Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just Jennifer

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood (Penguin Books, October 28, 2014)


23 Beulah Grove, a run-down, cash only apartment building in South London is most decidedly not a place where everyone knows your name.  In fact, it is just the opposite: if you know what someone calls themselves, you can be pretty sure that isn’t what their real name is.  Body parts and smelly drains backed up with who knows what are par for the course for this flop house.  Many feel as if they are being watched, and they probably are, be the closed circuit cameras the smarmy, grossly obese landlord, but worse of all, Collette, who is on the run from her former boss who she saw kill someone, finds evidence that the previous tenant of her apartment was murdered…or at least dismembered…and becomes fearful she may be next, fairly certain the murderer is a fellow border.  One summer evening, a terrible incident leaves the residents with no choice but to form a most unholy alliance: if one of their secrets is revealed, they will all be revealed, unraveled.  Tight plotting, constant action and well-dawn, real characters, even with all their odd proclivities, propel Edgar Award winning Marwood’s sophomore offering to a chilling climax that very few will have seen coming.  A perfect read to stay up late at night with, especially during the seasons of goblins and ghostly things.

Just Jennifer

Flings: Stories by Justin Taylor (Harper, August 2014)


In this collection of short stories that are fleeting, or rather the characters and their relationships are fleeting, Taylor examines the familial bonds, friendships and acquaintances that make up our human experience but that are often just out of our grasp, the effects not felt for perhaps years later.  At the same time, the collection feels as if Taylor is having a private joke with himself, perhaps at the characters’ expense, maybe even at ours, yet with each story there is something hidden, something that makes us want to stand up and redeem ourselves. Taylor has an uncanny knack of inserting sentences or phrases that seem innocent (in “Carol, Alone” the narrator talks about drinking real coffee versus decaf, musing that people chalk up their need to drink decaf to “Bad hearts…”) but at the same time, leaving the reader wondering if the phrase might have a deeper meaning and have been carefully chosen and placed rather than being as innocuous as they did at first blush.  Taylor’s writing has agelessness about it and is easy and genuine whether he is writing about high school students, college students, children or retirees.  Read individually, these stories and characters give the reader pause, but when collected and read as a whole, they linger long past the covers of the book.

Just Jennifer

Crooked River by Valerie Geary (William Morrow, October 2014)


After the death of their mother, fifteen year old Sam McAlister and her ten year old sister Ollie move from Eugene, Oregon to a rural farm where their father, known as Bear, lives in a teepee in the meadow where he raises bees and sleeps under the stars.  Sam is used to spending summers with her father, but Ollie never did.  Ollie has not spoken since the death of their mother, something that happened after their aunt died several years earlier; unknown to Sam, Ollie sees what she calls Shimmering, the spirits of those who have died, and not understanding what she sees often frightens the young girl.  Shortly after the two arrive in Bear’s meadow, the body of a young woman washes up on the shore.  Bear becomes an immediate suspect, but Sam knows in her heart he wouldn’t hurt anyone intentionally, and Ollie knows from the Shimmering that something evil is out there, closer than the sisters know, an evil that has been lurking and festering for many years, an evil that can destroy the McAlisters if left unchecked.  Told in distinctive alternating voices, Sam and Ollie tell their stories, the story of their past, the story of their present and hint at the possibility of their futures as Sam is on the verge of being a young woman and Ollie on the verge of being a teenager and all the changes that comes with that.  The Shimmering that follows Ollie is used effectively and takes the “ghost story” to a new level as the psychological tension stays high in this fast paced narrative that will also allow readers hearts’ to ache for these two young girls who are, at the same time, more lost than they realize and not nearly as lost as others see them.  Crooked River is a strong debut that combines strong characters coming of age, a murder and a touch of other worldliness with a natural setting into a taut thriller. 

Just Jennifer

Sunday Suppers: Recipes + Gatherings by Karen Mordechai (Clarkson Potter, October 2014)

In the spring of 2009, a group of friends and neighbors began gathering in a loft in Brooklyn to create and share a meal communally, a tradition that evolved into a communal cooking center and food website encouraging the sharing of cooking and dining together as a community: Sunday Suppers was created.  With an emphasis on farm-fresh, local ingredients, the recipes are often tried and true with a little bit of a surprise, watermelon salad with lemon and coriander seed dressing, for example, but all are accessible. The recipes are gathered by the time of day (Morning, Noon, Afternoon and Evening) and then subdivided into special events, [Morning] In Bed, a noontime Spring Forager’s Lunch, and Afternoon Taqueria and an Autumn Dinner for Evening.  Easy to read and follow recipes, with relatively easy to locate ingredients make these meals as easy to create as they are special.  Karen Mordechai, a photography rand stylist has help to create a beautiful book that is as beautiful, with plenty of white area on the pages and lovely photos of not only the finished dishes, but the preparation make the book a pleasure to look at as well, as it is useful and inspirational.  Cook’s notes help with sourcing some of the harder to find ingredients and explain the trickier techniques; each occasion begins with a testimonial as to why each meal should be created and shared and what made it special for the person.  Even though Sunday Suppers is Brooklyn based, the book and the recipes have a laid back, relaxed feel to them, much like a lazy Sunday morning, afternoon or evening.   

