Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Just Jennifer

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage


The Hale farm in upstate New York fell on hard times and was abandoned following a tragic event.  George Clare buys the farm and moves his young wife and daughter to the house from the city after getting a job at the local college.  Less than a year later, Catherine Clare is murdered in her home, George the prime suspect, three-year-old Franny the only witness.  As the Clare’s time leading up to the murder unfolds readers are given a glimpse into what appears to be the perfect life but what is actually a life filled with smoke and mirrors, lies and crime unnoticed of varying degrees.  At the center of everything are the Clares and the three Hale boys whose lives become intertwined in many more ways than just living, at different times, in the same house.  Chilling and eerie, this novel is not to be looked away from as this compelling story with its well-drawn, often toxic, characters, unfolds it its chilling but inevitable conclusions, all the while two characters, whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the actions of others manage to stay good, a beacon of hope for this otherwise lost and broken town and its people.

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves 


Roscoe Martin sees the future of Alabama, and America, as electricity; he is fascinated by the invisible power and plans to make a career of it.  Until his wife Marie, a school teacher, inherits her father’s run-down farm, which, though in mid-1920, parts of Alabama have been electrified, has not yet been wired.  Roscoe is resentful of having to give up his true love to run a failing farm, but feels that if he can bring electricity to the farm, all will be well.  And sure enough, Roscoe, with the help of his farm hand Wilson, sets up poles, wiring and transformers, stealing electricity from nearby poles, and the farm turns around as does his marriage and family.  Roscoe becomes a portrait of “pride goeth before the fall” when a young worker for the electric company stumbles onto the farm and is electrocuted by Roscoe’s illegal lines; Roscoe is arrested and convicted of manslaughter and grand larceny and Marie does not stand behind him, leaving him to face a twenty-year prison sentence without her support, without any news of their young son, nor the fate of Wilson who was also arrested with Roscoe.  Roscoe accepts his fate, mostly mourning the loss of his family, dreaming of the day they will be reunited, and works to lay low during his incarceration, working in the dairy, as a dog handler (someone who helps guards track down escapees) and a librarian’s assistant in a place where the prisoners, and even most of the guards are unable to read.  As Roscoe goes about his daily tasks, he wonders if what he gave up was worth the crime or the punishment and upon his release, he learns that sometimes forgiving is just as hard as being forgiven as he tries to rebuild the life he left, learning how easily some people will let others go if it is the only means of moving on for them.  Roscoe electrifies the farm with hope: hope for the future of the farm and his family; he faces his prison term with hope: hope that his family is pining for him the way he is for them and finally he faces his release with hope that his sins will be forgiven and he can resume his life, a hope that never fades, even in the face of stark reality.   This is a well-structured first novel that lets the reader see much of the story from different sides without revealing so much as to give away the future for Roscoe.  

A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders

Things in the London publishing world slow down a bit during the summer: it’s not quite time for the fall trade shows and many people “work from home” as often as possible.  Editor Samantha Clair is glad for the downtime giving her a chance to spend more time with her new boyfriend Inspector Jake Field and grab lunch with her equally busy old boyfriend, gallery owner Aidan Merriam.  Sam is looking forward to lunch with Aidan, surprised he hasn’t postponed it once again until she learns that Aidan’s partner has been found dead in their gallery, an apparent suicide.  And of course, the police investigation is being led by Jake and Aidan’s longtime attorney is Sam’s mother Helena all of which begins to fill Sam’s schedule with unofficial interviews and some amateur sleuthing, much to Jake’s displeasure.  As an editor, details are Sam’s business and the details of Frank’s death just aren’t adding up.  In between preparing for a panel at a conference (Sam wasn’t paying attention on a meeting landing her a speaking role) and writing jacket copy and approving art for advertising sheets for the fall season of trade shows that a minute ago seemed so far away, Sam’s overactive imagination, full of twisty, turning, nefarious plots from the books she edits, begins to go to work, but this time she may be on the trail of a killer.  Sam is a smart, sarcastic, sometimes sardonic character whose heart is always in the right place and a good foil for her no-nonsense mother, equally as smart, but a tad, erm, more respectable, perhaps.  Together with an unwilling and unwitting Jake, the three make an unstoppable pair in this sophomore entry to a very funny new series. 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The four Plumb siblings have, for the most part, lived their lives with the expectation that upon the last child, Melody, reaching the age of forty, The Nest, will be divided among the four of them.  Shortly before Melody’s fortieth birthday, three of the siblings learn that their mother, within her rights according to the terms of The Nest, has dipped into it to rescue the oldest sibling Leo after he’s in a horrific car accident involving a young waitress.  Melody has always wanted the best for her family including her twin teenage daughters and the thought, as they approach college, which she may not be able to provide the best for them, not continue to keep up the lifestyle she and her family have grown accustomed to.  Jack has been nursing his ailing antique business along, relying on the steady income of his husband Walker and the equity in their summer home.  Now faced with the reality that The Nest will only provide for him about a quarter of what he expected, he finds himself making deals that deep down he knows are no good, but rationalizes as necessary for the sake of his marriage and lifestyle.  Author Bea hadn’t necessarily been counting on the money, but her “Archie” stories (based on Leo) that were so popular years earlier seem to have dried up and may need to kick start her career.  The three siblings put pressure on Leo to replace the money that his accident and subsequent rehab cost The Nest, all the while scheming to come up with ways to keep their extravagances and overspending from their respective spouses without missing a beat.  Sweeney artfully takes these entitled, spoiled characters, who when we first meet them at the beginning of the novel have very few redeeming qualities, yet there is something likable about each one of them, even Leo, and readers will be enchanted from the first meetings until their final bows, somewhat better from the journey.  

Just Jennifer

The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn


This gorgeously illustrated book not only offers ideas for brightly colored flower gardens that will attract bees to your garden, but includes ideas for herbs and produce that will also attract these vital insects.  The awarding-winning authors explain the importance of bees in gardens for pollination and the problem of bee colony collapse, discuss the benefits of bee-friendly plants (shrubs, perennials, trees and herbs) and include a list of plants that don’t particularly encourage bee visits.  They offer design suggestions for every setting from a small area, dense plantings replacing lawns, wildflower meadows and more formal, structured gardens.  An extensive list of plants includes hardiness zones and whether the plants are native to the area, invasive or spreading.  Bee-friendly resources include public gardens and nurseries.  This is the perfect book to have at hand during these cold winter months while dreaming and planning for the spring planting season. 

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

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Just Jennifer

Coming in February...

