Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Luckiest Girl Alive

by Jessica Knoll

Ani FaNelli has an enviable life: great job at a magazine, fancy clothes, and even a rich fiancé. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, Ani could. Because she hasn’t always been attractive and successful Ani. Oh no! Once upon a time, she was TifAni FaNelli, the new girl at Bradley. She was the less than attractive, not quite wealthy enough new girl at a very exclusive school. Additionally, she survived something horrific during her time at Bradley, though you’ll have to read to find out just what that was.

Yep, you’ll have to read at least 200 pages to find out what is haunting this seemingly perfect twenty-something. And once you find out what happened to Ani, you will know why she is the luckiest girl alive.

I liked this story. I liked the “then and now” approach, and I was very keen to find out what incident was haunting Ani. What I did not like was her silly name. Ani? Really? The funky spelling of her first and last names is really annoying to read. Otherwise, I highly recommend this.


Perfect Little Ladies

by Abby Drake

“The housewives of Westchester County have a lot to hide!”

Oh, if only! I find it hard to believe that Ms. Drake knows anything about the housewives of Westchester. I chose this novel based on the above tagline, and I did not detect any true references to the county in which I live, much less NYC.

Briefly: Elinor is being blackmailed. Someone has discovered her elicit relationship with a politician. Now, at the worst time possible, right before her only son’s wedding, Elinor is faced with the blackmail crisis. It is up to her, her twin sister, and friends to find the blackmailer before Elinor is $500,000 poorer and without a husband.

This is poorly written and just plain dumb. It is not even worth the fifty cents I paid for it.


What Alice Forgot

by Liane Moriarty

Alice falls off her bike at spin class and sustains a concussion. When she comes to, she has lost 10 years of memories. It is 2008, but she is still living like it is 1998.

Here’s what Alice has forgotten:
• The births of her three children,
• The decline of her marriage,
• Her transformation into a supermom, and
• Her physical transformation (Alice is fit).

For Alice, forgetting gives her a new lease on life. But for others? The memory loss gives them back the Alice they used to love. It’s a win-win.

Cute concept.


Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin' Cornbread


This is another entry in the Jane Austen Takes the South series.

Lucy Crawford is the Anne Elliot of our story. Her once wealthy family is not so wealthy anymore. In fact, Crawford House, her family’s grand antebellum mansion, is now to be leased to the free medical clinic of Tupelo.

Enter Jem AKA Jeremiah Chevy. Doctor Jeremiah Chevy. Jem is the scorned suitor of Lucy, dumped when he was a senior in high school. He’s a doctor now and working at the free clinic.

Can sparks fly again? If you have already read Persuasion, you know how this story ends. 


Spring Remains


Double Fudge Brownie Murder

by Joanne Fluke

Remember when Hannah accidentally hit (and killed) someone with her car? Well, that’s where our story begins. . .

Hannah goes to court for that accident, and, gasp, finds the judge dead in his chambers. It only gets worse. Her mother gets married, and Hannah is reunited with an old flame.

Bad, bad, bad! No more, I promise!


Titus Andronicus

by William Shakespeare

Very, very bloody play. Shakespeare's first.                  


How to Build a Girl

by Caitlin Moran

I should have known how filthy this book would be just by looking at its cover. Here is the blurb that should have warned me: “I have so much love for Caitlin Moran.”—Lena Dunham.
Anyway, this is the story of Johanna Morrigan. The year is 1990, and Johanna is fourteen years old. She is overweight, unpopular, and has just embarrassed herself on a local television program.

Additionally, her family is poor, and Johanna fears that her family’s benefits may be cut. How can she make money to help support her family? Writing.

Johanna is already a good writer. She decides that she will write music reviews and reinvents herself as a sexy, snarky, cigarette-smoking rock critic. Her new persona’s name? Dolly Wilde.

What follows is the tale of a young woman who has no idea of what she is doing. She only knows why she is doing it.

The language is horrible, but there is something likable about Johanna, and that kept me reading.


A Reunion Of Ghosts

by Judith Claire Mitchell

This nearly 400 page suicide note of the Alter sisters is not just a suicide note—it is the history of their family. Lady, Vee, and Delph feel cursed, just another branch of their family tree, destined to die by their own hands.

But where and when did the curse originate? And why do these women of the Upper West Side feel the need to kill themselves?

Patience, dear Reader, all will be revealed. The first half of the novel is rather slow, but the second half is the payoff for your patience. This novel is interesting, sad, and even darkly humorous at times. Enjoy!


First Frost

by Sarah Addison Allen

In her latest novel, Sarah Addison Allen takes her readers back to Bascom, North Carolina and the Waverley sisters. This time around, Claire has switched from a catering business to a candy-making business. Sydney’s still doing hair, and her daughter, Bay, is a very grown up 15-year-old.