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Just Jennifer

Elsa Schiaparelli by Meryle Secrest (Knopf, 2014)

Growing up in a Roman household with an academic father, a distant mother and a prettier, older sister, no one could have guessed that Elsa Schiaparelli would become a taste maker as one of the most innovative fashion designers of the early twentieth century and that her styles would be embraced especially by American women, forever changing the way they dress.  Biographer Meryle Secrest has taken the life of this woman, whose name admittedly is not as commonly known today as Chanel, and has examined and explored the many facets that inspired and drove Schiaparelli.  After making a bad marriage to a cad and a fraud, Schiaparelli found herself deported from Britain and living in Greenwich Village essentially as a single mother with a seriously ill young daughter (Gogo contracted polio at a young age).  With a lot of moxy and daring (“Dare to be different” became one of the quips she was known for) Schiaparelli began accessorizing---hats (that looked like shoes or were inspired by lamp chops), purses and gloves, and then turned to the practicalities of the time and women: dresses that wrapped on rather than went over an elaborate hairdo, and unexpected fabrics and textiles in unexpected places (otters are good swimmers so why wouldn’t their fur make an exceptional bathing suit?) and practicality, split skirts turned into wide-legged long trousers.  She was inspired to be as daring as Dali who painted a dress design for her, a dress that was instantly snapped up by the Duchess of Windsor as a honeymoon gown.  Schiaparelli’s personal life was not nearly as elegant or glamorous as her public life, rarely seeing her daughter, though all the time attending to Gogo’s corporal needs.  Schiaparelli was also under suspicion as a spy as the United States neared and entered World War II; her returned to Paris was marred by this dark cloud, but Schiaparelli was not kept down and continued to forge ahead.  This well researched, well documented biography is a must read for anyone with an interest in the popular culture or haute couture of the early twentieth century.  Elsa Schiaparelli is a fascinating woman about whom many more should know much more.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just Jennifer

The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow, September 2014)


Who among us has not at one time or another looked around and wondered where we were, how we got here and where we are going?  Angela, a single woman living in New York City, working as an event planner finds herself in just that situation (jobless now) after a circus spectacular goes up in flames.  A keen interest in cooking Italian food learned from her grandmother, a picture of a cozy beach cottage in Maine and the possibility of a love interest met through an online dating site give Angela the courage to head north and start again.  Things in Maine are not how she hoped---even expected---them to be, but instead of turning around and running home, Angela decides to give Maine---and herself---a chance and finds a place to live, begins working in a coffeehouse and makes new friends, starting first and foremost with herself.  Kline’s stories are deceptively simple, but she has an uncanny knack of finding what characters find most frightening and guides them through to the life where things really are the way they should be.

Just Jennifer


Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (Harper Perennial, September 2014)


The Pen/Bingham prize winner for her novel Stiltsville revisits this unusual neighborhood off the coast of Southern Florida as she chronicles what it means to be a wife, a mother and a woman, each one individually and all three together and how you decide what you must give up so you don’t entirely lose yourself and when do you stop being one or the other if ever.  Georgia Quillian has relocated herself, her husband Graham and their three-year-old son Frankie to her hometown of Coral Gables.  Graham’s battle with parasomnia has alienated the family’s neighbors in Illinois and most likely caused him not to be awarded tenure.  Most mystifying, at least to Georgia is that something about Graham and his condition has caused Frankie to stop speaking.  Purchasing an old houseboat and docking it in Georgia’s father’s canal, Georgia and Graham hope to give their family some stability and semblance of normalcy, hard to do while floating on water, but they remain tentatively a family, connected only by a mooring line.  Graham has a new job studying extreme weather which keeps him away from his family even more and Georgia begins working for reclusive artist Charlie Hicks who lives in Stiltsville and has his own regrets as a husband, father and man.  As Georgia and Frankie spend less time with Graham and more time with Charlie, Georgia is able to get better perspective on her marriage, family and life.  As Hurricane Andrew approaches, the events in Georgia’s life converge in the calm after the storm, nothing is every the same again.  Daniel’s characters are wonderfully rich, though not all are likable, and many of them undergo a change, and some no matter how hard we root for their redemption us in the end.  Daniel uses the sea to full advantage as place, time and character as it provides safety and enjoyment but can as easily be dangerous and deadly if not given proper respect and care.  A very satisfying novel that often shifts as though looking at these lives through the lens of a kaleidoscope. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Just Jennifer

