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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BITCHES OF BROOKLYN (Rosemary Harris)

Review coming soon!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE BUTLER: A WITNESS TO HISTORY (Wil Haygood)

When I picked up this book I expected it to be a short biography of Eugene Allen, the man who served as White House butler through 8 presidential administrations. It was, but very briefly.  This short (96 pages) tome is not just the story of Eugene and Helene Allen, but a condensed history of both civil rights in America and the making of the film, The Butler.  Haygood provides a brief vignette of each of the presidents (5 of them) portrayed in the movie and their dealings with civil rights issues.

This was a very short book, but thought-provoking.  It's kind of like a photo album, brief glimpses into Eugene Allen's life, the struggles of Black Americans to attain respect and equality, and the dedication that went into making the film.  As I said, it was unexpected, but definitely worthwhile.

By the way, if you haven't seen Lee Daniels' movie, I highly recommend it.  It's terrific on so many different levels.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

THE PIONEER WOMAN: BLACK HEELS to TRACTOR WHEELS (Ree Drummond)

I am not normally a reader of romances, but Drummond's autobiographical story of a young woman's transition from dedicated city girl and aspiring law student to rancher's wife is a true-life romance that delighted from start to finish.  The meeting, the courtship, Ree's last minute decision to change her plans to move Chicago and instead focus on her relationship with her "Marlboro Man,"  their marriage and disastrous honeymoon, and her transition to living on an isolated ranch away from family and friends all combine into a charming and very readable biography.  If you have ever watched Ree Drummond on the Food Network you will LOVE this book, and even if you haven't I suspect that her sense of humor and positive take on almost any setback will charm you.

THE ROSIE PROJECT (Graeme Simsion)

The Rosie Project defies categorization.  Is it romance, humor, educational?  It is very unusual.  I've discussed it with a couple of people and the consensus seems to be that it is hilarious.  I agreed in some respects, but I also agree with my friend that feels the story is sad.

Don Tillman is a college professor with a personality much like Sheldon Cooper's from the TV show Big Bang Theory.  Although the author never states that Don suffers from Asperger's, he interestingly starts the novel with Don filling in as a last minute presenter on Asperger's for a group of 5th graders and their parents, with amusing results. At age 39 Don has decided that it is time to find a life partner, so he embarks on the Wife Project, a scientific questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable partners and help him to meet the perfect mate.  As anyone who has ever read a romance knows, though, science has nothing to do with the connection between two hearts.  When Don meets Rosie, he realizes that she is completely unsuitable, but something clicks between the two of them.  The hilarious aspect of the book is Don's literal interpretation of life, like assuming that a high quality bicycling jacket should be perfectly acceptable to wear in a restaurant where jackets are required.  Anyone dealing with a loved one on the autism spectrum will see the layers below Don's thought processes and have mixed feelings about how funny he really is.  Overall, though, Simsion deals with Don and his issues insightfully and entertainingly.  I would wholeheartedly recommend The Rosie Project.  Wonderful!

Friday, March 14, 2014

THE TALE OF BRIAR BANK: A BEATRIX POTTER MYSTERY (Susan Wittig Albert)

Susan Wittig Albert has done a superb job of recreating the world of Beatrix Potter, complete with anthropomorphic animals and charming segues from scene to scene.  Beatrix died in 1943, but I would swear that she has been reincarnated in Susan Wittig Albert.  This "mystery" is a delightful combination of actual facts from Potter's life, wonderful scenes of badgers, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and even dragons, socializing and working (it is actually they who unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mr. Wickstead's death), and a narrator who leads us from scene to scene.  This was decidedly different.  It made me want to all of Beatrix Potter's books, especially since I feel that I already know many of the characters!

A SHORT GUIDE TO A LONG LIFE (David B Agus, MD)

Settle in for a couple of hours and read this useful guide to taking charge of your own health.  In a very down-to-earth series of do's and don'ts, Dr. Agus, a leading cancer specialist, presents some very thought-provoking and sensible rules for preventing illness and living a long life.  It's not a trendy booklet hawking the latest diet fads or vitamin supplements.  Dr. Agus provides practical suggestions for good health, like getting 8 hours of sleep each night, eating REAL food, getting regular checkups, knowing the details of your family health history, enjoying regular exercise, and avoiding vitamins and supplements.  He offers interesting facts, like that frozen vegetables and fruits are actually fresher (i.e. more vitamin-filled) than out-of-season foods shipped from other places, and that wearing good, comfortable shoes is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  You might be thinking that everyone KNOWS these things (except maybe the part about avoiding vitamins!), but the fact is that most of us don't practice many of these good health habits.  I'm not doing justice to Dr. Agus's book.  It is inspiring, down-to-earth, and a little scary.  What it boils down to is that many diseases are preventable by simply paying attention to our daily habits and caring for ourselves.  Take the time to read it.  It's amazing how simple changes can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BRIDGET JONES: MAD ABOUT THE BOY (Helen Fielding)

I thoroughly enjoyed this update on Bridget Jones's life, but I have to admit I was almost brought to tears a few times, mainly because I felt like Colin Firth had been killed!  Any Bridget Jones fan probably knows that Firth played Mark Darcy, Bridget's true love, in the movie versions of Fielding's two Bridget books.  Well, Bridget married Mark, had two children, Billy and Mabel, with him, and then was widowed (Oh, no!).  After several years of mourning she decides, with the encouragement of her friends, that it is time to venture out into the dating world again, in typical Bridget Jones style.

At age 51, Bridget tries online dating and flirts madly with the Roxter, a much younger man.  She even considers a future with him, but her destiny is with another.  As she navigates technology, aging, and single parenthood in her usual neurotic way, we fall in love with her all over again.  After 15 years she is still the same goofy Bridget, older and a bit wiser, but still as appealing.

I imagine that there are people who will say that the originals were better, because people always do.  Fielding is, after all, the grand dame of chick-lit.  Would the genre even exist if Bridget Jones hadn't been conceived?  If you loved Bridget 15 years ago, you'll love this one!

DEATH OF A POLICEMAN (M.C. Beaton)

I wonder why I never get tired of Hamish Macbeth?  I do really wish that he would settle down with Priscilla or Elspeth (preferably Elspeth).  He's getting a little too sad and frustrated for my taste.  It's time for him to find some personal happiness.  I don't think it would really interfere with his character because there could be marital spats and misunderstandings mixed in with Hamish's incredible crime solving.  Think about it, M.C. Beaton!

That being said, this is another typical romp through the highlands.  One interesting development is more insight into the character of Inspector Daviot, whom I have found in the past to be fairly supportive of Hamish and somewhat aware of Blair's incompetency, at least to the extent of ignoring it.  This book may be a turning point (for the worse) for Daviot and Hamish, though, when the two engage in a bit of negotiation that is likely to drive Daviot firmly into Blair's camp.  Hamish may have a hard road to travel in the future!

In this entry in the long-running series, Blair has assigned a handsome young police officer to "watch" Hamish in order to gather evidence against him (so, nothing new there).  When the police officer is killed Hamish takes over the investigation covertly, since he has been banned from any involvement in the case.  Hamish's fellow officer and roommate, Dick, the quiz show genius, is the focus of the romantic entanglements in "Death of a Policeman," but, as usual, things do NOT work out well for him on the local front.  Beaton has managed to write an intriguing mystery involving local characters, organized crime, prostitution, thwarted romance, and corruption, all in one little book.  It's a quick read, but fun.  Check it out when you have a free weekend to read!

Monday, February 24, 2014

NO ONE COULD HAVE GUESSED THE WEATHER (Anne-Marie Casey)

I can't say that this is a typical novel about a group of 40ish women whose lives are in transition, because it has an odd, but not unpleasing, edge to it.  Lucy and her husband have moved to New York after his job loss in he UK and she has trouble adjusting to the crowds and the incessant noise of the city. Successful television writer Julia is separated from her husband and children and trying to find herself after a near nervous breakdown. Christy is already married to a much older, wealthy man and the mother of 6-year-old twins when she realizes what her life could have been if she waited for the right man.  Robyn is the outsider, an unhappy woman trapped in a marriage to a "creative spirit," the main support of her family and unfulfilled as a wife and mother, which may be why she has slept with the husbands of two of the other women.

While not overly emotional or inspiring, Casey's novel is enjoyable.  Each woman eventually travels her own path and finds fulfillment in her chosen relationships.  This is not truly a novel of women's bonding, but it will satisfy those who enjoy that type of novel (like me)!

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES (Alan Bradley)


Oh, Flavia De Luce, you just get better and better!  At the end of Bradley's last novel in this wonderful series, Flavia's father announced that her mother, Harriet, who had disappeared in the Himalayas 10 years earlier, had been found.  Of course we have all been waiting breathlessly for this next installment!  Bradley has made the wise (but a little sad) decision that life must go on, and it appears that Flavia will not always remain the amazing 11-year-old detective and chemist that we have come to know and love.  She will soon be 12 and life is becoming a more serious proposition, especially now that Harriet has been found.  When cousin Lena descends on Buckshaw, the crumbling family estate, with her precocious (and weird) daughter Undine, it appears that Flavia may have acquired an apprentice in her sleuthing.  Time will tell!

