Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New for June

 Check out the catalog www.ipac.hclibrary.us and place your holds now for these titles coming in June...

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

Forty years ago, four-year-old Janey Woodham was playing with her sister Lissie in their front yard and disappeared when Lissie’s attention was distracted by a puppy.  Also gone was the custom doll Janey’s mother made for the girl using Janey’s own hair.  Every year on the anniversary of Janey’s disappearance, Miss Sorrel, their mother, places an ad in the local paper offering a reward for the return of Janey’s doll, hoping that it will lead to finding Janey or at least learning what happened to her.  Lissie returned to live with Miss Sorrell many years ago, bringing along her now college age daughter, constantly haunted by her inattentiveness that day.  Now, a young woman has brought a doll that Miss Sorrell is certain is Janey’s but before Miss Sorrel can verify the doll, the young woman disappears, Miss Sorrell and Lissie are seriously injured in a home accident and most of Miss Sorrell’s prized doll collection is stolen.  Certain that they are close to the truth of what happened to Janey, Lissie tumbles down a rabbit hole looking for information leading to the answers of her sister’s whereabouts, but finds much more than she bargained for, something far sinister and life altering than she ever imagined.

Fateful Mornings by Tom Bouman
Spring has finally arrived in Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania but there is no rest for Officer Henry Farrell.  Kevin O’Keeffe comes to Henry hoping Henry can help find Kevin’s girlfriend Penny who has disappeared.  Kevin admits to other crimes but swears he didn’t harm Penny.  Henry’s search takes him into New York State and he finds himself following a trail of crimes, some petty, some not so petty, and heroin, all of which lead back to, or near to, Kevin.  Henry is an exceptionally nuanced, flawed, and surprising character with a passion for traditional fiddle music and another man’s wife.  The prose that describes the setting is clean and crisp making this part of the Rust Belt seem like it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  There is no urgency to the narrative, but rather a slow and steady pace that leads to many unexpected “huh” and “aha” moments as all the story threads are neatly tied up.  An exceptional sequel for this Edgar award winner.

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder
Sister and brother Alice and Paul are loathe to attend their half-sister Eloise’s over-the-top, slightly pretentious wedding in London; Alice, who has made living productively on Klonopin an art, is dating her married boss, and still grieves a miscarriage almost a decade later, insists that she and Paul must attend the wedding.  Paul, a counselor at a clinic where questionable practices (such as having a germ-o-phobe stand inside a trash pail to help overcome her anxiety), is increasingly unhappy with his boyfriend who has been lobbying Paul to invite a third man into their bedroom, flatly refuses to attend the wedding: he hates Eloise, and hasn’t spoken to his mother Donna since she erased all traces of Paul and Alice’s father after his death two years ago.  Alice prevails and the pair finds themselves on the other side of the Atlantic, dysfunctional as ever.  Yet something happens to each of them while they are there: Paul speaks up and stands up for himself with his boyfriend and Alice takes a long hard look at where her life has been and what new options she may have.  Donna, still in love with the idea of her first husband, Eloise’s father, is mostly impervious to the angst in her younger children’s lives.  This delightful, raucous, bordering on raunchy sometimes, novel is like a guilty pleasure as readers imagine, perhaps even recall, their own dramas and “the people we hate” at their own weddings.  A tender ending is a reminder that above all, hope and love continue to abide.

The Child by Fiona Barton
When the skeleton of a baby is found at a London construction site, three women, whose lives would have likely never otherwise crossed, are brought together as each, for her own reasons, tries to determine who the child is with irrevocable results for each.  Kate is a print journalist who watches her colleagues lose their jobs as online media takes over and wonders when it will happen to her; Kate sees a snippet about the baby and becomes convinced finding out who the child is could be the story of a lifetime.  Emma is happily married but with a secret in her past, sees the same bit and knows who the baby is because she buried a baby in that spot years ago.  Angela has been mourning her daughter who was kidnapped from the hospital the day she was born and is certain the baby is hers; a DNA test proves that it is, but how can it be as the infant is wrapped in a newspaper dated in the 1980’s and Alice was born in the 1970’s.  As inconsistencies and contradictions begin to pile up, Kate, Emma, and Angela dig further into the past and find life changing, but heart breaking, answers.

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly
Laura and Kit met in university and have been chasing eclipses together ever since.  During one fateful trip to Cornwall, Laura stumbles on a young woman who, in Laura’s opinion, is being raped. While Laura stays to help Beth, Kit chases her attacker, Jamie, who is captured but maintains the sex, while rough looking, was consensual.  Laura and Beth reconnect after the trial and Beth insinuates herself into Kit and Laura’s life.  When things get out of hand, Laura and Kit vanish from Beth’s view, removing every trace of themselves from the world as they are able, marry, and live under assumed names.  Now pregnant with twins, Laura’s anxiety levels build as Kit prepares to head north of Scotland to the Faroe Islands to see a total eclipse, setting in motion a chain of events that will not only change everything for everyone but will change everyone’s perspective of the events that have occurred.  Cleverly framed against the phases of an eclipse, this story will keep readers guessing until the very end and will provide much for lively book group discussions.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
Thirty-year old Lydia lives a quiet life, one she curated for herself, working as a bookseller, spending her days among the books she loves, co-workers who are as accepting as they are offbeat, and the BookFrogs, regulars at the bookstore who have found a niche of their own at Bright Ideas.  Lydia is horrified when one of the youngest BookFrogs, Joey Molina, hangs himself on the upper level of the store.  Lydia then finds herself heir to his few possessions and books, remainders and reminders of Joey’s life.  Lydia is very disturbed as she flips through the page of Joey’s books and sees that they have been defaced, but in a way meant to leave Lydia a message.  As Joey’s clues reveal a strange and disturbing tail, Lydia finds herself reliving the terror in her younger self when she was the sole survivor of the Hammerman who brutally murdered her friend Carole and Carole’s parents while Lydia hid under the sink.  As players from this time begin to reappear in Lydia’s life: the detective who never solved the case, her eccentric and anti-social father, her childhood friend Raj, Lydia begins to see a different picture of what occurred that night and how Joey is connected to it.  This riveting debut is as clever as it is diabolical and will appeal to readers to enjoy a good puzzle along with interesting characters, and a strong plot.  