Some Luck by Jane Smiley (Knopf, October 7, 2014)


In the first book of a trilogy, Jane Smiley takes the Langdon family from their Iowa farm in 1920 through the mid-1950s, following the lives of Walter and Rosanna's children and extended family.  Each chapter in the book is a year in the life of the Langdons and takes on the rhythm of the seasons, echoed in the farming and later the school years of the children.  While Walter worries about the choice he has made to be a farmer, worries about drought and the stock market crash, Rosanna runs the household, raising their children, worrying that the children will grow up to be good people who can care for themselves and others.  Each of their children is different, strong-willed, fearless Frankie, animal-lover Joe, dreamy Lillian, book smart Henry and finally Claire, who is just Claire and never any trouble at all.  Together the family faces the stock market crash, the death of a child, the death of older family members, neighbors losing their farms, World War II, the Cold War and the romances and lives of the children as they venture out into the world and start their own families and their own futures.  Pulitzer prize winner Smiley writes with grace and assurance, giving each character, even as a toddler, a distinctive voice and leaving the reader with a picture of the whole rather than individual characters, and anxious for the second installment to the trilogy.  

Just Jennifer

Reunion by Hannah Pittard (Grand Central, October 7, 2014)


Kate is aboard a plane on a runway waiting to take off when she gets the news her father has died.  Kate and her two siblings, Nell and Elliot are from their father’s first marriage; after the death of his wife, he became a serial husband with four more marriages, much adultery and added several more children to the family.  Kate keeps in touch with Nell and Elliot, though keeps a certain part of her closed off to them: the part about which she had an affair, the part about which her husband has changed his mind about having children, and the part about which she spent all the money she earned as a screenwriter early in her career, and career that has more than just stalled.  As the original siblings converge in Atlanta for their father’s funeral, they must confront each other, their step-mothers and myriad of step-siblings, including their father’s current family, and themselves.  It is during this time that Kate realizes she is more like her father than she would admit to anyone, and it is the time spent with his youngest child Mindy that makes her more self-aware, more ready to come clean with her family, and herself.  Lovely sentences  and unique voices will draw the reader in, though Kate’s story doesn't feel quite finished, nor is the reader left with enough to feel one way or the other about her future.

Just Jennifer

Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge, October 7, 2014)


In her third outing, journalist Jane Ryan is trying to get her career back on track, hoping that the next story will be the BIG ONE; doing a story on a family being evicted from their home after foreclosure, Jane is on hand when a body is discovered in the house.  At the same time, Jane is following a lead on mortgages and banks and is a little more than surprised when both stories get tangled together.  As Jane follows her lead, she learns of a modern day Robin Hood and a scheme that can mean big money for someone---or life and death.  At the same time, Detective Jake Brogan, with whom Jane is fighting an incredible mutual attraction, is handed the solution to a decades old cold case…only problem is, he doesn't believe the confession.  In Ryan’s skilled hands (she is an Emmy winning journalist and a multi-winning mystery author) these three plots get twisted and turned every which way and end up each connecting to the other in unusual and unforeseen, but believable ways.   Jane and Jake continue their collaboration on the job and clandestinely off the job, trying to figure out how a police detective can have a relationship with a member of the fifth estate while both keep their credibility with their colleagues, all of which leads to a cliff hanging moment.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Just Jennifer

Insurrections of the Mind: 100 Years of Politics and Culture in America edited by Franklin Foer (Harper Perennial, September 2014)


What do Virginia Woolf, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Vladimir Nabokov and James Wood have in common? During the last hundred years, each one wrote an essay for The New Republic, a magazine credited with helping shape the idea of liberalism in the United States during the twentieth-century.  Organized by decade, beginning just as the Great War begins, ideas, some of which now seem commonplace (birth control or gay marriage) as the continue to spur great debates, are introduced.  Richard Rovere’s 1957 essay frames its message around Arthur Miller’s refusing to name names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Margaret Talbot’s musing on the empire Martha Stewart built from the domestic arts, a lifestyle, stereotype women fought to get away from in the past, while Irving Howe’s 1991 piece debates the importance and necessity of “the canon” being taught as part of humanity and social science curricula and posits that it may be [past] time to revisit and even expand this body of work.  More than a socio-political history, these essays bring up issues, many of which are still relevant today.  A short biography of each author prefaces their essay. 

