with the man she loves.  What more could we ask for in a heroine?

FATAL ENQUIRY (Will Thomas)

I have to admit that, despite my love of mysteries, I had never heard of Will Thomas before.  If you haven't, either, and you enjoy historical mysteries, I would highly recommend this series.  It reminded me a bit of the Nero Wolf series.  Cyrus Barker is both wealthy and quirky and Thomas Llewelyn, his young assistant, is a good-looking romantic.  Their relationship and their wide swath of acquaintances and associates, many of whom become involved in tracking down sociopath Sebastian Nightwine. is reminiscent of how Wolf and Lewellyn operate.

It took me a while to get into this novel because I was on vacation and occupied with helping out with my grandson as his Mom makes the transition from maternity leave to Clinical Psychologist once again.  Once I was engaged in the story, though, I was completely caught up in the incredible plot with its twists and turns, desperate escapes, disguises, and near-death experiences.  The author must be a genius!  To create the characters of Barker and Nightwine, both astoundingly intelligent and creative men who are morally juxtaposed yet with intertwining histories, is a feat of great organization and imagination.  There is much blurring of the lines between good and evil, right and wrong.  Barker is gruff and resourceful, protective and patriotic.  Nightwine is amoral and avaricious, a megalomaniac who craves power and notoriety above all.  Lewellyn in the middle of it all, is intelligent and loyal and sometimes naive and compulsive.

Nightwine has returned to England with promises that he has the means to conquer Tibet so England can add the country to its empire.  The British government has promised him a knighthood and great wealth for his efforts, choosing to ignore his past indiscretions in anticipation of expanding Britain's influence in the world.  Only Barker seems cognizant of Nightwine's true goal, to gain even more power, possibly as king of Tibet.  The result of Barker's efforts is that he and Lewellyn end up as wanted men, overcoming seemingly impossible odds in an effort to survive and, ultimately, defeat Nightwine.

Sound exciting?  It definitely is!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

DEVIL'S BREATH (G.M. Malliet)

Rev. Max Tudor spends some time away from his beloved wife Awena and son Owen in Nether Monkslip when he is recruited by his former employer, MI5, to investigate the death of aging actress Margot Browne.  Ms. Browne's body is discovered washed up on shore in Monkslip-Super-Mare, seemingly the victim of a senseless accidental fall from a Hollywood producer's yacht.  Post mortem results, however, prove that Ms. Browne was dead before she hit the water, pumped full of drugs and apparently missed by no one.  Author Malliet leads the reader on a merry chase through multiple motives and suspects, including possible drug dealers, backstabbing Hollywood types, and pseudo aristocrats.  As always, the mystery is appealing and challenging.  In this novel Max spends some quality time with DCI Cotton attempting to solve this "locked room" mystery, for who could be guilty except someone on the yacht?

Max is the perfect man - handsome and strong, highly moral, very intelligent, and just all-around wonderful.  Who wouldn't enjoy this?  No one that I can think of, except for my 93-year-old mother, who prefers that Max stay at home to solve crimes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

JUST IN TIME (Marie Bostwick)

Three very different women meet at a grief support group, but each of them decides that they feel out of place, that they don't belong there.  Grace is not a widow.  Her beloved husband, Jamie, has been in a coma since suffering a head injury on a hike celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.  Monica has been bitter since her husband was killed in a boating accident with his current mistress, leaving Monica to raise her two recalcitrant step-children and run their restaurant on her own.  For Nan, the past 20 years, since her husband died in a plane crash, have been difficult yet rewarding.  When Nan invites the other two women to join her in their own support group, they form a strong and supportive friendship.

After finishing Lisa Genova's "Every Note Played" I approached this novel with a bit of trepidation.  Sadness and grief are worthy themes in fiction, but sometimes you feel like you need a break.  Knowing Bostwick, though, I was pretty sure that the mood would improve, and it did.

I've read a few books lately where the characters were not particularly likable, which to me means that it is difficult to invest yourself in caring about where it all ends.  Bostwick's characters, however, are like real friends.  You want to know them better; you grieve when they grieve; you rejoice at their happiness, when things start to go right.  Is the progression from nearly unmanageable grief and anger necessarily a linear and predictable event?  Of course not, but novels are novels.  there needs to be a beginning, a middle, and an end, and happy endings are sometimes a welcome alternative to the struggles of everyday life.  If you want to experience a sense of inspiration and positivity and feel the strength of friendship, pick up almost any book by Marie Bostwick.  You won't regret it!

EVERY NOTE PLAYED (Lisa Genova)

If you are in the mood for a good cry or are curious about how ALS develops, this is the book for you.  Genova is a wonderful author and a neuroscientist, so she does know her stuff.  This novel is heart-wrenching, though, the story of two pianists, one who gave up her potential and the other who gained fame and fortune while losing his family.

Richard Evans is a world-renowned concert pianist, a man who has sacrificed his marriage and his daughter in pursuit of his art.  His ex-wife. Karina, an even more talented pianist, gave up her dreams of playing Jazz when they moved to Boston for his job and their daughter was born.  When Richard, now world famous, starts experiencing numbness in his left hand, he assumes that it is due to tendinitis, a common condition among pianists.  When he is diagnosed with ALS he hopes that it is a mistake or that he will defy the odds and his disease will stop progressing.

This is the story of two people whose inability to communicate and whose dishonesty with each other have ruined what could have been a brilliant partnership, personally and professionally.  When Richard is left with nothing and no one as his disease progresses, Karina makes the decision to step in and help.  She obviously dislikes Richard, but has a strong sense of duty and some regret for what they have made of their lives and their marriage.

Genova's step-by-step descriptions of the progress of ALS are frightening and depressing.  It is a bit too easy for the reader to imagine themselves experiencing this progression and it is heart-wrenching to watch Richard's loss of everything that is important to him, bit by bit.  I only gave this novel 4 stars on Goodreads because it was too sad and the main characters were, quite frankly, both a bit TOO flawed and unlikable.  I would definitely recommend it, but not if you are already sad!

Monday, April 16, 2018

AN APPETITE FOR MURDER (Lucy Burdette)

What a terrific mystery!  My 93-year-old mother, who has told me that she doesn't like "silly" cozies, is a big fan of the of the Key West Food Critic mysteries.  Burdette (a.k.a. Roberta Isleib) does a terrific job of creating a likable (and a few quite unlikable) cast of characters in this series.

Our heroine, Haley Snow, moved from New Jersey to Key West for lust, which she had, unfortunately, mistaken for love.  When she is dumped by her boyfriend, Chad, after discovering him in bed with another woman, she and her cat, Evinrude, move temporarily to her friend's houseboat.  When Kirstin, Chad's new (and, as it turns out, old) lover is found murdered in Chad's apartment, Haley is a prime suspect, especially after her article on Key Lime Pie is published at the same time the murder takes place.  Kristin died from eating a poisoned Key Lime pie!  Adding to Haley's troubles is the fact that someone claims to have seen her going into Chad's building with a box just before the murder.  Kristin was also the co-owner of the magazine where Haley was hoping to work as a food critic, so Haley has to go to great lengths to remain in the running for the job of her dreams.

This mystery is filled with humor, action, references to Key West locales, and, quite frankly, adorable characters.  I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.  The next one is coming out soon and Lucy Burdette will be at Windsor Locks Library in August to talk about her series.  I'm looking forward to meeting her and hearing more about what comes next for Haley!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

WEYCOMBE (G.M. Malliet)

My first impression of this novel, which I had been anxiously anticipating, was that I didn't like Jillian White, the main character.  An American married to a member of a nearly impoverished British aristocratic family, she seemed a bit too calculating.  Her marriage was in a sorry state, her husband weirdly distant, and her relationships with her neighbors seemed a bit emotionless and self-serving.  I almost stopped reading, but because I am a big fan of Malliet's other novels, I continued.

At the outset, Jillian discovers the body of realtor and neighbor Anna during her usual morning walk by the river in the little village of Weycombe.  Worried about a killer in their midst and doubting the abilities of the local police, Jill starts her own investigation into the untimely death.  This truly is a novel of suspense, with new insights and suspicions coming to light with each chapter.  I can't say too much without giving away the plot, but I can say that I'm glad (yet, somehow, also horrified) that I continued reading it.

While I don't think this is Malliet's best effort, I do believe that the story is much better in retrospect than in the actual reading.  It is well-written;  I don't mean to imply that it's not.  It is, however, the type of story that makes you feel uneasy about people, which may be why it didn't appeal to me as much as I expected it to.  It leaves you with the same sort of impression as "Gone Girl," unsure of human nature and a bit horrified at how evil people can really be.  I think you should probably read it yourself!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A NANTUCKET WEDDING (Nancy Thayer)

If you just want to escape from cold weather and cloudy days, this is a great escape book.  It's not deep or unpredictable, but it includes just enough intrigue and emotional drama to keep readers interested. 

The premise is romantic:  Allison, a widow, is preparing to marry David, a very successful and wealthy businessman, also widowed.  She is encouraging members of their soon-to-be-blended families to travel to their beautiful summer home on Nantucket to meet and, hopefully, get to know each other so all can co-exist harmoniously as Allison and David begin their new life together.  Allison's daughters are Jane, childless by choice and married to Scott, and Felicity, the mother of two children with entrepreneur husband Noah.  Jane and Felicity are half-sisters, different as night and day, and not close.  Jane and Scott are ambitious lawyers devoted to travel, adventure, and each other.  Jane has recently begun to feel the tug toward parenthood, an idea completely opposed by Scott.  Felicity, an earth mother, and Noah, who plans to save the earth with his green food company, are growing apart as Noah becomes more and more involved in his business.