Each of the Waverley women is experiencing some sort of conflict:

• Claire: though successful with candy-making, she’s still not happy,
• Sydney: though happy with her husband and daughter, she longs for another baby, and
• Bay: she’s fallen for an impossible boy, and her family does not support her.

As the first frost nears, the magic of the Waverleys brings each conflict to a boiling point . . . and a resolution.

Even though I enjoyed revisiting the Waverley sisters, this novel lacked the magic of SAA’s other novels. She phoned in this one.


God on the Rocks

by Jane Gardam

Published in 1978, this is a coming of age story for Margaret Marsh. Margaret is eight years old and has been recently displaced by her newborn brother.

During this critical summer of adjustment for Margaret, she meets two of her mother’s childhood friends, Charles and Binkie. Binkie and Charles reveal a different side of her mother to Margaret. The summer also reveals another side to Margaret’s father, a severe and God-fearing man.

Though it is short, this novel is somewhat slow and not nearly as entertaining as the Old Filth trilogy.


Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

by Christopher Fowler

Bryant and May are at it again, though this entry focuses a little more on Bryant and his individual sleuthing.

Anyway, a cemetery is the scene of the crime (at least the first one). Romain Curtis sneaks into St. George’s Gardens to stargaze with a girl and is soon privy to a horrific sight: a man rises from his fresh grave. Or so it appears. . .

The PCU is called on the case, and the case soon explodes into murder and grave robbing. Romain is killed shortly after the cemetery exploits, and others soon follow.

The PCU is left with many questions: Why was the man’s grave unearthed? Who killed Romain? Why are other graves being unearthed? Why are others being killed?

It is up to Bryant and May (but mostly Bryant) to find the answers. Along the way, we’ll learn a little bit more about the eccentric and mysterious Bryant.

This is a decent mystery in the series, but a tad too complicated for my tastes.


Unimaginable Zero Summer: A Novel

by Leslie Stella

Leslie Stella does it again!

Verity Presti has no desire to attend her 15-year high school reunion. Why would she? She’s a bookstore clerk, and she’s dating a man named Charlie Brown.

The good news is, Verity’s high school friends don’t really feel great about the reunion either. One friend, Will, is a KJ (karaoke jockey). See? Verity’s not doing so poorly after all.

The greatness of this novel comes from two places: the setting (Chicago) and Stella’s humor. Leslie Stella knows Chicago, and she knows funny. Seriously funny.

The story is full of gems, far too many to list. The characters are great, the setting is amazing (Chicago as it really is, told from an insider’s perspective), and the author’s ability to see humor in any and all situations. If you need a laugh, check this out. You will not be disappointed.


The Husband's Secret

by Liane Moriarty

This is women’s fiction at its best. Three women, two husbands, and one mind-blowing letter.

Briefly: Cecilia, Rachel, and Tess are all loosely connected before Tess moves back to her hometown. Upon her return, Tess enrolls her son at the local school. It is there that she reconnects with Rachel and Cecilia. Rachel is the school’s secretary, and as a mother, Cecilia is heavily involved with the school.

One day, Cecilia finds a letter written by her husband, who just happens to be out of town for business. The letter stipulates that it should be read after the husband’s death. But Cecilia is too curious. She simply cannot wait. Once she reads the letter, the lives of all three women will never be the same.

Betrayal has never been so complex. Moriarty spins a web of lies, guilt, and pain that is addictive for readers. Great story, great pace, great read!


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

by Rachel Joyce

In this companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, readers learn the story of Queenie. Queenie, as you may remember, is the dying woman for whom Harold walks across England.

I don’t want to spoil the novel for anyone. It is quite wonderful. In fact, I think it is even better than The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The novel is moving and very satisfying.

If you’ve read Harold’s story, you simply must read Queenie’s story.


Last Friends

by Jane Gardam

The third novel in the Old Filth trilogy is, of course, about Terry Veneering, the third player in the Old Filth love triangle. Oh, how I wanted to love this novel!

Terry’s story starts out almost as tragically as Old Filth’s: his impoverished family, his near miss with a sinking ship, etc. Unfortunately, the plot of this novel never hits its stride. I never got enough of a back story on Terry, which would have been fascinating.

After all, he suffers much like Old Filth. That is to say, people think that he leads a charmed life, but, in fact, it is the opposite. Even his marriage to the elegant Elsie is a dud. Still, we do find out how he comes to choose a career in the law, which is one of his many connections to Old Filth.

