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

Monday, March 4, 2019

PEONY (Pearl Buck)

GO TO MY GRAVE (Catriona McPherson)

Currently reading...

GOOD RIDDANCE (Elinor Lipman)

I picked this up from our newest books going out to the shelves for the first time.  It's a funny, quirky book full of odd characters, but not too odd.  Daphne Maritch, the protagonist, is clearing out after the demise of her brief, ill-fated mistake of a marriage when she decides to recycle her mother's class of '68 yearbook.  Her mother wasn't a member of the Pickering, NH high school class of 1968, but a teacher, and the heavily annotated yearbook was left to Daphne in her will.  Daphne has no idea why her mother considered the yearbook valuable or why she attended class reunions every year.  Her father, the high school principal, never attended with his wife.  When the yearbook fails to pass the joy test Daphne she tosses it in the recycle bin where it is found by her neighbor, Geneva, a "filmmaker" who decides to make a documentary about Mrs. Maritch and the class of '68. 

Despite Daphne's efforts to reclaim the yearbook, Geneva coerces her into attending the next reunion to help her sort out the graduates and discover the story behind the yearbook.  Needless to say, some unwanted secrets are revealed at the reunion, secrets that make Daphne even more determined to stop Geneva's project and get the yearbook out of her life.

There are some interesting characters here.  Daphne herself is not particularly likable, but Geneva, Mr. Winters, and neighbor Jeremy are appealing enough.  I know I enjoyed the novel and I know I'd recommend it, but I can't exactly say why!

Monday, February 25, 2019

PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS (Rebecca Tope)

Something about Rebecca Tope's writing reminds of Joanna Trollope - the village, the family life, the low-key approach to the story.

Former house sitter Thea Slocombe is recently married to married to Drew and they have moved with his 2 children to the village of Broad Campden, where Drew is an undertaker dedicated to natural burials.  Thea's attempt to get to know her neighbors results in the gruesome discovery of a neighbor's body in the deep freeze, with her husband nowhere to be found.  Thea isn't satisfied with the police investigation and starts looking into the crime herself.

Normally Cotswold villages leave me thirsting for more, but this one is a bit too low key for me (hence, the comparison to Trollope).  I would call this series "pleasant," a nice way to spend an afternoon.  Don't pass it over if you want a calm read, but don't expect thrills, either.

I OWE YOU ONE (Sophie Kinsella)

Sophie Kinsella seems to keep upping her game with each new novel.  This one, to me, seems as fresh as her first.  Her main character, Fixie Farr, is one of those people who get taken for granted, whose competence and dedication end up encouraging others to walk all over her.  Fixie, along with her mother, runs the family store according to her late father's motto, "Family first," picking up the slack from her entitled brother and sister.  She a girl who believes the best of everyone and has a hard time saying "No" to anyone.

One day Fixie meets Sebastian, an investment manager, in a coffee shop and saves his laptop from destruction when the ceiling caves in.  He gives her an IOU written on a coffee sleeve, which she never intends to use, but when Fixie's old boyfriend Ryan returns to the UK after a year in Hollywood she is anxious to rekindle their relationship, believing that her lifelong crush on him will develop into a lifelong love.  The reader can see what scum Ryan is (he left for Los Angeles without even saying goodbye and is obviously a user), but Fixie, blinded by what she believes is love, agrees to cash in her IOU by asking Sebastian to give Ryan a job.  At the same time, her siblings and uncle have stepped in to "improve" the family store in her mother's absence.  Any astute reader can see where all of this is going, but it is so fun to watch!

Overall, I enjoyed this novel from start to finish.  Sophie Kinsella's talent seems to be getting better with age.  I hope she keeps writing for a long time to come!

Monday, February 4, 2019

THE GOLDEN TRESSES OF THE DEAD (Alan Bradley)

I'll admit that I was kind of worried about what would happen when Flavia aged, but I don't think we have anything to fear.  She and Dogger have opened their own business, Arthur Dogger and Associates, dedicated to solving crimes discreetly.

Flavia's older sister Ophelia (Feely) is rendered hysterical at her wedding reception when she cuts into her cake and finds in it a human finger, an object that is quickly and efficiently spirited away for testing by Flavia, who is, of course, delighted by this unexpected turn of events,.  She and Dogger set out to discover the owner of the finger, a quest that leads them into a tangled web of deceit and, yes, desecration of corpses for monetary gain!  Several of the reviews I read indicated that they were disappointed in the evolution of Flavia and her more subdued personality in this book, but I found it a natural progression as the character matures.  I give this one a thumbs up!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

THE LAST MRS. PARRISH (Live Constantine)

Amber Patterson is fed up with being a "have not," especially since the world she occupies seems to be filled with "haves" like the beautiful socialite Daphne Parrish, whose enviable marriage and bank account turn Amber green with envy.  Intent on stealing the handsome Jackson Patterson from under Daphne's unsuspecting nose, Amber worms her way into Daphne's life and family, beginning with the made-up story of her sister who, coincidently, died of cystic fibrosis, just like Daphne's sister.  The two bond when Amber volunteers to help with Daphne's fundraiser for CF and soon become close friends, even as Amber plots to take the unsuspecting Daphne's place in Bishop's Harbor, Connecticut.

It is true that none of us really knows what goes on behind closed doors.  The grass may look greener beyond the fence, but is it, really?   Constantine's plotting is clever and her characters are revealed at just the right pace to keep the reader.  There are lots of surprising twists and turns that reminded me of Gone Girl and similar thrillers.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

FLIPPED FOR MURDER (Maddie Day)

This is a great start to the appealing Country Store mystery series by the author of the Quaker Midwide series, Edith Maxwell (writing here as Maddie Day). 

Robbie Jordan has moved back to South Lick, Indiana after the death of her mother to be near her mother's sister, Aunt Adele.  She opens Pans n' Pancakes, a cozy country restaurant that also sells vintage-style kitchen equipment, but soon after her grand opening, the mayor's obnoxious assistant is found dead with one of Robbie's cheesy biscuits stuffed into her mouth.  There's nothing like opening a new business and immediately becoming a murder suspect, but Robbie apparently has no motive!

Day offers a great group of interesting characters with a lot of potential for development in future books.  There is also the intriguing subplot about Robbie's father, whose identity has never been revealed to her.  I know that the author earned her doctorate in linguistics in Indiana, so I enjoyed every instance of local dialect that she included in the story.  I would give this series a definite thumbs up!