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Just Jennifer

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor
Shaka Senghor is a member of Oprah’s Super Soul 100, a group of 100 leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity (website).  He is also a convicted murderer who plead guilty to second-degree murder and served nineteen years in prison, seven of those years in solitary confinement.  Senghor grew up in a neighborhood on Detroit’s east side during the 1980’s.  He was a good student who had good grades and ambitions, wanting to become a doctor.  Just before he became a teenager, his parents’ marriage dissolved and the abuse from his mother increased; Senghor ran away from home and began dealing and taking drugs to stay alive, and was shot three times on a street corner in his neighborhood, but no one offered him any help or any hope.  By age nineteen, he was imprisoned for murder, angry with himself and his world, both of which had let him down.  In prison, after becoming the “worst of the worst” Senghor spent time in solitary confinement, but something unexpected happened there: after a letter from his young son, he rediscovered his passion for learning and his gift for journaling and storytelling and most of all: Hope.  He read everything he could from the prison library, began meditating and journaling to learn more about himself and to learn to forgive himself, and ask the same of others, for the wrongs he had committed.  Upon his release from prison, not quite forty-years-old, Senghor vowed to continue his work of self-discovery and became an activist, writer and speaker to help mentor young men and women who might find themselves in similar situations to his own, and help them find a different way out.  Senghor’s story is not an easy one to read about, but there is something in his story that offers hope for his future and for the future of others in this raw and honest memoir.  Senghor is a Fellow at the MIT Media Lab and Kellogg Foundation and has spoken at TED.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Cookbooks for the Spring

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg
Joshua McFadden, the former chef de cuisine at Franny’s in Brooklyn, has relocated to Portland, Oregon where he is the chef at Ava Gene’s and taking full advantage of all the vegetables available to him.  Subdividing summer into three season, early, mid-, and late, McFadden takes vegetables most typical of that micro-season and finds new and inventive things to do with them.  Potatoes make two appearances, early and late, as do beets, carrots, turnips, and onions each with completely different results.  Go to recipes include the typical toasted nuts and seeds, and dried breadcrumbs, but brined and roasted almonds and frico will add another dimension to almost any vegetable.  McFadden provides a chapter “My Larder” which includes his favorite go-to ingredients complete with storage tips though no sourcing.  The recipes in the book range from the typical, English Pea Toast to the more unexpected Raw Brussels Sprouts with Lemon, Anchovy, Walnuts, and Pecorino.  Artichoke Hearts and Asparagus, typically steamed or roasted, star raw in an early season salad.  While some of the dishes include the addition of pasta, grains, or meats, most are vegetarian but hearty enough to be a stand-alone light meal with a loaf of bread.  This cookbook is one that home cooks will find themselves turning to repeatedly.

The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School by Alison Cayne
Alison Cayne founded the Haven’s cooking school in New York City five years ago and has written a book with one hundred recipes and basics that new as well as more seasoned home cooks will be glad to have at their fingertips.  Cayne, the mother of five children, necessitated her to become an efficient, health-conscious, sometimes thrifty home cook.  She has taken those skills and turned it into her vocation, helping other home cooks master the basics and have confidence to go beyond them.  Each chapter not only has step-by-step recipes but focuses on the skills necessary to create them so that home cooks can improvise when ingredients are not readily available.  Toasted Farro with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Tahini Dressing gives a basic recipe but then leaves the three cups of winter vegetables up to the taste of the cook. Brussels Sprout Salad with Parsnip Ribbons or Braised Parsnips with White Wine and Vanilla are simple in technique for any weeknight dinner, but elegant enough to be added to any Thanksgiving table.  The chapter on dressings offers the basic proportions and step-by-step instruction and then some out of the ordinary recipes such as Carrot-Ginger Dressing.  Cayne’s confident tone will not deter readers but fill them with confidence cook their way through the book and then venture out on their own.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

All These Wonders

The Moth Presents: All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown
For 20 years, The Moth Radio Hour has been inviting some of the most creative minds of the time to tell their stories to audiences.  While the tradition of oral storytelling and oral history is paramount to our live and stories, if they are not captured and preserved they can lose or change meaning with each retelling, or worse, be lost to time forever.  Sadly, though, many stories told aloud do not always translate well to the written word.  Not so with this collection.  Mining twenty years and untold number of hours, of podcasts (or their predecessors) forty-five stories are presented here for readers to enjoy and listen to.  As with any diverse audience, each person’s experience will be their own, though reading is often a solitary endeavor and the shared experience of others is missed; however, this collection lends itself to a discussion group whether read in its entirety or each piece used as a springboard for discussion, such as for a Socrates CafĂ©.  Emmy winning actor John Turturro tells a story about a blackout in New York City which becomes a short history of his family and familial love.  Best-selling author Meg Wolitzer describes her time at a summer camp where she meets Martha a woman with whom she still remains friends.  A man faces a kidney transplant, a mother deals with her daughter not only coming out to her but then learning her daughter is also transgender; the mother must now recognize and acknowledge her feelings, her daughter’s feelings, but also how she views her family and even herself as a mother and woman.  A musician muses on his life in foster homes, away from his parents who drank heavily until he meets the one person who changes his life.  First love, favorite childhood toys, or transformative journeys are all contained within these short vignettes, glimpses of an everyday life event that because extra ordinary because we talked about it.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Just Jennifer

The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick

As the Sparrow sisters and their New England coast town of Granite Point slowly heal from recent events, including the near destruction of the Sparrow sisters’ nursery. Sorrel finds herself invited to bring her special gardening gifts to an English country estate where Sir Graham Kirkwood would have her restore a Shakespeare Garden that has lay fallow, perhaps even toxic, for many years.  Graham’s wife Stella is recovering from a serious illness that may have been brought on by her attempts to restore the walled garden.  While Sorrel can feel the grief and sadness emanating from the garden, she does not believe it is cursed.  As Sorrel sets to work learning about the house’s history---much of the story, which is woven into tapestries---she finds an unlikely ally in Graham’s university aged daughter Poppy and in Stella’s brother Andrew, a minister, currently on leave who, like the garden, is filled with sorrow and heartbreak.  Sorrel is determined to heal the garden and bring it back to its former glory, perhaps at the same time helping Andrew to heal, and healing parts of herself that are still broken.  This lush story is filled with history, plant lore, Shakespearean references and English tradition.  The characters are quirky and will quickly become beloved to readers, even with Sorrel’s sisters across the Atlantic, available only through Skype.  Add in the mystery of the tapestry and the “curse” of the garden, this inviting book will draw readers in and have the air filled with the heady scents of the flowers.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Just Jennifer

