Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Just Jennifer

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry (Henry Holt, February 2014)

Five years ago while he and his wife Robin were living in Tangiers, Harry left their three-year-old son Dillon asleep in bed alone for five minutes.  The unthinkable happened when an earthquake destroyed the building and presumably killing Dillon, though his body was never found.  Now Harry and Robin are living in Dublin, trying to rebuild their lives when Harry spots a boy whom he is certain is Dillon on the street being led by his hand by a strange woman.  Harry becomes obsessed with the idea that Dillon is still alive and tries to find the woman.  Robin is trying to move on with their lives and has just announced her pregnancy to Harry who says he is happy about it, though his actions say otherwise.  Has Harry really found Dillon? Or is it his grief and guilt that makes him think he has seen Dillon?  As Harry and Robin’s stories unfold, secrets they kept from each other emerge as the portrait of a marriage shifts from one of shared grief to one of lies and betrayals.  A suspenseful plot with several interesting twists, the ending may disappoint some readers.  Overall a successful collaboration by a husband wife team.



Just Jennifer

That Night by Chevy Stevens (Minotaur, June 2014)


A stand-alone by author Chevy Stevens that tells the story of Toni Murphy who has just finished serving time in prison for the murder of her sister, a murder she insists she is innocent of.  Toni's family has turned from her and as part of the condition of her release she is to have no contact with Ryan, the boyfriend who was also convicted in the murder.  As Toni tries to readjust to life outside of prison, Ryan continues to try and contact her as he tries to prove their innocence; the mean girls from high school are all grown up and aren't as mean as they seemed in high school, or are they? As Toni begins to learn things that may lead her to the truth about the night that changed everything she has to decide how much she is willing to risk in order to clear her name and wonders even then if she will be able to repair her relationship with her mother .  Tautly plotted with believable characters Stevens continues to be at the top of her game.

Just Jennifer

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth (Minotaur, March 2014)


Imagine going to cover a police press conference and finding the subject of the press conference, a missing woman, is your best friend from high school who you were to have had an evening out with two days earlier.  From the day shy, awkward Rachel walked in to school and took a seat next to Clara, the two have been inseparable best friends, the kind that is so intense that they were each other’s everything until something separated them for seven years.  Now Rachel is a confident television reporter and it is Clara's life that has not held together.  Shocked by her disappearance, Rachel begins to question their friendship and how well she knew Clara and what secrets Clara might have kept? As Rachel revisits their friendship as teenagers and as adults, a disturbing picture of their relationship is revealed, one that changes everything.  A tightly plotted narrative with an unreliable narrator makes this psychological thriller one not to miss.

Just Jennifer

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin, April 2014)

An enchanting story of the life of the New England Alice Island bookseller A.J. Fikry who, after the death of his young wife, becomes angry and reclusive, drinking himself into oblivion some evenings. The theft of the rarest book he owned brings police officer Lambiase into his life, the first of many people who will slowly change his life, giving him a chance to make a new start.  Publishing house representative Amelia makes it her quest to get A.J. to fall in love with a title on her company’s list, but succeeds in much more than that.  A gift left at the shop changes A.J. irrevocably, but also plays a role in changing the lives of those around him.  Beautifully told, the story has an allegorical feel as little by little, pieces of not only A.J.'s life, but those around him are slowly revealed, giving everyone in A.J.'s circle, a second chance at happiness, all the while reaffirming why we love to read and why we need each other.


Just Jennifer

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic Monthly, March 2014)


Plastic surgeon Dr. John Taylor has built a practice, and his reputation, on helping disfigured children, eschewing traditional plastic surgery which would be more lucrative to his practice.  When he is found dead in his hotel room, Palo Alto detective Samantha Adams is assigned to the case, surprised as homicide is not her usual beat.  As she begins to investigate Dr. Taylor, she learns he was a bigamist, married to three separate women; she is shocked to learn that his status conscious first wife Deborah not only knew about the other two women, but orchestrated and scheduled Dr. Taylor’s life to accommodate his choices.  Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the four women, Deborah, Samantha, MJ, his mother-earth wife, and Helen, his pediatric oncologist wife, and together they not only form a picture of his life, but slowly reveal who might have wanted him dead.  With different voices, and different images of what their life was like, each woman tells her story, deals with the death of her husband and the betrayal she feels.  Samantha, in her own way, lets Taylor’s legacy seep into her helping her make some choices, and face some truths, in her own life that she may have been trying to avoid.  