THE AU PAIR (Emma Rous)

What a novel!  The absolute only complaint that I have about it is the some of the same people appear in the two timelines (1992 and 2017) of the book, resulting in just a touch of confusion for my poor old brain.

In the spring of 1992, Ruth and Dominic Mayes hire Laua Silviera for a year to care for their 4-year-old son, Edwin.  Laura, who has been dealing with family problems and health issues, welcomes the move away from her stultifying home to the Summerbourne estate and enjoys her time with Edwin.  According to Dominic, Ruth is moody and depressed due to her inability to conceive another child, especially after the untimely death of Edwin's twin, Theo.  Eventually, Ruth becomes pregnant but commits suicide on the same day that she gives birth.

Seraphine Mayes, her twin brother Danny, and older brother Edwin mourn the accidental death of their father, Dominic, in 2017. When Seraphine finds a picture of Dominic, Edwin, and her mother, Ruth holding ONE infant, she begins to question her identity.  Who is the baby in the picture, Seraphine or Danny?  Where is the other twin?  The picture had to have been taken on the day that they were born because their mother went over the cliff that afternoon.  Danny strongly resembles Edwin, but Seraphine does not.  When Seraphine tracks down Laura Silviera for information it sets off a series of dangerous and unexplained events that seem to be related to her inquiries.

Rous has written an intriguing novel that will keep the reader engaged right up until the end.  It has a great twist that you won't see coming.  It is highly recommended!

Monday, January 7, 2019

SAFE HAVEN (Patricia MacDonald)

You can always count on Patricia MacDonald to deliver a great thriller.  Her novels remind me of Mary Higgins Clark's early work.  I do have to say, though that Dena Russell, MacDonald's main character, does not have particularly good judgment in choosing men. nor does she appear to be overly perceptive to subtle character nuances that could save her a lot of trouble in the long run!  I also have to say that I guessed who the "bad guy" was before page 100 (I admit that I actually then glanced at that last pages to confirm my suspicions), but it didn't ruin the novel for me because there were so many red herrings, suspicious characters, and plot twists that there was no time for boredom!

Dena Russell is expecting a child with her increasingly volatile boyfriend, Brian, a high school crush that turned into an adult affair when she returned to town for a reunion.  She moved back from Chicago to be with Brian after discovering that she was pregnant, but when he becomes violent she reports him to the police and moves out.  Old friends, weirdly uncooperative cops, and suspicious deaths provide an abundance of action in this fast-paced novel.  I always recommend Patricia MacDonald!

NINE PERFECT STRANGERS (Liane Moriarty)

A luxury spa sounds sounds like the perfect way to unwind, rejuvenate, and maybe lose a few pounds.  Tranquillum Resort is the destination of 9 diverse strangers (2 of them a young married couple who recently won the lottery) who all have their private reasons for booking a 10-day stay at the resort.  Frances is a romance writer in a slump, Ben and Jessica have been struggling to find their relationship again, Tony wants to change his life, Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe share grief and guilt, Lars is addicted to spas, and Carmel wants to lose weight. 

Moriarty has successfully presented the story from all points of view - the 9 strangers and the spa founder, Masha, and her staff, Yao and Desiree - giving each characters turns to express their insecurities, hopes, and dreams.  Of course, this wouldn't be an interesting novel without twists, turns, discoveries, and unexpected events, which Moriarty provides abundantly.  She makes the reader care about each and every character, even the unlikable ones!  I would call Nine Perfect Strangers an excellent way to spend a weekend (but, please, don't book into Tranquillum!).

Monday, December 31, 2018

THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS (Julia Spencer-Fleming)

Julia Spencer-Fleming knows how to set up a plot and how to keep her readers on he edge of their chairs!  Millers Falls, NY police chief Russ Van Allstyne and Rev. Clare Fergusson are now married and expecting a child, an event that is causing friction between the two. 

When the home of an ex-FBI agent is torched and their 8-year-old foster child, a recent liver transplant recipient, disappears, the Millers Falls PD is focused on finding the child before her body rejects the liver.  Russ and Clare begin their delayed honeymoon in a remote cabin during an ice storm despite the current situation and, of course, the action ends up revolving around the lake where the cabin is located.  If you are looking for an action-packed, non-stop mystery complete with appealing characters dealing with real-life emotional angst as well as some pretty dicey and dangerous situations, check out this series.  I've read the first and this one and each one was very satisfying, not to mention exciting!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sunday, December 23, 2018

LIGHT ON SNOW (Anita Shreve)

A young girl and her widowed father are out snowshoeing in the New Hampshire woods near dusk when they hear a cry in the woods.  Following the sound, they discover a newborn baby wrapped in a sleeping bag, abandoned by persons unknown.  Twelve-year-old Nicky, the daughter, is anxious to keep the baby, but naturally, her father contacts the authorities immediately.  Nicky feels that the baby might help to assuage some of their grief over the loss of her mother and baby sister 2 years before, an event the precipitated their move from New York City to New Hampshire. Two weeks after their discovery a college-age woman who has recently given birth arrives at the family's cabin during a blizzard.

Shreve has created a complex story in a deceptively simple package, examining grief and the complexities of parent-child relationships.  The novel has a calm, almost relaxing feel, like a snowy wood.  I haven't read any of Shreve's other novels, but I probably will.

ALASKAN HOLIDAY (Debbie Macomber)

I don't ordinarily read Debbie Macomber.  In fact, my only experience has been with her Blossom Street novels, which I enjoyed very much.  I picked up Alaskan Holiday because it was Christmas time and the idea of reading a nice holiday romance appealed to me.  It didn't turn out to be a Christmas romance, though.

Chef Josie Avery accepted a seasonal job cooking things like roast venison and caribou stew for a lodge in remote Ponder, Alaska while waiting for her real career, assistant to one of the country's top chefs, in a new Seattle restaurant. At season's end, Josie is anxious to get back to her real life, her career, and her mother in Seattle, but she is blindsided by an awkward proposal of marriage from Palmer Saxon.  Josie has strong feelings for Palmer, a swordsmith and native of Ponder, but she feels that her commitment to her new job comes first, so she plans to leave on the last ferry before the harbor is iced in for the winter.  Of course, this being a romance, she misses the boat, literally.  And so the story continues.