The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

World War II has taken its toll on Europe and especially on the small Normandy village of Vergers in this familiar yet dependable novel.  The town is occupied by German soldiers and food and supplies are in short supply, yet they are buoyed by the hope and sustenance provided to them by their young village baker.  Emmanuelle, Emma, began her apprenticeship to Ezra Kuchen the village baker at thirteen.  Now twenty-two, she has seen the horrors of war, including Ezra being forced to suffer the indignity of wearing a yellow star and being forced away from his shop at gunpoint, taken away from the village never to be seen or heard from again.  Taking over for her mentor, Emma bakes her baguettes for the soldiers and manages to bake enough bread to share with the villagers and is able to established an underground network allowing for her to trade for the supplies the villagers need to survive until the Allied troops arrive to save them.  Many of the usual World War II are present here, the characters often stereotypical, but overall, Emma’s tenacity and the resilience of her neighbors provides an uplifting look into a small village shortly before the D-Day invasion.

Coming in May

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Fans of Hawkins’s first psychological thriller Girl on the Train have been clamoring for her second novel but many may be disappointed with her sophomore offering.  In a small English town, the river meets residents and visitors whichever way they go.  At one point, the river opens up and forms what is known locally as the Drowning Pool, a place where many women have drowned over the years, local lore claims women accused of being witches were drowned there hundreds of years ago, but this year, the river has claimed the lives of two women: fifteen-year-old Katie Whittaker and now Nel Abbott, the mother of Katie’s best friend, a photographer and author who was writing a history about the secrets of the Drowning Pool, many of the locals angry for her bringing these incidents to light and writing about them with a certain distanced eye.  Nel leaves behind a fifteen-year-old daughter Lena and a sister from whom she had been estranged, Jules, who now returns home to sort through her sister’s affairs and care for the niece whom she has never met.  Nel’s story, and those of the most recently drowned women, unfold through the narratives of over half a dozen characters, most of whom are unreliable and have reason to either wish harm to Nel or even be glad she is gone.  This technique makes it difficult for plot cohesion and for pacing which doesn’t pick up until about three-quarters of the way through the book.  If readers haven’t skipped ahead to the last few chapters in impatience, there is a final twist waiting at the end that will surprise most readers, but the trip to get there can be arduous at times.

It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell
When Aubrey Miller drops her duffle bag in the ivy-covered Whipple Hall at Carlisle College, an Ivy League school in Belle River, New Hampshire, she feels she has finally made it out of Las Vegas and has no intentions of ever turning back.  She loves her roommates, hard-working, focused Jenny Vega who grew up in Belle River, and spoiled Kate Eastman whose family, currently father, have been longtime donors to the college and board members.  The three form an uneasy and unusual friendship until an event during their freshman year binds them even closer together.  Twenty-two years later, the three are back in Belle River: Aubrey, a yoga teacher with two children, is married to a philandering surgeon; Jenny is the mayor of the town, married to another townie who owns a construction company that benefits from the college and Jenny’s connections to the college, and Kate, who is married to Griff, the boy who adored her through college and until recently, had a trust fund of his own.  Before the weekend is over, one of them will be dead, their husband the first blamed, because it’s always the husband…or is it?  Slowly, long kept secrets are revealed, affairs exposed, and financial and marital troubles come to light providing a cast of suspects, in this twisty suspense novel with an ending that isn’t as easy to figure out as it first appears. 

The Heirs by Susan Rieger
After Rupert Falke’s death, his widow Eleanor and their five grown sons are shocked to learn their father may have had a second family.  Harry (an attorney), Will (a Hollywood agent), Sam (a medical researcher in a committed relationship with Andrew), Jack (a musician), and Tom (a federal prosecutor) grew up privileged in Manhattan, their father an orphan from England, and self-made man with a little help from his wife’s Eleanor’s family fortune.  All five boys attended Princeton and made solid lives for themselves.  A letter from Vera Wolinski claiming her two adult sons were also Rupert’s stating that they should share in the man’s inheritance and legacy sets the boys reeling but not Eleanor. She has plenty of money and is willing to share and it doesn’t really matter one way or the other to her whether or not the boys are in fact Rupert’s.  Her sons do not share her sentiments and as they sort through this new twist in their histories each finds himself examining his life and future leading to some difficult and surprising decisions.  At the same time, more of Eleanor’s past is revealed casting doubt on what the reader knows, leaving room for speculation as to what was and what might have been.  

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
Boston newspaper Leah Stevens needed a new start after being accused of fabricating a source; a chance meeting with an old roommate Emmy Grey, also in need of a change, lands Leah and Emmy in a small town in western Pennsylvania, Leah with a fresh teaching certificate and a new outlook.  When a woman, looking eerily like Leah is found left for dead near a lake in the town and Emmy goes missing, Leah’s reporter instincts kick in and she finds herself searching for answers about Emmy, answers she thought she knew until the police are able to not only locate Emmy, but verify she even existed.  Now that the police know about Leah’s past, they being to question her credibility, especially when they find Leah has a connection to the man they have in custody for the attack on the woman by the lake.  Leah knows they only way she can restore her reputation is to find Emmy, but how do you find someone who may have never existed in the first place?  How well do we know our friends, but even more, how well do they know us?  Sometimes, it seems, too much, in this psychological thriller with keenly observed characters.

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
Eighteen years ago, in a small Arizona town, a teenager disappeared.  Jess Winters and her mother Maud had just moved to Sycamore and Jess often took late night walks, always leaving a note for her mother, always returning.  When she does not return one morning, Maud becomes frantic to find her, hoping that Jess ran away, but not believing that Jess would leave and not get some word to her mother that she was safe.  Now, newcomer Laura Drennan who has also moved to Sycamore to recover from her divorce and start a new life finds bones in a dried out crevice, bones that prove to be those of Jess Winters leading to the entire town wondering, what happened to Jess? Was it a tragic accident or murder?  Told in both the past and present, and from multiple points of view, the tale of a sad town emerges, a town full of sad people, but people who stay with hope.  As the story of the last months of Jess’s life in Sycamore are relived and revealed, her story, and those of her friends, becomes sadder, more tragic and senseless.  As the community comes together to learn what happened to Jess, they begin to forgive and to heal.  This debut novel is full of compassion and wisdom and compelling characters, broken and flawed, but not without hope nor the possibility of redemption. 