Just Jennifer

Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey  (Blue Rider Press, February, 2014)


When Danny, a simple-minded resident of rural Wyalusing, Pennsylvania finds the body of Mindy, the one woman who has been his friend his entire life, he becomes the main suspect in her murder and sets off a manhunt that has irrevocable implications for the small town.  The town turning on the kindhearted Danny is reflected in a cold, harsh winter night.  An evil has been festering in the town for many years and will all come out on this one night.  It is hard to see the people of Wyalusing turn on Danny, and maybe even a little unbelievable, as they shrug their shoulders and say “it was bound to happen”.  More tragedy and death occurs as it becomes obvious there is only one way to stop what has held the town in its grips for so many years.  Effective plotting, the manhunt occurs over the course of one night, keeps the tension high and propels the narrative forward.  

Just Jennifer

Bone Dust White by Karin Salvalaggio (Minotaur, Mary 2014) 


One night just before her eighteenth birthday, Grace thinks she hears someone calling her name and looks out the back window of her house just as a woman is stabbed in the backyard.  Grace goes to the woman and realizes it is the mother Leanne who left her when she was a young child.  Detective Macy Greeley has been searching for Leanne for the past eleven years and wants to know what brought her back to Montana after all these years.   But Grace and Macy aren’t the only ones searching for answers to secrets Leanne held; more attacks on those closest to Grace, including a possible attempt on Grace while she is in the hospital, ratchet up the urgency to the investigation…as does the fact that Macy is seven months pregnant, unsure about how to deal with the father of her child and facing her boyfriend from what seems like another life.  As Grace and Macy each search for answers to their questions, a horrifying picture is brought in to focus.  The solution isn't entirely unexpected, but the setting and the characters are real.

Just Jennifer

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (Spiegel and Grau, March 2014)


The Dane family has been keeping secrets in the Ozark town of Henbane for years.  When an outsider steals the heart of one of the Dane brothers, the secrets threaten to unravel; what sacrifices will a mother make to save her daughter Lucy from the same fate? When sixteen-year-old Lucy's friend is found murdered after being missing for a year, Lucy begins to ask questions, questions that only lead to more questions, the answers to which may destroy Lucy's family and change everything she thought she knew.  Atmospheric and visceral, the story is vividly and effectively told from Lucy's point of view in the present day and her mother's when she arrived in Henbane two decades ago.  This first novel is written with the assurance of a more experienced writer and will draw the reader in and not let go until long after the last page has been turned.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Just Jennifer

Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva (Tor, March 2014)

What would you do if you knew a man was being held in prison based on crimes allegedly committed while he was behind bars---crimes you know were trumped up to keep a vicious killer in prison.  Not even old enough to have a driver’s license, a teenager slaughtered five of his neighbors and was caught before he murdered more that would have made him a true serial killer.  Because of an antiquated Rhode Island law, this boy, who has grown into a man while in prison, must be released when he turns twenty-one, unless, as it happened, the prisoner commits other crimes while in jail.  Newspaper reporter Mulligan has been covering the story since the beginning, but now his co-worker, and the son of the owner of the paper, Mason, is uncomfortable with the framing of a man---even if the man will surely kill again once he gets out of jail.  More than a well-plotted, fast-paced---though very graphic---mystery, Providence Rag is the story of the collapse of a print newspaper and an ethical dilemma that reaches all the way to the governor.  Well-developed characters populate the book.  A slight slowing down of the pace near the middle makes the plot drag a little, but just as fast it picks up again and races toward an uneasy conclusion.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Just Jennifer



The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson (William Morrow, February 2014)

When George was a freshman in college, he had an intense affair with a classmate who killed herself over winter break.  Or did she?  George has spent the past twenty years thinking he has seen Liana Decter and when he finally does see her in a Boston bar she pulls him into a drama only George doesn’t realize he is only there to play a small part, to set things in motion and instead, he becomes so involved he will be lucky to extricate himself alive.  Liana can mesmerize and bewitch men, but there is one thing that must be kept in mind when dealing with her---Liana only looks out for Liana---and she is wanted for two murders.  Fast-paced and obsessive, Peter Swanson’s debut grabs you at once and doesn’t let go; even when you realize nothing is as it appears, it is still almost impossible to guess that Liana’s next move is.  Seductively addictive from the first page to the last.

Just Jennifer



The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena (William Morrow, February 2014)

Translated from German The Taste of Apple Seeds tells the story of Iris who has inherited her grandmother’s country house, but along with it, all her family’s  memories and secrets, some painful enough to destroy lives that have been rebuilt over the past decade.  Iris is unsure whether she should keep the house or sell it and decides to stay in it for a week to put things in order and make her decision.  Bertha’s cottage has always had an enchanted quality to it, even after the death of Iris’s cousin Rosemarie: red currents since always grow white, but make the sweetest tasting pink tinged jelly; apple blossoms bloom off-season when true lovers stand beneath a tree and sparks fly from Iris’s aunt whenever she makes human contact.  As Iris revisits her family and their memories, she must make a choice whether she wants to inherit her family’s memories and pains and be the keeper of them or take a chance on giving up her past---and possible future---and return to the life she has crafted for herself.  A fairy tale quality to the narrative will endear Iris to readers and sparks a magical atmosphere.