I can't say that I loved this novel, but that isn't a reflection on Macomber's talent as a writer.  I simply prefer a different type of romance, or women's fiction with a romantic element.  Also, I was disappointed that it wasn't a Christmas story!  If you enjoy a good romance I would not rule this one out.

AMANDA'S WEDDING (Jenny Colgan)

When Jenny Colgan was starting out as an author her focus was on chick lit.  She has since evolved into an imaginative and endearing author, creating characters that grow and work their way into your heart.  Amanda's Wedding, one of her earlier novels, was kind of a throwback for me to the days when I was a big chick-lit fan, but I feel like I've kind of outgrown it and moved on the women's fiction.  The plot revolves around three childhood friends, one of whom abandoned the other 2 when her family moved into a more elite social group.

Melanie has recently reunited with the boyfriend that had left her without a word to seek his fortune in America, much to the consternation of Melanie's best friend, Fran.  When old nemesis Amanda announces that she is marrying Fraser, an authentic Scottish Laird (and an old crush of Melanie's), Mel and Fran set out to sabotage the wedding with the help of Fraser's brother, Angus.  Along the way, new relationships form and old crushes crash and burn in typical chick-lit fashion.

Amanda's Wedding is being re-issued due to Colgan's incredible popularity.  I certainly won't tell you not to read it because it is a very enjoyable (and a bit bawdy) romp back to 2000.  Just keep in mind that Colgan has evolved into a very different author over the years, so what she is writing now is very different. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING AND OTHER STORIES (Katie Fforde)

This charming collection of Christmas stories is the perfect way to prepare for Christmas.  Of course they're love stories, and of course, they have happy endings, but what can be better for the Christmas season?  Katie's fans will NOT be disappointed in any of these.  I hated to reach the end!

Monday, December 3, 2018

NAMED OF THE THE DRAGON (Susanna Kearsley)

One of the things I love most about Kearsley is her ability to create an all-encompassing sense of place, an atmosphere that draws the reader in so completely that it is only with great reluctance that you can move on to another novel.  She has certainly done that in Named of the Dragon!  Literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw and her self-involved author-client Bridget Cooper are spending Christmas in the little Welsh Village of Angle, visiting with celebrated author James Swift  and his brother Christopher, who are in residence at their uncle's property for the holidays.  Lyn hopes to sign Bridget's lover, James, as a client, but her firm has a bigger goal:  they have offered her a directorship if she can snag reclusive playwright Gareth Gwyn Morgan, who also lives in Angle, as a client.

Five years ago Lyn lost her son at birth, just a few months after the death of her husband.  Since then she has been plagued by nightmares, unable to recover from the death of her baby.  In Angle, she ,meets Elen, a young widowed mother who rents one of the adjoining houses.  Elen is generally thought to be unbalanced due to her alleged communication with Merlin and her fear that her son, Stevie, will be taken from her by the dragon who frequently enters his room when Elen is not vigilant.  She inexplicably chooses Lyn, who has been avoiding contact with children since her son's death, as her son's protector.

This novel has it all: a charming village, cheerful, efficient employees, a moody, yet appealing  playwright, other-worldly intrigue, a cute dog, a hint of possible romance, and a surprise reveal at the end.  as with all of Susanna Kearsley's novel, I highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

DAUGHTERS OF THE LAKE (Wendy Webb)

Wendy Webb is one of my favorite authors.  She isn't prolific yet, but you can always count on enjoying a fascinating, ghostly story. 

Kate Granger has recently ended her marriage and is visiting her parents at their house on the shores of Lake Superior.  The last thing she expects to is to become involved in a murder mystery, especially one where she realizes that she has been experiencing vivid, lifelike dreams about the victim, who died 100 years ago.

Kate's father is walking the dog along the beach when he discovers the body of a young woman dressed in an old-fashioned nightgown washed up on the shore.  Kate finds herself compelled to rush to the young woman's corpse and discovers the tiny body of a newborn folded into the woman's gown.  Somehow, she knew it would be there.  Thus begins the unfolding of a mystery 100 years in the making, the righting of old wrongs, new discoveries, and the tragic story of Addie Cassatt and her one true love, Jess Stewart. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in a good gothic mystery.


THE CHILD WHO NEVER GREW (Pearl Buck)

Pearl Buck's only natural child, Carol, was born with PKU, resulting in severe developmental disabilities.  This short, heartbreaking book is the story of Buck's journey of acceptance of her daughter's limitations and her quest to discover how to maximize her limited abilities and provide her with the happiest and most fulfilling life possible.  Buck consulted experts and explored every possibility, finally realizing that letting her go, at least on a day-to-day basis, was the best course of action to give Carol a life with some meaning and contentment.  Buck traveled all over the United States visiting and evaluating facilities and talking to authorities in the field, searching for the right placement for her daughter.  She offers excellent advice, still valid today, I think, on what to look for in a home for a special child.  In no way was Buck trying to rid herself of responsibility.  She recognized that in the "real" world occupied by people of normal intellect and a range of personalities and emotions her daughter would never find happiness and always feel "different."  Instead, she needed a kind and loving environment where she could pursue her interests and make friends under the care of people who were experts in dealing with her type of disabilities.  Buck found that in New Jersey, in a facility where the philosophy of the man in charge and the attitudes of the people who would care for carol on a day-to-day basis coincided with Buck's own.  She visited Carol often, heartbroken over missing her yet happy to see her well-adjusted and at home. 

Remember, this take place at a time when disabled children were hidden away and often warehoused.  The special ed programs and government aid available today were unheard of in the 1920's, so Buck had to deal with her child's future on her own.  her compassion and love for Carol shines through in every page of this book.  I would highly recommend it.

THE GOOD EARTH (Pearl Buck)

Buck's celebrated novel, the first in a trilogy, helped to win her the Nobel Prize for literature.  Her portrayal of rural Chinese culture is the result of half a lifetime spent in China.  Family life, marriage...

Monday, November 5, 2018

CHRISTMAS ON THE ISLAND (Jennie Colgan)

Flora is frantic.  She is pregnant and doesn't know how to tell Joel, the moody love of her life with a troubled past.  As always, family and friends figure prominently.  All I can say is, if you love Jennie Colgan you won't be disappointed.  I'm looking forward to the next installment in the lives of the people of the remote island of Muir, Scotland!