As the family waits at the station for the train bearing Harriet back to Bishop's Lacey, a stranger whispers a message in Flavia's ear.  Moments later he mysteriously falls under a train and is killed.  Was he pushed or was it an accident?  What did his cryptic message mean?  Flavia is intrigued when she discovers and restores an old home film in which her mother appears to be saying "pheasant sandwiches," the same phrase whispered to her by the dead man.  And why was Winston Churchill there to welcome Harriet home?  For the answers to all of these questions, read this book!  Bradley has written another winner here.  The intrigue, the characters, and the atmosphere get better and better with each novel.  I can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE NINTH DAUGHTER (Barbara Hamilton)

Abigail Adams as sleuth is an intriguing idea.  What I enjoyed most about The Ninth Daughter, though, was Hamilton's minute attention to historical detail.  The author manages to create a seemingly authentic panorama of life in 1773 while treating the reader to charming insights into the married life of John and Abigail.  The cast of characters also includes the rabble-rousing Sam Adams and Paul Revere.  The crime, the murder of the wife of a prominent local man and the related disappearance of one of Abigail's friends, the estranged wife of an older man who is being manipulated by his self-serving children, is interesting.  I was most intrigued, however, by the life of the women of the  era and Abigail's constant concern about her neglected family and household chores!  I would definitely recommend this series to any lover of historical fiction.  Hamilton, who writes fantasy as Barbara Hambly, has done a wonderful job here.  I loved it!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CITY OF LIGHT (Lauren Belfer)

History, intrigue, romance, civil rights - Belfer's wonderful novel has it all.  It has taken me an unusually long time to read this 500+ page novel, partially because of personal obligations, but also because it is so dense with characters, real and fictional, and historical detail that it was hard to keep track of everyone and everything going on. The setting is Buffalo, NY in 1901.  The great Pan American exhibition (where President McKinley would be shot) is in it's final stages of development, giant power stations are producing electricity from Niagara Falls, and the working class are being exploited at every turn.

Beautiful spinster Louisa Barrett is the headmistress of  prestigious girl's school and godmother to troubled 9-year-old Grace Sinclair.  Grace's late adoptive mother was Louisa's best friend, and her father, Tom Sinclair, is the manager of the hydro-electric power plants at Niagara Falls, zealously protecting his project from those who fear that the plants will harm or dissipate the falls.  When a key figure in the project is found dead after an argument with Tom, Louisa begins to question her loyalties while desperately trying to reconcile secrets from her own past.  Excellent book, a BIG novel wonderfully crafted.

Monday, January 27, 2014

TAPESTRY OF FORTUNES (Elizabeth Berg)

My first thought on finishing this novel a few minutes ago was, "I'm so glad that I've only read two of Elizabeth Berg's books.  This means that there are so many more waiting for me on the library's shelves!"  Tapestry of Fortunes is the lovely, life affirming story of a woman, Cece, who has lost her best friend, Penny.  A successful motivational speaker and author, Cecelia Ross is fifty-something when she comes to the realization that the life she has been living has lost its meaning for her.  She decides to take a break from her career, sell her house, and volunteer at a local hospice.  In an unlikely move, she also chooses to rent a room in a beautiful old house and live there with a disparate group of women with whom she develops an immediate rapport.  A postcard from Cece's old love Dennis Halsinger prompts the women to embark on a road trip where each of them revisits past life decisions and embraces new hope for the future.  Along the way, Cece communicates mentally with Penny, who remains an integral part of her life and her decisions and urges her to find her true joy in life.

I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed this novel.  The title is apt, for Berg is a genius at interweaving the emotional threads of each woman's story into a beautiful blend of colors and feelings.  Interspersing the use of tarot cards lightheartedly throughout the novel adds an extra touch of interest.  Anyone who loves women's fiction, stories about friendship, middle-aged romance, local color, and the captivating details of everyday life lived to its fullest should read this novel.  I just loved it!  By the way, it also has one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen.  Look for it!

I was just reading some of the reviews on Goodreads about this book and they were all over the map.  Someone even hated the cover!  It's amazing how varied people's tastes can be!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SIX YEARS (Harlan Coben)

It's been a while since I've read a thriller.  Lately I've been focusing primarily on women's fiction, because I like the emotional component, as well as historical fiction and traditional mysteries.  Six Years was pretty good.  College professor Jake was devastated when, six years before the novel begins, his soul-mate Natalie dumped him and married another man that she claimed was her old boyfriend, asking Jake to leave them alone.  Jake respected her wish for privacy and closure, but when he finds out that Natalie's husband, Todd, has died he decides to contact her at long last, only to discover that Todd left a wife of twenty years and two sons.  None of them have ever heard of Natalie.  Naturally he sets out to find the truth of what happened to Natalie, meeting obstacle after obstacle and realizing that those he thought he could trust may not be what they seem to be.  Jake displays an admirable ability to think on his feet, outwitting evil gangsters and even killing when necessary to save his own life.  I really liked Jake's integrity, his concern for the safety of his students and his underlying shock and wonder at his ability to kill, even in self-defense.  Overall, I would classify this as a satisfying thriller.  It's quick to read, full of both action and psychological suspense, and Coben does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing while unfolding the plot logically and cleanly.

Monday, January 20, 2014

THE OBITUARY WRITER (Ann Hood)

Last week someone returned this book to the library and said "You should read this!"  I did, and I have to say that I am very appreciative of the recommendation.  Hood's latest had already been mentioned in my BookBuggs group and was in the back of my mind to read someday, but I hadn't gotten around to it, partially because Ann Hood often writes about grief and loss and I wasn't really in the mood.  The Obituary Writer drew me in immediately, though.

Claire is a housewife in Virginia in1961, enamored of the Kennedy charisma and expecting a baby that she isn't sure is her husband's.  When her husband discovered her with her lover, the affair came to an abrupt end and her marriage has been understandably strained ever since.  She longs for the easy conversation and passion she enjoyed with her lover and grieves for what is lost.  Vivian, an obituary writer in 1919, has lived for 16 years in California's Napa Valley without closure, grieving for her married lover, David, who disappeared without a trace during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Vivian has put her life on hold searching for David, filling her time with composing beautiful, personal obituaries for bereaved parents, spouses, and children.  The two women's stories are told in 7 chapters with alternating segments.  I spent the first 100 pages wondering about the connection between the two women while enjoying each of their stories.  It did come together beautifully at the end.

Every woman has experienced loss, disappointment, and grief.  I find it amazing that I chose to read this novel directly after finishing David Menasche's memoir, because they tie in so beautifully together.  We all make choices in life and we all experience things beyond our control.  We can choose to accept what we cannot change and move on, living life to the fullest, or we can choose to view our obstacles as a reason to stop living and empathizing.  The Obituary Writer provides an interesting historical perspective on love, loss, and acceptance.  I highly recommend it.

THE PRIORITY LIST: A TEACHER'S FINAL QUEST TO DISCOVER LIFE'S GREATEST LESSONS (David Menasche)

This beautiful, inspirational memoir should be on everyone's "to read" list.  It WILL change your way of thinking about life and what it should mean.  I promise!

David Menasche, a devoted husband and gifted teacher, was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 34 and made the decision to live the fullest, most meaningful life possible in the time he had left.  As a high school teacher, he had effectively incorporated life lessons into studies of literature, earning the unconditional love and respect of his students. The "spiral"  was the initial means by which he described the stages of life and eventual goals to his students.  The beginning of the spiral is birth and infancy, when we are focused completely on our own needs and feelings.  The end of the spiral, the goal of living, is "when you can empathize with others and act with true respect and kindness because to be here is to care more about others than you care about yourself."  From this concept evolved the "priority list," a list of words such as wealth, respect, privacy, security and love, words that can be prioritized and rearranged as we journey through life.  Originally the words were used in Menasche's classes to analyze characters in literature, but students were also asked to apply them to their own lives and goals in order to better understand themselves and their motivations.  It obviously worked.

Six years after being diagnosed, partially blind and partially crippled on his left side, Menasche was finally forced to give up teaching, but he used this disappointment an opportunity to travel the country visiting former students and friends who welcomed him with joy and open arms.  This book is a testament to the idea that life is constantly evolving and changing and that "obstacles" can make the journey more challenging, but not impossible.  This is not a memoir about dying, but about life and how far empathy and kindness can go towards making all of the difference in a life.  David Menasche is still alive today and settled in New Orleans.  He is also on Facebook.  Friend him and follow him as he continues his journey through life.  H is truly a person who sees the joy in living and loving.  We can learn a lot from his outlook.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

JANE AND THE MADNESS OF LORD BYRON (Stephanie Barron)

This novel was a joy from start to finish.  Barron seems to be channeling Jane Austen and the reader is treated to a bird's-eye views of life in Austen's time, written in what could easily seem to be Austen's own words.  There are quite a few "real" characters here in addition to Austen and her brother, Henry, including Lord Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, and the dilettante prince regent, the future King George IV.

Jane and her brother, Henry, travel to Bath after the death of Henry's beloved wife, Eliza.  On their way, they rescue a lovely young woman, Catherine Twining, who has apparently been abducted by the infamous Lord Byron, who had planned to marry her at Gretna Green.  During their sojourn in Bath the young woman's body us found in Lord Byron's chamber, wrapped in the sail from his boat, but the circumstances of the death and discovery convince Jane that Bryon is not the killer,

Barron has infused the novel with rich, believable details of life in Austen's time.  The reader can almost feel and smell the Assembly Rooms at Bath and the combination of real historical characters and details with fictional situations is seamless.  I highly recommend this series.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SHADOWS OF DEATH (Jeanne Dams)

I can never resist Jeanne Dams' Dorothy Martin and her husband, retired Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt.  In Shadows of Death the pair are invited to Orkney, Scotland, by an artist friend to visit the site of an ancient city being carefully excavated.  Naturally, the body of the project's main benefactor is discovered in the middle of the archaeological dig on a remote island and the main suspect soon disappears.  With a terror threat being investigated nearby, the local police rely on Alan and Dorothy to investigate.

One of the most wonderful things about Dams's characters is their authenticity.  Alan and Dorothy are an older couple experiencing the aches and pains of aging (Dorothy had a knee replacement in an earlier book).  The reader is drawn into the middle of their lives in every novel.  We know what they eat, how much they miss their pets, what gives them indigestion,and when they shower or change clothes, and even when they make love, but it is all done so gently and subtly that it never gets boring.  I thoroughly love Dorothy and Alan and I wait anxious for each new entry in the series to be published.  I've even gotten my mother hooked!  Dams always includes enough intrigue and action to entertain and the mystery is always interesting, but somehow she makes the reader believe that this couple could be real.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

PAGAN SPRING (G.M. Malliet)

Max Tudor never ceases to be fascinating.  Malliet's MI5 agent turned Anglican priest continues to be such a fresh concept, even in this third novel of the series.  The secret here, I think, is the continued development of the characters and their relationships.  A lot of cozies have romantic relationships that develop throughout the series, but none so odd as that of haunted, handsome, and devout Max and Awena, the beautiful new-age free spirit.  The village of Nether Monkslip is as much a character as any of the people in the book.