Just Jennifer



Ruby by Cynthia Bond (Hogarth, April 29, 2014)

Ruby is “the kind of pretty it hurts to look at” and Ephram has been in love with Ruby since they were children in East Texas.  Over thirty years later, Ruby has returned from New York City, even more damaged then when she left, the town shunning her, Ephram determined to save and redeem his Ruby.  With writing that is of another time, each character has a distinctive voice: Ruby is so haunting, Ephram’s sister Celia overbearing and authoritative, and Ephram, a dream-like quality, never forgetting Ruby in all his years.  The dusty East Texas setting from Celia’s spotless kitchen to the alley outside the grocery where men gather to trade gossip and bootleg whiskey adds to the overall atmosphere.  The structure of the narrative is very effective as the scenes seamlessly shift between the past and present, slowly revealing a full picture of Ruby and what she endured during her life.  Each detail from the old lady’s shack in the woods to when and how water is used to the black crows is significant and perfectly placed.  Beautiful and hauntingly horrifying as Epharam takes on an entire town to save the woman with whom he fell in love as a child and still loves as a man.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Just Jennifer

Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine Books, April 22, 2014)


Imagine going on a long-planned vacation with your family only to wake up and find your children missing from the hotel room.  Now imagine it is determined that your husband took your children and the police are unable to do anything about it.  Liz and her husband Paul have a nice life in a small Adirondack town in New York State.  Liz has a small farm plot and sells her harvests and products made from them and Paul is an adored professor at a nearby agricultural college.  They have decided to take their two young children, Ally and Reid upstate to visit Paul’s parents at their cattle farm; Liz is a little surprised as they haven’t seen Matthew and Mary in a very long time and Paul is mostly estranged from them.  As Liz begins to look for her children she realizes that there is a lot about her husband she doesn't know and there is a secret from his past, one that caused the estrangement between Paul and his parents, one that is very disturbing, and one that might just be the key to where Paul has taken the children.  Strange encounters with strangers at Liz’s house and threats to stop looking for her children make her all the more determined to find her children and bring them home no matter the cost.  Tautly plotted with many twists and turns, Ruin Falls will keep you reading long into the night as Liz’s worst nightmares are slowly revealed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch (William Morrow, February 2014)


Sugar Wallace has been on the lam from the last fifteen years with nothing but her bees and good Southern manners.  She is not on the run from the law, however, but worse, from her proper Southern mother who is mortified that Sugar left her fiancé at the altar just before saying “I do”.  Sugar has spent the past decade and a half going wherever the bees take her, making close friends, but never staying in one place for too long.  Her latest stop is Alphabet City in Manhattan where she turns her penthouse terrace into a rooftop paradise for her bees.  Sugar immediately realizes that her fellow apartment mates are even more standoff-ish than she expected them to be, but also realizes that each one is damaged in their own way and sets out to bring them out of their apartments and help them with her special brand of magic---honey and good manners.  Sugar can’t, however, seem to get past the things that hold her back, even when she is near handsome Scotsman Theo Fitzgerald who produces sparks just by looking at her and who, from the moment he met her, as avowed his love for her and his wish to spend the rest of his life with her.  Little by little, the bees, love and Theo work their magic on Sugar, help her to heal and begin to live her life with the zest and vigor she encourages in other.  Eccentric characters and sentient bees add a touch of magic to this story about being, letting be and letting go.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley (Bantam, February 4, 2014)


What secrets do we keep from even those to whom we are closest, what secrets do we keep even from ourselves, and how do the lies we tell ourselves become our truths?  These are all topics that Buckley considers in her latest novel.  Eve Lattimore has devoted her life to caring for her fourteen-year-old son who has a condition that prevents him from having any exposure to UV rays which will most likely kill him.  Eve has created a safe haven for Tyler, trying to keep as normal a life for the rest of the family, but ultimately alienated sixteen-year-old Melissa and her husband who has taken a job away from the family in Washington, D.C.  One rainy night, on the way to the airport to her husband up, Eve takes her eyes off the road for one minute while texting and hits something.  She is sickened and terrified when she realizes it is her best friend Charlotte’s eleven-year-old daughter Amy and that Amy is dead.  Eve quickly creates a story that convinces herself that it is for Tyler’s sake that she doesn't report the accident, but things slowly unravel for her, and her family, as the truth is finally revealed.  Flawed characters, not beyond redemption, a complicated, moral story line and a police investigation elevate this family saga a notch.  The ending allows some of the characters to examine themselves a little more closely as some startling admissions are made. 