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
This much different novel from Lehane tells the story of Rachel Childs, whose mother was a best-selling author of a classic relationship book yet has never known her father, something Rachel struggles with, searching for him from time to time; Rachel, a journalist who, while on assignment in Haiti, has a breakdown on air and becomes a reclusive shut in, something that causes her marriage to fall apart.  A series of chance meetings finds Rachel with a second husband who helps her out of her shell and back to the world until another chance meeting makes Rachel question everything she thought she knew about her seemingly perfect husband, drawing her into a web of conspiracy and deception until she no longer knows who to trust.  Rachel knows she must steel herself if she is to learn the truth about her husband and stay alive in the process but must overcome her fears, real and imagined, before it is too late.  Rachel’s story slowly unfolds and readers are lulled into a certain sense of security and comfort until one moment changes everything and they are drawn into Rachel’s world and the fast-paced, high tension chase that ensues.

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan is the mother of two young children and still grieves for the husband who died in a car accident not fifty feet from their home.  Lili has recovered from a mental breakdown and is able to care for her daughters again, and works as a graphic illustrator and still depends on her quirky, often over-sexed sister Rachel for support and backup.  When Lili is asked to illustrate a series of gardening books for the Bloem seed company she agrees, even though it means taking weekly gardening classes at a local botanical garden.  Encouraged to bring her daughters and sister, Lili arrives and finds an odd assortment of gardeners, all there for different reasons; as the group plans, plants, and tends to their gardens, they begin to form an unusual friendship and begin tending to each other.  Lili predictably finds love with the instructor Edward Bloem, but continues to hold him at arms’ length until she knows her own heart.  This tried and true plot is anything but boring as Waxman keeps the wry observations coming from the most unlikely places, often Lili’s five-year-and seven-year-old daughters, wise and mature beyond their years.  This heartfelt and often humorous story will win many fans for debut author Waxman. 

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
The daughter of two attorneys, Alexandria thought she knew she was firmly against the death penalty until her first summer job at a law firm in Louisiana where she watches a video of convicted child molester and murderer Ricky Langley.  Alexandria has such a visceral reaction to this man, and wanting him to die for his crimes, she begins to question everything she believes and starts to dig more into not only Langley’s case but into his past.  As Alexandria starts to learn more about Langley, a familiar cord is struck. There are no direct parallels to how the two grown up, or so she thinks, there is something that feels very familiar to Alexandria; she finds herself comparing Langley’s childhood with her own and learns family secrets that had long been kept from Alexandria and her siblings, some secrets Alexandria even kept from herself.    As Alexandria begins to face her own past and learns more about the narrative of Langley’s case as it has evolved, she learns more about herself, forgiveness, and the will of the human spirit to triumph even amidst the bleakest of circumstances. 

The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal
After the death of her husband, Julia Alden never thought she would find love again; when she finds it with divorced American obstetrician James Fuller she is more surprised than anyone.  Neither willing to commit to remarriage at this time, James, along with his teenage son Nathan, moves in with Julia and her teenage daughter Gwen.  Gwen and Nathan appear to hate each other and the new adults in their lives and Julia is at her wits end to figure out how to make a go of her new relationship and her new family.  In addition, Julia’s former in-laws, also involved in a tense relationship are still a large part of hers and Gwen’s lives and then there is James’s ex-wife who flits in and out of their lives.  As Gwen and Nathan’s hormones take over the new family’s life turns on end in a predictable twist with predictable outcomes.  What is not predictable however, is the ease and grace with which the story is told and the characters portrayed and laid out.  Segal doesn’t let anyone off with an easy answer or solution, but allows the family to work their problems out with love and humor.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
If ever there was a heroine readers wanted to cheer for, it is Eleanor Oliphant.  Eleanor is an office worker in Scotland who is very strident and has her life scheduled to perfection: Wednesday nights are her weekly chat with Mummy, Friday nights are vodka and pizza from town.  Eleanor has awkward social skills and an often bad habit of saying exactly what is on her mind, being very precise in her observations.  While Eleanor feels all this is perfectly normal for her, she has no friends and still bears the scars, physically and mentally, of a fire she was in and subsequent time in the foster care system.  When her company hires a new IT man, Raymond, and Eleanor’s path begins to cross his, her life begins to change in subtle ways.  When the two rescue Sammy, an elderly man who has fallen in town, they become bound even closer and Raymond, who is unkempt and awkward in his own way, but much less regimented, sees something in Eleanor and becomes determined to be her friend.  Along the way, Eleanor begins to become more a part of everyday life and finally faces the truths and a past that have damaged her and kept her from having relationships and perhaps, a happier life.  

Just Jennifer

Death at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon

This first in a new mystery series finds former private school head and recently widowed Maggie Detweiler and her friend Hope Babbin on their way to the Oquossoc Mountain in for a weeklong cooking class in Bergen, Maine, where Hope’s son Buster, a former student of Maggie’s is the deputy sheriff.  The Inn is lovely, as are the owner and his staff, but one particular guest, Alex Antippas, is so odious his mere presence threatens to ruin the week for everyone.  While death is always a shock, no one is surprised when it is learned Alex was murdered in his room.  The women are surprised to learn the local police are focused on the Inn’s recently fired receptionist Cherry Weaver as their suspect.  Maggie and Hope disagree and push Buster into investigating further, helping it along with their own theories and observations.  While the storyline has a lot of potential, the characters feel a little stiff and very similar to one another at times and there are a few too many coincidences and loose ends left, loose ends that are not likely to be tied up in a future entry to the series.  An intriguing set up at the end provides the clues to Maggie and Hope’s next adventure and Gutcheon’s prose is lovely as she describes Maine in the early autumn. Readers are likely to be curious enough to return to the next installment.  One word of caution:  while the book by all appearances is a traditional cozy, a genre that generally lacks strong language, the f-word is used, while judiciously and in-character, several times by the most unpleasant Mr. Antipass.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just Jennifer

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

Almost immediately out of college, Jess Martin had a best-selling novel, but has been struggling with a follow-up ever since.  His wife Clare is also a would-be writer but has taken a job as a copy editor to pay the bills and support the couple’s Brooklyn lifestyle while Jess continues to write.  Nearly out of money and options, the couple decides to move to the Hudson Valley where surely life will cost less money.  The only situation they are able to afford, however, is as caretakers for the rundown home, River House, known locally thanks to some graffiti as Riven House, of an almost reclusive author, Alden Montague, who was a former mentor to both Jess and Clare.  At first, the situation seems almost too good to be true: Jess is writing again, and it looks as if the young couple will be able to get back on their feet financially and get their marriage back on track.  Soon, though, the dark, oddly octagonal house with hidden rooms and passages begins to show its true self and the abandoned rooms begin to give up their secrets including ghostly figures and crying babies all tied to long ago family secrets.  As Clare slowly begins her descent into darkness, she is certain she is being haunted, but can’t understand why no one believes her.  This creepy, dark, twisty novel is full of all kinds of gothic goodness as secrets are revealed and Clare’s madness turns to clarity.  A modern day read for Mary Stewart and Shirley Jackson fans.