In Pagan Spring, the murder victim is Thaddeus Bottle, an egotistical retired actor and playwright. Thaddeus recently moved back to the village of his birth with his downtrodden wife Melinda.  When he is discovered dead in bed by his wife, the initial assumption is that he suffered a natural death.  He was 78 years old.  Max, of course, becomes suspicious when he notices a small amount of blood on Thaddeus's neck and the inevitable conclusion is murder.

Malliet does a tremendous job of introducing and developing the relationships among the various residents of Nether Monkslip.  The Cut & Curl, the Writers' Square, and Awena's shop / studio all provide the reader with ample opportunity to experience the heart and soul of the village and to gain more insight into the life of this charming place.  I will say that I did have a few suspicions regarding who might be the culprit in this one, but I was still surprised by the ending.  I enjoyed every moment of this mystery and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

THE KITCHEN HOUSE (Kathleen Grissom)

Seven-year-old Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks in 1791 as an indentured servant to Captain James Pyke.  Ill and recently orphaned, the Irish girl is given to the care of Belle, Captain Pyke's illegitimate mulatto daughter.  Living in the kitchen house among the slaves, whom she considers her family, Lavinia witnesses the heart-rending despair of parents and children, husbands and wives, as slaves are sold and bought, beaten and abused.  Miss Martha, Captain Pyke's mentally fragile wife, is addicted to laudanum and unable to cope with the sudden deaths of 4-year-old daughter Sally or the obvious abuse of son Marshall at the hands of his cruel tutor.

The novel begins in 1810, where we see the adult Lydia running with her daughter Ellie, returning to Tall Oaks in an attempt to save her beloved friends from the cruelty of Marshall and the plantation's nasty overseer.  Then we travel back in time to where the story began, with Lavinia's arrival at the plantation.  Grissom's meticulous research and wonderful ability to tell a story bring Lydia's narrative to life.  Belle's story is told in some sections of the book, but her character holds back a bit and the reader is never quite able to fully feel her point of view, perhaps due to the natural reticence of the character.  Overall, I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly.  It offers an interesting historical perspective of slavery, murder, rape, birth and death, great cruelty and great love, something for everyone wrapped in an incredible historical package.

THE PRICE OF MURDER (Bruce Alexander)

Sir John Fielding, the blind founder of Great Britains' Bow Street Runners, is a sort of Nero Wolfe character, the brains behind the investigations that are carried out for him by his assistant, Jeremy Proctor, his Archie Goodwin.  In The Price of Murder, Jeremy investigates the murder of a young girl whose body is found in a local canal after her mother apparently has sold her.  Jeremy's fiancee, Clarissa Roundtree, gets involved after one of her friends disappears as well.  Alexander, basing his series on the career of real-life magistrate Sir John Fielding in the mid-1800's, has crafted an interesting mystery.  The reader is immersed in the world of Georgian England, including the popular sport of horse racing.  When the murdered girl's uncle, a diminutive jockey improbably named Deuteronomy Plummer, gets involved with the case, complications ensue.  Alexander does an excellent job of moving the reader from the upper-class to the working class to the dregs of society and back again.  As a mystery, I'm not sure I would tout it as competition for Christie or Louise Penny, but the characters are memorable and, in many cases, endearing.  I loved the running sub-plot about Jeremy and Clarissa's planned engagement and Clarissa's decidedly modern attempts to pin Jeremy down to a formal commitment.  I also loved the authentic flavor of the historical setting.  This is the 10th in the Fielding series.  I would consider reading others, especially for the historical detail.

BETWEEN A MOTHER AND HER CHILD (Elizabeth Noble)

Let's begin by saying that I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't my favorite by this author.  I have read several other novels by Elizabeth Noble and I think she is a talented writer.  I especially enjoy her character development and the complexity of relationships among her characters.  It took me a long time to read this novel, perhaps because I have been busy with holiday preparations and work crises, so it left me with the feeling that the story had dragged a bit.  It was a bit long, also.

Maggie and Bill Barrett were devastated by the death of their son, Jake, in the Indonesian tsunami of 2004.  Jake, a talented, vibrant athlete and student, was traveling with his 2 best friends when the tragedy struck, leaving his parents, his younger sister, Ali, and his 10-year-old special needs brother, Stan, each coping with the loss in different ways.  As the story opens Maggie and Bill have been separated for about a year.  It is apparent that Bill has attempted to move on with his life, visiting Indonesia to claim his son's body, attending grief support groups, and finally moving out at Maggie's request.  Maggie is unable to move past her grief and get on with her life until she meets Kate, an older woman who moves in with Kate and her two children as a sort of companion and housekeeper.  Kate lost her much-loved husband fairly recently and seeks a family to love and to give her life new purpose. The circumstances of Maggie and Kate's situation are not quite believable.  Maggie's younger sister, visiting from Australia, answers Kate's ad seeking a place with a family and interviews her without Maggie's knowledge.  It is quite an unorthodox means of getting your sister out of her rut!

One of the things that IS very believable about this novel is the tone of the relationships among the characters: the love between the sisters,  the sadness and resulting alienation of the parents, the frustration of the daughter trying to live a life that has been denied to her beloved older brother. There are a lot of complex emotions here.  Although the situation is a bit strange, the ultimate resolutions are realistic and not sugar-coated.  Overall, worthwhile and memorable.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A KILLER'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (Elizabeth Duncan)

Penny Brannigan and her friend Victoria are preparing for the opening of their new spa in Llanelen, Wales, as Christmas approaches.  When a new man, Harry, arrives in town, he charms everyone, especially widow Evelyn Lloyd, who agrees to invest 20,000 pounds with him and hopes that he might take their romance to the next level.  When Harry falls to his death from a popular local tourist attraction, a historic castle, suspects abound, especially after Evelyn's missing letter opener is discovered to be the murder weapon.  A subplot of petty thefts rounds out this pleasant mystery, the third in Duncan's Penny Brannigan series.  As usual, there is a romance between amateur sleuth penny and the local police chief!  This would be a nice read for a winter afternoon recovering from the busy holidays.

THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB (Vanessa Greene)

Any lover of vintage china and novels about women's friendships will enjoy The Vintage Teacup Club. It is a delightful, easy novel full of British charm and cozy camaraderie.  I was sorry to reach the end!

Jenny, Maggie, and Alison meet at a car boot sale when they discover a vintage tea set that each wants to purchase.  Jenny is getting married to Dan and plans an economy tea-party-themed wedding for which the set will be perfect.  Maggie is a florist who needs the set for a wedding she is decorating, and Alison creates and sells handicrafts, including beautiful candles in antique cups.  The three decide to share the set, passing it from Jennie to Maggie and finally to Alison, who will fill the cups with candles and sell them.  Of course the three women, ranging in age from 26 to forty-ish, form a fast friendship and spend time together searching for additional cups.  Jenny is on a budget and still suffering from her mother's abandonment of the family, including her younger brother, Chris, who was born with spina bifida.  Alison and her husband, Pete, are struggling financially after Pete's job loss, and Maggie, divorced for several years, suddenly finds herself rekindling her relationship with Dylan, the ex-husband who left her for greener pastures.

Greene has created a simple, lovely story of friendship and grappling with life's relationships and disappointments.  I was sorry to reach the last page.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

LOVE WATER MEMORY (Jennie Shortridge)

Discovering a new author is always exciting.  I often flip through books before they go out on the shelves in our library, but I seem to come across the most fascinating books when I am changing over records to move books from the "new" area to the stacks.  This novel drew me in from the first page, where Lucie Walker suddenly finds herself standing knee deep in the cold water of San Francisco Bay with no memory of how she came to be there.  She is suffering from dissociative fugue disorder, according to the experts, but why?

You might expect from the opening that this novel is a psychological thriller, but it's not.  It is a lovely story about two broken people finding each other, experiencing a crisis, and each going through the process of finding themselves and working their way back to each other.  Some reviewers were dismissive of Lucie's amnesia as a literary device, but I thought that the way the main characters, Lucie and Grady, interacted and reacted during her period of readjustment was brilliantly and beautifully portrayed.  I enjoyed this novel from start to finish!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

OSCAR WILDE AND THE DEAD MAN'S SMILE (Giles Brandreth)

This is the first in the Christie Caper's discussion series of fiction featuring real people.  As with Brandreth's other novels in this series, the reader is transported back to Wilde's era.  The mystery is complicated and, at times, convoluted, but Wilde's wit and wile shine through, as always.  Here, Wilde and his erstwhile friend Robert Sherard form a friendship with acting great Edmond LaGrange and Wilde agrees to help LaGrange translate Hamlet into French for performance at his famous Parisian theater.  A large cast of characters, including Sarah Bernhardt, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the fictional card sharp Eddie Garstrang, blend together beautifully.  A word of warning, though: if your focus is on the "mystery" you might be disappointed with the progress of the story (where's the mystery?), but the end will make it all worthwhile.  If the Victorian lifestyle fascinates you, however, you will be mesmerized from the first page until the last.  The ending will be the icing on a delicious cake.

Monday, October 28, 2013

HEARTBREAK CAFE (Penelope J. Stokes)

Years ago I read a novel called The Blue Bottle Club by Penelope J. Stokes and to this day it remains one of my favorite books.  I know that she has written other things, but they seemed a bit too "inspirational" for me.  After a friend of mine recommended Heartbreak Cafe I decided to give Stokes another try.  I'm glad that I did!