Just Jennifer

Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson (Clarkson Potter, September 2014)


At the age of four, South Carolina born Francine Bryson pulled up a stool to her Granny’s & Nana’s counters learned how to make pie crusts and never looked back.  Several decades and countless blue ribbons later, Francine may not have won first place in CBS’s The American Baking Competition, but she won the hearts of American bakers and got to do the thing for which she was most hoping---a cookbook contract.  Francine may have earned her initial fame as a pie baker---who else could combine chocolate and peanut butter with bacon, but includes recipes for cookies, cakes, tea breads and biscuits, both classic and a little more inventive then Granny or Nana would have imagined.  The only recipe Francine, by her own admission, never mastered, was traditional Southern biscuits; imagine Francine’s terror when during tryouts for The American Baking Competition she turned over the recipe card she was to make and found it was for Southern style biscuits, which everyone assumed she’d be a ringer to create.  Knowing these biscuits were going to make or break the deal, Francine turned out fluffier biscuits than in her wildest dreams and realized the secret to the perfect biscuit is “…not to mess with them too much.” Francine’s sass and grit and blue ribbon tips make piecrusts see less daunting (who other than Francine would have thought to use crushed Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies as a crust) make bakers and non-bakers alike eager to try these recipes.  No low-fat, lo-cal or gluten free here, just prettily edge pages echoing gingham, calico and homespun.  The only thing that might have made this book even prettier would have been more color photos of the scrumptious recipes.  FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Jennifer

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming (Dey Street Books, October 7, 2014)


In this unflinchingly honest memoir, the Scottish award-winning actor frames his time on a BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?, a show that goes the genealogy of famous actors, especially those with unknowns in their past; Cumming knows very little about his maternal grandfather who died in Malaysia at the age of 35 and is hoping this process will help him learn more of his mother’s family.  He frames this quest with his own upbringing by an emotionally & physically abusive father who, although he has not seen for almost two decades, continues the emotional abuse from a far, even from his grave once he dies.  Cumming spares no details as he chronicles the abuse, from brutal beatings to the time he thought he would surely die after mis-sorting saplings on the estate where his father was the forester, a job he was given to do with very little instructions.  Cumming and his older brother Tom tried to protect each other, at least mentally, by shutting out their father as best they could.  As Cumming becomes an adult and embarks on his brilliant career, he keeps the relationship with his father in a box until a time when he is misquoted by several newspapers, rousing his father, rather like poking a hornets’ nest.  Cumming is ultimately able to confront his feelings toward his father, helping him heal; learning the truth about his grandfather and the subsequent trip he makes with his family to Malaysia helps offer closure for everyone.  Brutally honest and tenderly funny, this candid memoir will endear Cumming to fans even more than he already is.  

A BIG Thank You...

... to the Friends of the Library, who sponsored the prizes and refreshments for the Adult Summer Reading Club.  Thank you, also, to 16 Handles of Flemington, who donated extra gift cards.

Friday, September 5, 2014

2014 Club Stats

Our 189 members read exactly 1,700 books this summer!

Click on image to enlarge.

Congratulations to...

... our Grand Prize winners, who won the beautiful summer gift baskets that were on display at the main libraries:

  • TLW won the South County / Member Libraries basket.
  • Kerstin won the Headquarters basket
  • Cyndie W won the North County basket


And a special thanks to the Friends of the Library for putting together such lovely gift baskets, and for sponsoring the Adult Summer Reading Club!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Top Secret Twenty One

Author: Janet Evanovich
Stars: 3
Review by: Ginger

I've read all 21 Stephanie Plum novels. 21 has a better plot, Stephanie is a better bounty hunter, Lulu and Grandma are smarter, Joe and Ranger are hotter than other recent Plum novels.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson
Stars: 5
Review by: KM

Laugh-out-loud funny, and as one reviewer said, "quirky and utterly unique." It  weaves a veil of history with humor into a most entertaining story. 

The Night Bookmobile

Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Stars: 1
Review by: BookDancer

This book had so many great elements - an eerie bookmobile traveling at night, an obsessed reader, a mysterious curator and overall nightmarish quality.  I thought it was going to be the Polar Express of reading and libraries. I didn't expect to be sucker-punched by a very strange and random plot twist which made no sense and which completely spoiled the story for me.  This book could have been a 5! My biggest disappointment of the summer!
 
 

Marie Antoinette

Author: Antonia Fraser
Stars: 4
Review by: JL

Very in depth biography covering the life of Marie Antoinette.  Book goes into great detail about her character and effect that the expectations of her family had on her.  Only fault is that the book mentions some of the politics, but doesn't really go into the politics that led to the royal family's downfall. 

Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses

Author: Sarah Gristwood
Stars: 4
Review by: JL

Covers a very turbulent time in English history, the reigns of Henry VI to Henry VII focusing on how the events affected the women involved.
 

 

The Collector

Author: Nora Roberts
Stars: 4
Review by: MidnightReader

Good story line, interesting characters.
 
 

Hummingbird Lake

Author: Emily March
Stars: 3
Review by: MidnightReader

Relaxing. Second in a series.
 