In summary, this is the weakest of the trilogy’s novels. I do, however, enjoy a sense of completion, and I like knowing that Veneering’s bad behavior comes from a place of great pain, not just a desire to inflict pain.

I will definitely pick up more of Ms. Gardam’s novels.


Old Filth

by Jane Gardam

The first novel in the Old Filth trilogy.

Eddie Feathers is the real name of the famed lawyer known as Old Filth (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong). In his life, he has been a brilliant lawyer and a respected judge, but now he’s just an old widower.

How did Eddie get to this place in life? Well, it all goes back to his childhood as a Raj orphan. His sad, sad childhood.

He did not know his parents, he did not have any siblings, and he did not have any notably loving relationships. All Eddie had was himself. In fact, this sums it up best:

All my life, Tansy, from my early childhood, I have been left, or dumped, or separated by death, from everyone I loved or who cared for me. I want to know why.

What is most interesting about Eddie is that everyone seems to think that he lived a charmed (and boring) life. In fact, his life was full of pain, sorrow, adventure, and longing. His life was anything but easy or happy.

I enjoyed this novel, though it totally changes how I could have read the second book in the trilogy (which I read first). Still, it is great.


How to Be an American Housewife

by Margaret Dilloway

Shoko and Sue are mother and daughter. Shoko is a traditional Japanese woman; Sue is a typical American woman. In the past, these two have clashed.

Now, as Shoko’s age and health slow her down, she has a request to make of Sue: travel to Japan. Shoko wants Sue to find Shoko’s brother, the brother who rejected her for marrying an American GI so many years ago.

This novel takes place in the past and present, neatly telling the story of Shoko and her Japanese and American experiences.

It’s not perfect, but definitely passable.


The Sisters Brothers

by Patrick deWitt

Oregon City, 1851. Charlie and Eli Sisters have a new assignment: travel to Sacramento and kill Hermann Kermit Warm. The Sisters brothers, you see, are henchmen. They work for a man simply known as the Commodore.

Their adventure begins uneventfully, but quickly devolves into perhaps their last adventure/job. Eli, our narrator, soon doubts that he should stay in this line of work, and a series of incidents along the way seem to confirm his instincts.

Humorous, dark, and spare in its prose, The Sisters Brothers is an amazing modern-day western. Eli is a sympathetic narrator, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. Highly recommended.


The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy

by Julia Quinn

Sir Richard Kenworthy must find a bride, and he has less than a month to do so. How will he ever find someone so quickly?

Enter Iris Smythe-Smith: she’s pretty, she’s single, and she’s playing the cello in the upcoming Smythe-Smith musicale. Perfect!

Yes, that’s right, even Sir Richard knows how desperate those Smythe-Smith girls are. But he is not entirely heartless. He is actually attracted to Iris and impressed with her musical talent.

So, they marry within a month’s time, and that’s where Sir Richard’s secrets come into play. Why must he marry? What awaits Iris in her new marriage and home? Will Sir Richard’s secrets change the way Iris feels about him?

You’ve got to read this to find out!

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. The secrets were not so terrifying, but definitely worth concealing. I liked Iris, and I liked Sir Richard. And I do like Quinn’s decision to write about the Smythe-Smith women.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Trans-Sister Radio

by Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been wanting to read this novel for a while. The recent news of Bruce Jenner’s transition led me to finally read it.

In a nutshell, this is the story of what happens when a man in a small town has a sex change operation. The story is told by four different characters:

• Dana Stevens, the transgendered college professor who is finally taking the plunge,
• Allison Banks, the schoolteacher who falls for Dana as a man and continues to support Dana as a woman,
• Carly, the daughter of Allison and witness to the events of the story, and
• Will Banks, Allison’s ex, who works for Vermont Public Radio.

This is their story, and it is rather complicated, as one might guess. Rather than give away the plot, I will say this: this is a novel about acceptance. It is about Dana accepting her true self, Allison accepting that loves comes in many shapes and forms, Will accepting the reality of his relationships with women, and the small Vermont town that refuses to accept Dana and Allison’s relationship.

I liked how Bohjalian tackles a complex topic by employing different points of view. I also liked that he addresses all of the different players and their reactions to Dana’s operation. Although the premise of Dana and Allison staying together post-op seems farfetched, I appreciated the places to which the author takes his characters and their feelings.

As always, Bohjalian does not disappoint.



by Colin Meloy

Confession #1: I chose this book because of its lovely cover.

Confession #2: I’ve never heard of Colin Meloy or his band, the Decemberists.

Confession #3: I really did not like this novel. The plot is silly, the character development is non-existent, and the vocabulary used is too sophisticated for the novel’s juvenile audience.

But the illustrations are lovely!