Just Jennifer

Pretend I’m Not Here by Barbara Feinman Todd

When Barbara Feinman Todd began her career in journalism in 1982 as a copy assistant at The Washington Post journalism---and politics---was a much different animal than it is today.  Todd thrived on the newsroom atmosphere, which in those days included the smell of ink, newsprint, and cigarettes, the clatter of typewriters and news feeds, and people shouting and running in an out, an energy not found in most modern newsrooms.  After working for Bob Woodword at the Post, Todd continued as his researcher for his book Veil and inadvertently fell into a career ghosting for big politico names such as Ben Bradlee, Carl Bernstien, and Hillary Clinton though she was rarely given credit for her assistance, particularly in the case of Mrs. Clinton, a slight which led to a series of events and revelations that became public in Woodword’s book detailing the Clinton White House.  Used to being in the shadows and behind the scenes, Todd’s memoir often reads like a tell-all about the closed door politics in not only the news world but in the White House and Capitol.  Heavily involved in journalism at Georgetown (where Feinman Todd is the founding Journalism Director) and the Pearl Project, having co-authored an eBook on fellow journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder, Feinman Todd’s story, at times, has a bit of a “poor me” tone, though in the end she owns up and admits she made her own choices and those choices led her to where she is today, even though the path may not have been as exciting as she would have liked it to have been.

The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
World War II has taken its toll on Europe and especially on the small Normandy village of Vergers in this familiar yet dependable novel.  The town is occupied by German soldiers and food and supplies are in short supply, yet they are buoyed by the hope and sustenance provided to them by their young village baker.  Emmanuelle, Emma, began her apprenticeship to Ezra Kuchen the village baker at thirteen.  Now twenty-two, she has seen the horrors of war, including Ezra being forced to suffer the indignity of wearing a yellow star and being forced away from his shop at gunpoint, taken away from the village never to be seen or heard from again.  Taking over for her mentor, Emma bakes her baguettes for the soldiers and manages to bake enough bread to share with the villagers and is able to established an underground network allowing for her to trade for the supplies the villagers need to survive until the Allied troops arrive to save them.  Many of the usual World War II are present here, the characters often stereotypical, but overall, Emma’s tenacity and the resilience of her neighbors provides an uplifting look into a small village shortly before the D-Day invasion.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Coming in April

Coming in April...

Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton
American Delaney Nichols has settled into her new role as a bookseller’s assistant at the Cracked Spine, a bookshop specializing in rare books and ephemera in Edinburgh.  Her current task is to retrieve an “Oor Wullie” comic book from a man at Castle Doune for her boss Edwin MacAlister.  At Castle Doune Delaney finds the man she is to meet dead; while waiting for the police to arrive, Delaney spies the Oor Wullie stuffed into a crevice; without thinking, Delaney snatches up the valuable book and secrets it away to Edwin.  Once back at the Cracked Spine things get complicated as Edwin learns the identity of the dead man, the son of the man, Gordon, a man who Edwin had been close to as a young man, a man who died while he was out with friends, including Edwin.  Even more startling, Gordon appears in the Cracked Spine very much alive and confesses his deceit to Edwin.  As Gordon’s story begins to unfold it becomes clear that there is more to the story than he’s admitting to, something that may have gotten his son killed.  The further into the past Delaney delves, the more secrets she encounters and the ore danger she puts herself in as these secrets are revealed until she finds herself with a killer in her midst.  Strong characters and a chilly Northern Scottish setting combined with a twisty plot full of secrets and intrigue make this literary mystery one worth spending some time with.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell
Lilly and Neave are sisters less than a year apart and in spite of their different personalities---or because of them---they grow up to be a formidable team: Lilly the outgoing beauty and Neave, quiet and bookish, for whom a penny dreadful The Pirate Lover becomes a how-to-guide.  After World War II, the sisters find themselves out of work as the soldiers return home and the pair decides to create a home sales beauty company, a business that takes off beyond their wildest dreams.  As they are reaching the pinnacle of their success, Lilly disappears and Neave is reasonably certain what happened and is terrified that she might be next.  A good story is made more interesting by an unusual structure and various points of view that demonstrate that universal truths are just that---no matter in what form they are found.

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner
Marin’s life seems to be all in order: she’s on the fast track to partner at her Manhattan law firm, he’s engaged to a Wall Street mogul and her Main Line Philadelphia parents are attentive without being smothering.  Marin’s thirtieth birthday celebration, however, proves to be the catalyst of things unraveling for everyone: Marin’s parents announce their intention to divorce; Marin’s father admits to having an affair with a younger woman, and Marin breaks the news that she has broken off her engagement because she is in love with another man.  A surprise phone call from Rachel, a young woman claiming to be Marin’s half-sister and a misstep on her job that causes her to lose her job sets Marin reeling.  When Rachel arrive in Manhattan on her way to Cape Cod to visit the grandmother neither she nor Marin knew, Marin’s mother Blythe is also in town and the three set off on an ill-conceived road trip that turns into a summer full of revelation and healing, not just for the three women but also for a family with long held grudges and secrets.  This story of families in crisis and families healing and recreating themselves is as welcoming and refreshing as the first breeze of summer.