Friday, November 2, 2018

THREADING THE NEEDLE (Marie Bostwick)

Marie Bostwick writes about women, faith, renewal, and friendship.  The Cobbled Court Quilt series follows the lives of different women who forge a connection and deep friendships through Evelyn Dixon's Cobbled Court Quilt shop.

Tessa Woodruff and her husband Lee left the corporate world in Boston to follow their dreams of a simpler life, Lee as a farmer and Tessa as an herbalist who sells her lavender scented lotions and soaps in her own shop, Love of Lavender.  In New Bern, CT, where Tessa grew up, they hope to find contentment and success, but the poor economy threatens their idyllic world. 

Madelyn Beecher Baron, whose wildly successful husband has been convicted of running a Ponzi scheme, has lost everything in the world except for Beecher Cottage in New Bern, left to her reluctantly by the miserable grandmother who grudgingly raised her after the death of her son, Madelyn's father.  Madelyn and Tessa were best friends until their early teenage years when their relationship fell apart and they haven't seen each other in 40 years.  Each of them finds serenity and friendship through a quilting group at Cobbled Court Quilts.  They also find the friendship lost so many years ago.

In this political climate, we desperately need stories where people are kind and loving, patient and unselfish.  You can always find these characters in Bostwick's novels.  Knowing that we can survive bad times and that people care enough to just be there when we need them is a wonderful gift and Bostwick has a talent for creating characters that do just this.  I am looking forward to the next in this series.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

CLAMMED UP (Barbara Ross)

Julia Snowden has given up her lucrative financial career in New York City to move back to Busman's Harbor, Maine to help save the family clambake business.  Her plan for solvency calls for no more than 5 closed days over the summer and things look bright when preparations are underway for a wedding clambake on family-owned Morrow Island.  When the body of the best man is found hanging in a staircase in the old family mansion the Snowden Family Clambake is shut down, forcing Julia to investigate in hopes of salvaging the precarious family fortunes.  Since the main suspect seems to be Chris Durand, her close friend and secret crush, Julia is especially determined to discover the killer.

Ross, who lives in Maine, writes a fun and intriguing mystery filled with characters that you want to know better.  This is the first in this series.  I plan to read more!

HUSBANDS AND OTHER SHARP OBJECTS (Marilyn Simon Rothstein)

I didn't realize when I picked up this novel that it is actually a sequel to Lift and Separate. It was a delightful discovery!  The story picks up with Marcy trying to decide whether or not to move from her marital home of more than 30 years, a house that she never liked and didn't want in the first place.  She has her eye on a beautiful yellow house, but her grown children prefer that she stay put while estranged husband Harvey declares that he will move in if Marcy moves out.

When daughter Amanda announces that she is not only moving back east to work for a retail start-up but plans to marry her father's accountant, all sorts of wedding tussles ensue, including a new romance and old problems (i.e. estranged husband Harvey).  You will love this humorous but oh so relatable novel!  If you're a fan of Mary Kay Andrews or Dorothea Benton Frank get ready to embrace a new favorite!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

THE CAKE THERAPIST (Judith Fertig)

The cake therapist is Claire O'Neil (Neely), who has a rare talent for discerning exactly what her customers need.

Monday, September 10, 2018

DELICIOUS (Ruth Reichl)

Billie Breslin leaves her home and family to join the staff of Delicious!, a food magazine based in an old mansion in New York City.  She is welcomed by the staff and warmly embraced by the food community in the area.  When the magazine suddenly shuts down, Billie is asked to stay on to respond to reader complaints, mostly from people who have failed at creating the recipes featured in the magazine.  Billie eventually discovers a hidden room in the locked library, where she reads a series of letters written years ago to chef James Beard by a 12-year-old girl named Lulu Swan.

While reading this wonderful novel the reader can almost taste the cheese at Fontanari's and smell whatever is rotting at the now almost deserted mansion! Reichl's years as a food critic serve her well here as she creates an atmosphere almost ripe with the smells and tastes of food.  I loved this novel!

Monday, September 3, 2018

DEADLY ADVICE (Robert Isleib)

I was so excited to have Roberta Isleib send me copies of the first two books in her Advice Column mystery series and soon they will be gracing our library's shelves!

In Deadly Advice, Dr. Rebecca Butterman is still reeling from her husband's infidelity.  She has moved to a new condo complex and is focusing on her therapy practice while also writing her "Ask Dr. Aster" advice column for Bloom!  magazine.  Rebecca is appalled when she learns of the apparent suicide of her next-door neighbor, an attractive young woman who appeared to have everything to live for.  Rebecca is asked by the woman's mother to "look into" the death and becomes convinced that the woman was murdered.  Despite warnings from Detective Meigs, who is in charge of the case, Rebecca feels obligated to find answers on her own, putting her own life in danger. 

This is a cozy series with a bit of a gritty edge.  Isleib adds just enough of a touch of graphic realism to elevate Deadly Advice from a traditional cozy to a mystery with a bit more of a bite.  her characters are interesting (I'm looking forward to see what develops between Rebecca and the married Meigs) and the plot gets your attention.  I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series as soon as I pry it away from my daughter, the clinical psychologist!

Monday, August 27, 2018

MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE THREE WISE WOMEN (Emily Brightwell)

Inspector Gerald Witherspoon is a rather clueless, yet endearing Victorian detective who is, without his knowledge, aided in solving murders by a network of staff and friends led by his housekeeper, Mrs. Hepzibah Jeffries.  During their nightly drinks session, Mrs. Jeffries subtly grills Witherspoon on the facts of whatever case he is attempting to solve, then in morning meeting, imparts this knowledge to household staff and friends, all of whom set out to gather clues and facts.  They meet again later in the day to share what they have found during their various investigations and said knowledge is then passed on to Witherspoon's colleague, Barnes, who somehow manages to clue in Witherspoon while presrving the illusion that Witherspoon is actually solving the crime himself.  With the help of this merry group of amateur detectives, Witherspoon has an enviable 100% record of solving murders.

His current case is a difficult one since the victim was killed 6 weeks ago.  Thanks to a botched investigation, the crime has been treated as death due to a robbery instead of an outright murder, so finding clues and witnesses is difficult, to say the least. 

Mrs. Jeffries and her crew are a resourceful and intelligent group of people who care deeply for Witherspoon, which makes this series doubly enjoyable.  My mother has read all of them and reports that she enjoyed them immensely.  If Victorian cozies, appealing characters, and expert amateur sleuthing are your thing, check this series out.