The Program

by Suzanne Young

Imagine a future where teen suicide is an epidemic, and the cure for the illness can cost you your memory. . .

Yes, this is the world in which Sloane lives. Her brother, Brady, killed himself, and her parents are now hyper-vigilant about Sloane’s mental health. They are so concerned that they are willing to send her to The Program, if necessary.

The Program, you see, is the country’s response to the suicide epidemic. The Program erases its patients’ memories.

One by one, Sloane’s friends and classmates either kill themselves or get shipped off to The Program. It is only a matter of time before Sloane succumbs to one fate or the other.

This story reminds me of the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Of course, the memory erasing in this novel is involuntary. And quite chilling.

Though the concept isn’t very original, I did enjoy this novel. It’s hard not to like Sloane. I really wanted to know what happened to her. Of course, I’ll have to read the next book in the series to find out what happened to her.


Return to Oakpine

by Ron Carlson

Oakpine, Wyoming. 1999. Jimmy Brand has returned to his hometown after leaving 30 years ago. He has come home to die.

Jimmy finds that not much has changed in Oakpine. In fact, the gang’s all here: Frank Gunderson owns a bar, Craig Ralston owns the hardware store, and Mason Kirby is fixing up his parents’ house to sell. He also makes some new friends in town: Craig’s son, Larry, and Larry’s friend, Wendy. As Jimmy’s health fails, everyone else seems to thrive, even find a new lease on life.

I really enjoyed this quiet novel. It is about life, death, the past, the future, friends, family, and just one more chance to make one’s life right.


The Man in the Wooden Hat

by Jane Gardam

This is book 2 in the trilogy that starts with Old Filth. Unfortunately, Old Filth was not on the shelf at my library.

This is the story of a marriage told from the wife’s point-of-view. Well, actually, it is the wife’s story told in the 3rd person.

Anyway, Eddie “Old Filth” Feathers cannot wait to marry Betty Macintosh. Having met in Hong Kong, they find that they share similar pasts, i.e.: childhoods in the Far East.

Feathers feels most fortunate to have nabbed Betty. But Betty? Even up to her wedding day, she’s not so sure. And the way that she feels on that day will haunt her for the rest of her marriage. Betty wants more: a beautiful home, a bunch of children, and an adoring husband. Feathers doesn’t give her that, though he really does adore her. Mostly, he’s too busy with his work to spend time pleasing Betty. And you know what happens when a wife is neglected. . .

I liked this novel a lot. It’s not too long or unnecessarily wordy. It’s full of humor (and a little heartache). I’m looking forward to reading Old Filth so that I may read Eddie’s side of the story.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

by Marie-Helene Bertino

I really wanted to love this novel. But I didn’t.

In a nutshell, there are three stories being told and three main characters:

• Madeleine Altimari: a foul-mouthed 9-year-old, whose mother died last year. All this kid wants to do is sing,
• Sarina Greene: Madeleine’s 5th grade teacher. She moved back to Philly after her divorce and has just run into her old flame, Ben, and
• Lorca: the owner of The Cat’s Pajamas, a jazz club. Unless he can come up with thirty grand, his club will close forever.

All three characters and their storylines converge at 2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas.

I loved Madeleine and Sarina, but just could not get into Lorca and his jazz club. Boring. Madeleine and Sarina are charming and sympathetic characters, but they’re not the whole story. Unfortunately. Perhaps both characters would be better served in a collection of short stories.


An Age of License: A Travelogue

by Lucy Knisley

From the author of Relish comes another delightful graphic novel. In this volume, Knisley recalls her trip to Europe in 2011.

Her voyage to Norway starts out as work-related, but it expands into a larger trip to Europe, which includes love, friendship, and learning how to grow up. In her travels, Knisley visits the following countries:

• Norway, for a comics fest,
• Sweden, for a boyfriend/fling,
• Germany, to visit friends whose wedding she missed, and
• France, to hang out with friends and family.

Cute, fun, nothing too deep.


The Furies

by Natalie Haynes

Alex Morris has left London to escape the pain. The pain of a murdered fiancé.

She starts over in Edinburgh, thanks to an old friend. In London, she was an up-and-coming director of plays; in Scotland, she teaches drama to troubled students. It’s a struggle for Alex because she really is hurting. But one day, the kids finally get it. They are participating, interacting, and thinking. Great, right?

There’s just one thing: they’re getting into those Greek tragedies just a little too much. All of the murder and vengeance in the plays is way too appealing to these kids. Has Alex gotten in over her head?

Though this is a page-turner, I cannot say that the writing is all that great. The students are sort of interchangeable, and Alex is not the most appealing protagonist. Still, a good read for someone at home with the flu.