David's children are Ethan, the wildly attractive single (at least he claims to be) father, and Poppy, pregnant with her third child and slated to take over the reins of David's company when he retires.

Thayer does a wonderful job of balancing all of the evolving relationships and stresses related to family and wedding against a backdrop of beautiful Nantucket beaches and customs.  It's not my favorite Nancy Thayer novel, but they're all good, so that doesn't really matter.  I would recommend it for a relaxing weekend or vacation read, but be prepared for a bit of intrigue and drama mixed in with the ocean breezes and salt air!

Friday, April 6, 2018

THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR (Sally Hepworth)

The first thing (and only negative, which probably isn't the best way to start out), is that I don't like the title of this book.  To me it implies some sort of sinister activities associated with the people who live next door to the protagonists of the novel, which is not the case. 

That being said, this can't-put-it-down novel is about a neighborhood in Melbourne, Australia.  Essie and Ben live there with their 2 small daughters, Mia and Polly,  Essie has had problems with major postpartum depression in the past, so Ben, who runs a fitness studio, and Essie's mother Barbara, who lives next door, are concerned when she starts acting a bit off again.  Barbara moved to the neighborhood to help out after Essie's problems when Mia was an infant.  Lucas, a photographer, and Ange, a successful real-estate agent, also live here, with sons Will and Owen.  Lucas is extraordinarily handsome and not the best in the fidelity department, but Ange is madly in love him and chooses to believe that he has mended his ways.  Nigel and Fran, a lawyer, complete the group of couples.  They are the parents of Rosie and Ava, but since Ava's birth Fran has been troubled and uses running to try and escape her demons.

Everything seems relatively normal, as normal as life can be with small children, when Isabella moves into the neighborhood.  Since most of the people on the cul-de-sac are families, it is intriguing to have a friendly single woman with a mysterious background move into their midst. Isabella is not afraid to introduce herself and offers to babysit, although a few disturbing issues pop up as the story progresses.

I won't tell you anymore.  All I can say is that I read this novel in less than a day and a half (while also working full time!) because I couldn't get it off of my mind.  While I suspected what might be going on, I was surprised at what was eventually revealed.  I would highly recommend it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A FAMILY AFFAIR (Rex Stout)

It's been quite a few years since I read Rex Stout.  Remember the TV series with William Conrad as Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsely as Archie Goodwin?

One thing that made this a bit difficult to read was the number of characters.  Many of them were "regulars," but not being familiar with them it was hard to keep track.  If you aren't a reader of the series (or haven't read it for years), it is kind of difficult to follow the personalities and habits of the main characters.

In A Family Affair, waiter Pierre Ducos arrives at Nero Wolfe's doorstep saying that someone is going to kill him.  Archie Goodwin informs him that he can't see the great detective until the next morning and installs him in a bedroom to stay the night.  Soon afterward a bomb detonates and Ducos is dead.  So begins a complicated series of deaths, red herrings, and characters.

I read a review of this, Stout's final Nero Wolfe novel, by Madeline St. Just, who considers this to be a "weak" mystery.  As someone who is much more familiar with the series than I, St. Just made some excellent points about the contrived nature of the killer's actions and reactions during this case and the lack of the usual depth in the recurring characters, plus she considers the murder methods and motivation to be far-fetched.

Personally, I think that another reading would give me a much better experience.  My advice, actually, unless you're a mystery reader who can't enjoy one unless you try to solve the crime as you read, is to look at the end and see who did it before you get into the story.  I wish I had!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN: LIFE LESSONS FROM 29 HEROINES WHO DARED TO BREAK THE RULES (Karen Karbo)

I thoroughly enjoyed Karbo's well-researched profiles of 29 very diverse women, women whose common characteristic was "difficulty," at least in the eyes of men and society in general.  In reality, they were creative, insightful, and larger than life.  Yes, they were oftentimes difficult, but what accomplished person hasn't been labeled as such at some time?  Karbo portrays such ground-breakers as Amy Poehler, Coco Chanel, Amelia Earhart, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Josephine Baker, and Frida Kahlo.  Each of Karbo's subjects has an additional label (not all completely flattering) attached to their personalities, giving the reader some insight into WHY they are "difficult."  Elizabeth Taylor was "notorious," Martha Gellhorn is "brave," and Edie Sedgwick was "decadent."  Through we learn interesting tidbits about each woman.  Hillary Clinton, who is viewed as too ambitious and somewhat masculine, makes people feel intelligent and is very kind. Nora Ephron made no announcements when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and worked until a few days before her death.  Laverne Cox welcomes her detractors with grace and dignity.  Shonda Rimes, one of television's most successful writers and producers, notes that it wasn't until she lost 150 pounds that people found her "valuable" and worth looking at.

I think that my favorite was Kay Thompson.  I remember as a child sneaking up the stairs to the adult library so I could read Thompson's wonderful Eloise books.  I had no idea, until I read this book, that Thompson was a gifted and prolific song and dance coach and music arranger who coached some of the biggest stars of the 20th century and basically created the Hollywood musical.  She also had an incredible ego driven in part by insecurity about her looks and her short stature. She was a manipulative schemer with a taste for amphetamines and she had a long-term affair with singer Andy Williams, who was 18 years her junior.  In short, she was fascinating.

I really feel that I gained a lot of insight into what defines a "difficult" women and how societal norms and the media color our view of who someone really is at their heart.  Karbo has done an excellent job of making there 29 women real and human people.  Highly recommended!

Monday, March 26, 2018

ON SECOND THOUGHT (Kristan Higgins)

Imagine finally meeting the love of your life at age 39, marrying after a whirlwind romance, and finding yourself a widow just 4 months later.  Alternatively, imagine devoting 11 years to loving a man, including nursing him through cancer and editing his very popular blog about his illness, then being asked to move out of your house on the day you expect a marriage proposal.

Ainsley has discovered an engagement ring in Eric's closet and believes that he will take the opportunity to "pop the question" at their big party to celebrate beating testicular cancer (which, the truth be told, was not a particularly incredible feat on Eric's part since it was discovered early).  Just as Eric calls for everyone's attention and is reaching into his pocket, Nathan, the husband of Ainsley's half-sister, Kate, trips and falls, fatally hitting his head on the edge of a countertop.  Kate is now a grieving widow and Ainsley still not engaged.

I would call this novel satisfying.  It evokes emotions that are familiar to every woman - the possibility of losing someone unexpectedly, the realization that the future you planned is never going to happen, and the existence of possibilities for happiness that can change your life after a tragedy.  A deeper understanding of familial bonds, learning from the past, and recognizing that relationships are never static are the main themes of Higgins's excellent novel.  I will definitely read more of her women's fiction.

HERE WE LIE (Paula Trieck DeBoard)

This is one of those novels where you find out right at the beginning that something terrible that happened years ago is about to become big news, exposing secrets and changing lives, even, perhaps, healing some old wounds. 

The story revolves around two girls from completely different backgrounds who meet at a small Connecticut College and become best friends for 3 years.  Megan Mazeros, from Woodstock, Kansas, puts her dreams of college aside to help the family while her father dies slowly of mesothelioma.  When he asks her to help him end his pain and suffering she is horrified, but after his death, Megan's mother reveals that his insurance will provide enough money for Megan to attend college.  At Keale College she meets Lauren Mabrey, the troubled daughter of a U.S. Senator from Simsbury, CT.  Lauren is the Mabrey renegade, the child who refuses to conform and present the right image, yet who's mother always "fixes" her problems.  Megan and Lauren, despite their vastly different backgrounds, become best friends and confidantes, even sharing their deepest secrets.

After their junior year at Keale, Lauren invites Megan to spend several weeks at her family's summer retreat at a private island off the coast of Maine.  It is an idyllic vacation for the girls until Megan disappears without a word one day before her scheduled departure date.  It isn't until many years later that Lauren discovers the truth behind Megan's exit from her life and the depth of her family's drive to protect their own image no matter what the cost.

Although a bit predictable in some respects, this novel also offers a few surprises.  It was well worth reading. I can't say that I really LIKED the main characters, which is a bit unusual for me, but they definitely held my interest.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

BETTER OFF WED (Laura Durham)

This is a cute series, not meant for serious mystery buffs but, rather, for readers looking for a fun, light experience.  Annabelle Archer, the main character, is a wedding planner who becomes involved in crime-solving when the mother-of-the bride is murdered at a wedding reception that she has planned, making her a suspect.  Aided by her close friend, Richard, the caterer who is also a prime suspect in the case, and her grammar-challenged assistant, Annabelle sets out to discover who is responsible for poisoning the overbearing woman.  Since Annabelle and Richard are also present when another suspicious death occurs they are desperate to solve the crimes and save their own businesses.

This series is may be "cute," but the mystery is very well done.  Maybe I'm just not that bright, but I was pretty surprised by the ending!  If you are looking for a relaxing way to spend a weekend, this might be a great way to do it.

DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOR (Colin Dexter)

This was my first Inspector Morse novel, although I have seen several of the TV adaptations (including this one). It seems pretty straightforward at the beginning.  Two married men, Julian Storrs and Dennis Cornford, are in competition to be named the next Master of Lonsdale College to replace Sir Clixby Bream.  Julian is unfaithful to his wife, Rachel James being one of his secret lovers.  Dr. Cornford is happily married to a much younger woman who is the object of much interest and speculation.  When physiotherapist Rachel James is fatally shot through her kitchen window at 17 Bloxham Drive one morning, Morse and Lewis are called in to investigate.  Rachel was a quiet, pretty girl, apparently without enemies, and a motive for her killing becomes more and more elusive as the investigation progresses.  The neighbors, a source of much speculation and information, include Geoffrey Owens, an ambitious reporter who resides at 15 Bloxham Drive.