Friday, August 24, 2018

GHOSTED (Rosie Walsh)

For some reason I keep forgetting the name of this author, which is VERY weird because my mother's maiden name is actually Rosemary Walsh!  Duh!

This is one of those romantic past/present novels with plot twists and turns that you might or might not see coming, but will still love.  Sarah returns to her hometown, the scene of a tragic accident years before, and meets a man called Eddie.  The spend a blissful week together, fall in love, and pledge to reunite when Eddie returns from his trip to Spain.  But Eddie doesn't return and Sarah never hears from him.  Her close friends tell her to forget him, that he couldn't have been what he seemed to be, but Sarah believes that something terrible must have happened to Eddie. 

The story is told in a combination of current and past first person accounts and letters.  I have to admit that I found the letters confusing until I realized who was writing them and to whom they were written, but overall I enjoyed the timeline.  Walsh reveals the story bit-by-bit, traveling back 19 years and back and forth between characters.  I hope that Walsh continues with her writing career.  she is one to watch for future reading!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

PLAID & PLAGIARISM (Molly MacRae)

Molly MacRae is one of those mystery authors that feels like an old friend.  We ARE friends on Facebook, but I think I would like her a lot in real life.  She's also a librarian, by the way.

This is the first in a new series set around a Highland Bookshop.  Four women, a recently divorced mother (Janet Marsh), her daughter, and 2 friends, have purchased a business called Ye Bonnie Books in the village of Inversgail, Scotland.  Janet and her family have owned a vacation home in Inversgail for years and this will soon become Janet's new home.  When the body of a local advice columnist is discovered in the shed behind the house, Janet and her crew set up to solve the crime so Janet can move into her home, which has been ruled off-limits by the local police.  Suspects abound, of course.

If you are like me and LOVE a mystery set in Scotland (the land of many of my ancestors), you will enjoy this series immensely.  MacRae writes engagingly.  reading her books makes you feel like you're spending time with people you've known all of your life.

EAST WIND, WEST WIND (Pearl Buck)

This lovely novel is the first one of five that we will be reading for this year's Pearl Buck Book Club at the library.  What wonderful insight into the culture of the China during the early 20th century!  Of course, this is not surprising since Pearl Buck lived in China for much of her life.

East Wind, West Wind is the story of the culture clash between old Chinese customs and traditions and the slowly encroaching western world.  Narrated by Kwei-lan, a young woman in an arranged marriage to a Chinese man educated in America, the novel focuses on her struggle to understand her changing role as a Chinese woman.  Eventually falling deeply in love with her husband, she is at first confused and appalled at his desire to treat her as an equal and his request that she unbind her feet.  Having been brought up to pay attention to traditional details of beauty and dress, Kwei-lan has a hard time connecting with her husband and understanding that his interest is in her as a person rather than as an object of beauty.  The old order of China is changing around her and Buck allows us to see these changes through the naive eyes of a young woman who has been completely shielded from the outside world.

I loved this book and would encourage everyone to read Pearl Buck!

Friday, August 3, 2018

BELLEWETHER (Susannah Kearsley)

If someone asked me during the past few years what events were most eagerly anticipated in my life, Susannah Kearley's newest books would definitely be in my top 10!  Her research is thorough and her story-telling is unsurpassed. Bellewether is a bit of a departure for her since most of her novels are set in England and many involve the Jacobite period of the early 18th century.

Bellewether is set on Long Island in 1759, during the French and Indian War.  Two captured French officers have been billeted with the Wilde family and eventually one of them, a gentlemanly French-Canadian officer name Jean-Phillipe de Sabran, falls in love with Lydia Wilde.  Their supposedly tragic romance becomes a local legend and in the present day Charley, the curator of the Wilde Museum, experiences signs of an unexplained presence in the house.  Bellewether is the beautiful ship built by Lydia's brother, preserved in a painting over the house's fireplace.

I have to admit that this is not my favorite book by Kearsley, but it is still better than most of the novels that I've read, so that's not a negative comment.  It is romantic, historical, and intriguing and I would highly recommend if you like your history well-researched and with a bit of paranormal activity!

CLOCK DANCE (Anne Tyler)

A clock dance is a series of repetitive moves that can be frenzied or controlled.  I looked it up when trying to understand the title, but I wasn't able to find out much because googling "clock dance" results in articles about Tyler's novel!  I think the point of the title is that Willa, the main character, is caught in a "clock dance" as she travels through life, never quite achieving fulfillment while she defers to others in her life.

Willa has spent most of her marching to the beat of someone else's drummer, allowing the needs of others to dictate her path in life.  The novel begins with Willa, age 11, coping with one of her mother's mania-fueled disappearances.  Ten years later, she is on the brink of her life's greatest decision: to finish college and become a teacher or to marry Derek and move to California, giving up her scholarship and the research that she loves.  Twenty years later, we learn that Willa's decision was to follow Derek's dream, rather than her own.  When her husband's impatience and intolerance lead to unexpected tragedy for the family, she is left to wonder where she belongs in the world.  Eventually, we catch up with Willa again, now age 61 and married to a retired lawyer.  When she receives a call asking for her help in caring for the daughter of her son Sean's former girlfriend, who has been accidentally shot, she feels compelled to travel to Baltimore to fill in as grandmother to a girl she has never met, not realizing that she has reached a crossroads that could change her life.

Is this the absolute best book Tyler has ever written?  Probably not.  Is it enjoyable from start to finish?  Definitely.  The characters can be divided into two groups: the "real" people with dimension and the selfish ones who, unfortunately, are the primary players in Willa's life.  When faced with a choice between them, what will Willa do?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

LIFT AND SEPARATE (Marilyn Simon Rothstein)

This is a new author for me and I would highly recommend her if you are looking for a fun way to spend an evening. Marcy Hammer is a wonderful heroine, relatable, practical, and real.  Devastated when her bra-baron husband, Harvey, leaves her for one of his fitting models after 33 years of marriage, her main goal is to get him back and restore their marriage and family.  When her mother is hospitalized, Harvey is there, apologetic and attentive, until he confesses that his affair has had unexpected consequences that Marcy considers.to be an insurmountable obstacle to continuing her life with him.