Just Jennifer

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, February 11, 2014)


In another stand-alone by the author of the Tess Monaghan (who makes a cameo at the end) mystery series, Laura Lippman explores not only what happens when a cold case file from over thirty-years ago is looked at with new eyes, she also depicts women in society and the family from the turn of 1960 until modern day.  Baltimore gambling boss Felix Brewer would rather leave his wife Bambi, who he adores, and his three daughters, ages three, fourteen and seventeen, rather than spend fifteen years in jail.  He also leaves his mistress, Julie Saxony, who his wife knows about, and who is pretty certain Felix will send for her after a time.  Ten years, almost to the day of Felix’s disappearance, Julie also disappeared.  Everyone assumes Felix finally sent for her, but in 2001, her body is discovered behind Bambi’s house and the police department opens a murder investigation which is never solved.  Ten years later, Sandy Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective, is consulting on the department’s cold cases and decides to take another look.  As he does, he realizes that there is definitely a connection between Felix and Julie’s murder and tracks down all the players, including Felix’s lawyer and Bambi’s confident, Bert Gelman, and the bail bondsman Tubby Schroeder who took a bath when Felix went on the lam.  Writing back and forth from the past to the present, Lippman tells the story of Felix and Bambi’s marriage, the story of Felix and Julie, Julie’s sister and the story of each of his daughters and how each is connected with Felix and with Julie and how in the end, we are ultimately responsible for our own actions and cannot try and take the blame, or hide, what someone else has done.  Lippman slowly teases the truth out as she untangles over fifty years of lies and deception.  Strong characterization, especially the women, add another layer to the already rich narrative which is so much more than a traditional mystery.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Just Jennifer

Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall (Gallery Books, February 25, 2014)

This memoir is unsettling, riveting and very heartwarming and hopeful all at the same time.  Theall is very honest in her exploration of her relationship with her family, the one into which she was born and the one she created and how Catholicism affected many aspects of her life growing up, her relationship with her mother and her adulthood living life as a gay woman with a life partner and a son they want baptized.   Growing up in the conservative Bible Best of Texas was not easy for a tomboy; a troubled relationship with her mother who often blamed Michelle for her depression, pulling out her Catholicism and using guilt as tool, made life even more difficult for Michelle.  Finally admitting she was gay was a great relief to Michelle, and coming out to her parents seemed a next logical step as she was certain they already knew.  They didn’t and were not as accepting as Michelle had thought; neither was the Church in which she had grown up in and turned to in times of trouble (Michelle was diagnosed with MS in 2003).  The local parish at first refused to baptize Michelle and her partner’s adopted son (who was a student at the parish’s school) and then held a baptism at a time other than right after a mass when the rite is normally conducted, encouraging it to be a community event.  Shortly after, the pastor, using Catholic doctrine and the Archdiocesan rules, decides that children of gay parents are no longer welcomed in the school setting Michelle off on a writing campaign (culminating in this book) fighting for her rights as a parent and her son’s rights as an innocent, even as she jeopardizes her relationship with her own family.  



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Jennifer

Perfect by Rachel Joyce (Random House, January 2014)


When eleven-year-old Byron’s best friend James tells him that two seconds are to be added to time in order to realign recorded time with the rotation of the earth, the already worried young boy becomes even more so with far-reaching consequences.  One morning Byron awakens and everything seems normal: his school uniform is laid out, he and his sister have their usual breakfast tussle and his mother Diana drives them to school.  This morning, the fog on the moor is extra dense and Byron’s mother takes a different route; a quick glance at his watch makes Byron certain that this is the moment the two seconds are being added and as he does, something happens that his mother and sister do not seem to notice but something that haunts Byron for weeks to come.  Not sure to whom to turn, he tells James what has happened as James is sure to concoct a plan.  As Byron confronts his mother about the occurrence, a chain of events is set off with irrevocable consequences.  Rachel Joyce’s characters are pitch-perfect and empathetic; Diana reminds us of something inside ourselves of which we’d rather not be reminded and we ache for Byron as he wants to protect his mother and do the right thing at the same time, not sure where the two meet and not having any idea what chain of events will be set off; but one thing is certain, once he starts off on the path, nothing can ever be same again.

Just Jennifer


The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon (Doubleday, January 28, 2014)


A fictionalized retelling of the true and still unsolved disappearance of New York City Justice Joseph Crater in 1930, Lawhon’s novel re-imagines the events that led up to the judge’s last moments, what might have happened and the three women most involved in Crater’s life were affected by the disappearance and what they each might have known.  Set amid the glamour and corruption of prohibition and Tammany Hall, Lawhon recreates the world of Broadway chorus girls, mobsters and underground speakeasies with authenticity.  Each woman is introduced and then slowly woven into the story that becomes Crater’s disappearance and presumed death, each with her own secret that will fiercely be protected as they each finding themselves doing things they could never imagine.  A true-life murder mystery with bigger than life, real or based on real characters, The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress convincingly explores what might have happened with surprises up until the very end.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing (Picador, December 31, 2013)