Morse diagnoses himself with diabetes during this case and spends 5 days in hospital, developing am incipient romantic relationship with a nurse, Janet McQueen, who insists on knowing Morse's first name (apparently this has been a source of speculation). 

Dexter (and Morse) does an excellent job of weaving together 2 seemingly unrelated groups of people into an intriguing and very satisfying mystery.  I would not be adverse to reading more in this series.

Monday, March 5, 2018

DOUBLE FUDGE BROWNIE MURDER (Joanne Fluke)

Joanne Fluke's books are pure fun.  They are clean, interesting, and, of course, delicious!  I picked up this one because I happened to be reading a review of one of the later books in the Hannah Swenson series and I noticed that she was MARRIED, but not to Norman or Mike, both of whom have been pursuing her since very early in the series, so I had to find out how this new relationship developed.

As this story begins, Hannah is preparing to travel to Las Vegas to celebrate the surprise elopement of her mother, Delores, and her fiance, Doc Knight.  Hannah is also dealing with her imminent trial for vehicular manslaughter and the terror of possibility ending up in prison for what she knows was an accident, pure and simple.  On arrival in Las Vegas the Swensons discover that Doc's mysterious best man is Ross Barton, a friend and old flame of Hannah's. When she discovers that Ross is interviewing for a job in their hometown of Lake Eden, MN, Hannah is hopeful that her life might be taking an exciting new turn, aside from possible imprisonment.

When Hannah and her lawyer arrive at court for jury selection they are summoned to see the judge, who, of course, is murdered in his chambers and discovered by Hannah!  At least he had arranged to dismiss the charges against her before he was knocked off!

I read some of the reviews of this novel on Amazon and was a bit surprised by some of the critical comments.  Of course, 69% of readers gave it 4 or 5 stars, a rating with which I agree, but there were some pretty nasty (but vague) comments on the one-star reviews.  Fluke's readers love her characters and their personalities.  They also love the fact that her mysteries are cozy and comfortable (plus the recipes are great!).  They are not looking for the world's next Agatha Christie or Robert B. Parker.  They want home and family and the smell of cookies baking, and that's what Fluke offers, along with intriguing mysteries.  I enjoyed this one thoroughly!

CALLED TO JUSTICE (Edith Maxwell)

This series continues to be terrific!  Quaker midwife Rose Carroll attends a fireworks display where Hannah Breed, a young unmarried Quaker who has confided in Hannah about her pregnancy, is found shot to death.  Rose's quest to discover the killer, and possibly the father of Hannah's child, takes on new urgency when a fellow Quaker and freed slave Akwasi Ayensu is accused of the murder based on the evidence of unsavory factory manager Lester Colby.  Can Rose help to bring Hannah's killer to justice before she herself becomes a victim?

I just love Edith Maxwell's writing!  This series is wonderful historical fiction.

SURPRISE ME! (Sophie Kinsella)

Sylvie and Dan Winter have been together for 10 wonderful years and look forward to many more years of happiness, but when their doctor mentions that they could realistically live for 68 more years, they start to question how they could possibly keep love and interest alive for such a lonnnnnnnnggg time.  Sylvie decides that frequent surprises are the answer to keeping the excitement alive in their marriage.  It seems like a good idea to keep thinking of ways to delight each other - a cashmere sweater, tickets to a favorite comedy show, etc, except that the surprises don't turn out as surprising or delightful as expected.  Thrown into the mix is Sylvie's mother, widowed two years ago by a tragic accident that took the life of her husband, Sylvie's father, a golden, perfect philanthropist cut down in the prime of his life.  Sylvie starts to notice Dan and her mother engaged in furtive conversations about money and then starts to wonder if Dan is having an affair.  In other words, her plan is backfiring big-time and future bliss seems to be slipping away at warp speed.

Kinsella has another winner here.  I love her free-standing novels.  Despite their humorous themes, she always manages to take a look at serious issues with a new perspective.  This is evolved chick-lit at its best!

Monday, February 26, 2018

PORTRAIT OF A SISTER (Laura Bradford)

I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader's Copy of this wonderful novel, Laura's first venture away from mystery and romance and into women's fiction.  It will be published on June 26 and my advice to you is to reserve your copy now! 

I am not a reader of the many Amish romances (just Laura's Amish mysteries) on the market right now, so I cannot authoritatively compare this novel to that very popular genre.  I can, however tell you not to confuse Portrait of a Sister, which is most definitely women's fictionwith that genre.  This is the story of two sisters raised in the Amish culture, one who left before baptism for a new life in New York City and the other who chose baptism and the Amish way of life.  Katie Beiler, not as brave and outgoing as her twin sister Hannah, chose family and tradition after her rumspringa and, when her mother passes away, assumes responsibility for taking care of the family.  Her happiness is marred by a secret that, when discovered by her sister Hannah, becomes a terrible dilemma for Katie.  Amish who leave before baptism are able to enjoy a relationship with their family, while those who leave after baptism are shunned and can no longer associate with beloved family members.  Is Katie's secret standing in the way of her happiness and fulfillment in life?  Did she make the wrong decision when she chose baptism?

Ms. Bradford, who has meticulously researched the Amish culture for several of her mysteries, has taken her love of the culture to a new level in this novel.  The reader feels as if they are immersed in the Amish way of life, dealing, along with Katie, with the psychological and emotional consequences and rewards of the choice to remain "plain" or to embrace the larger more exciting world of the "English."  Using twin sisters, raised together but having chosen different paths, is brilliant and not at all cliche, as it might have been in the hands of another writer.  I can honestly say that this novel, aside from being very entertaining, has given me new insights into the Amish mind and heart.  I would highly recommend it!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

THE GRAVE'S A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE (Alan Bradley)

Would you be surprised if I told you that while on a short family vacation led by Dogger, the de Luce's faithful family retainer, Flavia accidentally discovers a body?  Six months after the sudden death of their father, Flavia, Daffy, and Feely have accompanied Dogger on a river boating trip. When they reach the site of the church of the infamous murderer, Canon Whitehead, Flavia discovers a body in the water.  The body, dressed in theatrical costume, turns out to be that of Canon Whitehead's troubled son, Orlando.  Was it suicide, or could it be murder?  Of course, Flavia manages to get on the wrong side of the local constable during her investigation.

This latest book in the series is just as delightful as its predecessors, especially the developing insights into Dogger's mysterious past.  If you are a Flavia de Luce fan, you won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 22, 2018

ROBOTS OF DAWN (Isaac Asimov)

I am not usually a fan of Science Fiction, but Asimov's futuristic mystery was a pleasant surprise.  Featuring Earthman Elijah Baley and robot R. Daneel Olivaw as sleuths, the story revolves around the roboticide of R. Jander Panell, a humaniform robot on the planet Aurora.  Jander's creator, Dr. Fastolfe, is the main suspect in this unusual case, and he calls upon Baley to help track down the identity of whomever managed to short circuit the robot, believing that his political rivals will use Jander's "death" against him since presumably only he has the technological knowledge to have done away with the robot.

The most interesting aspect of this novel is, by far, the future cultural developments imagined by Asimov.  Baley lives on Earth, a planet scorned and considered germ-ridden by Aurorans, who have managed to eradicate illness.  Because most people on earth live in cities protected by domes, Baley is severely agorophobic and faints when confronted with too much "outside."  He is happy to be reunited with Daneel, a humaniform robot with who he had previously collaborated on a case that was sensationalized as a "hyperwave" drama.  His other robot protector is R. Giskard Reventlowe, owned by Fastolfe and once close to fastolfe's daughter, Vasilia.

Sexual and family relationships are viewed very differently on Aurora than in our current culture and it is not unusual to "offer" one's self to another as an expression of gratitude or to pay bag a favor.  Parent -child relationships are merely biological, with little in the way of emotional bonding.  As for the mystery of Jander's death, Asimov offers numerous possibilities, all of which Baley follows up on while struggling with his fears on Aurora.  I found the ending logical, but unexpected.  This is a long novel, over 400 pages, and it takes a while to get into the story.  Take the time and you won't regret it!

ESCAPE TO WILLOW COTTAGE) Bella Osborne

There is nothing better on a winter weekend, when you have all sorts of family and work issues swirling around in your head, to relax and escape with a cute English village novel.  This one features romance, home renovation, an interesting look at the deaf culture, and domestic abuse.  Of course there are numerous instances of people jumping to conclusions and second guessing and the requisite half-crazy locals, but there is nothing as relaxing in my book.  I actually chose this because Katie Fforde, my favorite relaxing author, was quoted on the cover!

Beth is a successful London business woman, a young widow with a 6-year-old son running away from an increasingly abusive relationship with Nick.  She purchases a cottage, sight unseen, in the village of Dumbleford and moves there with the intention of starting a new life with her son, Leo, letting only her best friend Carly her whereabouts.  When she finally sees the cottage and realizes that she has been misled about its livability she resolves to renovate and flip the house, possibly developing a new career in the process.  Of course she didn't count on the close friendship and acceptance she would encounter in Dumbleford as she tries to build a temporary life there.  A fun sub-plot is that of Carly, deeply in love and desperately wanting a proposal from her deaf Irish boyfriend, Fergus.