He Will be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker

Maggie Sparks grew up in a privileged home and thinks she has eschewed the trappings of her family’s wealth by starting a charity building homes in Africa.  When she is called home after the death of her best friend Celine Gonzalez, the daughter of her family’s live-in for many years Maggie is devastated as she thought of Celine as her sister.  As Maggie begins to pack up Celine’s Lower East Side apartment, she realizes the Celine she remembered was one of her own making, one she saw as she wanted to see, and not the Celine who fought desperately to pay the bills and make her dream to enter the Hollingsworth Institute of Art within her reach, not the Celine who took too many pills, drank too much vodka and crawled in bed to never wake up again.  Maggie finds secrets hidden among Celine’s treasures and a scandalous photo of a man who Maggie thinks is connected to Celine’s death, a death she is certain her friend would never have accepted willingly.  As Maggie relives the past year of Celine’s life, she realizes she didn’t know Celine as well as she thought she did, even as a child, and begins to reevaluate her life, her choices, and the motives behind her acts of charity…she also finds herself in mortal danger as she gets closer and closer to a truth that no one is willing to believe.

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma
This sophomore novel from the author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards tells the story of five college graduates, trying to create lives for themselves, lives that include each other, in the late aughts of a Manhattan that is experiencing the Great Recession, never expecting that personal tragedy will affect them more than the loss of their money and dreams.  Sara Sherman is the glue that holds together these friends, with her boyfriend, astronomer George Murphy whose years of research are about to be debunked.  Jacob is their poet, William Cho, an investment banker who never quite fit in and the lovely Irene Richmond, a sensitive artist who will be fallen in love with and who will ultimately be the downfall of the group after a lump under her eye turns irrevocably tragic.  The group carries on through all their missteps and sadness,  together, individually and groups in this incredibly beautifully wrought tale of friendships, where hope and love are stronger than any outside forces could ever be. 

The Widow by Fiona Barton
When Jean Taylor’s husband Glen is accused of an unspeakable crime against a child, she finds herself doing and saying things that make her unrecognizable, but must be done and said if there is to be any hope of the couple continuing their well-constructed lives.  Jean played the role of the perfect, support wife for many years, but Glen has just died in a tragic accident and she finally feels free to tell the truth, but can Jean remember what the truth is after living with the lies for so many years?  Told from several points of view, Jean’s, the reporter to whom Jean finally agrees to tell her story, the detective who couldn’t help convict Glen and the grieving mother of the child Glen is tried for kidnapping and possibly murdering, the story of a marriage, a crime and the aftermath of both slowly unfolds with tension and the dangling possibility of another version and motive of the crime, one that will make Jean one of the most unreliable, but intriguing narrators to come along in a while.

The Doll’s House by M.J. Arlidge
Detective Helen Grace is back in this third mystery to be published in the U.S., one that delves even further into this complicated character.  A young woman’s body is dug up on a beach and is found to have been dead for several years and has been still sending text messages and tweeting to her family.  As Helen and her newly assembled team begin to investigate this death, Helen suspects a connection to another recently reported missing young woman the time and location of whose texts and tweets correspond to the dead woman’s.  Helen’s gut tells her there are more women who fit this profile and against the directive of her superiors begins to pull the files of other young women who have been reported missing.  After the bodies of these women are also found on the beach, Helen and her team ratchet up their investigation to find the missing woman before she becomes another victim of a very methodical killer. 
Though the investigation is not as suspenseful as some of Helen’s previous cases, this book adds much to the characters as it explores more deeply Helen Grace’s family situation and a very jealous Detective Superintendent.  Helen is also experiencing growing pains as the team that had been so carefully assembled and had worked so well together is dissolved, through a tragic death, Charlie on maternity leave and the reassignment of other members.  As Helen works to get her bearings, learning to trust the members again, learning who she shouldn’t trust, she comes close to making a fatal error in the name of family, but quickly recovers, coming out victorious as before. 

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
M.M. (Mimi) Banning wrote a bestselling novel when she was barely twenty but has not written anything since.  Now on the brink of financial ruin, she agrees to deliver on her promise for her second book if her publisher will provide her a hefty advance to keep things going until she finishes it along with an assistant to keep her household affairs including a nine-year-old son, Frank, in order.  Alice Whitely isn’t thrilled with traveling to Los Angeles to fill the role, especially when she arrives and meets the less than charming Mimi, her oh-so-charming, but wildly eccentric son and the handyman-piano teacher-who-knows-what who further complicates Alice’s time in L.A.  Frank is brilliant but has the sensibilities of a 1930’s movie star complete with the wardrobe and grown-up manners, though his paranoia and odd rules lend a childlike quality to his eccentricities.  Frank begins to warm to Alice as she learns to navigate this oh-so-strange family her patience and good-humor, Mimi typing furiously behind closed doors all the while.  These charming, flawed, though maybe not, characters will endear themselves to readers as Johnson shows each from many different angles, making the picture not as strange as first imagined. 

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
Joe Goldberg, the anti-hero from You is back, still working at Mooney’s Rare and used books in New York City after the murders (committed by him) of his girlfriend Beck and her friend Peach.  His new girlfriend Amy Adams seems too good to be true, and turns out to be when she hightails it to L.A. with the collection of Portnoy’s Complaint that she and Joe amassed and a rare signed edition of Easter Parade.  Angered, Joe decides Amy must die for her betrayal and heads out to LA to find her, all the while in the back of his mind, the mug he urinated into that he left in Peach’s Rhode Island closet, the only thing (or so he thinks) to tie him to her murder, and certainly nothing will tie him to Beck’s as her therapist is sitting in jail, convicted of the crime.  In L.A. Joe finds it easy to create a new self---same name, but he can be whatever he wants---even making forays into social media hoping to locate Amy, even though she is living “off the grid” as she says.  A few more bodies pile up as Joe continues his search (they are inevitable, the cost of doing business as it were) and Joe falls in love with a wealthy ingĂ©nue whose twin brother is more annoying than life itself, but Love is the incarnation of the word itself and Joe feels he has finally found someone with whom he can feel safe and build a life, so safe, he even begins sharing his secrets with her.  The highly charged prose takes Joe, and readers, on a roller coaster ride through L.A. and Hollywood as Joe searches for, and then mostly forgets about Amy, to a heart-pounding conclusion that will keep readers on their edge of their seats and holds promise for another book featuring this intriguing, intense sociopath.  Joe is one of the most intriguing characters to come along in a while, intelligent, paranoid, passionate and dangerous all at once. 