A Sense of Entitlement

by  Anna Loan-Wilsey

Meet amateur sleuth, Hattie Davish, whose occupation appears to be typist. When her job takes her to Newport, Rhode Island, she looks forward to a bit of vacation. But that is not to be. . .

Hattie’s usual typing gig is cut short, and she is forced to find other work. Enter Charlotte Mayhew, a wealthy social climber in need of a social secretary. When a prominent citizen of Newport is murdered, Mrs. Mayhew asks Hattie to investigate, but only because Mrs. Mayhew wants to be in the know.

Strange. This is the third entry in a series. I was hoping for better, mostly because the setting sounded good. No such luck.


Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

by Box Brown

It’s a graphic novel! It’s a biography of Andre the Giant!

For anyone who watched him wrestle on television, this graphic novel is a neat look into the life of Andre Roussimof. Made fun of because of his size, Andre struck gold with the world of professional wrestling. Wrestling was an activity and profession that celebrated and rewarded him for his size.

There’s not much to this biography, but I felt that I learned a little bit about the gentle giant who won so many hearts on television and in film (The Princess Bride). I do think that the graphic novel is an excellent medium for a biography of this sort.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Spirit of Steamboat

by Craig Johnson

It is Christmas Eve, and Sheriff Walt Longmire is engaging in an annual ritual: reading A Christmas Carol. A visitor arrives at his office, a ghost of Christmas past, of sorts. Longmire is transported back in time, back to December 24, 1988. . .

On that fateful Christmas Eve, Walt is faced with a challenge: transporting a young burn victim to Denver. With a winter storm upon Wyoming, the helicopter that got her to Durant just won’t make the trip to Colorado.

With the help of Lucian Connally and an old B-25, Longmire travels to Denver. The trip is risky and complicated, both in terms of medicine and aviation. Both Longmire and Lucian are tested.

This is a darn good novella from Mr. Johnson. I always enjoy when he tells stories of Walt’s past, and this one does not disappoint. A great last read of 2014!


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Forty Days Without Shadow: An Arctic Thriller

by Olivier Truc

After 40 days without sunlight in the Arctic, detectives Klemet Nango and Nina Nansen have a case on their hands: theft and murder. The two crimes are separate, but the experienced officer and his newbie partner instantly suspect that the two crimes are connected.

What follows is their investigation into the death of a local reindeer herder and the theft of a priceless artifact, a drum, from the local museum.

But there is so much more to this story. It takes place in Lapland, and the region’s indigenous people and their customs are explored. Also examined is the political culture of the land, as well as the unusual system of law enforcement.

On top of all of that, a treasure hunt gets underway, in which men, native and foreign, search for gold.

There’s a lot to absorb in this Arctic thriller/mystery, but it is well worth your time. The protagonists, Klemet and Nina, are very likable, and the setting is really fascinating.

A great read in the cold winter weather!


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gingerbread Cookie Murder

by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier

In this trio of Christmas mysteries, gingerbread cookies play a supporting role.

In Fluke's Gingerbread Cookie Murder, Hannah Swensen finds the dead body of a neighbor and remains of the gingerbread cookies that she baked for him.

Levine's The Dangers of Gingerbread Cookies takes Jaine Austen to her parents' condo in Florida. It is there that a local theater production features a gingerbread man and murder.

Meier's Gingerbread Cookies and Gunshots focuses on the kidnapping of a young boy, Nemo Anderson. It is up to sleuth Lucy Stone to find Nemo and return him to his mother.

I enjoyed reading Levine's Jaine Austen mystery. It was humorous, and I'd definitely read another one. I've never read a mystery by Leslie Meier before this one. It left me flat. Lucy Stone is a Debbie Downer of sorts and not very likable.

All in all, this was a nice holiday read.


Candy Cane Murder

by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier

Candy canes take center stage in this collection of three holiday mysteries:

•Fluke's Hannah Swensen follows a trail of candy canes to the dead body of a rich business owner playing Santa,
•Laura Levine has Jaine Austen investigating the case of deadly candy cane roof decorations, and
•Finally, Lucy Stone recalls her first Christmas in Tinker's Cove and the unsolved murder of a judge's wife.

Reading this collection along with Gingerbread Cookie Murder was interesting. I definitely liked the Fluke and Levine gingerbread stories more than the candy cane stories. However, Meier's story in this collection is far better than her gingerbread story.

Again, it was just fun to read some Christmas stories during the holiday season.


The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café

by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe is back and has a most interesting case on her hands: a woman who does not know her own identity. Additionally, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni needs to make staffing changes at his garage, and Grace Makutsi has decided to open a restaurant.

Never a dull moment in Gaborone!