Osborne takes a simple plot and a charming setting and manages to weave in quite a few timely topics while still maintaining the charm and humor of the story.  This sweet novel will probably not change your life, but it will definitely make you smile as you root for Beth, Carly, Jack (the handsome neighbor), and Petra (the single mother with a secret) to find happiness.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS (Jennifer Chiaverini)

Maybe I loved this novel, a fictionalized version of the life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace and only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, because I majored in math in college.  I don't think that's the only reason, though.  There is nothing like well-researched historical fiction, and this certainly falls into that category. Set in the 1830's and beyond. It is also, in some respects, a kind of "Mommy Dearest" story.

Ada's mother, Annabelle, falls madly in love with George Gordon, Lord Byron, and resolves to marry him despite all that she knows about his character and personality.  She was, quite frankly, obsessed with the man.  When they finally become engaged she has high hopes of changing him.  Her obsession is so great that even the fact that he seems reluctant to marry do not deter her.  Soon after Ada (actually christened August Ada) is born, Annabelle leaves Byron and returns home to raise her daughter on her own.  Determined to help Ada to avoid the Byron madness, she restricts he daughter's education and human contact to tutors, governesses, and her own adult friends, emphasizing math, science, and strict morality over friends and imagination.  In fact, imagination is strictly forbidden since it might cause Ada to develop an interest in poetry or the arts and turn out like her now despised father.

This is a fascinating character study of a girl and her mother.  Both are highly intelligent, brilliant women, but Annabelle's coldness and strict treatment of Ada, along with her bitterness at Lord Byron, would make the reader wonder how Ada ever grew up to be a normal person.  I guess that normal is not exactly the correct word.  She formed a close relationship with Charles Babbage, inventor of the difference engine and contributed greatly to his work, ultimately being considered the first woman to work with the concept of computers.  In all, this was a fascinating fictional account of the lives of 2 women who left their marks on the intellectual world.

Monday, January 1, 2018

DEATH IN ADVERTISING (Laura Bradford)

Tobi Tobias is the main character in this new series created by the talented Laura Bradford.  Tobi is desperate to get her advertising agency off the ground, hopefully by landing an important client that will make her a household name.  She does just that when she creates a slogan for a local closet company who has broken ties with Tobi's former employer, a rival advertising agency.  The future is looking bright for Tori until the body of a local businessman is discovered in a closet system during a photo shoot, potentially making her a pariah in the industry, especially since the slogan she created refers to "skeltons in the closet."

To salvage her reputation and save her business, Tobi sets out to figure out who committed murder.  Was it one of her clients, a pair of polar opposite brothers?  Was it the grieving widow, who favors sequins over widows weeds?  Was it an intruder or business rival?  Tobi has her work cut out for her in investigating the crime, and readers will enjoy being along for the ride!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

DELIVERING THE TRUTH (Edith Maxwell)

I was lucky enough to win this book from the author for finding a minor mistake on her website calendar!  And when I say "lucky," I mean lucky!  Author Maxwell is very versatile, writing historical mysteries, 2 food-based series (one under the name Maddie Day), and the Tace Baker mysteries (under the pseudonym Lauren Rousseau).  She also has a new series under contract called the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, which I hope was inspired just a bit by our library's Christie Capers mystery book group! 

The Quaker Midwife series, set in the late 1880's, feature midwife Rose Carroll, a woman of great intelligence and common sense who consults frequently with New England Poet John Greenleaf Whittier.  Maxwell brings to life the devastation of the 1888 Amesbury, MA carriage factory fires and expertly weaves her historical research into a very satisfying historical mystery.  Her characters are believable and appealing.  I can't wait to read the next in this series!

THE PARISIAN CHRISTMAS BAKE-OFF (Jenny Oliver)

This another fun story that's perfect for the holidays, or for any other time when you just need to zone out from real life.

Rachel Smithson is a primary school teacher who loves what she does, but something has been missing in her life since the death of her mother several years ago at Christmas time.  Rachel's mother was the village baker and her bakery was a gathering place for the village.  Rachel worked along side her as a child, helping to bake cookies and bread, but when her mother died she stopped baking completely and her father emotionally withdrew from life.  When Rachel's friends arrange for her to compete in a bake-off contest in Paris with a famous chef, she is alternately horrified, resistant, and intrigued, but ultimately her relationship with baking changes.

Oliver presents us with a little romance, friendship, back-stabbing competition, and inspiration.  Is it the next big best-seller?  Certainly not.  But it is a good way to recharge, especially if baking is one of your passions.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

THE THIN MAN (Dasiell Hammett)

I would like to say that I enjoyed The Thin Man, but I really didn'tThis was the December selection for the Christie Capers Mystery Book Club and I was looking forward to it.  When I began reading I found the banter and numerous characters (not to mention the constant imbibing of alcohol) confusing, so I went to YouTube and watched about 10 minutes worth of clips from The Thin Man movies series.  I had never seen them before, so it was helpful to get a better idea of the characters and how they function.  Truth be told, though, this turned out not to be particularly helpful in the long run.

Nick and Norah Charles are a wealthy, hard-drinking husband and wife.  Nick is a former private detective who retired to run his wife's family business.  Norah is much younger.  They are visiting New York City in 1932 when Nick is asked to investigate a murder. 

I retrospect, the story itself is interesting, full of surprising twists and turns and devious characters.  I liked this about it.  I also like the unexpected twists at the end.  However, I didn't meet any characters that I actually liked.  All of them, even Nick and Norah, seemed ethically questionable and unappealing.  I think they were probably more likable in the movies!  For me, there has to be at least one sympathetic character who you root for as the story progresses.  I didn't find that here.  I know this is a classic, but I just couldn't get into it.

CHRISTMAS BLISS (Mary Kay Andrews)

As always, Mary Kay Andrews comes through with a fun novel filled with humor, human drama, excitement, and romance.  Those of you who have read Andrews's previous Savannah novels will be familiar with antiques dealer Eloise (Weezie) Foley and her best friend, the dramatic Bebe Loudermilk.

With Christmas fast approaching. Weezie attends to the final details of her planned wedding to Daniel Stipanek while Daniel works in New York as guest chef at a prestigious restaurant.  In the meantime, Bebe is due to give birth in a month but adamantly refuses to marry her lover and the baby's father, Harry.  Little does Bebe know that there might be impediments to their marriage and, of course, other problems ensue as well.  Christmas fun all around!

THE COSY CHRISTMAS TEASHOP (Caroline Roberts)

I think that I actually started reading the first book in this series, but I'm not sure.  It may have been one of those thing where I glanced at the first few pages and then was distracted by something else!

Anyway, this was a great little book to read over the holidays (I read it on my Kindle) or at any other time that you feel the need to escape into a charming.  Ellie Hall and her husband, Joe, live at Claverham Castle, where Ellie has established a teashop and Joe oversees the running of the estate for the bad-tempered Lord Henry, who was also recently revealed to be Joe's father.  Now expanding into wedding planning, Ellie is in great demand by both lovely brides and bridezillas alike, but her secret hope is to become a mother.

During the pre-Christmas season Ellie is inundated, trying to meet the demands of an over-the-top bride planning a reception at the castle, cope with a personal loss, and plan a dream wedding for a couple who have recently seen their own share of tragedy.  These characters are wonderful, hard-working, creative people and you will enjoy getting to know them better.

Monday, December 4, 2017

POLDARK: DEMELZA (Winston Graham)

I loved reading the continuing saga of the Poldark family.  Demelza focuses on Ross Poldark's young wife and her development from a kitchen maid to the wife of an upper-class man well-regarded in the community.  Those of you who have watched Poldark, the old or new version, will be familiar with the joys and sadness of Demelza's life.  I highly recommend the novel!

THE PROMISE GIRLS (Marie Bostwick)

Family dysfunction is rampant in The Promise Girls!  Sisters Joanie, Meg, and Avery were conceived and raised to be prodigies.  According to Minerva, their mother, the girls are the children of carefully chosen sperm donors who were geniuses in their respective fields.  Joanie was designated to be a talented pianist, Meg a gifted artist, and Avery a superb writer.  The 2 older girls showed early signs of promise and Minerva became a minor celebrity after publishing a book detailing the experience of raising 3 prodigies.  It all fell apart the day Joanie won a bronze medal (instead of gold) in a prestigious piano competition.

This novel raises some interesting questions regarding parental responsibility and the ethics of child-rearing.  In today's society there is an obsession with raising "gifted" children, winning at all costs, and public achievement.  It seems as if schools and sports focus on self-esteem rather than excellence so no one will "feel bad" about not being the best.  At the same time, many parents focus on their child's superiority rather than on developing their strengths and their happiness.  Minerva Promise took this obsession to a whole new level, taking on a sort of Dr. Frankenstein role in manipulating her daughters' lives and future careers.  Of course, it all blows up in her face eventually.

As adults all 3 daughters have abandoned their "talents" and have little contact with their mother, but they are very close to one another after having been separated and in foster care after being removed from their mother's care.  When a life-changing accident occurs each of them rethinks their lives and choices.

Although this is a work of fiction, it is a thought-provoking novel that should give all of us pause.  When a child is born, whose life should they live and whose dreams should they strive to fulfill?  I would highly recommend this novel.

ADAM BEDE (George Eliot)

George Eliot is both tough and brilliant.  There are SO many words and so much local dialect and expression.  Set around 1800, it is the story of Adam Bede, a man of intelligence and character, a hard-working carpenter who is obsessed with a beautiful but characterless woman.  The novel is rich in historical atmosphere.  It is a tale of morality, focused on human choices and decisions.

Eliot presents the reader with characters that might be considered stereotypical if not for the depth of her portrayals.  Adam, the poor but highly moral, responsible man, contrasts with Arthur, the good-natured but spoiled heir who possesses a conscience but no restraint when it comes to his own personal needs.  Seth, Adam's brother, is a weaker, paler version of the dynamic Adam.  Dinah, the plain, devout Methodist preacher, contrasts with the beautiful Hetty, the undeserving object of Adam's affections.