The Outrun: A Memoir by Amy Liptrot
In the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, an outrun, according to the author, is a uncultivated field with rough grazing at the furthest reaches of a farm.  This is the land to which Amy Liptrot decided to return, the land of her birth, after moving to London to escape life on the farm and her father's mental illness, but where she lived life on the edge, drinking heavily and finding herself in rehab.  Amy returns home to reflect and recover and along the way discovers that maybe home, even in the most northern reaches of the world, may be the best place.  This gorgeously written memoir is not only a moving story of a young woman's recovery but an homage to a rough land that renews hope and invigorates life, offering a new perspective on everything.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen
At eighteen Tess’s life is spread out before her: she and her best friend Doll have spent the summer traveling through Italy and Tess has just secured a spot at University where she will read literature.  While in Florence, Tess glimpses Gus who is traveling with his parents as the three heal from the death of Gus’s older brother Ross seven months earlier.  When Tess returns home she is faced with her mother’s imminent death from cancer; from this point forward, Tess’s life will take on a much different shape than she expected, taking on the responsibility of her five-year-old sister Hope who has her own problems to overcome.  Over the next sixteen years, Tess and Gus lead separate lives, each often feeling that something just isn’t quite right and happiness is just out of each’s grasp.  As their paths crisscross, sometime with glancing blows, they never truly properly meet up again until fate decides the time is right.  Will the pair be able to overcome their pasts and finally realize their destinies?  Heart breaking and achingly beautiful, this story with lovely characters is for anyone who has every hoped and never lost hope.  Book groups will find much to discuss in these pages.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
In a group of vignettes centering around now best-selling author Lucy Barton, the residents in and around Amgash, Illinois recall and re-evaluate the choices they’ve made in their lives and the effect those choices have had not only on their lives but those around them and their community.  After Tommy Guptill’s dairy farm barns burned down, he moved his family to town and took a job as a school janitor where he kept watch over the student body, but in particular over the odd and lonely Lucy Barton.  Now in his seventies, Tommy visits Lucy’s brother who lives in isolation and shares his burden with Tommy, who, now in possession of this knowledge must make a choice to forgive or not.  A high school counselor finds solace and inspiration in Lucy’s latest book and unwittingly uses her new insight to help Lucy’s niece.  Lucy returns to her hometown after a seventeen-year absence and visits with her siblings: an attempt at a reconciliation, a chance to assuage her guilt for leaving the small town or an attempt to rebuild the family that was always broken? Parents and children, their own and those of others, and relationships in all their various forms are explored and revealed in this honest and ultimately uplifting novel that will make you believe, Anything IS Possible.

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Just after Jon Casey marries Wailer in August of 1980, the recent college graduates, along with some of their friends slip into the now closed Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia but not everyone emerges.  Locked in, one of them disappears and no one is sure what happened to her.  Thirty-five years later, a skeleton is found in the prison and each of these friends still harbors a secret, some of which could prove the innocence of now celebrity chef Casey as it is his then new bride’s skeleton that has been found and he is charged with her murder.  Judith Carrigan was with the group that night and knows she can help clear Casey’s name but at what cost?  Judith, above all the friends, has secrets that she knows if revealed could cost her the life she has built, including her adoring husband and son.  This rich novel explores many themes including love, loyalty to the past as well as the present, identity and what is worth keeping hidden and what is worth revealing and at what cost each.

Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen
After attending a business conference, Hannah is eager to return home to share the news of her impending promotion with Matt Stone, her live-in boyfriend of four years.  Hannah’s joy quickly turns to terror when she returns home to an empty house---empty of everything that was evidence that Matt had every been part of her life; in addition, matt has scrubbed social media of his presence and has disconnected his mobile phone.  Hannah is stunned by turns and hurt and afraid for what may have happened to Matt.  Her best friend Katie encourages Hannah to grieve for the relationship she thought she and Matt had and then to move on with her life.  Then Hannah begins to feel she is being stalked and begins to receive messages that she is certain are from Matt.  Little by little, Hannah begins descending into a darkness as all the truths start to unravel and a different tale begins to emerge, one that is equally chilling and disturbing but with a different slant, making this dark debut one to devour yet savor at the same time. 

Just Jennifer

The Day I Died by Lori-Rader-Day

The latest book by Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Awards winning author explores families, those we are born into and those we create, and how we cope and escape when things become unbearable and how we return when there are no other options left us.  Anna Winger lives with her thirteen-year-old son Joshua in Park, a small Indiana town where they live a relatively quiet life and where Anna is hiding out from something unspoken in her past.  Anna is a handwriting analyst and takes jobs mostly on referral from her contact in law enforcement, Kent; she analyzes job applications and ransom notes, and even love letters, advising what type of person might have written them.  When a two-year-old boy Aidan is kidnapped, his mother missing and his babysitter dead, Anna is called in to read a note left by whoever took the young boy, but she is met with a bit of resistance and skepticism by the local police force and feels there is something that is being kept from her, either intentionally or unintentionally, and begins to investigate on her own.  When Joshua goes missing, Anna must face the things from which she has been running and confront her own past in order to find her son and bring him back safely to her.  This story not only has a well-constructed plot with sympathetic characters, it also packs an emotional punch as Anna’s story is slowly revealed and as a community searches for two lost boys hoping that it is not too late to save them…and their mothers who might not even realize they need saving. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Just Jennifer

Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants by Stefani Bittner and Aletha Harampolis

The co-owners of a landscape design firm based in San Francisco take readers through the four seasons and show them how to use plants that until now may have been considered strictly ornamental and turn them into unusual food products, beauty treatments and other DYI projects.  Rhubarb, typically paired with strawberries in an often insipidly sweet pie or jam becomes a quick rosy pickle as a side condiment or a garnish to a springtime cocktail.  While lilac flower cream is very labor intensive it is both edible or a skin cream and an arrangement of newly flower, fruit tree branches makes an arrangement of newly flowering fruit tree branches makes an easy and stunning addition to any room.  As the seasons warm up and plants become abundant in both flowers and greenery consider using highly scented geranium leaves to make a lovely scented sugar with a variety of uses.  Harvest organic flowers and stems for a flavorful vinegar and turn the ubiquitous purple coneflower (Echinacea) into a gardener’s salve.  many herbs and flowering plants can be turned into light refreshing drinks or rejuvenating scrubs.  In the fall as the garden winds down there are plenty of late season fruit bearing plants and colorful hearty herbaceous plants for decorative wreaths, garlands and arrangements.  This heavily photographed boo will provide much inspiration for the home gardener to take another walk around and see what new treasures their gardens yield and perhaps make them eager to add a few new plants for the upcoming season.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coming in March

March may come in like a lion and out like a lamb but in between, there is plenty of time to read some new books!