This is as sweet and gentle as all of the other books in this series.  


The Magician's Land

by Lev Grossman

First, Quentin Coldwater was a magician-in-training. Next, he was king, a magician king. Now, he's down-and-out and looking to make a little cash.

After being ejected from Fillory and fired by Brakebills, Quentin desperately needs to find his place in the world. An invitation to a bookstore, an opportunity to thieve, and tests of Quentin's true abilities will lead him back to Fillory, now a dying land.

Is Quentin still a decent magician? Can Fillory be saved? Can Quentin save it?

All will be revealed in due course, dear Reader.


The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners

by Sarah-Kate Lynch

As the subtitle states, this sweet novel concerns itself with honey, love, manners, and, sigh, New York City.

It all begins the day that Ms. Sugar Wallace moves to her new apartment in Alphabet City. By chance, she meets two gentlemen that day: George and Theo. George is an older gent, who becomes a great friend to Sugar. And Theo? The moment he meets Sugar is a moment of great chemistry.

Can the beekeeper from Charleston open her heart to a kooky Scotsman? Can Sugar's bees do more than make honey? Can the little apartment building in Alphabet City resist the charms of Southern Sugar?

Read and find out!

This novel is utterly charming and sweeter than honey.



by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

This is the tale of two college roommates: Genevra "Ev" Winslow and Mabel Dagmar. Ev has everything: looks, money, and a family of blue bloods. Mabel has nothing: a family just scraping by, a college scholarship, and some unwanted pounds.

Things change for both women when Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer with her. Ev has her own cottage, Bittersweet, on the family's Vermont estate.

Mabel easily enjoys the high life and is intrigued by the family and its history. Unfortunately, this family has some secrets and unearthing them could be dangerous.

This is a great page-turner/beach read, though I figured out one of the family secrets early in the novel. Entertaining nonetheless.


Small Blessings

by Martha Woodroof

Rose Callahan. What was life like before she came to campus to manage the bookstore? Whose life wasn't improved by her arrival?

Tom Putnam cannot even explain Rose's magic. Rose's connections with other people are indescribable. One minute, Tom's wife is the most fragile being on Earth; the next minute, she's inviting Rose to join them for dinner.

It is inevitable that Rose and Tom will connect. He is the kindest, most loyal man on campus. She brings people together. They seem destined to meet.

I won't reveal any more plot points, as I wouldn't dare spoil this novel for anyone. Full of warmth, kindness, and some super-crazy plot twists, Small Blessings is the best novel I've read in 2014. And that's no small blessing!


Lizzy & Jane

by Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane are sisters. And, yes, they were named after those sisters in Pride and Prejudice.

Lizzy (now Elizabeth) is a successful and single chef in NYC. She loves cooking, but seems to have lost her way. . .

Jane is the elder sister, married with kids in Seattle. She is currently battling cancer, a battle lost by the girls' mother so many years ago.

Jane's health and Elizabeth's professional slump draw Elizabeth to Seattle. She travels there to help her sister and finds help with her career while there.

This is a great story about sisters and food. After I finished reading this, I noticed that it's published by a Christian publisher. There was a little God stuff in there, but not enough to be off-putting.


Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"

by Lena Dunham

If I were in charge of giving this book a title, I would call it Lena Dunham's Sex Book.

Enough said?

Seriously, I enjoy Girls, but I do not enjoy Dunham's extreme self-absorption. Nor do I care to read about her sexual exploits.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Dunham has no business writing a book. Stick to television, kid.


I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting

by Rebecca Harrington

Harrington isn't just spoofing stunt journalism in this short, yet humorous book; she is also spoofing celebrities and their kooky so-called diets.

Anyway, Harrington tries all kinds of weird celeb diets, including those of obvious choices--Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham. But she also follows the eating regimes of other stars: Karl Lagerfeld, Greta Garbo, and even Elizabeth Taylor.

Of course, in all cases, hilarity ensues. And even a little weight is lost sometimes.

I'm not sure who the target audience is for this book, since it makes fun of dieting and people who follow celebrity diets. Kind of a niche audience, don't you think?


Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits

by Mary Jane Hathaway

What happens when you mix Jane Austen, the Civil War, and academia? You get the first novel in a series: Jane Austen Takes the South.

Briefly: Shelby Roswell is a Civil War historian with tenure on her mind. She's young and ambitious and just encountered her first obstacle--a bad review of her new book.

The famous historian who panned Shelby's book is none other than Ransom Fielding, the historian headed to Shelby's college for his sabbatical. Will he find peace when Shelby's still hoppin' mad about that book review?