Marcy deals with her mother's illness, her children's mistakes, and her own life situation with grace and ingenuity.  She is someone that I would like to have as a friend.  I loved her compassion and her approach to life and the dilemmas that it throws at us. I'm looking forward to reading more by Ms. Rothstein.

Monday, July 16, 2018

KILLER TAKEOUT (Lucy Burdette)

Hayley Snow's newest assignment is to describe the food at various Key West take-out restaurants, but the island's annual Fantasy Fest and Zombie Bike Ride have brought an influx of tourists into town.  Hayley is stunned when one of the participants in the Zombie Bike Ride collapses at her feet and later dies.  Her friend Danielle, the Queen of Fantasy Fest, is one of the chief suspects since the deceased was seen arguing with her the night before.  A hurricane is bearing down on the island, Haley's mother is preparing for her wedding, and Hayley needs to find the killer before all Hell breaks loose on Key West.

This is the 7th in Burdette's Key West Food Critic series.  Try one.  I think you'll develop a taste for the series!

A FALL OF MARIGOLDS (Susan Meissner)

I would call this a pleasant book, sad but ending on a note of hope.  The story features 2 women, Clara Wood and Taryn Michaels, living 100 years apart in New York City.  Nurse Clara Wood has suffered the loss of the man she felt she was destined to love.  He died before her eyes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 and she has focused her attention since on nursing immigrants at Ellis Island.  In fact, she hasn't left the island in the months since she made the decision to work there out of guilt.  Edward would not have died if he hadn't planned to show her the 9th floor of the Triangle company  on the day of the fire.  She is moved by patient Andrew Gwinn, an immigrant tailor from Wales whose wife, Lily, died of scarlet fever on his ocean journey.  Lily was the owner of the scarf that figures prominently in the stories of both women, and Clara feels a strong sense of empathy for Andrew since she also suffers from grief over lost love.  When Andrew asks her to fetch a pattern book from his trunk, she accidentally comes across some devastating information about Andrew's marriage and struggles with whether to share it with him or destroy the evidence.

Taryn is a fabric expert living and working an New York, where she lost her husband on 9/11.  She witnessed the fall of the twin towers and she also feels great guilt over her husband's death.  She had discovered that she was pregnant and asked him to meet her at the restaurant at the top of the North Tower to share the happy news, but she was late due to an errand, picking up an antique scarf from a client.  If she hadn't asked Kent to meet her he may have survived, and if she had been on time they both would have died.  Now, in2011, their daughter, Kendal, is almost 10 years old and asking questions about her father's life and death.

I didn't love this novel, but I didn't hate it.  I think, for me, it was a little bit too emotional.  I did like the ending, though, which made the whole thing worthwhile.

Monday, July 9, 2018

THE WATER ROOM (Christopher Fowler)

I'm not really sure I would ever read another Christopher Fowler mystery, not because this wasn't fascinating (who knew there were so many rivers under London?), but because it was so complicated.  If you enjoy a mystery that is a bit (or a lot) off-center, this one could be for you.  It might be better to start with the first in the series, though.  Arthur Bryant and John May are the elderly detectives who head up the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a division of the London police.  Bryant is an elderly hoarder who doesn't seem overly concerned with appearances and May is a bit of a lady's man.  Their unit tackles the unusual and outlandish crimes that the regular police don't care to handle.  This one is set in a small subdivision where an elder woman is found dead in her living room, dressed as if ready to set off for a journey but with a mouthful of river water.  Other odd deaths ensue, eventually leading to a tour of London's underground rivers and a pretty satisfying denouement.  We read this for our Christie Capers "Detecting Duos" theme.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

ALL WE EVER WANTED (Emily Giffin)


Sometimes "fitting in" is not really worth the effort.  Giffin's latest novel examines the juxtaposition between the privileged and working class and the consequences of trying to maintain an image that doesn't fit who you really are.  Nina Browning grew up in an ordinary middle-class family.  Now living in Nashville with her wealthy, successful husband and a son headed for Princeton, Nina seems to have it all but may have lost herself on the journey.  Tom Volpe's daughter, a student at the Windsor Academy, the prestigious private school that Nina's son attends, is on scholarship and her hard-working father worries that their working-class family doesn't fit in with the upscale people at the school.  When a photo of Tom's daughter, Lyla, surfaces after a local party, accusations fly and lives are turned upside down.

I love Emily Giffin's novels and this one is especially relevant because we have become so polarized in this country.  Rich vs. poor, deserving vs. undeserving, truth vs. lies - all of these are the focus of this story.  If you don't want to0 think deeply about it, though, it's also a very entertaining story.  I would recommend it!
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Friday, June 22, 2018

THE BAKER'S SECRET (Stephen P. Kiernan)

I'm not quite sure how to describe this incredible novel.  It is both heartbreaking and hopeful and, to me, represents historical fiction at its best.  The setting is Normandy, France, just before D-Day.  The people of Vergers, a village on the coast, have been devastated by the occupying Nazis, who have brutalized and killed, insulted and humiliated, and have stolen nearly everything of monetary or sentimental value from the village.  Emma, an apprentice to baker Ezra Kuchen, a Jew, is tasked with baking 12 baguettes each day for the Kommandant with flour that he provides.  She finds a way to produce 2 extra loaves per day by adding pulverized hay to the dough, hoping that the Kommandant will not discover her secret.  The two extra loaves are distributed to her starving neighbors and, eventually, Emma finds herself engaged in a system of exchange and barter designed to provide food and sustenance to the village while they wait to be rescued by the Allies.  Emma doesn't believe that that day will ever come.

This is a difficult novel to read because of the subject matter.  Kiernan's insights into the Nazis, their attitudes and brutality, and the incredible resilience and courage of those who fought to stay alive during the occupation are brilliant.  Emma's character, compassion, and love for her community battle with her belief that the Nazis will triumph, but she continues on her quest to defy them and make life a little more bearable for her neighbors.  I would highly recommend this story of selflessness and ingenuity in the face of horrifying circumstances.  Kiernan brings his characters to life.  You won't soon forget them.

THE LIFE LUCY KNEW (Karma Brown)

Lucy Sparks is shocked to wake up in a hospital bed, her co-worker Matt Newman and her parents at her side and no sign of her husband, Daniel London.  Did she have an accident at work?  How long has she been in the hospital?  Why is Matt so upset about the whole thing?