Dell Haley's life is falling apart around her.  Her husband, Chase, has died, apparently during a tryst with one of his paramours.  No one is saying who the other woman is, but the sudden silence when she walks into a room leads her to believe that Chase's behavior might have been common knowledge in the town of Chulahatchie, Tennessee.  When she goes to see bank manager Marvin Beckstrom (known as 'Bug" along with other unpleasant names) she is informed that Chase has mortgaged their home and that she has barely enough money to survive for the next year.  With the support of her good friends Boone, Toni, and a drifter named Scratch, she rents a rundown restaurant and transforms it into the Heartbreak Cafe.  The cafe soon becomes the go-to place in town for breakfast and lunch, but Dell is barely breaking even financially when a major setback threatens to ruin her.

Heartbreak Cafe is a story about deep friendships, resilience in the face of adversity, and having faith that the truth will eventually set you free.  If you are looking for a wonderful and, yes, inspirational story about working through heartbreak and coming out whole on the other side, try this book!

WHERE WE BELONG (Emily Giffin)

It's been a while since I read an Emily Giffin novel and now I'm wondering if I missed one or two!  I'll have to check.

Deciding to give a child up for adoption, trying to insure that your baby has a better life than you could possibly provide, is a heart-wrenching, life-changing decision.  For Marian Caldwell, her guilt about giving up the daughter she gave birth to at age 18 is compounded by the fact that she lied to the baby's father, Conrad Knight, about her pregnancy.  She hasn't seen him since she broke off their relationship the day her home pregnancy test result came out positive.  Eighteen years later she is a successful New York based television producer and in love with handsome, successful Peter Standish.

Kirby Katherine Rose is a troubled 18-year-old from St. Louis, confused about her future and feeling like a misfit.  She was adopted at birth by loving parents, who conceived another daughter just 2 months after bringing Kirby home. Despite her close, loving family, Kirby has always felt like a bit of an outsider, looking different from her parents and sister, and with different talents and interests.  As soon as it becomes legally possible, Kirby accesses her adoption records and decides to travel to New York, unbeknownst to anyone but her best friend Belinda, to contact her birth mother, Marian Caldwell.  She is relieved that Marian acknowledges and accepts her when she knocks on her door, and the two embark on a rocky emotional journey of mutual (and self) discovery, tying up loose ends from the past and forging new relationships for the future.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Giffin's latest is the positive development of the characters.  Each of them is flawed, as humans are, but when confronted with the facts of Kirby's existence each in their own way ultimately reacts with grace and integrity.  It may not be completely realistic, and perhaps some would consider Where We Belong to be a bit too positive, but who cares?  I enjoyed every minute of this novel.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

THE HUSBAND'S SECRET (Liane Moriarty)

I don't think that this is my favorite Liane Moriarty novel, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy it.  I must be getting old, because again I had problems keeping track of who was who during the first few chapters.

 Efficient, organized Cecilia is married to handsome John Paul Fitzgerald and together they have 3 daughters.  Life seem idyllic until Cecilia finds a letter written by John Paul to be opened after his death.  John Paul is every much alive, but can Cecilia resist opening the letter to discover her husband's secret? 

Tess arrives at her mother's house with son Liam just after husband Will and her cousin and best friend Felicity have revealed that they have fallen madly (but chastely) in love and want to live together.  As business partners, Tess, Will, and Felicity spend nearly every day together, so this revelation changes every aspect of the life Tess thought she was living.  Meeting old love Connor Whitby makes Tess question herself and her commitment to her marriage.

Eleanor, a widow, mourns the unsolved murder of her daughter Janie.  At 17 Janie was strangled in a local park and Eleanor believes that Connor Whitby is the guilty party.  Elanor's husband was away at the time of Janie's murder.

Moriarty's little asides about what was happening  behind the scenes throughout the novel add an extra touch of interest to the story. They put the reader in a position of know more about the story than the characters themselves. I imagine that some might feel that the process of tying up loose ends is a bit contrived, but I liked it.  Overall, I would recommend it!

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (Maria Semple)

This is a really unusual book, mainly because of Semple's odd, yet strangely heroic characters and partly because it is written in epistolary format, which I find very appealing.  Semple uses a combination of emails, faxes, letters, and reports (police, FBI, medical, etc.) interspersed with Bee Fox's commentary to tell Bernadette's story.   It reminded me at times of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, but I think that was mainly because of the crumbling home, brilliant minds, and eccentric behavior.

Where Bernadette Fox actually went is examined on several levels.  Does the title refer to her disappearance from the architectural world after winning a prestigious award just before the destruction of her brilliant signature project, to her apparently fragile mental state and agoraphobic tendencies, or her sudden departure from home after her husband stages an intervention because he believes her to be suicidal or addicted to drugs?  Daughter Bee (short for Balakrishna) and husband Elgie, an inventor who works for Microsoft, love Bernadette unconditionally and don't seem especially bothered by her behavior as the story unfolds.  They even plan a trip to Antartica to reward Bee for her excellent grades.  Bernadette's dealings with her next-door neighbor and fellow Galer School mother (whose name escapes me at the moment) and the email exchanges between her and Elgie's assistant (with the multi-hyphenated, multi-cultural name) are absolutely hilarious, adding an irresistible slapstick element to the novel.  Is it believable?  Absolutely not!  Will you love?  I think so!  Check it out soon!

THREE WISHES (Liane Moriarty)

I've decided that I need to stop myself from starting a new book until AFTER I blog about the one I just finished.  For some reason colder weather increases my need to read, so I'm getting behind yet again!

Liane Moriarty is amazing.  She manages to combine intrigue, psychological drama, humor, and traditional chick-lit elements into one very entertaining novel.  The Kettle sisters, Cat, Lyn, and Gemma, are Australian triplets. Cat and Lyn are identical blondes while Gemma is fraternal and a red-head.  All are tall, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with.  The story opens during a celebration of the triplets' 34th birthday in a Sidney restaurant, a celebration that turns into brawl resulting in one triplet accidentally embedding a fork into her pregnant sister's abdomen.  Moriarty then takes us back almost a year, retracing the events in each sister's life that lead to the fateful birthday dinner.  Lyn, an organizational dynamo, owns her own successful business and is a perfect wife and mother who suddenly finds herself suffering panic attacks.  Cat, a marketing executive who longs for a baby, is devastated to learn that her marriage is not the success she believed it to be.  Gemma is the sister still trying to find her place in life, working as a house-sitter and unable to even consider sustaining a relationship for more than a few months after the death of her fiance, at least until she meets Charlie.  Added into the mix are the girls' dysfunctional parents, whose 34-year relationship (beginning with the conception of the triplets) is fraught with sarcasm and disdain.  Starting the novel with the restaurant incident seems unusual for this type of novel, kind of like one of those old movies that start with the murder and then go back to the beginning so the audience can see how the crime unfolded, but it certainly made me want to read more.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING DEAD (M.C. Beaton)

I've lost track of how many Agatha Raisin mysteries M.C. Beaton has published (Oh, it's 24!), but over the years Beaton has added an increasing streak of niceness to Agatha.  That's not to say that Agatha has lost her edge, of course, but she's a little less prone to self-sabotage and  imprudent romantic liaisons. In this outing she is invited to investigate the sudden death of bleached blonde Gloria French, a recent transplant to the village of Piddlebury.  Gloria has impressed everyone with her enthusiastic charitable efforts, but her welcome has worn thin.  Apparently Gloria has been in the habit of borrowing items from the villagers and refusing to return them.  She is found poisoned after drinking a bottle of Ada White's homemade wine and the village closes ranks against Agatha, trying to convince themselves that an outsider, now long gone, is responsible for the deaths of both Gloria and an itinerant man found poisoned in the woods.  After several close calls for Agatha and her associates it becomes evident that someone local doesn't want the truth about the mysterious deaths to be discovered.  This, of course, makes Agatha even more determined to solve the case.

Beaton has peopled the village of Piddlebury with a host of colorful characters, including a fading actress turned lady of the manor, a vicar's wife who smokes and drinks away from the public (and her husband's) eye, an elderly woman who constantly demands attention, and a handsome schoolteacher who catches Agatha's eye but seems to be hiding something.  All of Agatha's usual associates appear: James, Charles, Roy, and Mrs. Bloxby.  Agatha herself seems more mellow, but not enough to keep her out of trouble! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

THE LAST ANNIVERSARY (Liane Moriarty)

True to form, Moriarty serves up very satisfying, slightly off-kilter story.  Scribbly Gum Island is the home of the Munro baby legend.  In 1934, sisters Connie and Rose discover a baby girl abandoned in a leased house on Scribbly Gum, their family home.  The parents of the baby, Alice and Jack Munro, have disappeared with little trace aside from a small trail of blood, a freshly made cake, and a kettle boiling on the stove.  Thus, the legend is born and over the years the family creates a very successful tourist business revolving around the legend.

Connie, Rose, and baby Enigma, along with her children and grandchildren, have amassed a fortune from the mystery.  When Connie passes away she unexpectedly leaves her cottage on the island to Sophie Honeywell, former girlfriend of Enigma's grandson, Thomas Gordon.  Sophie, nearly 40 and single, was enchanted with the cottage when she visited with Thomas several years before and is thrilled at the prospect of living there, especially after she discovers that Connie has found the perfect man for her right on the island.  Unfortunately, Connie never identified who that man was.  Despite the anger and objections of some family members, Sophie makes a life on the island and soon discovers that secrets abound among its residents, living and dead.  Will Sophie ever find love?  Will Grace ever discover that being a mother can be fulfilling?  Will Veronika ever forgive Sophie for inheriting the cottage?  Will the Munro Baby mystery ever be solved?  I enjoyed every moment of finding out the answers to these questions and more and i think you will, too!