U.K. writer and critic Olivia Laing came to America to follow the trails of six of the twentieth-centuries most notable authors---and drinkers.  Following the lives, literally, of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, John Cheever and poet John Berryman, Laing explores not only how drinking affected their lives and writing, but how their work influenced their drinking.  Echo Spring is a nod to the liquor cabinet where Brick keeps his Echo Spring Bourbon in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but Laing doesn’t stop there as she weaves in and out of the writers’ lives, making connections between them that will be new to many readers.  The child of an alcoholic family (her mother’s lover was an alcoholic), Laing has a unique insider’s view of alcoholism and as she traces a path from New York City to New Orleans to Key West across the United States to the Pacific Northwest, she muses not only on the past lives of the writers but of her own family.  With her lyrical prose, Laing brings to life a side of these men no often seen as she weaves together a portrait of not only despair and loss, but one of hope and the possibility of recovery.  An evocative, personal book it is honest and well-researched at the same time, drawing the reader in with lasting effects.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just Jennifer


Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra (William Morrow, August 2013)
Regina Calcaterra is a well-respected attorney in New York and was part of the response team for New York City immediately after Superstorm Sandy.  She has worked hard lobbying for social justice on the national and local levels, and is a board member of You Gotta Believe, an organization that works toward finding older children in the foster care system permanent home situations.  To read this story of a young girl who fought to keep herself above water and her younger siblings from harm makes her life, achievements and passions even that more amazing.  Regina, along with two older sisters and a younger brother and sister moved from house to trailer to apartment with their addicted and abusive mother Cookie.  Her eldest sister is married when Regina starts her story and her next oldest sister tells Regina it is time for her to take over and moves in with a friend from school for the summer.  Knowing the worst thing that can happen is for Child Services to find out about the remaining three siblings, Regina tries hard the summer she is thirteen to provide food, a relatively clean place to live and comfort for her younger siblings after their mother abandons them in a house on Long Island, doing whatever she feels necessary to keep the remaining family together.  When Cookie returns and beats Regina beyond recognition, a teacher in the school finally steps in and Regina and her older sister are sent to one home, her brother and sister to another.  Thinking that emancipating herself will save her brother and sister, Regina does just that, only to have Cookie find out, become enraged and take the children to live with her in Idaho.  Over the next few years, Regina fights for good grades in school, earns a spot on the gymnastics team but never gives up trying to save Norman and Rosie from her mother.  She also reaches out to the father she never knew and is rebuffed and tries, as she nears adulthood, to learn why her mother hated her most of all the children, hoping she will be able to heal from the abusive relationship, knowing they will never be able to have a healthy one.  That any of the children survived this life as well as they each seem to have is remarkable, that Regina was able to rise above it, educate herself and put herself in a position where she was able to help others from a similar fate is nothing short of remarkable.


Just Jennifer

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition (IT Books, October 2013)
For almost fifty years (December 1965), the animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas has been considered the start of the holiday season by millions of people.  On one December night in 1969, Radio City Music Hall was showing a Peanuts movie, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was playing to a sold out crowd on Broadway and millions more Americans were snuggled up at home watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on television.  This book provides a behind the scenes look at one of the world’s most beloved holiday traditions.  From animation art to the familiar score to production notes, this book is full of everything we love most about Peanuts and Charles Schultz. Interviews with Executive Producer Lee Mendelson and quotes from the late Charles Schultz will make this book and the making of this timeless special person.  Each time you pick up this book you will discover something familiar, but also something new.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Just Jennifer

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen (Viking, February 2014)

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie fall into two camps: purists whose only accepted deviation from the beloved series of books is the television series.  Don’t even mention to them the idea that Laura’s daughter rose not only edited the fictionalized account of her mother’s life, but reshaped it, in effect rewriting her family history.  The other end of the spectrum (where I fall) are the readers who cannot get enough of the rugged pioneer life; bring on the legends, the myths and what-ifs: the more that is available to feed our obsession and imagination, the better.  Bich Minh (Beth) Nguyen has done just that in her novel Pioneer Girl.  Lee Lein has finished her PhD but cannot seem to get her academic career off the ground and so returns to her family and their restaurant in the suburbs of Chicago.  Lee finds the adage “you can never go home again” applies to her family as she and her strong-willed mother face the same arguments never resolved when Lee left for college; she sees herself as an adult returned home temporarily whereas her mother feels as the daughter it is Lee’s duty to return to help the family.  Lee’s brother also picks this time to briefly return home, leaving in his wake more turmoil and uncertainty for Lee, but also leaving a gold brooch Lee had almost forgotten.  Lee’s grandfather ran a café in Saigon in the 1960’s;  in 1965, an American reporter named Rose frequented the café and left a gold brooch that in Lee’s mind bears a striking resemblance to the pin Almanzo Wilder gave Laura the Christmas they were engaged in These Happy Golden Years.  An academic and researcher to the core, Lee travels to Iowa where Rose Wilder Lane’s papers are stored looking for proof that she is right; what she finds is a puzzling poem and a letter that set her zigzagging across the prairie and to San Francisco, following a trail that if she can verify what she hopes to will not only change her life and that of a stranger’s, but could possibly alter the history of America’s most famous pioneer families.