After slipping on some ice and hitting her head, Lucy suffers from false memories, a condition, according to her neurologist, caused by her brain attempting to make memories during her coma.  But they seem so real!  While she remembers her job, her friends, and her family, much of the past 4 years is no longer clear.  Her sweet co-worker Matt is actually her boyfriend and she and Daniel broke off their engagement before ever getting married.  The wedding she remembers (why was that dress so NOT her usual taste?) was someone else's, not hers and Daniel's.  The biggest problem is that she feels that she is still in love with Daniel, not Matt, who steadfastly works to help her recover her elusive past and make sense of her memories.

I really enjoyed The Life Lucy Knew.  This is what Lisa Genova would come up with if she decided to try her hand at something closer to chick-lit than her usual novels, which feature conditions like early onset Alzheimer's and Huntington's Disease.  I enjoyed the author's skillful intertwining of relationship angst and medical facts.  I would definitely recommend it.

Monday, June 18, 2018

THE REPLACEMENT WIFE (Eileen Goudge)

I haven't read Eileen Goudge in quite a few years, but I always liked her novels.  I hesitated a bit with The Replacement Wife because the plot revolves around a woman with terminal cancer.  I have to admit that at this stage in my life I prefer more upbeat reading.

When Camille Harte's cancer returns she is informed that she is terminal.  As a professional matchmaker, she decides that she needs to ensure her family's future by finding a new wife for Edward, her husband of 20 years, and a mother figure for her 2 children.  Edward, a physician, is deeply in love with Camille and has no desire for another women to take her place, but Camille persists in her plan to match him up with her future replacement.

Most of us think sometimes about what would happen if we lost the person closest to us and wonder if we would find love again.  Some have already been through that experience and experienced the wonder of starting life over again with someone new.  In The Replacement Wife, Edward is forced into trying to form a new relationship while the woman he loves is still very much alive, before he has had the opportunity to grieve or to adjust to a life on his own.  He also resents that fact that Camille is assuming that he will fail as a single parent and be unable to cope with her loss.  The ultimate result is unexpected, both in terms of Camille's health and the couple's future.  The reader will be sympathetic to the well-meaning but misguided wife who, in wanting the best for her family, creates an impossible situation for all of them.

Monday, June 11, 2018

EREWHON (Samuel Butler)

Years ago I read Erewhon.  I even have a battered paperback copy that I, naturally, couldn't find when it came to re-read it for the Vintage Book Club. 

Erewhon, as you've probably noticed, is an anagram of "nowhere."  The novel centers around an unnamed main character who sets out into the wilderness (presumably in New Zealand, where Butler lived for a time)  in hopes of discovering new, unspoiled land.  Instead, he stumbles upon Erewhon, where the ill are arrested and imprisoned, most machines are outlawed, and what we would consider criminal behavior is compassionately treated in hopes of a cure. In Erewhon money is worthless, making the country appear to be a Utopia where people can coexist peacefully.

The main themes of Erewhon are religion (the narrator egotistically hopes to convert the Erewhonians to Christianity) and evolution, which seems to have reversed itself in this remote location.  I won't presume to analyze this novel as you can find this done in numerous places online.   Suffice it to say, it is a satire and its main subjects are the institutions and beliefs of Victoria England.  It is a fascinating book with a fantastical concept, but it requires some thinking.

HIGH TIDE CLUB (Mary Kay Andrews)

I enjoyed this novel immensely, as I always do Mary Kay Andrews books.  This one combines almost every element a reader could want: mystery and intrigue, murder, love, enduring friendship, family history, and more.  Since I am behind in my reviews, I won't waste our time going over the details.  The summary below, from Amazon, says it all.  What I will say is just, "Read it!"

From Amazon.com:
Eccentric heiress Josephine Warrick is a notorious recluse - reigning over a crumbling pink mansion on a private island, she is rarely seen but often whispered about. So when Brooke Trappnell, a struggling young lawyer, is summoned to the island, she has no idea what's in store. As she listens to Josephine recount a story of old friendship, dark secrets, and a mysterious murder, it becomes clear that Brooke is there for two reasons: to help protect Josephine's beloved island, and to make amends with her old friends, the skinny-dipping, secret-keeping girls of the The High Tide Club.
To fulfill a dying woman's last wish, Brooke must track down the descendants of Josephine's closest friends and bring them together for a reunion of women who've never actually met. But in doing so, Brooke uncovers a scandal that could make someone rich beyond their wildest dreams…or cause them to be in the crosshairs of a murderer.
The High Tide Club is Mary Kay Andrews at her very best - a compelling story steeped in mystery, fierce friendship, love lost and possibly...love found.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A STUDY IN SCARLET (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

This is the first of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series.  If you're like me, you probably read it years ago and have seen 3 different versions of the movie but still don't quite remember the plot!

It is delightful to learn about the beginning of Holmes's and Watson's relationship (it reminded me a little bit of Sheldon and Leonard!) and how their partnership developed.  In A Study in Scarlet Holmes investigates the death of a man in a deserted house where the word RACHE has been written in blood on the wall.  The story hits one jarring point in the middle of the book, when Holmes declares that he has solved the crime and on the next page the reader finds himself in the Utah desert.  Did a new novel begin without warning?  Why would Conan Doyle suddenly take us out of London and into the world of the American Mormons?  It turns out that the second part of the novel is interesting and, ultimately, makes sense, but there probably should have been a better segue (if I dare to presume to tell Sir Arthur Conan Doyle how to write!).  I will say that reading this made me want to go back and read more of Sherlock Holmes.  It's been too long!

Monday, June 4, 2018

CRISIS AT THE CATHEDRAL (Jeanne M. Dams)

One of the wonderful things about Dorothy Martin is her ability to comment on almost anything in a thoughtful and unbiased manner.  Oh, I'm sure that many of her views come from her creator, Jeanne Dams, but I have a feeling that Dorothy also has a mind of her own.

Crisis in the Cathedral is set mainly close to Dorothy and Alan's home in the village of Sherebury, England.  They do some traveling here, back and forth to London, but primarily without planning or luggage.  Dams has written a very timely novel here.  The plot revolves around a humanitarian Muslim family who is visiting Sherebury and is interested in visiting the cathedral to attend a service.  Husam, Rana, Rahim, and little Aya are a family who believe that experiencing the customs of other faiths and cultures is the best way to understand them, so they greatly enjoy their visit.  Dorothy and Alan invite them to a concert at the cathedral later that week, so the parents arrange for Rahim and Aya to be cared for by their landlords at the local inn where they are staying.  Alerted to the activities of a young man that they fear is becoming involved in terrorist activities, Husam and Rana slip out of the cathedral during the performance, telling no one and leaving their cell phone behind.  Of course there is speculation about their possible involvement in terrorism, especially when a suitcase that they stored at the inn is discovered to be full of money in different denominations.