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Widowed, single-mom Stephanie is always happy to do things for her best friend Emily and Emily’s five-year-old son Nicky who is best friends with Stephanie’s son Miles, so picking Nicky up after school and bringing him to the house to play is not a big deal, is in fact, something Stephanie has done many times.  But this time is different: Emily doesn’t return to suburban Connecticut from her high-powered job as a fashion exec in Manhattan.  Neither Stephanie nor Emily’s husband Sean are able to contact Stephanie; it is as if she has disappeared without a trace.  Blogger Stephanie reaches out to her community for support and after Emily is found dead, Stephanie turns to Sean for comfort, hoping they and their boys can heal and get on with their lives and their new reality.  Soon, though, Stephanie starts beginning to get the feeling that even though all signs point to Emily being dead she may in fact not be; Stephanie can’t figure out if that’s the case what Emily is playing at but knows that best friends share secrets and is the secrets Stephanie shared with Emily are revealed, her life as she knows it will never be the same again.  This domestic thriller is cunning and clever as unexpected secrets are revealed and nothing is what it appears to be.

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman
Former FBI agent Brigid Quinn has almost settled in to a quiet, married life in Tucson when she is called to Florida where her elderly father is in the hospital, her mother in need of support.  Brigid’s former partner, Laura Coleman, on leave from the Bureau, is also in Florida, volunteering for the Innocence Project, working to get death sentences commuted or thrown out and new trials granted.  Laura is currently working on the conviction of Marcus Creighton who is on death row after being convicted of murdering his wife and three young children: except Creighton professes his innocence in his wife’s death, though he willing admits the two did not get along and her was having an affair, and the bodies of his children have never been found.  Time is running out for Creighton who is scheduled to be executed in five days and Brigid finds herself tracking down old witnesses, some of whom she is certain are lying, and finds herself  believing that Creighton might actually be innocent, though will she be able to find convincing evidence before it is too late.  Juggling the investigation with her family crisis, Brigid begins to learn everything is not so black and white, including her family, which she knew had problems and issues, but she didn’t realize the extent to which her father shaped her life and what sacrifices her mother made and at what cost.  Brigid Quinn is one of the most complex characters to come along recently, smart and tough, willing to take a fresh look at any situation whether it is her current investigation or the family into which she was born.   Twists and turns in the plot keep the tension high and readers guessing until almost the very last page.

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
Violet cannot believe she has the life she has.  Violet and Finn have married after a chance meeting on a beach and many missed connections and have Bear, the love of their life, a three-year-old son.  Now, during a family on another beach, Violet returns to their room where Bear should have been taking a nap to find that Finn and Bear have vanished into thin air, leaving no trace, as if they never existed at all.  Hurtled into an unimaginable nightmare, Violet cannot understand what has happened and cannot even imagine Finn taking Bear of his own accord.  As Violet grieves her family, Finn’s best friend from college begins to put pieces together and Finn’s past, a past Violet knew nothing of, begins to unravel, bringing Violet closer to the truth and her new reality.

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
Jubilee Jenkins almost dies the first time a boy kisses her in high school…literally.  Jubilee has a rare allergy to the human touch and after the embarrassment of landing in the hospital after the kiss, and learning that it was done on a dare, Jubilee becomes a recluse, not leaving her house for nine years, even after her mother marries and moves to Long Island.  After learning of her mother’s death, and her monthly checks stopped, Jubilee realizes she must find a job.  After running into one of her classmates, she lands a job at the local library where she meets Eric and his adopted son Aja who have just moved to town after Eric’s divorce.  Eric is struggling to be a father to Aja, cope with his divorce, and mend his relationship with his daughter Ellie who is still living in New Hampshire with her mother.  Eric finds himself drawn to Jubilee and doesn’t understand why she holds him at arms’ length, literally.  As Eric tries to find a way for Jubilee to let him in, Jubilee and Aja develop an unusual relationship and she finds herself opening up to a ten year old in ways she can’t open up to her contemporaries.  This is an unusual love story full of heart, hope and characters who must first love, trust, and forgive themselves before they can be part of meaningful relationships.

Conviction by Julia Dahl
Reporter Rebekah Roberts receives a letter from a young man, DeShawn Perkins who is serving a sentence in prison for the murder twenty-two years ago of his foster parents and his foster sister in Crown Heights, with the words “I didn’t do it”.  Still free-lancing for The Tribune in New York, Rebekah is intrigued by the letter and begins to investigate the man’s claim, finding herself on a trail that takes her into the city’s past and into the past of someone she holds dear, someone whose present could be hurt by Rebekah uncovers if she chooses to reveal it.  A gripping mystery that deftly weaves past and present and once again delves into the Hasidic community in Brooklyn with no easy answers or choices for Rebekah.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
Ava Antipova has run to Paris from her dysfunctional family and their failing vineyard in New York State even though it meant leaving her twin sister Zelda behind.  Ava is shocked when she receives an e-mail from her mother whose grasp on reality is often skewed by dementia, prescription drugs and alcohol.  Even though Ava and Zelda were identical twins, their personalities couldn’t have been any different, Ava more serious, Zelda wilder and freer.  When Ava begins to receive messages from Zelda she is certain her twin is playing with her and is really alive, hiding out somewhere, orchestrating the entire caper, but the more Ava learns about her twin, the more she realizes the twisted life Zelda was living and wonders what Zelda had gotten herself into.  This cleverly crafted novel will quickly draw readers in and capture their attention, especially after the puzzle Zelda has left for Ava is deciphered.  Haunting and twisted, the characters within are most complex and unhealthy making for a deliciously creepy read as Zelda leads Ava on the cat and mouse chase of their lives.   

Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens
Ten years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped with her six-year-old daughter from an abusive relationship.   A car accident her now ex-husband Andrew had the night she escaped was fatal for the other driver, landing Andrew in jail for ten years.  Certain that she has cut all ties with Andrew, Lindsey has successfully raised her daughter Sophie into an imaginative, well-centered teenager, has started her own business, has a new relationship and continues to be active in support groups for abused women and is certain Andrew will never find her again in a remote town off of Vancouver Island.   Andrew has managed to locate Lindsey and Sophie and she begins to feel someone is tracking her and stalking her at both home and on her job; her new boyfriend has a suspicious accident and Andrew has approached Sophie trying to convince her that he has changed; but Lindsey doesn’t believe that and doesn’t believe Andrew will ever let her go---alive.  With one shocking twist, everything changes in a heartbeat leaving Lindsey to struggle with the question who wants to hurt her and why and how does that person know so much about her and her habits?  This tightly plotted thriller does not let go until the final pages, revealing only what needs to be revealed, keeping the pace brisk and setting the characters on edge.   This page-turning psychological thriller is completely absorbing and so full of uncertainties and unknowns that it is hard to recognize what is the truth and who is telling it. 