 

Our Lady of Immaculate Deception

Author: Nancy Martin
Stars: 3
Review by: MidnightReader

Fun and easy book to read.
 

A Long Time Gone

Author: Karen White
Stars: 5
Review by: MidnightReader

I love all of Karen White's books. I love her character development, story lines, and location.
 

The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Stars: 5
Review by: Miss Lucy

WOW! This is a nail-biting survival tale about an astronaut who is left for dead when his crew mates leave Mars without him. Once I got a bit of a ways into the book, I absolutely could not put it down, and it's the rare book I say that about. At first, I was getting tripped up trying to understand all the science, but once I let go and trusted that the main character knew what he was talking about, I let him do all the thinking, and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. This book will keep you on the edge of your seat!
 
Best book I read this summer!!!
 
 
 
 

NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette

Author: Nathan W. Pyle
Stars: 4
Review by: Miss Lucy

Having spent my entire life within driving distance of New York City, I've learned how to get by when I'm there. But New York is like no other city I've been to, and for people visiting for the first few times, it can be VERY intimidating and scary! For example, would a first-time New York City visitor know to "Beware the empty train car. It's empty for a reason" (#30)  Or that the most beautiful person they'll ever see "...will be across the platform on an express train whose doors have just closed" (#108)?
 
Most of the tips offered in this little graphic novel format etiquette book are ones I know, but I still learned a few things I could be doing better. For example, Tip #117: "When fixing your coffee, move to the side as quickly as possible."  Oops - I'm guilty of being a coffee fixins table hog!
 

Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson
Stars: 2
Review by: Barb

I found this book hard to follow and confusing. It didn't help that it had to be returned to the library when I was about 85% done and I had to wait several weeks to get it again.
 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Author: Richard C. Morais
Stars: 4
Review by: mystery lover

A book about cooking and appreciating food no matter what kind of restaurant it is.  The Michelin star is important, but appreciating the simple, yet good food is more important.
 
 

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire

Author: Jack Weatherford
Stars: 4
Review by: Smudge

The Secret History refers to the Mongolian book that details the laws, administrative organization, and the words of Genghis Khan.  This book is a historical account of the various Mongolian queens who ruled his empire for the next 150 years.
 
 

A Fall of Marigolds

Author: Susan Meissner
Stars: 3.5
Review by: Barb

This is a story of love and loss told through two similar stories a century apart in time. Both involve the burning of a tall building and those who had to jump to their deaths to escape. This could have been a really good book, but I began to dislike the protagonists behavior after a while, and so, the second half became more cumbersome to read.
 
 

Best Lowly Worm Book Ever

Author: Richard Scarry
Stars: 4.5
Review by: Barb

I recently read an article about the release of a newly discovered, never published book by Richard Scarry and pre-ordered it from Amazon because it brought many good memories from when my son was young. We actually sat and read it together when he was home for the holiday weekend. Best Ever book as always. Thank you, Mr. Scarry.
 
 

Missing You

Author: Harlan Coben
Stars: 4
Review by: Bob E

Fast paced mystery with many clever pop culture references.
 
 

Tail Spin

Author: Catherine Coulter
Stars: 3
Review by: Bobbi

FBI Mystery.   Entertaining.   Not the best writing.
 
 

Don't Tempt Me

Author: Sylvia Day
Stars: 4
Review by: Saraswati

This book was filled with intrigue and suspense along with romance. The book has some modern thoughts even though it is set in the late 1700s. The story is about a family torn apart by revenge.  The ending is a little abrupt after all the twists and turns, but overall a nice read.
 
 
 

The Dive from Clausen's Pier

Author: Ann Packer
Stars: 5
Review by: Julie

Opening scene sets up the rest of the novel for the protagonist to come to terms with loss, separation, love, self-interests....a good read!
 
 

Flowers on Main

Author: Sherryl Woods
Stars: 3.5
Review by: Miss Lucy

Reading (or listening to) Sherryl Woods's books is like eating a box of chocolates (but kinder to the hips).
 
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

1914

Author: Jean Echenoz
Stars: 4
Review by: Smudge

Without dialogue, this slim novel condenses the Great War into a story of five civilians, conscripted into the military.  Told without passion, the story resembles a poem in its brevity and insight.
 