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Alex Dale’s alcoholism has cost her almost everything: her career in journalism, her baby and her marriage.  Now, barely clinging to life, she runs obsessively in the morning, counting the minutes until noon when she allows herself to begin her drinking ritual that helps her feel her life is under control.  In a last ditch effort to remain a freelance writer, Alex is doing a profile of a neurologist in a nearby hospital.  While interviewing him, she finds a ward of patients, less than a dozen, that are classified as being in a perpetual vegetative state.  Alex remembers one young woman, Amy Stevenson, from when she disappeared and was found for dead fifteen years ago, near to where Alex was living.  Alex becomes fascinated with the idea that Amy, and the other patients, are more aware of their surroundings and what is occurring, and their memoires, than their bodies allow them to convey.  Alex begins to wonder whether Amy, whose case was never solved, has the answers for which everyone has stopped searching, and whether Alex, through careful research, can somehow find the missing pieces and along the way, putting herself back on the road to the life she once thought she would have.  This is a fascinating story of what we know, what we remember and what we can reveal even without meaning to.  Alex is an interesting character as she tries to rationalize her drinking and convince herself she has it under control, in sharp contrast to Amy who has no control over anything, yet cannot help anyone, least of all herself.  While the ending of this story is not surprising, there are enough twists and turns along the way to hold the reader’s interest.

Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman
This astonishing debut novel tells the story of twenty-seven-year-old Lucy whose traumatic brain injury as a child has left her without people skills, terrible at organizing and slightly messy with, at times, questionable hygiene habits.  But Lucy’s gifts for drawing, her love of coffee and especially a polar bear named Gus at the Central Park Zoo, plus a certain openness, endear her to many people.  When her widowed father dies unexpectedly, she finds herself moved into her younger brother’s small New York City apartment in completely unfamiliar surroundings.  As Lucy begins to learn her new surroundings and establish new routines, her brother Nate’s life is turned upside down to the point where he realizes he cannot assist Lucy if he cannot care for himself.  During this time, Lucy finds she is a much more capable person with many more skills and abilities than she than she ever imagined, making the siblings reunion an opportunity for growth and recognition of self and each other, providing promise for a more healthy relationship and the possibility of productive futures.
Michelle Adelman writes with the assurance of a well-seasoned author.  Lucy is written as a strong character with more self-awareness than many people.  Lucy lives her life with tremendous purpose and though she can’t always clearly express her wants and needs, she knows herself and comes to learn there is more there than she thought or was led to believe and that she can trust herself.  This is an exceptional novel with an equally exceptional, unforgettable heroine.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
In many ways, Noah is a typical four-year-old but in other ways is exceptional:  he knows all about lizards seemingly intuitively, recalls a lakeside vacation he and his mother Janie never took, and talks at great lengths about Harry Potter when he only watches Nemo and Dora the Explorer and an unnatural fear of water, even handwashing, with recurring nightmares.  As Noah grows more agitated each day, Janie seeks help for him and finds it in Doctor Jeremy Anderson whose research focuses on the previous life memories of young children, memories that are generally forgotten at an early age before they manifest themselves, apparently not the case with Noah.  Jeremy is quickly losing his language skills to aphasia, but holds out hope he can help Janie and Noah and perhaps finally finish his book.  Without feeling forced or unbelievable, Noah’s story unfolds, sometimes easily, sometimes uncomfortably, but always in a way where hope lingers, redemptive and healing.  Simply astonishing…and unforgettable.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Just Jennifer

After The Crash by Michel Bussi


Eighteen years ago, a plane from Istanbul to Paris crashes into the Swiss Alps, with one known survivor: a three-month-old girl, thrown far enough from the plane to escape the fiery inferno.  But two infants were on board: the granddaughter of a wealthy family and the granddaughter of a more modest family.   A judge must decide if the baby is Lyse-Rose or Emilie and the baby will be known for the next eighteen years as Lylie.  Hired by the wealthy family to find the true identity of the baby, a private detective unable to find the truth sits as his desk, ready to commit suicide until he spots something in the yellowed newspaper that he missed for all these years, the deceptively simple solution to the secret, a secret that someone is still willing to kill to keep.  Told from the detective’s point of view and Lylie’s, a portrait of two-decades old mystery starts to emerge with more twists and turns that the trails in the Swiss Alps where this all began.  Deception and treachery, fierce love and egos all collide in this first gripping psychological thriller by a French author to be published in English. 

Just Jennifer

The Ex by Alafair Burke


Olivia Randall is formidable in the courtroom; her personal life has pretty much always been in a shambles as evidenced when her ex-fiancĂ©’s daughter Buckley Harris reaches out to her to help her father Jack.  Jack has been arrested for the murder of Malcolm Neeley along with two bystanders.  Neeley’s son Todd was a disturbed teenager whose murderous rampage at Grand Central one morning killed Jack’s wife and Buckley’s mother.  Jack and other survivors filed suit against Neeley, but lost just shortly before Neeley was killed.  The fantastic story of how he was at the football field the morning of the murder but didn’t kill anyone is quickly debunked when no one can locate the woman who is said to have invited Jack to the field and gunshot residue is found on his shirt.  Motivated initially by guilt, Olivia sets out to side with Jack, certain he didn’t kill anyone, but as she takes a closer look at the evidence she wonders if the man who was clinically depressed twenty years ago after their break-up has finally snapped.  This complex, convoluted case is enough to make a terrific stand-alone thriller, but coupled with the damaged, tough as nails on the outside, loyal to a fault heroine Olivia Randall, it could, readers will hope, be only the first appearance of Olivia.

Just Jennifer

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley


Cousins Rory and Arden are closer than most sisters are.  When the two go away to school together and a fire breaks out, a tragedy occurs that unravels years of secrets and changes everything the family believed, one small detail at a time.  There are often two sides to every story, but in this case, there are often three: told from three points of view, Natalie, the mother waiting to see if her daughter will live or die, and Rory and Arden, the truth about the story of Natalie and Rory’s father Vinnie, who she first dated, and the restaurant they have nurtured is slowly revealed.  The relationships between Rory and her mother and Rory and Arden are viewed from different angles until the truth about how the fire began is revealed.  The mystery of the fire effectively serves as the impetus that starts these events that will reveal the most devastating truth at the very end, a truth that will save one family but destroy another.  

Just Jennifer

Confucius Jane by Katie Lynch


After the death of her graduate school mentor, the only poetry Jane Morrow finds herself able to write is fortunes for her aunt and uncle’s New York Chinatown fortune cookie company.  From her office window, Jane has a clear view of a noodle shop where she spies a young woman on whom she quickly develops a crush.  Sutton St. James is a doctor, studying to finish her course work and internship before applying for residencies, additional pressure added by her father, a former surgeon general who would prefer Sutton choose a prestigious hospital instead of the overseas stem cells research intern Sutton is hoping for.  In typical fashion, added by Jane’s charming, precocious pre-teen cousin, Jane and Sutton meet, fall in love, navigating their two lives and respective family issues.  When Sutton’s family problems make the evening news, the new pair is uncertain whether they each, and together, have the nerve and strength to try and make things work.  Light and breezy, there is something sweet in this novel about first love that keeps it from being typical and run of the mill and helps it maintain its charm without feeling heavy handed and overdone.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Just Jennifer

Coming in January 2016...

Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen

Detective Elizabeth Harris has left her job with the NYPD after her husband is murdered and returns to her home county, Lancaster, PA, hoping the quieter pace, peace loving Amish peoples who live there will restore her mind, spirt and soul.  Elizabeth’s hopes are dashed when “an English” (non-Amish) young woman is found dead, barely clothed, in the barn of an Amish farmer.  The young woman is identified as Jessica Travis who Elizabeth learns, lives with her single mother in near poverty conditions.  When she learns that an Amish girl, Katie Yoder, has been missing since October and that Jessica, with whom she was very close, reported her missing, Elizabeth fears the worse, fears that are realized when the body of a girl washes up on the shore in Maryland.  Quickly the Amish community closes ranks and insists that God’s will has been and will be done and it is not up to them to judge, but Elizabeth and her colleagues feel differently and begin to suspect the girls were involved with sex for money and that Katie may have even been abused as a young child, perhaps by someone in their community.  Complicating matters, and the case, for Elizabeth is Ezra Beiler for whom she feels an instant, intent and mutual attraction, something impossible to act upon were it not for the fact that Ezra has been planning on leaving his community for several years.  Elizabeth’s boss’s continue to look for an outsider, though Elizabeth’s gut tells her to look within the community, a trail she follows even as she is afraid of what she’ll find at the end and whose lives may be altered, even ruined if she uncovers what she fears is true.  A well-written, well-paced mystery that accurately portrays life in the Pennsylvania Dutch country with a damaged heroine who has come home to heal and may find more than she bargained for in the process.  This is the first in a series that will have readers eager for the next installment. 

The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

As a teenager, Alison was known as Esme and lived with her slightly eccentric family in a dismal house in a dismal town.  After the events of an horrific evening, Esme is the only true survivor and goes to live with an aunt becoming Alison and living a quiet life, trying to overcome her memories and her past.  When her boyfriend invites her to accompany him to a wedding in the her old town, she comes face to face with not only her personal recollections but those of a village who hasn’t quite forgotten and somewhere in the retelling of the tragedy, Alison begins to feel that the conclusions about that evening which were originally arrived at may be too pat and that someone in the village still holds the key to what really happened that night.  Deeply disturbing, full of twists and turns, this suspense thriller offers many layers of each character as what they know of the events of that fateful night are slowly revealed.

Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

This delightfully dishy novel perfectly captures the glamour and glitz of mid-20th century New York, breathing life into such characters as Truman Capote and William and Babe Paley making them and their friends seem alive.  The novel starts with Capote’s “swans” as Babe Paley and her crowd where known as, gathering to skewer the now estranged Capote for revealing all their secrets in his writings, blaming him for the death of one of their own.  The novel goes back and forth between this meeting during the mid-70’s to the mid-century as the story of Babe and how she came to be the wife of the president of CBS unfolds, and how she, and others in her circle became the close confidant of Truman Capote.  While most of the story is told through the eyes of the swans, there are rare glimpses into how Capote views the events and relationships and his slow downward spiral from literary darling to being despised by his dearest friends.  Details of the rich and famous, glamourous parties, gorgeous clothes and likable, real to life characters make this novel and enjoyable read.  Melanie Benjamin has written another novel full of historical and marvelous, larger than life characters.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

As his brother’s best man, Richard Chapman thinks hosting Philip’s bachelor party in his suburban Westchester home is safer than a night on the town of drunken debauchery.  With Richard’s wife Kristin and their daughter are spending the weekend with Kristin’s mother in Manhattan there will be plenty of time for the party and to clean-up any mess left over.  What Richard doesn’t expect is that the two strippers his brother’s friend hired are more than strippers and come with Russian bodyguards, bodyguards that one of the women kills before the pair run off into the night with the money and the bodyguards’ car.  At once, Richard is thrust into the public eye in a not so good way: his home is a crime scene, precious items he and Kristin have collected together over their lifetime have been ruined beyond repair, Richard’s investment banking firm has put him on leave, he has lost the trust of his wife and daughter and he is being blackmailed by the man who hired the entertainment for the party.  Far worse than Richard’s situation is one of the girl’s, Alexandra, who is on the run from the police as well as the men who brought her to America and, if it is possible, from this life she is leading through none of her own choices.  The story alternates between Richard’s story in the here and now, and Alexandra’s as she relates the events that led her to this place and time and the despair they each feel of ever having a chance at redemption for Richard and survival for Alexandra.  These two stories deftly juxtaposed against each other reveal some of the same emotions, shame, fear and guilt, expressed and felt in much different ways but revealing nonetheless how tightly wound and held our lives can be.  This heart-pounding thriller is woven into a reflection of how quickly all that we hold dear, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others, can be lost and the costs we face in order to regain ourselves.  

What She Left by T. R. Richmond

One snowy night in London, twenty-five-year-old journalist Alice Salmon falls into the river and drowns.  Everyone who knew Alice is shocked, and those closest to her try to make sense of what happened as she becomes a media darling, the world trying to decide her death was a tragic accident, a suicide or even murder.  Alice’s former professor, anthropologist Jeremy Cooke has taken an unhealthy interest, bordering on obsessive, interest in Alice’s death and decides that, being at the end of his academic career, he will chronicle Alice’s life through the digital footprint, diaries, blogs, articles she wrote, tweets, Facebook posts and e-mails, perhaps finding meaning in her death.  Alice’s friends and family are appalled at the temerity of this almost stranger delving into the young woman’s private life with such bravado, but little by little, Alice is revealed, as are her friends and family, and even Cooke himself, forming a different picture of the young woman everyone loved so dearly, a picture that might shed a different light on her death.  A modern take on the epistolary  novel, What She Left Behind also inserts the observations and opinions of an academic mind as Cooke draws conclusions from what he finds in Alice’s own words, the words of others and news stories about her.  As more about Cooke is revealed, his project also becomes something of an apology, a way to mend past wrongs he may have committed.  The intriguing structure of this novel will draw readers in quickly though quietly and will make them look beyond the Alice she carefully cultivated to show the world and find the secrets that led to this young woman’s death.  

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Anna isn’t even forty and she is already seeing the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s and voluntarily agrees to go into an assisted living facility where she meets Jack, a man also not yet forty who has a disorder that will cause him to lose his language skills over time.  The two are naturally drawn to each other and eventually, to the horror of Anna’s family, fall in love with each other.  Eva has lost almost everything in her carefully constructed life and takes a job as the cook at the care facility to try and keep together what is left.  While she is cautious with her own life and heart, Eva recognizes the love Anna and Jack share and finds an opportunity to help the couple be together, almost as if this is a way to help reconstruct the life she can no longer have, but at great cost to her and her daughter.  There is a startling authenticity to Anna’s story as she struggles through the stages of dementia; though an imagined one for both Hepworth and reader, it feels right.  Eva becomes almost a mirror for Anna as Eva chooses the things that she will keep and deem important as Anna struggles to find importance in the things that remain.  A tragic event is seen in retrospect given more depth and layers to all the characters.  A story to be held onto long after the final page is turned.  