With a light hand, Nguyen weaves the history of Lee’s family into the story of Lee’s quest.  As the first generation American born daughter of a proud, traditional Vietnamese woman, Lee must struggle with the cultural values of her youth and her desire to make the most she-and her family- can of the American dream.  Lee’s family story traces a similar path as the Ingalls and Wilders did, moving from location to location, searching for work and a better life, though this is all done very subtly.  Lee’s search for the story of the brooch takes her not only into the past, but into the future, her future, as she learns to live for herself while still being part of the family she holds dear.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Just Jennifer

Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu (William Morrow, September 2013)

This twist on the traditional English cozy takes readers to Singapore where they will meet Rosie Lee, a rich widow who has built a culinary empire at Aunty Lee’s Delights, a restaurant where she hopes to nourish both the bodies and souls of locals and tourists with her spicy fare.  Trying to help her step-son Mark build his wine importing business, she has created a series of wine dinners which attract an eclectic group of people.  One of the guests who often assists at the dinners, Laura Kwee, doesn’t show up one evening, making Aunty Lee concerned there might be a connection between the young woman not showing up and the body of a young woman that washed up on the beach that morning.  A young American woman arrives that evening at Aunty Lee’s looking for Laura Kwee’s friend Marianne who has also seemingly disappeared, making Aunty Lee even more certain that Laura Kwee, and perhaps Marianne, have become victims of foul play.  Once involved with the police, Aunty Lee finds that as part of the community, she wants to help the police locate the two young women and sole a murder---or at least make sure the investigators and the victims’ families are well-fed.

Singapore, with its combination of British and Chinese tradition and culture makes the perfect setting for a cozy mystery.  Filled with quirky characters---led by Aunty Lee, and an exotic setting, this first mystery by playwright Ovidia Yu is a delight for all the senses.

Just Jennifer

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese Doubleday, October 29, 2013)

Pat Conroy is known to most as the author of best-selling novels such as Beach Music and The Prince of Tides as well as the semi-autobiographical novel The Great Santini; he is also a son and the eldest child of an abusive, dysfunctional family.  This is the memoir not only of Conroy’s journey through life but of his relationship to his mother, siblings and most importantly to his father.  Donald Patrick Conroy was a Marine fighter pilot who flew missions during World War II and Korea.  In his private life, Don Conroy was abusive and violent toward his wife and children, physically and emotionally.  Pat and his six brothers and sisters were raised in different military housing throughout the South (from where his mother came) and were, for the most part, estranged from his father’s Chicago family.  As Pat grows up, he tries to protect his family from his father’s brutal beatings and hateful outbursts, but at the same time he never seems to completely give up on his father, though it is often more out of a sense of familial responsibility and duty than an actual hope that his father will ever change.

When The Great Santini was published it caused such a rift with the entire family, it seemed unlikely that any of the family would ever have any sort of relationship with Pat again.  Strangely enough, the book-and later the movie (which coincided with the Conroy’s divorce) had the opposite effect on Santini (Conroy’s nickname from the Marines) as the two come to some sort of understanding and an uneasy truce.  Pat’s steadfast love for his family and the family for which he so desperately hoped is deconstructed through fear and hate and slowly, though never completely, rebuilt, reminding everyone, no matter how imperfect we may be, we are still family.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Just Jennifer

A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley (Norton, November 2013)

With the working subtitle Auspicious Births and Untimely Deaths, Bad Reviews and Bestsellers, Hoaxes and Scandals and Other True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year, Tom Nissley, an eight time Jeopardy! champion has combed through literary miscellany to find not only birth and death dates of writers for each day of the year, but unusual facts and tidbits as well.  Compiled by month and then by day, each month begins with a short essay quoting authors and characters (“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” ---Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables) and then lists half a dozen or so titles that typify the month.  Each day that follows is full of surprises.  Who knew that on October 1, 1888 L.  Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) opened Baum’s Bazaar in Aberdeen, South Dakota offering housewares and toys (the store failed within a year) or that on May 15, 1853 Charlotte Bronte’s refusal to marry the Reverend Arthur Nicholls caused him to break down during a public service (she said yes a year later).  Pick up the book and see what happened on your birthday, read pages at random, in chronological order or limit yourself to one page, the current day, per day.  Any way you pursue this treasure trove you are sure to find fun facts with which to dazzle your friends or at least be inspired to pick up an old friend or try something new.