Just Jennifer

Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips and Tricks to Blow [and Grow] Your Mind (Three Rivers Press, August 2014)

Put together by the team at Marbles® the Brain Store, this book is an amalgamation of five types of puzzles, each designed to unlock a different area of your brain: visual perception, word skills, critical thinking, coordination and memory.  Each section of puzzles is further divided into five categories: mind warming, mind stretching, mind growing, mind busting and finally mind blowing.  Each section begins with a short introduction that includes where in the brain the particular skill is based (word skills, for example are based in the partial lobe), what the skill is (helps with an understanding of language, structure and how to express yourself) what it does (improves vocabulary and stimulates your creativity) and how it works (it’s an association skill that uses multiple types of input from all your lobes).  The puzzles that follow include finding a series of interlocking four-letter words, word finds taken a step further by turning the words into phrases, word scrambles in which all the words once unscrambled relate to an unnamed theme, a trivia word find that will test your knowledge of certain things (seven-letter elements, for example), another chain game, a compass crossword in which the answers not only go south (down) and east (across) but southwest or north, and finally linked word puzzles which require words to be entered using only the letters provided in between like symbols.  If word games aren’t your thing, try coordination, the brain-body connection.  Some puzzles require some recall of knowledge gleaned from everyday life, the media or back to our school years, while others require some thought or clever thinking.  Whichever your strength (or weakness) there is something here for everyone.  This is a book that can be picked up and worked on at random and then set aside, picked up years later.

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

The Alchemyst

Author: Michael Scott
Stars: 2
Review by: Saraswati

I read this with my child for the Summer Reading requirements.  I was not impressed, but I can see the appeal to those "slightly" younger than me.   The best part was the added assignment regarding learning about alchemy.  This book just read like a a story hanging on to a lucrative theme (Harry Potter vs. Twilight vs. etc.)  The Alchemy in this case is magic not an attempt at science (but abused by sales...sorry) story.  It was a basic good vs. bad story with lots of fighting.  I was sad it was a required reading assignment, but then I do not teach Freshmen HS English. 

Making It Last: A Camelot Novella

Author: Ruthie Knox
Stars: 3
Review by: Saraswati

This was a depressing book to get through, but there was hope at the end.  I kept rechecking the publication date and it was recent so some things haven't changed and it made me sad. It reminded me of when the big revelation came out when women lost who they were behind the man and family & they were depressed.  No one understood it then, since it appeared women had it all...but themselves.  This book is more recent, but shows women still face the same problem.  These concepts are in the broad general terms of mostly first world women.  There is also the view of complacency in a relationship and taking thing for granted as time goes on.  Do we just go through the motions to get through the day? (A little heavy for summer reading!)  This couple does make a plan to get out of the never ending spiral down.  It will take sacrifice and many changes, but the book ended with hope.
 
 

Ride With Me

Author: Ruthie Knox
Stars: 4
Review by: Saraswati

This was a nice end of summer read.  The book is about to people who bike across the country via the TransAmerica Trail.  They didn't intend to be partners during this trip, but they did.  Each had a reason to escape being who they were and do this great adventure.  On a side note, being on the ground, not always in a car, does put things in perspective.  For a romance novel, it does pose the question of what do we really think is important?  Then there is the relationship stuff, but still a nice summer read!
 

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Author: Leslye Walton
Stars: 5
Review by: libraryaimee

This is a recently published Young Adult book.  It was magical, sweet, and heartbreaking.  I was so sad to reach the end because I loved it so much! If you like Alice Hoffman you will also like this book.
 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

For One More Day

Author: Mitch Albom
Stars: 5
Review by: BusyMom

I have decided I love anything by Mitch Albom.  This story dealt with a man, down on his luck who attempts to end it all, only to spend one last day with his mother (who died years ago).
 

 

Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn
Stars: 2
Review by: BookDancer

This was my second time reading this fast-paced page turner for a book club and admit that I couldn't put it down because of ingenious plotting more complicated than a Chinese puzzle.  But the main characters were absolutely horrible and utterly unbelievable, even as the psychopaths they were portrayed to be. Was so glad when it was over!
 
 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author: Jamie Ford
Stars: 4
Review by: BookDancer

While it is primarily a very touching and poignant love story, it also brought to life on a very personal level a sad chapter in American history - the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.
 

Brave New World

Author: Aldous Huxley
Stars: 4
Review by: BookWorm2

A fascinating classic. 

Just Jennifer

You by Caroline Kepnes (Atria Books/Emily Bestler, September 2014)


When M.F.A. student Guinevere Beck walks into the East Village bookstore where Joe Golberg works, he is instantly obsessed with her, that they are soul mates, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.  Joe stalks Guinevere, intervening when she is in trouble like an ill-intentioned guardian angel.  A drunken incident on a subway platform late one night finally reveals Joe to Guinevere and he is able to convince himself, if not Guinevere, that they are in a relationship that nothing or no one can stand in the way of.  Joe doesn’t realize that Beck (as she calls herself) is a bit like a psychotic Holly Golightly and has created a fa├žade of who she thinks she should be if not who she wants to be and spends more time on real life performance art drama than on her writing.  Beck senses Joe is a little off, but is too wrapped up in herself to realize just how much until it is too late.  Told in alternating voices, Joe refers to Beck as “You” in his narrative, a sound that has the pulsing throb of a Cole Porter song, but the lunacy and obsession of a dangerous stalker.  Creepy without being gruesome, tension comes from Joe and Beck’s thoughts and obsessions rather than violence and the idea that this is very plausible.  A well-constructed novel that does not resort to the tropes so often found in first novels.