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

In the mid-80’s, Lucy Barton is healing in a Manhattan hospital after an appendectomy turns into an infection and fever that threatens her life and brings her estranged mother from Illinois to sit at her bedside while Lucy’s husband spends most of his time at work and home with their two young daughters.  Lucy is a stranger to her mother, haunted by the poverty of her childhood, unable to connect with her mother, missing her daughters, reflecting on her life in New York, feeling isolated much of the time, watching the AIDS epidemic as it affects someone close to her without her realizing it until it’s too late.  So much of Lucy’s life feels just out of her grasp, her story an achingly beautiful one as she learns to love, at the same time seeking forgiveness and finding it within herself to let go and forgive.  Much of the time Lucy’s story feels familiar and yet we recoil from it as we see ourselves in her or her mother.  A short, densely packed story with nary a wasted word, this reflection on a woman’s life will resonate with many readers.


Just Jennifer


Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne


After the day she has had as deputy head teacher at Byron Academy in London, the last thing Margaret Holloway needs is a dicey drive home in the ice and snow.  She becomes involved in what comes to be called the worst pileup in London history, feeling only a little bruised until she realized she is trapped in her car that is about to blow up.  Out of the snowy swirl, a man pulls her from the wreck, saving her life, and then disappearing.  Margaret knows she’s lucky to only have minor injuries, but there is something in her subconscious that gives her no peace.  She tracks down the stranger who saved her life, Maxwell Brown, who is in a coma in hospital with no apparent family or friends to visit. After Margaret learns Maxwell’s identity, the story flashes back to 1985 and a little girl called Molly who is kidnapped on her way to school, kidnapped by a notorious gangster, Big George McLaughlin, who she finds isn’t as terrible as his reputation is, at least not to her.  Awhile her mother searches for Molly, reporter Angus Campbell is hot on her trail as well, hoping Molly’s story will be his big break.  These three desperate strands of a story don’t seem to fit together at first, but little by little, things are revealed, fall into place and a complete picture begins to form.  The final scenes in the book tie all the ends together, though in not too surprising ways, but satisfyingly enough.  Redemption isn’t always possible in everyone’s eyes, though to those whose lives we have helped shaped, it is often enough.  A compelling, propelling story that explores families in all their various forms and how our memories and pasts shape our presents and our futures. 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

When readers think of the classic Gothic novel, Rebecca and “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” often comes immediately to mind, but Mary Yellan is every bit as compelling heroine as the unnamed heroine in Rebecca.  Set on the almost mythic coast of Cornwall, Mary, against warning and foreboding, travels to stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn never imagining what evils await her there.  When Mary realizes that Jamaica Inn and her aunt are shadows of their former selves and that her uncle is possibly at the root of the downfall of both, but she is determined to make the best of the situation as she recreates a new life for herself, hoping in the process she might be able to save her aunt.  Vivid descriptions of the moors and the town provide rich settings and larger-than-life characters make this classic one to be reread and savored from time to time.  

Just Jennifer

The Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson

The authors of The Cancer Fighting Kitchen return with a book of powerful ingredients and recipes to help fight the aging process, but also provides ingredients specific for the health and support of our bodies’ systems and organs.  A list of questions helps readers discover their “Culinary GPS” to guide them through the recipes that might be most beneficial to them.  Several pages on FASS (fat, acid, salt and sweet) provide good choices to add each of these important flavors and ingredients to cooking and expands to include Umami that adds a certain je nais se quois to foods along with spicy flavors: a short chart providing six major cuisines and the spices and herbs that are the trademark flavors for each.  Each recipe, from Costa Rican Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potato to Strawberry, Fennel and Arugula Salad to protein-building dishes such as Black Cod with Miso-Ginger Glaze and Good Mood Sardines starts with a few words about the ingredients and what makes them so healthful and the specific health issues the dish might be helpful for.  And entire chapter lists foods and their health properties and then a list of symptoms (Stress Reducers, Immune Boosters, etc.) list the recipes that will support health and wellness.  All the recipes are accessible, the ingredients readily available and the photos delicious looking making this a cookbook that cooks will reach for time and time again.  A comprehensive list of references in the back of the book provide additional sources if readers want to explore certain topics in more depth than in these pages.

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


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just Jennifer

The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown

It’s almost Christmas and Sybil has still not recovered from being left standing at the altar of her May the 4th Be With You Star Wars themed wedding when her groom ran away with her twin sister.  Sybil has also had a hard time keeping her mind on work and when she hears one of her clients received a settlement with a few extra zeros, she is concerned it may have been an error she made.  In a spur of th4e moment decision, Sybil, dog Basil in tow leaves London one night and heads to Tindledale, a town that her friend Cher makes sound simply enchanted.  Sybil arrives in the middle of a snowstorm and finds that not only is Tindledale the cure for her heartbreak and work troubles, but her knitting obsession may be just the thing this charming town is in need of.  Throw in a handsome doctor and Sybil has hope for a happy Christmas---unless it turns out she was the careless employee with her zeros which will definitely put a wrench in her happily ever after plans.

This is a pleasant, quick read, though there may be a few too many coincidences for some, but as the first in a projected series, this sets up Sybil and her newly found life for more episodes.  Sybil’s knitting obsession will whet even a beginner’s appetite to grab some needles and start purling.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Just Jennifer

The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

In the small new England coastal town of Granite Point live three sister Sorrel, Nettie and Patience, with a long history in the community and with a special gift for growing the most lush flowers, abundant, perfect vegetables and herbs that transcend their typical growing seasons.  Patience also has a special gift, the ability to put these herbs and flowers together to create tinctures, balms and salves that have helped soothe, comfort and even heal the community over the years.  The first hint that the lives of the Sparrow sisters are about to change is the arrival of a new young doctor, Henry Carlyle.  Henr6y and Patience are drawn to each other with a fervor and energy that frightens each.  Henry is skeptical, perhaps even concerned, about the concoctions Patience creates and the willingness of the community to use them, at times, in place of more traditional medications.  When a tragedy occurs, the town looks to blame someone and Patience finds herself in the middle of a grieving town.  But the town’s anger and accusations harken back three-hundred-years into the past and in present day Granite Point, the sisters’ plants begin to wither, the fruit, once so abundant on the trees, dies, the lobster nets are pulled out of the sea empty and the town begins to fade.  It will take the women of the town to rally around Patience and band together not only to save the sisters, but their beloved town as well.