Monday, September 16, 2013

THE COMFORT OF LIES (Randy Susan Meyers)

Tia, Juliette, and Caroline have something in common:  a child named Savannah.  Twenty-four-year old Tia, born on the wrong side of the tracks in South Boston, finds herself pregnant after an affair with Juliette's husband, Nathan. She is devastated to realize that Nathan has no intention of breaking up his picture perfect upper class family to start a life with her.  Tia and Nathan's daughter is adopted by physician Caroline, awkward and non-maternal, and her exuberant, family-loving husband Peter.  As Caroline struggles to be a mother to Savannah, Tia lives for the annual pictures that Caroline and Peter provide each year as part of the open-adoption agreement.  Although she knows that she made the right decision in giving up her child, she still harbors dreams deep in her heart of reuniting her family.  One day she decides to send pictures of Savannah to Nathan, whom she has not seen since her early pregnancy, in hopes that he will contact her. Nathan's wife Juliette, who owns a successful cosmetics company, intercepts the letter and discovers the truth about the child of whose existence she had been blissfully ignorant.

Meyers has created a multi-layered tale of conflicting emotions.  Tia is torn between love and longing for her daughter and the knowledge that she could never provide her the life that her adoptive parents can.  Juliette struggles with the need to preserve her marriage and family and her intense hurt at Nathan's betrayals and lack of interest in his daughter, coupled with a desire to integrate Savannah into her own family.  Caroline questions her maternal instincts and ability to connect emotionally with her daughter and please her husband while secretly wishing she could hide at work and never come home.  This absorbing story of family dynamics and parental love will please fans of women's fiction.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED (Taylor Jenkins Reid)

Imagine unexpectedly meeting your soul mate, falling in love, and moving in together, all within the space of less than 6 months.  Imagine that you marry on the spur of the moment and that your love has not found a way to tell his recently widowed mother about the happiness that he has found with you.  Then imagine that after just 9 days of wedded bliss he is taken from you, killed in a automobile accident while on a mundane errand at your request.  This is the premise of Forever, Interrupted.  As Elsie struggles to come to terms with her guilt (why did she ask Ben to go out and buy her favorite cereal?) and the loss of her soul mate, she must also find a way to connect with Ben's mother, Susan, who is shocked to find that her beloved son had married without telling her.  Reid cleverly alternates between the story of Elsie and Ben's developing romance and Elsie and Susan's journey through grief and healing.  This novel is heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, a wonderful story for anyone who has loved someone.

THE HOUSE GIRL (Tara Conklin)

The House Girl features two heroines.  The first is Josephine Bell, a house slave in 1852 Virginia.  The other is Lina Sparrow, a modern-day New York lawyer seeking a plaintiff in a slavery reparations lawsuit.

Conklin's wonderful novel presents the reader with a first person glimpse of slavery.  House slave Josephine Bell's story is one of physical abuse and desperation born of the fact that she is "owned" by other human beings and gave birth to her master's stillborn child at age 13.  She has been raised in the home of Lu Ann Bell and spends most of her time not in the fields, but caring for her mistress, who, as the story begins, is dying.  Josephine, 17 years old, plans to run despite the fact that she loves Lu Ann in her own way.  She tried to run once before, hours before giving birth, but was turned away at the safe house due to her imminent event.  Josephine is the true creator of many beautiful painting credited to Lu Ann.

Lina is a young lawyer, daughter of admired New York artist Oscar Sparrow.  In addition to seeking a plaintiff, possibly a descendant of Josephine Sparrow, she is looking for answers to the mysterious death of  her mother when Lina was 4 years old.

Conklin skillfully interweaves the past and the present, traveling back and forth between the lives of Lina and Josephine.  This is not a complex novel, but one of complex issues and emotions.  I would give it a definite thumbs up.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE ENGAGEMENTS (J. Courtney Sullivan)

The Engagements is not a chick-lit novel, as the title might lead you to believe, but a novel about marriage: sticking together through the bad times, choosing not to marry, abandoning marriage and finding a new love, nontraditional marriage, and long, happy marriage.  I admit that I was somewhat confused during the early parts of this novel.  I initially had a difficult time keeping track of the stories (5 of them, told in short, alternating chapters) and the characters and I'm not sure that the format was helpful.  I understand the author's choice, though, since the stories were unconnected throughout most of the novel.

Mary Frances Gerety, a copywriter at the Ayers Agency, was the real-life creator of the DeBeers' company's famous slogan, "A Diamond is Forever."  In one segment of The Engagements we follow Gerety's fictionalized career and the developments in the diamond industry through much of the twentieth century.  In another, Evelyn has been happily married for more than 40 years, but husband Gilbert was not her first love nor the first man to put a ring on her finger.  We also meet Kate, a green-living non-profit worker who is madly in love with partner Dan and their daughter but is adamantly anti-marriage. Kate's gay cousin, to whom she is very close, is to marry his true love in a lavish ceremony now that same-sex marriage has been legalized.  In yet another separate story, Parisian Delphine leaves her unexciting but reasonably fulfilling marriage to business partner, Henri, to run away to New York with a much younger man with whom she has been having a passionate affair.  Last but not least, there is James, the down-on-his luck EMT who knows that his wife Sheila married beneath her and strives to prove that he is worthy of her love.

One of the things that I ultimately enjoyed most about The Engagements was the multi-layering of times, places, and people, the very thing that also made the novel difficult to follow initially.  It doesn't become apparent until the end of the novel that all of the stories and characters are, indeed, connected despite the fact that all occur in different eras. Would I recommend it?  Yes!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

ISLAND GIRLS (Nancy Thayer)

Island Girls is a lovely, relaxing summer read, not too taxing on the brain or emotions, but with just enough intrigue and romance to keep the reader interested.  The premise is simple: three sisters, all from different mothers and one adopted, have to spend the summer together in the family summer home on Nantucket in order to inherit the house from their recently deceased father, Rory Randall, a notorious ladies' man.  Arden, Meg, and Jenny are as different as sisters could be. Arden, the daughter of Rory's first wife, Nina, is a sleek, sophisticated TV host in Boston.  Dowdy Meg, with a Marilyn Monroe figure and in denial about her feelings for her younger colleague, Liam, is a professor of English literature at a community college and the daughter of Rory's second wife, Cindy.  Jenny is the daughter of Justine, Rory's widow, and was adopted by Rory as a young girl.  She is now living at the beach house and working as a web designer and IT specialist.

I wouldn't call Island Girls great literature.  The outcome is predictable and problems are resolved a little too easily for real life, but do we really want real life when we open a book on a lazy summer day?  Thayer does a superb job, as always, of communicating the feel and ambiance of Nantucket's summer community, history, and beautiful beaches.  Her characters are likable enough that you care what happens to them and the family dynamics add a touch of excitement.  If you want a gentle, restful read that still engages your interest, this might be the beach read you've been looking for!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

NO. 1 LADIES DETECTVE AGENCY (Alexander McCall Smith)

I may be one of the very few people in the English-speaking world who has never read this book, but it was well worth the wait!  Precious Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional" build, uses her inheritance from her late father to buy a home and to fund her own business, the only detective agency in Botswana run by a woman.  Precious employs unusual but very successful methods to solve local crimes.  To confirm a wife's suspicion that her husband is a philanderer, Precious successfully sets herself up as his next romantic target.  She stakes out river at midnight to discover what became of a missing husband and then confronts a major crime boss to find a missing boy.  She is intuitive, tender-hearted, and has detection skills worthy of Sherlock Holmes.  McCall Smith peppers his novel with Botswanian customs and attitudes, all of which add to its charm.  I don't know why I waited so long, but I'm happy that there are 12 more books in this series to look forward to!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

LADIES' NIGHT (Mary Kay Andrews)

I don't know how Mary Kay Andrews (whose real name is Kathy Hogan Trocheck) manages to do this over and over again.  Some people that I know (yes, a couple of you BookBuggs!) would describe Andrews' novels as "fluff" because they feature women's friendships, humor, and, yes, romance, but I find Andrews' writing to be insightful and entertaining in novel after novel.  I don't believe that to be "worthwhile" a novel has to feature dark themes, angst, and unhappy endings.  We all strive, successfully or not, for happy endings in our own lives, don't we?  If we achieve happiness or enjoy waking up to a new day does that make us less worthy of interest or respect?  People love to laugh and for those of us who see life as a half (or maybe even 3/4) full glass, being able to see the humor in life is what makes it worth living.  Debbie Downer, get away from me!

That being said, "Ladies Night" is a book about infidelity, divorce, anger, and consequences.  Sounds hilarious so far, right?  Stay with me.  Grace Davenport Stanton is an interior designer and blogger.  She and her husband Ben have parlayed her lifestyle blog, Gracenotes, into a very successful career for both of them, with more than 200,000 followers, important sponsors, and a substantial income.  When Grace discovers Ben and her assistant, J'Aimee, in a compromising position in his $175,000 car, she does what any betrayed wife would do: she chases J'Aimee and Ben out of the garage and drives the expensive car into the pool. After fleeing her palatial home for the comfort of her mother's apartment, Grace discovers that she has not only been locked out of her home and her finances, but out of her blog as well.  The judge assigned to their case is notoriously hard on women in divorce cases and some consider him to be a woman hater.  He allows Ben to maintain control of all of their joint assets until Grace completes six weeks in a divorce therapy group to prove that she is over her anger at Ben.  It is here that she meets a diverse group of women (and one man), all of whom have let their anger over their spouse's infidelity get the best of them in ways that can't but make you chuckle.

I won't tell you much more about the plot, except that it will hold your interest and that it does have a happy, satisfying ending.  Real life is not simple and straightforward.  You will meet people that you love and others that you hate, plus a whole bunch that will fill in the in-between spaces with or without impact.  We all deal with frustration, helplessness, anger, joy, sadness, love, and hate, sometimes all in the same day and with the same people.   That's life!  Andrews does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life in ways that many writers do not. You feel their desperation and celebrate their resilience, but most of all, you like them.  I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SUMMER IN THE SOUTH (Cathy Holton)

Multiple layers of mystery and romance, Southern sensibilities, and dark family secrets combine to make Summer in the South one of those novels that you don't want to put down.  On the surface the story sounds deceivingly typical: disenchanted aspiring writer Ava Dabrowski is at a personal and career crossroads when old college friend Will Fraser invites her to abandon her job in Chicago and spend the summer living and writing a novel at his family home in Woodburn, Tennessee.  Ava, who has recently lost her free-spirited mother, Clotilde, and ended a stressful romance, agrees to the arrangement, quits her job in Chicago, and drives to Tennessee with Clotilde's ashes strapped into the front passenger seat of her car.