Fearing for their new friends' lives, Dorothy and Alan, who is working with MI5 on the case, go to London to try and track them down.  In the process they alienate faithful Jane, their neighbor and animal carer, and enlist the aid of, among others, the bishop and a chess player with Asperger's.  naturally, it is Dorothy who has a brainstorm that leads to the outcome of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dorothy's numerous references to current political concerns about the Islamic world and the political climate of the United States, her home country.  The mystery is fast-paced and current, and the relationship between Dorthy and Alan is just as comfortable and appealing as always.  This series never gets old!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A VERY DISTANT SHORE (Jenny Colgan)

This lovely and heartbreaking little novel should actually be read BEFORE The Endless Shore. Of course, even after checking my Amazon orders to confirm that I had actually purchased this book, I couldn't find it anywhere.  Thankfully, I finally came across it!

Said Hassan is a refugee from Syria, a medical doctor whose family remains behind and, hopefully, still alive, in Damascus.  Said is placed by the British government on the island of Mure, Scotland, which has been in dire need of a GP for years.  While he desperately waits for news of his wife, Amena, and his sons, Ibrahim and Ash, he gradually learns the ways of Mure and settles into the old rectory, a dismal, damp building.  He becomes friends with Lorna, whose elderly father, Angus, is seriously ill.  Lorna is Flora's best friend (you'll know who she is if you've read The Cafe by the Sea) and has almost given up on finding love.  She and Said have an undeniable attraction towards one another, but until he hears otherwise, he still holds out hope that he will eventually be reunited with Amena and his sons.

Colgan seems to have successfully stepped inside the head of Said Hassan, communicating the confusion and despair of a man trying to hold onto hope and battling fear on a daily basis while still entertaining the reader with the quirks and foibles of Mure and its people.  I loved this and I think you will, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

THE ENDLESS BEACH (Jenny Colgan)

This sequel to The Cafe by the Sea was enjoyable from start to finish, as is every novel by jenny Colgan.  Flora, who has moved permanently to the Isle of Mure to run the cafe and help out at the  family farm, was pleased and shocked when her new love (and former boss), Joel, follows her to Mure to work exclusively for one client, who is opening a great resort on the island.  With Joel always away on business and, quite frankly, acting pretty squirrelly, Flora is never quite sure where she stands or what the future will hold.  Joel is notoriously close-mouthed about his past as a foster-child, and upbringing that makes it difficult for him to open up and commit.  Is marriage in their future?  Flora doubts it!

Colgan has added another, charming dimension to this novel with the character of Said Hassan, the Syrian refugee physician who initially appears in A very Distant Shore.  He still hopes to be reunited with his family and is filled with hope and fear when he is informed that two children, thought to be his sons, have been located in Damascus and will be reunited with him after all of the red tape has been cleared.

As always, Colgan leaves us wanting more.  I am looking forward to reading Christmas on the Island, the next installment.  I wish she would write faster!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

BY INVITATION ONLY (Dorthea Benton Frank)

Excellent, entertaining novel!  The one cautionary note that I have is that I had a difficult time at first figuring out exactly who was narrating.  The story is told from several different points of view, primarily those of Diane English Stiftel, the low-country farmer whose son Fred has recently become engaged to Shelby Cambria, and Susan Kennedy Cambria, the wealthy Chicago-based mother of the bride-to-be who wants "her" wedding to be the most over-the-top extravaganza the Chicago elite have ever witnessed.  I finally figured out that reading the character quotes at the beginning of each chapter was helpful, so it was only the first couple of chapters that were initially perplexing.

The inevitable culture clash between the down-to-earth South Carolina clan and the denizens of Chicago society makes for a novel that expertly melds humor with humanity.  One thing I would like to point out is that all of the characters are likable for the most part, even the manically insecure Susan and her workaholic hedge-fund manager husband, Alejandro.  Uncle Floyd is hilarious and Diane is down-to-earth, loving, and competent, but afraid that love will disrupt her well organized life. 

Susan enjoys pushing the envelope with Diane and her family, like casually mentioning that the rehearsal dinner in Chicago should accommodate around 200 people (because of course you have to invite all of the wealthy out-of-town guests).  Diane likes pushing back, with the support and encouragement of her family, in a way taunting Susan with their country customs and low country tastes.  When things come to a head with the wedding and with Susan's marriage, Diane is there to offer support and encouragement to all.

I was sorry when this book ended.  Enough said! 

THE GIRL IN THE WOODS (Patricia MacDonald)

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

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

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

TURNING THE TIDE (Edith Maxwell)

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

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

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

FATAL ENQUIRY (Will Thomas)

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

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

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

Sound exciting?  It definitely is!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

DEVIL'S BREATH (G.M. Malliet)

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

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

JUST IN TIME (Marie Bostwick)

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

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

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

EVERY NOTE PLAYED (Lisa Genova)

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

AN APPETITE FOR MURDER (Lucy Burdette)

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

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

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

Saturday, April 14, 2018

WEYCOMBE (G.M. Malliet)

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A NANTUCKET WEDDING (Nancy Thayer)

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR (Sally Hepworth)

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A FAMILY AFFAIR (Rex Stout)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

ON SECOND THOUGHT (Kristan Higgins)

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

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

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

HERE WE LIE (Paula Trieck DeBoard)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

BETTER OFF WED (Laura Durham)

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

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

DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOR (Colin Dexter)

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

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

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

DOUBLE FUDGE BROWNIE MURDER (Joanne Fluke)

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

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

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

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

CALLED TO JUSTICE (Edith Maxwell)

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

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

SURPRISE ME! (Sophie Kinsella)

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

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

PORTRAIT OF A SISTER (Laura Bradford)

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

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

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

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

ROBOTS OF DAWN (Isaac Asimov)

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

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

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

ESCAPE TO WILLOW COTTAGE) Bella Osborne

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS (Jennifer Chiaverini)

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

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

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