His delightful debut novel will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen with its strong female characters and familial and community bonds and touches of magic.  Granite Point is vividly depicted to the point of familiarity or even perhaps even a longing to be there.  Patience’s special gifts are balanced with her temperament to create an interesting and multi-dimensional character.  Much is revealed about the Sparrow family, but a tantalizing final sentence will spark imaginations and the possibility of more from the Sparrow in the future.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Just Jennifer

Web of Deceit by Katherine Howell


When EMTs Jane and Alex arrive at the scene of a single vehicle accident, the driver appears unharmed but is very agitated saying someone is after him and just Jane and Alex being near him is dangerous for them.  They manage to get him to the hospital from where he disappears before he has a chance to be evaluated.  Later that same day, Jane and Alex are called to a train station where a man is dead under a train, the man who Jane and Alex coaxed out of the car just hours earlier.  Detective Ella Marconi isn’t sure whether Marko Meixner fell onto the tracks during the melee after a smoke bomb, whether he jumped or if he was pushed on purpose.  In spite of his paranoid behavior earlier in the day, or perhaps because of it, Jane doubts suicide and Ella agrees; as she investigates Marko’s life, especially in the past few months, Ella uncovers some very strange clues and behaviors that don’t quite add up to murder but make her convinced that Marko’s death was anything but suicide.  While Ella, without the full support of her superiors, continues to investigate Marko’s death, single-father Alex’s teenage daughter disappears into the night, a disappearance that forces startling revelations.  The twisty plot is enough to keep reader’s engaged, but the relationship problems Ella and Jane are working through, along with Alex’s troubles, add layers to both the plot and characters making for an enjoyable read with several surprises along the way.

Just Jennifer

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz


Twenty-two year old Bibi Blair has one novel under her belt and is an ascending star when she is given a diagnosis that she has no more than a year to live.  Diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, Bibi refuses to believe she will die so soon and challenges doctors that she will be cured.  Two days later it appears she is, but Bibi wonders why she has been so miraculously spared until she learns that she has been given a mission to save a young woman named Ashley Bell.  First, however, she must find Ashley Bell, a task that puts Bibi’s life, and the lives of her family, and Ashley Bell’s life in jeopardy.  Bibi finds herself running through Southern California staying one step ahead of cult leaders and gangsters and at least two steps behind Ashley Bell.  Soon, though, Bibi’s investigation takes on a strange twist and she finds herself in a twisty maze that is both familiar and unknown at the same time.  With ingenious plotting and surprises around every corner, this novel has all of Dean Koontz signature style with an entirely new feel and plot.  Even if you’ve never read Dean Koontz before, be sure not to miss Ashley Bell; new readers and longtime fans are in for an entirely unexpected  treat. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Just Jennifer

Happy Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis

Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out
In her eighth cookbook, Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis strays a bit from her Italian roots and focuses on eating things that make you feel good, taste good and that you enjoy cooking.  Giada acknowledges that many people have dietary restrictions, self-imposed or for medical reasons and includes many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.  There are a lot of savory breakfast options, including recipes that can be made on the weekends and heated up or altered slightly on a busy morning.  As a single mother, Giada addresses the need to have simple, healthful but tasty foods to grab quickly, especially on the go.  Many of the recipes have short headers giving serving ideas or ideas for changing up some of the ingredients (in the Focaccia with Tangerine and Fennel she advises using any citrus or cherries if you don’t have or like tangerines).  Each chapter has several sidebars that discuss things such as packing a salad in a jar so it doesn’t get soggy before lunch or Giada’s favorite mini-cleanses.  Some more complicated recipes such as a Spring Pasta Timbale turn out to be not all that complicated and are real show stoppers.  Fans who followed Giada’s rise to stardom will enjoy catching up with her and seeing how her recipes, cooking and philosophies have evolved over time. 
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.


Just Jennifer

Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Arlidge


In this sequel to Eeny Meeny Detective Inspector Helen Grace finds herself on the trail of another serial killer while trying to put her team back together after the fallout from their previous serial killer case (spoiler alert: do not read this sequel until you have read the first book to avoid spoiling the ending).  This time, Helen finds herself looking for someone, she thinks a woman, who is killing men who frequent prostitutes, cutting out their hearts and delivering the hearts to their nearest and dearest.  Something isn’t quite adding up, but with aggressive newspaper reporter Emilia Garanita threatening to expose all of Helen’s secrets if she doesn’t dish and a new boss, Detective Superintendent Ceri Harwood who isn’t particularly fond of Helen, on her case, it makes her question her own instincts.  Helen often appears stoic and has an unusual form of stress relief, but ultimately cares about those on her team as much as getting justice.  As with the first novel, Arlidge delivers one last twist when it seems there are none left to be had.  This series is several books longer in the UK ensuring US fans many more mysteries with Helen Grace to come. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Just Jennifer

The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila

In her follow up cookbook, the author of The Homemade Pantry brings food, eating and cooking down to their basics.  She approaches much of this book through her eleven-year-old daughter Sadie who is beginning to not only discover the pleasures of cooking for the final product, but also the sense of comfort and even emotional well-being that can be found through the process of cooking, allowing your mind to wander or to focus on the task at hand.  After a short essay, Alana begins the first chapter with a “How to Cook” primmer from eggs to vegetables to pickles, turning fruit into jam, cooking grains, roasting a chicken, pie crusts and pasta.  She next reminds us that even if we are eating alone we are worth the effort and follows up with easy recipes that work as a light lunch or snack for one but could easily be a starter or side for a family supper.  Alana sings the praises of garlic, even describing how to grow it in a conversational manner, and focuses on fresh ingredients and recipes that relate back to our mental and physical well-being.  Alana discusses between organic and Certified Naturally Grown and demystifies the labels on chickens and eggs.  Several pages on food waste offer tips to storing food to avoid loss and gives helpful tips for what to do with peels and scraps before turning them to compost.  While the recipes are interesting and variations offer ways to change up recipes like stuffed winter squash or quiche, it is the chatty, friendly side-bars sharing Alana’s good humor and dedication to good food that make this a very useful and user friendly cookbook.  

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


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just Jennifer


Martha Stewart's Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Dips, Spreads, Snacks, Small Plates, and Other Delicious Hors D'oeuvres, Plus 30 Cocktails by Martha Stewart

Domestic guru Martha Stewart has been providing recipes and entertaining ideas for over twenty years and does not disappoint with her latest collection, a smaller, less daunting cookbook than her 1999 Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook.  Stewart starts off with hosting do’s and don’ts and party tips and planning including an illustrated list of what she considers the most essential serving pieces and utensils.  The recipes are divided into five alliterative sections: Snacks, Starters, Small Plates, Stylish Bits and Sips, and though Stewart’s recipes are notorious for sometimes being very complicated with hard to find ingredients, how easy is it to melt Parmigiano cheese in a skillet until golden and let it crisp up a bit before serving.  Simple instructions, most are half a page long, combined with clear, no fuss pictures make these recipe accessible to the home cook.  Some of the recipes offer more substantial fare such as Fennel-Crusted Lamb on Brioche, Beef Sliders (complete with homemade mini hamburger buns) and Kale and Chicken Hand Pies recipes that could easily be assembled into a full meal buffet.  While some of the recipes are more substantial, some are as easy as assembling a pretty vegetable platter.  Classic cocktails such as Manhattans and Martinis get slightly new twists and drinks such as Tequila-Thyme Lemonade are sure to become summer favorites.  There are many recipes and options to choose from but the nice thing about this collection is that it never becomes overwhelming; there recipes will have you looking forward to hosting casual get-togethers such as book group discussions as well as more formal cocktail parties for special occasions. 