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall
Ten-year-old Willow Havens was born to an almost sixty-year-old, tough-as-nails, Southern woman.  Willow’s father died before she was born and her brother and sister, almost a generation apart, are on their own, living their own disasters of lives, leaving Willow in Polly’s care, to worry that Polly will die.  Everything Willow does is to either ensure Polly doesn’t die or to learn about her mother’s life, such as how she ended up in Texas from Bethel, Louisiana where she still has kin with whom she doesn’t have a close relationship.  When Willow runs across the name Garland Jones, she becomes convinced he is the key to Polly and sets out to find out why Garland was in jail and what caused the rift between him and Polly separating them forever.   Polly is diagnosed with cancer when Willow is a teen and Willow decides it is time to take matters into her own hands to save her mother, and brother and sister in the process, and learn once and for all what makes Polly Polly.  This novel, more than a coming of age story, tells the stories of our families, how we love them and how their pasts, hidden and known, shape us in unforeseen ways.

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac
Virginia Knightly feels as a TV news producer in Washington, D.C. she is at the top of her game.  A “MISSING” flyer from the police department crosses her desk and intrigues her for reasons she cannot explain.  Attorney Evelyn Carney left a restaurant one night after an argument with her husband and hasn’t been seen since.  Virginia, who has a photographic memory for images, remembers seeing the woman in a recent video clip and feels there is more to the story than just a marital spat and sets out on a trail through the darker side of Washington, D.C.’s judicial and legal system never surprised where her path takes her.  At the same time, Virginia and her colleagues face possible changes at the station that could destroy everything this young woman has built up.  A new voice in crime fiction, Christina Kovac will draw readers in and keep them in suspense until the final page of this debut novel.

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill
In 1974, much of New York City is crumbling, including thirteen-year-old Griffin’s family.  His parents have separated, his mother, Griffin and his sister living in the family brownstone joined at any one time by borders in an attempt to earn enough money to pay the mortgage.  For his livelihood, Griffin’s father “rescues” and resells pieces of architectural history he rescues from rubbish heaps, torn down buildings, and even buildings still standing, and resells them to be repurposed and appreciated.  Griffin, longing to win his father’s approval, save his family home and maybe, just maybe, his family, becomes part of his father’s team, his specialty, stealing the gargoyles that grace the eaves of buildings, keeping an eye on the sidewalks below.  Griffin learns to navigate locked up buildings with tenuous and questionable foundations much as he learns to navigate his own life, and as he works to free the architectural treasures of a city in turmoil from their moorings, he works himself free of his family and grows into his own person.   This homage to the parts of the city seen every day but not often notice, and within our families, will remind readers to take a look beyond what is immediate to them. 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Lane Roanoke never knew her grandparents until after her mother’s suicide when as a teen she moves to their farm in rural Kansas to live with them and her cousin Allegra they have raised.  Lane never knew anything her mother’s family and never knew who her father was, but once inside Roanoke she learns the secrets that have a tragic hold on the women in the family and vows not to become part of them.  Running away just before she’s seventeen, Lane doesn’t return until ten years later when she receives a message from her grandfather that Allegra has disappeared.  With nothing keeping her in LA, Lane returns home vowing not to get caught up in the past, only to find and help Allegra, perhaps assuaging the guilt she carries of having left without her cousin.  The minute she arrives, the past slams into Lane’s present and she’s forced to face the secrets that the family has held along with the boyfriend she left behind.  Alternating chapters between the past and present create a visceral story that cannot be looked away from no matter how uncomfortable it becomes.

The Underworld by Kevin Canty
Set in a silver mining town in Idaho during the 1970’s, this story, based on true events, imagines a town after a horrific mine fire where everyone in the town has been touched: some lost friends, fathers, brothers, husbands or boyfriends, no one is spared.  And even the survivors are scarred as they try to reconcile why they were the lucky ones.  Told mostly from the point of view of a young college student who has left his hometown, his sister-in-law, the young mother of twins, and his father, a miner himself who has lived to see the light of day once more, this visceral tale of love and loss brings a rough and tumble town to life, and finds compassion and hope in unexpected places.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Just Jennifer

Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond

Subtitled “Or Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ‘80s Movies” this coming of age memoir will resonate with anyone who grew up in the 80s; beyond being Diamond’s story of growing up  it is this writer’s recounting of his attempts to pen a biography of John Hughes, an undertaking that kept coming back to his own love affair with this movies, movies that he turned to time and time again as Diamond struggled with depression, lack of self-esteem and self-doubt  growing up in a Chicago suburb as a Jewish minority.  The results are interesting and in all likelihood, far more relatable and accessible than a biography of the iconic movie director would have been.  Events in Diamond’s life such as his first girlfriend or moving to New York City are framed within which John Hughes movie he chose to watch at that time.  From the first time Diamond saw Pretty in Pink, though the title was at first off-putting to him, he was hooked.  As he worked his way through Hughes’s oeuvre of teenage angst, Diamond began to draw parallels to his own life and eventually, his life began to take focus and shape.  This non-traditional memoir will be a welcomed trip down memory lane to readers of a certain age. 

Just Jennifer

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

The boundaries between reality and the supernatural are pushed in this original debut novel in which “bodies” at the Elysian Society take a proprietary pill know as a lotus which allows them to slip out of their body which becomes a repository for the client’s deceased loved one for a short time.  Eurydice, Edie, has worked as a body for over five years and has disassociated herself not only from her job but from her life as well.  When Patrick Braddock comes to the society to reconnect with his wife Sylvia who drowned in a tragic accident several months before, Edie finds herself becoming obsessed with Patrick and Sylvia and the more she learns about them the more immersed she becomes in their lives---and Sylvia’s death.  Edie begins to see cracks in the Braddock’s marriage and she becomes more invested with Sylvia and she begins to wonder about her death, but the more time she spends with them, the more she wants Patrick; uncertain whether Patrick is interested in Edie as Edie or as Sylvia, she begins to rearrange her life so she can continue channeling Sylvia and be with Patrick, all the while the circumstances of Sylvia’s death niggling in the background.  The further into the Braddock’s lives she delves, the more at risk Edie becomes of losing herself forever, which is sometimes a very appealing thought to the young woman who harbors her own secrets and sadness.  There are so many facets to this unique novel that it is hard to know where to look next.