A series of misunderstandings and the usual elements of pride and prejudice ensue.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. The basic premise is fine; the execution is not. I didn't realize it at the time, but it appears that I chose a Christian fiction book to read. The author's "Christian" elements are awkward and unnecessary. The story would be just fine without them.

It was a quick read and a different twist on Austen, but I just kept wishing that the writing had been better.


Charlie Glass's Slippers: A Very Modern Fairy Tale

by Holly McQueen

Charlotte "Charlie" Glass is at loose ends: the father for whom she has been "carer" for years has died. What will she do now?

Well, the reading of her father's will points Charlie in a new direction--shoes. You see, Charlie's father was iconic shoe designer Elroy Glass, and she has just inherited his empire.

But what does Charlie know about fashion? Fat and frumpy, Charlie decides that she must glam up in order to succeed in the shoe/fashion industry.

Drastic weight loss, countless beauty treatments, and full devotion to shoes change Charlie's outlook. And others finally notice Charlie. But is this what she really wants?

It's a Cinderella story complete with evil stepmother, horrid stepsisters, and, of course, a business named Glass Slippers. Chick lit + fairy tale twist = good, frothy fun!


Wait for Signs

by Craig Johnson

Twelve short stories provide fans of Sheriff Longmire with a glimpse at his off-duty life. Readers are also given a peek at Walt's life before it was chronicled in the series of novels.

Some of the stories are fun and/or funny, and some of them contain an element of suspense.

I was impressed with Old Indian Trick, Toys for Tots, and Messenger. I enjoyed being able to read a Longmire story without investing a lot of time.

I should also add that I really liked the introduction written by Lou Diamond Phillips. I often think that he is the best part of the Longmire television series.


Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

by Maya Van Wagenen

Who: Eighth grader Maya Van Wagenen
What: Determined to discover the secret to popularity, Maya follows the advice of a guide written in the 1950s
Where: Brownsville, Texas
When: 2012
Why: A combination of stunt journalism (she loves to write) and the sincere desire to rise in popularity
How: For her eighth grade school year, Maya chooses a different chapter to follow for each month

What does it mean to be popular? Can one change one's popularity status? Can the advice of a model from the fifties change the life of an unpopular eighth grader in 2012?

Read and find out!

This is a cute, yet predictable read. I've already read this same story in two adult novels--Elegance and The Thing About Miss Spring.



by Raina Telgemeier

A graphic novel for young people, Smile tells the story of the author's dental woes.

Just as sixth-grader Raina is preparing to get braces, she falls and knocks out her two front teeth. All of a sudden, braces seem like mere child's play.

Countless appointments with dentists and 'dontists, coupled with the trials and tribulations of adolescence, take a toll on Raina. It's not easy to add all of that tooth-related pain to the pain of growing up.

This is a nice story with cute illustrations, but with all of the hype, I expected a little more from Smile


The Year We Left Home

by Jean Thompson

Meet the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa:

•Anita, the eldest daughter: the pretty girl whose only ambition is to get married and raise her children in her hometown,
•Ryan, her restless brother: he wants nothing more than to leave his family and Iowa,
•Torrie, the youngest: the daughter who doesn't fit in, and
•Cousin Chip: damaged by the war, he is a man without direction.

Witness the Ericksons and their journeys from 1973, the year Anita marries, to 2003, the year Ryan does right by Cousin Chip. Watch them struggle, watch them grow, take them into your heart, and wish that this book were about 200 pages longer.

Told in the form of stories, rather than one continuous narrative, The Year We Left Home is an amazing journey into America's heartland and the folks who make it so.

I loved Thompson's portrayal of Iowa, Iowans, and more specifically, Iowans of Norwegian heritage. I found myself reading passages aloud to my husband and marveling at the author's ability to capture the essence of people. As my husband said, "She really gets it. She gets Iowa."

Simply wonderful!


The Moment of Everything

by Shelly King

Oh, how I wanted to love this book, based on the cover alone! Alas, the cover is just that: a cover. It is a charming. It is cute. But it is just a cover.

Briefly: Maggie Dupres get laid off from her latest Silicon Valley start-up. As she waits for the next Big Thing to come along, her BFF, Dizzy, ropes her into a book group. The group is headed by a businesswoman with great connections, so Maggie consents. Now, she just needs to obtain a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

This is where the used bookstore and the book full of correspondence between a man and a woman come into the picture.

And then the story falls apart. The author could have made the novel great, if only she had stuck to what appears to be the original idea for the novel's plot.

Instead, the story is all over the place. It's about Maggie looking for a job, it's about the characters who work at the used bookstore, it's about the friends of the characters at the bookstore, it's about the love notes written in Maggie's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, it's about Maggie's mama wanting Maggie to move back home to the South, etc.