Will's great aunts, Fanny and Josephine, and Fanny's husband, Maitland Sinclair, welcome Ava to their home and community.  Sweet tea, a friendly flirtation with Will, daily 5 o'clock "toddy time," and breakfasts with her amiable hosts lull Ava into a relaxing routine, but her muse remains elusive and her novel unwritten until she is inspired by the story of the mysterious death of Fanny's first husband, Charlie Woodburn.  A recurrence of her childhood sleep paralysis (complete with a ghostly presence in her room) and access to old family journals inspire Ava to spend her nights writing the fictionalized story of Charlie's mysterious life and death. Ava is intrigued by past and present family secrets and by ostracized cousin Jake Woodburn, but none of  these are things that the Woodburn family wants to discuss.  Complicating Ava's summer are new revelations regarding her nomadic childhood with Clotilde, Will's obvious desire to move their relationship in a different direction, and her friendship with Jake.

Holton has created a quirky small-town atmosphere and intriguing and endearing characters, combining wonderful references to the 1920's and to more recent past.  Multi-layered and mysterious, this one is a winner.  I would recommend it!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

REAP WHAT YOU SEW (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

Hollywood comes to Sweet Briar, SC when the town is chosen as the set for a movie starring Anita Belise, a notoriously difficult actress with an allergy to nuts.  Leona Elkin, 60-something vamp and one of the Southern Sewing Circle group (except that she doesn't actually sew) sets her sights on the movie's famous director, Warren Shoemaker.  The only thing standing in the way of her romance with Warren is Anita, whose sudden death from anaphylactic shock sends waves of shock, suspicion, and relief through the movie's crew and the townspeople.  Unfortunately, Anita's "death by brownie" can be directly linked to a batch of nut-filled goodies baked by Leona' sister, Mary Louise, after Tori facetiously suggests that nuts would be a good way to get Anita out of Leona's way.  As usual, Tori and the Sewing Circle are now persons of interest in the investigation into Anita's murder.  Could Leona actually be guilty?  If so, could Tori and Mary Louise be implicated?  Tori pulls out all the stops to investigate the movie's crew to discover who may have killed the difficult actress before he police zero in local suspects.  Another winner!

DANGEROUS ALTERATIONS (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

Tori's ex-fiance Jeff (the one who cheated on her with a close friend at their engagement party!) shows up in Sweet Briar after the sudden death of his Aunt Vera.  No love is lost between Jeff, Vera's heir, and his cousin Garret, Vera's step-son, an abusive husband who expected to inherit her estate. When healthy, athletic Jeff drops dead during a jog through town it is assumed that he suffered a heart attack.  Will forensic evidence point to foul play?  Naturally, Tori, the jilted lover, will be one of the main suspects, but it appears that there are many other people with more compelling motives.

Casey delves just a little bit deeper into her characters and their pasts with each book in this series, and with each one the reader becomes more entrenched in the lives of the ladies of the Sweet Briar Southern Sewing Circle.  I enjoyed this one even more than the previous books because I know and love the characters better with each book.  I'm looking forward to the new one and to Casey's visit to our library in September!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

TYME OF NOW (Michael Walsh)

In today's hi-tech environment there is little opportunity for teens to exercise their imaginations.  The Internet, Smart phones, and video games provide instantaneous 24/7 access to entertainment and social networking, a veritable kaleidoscope of ideas, colors and sounds, all available at the push of a button or the flick of a switch.  Sometimes it seems like technology has eradicated any need for personal creativity, which brings me to what I consider to be the strongest element of Mike Walsh's latest fantasy, Tyme of Now: room for imagination.

Mike's writing style is clean and precise, not excessively embellished.  The tone is gentle and the story is character-driven.  He provides basic descriptions of his characters: age, hair and eye color, height, and build and establishes relationships and necessary background information while clearly defining who is good (Nathan, Tyme, Clara), who is bad (Clarence, Corwin), and what motivates his characters.  We kind of know (or hope) early on who is going to win in the end because of their innate goodness, but that's OK because we immediately care about Mike's characters and we WANT good to triumph over evil.  From the first page the reader understands that there is trouble brewing, that old conflicts between the Kingdoms of Now and Gorin are going to be resolved very soon, and that it might be bloody.  If this were a feature film we could just sit back and relax waiting to be bombarded with glorious battle scenes, gore, and special effects, with perhaps a love scene or two thrown in for effect, but I think we might miss the point.

Here, of course, there ARE the requisite menacing bad guys, exciting super powers, a grueling training regimen for wizards called the Gauntlet, and a few scary fireballs thrown in the heat of battle, all the stuff you'd wish for in a decent fantasy (especially those fireballs!).  One of the best examples of how Mike nurtures the reader's imagination is during the Gauntlet sequence.  All we know about this sequence of challenges is that every time a trainee fails they emerge soaked with water.  The point is not to showcase the physical challenges of the course or to focus on competition among the trainees, but to illustrate the loyalty, discipline, and common goals of the participants.  Of course I did find myself wondering what they were doing (scaling rock walls?  target shooting?), but I think that focusing on "what" instead of "why" would have detracted from the characters. This section  reminded me a bit of the author's autobiographical "Eddie's Method," an exercise in character-building.

As I also observed in reviewing one of Mike's earlier novels,  a lot of the action takes place between the lines. The reader is given the opportunity to imagine, to see the story unfold in their mind's eye instead of being slapped in the face with a plethora of details.  I have nothing against richly embellished prose; in fact, I often love it, but there is something very positive to be said about a more minimal approach. When it comes to fantasy, an author has a choice of making a work exclusively his own or allowing his readers to share in developing some aspects of the story through their own imaginations.  Mike Walsh provides an opportunity for his readers to share in the creative process with him by creating a group of intriguing, well-defined characters in an appealing setting, making us care about them, and letting us fill in some of the details on our own.  Interactive reading helps to build imagination and creativity.  This is a great thing!

DEATH THREADS / PINNED FOR MURDER / DEADLY NOTIONS (Elizabeth Lynn Casey)

I'm reviewing the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th books in Casey's Southern Sewing Circle series together because, in an unusual step for me, I read them one after the other!  I love the characters in this delightful series, but I usually need to wait a while before reading the next book in any series.  Since the author (real name: Laura Bradford) will be at our library for a third visit in September, I realized that I have been quite lax, just coveting and enjoying immensely the wonderful cover art and clever titles lined up on a shelf in my kitchen but neglecting to actually read the rest of the books.  If you are reading this, Laura, I apologize and pledge to have them all read by the time I see you again, especially because I'm having a great time! Tori Sinclair and her Southern Sewing Circle friends become more endearing with each novel.

Tori, small-town librarian and amateur sleuth, investigates the disappearance of best-selling author Colby Calhoun in "Death Threads."  After revealing the true story behind the legend of Sweet Briar's Civil War era destruction by fire and rebirth from the ashes, Colby disappears, leaving a trail of blood and a community that feels he may have gotten what he deserved.  Anxious to solve the apparent murder of friend Debbie's husband, the ladies of the sewing circle leave no seam unsewn in their quest to solve Colby's disappearance.

In "Pinned for Murder," wealthy, mean Martha Jane is found dead, strangled with a piece of rope.  The murder victim is the next-door neighbor of  sewing circle member Rose and the prime suspect is Rose's former student, Kenny, a developmentally disabled young man with a temper.  Rose is convinced of Kenny's innocence and Tori does her best to prove that someone else committed the crime. 

"Deadly Notion"s features fashion designer Ashley Lawson, the helicopter mother from Hell.  In her quest to make sure that her daughter Penelope is the center of attention at all times she wreaks havoc with nearly everyone in town, so when she is found murdered there are plenty of suspects, even members of the Tori's sewing Circle, many of whom were overheard at a library event suggesting that strangling Ashley would be a good idea.  To add to the stress, Milo Wentworth's high-school flame Bethany has returned to town hell-bent on rekindling her romance with Tori's boyfriend.  This series just gets better and better and the ending is spectacular.  Don't peek!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

OUT OF WARRANTY (Haywood Smith)

Recently widowed Cassie Jones is coping with grief and lifelong disabling health issues, including multiple joint replacements.  Her late and much-loved husband's life insurance money is disappearing much too quickly into a well of medical bills not covered by her very expensive insurance.  She is beginning to wonder if she will ever feel better, physically or emotionally.  When her holistic physician (not covered under her insurance) refers her to a doctor specializing in the treatment of fungal allergies (also not covered by her insurance plan), Cassie finally has a diagnosis of fungal arthritis, a rare genetic condition, and a very expensive course of treatment and medications (none of which are covered by her insurance).  She also needs to completely free her home of mold, a process not covered by her homeowner's insurance, of course.

At her new doctor's office Cassie meets Jack Wilson, a grubby, one-legged curmudgeon with COPD who is undergoing the same course of treatment as Cassie.  She initially believes him to be an uneducated  mechanic and he assumes she is a pampered, wealthy housewife.  As the novel progresses Cassie and Jack, whose appointments coincide, develop a very tentative friendship colored with frustration and a deepening understanding of each other's feeling about life and loss. While Cassie wonders if she can even afford to grow older, Jack wonders if it's worth it to even try, yet during the course of helping each other cope with their treatments they discover a mutual love of literature and common frustration with parents and children.  One very interesting thing about this very entertaining book is that author Haywood Smith suffers from the same genetic form of arthritis as Cassie Jones.