Just Jennifer

Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming (Minotaur, November 2013)

Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and her new husband, the somewhat older police chief of Millers-Kill, New York are ready to go on their honeymoon, to a cabin they are considering buying about an hour north of their hometown before facing the birth of their child (Russ is unsure about becoming a first time father at his age) and the career crises each faces: Clare has been threatened with losing her parish and being disciplined for becoming pregnant before she married Russ and Russ is facing the possible dissolution of his police force in favor of paying the State Police to patrol Millers-Kill.  Before the two can pack the truck, they are called to a house that has exploded into flames in the night killing the elderly couple who was sleeping inside.  Russ learns the couple was fostering a young girl in need of a transplant who was not found in or around the house but must be found quickly as she is still on rejection drug therapy.  Russ leaves the case in the capable hands of his department, but finds the case has followed him and his new bride on their honeymoon and rather than nesting, Clare, almost back to normal after her recent tour in Afghanistan is restless, putting herself and the baby in harm’s way.  As the case unfolds from Millers-Kill and from a remote cabin, the plot takes a decidedly evil twist and reveals some much unexpected things about people Russ thought he knew.

The tightly and intricately plotted mystery that unravels is very good reading to begin with, but Spencer-Fleming excels at her characterization, not only of long-running characters such as Clare and Russ, but of secondary characters, such as Kevin and Hadley who are beginning to play more prominent roles in the storyline.  The plot shifts easily from Millers-Kill to Russ and Clare’s honeymoon retreat and the brutally cold January temperature, with the addition of the job crises awaiting back home, keep the atmosphere thick, the tension taught and the suspense high.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

2013 Summer Blockbusters - The Best of the Best!


My Dangerous Duke

Author: Gaelyn Foley
Stars: 4
Review by: BookLover

Another exciting Inferno Club novel!  This intricate story has so many twists and turns - it's a must read!  Katy is kidnapped and believes she has been given into white salvery to the Duke of Warrington.  She is drugged and presented to him by the elder smuggler as a gift.  But when the Duke sees her practically unconscious in his room, he leaves her alone.   The next day she runs away, so the Duke gives chase.  She almost loses her life when a cliff gives way, but the Duke saves her.  They have a talk and Katy can see she can trust him.  He calls for the elder smuggler to find out what is going on.  He finds out about events in her past and about how she came to be given to him.  They go to find a cave (one of those caves like in Indiana Jones that can kill you) where the scrolls of the Order of St. Michael can be found.  This book contains a very detailed plot and characters.

Seduce Me at Sunrise

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Stars: 5
Review by: BookLover

This is one of the most romantic of stories!  This book again features the Hathaway family (the one from Mine Till Midnight), although this book may have come first.  Mr. Hathaway takes in 12-year-old gypsy Kev Merripan when he is left for dead after a gypsy raid.  He was a true gypsy, and finds it difficult to live in an actual dwelling.  He growls at everyone who comes near him.  One day Win enters his room and offers to read to him, and he instantly latches onto her.  He stays with the Hathaway family because he loves Win and wants to protect her.  When the village is ravaged by scarlet fever, Win contracts it.  She survives, but it has made her an invalid.  After two years, she goes to a clinic and is cured, but the doctor returns home with her, because he has fallen in love with her. Win's heart has always belonged to Kev, but he has kept rejecting her because he feels he will hurt her, since he is a gypsy.  But after the doctor gives Win a ring, Kev takes action to make Win his.

Mine Till Midnight

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Stars: 3.5
Review by: BookLover

Amelia is in desperate search of her brother, Leo, after his financee died of scarlet fever, which had ravaged their village.  He has become a lost soul, drinking, fighting, and whoring.  Amelia must shoulder so much of the family burden now, especially since her father died of a heart attack and her mother died shortly thereafter of grief.  Amelia finds Leo but he is bent on self-destruction.  In the midst of everything, Amelia, who had seen herself as a spinster, is wooed by Cam Rohan.  Meanwhile, Leo's fiancee has reappeared as a ghost, their house catches fire, and Amelia's ex-fiance (who broke her heart years ago) tries to steal riches out of the walls of their house.

My Wicked Marquess

Author: Gaelen Foley
Stars: 3
Review by: BookLover

This is part of the Inferno Club Series.  They are excellent reads.  I want more.

Max, Marquess of Rothustone, falls for Daphane, a woman he saved from thugs outside the orphanage she started in a bad part of town with brothels, gaming halls, and thug gangs.  He asks her father for her hand in marriage.  He accepts, but Daphane is angry because she had no say in the matter.  She is very attracted to Max, but she feels he has walls up, and she cannot share a life with him until he takes down these protective walls. She runs away from him.  Max finds her and tells her how worried her family is and that he will give up chasing her now.  He admits he has never been loved.  Daphane confesses that she loves him, and they get married.  Max sets up the orphanage in a new area, names it after her mother, cleans it up, and arranges for new clothes and shoes for the children. But then she discovers he is keeping secrets from her, and trouble brews, until he explains all.  Daphane sees Max in a new light as a great hero.