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


Just Jennifer

Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running by Suzy Favor Hamilton


Suzy Favor Hamilton was at the top of her game during high school, college and immediately after: she was a three-time Olympic athlete, a spokesperson for several sports apparel companies and had an adoring husband and beautiful baby girl.  But Suzy also had a secret: she suffered with a mental illness that caused bouts of mania, often helpful to her running except when she was in the races of a lifetime, her Olympic heats, when she found herself frozen and then consumed by shame at what she considered her failure.  As she struggled more and more with her disease, which she later learned was misdiagnosed, she began to find herself trouble in her marriage and with motherhood.  Taken over with a new mania, Suzy finds the same adrenaline high in a new addiction: becoming a high-priced escort in Las Vegas.  When her husband first agreed to consider an open marriage, he never realized his wife’s mania would result in this new obsession, and an entirely new life as Kelly.  Standing by her, he realizes when she is on the brink of complete self-destruction and gently pulls her back, standing by her and supporting her and she receives a proper diagnosis and finally gets the type of help she so desperately needed.  Told with honest candor holding very little, if anything back, Suzy details a life of running, not just in the physical sense, but from herself.  As she examines her life and explores her past she comes to realize that in spite of what she thinks on the conscious level, this is NOT the life she wants to live and digs deep inside, relying heavily on the support of her family, to come to terms with her illness and live a more productive, traditional life, without given up the exuberance that made her special.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The New American Story

Author: Bill Bradley
Stars: 3
Review by: Bob E.

Detailed practical nonpartisan clinical analysis of the major problems with our country and practical solutions to resolve each one.  The book was written 8 years ago, the problems remain, only worse. It is from a progressive perspective.  An incredible summary of the history of the political parties in the US and what comprises their current coalition.
Unfortunately, no humor is involved making it a tough read.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
Stars: 5
Review by: Miss Lucy


I read this for my book group, and, like so many books we've chosen through the years, this was an obscure gem that I probably never would have picked up on my own.  This book just pulled me in to its magical descriptions of life and love.  The story seemingly starts when a young woman travels to Burma to look for her father, who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from her life.  But the story is so much more than that - it's like a fairy tale in which you will lose yourself.
 

I Just Want to Pee Alone: A Collection of Humorous Essays by Kick Ass Mom Bloggers

Author: Various
Stars: 3
Review by: Miss Lucy

This is a collection of humorous essays about pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum experiences, and early motherhood.  The essays were collected by Jen Mann from some of her favorite fellow bloggers.  The second essay in the book (about Disney World) is so spot on.  This book will make you laugh, cringe, and count your blessings that you didn't have it as difficult as some of these fellow moms did.
 

People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

Author: Jen Mann
Stars: 4
Review by: Miss Lucy

Jen Mann shares her rants about being a suburban mom of young children.  These moms compete with one another in so many annoying ways.  I was enjoying the book well enough, and then halfway through, the book really kicked up, starting with the chapter about moms who do their kids' homework ("Am I Supposed to Believe a Five-Year-Old Made That?").  I loved the book from that chapter on.  It brought back many unpleasant memories, but from a distance where I can laugh about them now.
 

The Figures of Beauty

Author: David MacFarlane
Stars: 3
Review by: Smudge

The reviewers said the book was about beauty, love, and life.  I though it was about marble and art.
 

Paris

Author: Edward Rutherfurd
Stars: 4
Review by: Chris L.

I love all things French so this epic novel filled in some blanks for me. Somewhat confusing as story lines switched from seventeenth to nineteenth centuries and back intermittently. But overall satisfying read.
 

What Alice Forgot

Author: Liane Moriarty
Stars: 3
Review by: Chris L.

Interesting plot carries story along. However ending is disappointingly mundane.
 

All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Stars: 5
Review by: Chris L.

Moving story told from two divergent points of view. Lives swept along by forces outside their control.

So Many Steps to Death

Author: Agatha Christie
Stars: 3
Review by: MandyApgar

Another lesser known Christie. It focuses on the bright, pretty Hillary Craven - a young woman whose husband abandons her and their sick (soon deceased) child and decides to commit suicide. Caught on the verge of committing the act by a man in government service, he enlists Hillary's help in a "more sporting" death. Bearing a resemblance to the wife of a scientist who created a revolutionary fission method and then vanished, she is recruited to pose as the woman and then infiltrate the cold war era scene in order to get to the truth. Hillary does, but not before she gets caught up in things more than she expected, and even solves a murder that nobody knew existed in the process.

Death Comes as the End

Author: Agatha Christie
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

On of Christie's lesser known books, but I really like it. She got the inspiration after seeing some Egyptian scrolls. Set entirely in the ancient age of the country, it concerns the young widow Renisenb, who moves back with her stuffy father (a ka priest), grandmother, younger brother Ipy, and her two elder brothers with their wives and families. When her elderly father brings home a young concubine, Renisenb tries to be kind, but the girl - jealous of a young kinsman Khay's attraction to her - is still rude. When she is found dead at the base of a cliff a series of events starts off resulting in multiple deaths and Renisenb having to solve more or less for herself two mysteries - who is her family's killer, and whether or not to indeed marry Khay or her father's trusted advisor.
 

The Handbook of Style

Author: Francine Maoukian & Sarah Woodruff
Stars: 2
Review by: JL

Ok advice on fashion.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Author: Agatha Christie
Stars: 5
Review by: MandyApgar

I absolutely love this. It features Christie's greatest strengths - quirky characters placed in exotic settings faced with mystery - in spades and does quite well for setting the stage for a future tentpole character. When Anne Beddingfield, the daughter of a brilliant but impoverished archaeologist, has to earn her living upon her father's passing, she discovers she has a talent for getting into serious trouble. And for being a bit of a smart aleck. Not knowing much what to do, she flails about a little, and one day sees a man assaulted in the tube by a mysterious stranger in a brown suit. Long story short, Anne gets some money which she then blows on a trip to Africa in order to track the man (all the while writing a newspaper column on her search). Encountering the future Christie staple Colonel Race in his youth, and a friend in the form of a bored socialite housewife, she manages to get to the bottom of who the man is and uncovers a gigantic scheme in the process - resulting in her being nearly killed multiple times, falling off a cliff, being caught in the occasional gunfight, and even married!