I could spend hours analyzing Adam Bede, but I think it's more important to tell other readers to persist.  It's slow-going at the beginning.  I read this book for the first time in my 20's and I remember loving it.  After all these years I found it very difficult to read.  The first 3rd of the novel is description - of the village, the characters, the customs of the time, and life in 1799 - and seems to drag in places.  Persistence is the key to enjoying this novel, and you won't be sorry!  Get a footnoted version if you can.  It not only references the many biblical illusions and quotes that appear in the novel, but it also provides definitions for many of the archaic words and expressions that are part and parcel of the story.  It is well worth reading.

Just a note:  If you enjoy reading or watching Poldark, this novel is set at about the same time in English history, so many of the social customs and historical situations are the same.  It's interesting to compare the perspectives of the 2 stories, written 100 years apart, by two excellent authors.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

THE KELLYANNE CONWAY TECHNIQUE (Jarret Berenstein)

The subtitle of this hilarious (and scary) book is "Perfecting the ancient art of delivering half=truths, fake news, and obfuscation - with a smile!"

Anyone who was alive during the last presidential will recognize the name Kellyanne Conway, currently serving as Counselor to president Donald J. Trump.  During the campaign her unofficial title was spin doctor and her ability to deny and distract is legendary.  Bernstein divides his book into 2 sections called, aptly, Deny and Distract.  He analyzes Kellyanne's legendary success in invoking alternative facts, pivoting, creating false equivalencies, discrediting, invoking doubt, distracting, and generally gaslighting interviewers by making them feel as if THEY are in the wrong.

One of the things that I really like about this book is that the author actually includes footnotes referring to the various conversations and interviews that he uses to illustrate Conway's techniques.  That's good.  Being rather conservative, I didn't especially enjoy the earthy language that he employed to make his point, but I'll forgive him because he's so darn clever. 

Anyone who has ever witnessed Kellyanne Conway in action and been bewildered and flummoxed, wondering how she managed to get away with changing the subject, turning the tables, and generally making stuff up, will enjoy reading this short but timely book.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

POLDARK: ROSS POLDARK (Winston Graham)

If you are a fan of Poldark, either the original 1970's series or the one being shown currently (Ah, Aida Turner!), and you enjoy historical fiction, I can guarantee that you will love Ross Poldark.  If you haven't seen either series but like historical fiction, you will also love it!  I decided to read it because of the TV series, especially since I had also heard excerpts, read by Graham's son on PBS.

Set in the 1780's, Poldark (for those of you who are not familiar with it) is the story of a young British man who went to America to fight the rebels after getting into trouble at home one too many times.  He returns in 1783 to find his late father's house and land in a shambles and his true love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, engaged to his cousin.  Ross Poldark, despite his past, is a man of honor and integrity, a hard worker, and sympathetic to the plight of the poor.  He despairs over the starving masses and does his best to alleviate suffering.  He's a great, if troubled guy, the perfect flawed hero.

I have to admit that I was surprised at how this novel captured my interest.  I plan to read the whole series and look forward to it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT (Mary Alice Monroe)

I have mixed feeling about Monroe's latest, perhaps because I've read too many similar books lately, or maybe it's because the characters seemed just a tiny bit off. That being said, I would recommend giving it a look.  It's not a bad novel; in fact, I quite enjoyed it most of the time.

Fifty-year-old Cara Rutledge has been happily married for 10 years to Brett, the love of her life.  Together they run a struggling tour boat business in Isle of Palms, South Carolina and rent out her beach house to help augment their income.  This year Cara has rented the house, inherited from her beloved mother, for the whole summer to Heather Wyatt, a 26-year-old artist suffering from anxiety disorder.  Heather has been commissioned to paint seabirds for the USPS and will be living alone for the first time in her life in Cara's beach house.

When unexpected tragedy strikes Cara's life she is forced to re-evaluate everything, including her finances and her living arrangements, but Heather refuses to move out of the beach house so Cara can move in.  Eventually, the 2 women come to share a close friendship, discovering along the way the strength that they need to move forward with their lives.

Please don't judge this novel based on my initial comments.  While I would not award it 5 stars, many people have.  We all evaluate what we read based on our own experiences and emotions and I may love it next year!  Check it out!

THE SECRET ADVERSARY (Agatha Christie)

Tommy and Tuppence are old friends, perpetually short of cash in post-World-War-I England.  They decide to post an ad offering their services as adventurers, willing to take on any (legal) job, and end up working for some branch of British Intelligence, helping to track down the mysterious Jane Finn.  Jane was handed a treaty vital to British national security and asked to deliver it to the American Embassy in London just as the Lusitania, on which she was a passenger, was sinking.  Unfortunately, Jane hasn't been heard from since.

The Secret Adversary is a wonderful, imaginative story involving Russian spies, kidnapping, murder, a mysterious American millionaire who claims to be Jane Finn's cousin, and, best of all, two characters who are incredibly endearing.  I enjoyed the non-stop action so much that I watched the TV version starring Francesca Annis and James Warwick as Tuppence and Tommy.  The TV version was very good, but disappointing in some ways because both characters were about 15 years too old and physically very unlike the Tommy and Tuppence created by Christie.  My advice:  read it!

CATCHER IN THE RYE (J.D. Salinger)

It has been years since I read Salinger's oft-maligned novel, the frequent target of challenges and book banning attempts.  I have to say that I still love it!  I think that while many of us read it as teens with a particular interest in the bad language and references to sex, it turns out that as adults we have a whole new perspective. 

Holden Caulfield is a very troubled young man but driven primarily by a system of ethics that override everything else in his life and make him extremely judgmental of almost everyone and everything he encounters.  He is intensely critical, unable to focus, and frustrated by the great gap between his physical and emotional maturity, yet he is also often immensely sympathetic and thoughtful.  His dream is to "catch" (save) children like the ones he imagines running through a rye field towards inevitable death over a cliff.  His vision is a bit twisted since it is based on a stranger's mistake in singing the song "Comin' through the Rye" as

Like Salinger, the author, Holden has attended several schools.  In Holden's case, he flunks every subject but English.  After being told that he will not be allowed to return to his current school after the Christmas break, he decides to board a train and return to New York City early and without his parents' knowledge, thus beginning his adventures.  What strikes me most about Holden, aside from his obviously untreated mental problems and confusion over impending adulthood, is his empathy for some of the people he encounters.

Take some time to reread this short novel.  You'll be pleasantly surprised by what a difference 20 or 30 years of life experience make in how you view Holden Caulfield and his story.

THE WITCH'S TREE (M.C. Beaton)

Agatha has actually matured over the course of this series.  Her softer, more vulnerable side is becoming more prevalent, although she often continues to ignore the long-developing love that is right under her nose.  I really hope that when MC Beaton ends this series it is with a wedding between Agatha and Sir Charles!

Agatha gets involved in a series of murders after the new vicar of the village of Sumpton Harcourt and his wife discover the body of local spinster Margaret Darby hanging from the witch's tree near their home.  As the police investigate, Agatha is hired by Sir Edward, a bored local aristocrat, to work on the case.  Beaton uses her usual crew of quirky associates and locals to create a satisfying little mystery.  Reading this is a great way to spend a rainy weekend or just to relax and get away from reality for a while!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

PORCH LIGHTS (Dorothea Benton Frank)

I usually try to avoid reading two of a particular author's novels in a row, but sometimes you just get in the mood to binge!

I adore the title of this book.  Porch lights to me represent welcoming, safety, and sanctuary from the outside world and that is exactly what they represent here for many of the characters.  When recent widow Jackie McMullen travels home to Sullivan's Island with her 10-year-old son, Charlie, the porch lights are blazing for her, literally and figuratively.  Her mother, Annie Britt, long separated from Buster, Annie's father, longs for her daughter and grandson to move back home from New York to start a new life.

Jackie, an army nurse and veteran of several deployments in Afghanistan, is grieving the loss of Jimmy, her firefighter husband, and can't imagine leaving the home where they lived and raised their son, nor can she bear to leave his grave behind. As her summer visit to Sullivan's Island goes on she begins to learn that grief can be bearable with the love of family and friends and that life can actually go on after a devastating loss.  You'll love this one!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

BULL'S ISLAND (Dorothea Benton Frank)

I have to admit that I may be reading too many books set in South Carolina's Low Country, but I can't seem to stay away from them!  The story on paper sounds a bit trite:  Upper class boy (J.D. Langley) and middle class girl (Betts McGee) fall in love and plan to marry, but his mother opposes the match because she doesn't feel that the girl is good enough.  When Betts's mother dies, she flees to Manhattan and secretly gives birth to J.D.'s son, forging a successful career and a new life.  Twenty years later she is back in South Carolina to work on an important building project on Bull's Island, a project being headed by none other than J,D. Langley, unhappily married to a woman chosen by his mother and childless.

Dorothea Benton Frank has the ability to take a story that, in another writer's hands, would be a pleasant soap opera of a romance, and turn it into a story that touches your core emotions.  I think the key is that she creates characters that seem very real in their feelings and reactions.  Every one of the has redeeming human qualities, flaws, and uncertainties.  I'm glad that I haven't read all of Frank's books yet.  More to look forward to!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

BONES & SILENCE (Reginald Hill)

Dalziel (pronounced De-ELL) and Pascoe are not the types of detectives that inhabit the mysteries I usually read.  Dalziel is rather obnoxious, earthy, a bit immoral, and fat.  Pascoe is married with a child, educated, logical, and back at work after a debilitating injury.