I have to say that I enjoyed every moment of this wonderful novel.  Watching Cassie and Jack's relationship evolve into unexpected (i.e. not your typical romance!) territory, suffering along with them while they each try to cope with loss of "things" that they thought were important, and their very practical solution to most of their problems was a total delight.  If this were a movie and I were a critic I would give it 2 thumbs up without question!  By the way, anyone who has ever for a moment worried about the state of health care in America should read this novel.  In some ways it's an eye-opener!

DEATH OF AN IRISH SINNER (Bartholomew Gill)

Here are the plusses of Death of an Irish Sinner:
1.  Detective Peter McGarr is a realistic and appealing character.  His personality and his loving  relationship with his wife and daughter make him identifiable to most readers.
2. Gill was a very literate writer.  I have a definite admiration for any author that compels me to run for the dictionary several times during a novel.
3.  I enjoyed the bonding and obvious friendship among the various police officers.
The minuses:
1.  Much grittier than the mysteries I usually enjoy.
2.  A lot of confusion trying to keep track of the various characters and their inter-relationships.
3.  Too many words that I actually had never heard before (very odd!).
4  Dissatisfying ending.

Overall, I would have to say that this was not my favorite book ever.  Far from it, in fact.  However, I would not NOT recommend it.   Rather, I would  recommend it for those who enjoy gritty literary mysteries and are good at keeping track of multiple characters and interrelated plotlines. Gill was a very good writer, just not my style.

Friday, June 14, 2013

THE FIREBIRD (Susanna Kearsley)

I can't believe that I am back in Connecticut, sitting in front of my computer with one of my cats sitting nearby. Just a few minutes ago I was in St. Petersburg, and before that Calais and Ypres and Scotland, hovering back and forth between the present time and 1715. Author Susanna Kearsley has once again produced a literary work of art, an irresistible combination of wonderful historical research, romance, and the fascinating phenomenon of psychometry, the ability to sense information about an object or people who have been associated with it through touch or proximity.

Nicola Marter has a gift that she has kept hidden for most of her life out of shame and fear: she is able to see the history of an object just by touching it.  When she holds a small wooden bird owned by a woman quietly desperate for money, Nicola sees Empress Catherine of Russia giving the carving to Anna, the woman's many-times-great grandmother. But how to prove it? Her quest to help the woman takes Nicola, along with old friend and former love Robbie McMorran (seen previously as a psychic 10-year-old boy in "The Shadowy Horses) from Scotland to France and Belgium and, finally, to imperial Russia.

As usual, Kearsley's characters are both fascinating and endearing.  She draws her readers completely into the story, present and past, and her historical research seems impeccable.  As always with Susanna Kearsley's novel, I recommend this one HIGHLY.  Be prepared to be enchanted!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES (Alan Bradley)

Eleven-year-old amateur detective Flavia de Luce is thrilled when plans are made to exhume the bones of Saint Tancred, the "bishop" of Bishop's Lacy, from his tomb in the local church on the 500th anniversary of his death. When the tomb is opened, however, Flavia stumbles upon the body of the handsome Mr. Collicut, the much admired church organist who has been missing for several weeks.  This is not just an ordinary murder case, though.  How did Mr. Collicut end up in the tomb, why is he wearing a gas mask, and how does the legend of St. Tancred's bejeweled staff, supposedly buried with his body, figure into Collicut's death?  Despite being worried about her father's preoccupation and the possible sale of her crumbling family estate, Flavia uses her considerable investigative skills and her talent as a chemist to narrow down the list of suspects and, as usual, trump the local constabulary to solve the crime  in this hilarious mystery full of twists, turns, and all the undiminished charm of Flavia's past adventures.  Warning:  Do NOT look at the last page ahead of time!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

OSCAR WILDE AND THE MURDERS AT READING GAOL (Gyles Brandreth)

Gyles Brandreth is a genius!  Throughout this wonderful mystery I had to keep reminding myself that Oscar Wilde was not actually sharing his own story.  I have long been a fan of Wilde.  In fact, here is a recording of the man himself reciting a portion of The Ballad of Reading Gaol: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVoJLjWlJng.  It send chills up my spine!

As any Oscar Wilde aficionado knows, the man was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 2 years of hard labor in punishment for gross indecency as a result of his homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.  While imprisoned he suffered a serious injury to his eardrum that is believed to have contributed to his death in 1900 at age 46.   Brandreth seamlessly incorporates significant biographical details of Wilde's life, such as this one, into his story, making it difficult to discern where reality leaves off and imagination takes over.  This incredible mystery is set primarily during Wilde's two year stint in prison.  Brandreth's research of the inner workings of the English prison system in the 1890s is meticulous and his graphic depictions of an inmate's life transport the reader right into the heart and soul (or lack thereof) of Reading Gaol.  Wilde's relationship with Arthur Conan Doyle is referred to frequently throughout, adding an extra touch of personality and authenticity to the story.  The concept of Oscar Wilde as detective is in and of itself fascinating, but the incredible twists and turns, threats and deaths, and Wilde's observations and conclusions make this an outstanding mystery.  There are several untimely deaths in Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol, but it is not until the final pages that the reader discovers the true depth and breadth of Wilde's powers of observation and, at the same time, Brandreth's own genius.  I highly recommend this series!

Monday, May 20, 2013

KNITTING (Ann Bartlett)

Knitting was not what I expected.  It was darker, sadder, and more complex than the usual novels I've read on the subject.  Knitting is about 2 very different women, both widowed, middle-aged, and childless, one who knits and one who studies textiles.

Martha, the knitter, lost her young husband years ago, a few months after their marriage.  She is soft and caring, an immensely talented knitter who occasionally relapses toward the mental and emotional breakdown she suffered after her husband's death.  She obsessively carries 3 bags of knitting with her wherever she goes.  Sandra is an efficient college professor who has recently lost her husband to cancer.  She is focused and efficient, but bereft at the loss of her spouse and best friend.  Sandra is an intellectual, not a crafter, and she has a hard edge and ambition (to help her forget her loneliness) that often results in a lack of empathy and inability to connect emotionally.  The two women meet when Cliff, a homeless man, suffers a seizure on the street and they rush to his aid.  Martha and Cliff form a close bond (but not as close as Cliff would like) while Sandra prefers to distance herself from any further contact.  When Sandra discovers that Martha is a creative and expert knitter, she enlists her help in reproducing historical knitted garments for an exhibition designed to showcase the progression of knitting as a utility and an art during the 20th century.  Martha agrees to help and their friendship develops, but Sandra fails to realize that she has piled so much responsibility on to Martha's shoulders that the joy of knitting that has defined Martha's life is now in danger of being destroyed.

Knitting is an interesting study of two women whose broken lives begin to heal through knitting.  What makes this novel unique is the way that knitting is approached, not as a traditional healing and bonding activity, but more as an untangling and ordering of two lives connected with knitting in very different ways.  This is not your typical novel about  a group of  women finding friendship, happiness, and a measure of contentment through knitting.  It's more about 2 women together learning how to be alone and to forgive themselves for not always being perfect.  It's definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

OBSESSED (Mika Brzezinski)

This book left me with an uneasy feeling, for some reason.  I found the facts on the American diet to be horrifying, but not necessarily surprising.  I agree with Mika's assessment of changes needed to our diet and exercise routines and I do believe that a large number of people are destroying their health with their dietary choices.  I myself need to lose at least 10 pounds and I know that willpower is difficult to maintain with the media's constant barrage of misleading invitations, packaged in mouthwatering  TV ads, billboards, and store displays, to consume fats, sugars, and other basically unhealthy foods.  I am, however, a great believer in all things in moderation rather than deprivation and dieting.  This is the way to maintain good health, as Mika points out.

I especially enjoyed Diane Smith's story of her ongoing journey from obesity, which was having a detrimental effect on both her mobility and her career, to a healthy weight through nutrition and exercise.  I also appreciated the statistics and first-person commentary by experts and people who had conquered difficult weight problems, as well as Mika's admission that her own eating and exercise habits have for years been geared toward appearance rather than good health.  "Obsessed" is a valuable collection of  facts and insights into the health issues associated with obesity.  I think the thing that bothered me about this book, though, was the constant undertone of thinner (not just thin enough) being better.  I remember at one point her stating that 135 was a healthy weight for a woman 5'7" or 5' 8" (she was referring to a couple of people other than herself).  While this is certainly true (you can't argue with a BMI of 20 or 21), a weight of 150 is also healthy for that height range, with a BMI of around 23 and well within the guidelines for healthy weights, but Mika was rather absolute in her assessment of what is healthy.  She did mention Gayle King, who is over 5'10" tall, being happy with her weight of 162 (again, a BMI in the 22-23 range), but the tone implied not that Gayle was fit and healthy but, rather, that it was nice that Gayle was psychologically able to accept herself at this weight.  Maybe I'm just reading too much into Mika's observations because I am obsessed with my waistline (or lack thereof).  I appreciate her willingness to admit and take action on her own weight issues and I agree completely that the American diet needs an overhaul.  Maybe she could lighten up a little bit, though, for all the people who are actually at a healthy BMI, but not at the lower end.  I do believe that this is a book worth reading and I would recommend it, but unless you are either at a BMI of 20 (you probably are if you are 16 years old - I know I was!) or vigorously working out and eating healthy all the time, be prepared to feel a little bit defensive.

WEDDING NIGHT (Sophie Kinsella)

Kinsella's latest is a hilarious comedy of missed cues and opportunities, wrong choices, family interference, and sexual tension.  Lottie is hungry for marriage and a family and feels that she has finally found the right man in Richard until the "question" that he takes out to dinner to ask turns out to be about air miles instead of the proposal she expected.  Devastated and angry, she breaks up with Richard and embarks on another of what her older sister Fliss refers to as her "unfortunate choices, " deciding on the spur of the moment to marry Ben Parr, who seeks her out 15 years after their gap-year romance on the island of Ikonos, Greece. Can a man and a woman find true love and fulfillment in a marriage based on a powerful physical attraction and starry-eyed memories of a youthful fling?  Not if big sister Fliss can help it!