Just Jennifer

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs (Bantam Dell, September 2014)


In Kathy Reichs’s seventeenth Temperance Brennan novel of psychological suspense, the forensic anthropologist has been asked to join forces with Vermont detective Umparo Rodas when he arrives in North Carolina with DNA evidence that suggests that the murder of an 11-year-old Charlotte girl is linked to an older Vermont case and both point to Canadian serial killer Anique Pomerleau who escaped capture in 2004 when Temperance and star detective Andrew Ryan first hunted her.  Ten years have gone by, Temperance and Ryan’s romance was cast aside when Ryan’s daughter died and Ryan has all but disappeared off the face of the earth.  In order to catch the killer, who authorities believe has kidnapped another young girl, Temperance must first track down Ryan and convince him to return to Charlotte to catch Pomerleau.  With the help of an unlikely source, her mother Daisy from an assisted living facility, and the rude and annoying detective Skinny Slidell, Temperance interprets the evidence past and present and is surprised to see where it leads the team.  Unfinished business between Temperance and Ryan add extra suspense and leads to one surprising cliff-hanger that is definitely a game changer.   

Just Jennifer

Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Ecco Press, September 2014)


YA novelist Lauren Oliver turns her talents to adult novels in this creepy tale an estranged family, the house their father left behind and the ghosts that inhabit it.  Richard Walker has died and left his country house full of detritus and mementos of a life not so well lived, along with two former residents, Alice and Sandra, who have been long dead.  Caroline, Walker’s ex-wife, is embittered and more than a little bit of a lush, feels that someone owes her something in life; his daughter Minna has some anger issues and isn’t anxious to let any of it go any time soon.  Only his young son Trenton is sensitive to the life, or afterlife, still within the walls, but this already troubled young man can barely help himself never mind two trapped spirits.  Engagingly told, each chapter focuses on a room in the house, each room revealing the secrets it has to give up, the rest filled in by Alice and Sandy.  A third ghost arrives and begins to communicate with Trenton causing a convergence of events that will ultimately and curiously heal the house and the people within.  This creepy tale will keep you turning pages late in the nights as you listen to the creaks and groans of your house and wonder who lives within your rooms.  A LibraryReads (http://libraryreads.org/) pick for September.  

Just Jennifer

Early Decision by Lucy Crawford (William Morrow, August 2014)

Anne, a Princeton and University of Chicago graduate, has found a niche for herself as an admissions coach for rich, privileged children whose parents can afford to offer them an edge over their peers.  Anne’s specialty is guiding the students through their personal essay---no, as she tells Gideon Blanchard, she does not write the essay, but will help Sadie frame what she wants to say and help her showcase her own voice to its best advantage.  As Anne begins working with her students who include a young man whose father isn’t ready to deal with the boy’s sexuality, a boy who might be happier in the wilds of Montana than in a classroom and a young woman who is very eager to attend Duke and has all the right stuff, but not the money nor the clout to even get her foot in the door.  As Anne works with these students and helps them to find not only their voice for their essay but maybe even a place in the world where they might be comfortable for a while, she realizes she has some unsettled things in her life, a nasty upstairs neighbor who hates Anne’s dog for seemingly no reason and Martin, her Hollywood boyfriend who is more wrapped up in his West Coast life than he is with Anne.  As Anne navigates another admission season and another round of parents, she works through her own issues (some of which she wasn’t even aware) and along with her students, sets herself on a new and exciting path.


Just Jennifer

Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo (William Morrow, August 2014)


Three cousins, Lizzie, Elyse and Isobel, known the Triplins since they were children, converge on the house owned by Lizzie’s grandmother, now her mother, in Memphis overlooking the Mississippi, which has been condemned and is scheduled for demolition.  As battered and worn as the house is, so are the Triplins, but something about the house takes a hold of them and as they fight to be allowed to keep the house and begin to renovate and remodel it, a change begins in each of them, reshaping their lives, revealing a long held secret from which one of them may never fully recover.  Lizzie’s career as a professional soccer player is all but over due to injuries and the memories she is uncovering in her grandmother’s house are unsettling and leading her on a journey from which she can never return.  Elyse is obsessed with the boy from high school, the one that got away, the one that is about to marry her sister; will her obsession ruin her sister’s wedding or sabotage her own future?  Isobel is hoping for stardom and fame, but how far is she willing to go and what will she give up to achieve it? The story is told effectively told from each of the young women’s points of view, the house looming in the background, a metaphor for all that was and all that could be for this group of twenty-somethings who recognize the most important things in life: family, friends and being true to yourself.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Just Jennifer