Dalziel and Pascoe are nothing like Holmes and Watson because Pascoe, although of an inferior rank, is not a"sidekick" or supporting player, but Dalziel's equal partner in detection.  I had a hard time getting into this story, though.  Author Hill, who won a Golden Dagger Award for this novel, has a complicated writing style that leaves the reader wondering at times how everything could possibly fit together, plus the book is full of literary allusions.  One thing that helped me was persistence.  I found that the longer I read, the more I enjoyed the book.  Another thing that helped was checking out Youtube and watching a bit of the British TV series based on these characters.  Somehow seeing what they looked like and how they interacted made the reading go a little more smoothly.

If you're looking for a challenging reading experience you might want to try Bones & Silence.  Hill cleverly unrolls the plot in a way that leaves you feeling as if the killer is just one step ahead of you (and Dalziel and Pascoe) throughout.  I was glad when I finished, but also glad that I had made it through.  It grows on you as you read, so don't get discouraged at the outset.

A SECRET GARDEN (Katie Fforde)

I would describe this as a homage to Jane Austen with a modern twist.  Philly, a plant grower and gardener, escaped from her family in Ireland to live in England with her beloved grandfather, a baker.  Together they look out for each other, run a stall at the market every Sunday, and generally try to make ends meet.  Lorna, a former art student and single mother, is a landscape gardener for a Cotswold estate and secretly in love with her employer, so she is sad when he meets a younger woman who quickly established herself as a permanent fixture in his life.

Lorna enlists Philly's help with the estate landscaping when an outdoor sculpture exhibit is planned for the estate grounds.  The result is much like the plot of your favorite Jane Austen novel, with unexpected romance blooming in every corner and everyone living happily ever after.  This is a great, relaxing way to spend a weekend.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

THE SUMMER GIRLS (Mary Alice Monroe)

I'm not sure what it is about the Low Country that makes for such a plethora of family saga / romance novels, but they are all good!  The "Summer Girls" are half-sisters invited to spend the summer at their grandmother's home on Sullivan Island, South Carolina.  Marietta Muir will be selling Sea Breeze, her ancestral home, soon in order to move to a senior community and she wants one last summer there with her granddaughters, all the children of her late son Parker.  Dora, the oldest and daughter of Parker's first wife, is watching her life and marriage collapse while she tries to care for her autistic son, Nathan.  Carson, daughter of the beautiful nanny, the second wife who died when Carson was just 4 years old, was raised for most of her childhood at Sea Breeze under Marietta's care.  Harper, the product of Parker's last marriage to a woman who mistakenly thought he was a promising author, is the youngest and lives primarily to do her mother's bidding.

It was Carson who took care of his father and watched him slowly drink himself to death at age 47.  After several years of moderate success as a photographer in California, her job has ended and her drinking has made it difficult for her to find a new one, so the summons from her grandmother comes at a perfect time in her life.

Through the course of the summer, the girls discover family secrets and come to terms with their own relationships.  One thing that makes this novel stand out is the inclusion of Delphine, a dolphin that figures prominently in the story.  I always enjoy a novel that leaves me feeling like I've gained some interesting knowledge about the world, and this one did.  It was a perfect summer read.

Monday, September 4, 2017

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (Virginia Woolf)

This is both a difficult and fascinating novel to read.  It has been described as one of the best novels of the 20th century.  I'm not sure if I would describe it as such (being neither a writer or critic myself), but it definitely leaves an impression.

The Ramsay family plan to sail the next day to a nearby lighthouse from their summer home on the coast of Scotland, somewhere around 1910. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay have 8 children and several guests staying at the house with them, each of them engaged in their own interests and pursuits.  The novel is written from multiple points of view, meaning that the reader is privy to the inner thoughts, opinions, and observations of each and every character.  To be frank, it's confusing until you get into the rhythm of the story.  Most of the "action,"  more accurately described as "thoughts," takes place in one day, where young James hopes to be able to sail to the lighthouse, his beautiful mother tends to her children and guests, and volatile Mr. Ramsay predicts rain, making the trip unlikely, and suffers mood swings.

I know that I am vastly simplifying this novel.  It is the kind of thing where you really need to go back and read it again, and perhaps again before you can absorb the complexity of the psychological and emotional relationships flowing throughout.  I'm not sure if I want to do that, but if you are looking for an interesting literary challenge, here it is!

By the way, we read this book for our Vintage Book Club and only 1 person showed up for the discussion!

Friday, August 25, 2017

THE MISSING MASTERPIECE (Jeanne M. Dams)

Dorothy Martin and her husband, retired Chief Inspector Alan Nesbitt, never fail to charm.  Their relationship is tender, respectful, and playful (not to mention realistic), their intelligence and curiosity appealing, and their travels always seem to lead them to murder and intrigue.  I just realized that I should have included a Dorothy Martin mystery in this year's upcoming lineup of Detecting Duos mysteries for Christie Capers!

This time Dorothy and Alan have plans to travel to France to attend an exhibit of art by a good friend.  When Alan breaks his ankle, Dorothy travels alone with the intention that the almost-recovered Alan will follow as soon as he gets to go-ahead from his doctor.  Most of the action takes place at Mont Saint-Michel, a wondrous former monastery in Normandy.
A young man supposedly searching for lost manuscripts, a mysterious American who claims to be researching a novel, a near drowning, and several unexplained accidents all blend together under Dams's deft hand into an entertaining and appealing mystery.  Try the whole series.  You'll love this gentle series and never be bored!

THE COTTINGLEY SECRET (Hazel Gaynor)

Back in 1917 two girls in Cottingley, Yorkshire, England allegedly took a photograph of local fairies that eventually caught the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose great interest in magic and mysticism led him to write an article about the event.  Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright inadvertently convince the world of the existence of fairies despite the fact that most of their "authentic" photographs are faked.

When Olivia Kavanagh inherits her Grandfather's bookshop in Ireland 100 year later, she discovers a manuscript detailing the incident and it's aftermath and realizes that there is a family connection between the girls and her grandmother, now suffering from Alzheimer's.  In the midst of planning a wedding to man whom she is not sure she loves, Olivia embarks on a new life, cleaning and renovating the shop, talking to her grandmother about the manuscript, and trying to figure out where she herself belongs.

Based on a true story, Gaynor's novel is unique in its narrative and compelling in its possibilities.  You will leave it wondering if fairies actually do exist and, perhaps, hoping that they do.  This is a novel about human relationships, grief, and hope, with the extra added suggestion of magic.  Enjoy it!

CAFE BY THE SEA (Jenny Colgan)

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again...I love Jenny Colgan's novels!  This one is set on the fictional island of Muir, off the northern coast of Scotland.  Flora left the island after her mother's death, feeling that there was nothing left there for her.  In London, where she works as a paralegal, she "enjoys" a life of cramped quarters, noise, near poverty, and grime.  She also has a hopeless crush on her womanizing boss.  When she is assigned to travel back to Muir to convince the natives that the giant resort being planned by a multi-millionaire at the tip of the island is actually a GOOD thing, she reluctantly revisits her past and gets reacquainted with her father and brothers, whom she hasn't seen for 3 years.

Being back on the island brings back memories, bitter and good, and also reawakens Flora's passion for baking.  When she is asked to refurbish and open a cafe in the center of town, she is drawn even more deeply into the life and culture she thought she had escaped, but is this really a bad thing?

In true Colgan style, the reader is treated to whimsical, quirky characters, a heroine who manages to find herself, and a setting so breath-taking that you will want to catch the next plane to Scotland to check out its real-life counterparts.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (Oscar Wilde)

Most of you know the story of Dorian Gray, an absolutely beautiful young man whose portrait becomes the means by which he is able to live a life of sin and debauchery while maintaining an eternally youthful countenance.  The novel does differ from the movie, as is usual.

If you are familiar with Wilde, you know that he was famously homosexual, extremely erudite, and scathingly clever.  He was an aesthete, believing that art and beauty were of greater importance than practicality.  His works remain popular to this day, especially in film, but I don't know how many people actually read them.

Today's literary gothic and horror offerings owe much to Wilde and his talent.

HER ROYAL SPYNESS (Rhys Bowen)

Amateur sleuth Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch, is known to her friends as Georgiana.  She is 34th in line to the British throne and broke.  This very humorous and entertaining historical series (this is the first of eleven) is set in the 1930's and features many real royal personages, slapstick comedy reminiscent of Lucille Ball, and a pretty good mystery.  Bowen writes 3 separate historical mystery series and they're all excellent.  I'm looking forward to reading more of this one though.  It was truly enjoyable from cover to cover!

Monday, July 31, 2017

SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS (J. Courtney Sullivan)

Today I vow to keep up on writing this blog in a timely manner!  I've been so busy with family weddings and illnesses, an upcoming grandchild, and work obligations that I have simply forgotten that the purpose of a blog is to be written on!

As for this novel, I had to look it up to remind myself of what it is about because all I remember is that I enjoyed it very much.  It is the story of two sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn, who travel from Ireland to the US to start new lives, Nora with her betrothed and Theresa with a teaching career.  Nora begins to question her commitment to and love for Will, her fiance, while Theresa falls madly in love with a mysterious man and "gets into trouble."  Nora puts aside her doubts and marries Will so they can adopt Theresa's child and Theresa eventually realizes that she has a vocation and joins a cloistered convent while Nora and Will raise her son, Patrick.  As the novel begins, Patrick has died at age 50.  Despite his aimlessness, he has always been Nora's favorite and she grieves at his loss.  She calls Theresa to let her know, despite that fact that they have not seen each other for many years, bringing to the forefront issues that have been buried for years.