No Other Love

Author: Candace Camp
Stars: 3
Review by: BookLover

Nicola could love no one else ever since her true love, Gil, was killed, supposedly by accident, by her sister's husband, the Evil Earl of Exmoor.  Ten years go by, and the sister, a healer, finds herself captured and blindfolded by a highwayman, who steals her possessions, then steals a kiss.  He has captured her to heal one of his men.  When her blindfold is removed, she sees that the highwayman is really Gil, who it turns out was not killed all those years ago, but merely captured and sent to a gang who collected young men for the Royal Navy.  Gil and his friend had escaped from the gang and had come back to Exmoor to become highwaymen for vengeance.  More twists and turns follow.

Splendid

Author: Julia Quinn
Stars: 3.5
Review by: BookLover

American heiress, Emma, is sent to England against her wishes with her aunt and cousins for her "season" and her "coming out" ball.  To escape the ball, Emma and her cousin disguise themselves as maids.  The cooks send Emma out for eggs, where she saves a boy from running out in the street, but she falls and hits her head on the sidewalk in the process.  She awakens to find herself on a duke's couch.  He is attracted to her, but he has decided that since she is of low breeding, her should not think of her.  Nevertheless, he can't stay away, and attends ball after ball at her aunt's house, looking for her among the maids.  He eventually discovers the truth.  His mother invites Emma to their country home and he decides to marry her.

My Notorious Gentleman

Author: Gaelen Foley
Stars: 3.5
Review by: BookWorm

Grace is a parson's daughter.  At a ball, someone points out Trevor to her.  He is a member of the Inferno Club, a gang of spies, warriors, and assassins.  Somehow, Grace and Trevor find themselves together in a quiet room at the ball, and he mistakes her intentions.  He corrects his mistake and apologizes, then ends up buying a piece of property from her father.  Through a bad winter and marauders that threaten the town, Grace is there to help Trevor out.

A Lady Never Tells

Author: Candace Camp
Stars: 4
Review by: BookLover

I like this writer, Candace Camp.  I have recently discovered her and am reading the first book in this series.  Four American sisters are told by their mother on her deathbed to run from their stepfather to her father, an earl, in England.  The sisters have many adventures on the ship to England, as well as on shore after they arrive - thieves, self-protection, and romance.

Scandalous Again

Author: Christina Dodd
Stars: 4
Review by: BookLover

Maddy is lost by her father in a card game to an American, Mr. Knight.  She and her cousin travel to London to meet Mr. Knight, but get caught up in a crazy house party guarded by thugs from the worst part of London.  All the men at the party are taken prisoners.  Maddy and her cousin save the day when they find a priesthole and put it to good use.

His Mistress by Morning

Author: Elizabeth Boyle
Stars: 3
Review by: BookLover

This is a "be careful what you wish for" story.  Before Charlotte goes to sleep, she wishes that Sebastian would love her.  Lo and behold, she wakes up as his wife!  But this version of Sebastian is different from the one she loves.  She eventually realizes that she is not happy, and wishes to go back to the way everything was before.  This works, and Charlotte then takes matters into her own hands, winning over Sebastian the right way.

The Silver Rose

Author: Jane Feather
Stars: 3.5
Review by: BookLover

Feuding families, arranged marriages, murder plots, fires, and fights abound in this tale of an Arabian horse breeder and a mysterious bracelet that has traveled full-circle.

Once a Knight

Author: Christina Dodd
Stars: 4
Review by: BookLover

This book restored my respect for Christina Dodd.  A wealthy heiress maintains her keep and her emotions neatly and orderly.  She either refuses all men the King tries to marry her off to, or they refuse her because she seems so rigid and cold.  When her life is threatened, she seeks Sir David, legend and champion of the King, to be her champion.

A Well Favored Gentleman

Author: Christina Dodd
Stars: 2
Review by: BookLover

First Dodd book to disappoint me.  It takes place in Scotland, but has very little Scottish brogue that I so love.  Mystical Selkies who watch over the clan by giving them rare opals from the sea are at the heart of this book.  Their mysteries and rules become even more complicated when humans and Selkies intermarry and have offspring.  Abandonment, witches, and murder kept the plot moving to what I felt was a disappointing conclusion.

Nobody's Darling

Author: Teresa Medeiros
Stars: 3
Review by: BookLover

The Duke of Wyndham has received annual letters from his grandchildren in America ever since their parents died of cholera when they were children.  But when they grow up and the Duke hears that they've gone out west, the grandson, supposedly, to write (but really to rob banks) and the granddaughter to find her brother, he and Lady Anne travel to America to save them.  Shootings, bank robberies, wild west shows, and romances ensue.  All in all, many characters, but enjoyable story.