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen

Author: Leanna de Lisle
Stars: 4
Review by: JL

Interesting take on the Tudor succession.
 

Life in the English Country House

Author: Mark Girouard
Stars: 2
Review by: MandyApgar

Nicely organized by chronology - beginning with the mediaeval household and ending with a section on households during the Indian colonial period- this was done pretty well. Minus the irritating spelling of medieval that is. Including the sort of Downton Abbey type dirt on manor houses, it manages to be in depth without being boring. A fairly famous book in its field and for good reason.

Who Gets the Drumstick: a Story of a Widow and Widower Who Met, Fell in Love, Married & Lived Happily Ever After

Author: Helen Beardsley
Stars: 5
Review by: MandyApgar

For the love of all that is holy, forget the Yours, Mine and Ours remake. This book is closer to the original, Lucille Ball version, which Ms. Ball gained the rights to after hearing of and becoming a friend to the Beardsleys. When Helen North, 32, suddenly becomes a navy widow she relocates her family of 8 to California to be closer to her family. A very devout Catholic whose faith is poured into the book, she immediately enrolls her children in a parish school run by a "cracker jack" Mother Superior - a no nonsense lady who finds room for all Helen's kids after hearing her story and finding similarities in that of her brother. Frank Beardsley's wife died suddenly, leaving him with 10 kids, and Helen herself was so moved she sent the man a copy of a special prayer that helped her. Touched, Frank began corresponding with her and the two discovered multiple eerie coincidences in their lives to the point that they became convinced it was God's will that they marry and unite their families. And so, in 1961, they did. (And unlike the film, the kids were all overjoyed with it.) Soon bearing a son, Joseph John (and later a daughter), Helen and Frank had an extremely happy life together that was touched by adopting each other's children and dealing with the celebrity that their family brought. They were the Duggars of their time, except actually competent, and the book is truly a joy for not only their shared faith, but how they made such a happy life together.
 

The Undertaker's Daughter: a Memoir

Author: Kate Mayfield
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

Mayfield uses aliases in this all throughout and with fairly good reason - on the surface the book seems pretty basic but the themes explored at times aren't really so. The third of four kids born to a WWII vet funeral director and his long suffering wife, she grew up in a very small Bible belt town in the early 60s. While her father was deciding how to keep on helpers such as the shroud lady or how to handle a rivalry with the other town funeral home run by a long standing family, the town itself was undergoing a series of changes brought about by the civil rights movement. Devoted to the family's African American housekeeper, Belle, and attracted to black men, Mayfield never understood why there was an issue. But after sleeping with her first boyfriend and the news getting out she found herself increasingly threatened and in trouble for her views. And, at the same time, she was fending off blows from her mentally ill older sister - a severe bipolar case with abusive tendencies, their parents never wanted to admit she needed help and so she was allowed to beat her siblings unchecked. Sadly, her father died young, and the house they were given by a family friend taken from them by the lady's greedy relatives, but Mayfield herself got out early to begin a new life in London.
 

Health and Wellness in Colonial America: Health and Wellness in Daily Life

Author: Rebecca Tannenbaum
Stars: 2
Review by: MandyApgar

I read something else in this series, forget what, and it was abysmal. This had a lot of the same problems - was dusty dry and not too interesting - but it was written a lot better. Still had the same irritating habit of having very short chapters followed by all the sources immediately so for someone who reads fast like me its basically a 5 minute jaunt and then flip flip flip several pages across to the next. Just interrupts the flow a little.
 

Lamb to the Slaughter and other stories

Author: Roald Dahl
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

Read this for Lamb and ignore the four others. Two stories are set in England, one in the country, and another during the great war. The titular tale, one of the works about which Dahl was most proud, is the classic later popularized by Alfred Hitchcock as a Presents episode. Mary Maloney, a pregnant housewife, a dumped by her husband for another woman shortly after he returns home one day. She reacts with what is at hand - a leg of lamb - and smacks him, at which point Patrick falls down stone dead. Mary then, after considering her options, decides to stage the scene to make it look like Patrick was killed by a lover. And she, unlike in the TV show, actually gets away with it - complete with her giving a childlike giggle at the end as she ponders Patrick's co-workers devouring the murder weapon.

Disney's Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies

Author: Jason Surrell
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

He does really, really good books. The first edition of an in depth examination of the classic attraction from its conception to the then recent Eddie Murphy disaster. Parts on the ride are the best - covers the inspirations behind the design (Winchester House, Asa Packer Mansion), the theme, stretching portrait gallery, Madame Leota, the pet cemetery out back, the dining / ballroom with dancing ghosts and resultant hitchhikers, even the infamous hat box ghost. All that is perfect. The problem is the space he devotes to the movie, which was a sizable disaster. So the book chugs along merrily and then BAM just hits a wall. A new version omits the movie portions which is great (there is a book on the Pirates ride, which is awful as it never shuts up about Jack bloody Sparrow) but which I do not have.
 

More Seen, Un-Seen Disneyland: An Unofficial, Unauthorized Look at What You See at Disneyland, but Never Really See

Author: Russell D. Flores & Bob Gurr
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

A sequel of sorts to the prior book - with additional hidden Mickeys, more park history, items that were on extinct rides relocated to other ones, and even attractions that have been closed completely. (A bra store in Disneyland??? Really??? It only lasted 6 months.) Slightly not as good as the first book - he probably used a lot of A material to start off - but still cute.
 

Seen Un Seen Disneyland: What you see at Disneyland but Never Really See

Author: Russell D. Flores
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

A nice unauthorized self published book written by a friend of my parents. Flores, a self professed Disney nut of the old school (aka "Uncle Walt" in all his glory) shows a lot of things in the park that people never really see but that Walt in his imagineers added in purposely to increase enjoyment. There is a chapter on Hidden Mickeys - the mouse ear symbol imagineers like to hide in rides, various obscure details and ideas Disney - who really was a sharp guy - and others had building the park, etc. Lots of nice, simple small things.
 

Kitchen Confidential

Author: Anthony Bourdain
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

Bourdain, a caustic New Yorker with a penchant for drugs and cigarettes, begins working his way up the culinary ladder and soon realizes that folks would almost never eat out if they knew how restaurants really operated. A chronicle of the odd events (co-workers threatening each other with cleavers, fights, etc) and useful information (never order fish later in the week as it only arrives on one day) he has lived through. Very observational and self referencing, it is also a joint biography of sorts with Bourdain's life serving as a backdrop. The book created quite a stir when it came out and served as the inspiration to hire Bourdain for his No Reservations show. Very wonderful, completely profane, and utterly him. All good.