Every family has secrets.  Every family has resentments.  Sullivan is a master at pulling together all of the threads of human relationships into a compelling and readable story.  I still have a couple of her novels that I haven't read.  I'll have to read them!

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON LODGE (Lorna Landvik)

Lorna Landvick is a wonderful author with an outlook and imagination that is slightly off-kilter.  This sequel to Patty Jane's House of Curl is, I think, just as wonderful a the original.  Patty Jane is packing up shop, closing the House of Curl and moving on with her life with both her brain-damaged husband and her lover in tow.  When her daughter, Nora, becomes pregnant (with twins) just before meeting the man of her dreams, life presents new challenges.  After a chance encounter with a free-spirited old woman, Nora decides to buy and renovate the Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, which becomes the new gathering place for family and new and old friends.  Landvik takes us on a years-long journey through the adventures of Patty Jane and Nora's family, including births, marriages, and tragic losses.  If you love Landvik (or even if you've never read her imaginative novels, this is a must read.  You'll be swept away into the Minnesota countryside and find yourself very reluctant to return to reality at the end!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

REBECCA (Daphne Du Maurier)

Nearly everyone is familiar with Mrs. Danvers.  She's the obsessed housekeeper at Manderley, the de Winter estate on the Cornish coast, and was creepily played by Dame Judith Anderson in the Hitchcock adaptation of this novel.  When widower Maxim de Winter returns to Manderley with his young bride (nameless throughout the novel), Mrs. Danvers sets out to destroy her already shaky confidence.  The young Mrs. de Winter is surrounded by memories of Maxim's first wife Rebecca - her stationary, her clothing, the memories cherished by everyone, even, apparently, her husband.  Rebecca was the perfect wife, the perfect lady, a woman of such charm and taste that everyone still mourns her loss in a boating accident the year before.  The new wife could never hope to live up to the memory of Rebecca.

This is, perhaps, the finest gothic novel of the 20th century.  Du Maurier is a master of atmosphere, peeling away layer after layer of secrets while interspersing dramatic incidents and menacing situations throughout.  It is, when you boil it all down, a novel about the importance of communication and honesty within a marriage.  There are several quite twisted personalities here.  Maxim is tortured, but not, as his new wife and the readers assume, by regrets about lost love.  Mrs. Danvers is the one tortured by lost love for Rebecca, whom she worshipped and revered.

Many of you have probably seen the movie, but the book is so much better and the events leading up to the ending may surprise you.  Revisit a vintage novel that will never grow old or boring.  It has stood the test of time and will, I think, always be in demand.

THE DISTANT HOURS (Kate Morton)

An old crumbling castle, 3 elderly sisters, a mysterious letter, a lost love, and a mother who refuses to talk about her past all help to lead Edie Birchell to Milderhurst Castle, the country estate to which her mother was evacuated during World War II.  The Distant Hours is a story of madness, murder, and family secrets.  It is long, but it will hold your interest.  Kate Morton tends to be a little bit long-winded in some of her novels, but this one will be worth the extra time it takes to read!  If you're looking for a good gothic novel, look no further.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE END OF TEMPERANCE DARE (Wendy Webb)

I have been waiting for a new Wendy Webb novel for a few years now, so I was thrilled to see this one.  In a word, it's scary!  A young woman, Norrie Harper, after being let go from her job as a reporter due to PTSD, is hired as the director of Cliffside Manor, a former TB sanatorium that is now an acclaimed artist's retreat.  She had visited the manor as a reporter twenty years before, investigating the death of 2 of the dare family members.  On the day of her arrival, her predecessor, the former director and last living member of the Dare family, is discovered dead, an apparent suicide, and things just get scarier and more mysterious from there.

This novel has a wonderful haunting atmosphere that will keep you feeling slightly uneasy.  One of my friends, another Webb fan, stopped me and told me that she was SCARED reading this book.  I would advise against picking it up on a dark night when you are home alone, but definitely read it!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

DARK ROAD TO DARJEELING (Deanna Raybourn)

This is my first Lady Julia Grey mystery, and I have to say that it would make a great movie!  Lady Jane's husband, detective Nicholas Brisbane, are still honeymooning in the Mediterranean when they are summoned, along with  Julia's sister Portia, to the Cavendish tea plantation by Portia's former lover, Jane, whose husband Freddy has recently been murdered.  Jane fears for her life and that of her unborn child and hopes that Julia and Brisbane will discover the killer before she herself becomes a victim.

This novel has a strong sense of place and is filled with local color and descriptions of the Himalayas and India that make the reader feel as if they are traveling along with this eccentric group. As for the mystery?  Intriguing!  If you are looking for mostly likable and varied characters, a great plot, and a lot of authentic-seeming atmosphere, try this series.

Monday, June 12, 2017

THE SUNSHINE SISTERS (Jane Green)

As the story opens, we are introduced to Ronni Sunshine, an aging actress on a mission to end her own life.  She is obviously ill, done with all of the drama and angst, ready for peace, but concerned about her 3 daughters, the Sunshine sisters, Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy.  Nell, a single mother, lives on a farm near Ronni but seldom sees her.  Nell is confused by her inability to fall in love with a man who seems perfect but is lacking something unidentified but important.  Meredith, bearing the brunt of her mother's criticism growing up, fled to the UK, became an accountant, and is engaged to a man who is "good enough" because she doesn't believe that she is thin or pretty enough to deserve someone who thinks she is wonderful.  Lizzy, the youngest, is most like Ronni in looks and temperament.  She is a celebrity chef with a young son and a husband who feels marginalized by her career.  Lizzie has also been unfaithful to her husband.

Ronni's summons gives each of her daughters the opportunity to reconnect with her and each other and to explore sides of themselves that they have been denying for years.  Does the novel end happily?  I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  Ronni is unable to convince her daughters to do her bidding, but achieves her own goal in the end.  Each of the girls finds a better perspective on life and happiness.  Best of all, though, they form a loving family again.  This is a wonderful summer read, light enough for the beach but involved enough to keep a discriminating reader interested.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS ( Booth Tarkington)

Years ago I enjoyed Tarkington's Penrod books and this is my second reading of The Magnificent Ambersons.  Tarkington gives the reader stunning insight into the mindset of a young man who refuses to let go of his privileged roots as the industrial revolution begins to break down the rigid class structure of the American midwest in the early 20th century.  This novel has everything you could ask for: a fawning mother blind to her son's faults, a quiet father whose death barely makes a ripple in the family dynamics, the dashing, successful man that was the mother's second choice and is now back in town, the beautiful love interest who realizes that she will always be second choice to pride, and, most importantly, the misguided young man who believes that family and entitlement are the most important things in life, even if it means that he contributes nothing of import to his world.

There's a reason that Orson Welles chose to film this important novel.  It's a great social commentary and demonstrates how people need to embrace change in order to survive and thrive.  Well worth reading!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN (Kate Morton)

I thought I owned this novel, but couldn't find it, so I borrowed it from the library.  The other day I noticed it in my 92-year-old mother's bookcase among the books I had brought for her (she reads 5-6 books a week!).

Anyway, be prepared for a truly great and intriguing story.  It is interesting to me that the same techniques (multiple narrators, jumping back and forth in time) that really annoyed me in Morton's The House at Riverton somehow delighted me here.  The story is basically a woman's search for her own identity, continued for her after her death by her granddaughter.

When "Nell" was 3 or 4 years old she was discovered sitting alone on a dock in 1913 Australia with a small white suitcase and no clue who she was or how she came to travel from England all alone except for the memory of "the authoress" who boarded the great ship with her and then disappeared.  The Dockmaster, Hugh, takes her home and he and his wife raise her as their own after failing to discover her identity.  On her 21st birthday her father reveals that she is actually not their daughter, but a foundling of sorts, well-loved but not of their blood.  This throws Nell's world into chaos, prompting her to break her engagement and rethink her whole life and identity.

Morton does a wonderful job creating doubts and revealing the details of Nell's past bit by bit, moving back and forth between 1900, 1913, 1975, and 2005.  The novel begins with Nell's death in 2005, with many questions about her origins still unanswered.  When her granddaughter, Cassandra, learns that she has inherited a mysterious cottage in Cornwall, purchased in 1975 by Nell, she travels to England to investigate this possible clue to Nell's past.

I need to warn you that the transitions from one era to another can be confusing and I found myself several times thinking, "Who is Linus?" and "Who was Hugh again?"  The novel was well-worth a little confusion, though.  It is rich is fairy tales, historical details, mystery, adventure, and characters ranging from diabolical to romantic to delightfully eccentric.  I would recommend it highly.

HURRICANE SISTERS (Dorothea Benton Frank)

Families are complicated.  I think we can all agree on that!  The Hurricane Sisters are actually 3 generations of women:  Maisie Pringle, the controlling matriarch with a much younger man in her life, Liz Waters, the frustrated wife trying to juggle career, marriage, and motherhood, and headstrong daughter Ashley, the ambitious artist who envisions herself as the next Jackie Kennedy.  Liz's husband Clayton is a focused businessman who has difficulty accepting that their son, Ivy, is gay, in a committed relationship, and a success in his own right. He is also involved in an affair with a man-eater, a former rival of Liz's in New York.

Liz is committed to her work for a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping victims of abuse to recover and start new lives, but she fails to see that her own daughter is on the brink of a dangerous and inappropriate relationship with an up-and-coming politician with control issues.  Ashley and her friend Mary Beth, who live in Liz and Clayton's summer property, launch a secret (from her parents) money-making scheme that is not quite legal, but very lucrative.  When things start to unravel and relationships seem on the brink of imploding, what will happen to the Waters family?  If you read Dorothea Benton Frank, you know that you can expect drama, warm hearts, and a satisfying resolution.  This is definitely a great few hours of reading!