As editor of a travel magazine, Fliss has enough connections in the industry to block all of Lottie and Ben's attempts to consummate their marriage, leaving the way open for the annulment that Fliss is sure should  follow the hasty marriage.  Joined by her 7-year-old son Noah, Ben's business partner (and Fliss's recent fling) Lorcan, and, eventually, a contrite Richard, Fliss battles air delays, communication problems, and her own marital issues to save her sister from her latest "unfortunate choice."  It's certainly not rocket science, and you're not going to learn anything that improve your mind or your health, but if you are looking for a relaxing and hilarious escape from real life, Kinsella has just the ticket!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

KNIGHTS OF FOREVER (Mike Walsh)

To start with, I have to say that I am not normally a reader of speculative fiction of any kind.  My taste runs more towards historical fiction and cozy mysteries, perhaps with a touch of romance, and I have to say that it surprises me (pleasantly) that there are many elements of these genres in "Knights of Forever."

Rod Serling supposedly said that "science fiction is the improbable made possible."  Mike Walsh has created a story that takes the improbable, time travel, and makes it look and feel like something that will naturally evolve as science and technology develop. He draws the reader into the story from the first page, when we are introduced to the mysterious man in black walking in the autumn sunshine.  We have the sense that we are in a rural, pre-industrial-era setting, but we could just as easily be in some sort of post apocalyptic world where humanity is struggling to start from scratch technologically.  Though quite spare in his descriptions, the author manages to convey a great sense of the personalities of his characters. They are starkly good or evil and there is no mistaking who is the villain here.  The intrigue comes not from trying to figure out motivations of the various characters or who will emerge victorious in the end, but from the undercurrents, the sense of family and hope for the future that are mostly implied yet come through loud and clear in the relationships among the various characters.  Nick is a wonderful young man, an innocent and loving son who, despite his gentle upbringing, is capable of killing reflexively for love and honor of family.

Mike Walsh packs a lot into 78 short pages.  I think that what I enjoyed most about this novel is not so much what I read on the pages, but what I read between the lines.  This author can convey in a brief phrase what another writer might take three pages to say.  Thinking about what you have read is one thing, but thinking BEYOND the pages of a novel is quite another.  I am intrigued by the idea of time travel, by the possibility of knowing the future or of deliberately or accidentally influencing historical events.  I would consider any book that keeps you thinking after the fact to be successful, and this one fits into that category.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

THE COLD LIGHT OF MOURNING (Elizabeth J. Duncan)

My friend Korina, a fellow mystery buff, recommended "The Cold Light Of Mourning."  I knew I could trust her judgment!

Penny Brannigan, a single 50-something Canadian ex-pat living in Llanelan, Wales, loses her dearest friend just before the wedding of the son of the village's most prominent citizen.  When the bride, Meg Wynn Thompson, disappears on the morning of her big day, everyone naturally suspects a case of cold feet.  However, Penny notices something odd about the grave at her friend's funeral.  Soon the groom is one of the prime suspects in Meg Wynn's murder.  With a number of potential suspects in addition to the groom, including Meg Wynn's abusive father, and the involvement of a very attractive member of the local constabulary, Penny can't help but to get involved in the investigation.  The appealing characters and cozy village setting make this a good choice for any fan of lighter mysteries set in the UK.

THE MIDDLESTEINS (Jamie Attenberg)


Edie Middlestein is grossly overweight and, as a result, in poor health, and after 30 years her husband Richard, a pharmacist, has had enough of married life.  He leaves her for greener pastures, much to the disgust of his school-teacher daughter, Robyn, and his son and daughter-in-law, Benny and Rachelle.  Robyn is furious at her father and feels that he is to blame for the disintegration of their family.  Rachelle is determined to help Edie lose weight and regain her health and equally determined to shut Richard out of the family.  Benny, often in a pot-induced state of mellowness, is inexplicably losing his hair.  Edie, in the meantime, continues to gorge herself, stuffing in as much food as possible as often as possible.
 
Both Edie and Richard are sympathetic characters.  Edie has had issues with food throughout her life and chose Richard as a suitable husband without a great deal of thought.  One of the most delightful and prescient passages in the novel refers to the day that Edie and Richard marry, describing Richard as not knowing that he would never again be as happy.  The Middlesteins are in many ways a typical, middle-class Jewish family that is coming apart at the seams.  Interestingly, despite the anger of their children and disruption to all their lives, Richard and Edie seem happier apart.  I’m still thinking about this novel, but I’d recommend it without reservation.
 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

THE TRUTH ABOUT STYLE (Stacy London)

I originally picked up this book (OK, I also ordered it for the library) because I'm a fan of "What Not to Wear" and I was interested in how Stacy would make over the 8 women chosen to be featured here.  London, it turns out, is not just an attractive woman with a talent for figuring out what looks good on other people; she is a insightful and sympathetic person with many issues of her own.  She doesn't just dress a person, suggesting colors and styles that complement shape and lifestyle.  She gets to the heart of WHY they have failed to develop their own fashion sense and in the course of doing so she reveals in each chapter her own vulnerabilities and mistakes.  Stacy London suffered very badly from psoriasis during her adolescence and still carries scars from the steroid cream the finally gave her relief but nearly destroyed her skin in the process.  As a college student at Vassar she struggled with eating disorders, her weight fluctuating between 90 and 180 pounds during her first year working at a fashion magazine.  She describes herself as not very good at relationships and has never been married or had children.

In addition to the surprising insights into herself and her own life, London also offers the reader an interesting analysis of each of the eight women she transforms.  They include a wide range of "types:" a 48-year-old divorced mother who would like to start dating, a petite but curvy young career woman, a very tall newlywed who feels that her shape (narrow shoulders, long legs, thick waist) is impossible to dress, a successful, fifty-something Silicon valley career woman who wants to look youthful without looking like she is trying to look younger, and more.

I enjoyed The Truth About Style thoroughly.  I thought I would flip through it , look at the pictures, and read a few paragraphs here and there, but I ended up reading the whole book over the weekend.  I feel like I have a whole new perspective on how and why to dress, as well as new insight into Stacy London.  She's very interesting, and she's really nice (not that I had thought otherwise)!  I guess the truth about personal style is that it has nothing to do with the latest trends, how much money you invest in your wardrobe, or how much you weigh.  It has to do with feeling good about who you are and expressing that through the way you dress.  By projecting your love of color, your artistic sensibilities, your professional confidence, etc. to the world through your choice of clothing instead of focusing on and trying to disguise your real or imagined physical flaws, you let the real you shine through.  What could be better than that?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL (Joanna Campbell Slan)

Slan's portrayal of Jane Eyre as amateur detective is quite successful, to say the least, and I expect this to be a very interesting series.  After Thornhill burns, Jane and Mr. Edward Rochester reunite and marry.  Edward Thornhill's ward, Adele Varens, now 10 years old, has been sent to a prestigious boarding school and, due to the birth of son Ned, Jane and Edward have been unable to visit the girl.  When a strange note arrives indicating that Adele may be under some sort of threat at the school, it is decided that Jane will travel to London on her own to investigate since Mr. Rochester has been ordered to rest at the moment to avoid endangering damaged eyesight.  During her trip to London Jane is beaten and robbed at a coach stop and on arrival at the school she is confronted with the sight of a corpse being transported from the building.  In a lucky coincidence, the school is temporarily short a teacher and Jane, concerned about the well-being of both Adele and the other students, decides to take the job and investigate the death of their classmate.  Slan manages to combine some humorous slapstick with sharp detective work for a very satisfying conclusion to this mystery.  Jane and Edward's devotion and Jane's intelligence and feistiness make for appealing characters that you will want to know better.  I can't speak to the comparisons between Slan's writing and Bronte's because if I did read Jane Eyre it was many, many years ago, but I understand from other comments that her style is very comparable.  I'm looking forward to the next in the Jane Eyre Chronicles!

BEING A LIBRARIAN

One of the saddest and most difficult parts of my job as a librarian is "deselection," weeding books from our collection.  We weed for a variety of reasons: too many copies after the demand is over, lack of circulation, poor condition, outdated information, etc.  I always feel especially bad when I see the hopeful, excited face of a first time author or the confident expression of an established, popular writer looking out at me from the back cover of a novel as I stamp DISCARD on what could be their life's dream.  I definitely have an emotional connection to my work!

The fact is that most libraries have space limitations.  There have been protests in some areas of the country over libraries dumping books that are no longer needed into the trash, but that doesn't happen very often.  We just don't have room to keep every book, no matter how good it is, if no one wants to read it.  In our library, we hang on to books with literary or educational merit (there are actually professional resources that identify these for us, so it's not just our personal opinions) for as long as we can, and sometimes they sit on our shelves for 6, 10, or even 15 years with absolutely no one reading them.  Eventually the time comes when the shelves could literally be stuffed with books that no one wants to read, so we have to take action!  When we weed fiction and nonfiction, we consider writing quality, how long it has been since the book was checked out, if it is part of a series, how many times it has been borrowed, publication year, whether a blockbuster movie is likely to be based on the book, its condition (ugly, dirty, REALLY old-looking) and whether the information in it is outdated or even dangerous (like really old health resources or legal forms). 

We always weed reluctantly.  I hate getting rid of great literature or really interesting pop culture books, but sometimes it is necessary.  When we weed, our discards go into our book sale and, if not sold, are donated to charity or sold as a lot.  Books that are simply useless because they are outdated may be thrown out so there is no chance of people accessing incorrect information.  Books that are old and ugly may be thrown out, too, but don't worry.  If they are classics we usually have multiple copies already or have ordered a replacement.

If you are concerned about the library discarding great books the solution is simple:  Check them out!  Libraries, including ours, have all sorts of resources to help you find wonderful materials that have stood the test of time.  Be sure to go beyond the NEW area and into the stacks.  There are all sorts of treasures there, but if no one looks for them they may eventually be gone.