In my opinion, the author lost her focus and probably lost some readers along the way. I was really disappointed with this novel.


The Orphans of Race Point

by Patry Francis

Provincetown, MA sets the stage for the relationship between two orphans, Hallie Costa and Gus Silva. Hallie is being raised by her father, Nick, the town doctor. She lives in the shadow of her dead mother. Gus has just lost his mother to his father's violent temper, and he is, at the age of nine, without a mother (dead) and father (prison).

The two are drawn to each other--Hallie seeking to comfort Gus and Gus seeking the comfort and normalcy of Hallie's little family. What follows is a love story between Hallie and Gus and much, much more. Acts of violence, deception, and betrayal will change their relationship and force Hallie to question her undying loyalty to Gus.

The beginning of this story is amazing--the 9-year-olds in pain, who find friendship and eventually love. Then the author throws in this completely awkward and unbelievable plot twist. The novel never recovers from it.


Cum Laude

by Cecily von Ziegesar

Though our story takes place in 1992, this novel was published in 2010. This may explain the puzzling references to Starbucks, which are completely out of place.

Anyway, the year is 1992, and a new class has entered the hallowed halls of Dexter College. Dexter is a small liberal arts college in rural Maine.

Our main character is Shipley, a blond and beautiful coed. All of the other characters and plots revolve around her. Along the way, we meet her roommate, her boyfriend, and even her long-lost brother. Needless to say, Shipley's first semester of college is a little more exciting than it needs to be.

What can I say? Thank goodness that the action takes place only over the course of a semester. The writing is not good. The characters, for the most part, are unlikable. The action taking place is pretty improbable.

In short, this is a really poor effort form the author of the Gossip Girl series.


The Secret of the Mansion

by Julie Campbell

I remember reading my sister Mary's paperback copy of this novel a long time ago. I read it several times, but I never moved on to the second mystery in the series. When I saw it at the library, I could not resist rereading it.

This novel introduces readers to Trixie Belden, the spunky 13-year-old from Sleepyside, NY. She lives on a farm with her parents and three brothers.

Our story begins in the summer. Trixie's two older brothers have gone away to camp to work as counselors. As she dreads another day of gardening with her mother and babysitting her younger brother, something wonderful happens: neighbors!

Trixie's new neighbor, Honey Wheeler, is everything that Trixie is not: pale, frail, and perpetually frightened. But Trixie is thrilled to have someone her own age around, so she does everything she can to befriend the new girl.

They become fast friends, and the bond strengthens with their first mystery.

Briefly: the miserly old neighbor, Mr. Frayne, collapses and is taken to the hospital. Honey reports seeing a face in Mr. Frayne's window. What follows is the tale of a sad widower and the equally sad tale of his heir.

This is a cute story. Trixie is very wholesome and adventurous. I think I like her because, unlike Nancy Drew, she is a bit of a tomboy. She's fun. I enjoyed this so much that I'm going to look for more books to read in the series.


The Rosie Effect

by Graeme Simsion

Rosie and Don are back and now living in NYC. Don is working for Columbia, and Rosie is continuing her MD and PhD studies. The exciting news? Rosie is pregnant. But how exciting is this news? Can Don be a good father? Can he even be a reasonably normal father?

These questions lead to the main plot of this novel: a series of misunderstandings and mishaps that occur as Don researches the topic of fatherhood.

Don't get me wrong: there are cute and funny moments in this novel. But it lacks the sparkle and charm of The Rosie Project. The author really should have retired his characters after their debut novel. I would rather remember them in that context and only that context.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

by Paula Danziger

Ah, yet another classic YA novel from my childhood!

Marcy Lewis hates her life. She hates her body (she’s fat). She hates school, especially her gym class. And she hates her parents: her father is a tyrant straight out of the 1950s, and her mother seeks solace in tranquilizers.

Marcy’s attitude towards school (and everything else) changes with the arrival of Ms. Finney. Ms. Finney is her new, young, hip 9th grade English teacher. She’s big on communication and not just the kind covered in English class. Marcy and her classmates experience getting in touch with their feelings with Ms. Finney. Marcy thrives on the experience, becoming more confident and open with others.

Clearly, the good times are not meant to last. Ms. Finney is way too radical for the school (and the times). When her job is jeopardized, meek Marcy Lewis finds the strength to rally the students and her mother ‘round Ms. Finney’s cause. She finds the courage that has long eluded her, and this is no small victory for Marcy.

I read this novel dozens of times back in the day. I still like it, though Marcy’s parents are caricatures from days gone by. Marcy’s insecurities are real, and her experiences and feelings are knowable. It may be dated, but the message of this novel is not. It was worth rereading.