THE BEST OF FRIENDS (Joanna Trollope)

Joanna Trollope is different.  What I mean by that is that her novels don't whisk you away to another world like those of many contemporary women's authors do.  She creates "everyday," but with different people.  I can't think of another writer who is able to so expertly capture life and human foibles the way she does, without much hoopla and definitely no car chases!

Gina and Laurrence have always loved each other, but never been "in love."  Gina is married to antiques dealer Fergus and has a daughter, Sophy, and a mother, VI, who lives nearby.  Laurence and Hilary run the Bee House, a historic estate inherited by Laurence, which they have turned into a successful hotel and restaurant where they also live with their 3 sons.  When Fergus decides to leave Gina and Sophy and move to London, Gina initially turns to Laurence and Hilary for comfort, but Sophy is somehow left to work out her own life with the help of Vi, who has finally found her own true love.

I know this doesn't sound to exciting, but, then, Joanna Trollope never does.  She is, however, insightful and sympathetic to the predicaments in which ordinary people tend to find themselves.  I always enjoy her books, but I;m never completely sure why, or at least I can't articulate it!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR (Dorothea Benton Frank)

Same Time Next Year (Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn) is one of my favorite movies.  Well, maybe it's the song that runs through, but I defnitely liked it a lot.  It's the story of a couple who meet for a weekend (she's on retreat and he's on business), have a brief affair, and then continue to meet every year on the same weekend for years and years.  I wonder if that movie inspired this title?

Actually there is some similarity here, but this story involves 2 couples, Adam and Eliza Stanley and Carl and Eve Landers, who meet at one summer during their vacations with their children at a South Carolina condo community.  It turns out that Adam and Eve were serious sweethearts back in the day, which ignites some jealousy in Eliza and Carl (although he appearing to be the type that believes every woman is fair game).  Despite this, the families form a strong friendship and continue to vacation together for twenty years until relationship issues finally come to head, threatening both marriages.

In typical DBF fashion, this novel draws you into the life of the Lowcountry.  You can almost feel the humidity!  This is a just-can't-put-it-down novel, perfect for summer or, really, anytime.  You will enjoy it!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SECRETS IN SUMMER (Nancy Thayer)

Maybe it's just me, but Nancy Thayer seems to be getting a lot more "romancey" than she used to be and I'm not a big fan of novels that focus too much on lust.  That's NOT to say that it wasn't a good book.  Thayer always comes through with her wonderful descriptions of the Nantucket weather and lifestyle.  She makes you feel the sea breezes and smell the salt air.

Darcy Cotterill, the main character, is a divorced librarian living in her Grandmother's old house on Nantucket.  She has friends, a man in her life, and a job she loves.  During the summer the population of Nantucket swells and Darcy meets and develops some unlikely friendships with her summer neighbors, a harried mother and her philandering husband, an elderly woman and her devastating handsome (and single) grandson, and Darcy's own ex-husband, staying with his new wife (the one he left Darcy for) and adopted daughter, Willow, a 14-year-old who turns to Darcy for the guidance her parents are not providing.

This is not my favorite Nancy Thayer novel.  Darcy spends a little bit too much time considering potential romantic partners (who assumes that when one is in an intimate 3-month relationship, but no one has mentioned that it is "exclusive," that it might be OK to consider sleeping with someone else?), but the relationship that develops between Darcy, Willow, her elderly neighbor, and the harried mother of 3 during the summer is one that is worth reading about.  I give this 3 1/2 stars, but I'd go higher if I was more interested in the romance part!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SUMMER AT THE CORNISH CAFE (Phillipa Ashley)

What a great way to spend a weekend, especially if you are counting the days until Poldark shows up again on Public Television!  I admit that I was initially oblivious to the plotline of this novel.  I thought it was billed as being for fans of Poldark because it was set in Cornwall!

Demi (short for Demelza), self-sufficient and resourceful, is estranged from her family and living rough aside from her job at a local cafe.  Cal Penwith has been long away from and out-of-touch with his Cornwall family.  In fact, he left to do humanitarian work in the Middle East after his father's death instead of tending to the family estate, a campground that his father nearly mismanaged into bankruptcy.  Sitting in the cafe, he witnesses the unfair firing of waitress Demi by Mawgan Cade, the ruthless owner of the building that houses the cafe, after an accidental spill.  As Cal makes his way home, he decides to first stop in at his Uncle Rory's home where he discovers a party in progress.  The occasion?  The engagement of his cousin Luke to Isla, the love of Cal's life.  Is this all starting to sound a little familiar?  It certainly will to fans of Poldark.

This is a fun little book.  We all know from the start that Demi and Cal will end up together despite that fact that he still harbors feelings for Isla.  There are several references to Winston Groome, the author of the Poldark series, and it's obvious to anyone who has watched the current version of the series that Cal looks suspiciously like Aidan Turner.  Someone even remarks on it later in the book and his response is that he has never heard of the guy!

You will find this light, interesting, and entertaining.  For fans of Jenny Colgan and Katie Fforde, it will feel like coming home.  I'm planning to read the sequel, Christmas at the Cornish Cafe.  I already have it downloaded to my Kindle!

AGE OF INNOCENCE (Edith Wharton)

We read this for our Vintage Book Club.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 and Wharton's was the first female to win achieve this honor.  Set in the 1870's, The Age of Innocence is an attempt by Wharton to reconcile new and old, male and female, rich and poor.

Newland Archer, a young man from a distinguished upper-class family, is madly in love with May Welland, a beautiful young woman who represents Newland's ideal female.  They are betrothed and he believes that she will be the perfect wife, supporting his career and running a household of which he will be proud.  When May's cousin Countess Ellen Olenska returns from Poland in disgrace, having left her abusive husband, Newland becomes obsessed with her, but since she is still married and unsuitable as a wife, he follows through with his marriage to May.  All of Ellen's relatives encourage her to return to her terrible marriage, to not seek a divorce because appearances are so much more important than personal happiness or even safety.  Throughout the novel Newland pines away for Ellen, alternately denying his feelings and deciding to leave May for his true love.  May is not stupid, though, and continually manipulates circumstances to ensure that Newland remains where he belongs, with his family.  When May dies after years of marriage, Newland considers finally reuniting with Ellen in Paris, but discovers that the woman he has been longing for throughout the years may not really be the one for him.

I found this novel to be an interesting commentary on life and social values in the gilded age.  Thank God things have changed since then, especially for women!

THE CHRISTIE CAPER (Carolyn Hart)

Annie and Max Darling are hosting a week-long conference in honor of Agatha Christie's 100th birthday.  Attendees include authors, agents, publishers, Christie fans, and at least one murderer.  Hart weaves together an intriguing group of characters immersed in secrets, vendettas, and hero-worship.  One thing I will say about The Christie Caper is that it is designed primarily for readers who LOVE Agatha Christie.  Anyone who has read Christie extensively will revel in the huge number of clues and references that Hart includes.  My advice is to definitely read this.  It's a great mystery with many twists and turns and a lot of those instances when you think, "Of course!" and 5 pages later you realize, "Oh, no, I guess not!"  And if you're a Christie expert, you'll be in Heaven!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

FAT CHANCE (Rhonda Pollero)

Do you love Janet Evanovich's Stepanie Plum?  Then chances are you'll also love Finley Anderson Tanner!  Pollero's series is delightful and you will enjoy this novel from start to finish.  Finley (named for the 2 men that her mother was keeping company with when she was conceived) is a paralegal who can't seem to avoid stumbling over dead bodies.  This time the murder scene is the cottage that Finley's mother has just sold to her, a legacy from her beloved step-father.  Finley and her friends meet at the Palm beach cottage, formerly occupied by her step-father's personal assistant turned foster mother, to celebrate Finley's good fortune.  While there they stumble upon a long-dead body clutching a medallion given by Finley to her step-father many years ago.  Who is it and how did they end up in the closet? Is there a connection to Nancy, the previous tenant?  Will Finley and the irresistibly handsome Liam ever get together?

I loved every page of this fun novel.  The characters are likable, the plot is intriguing, and you'll find yourself fully invested in Finley's life before you're done.  Highly recommended!

CITY OF FRIENDS (Joanna Trollope)

Stacey, Beth, Melissa and Gaby have been friends since university.  All of them focused on finance and through the years they have remained friends as they climbed the ladder of success.  When Stacey Grant, married and childless by choice, asks for flexible time on her demanding job to better care for her mother, who suffers from dementia, she is made redundant from her London equity firm.
This unexpected event throws Stacey into the depths of depression.  Without her work to help take her mind off of her mother's declining health she questions her choices and her friendships.  One friend, Melissa, a single mother, runs her own business and is content to raise her son Tom alone until Tom's father is suddenly back in the picture, complete with a new family for Tom to share in.  Gaby, very successful and happily married with 3 children, is lucky to have a supportive husband but has no room in her organization for Stacey because she has hired the woman in Tom's father's life, keeping that fact a secret from the rest of the group.  Beth is busy remolding her dream home with Claire, the love of her life, until Claire decides that there may be something better out there for her.

Joanna Trollope is an expert at examining the everyday lives of real people.  There are no terrifying car chases, no dramatic murders, no wild sex scenes.  These could be people who live next door.  I think you have to have a particular mindset to enjoy Trollope's work because it's not so much escapism as ultra-reality.  I like it so much that I just picked up another of her novels that I've never read.  If you haven't read Trollope you might want to give her a try!