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan (Little, Brown and Company, September 2014)


A must read for any Gatsby fan, the NPR Fresh Air book critic demonstrates the staying power and continuous appeal of a book many of us read in high school and offers a compelling argument as to why Gatsby should be read over and over at different stages of our life especially as most people read Gatsby for the first time as a high school student.  Corrigan submits that many first time readers of Gatsby view it as a tragic lover story when it is so much more than that: social and political commentary, a nostalgic longing for the past, coupled with a dash of hard-boiled crime.  Corrigan delves into Gatsby’s reception in 1925 (slow to catch on) and traces its trail to part of the modern American cannon in the 1960’s.  Corrigan’s enthusiasm for the book is palpable; as she makes each new point, you can almost see her excitedly teaching this in a classroom or talking with a friend over coffee.  Corrigan not only reignites a reader’s enthusiasm for Gatsby but may spark something to go back and take a look at another fondly or not so fondly, remembered classic from our school days.  With bright, fresh prose that is never pedantic, Maureen Corrigan shares her love for a book about which many of us say “oh yeah, I read that in high school” but about which we may remember, or know, so little.

Just Jennifer

Born to be a Yankee compiled from The New York Post (Harper Paperbacks, August 2014)


Some things, Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper,  Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and the House that Ruth built, are quintessentially Yankee…now add Derek Jeter to that list.  In fourth grade, Jeter told his teacher in Michigan that he was going to play shortstop for the Yankees and play it he has. Passed up by the Astros during the draft, Jeter has spent the last two decades in Yankee pinstripes wearing #2, one of only a handful of players who have played their entire career with one team.  Fourteen of those years he played on the American League team in the All-Star game; he won the American League Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award each five times and has been honored with countless more accolades.  This heavily illustrated commemorative edition, compiled from the archives of The New York Post, chronicles Jeter’s career as a superstar baseball player, a team player and a fan favorite as he prepares to bid farewell to a career that has served him, and his teammates and fans, well.

Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty
Stars: 3
Review by: Bookworm momma

It took me awhile to get into this book, but it had a good ending. I don't think I liked it as well as her other books.
 
 

Conquering the Sky

Author: Larry E. Tise
Stars: 1
Review by: Book Worm 1

Very dull exploration of the Wright Brothers flights from 1905-1908. Turned what could have been an exciting read into something of a sleep generator.
 

Progress So Far

Click on image to enlarge.

That Summer

Author: Laura Willig
Stars: 5
Review by: Julie

Historical fiction with art history and Pre-Raphaelites thrown in. Set in London, told from multiple perspectives.
 
 

Congratulations to...

... our Week # 14 Prize Winners:

  • BKF
  • PK

Sand Castle Bay

Author: Sherryl Woods
Stars: 5
Review by: PK

This was a new author/series for me...looking forward to reading more.
 

Braving the Fire

Author: Jessica Handler
Stars: 5
Review by: PK

I've begun working on my next book about grief/loss and hope/healing and this was just what I needed.
 

Progress So Far

Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Spark and the Drive

Author: Wayne Harrison
Stars: 3
Review by: BigDa

Novel approach to a novel. 

The Night Bookmobile

Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Stars: 5
Review by: Marianne S

A fascinating treatment of well-worn tropes of interstitial fiction. Out late one night, a young woman stumbles across The Night Bookmobile, which, curiously, only shelves books that she has read -- in fact, every book she has ever read. It inspires her to do things she has never thought about before. Told in a graphic novel format. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just Jennifer

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty (Norton, September 2014)


Caitlin Doughty admits to always having had a, what some might consider, unhealthy obsession with death.  Armed with a degree in Medieval History, and a somewhat morbid, often irreverent, sense of humor, Caitlin began knocking on doors of funeral homes applying for a job.  With no experience and no mortician’s license, it was hard going until Mike at Westwind Cremation and Burial in San Francisco hands her a pink razor and instructs her to shave a man before the family arrives for a private viewing prior to the man’s cremation.  Never having shaved a man, dead or alive, Caitlin does her best and must have passed muster because she was hired and began her career seeing to the final wishes, and disposition, of people after their deaths.  With good-humor and some self-deprecation, Caitlin describes not only her first few months learning the business, including the people (dead and alive) she met and how they responded to death.  She also includes some self-reflection, how she became fascinated with death, how death is viewed in our culture and offers some musings as to how we, as a society might better deal with death, the death of our loved ones and our own impending mortality.  Caitlin tells her stories respectfully and thoughtfully, not sugar-coating the process, but not glamorizing or exploiting what can be one of the most private moments of a life.  Caitlin has since become a licensed mortician and is the creator and host of the web series “Ask a Mortician”.  You don’t need to be fascinated by death to enjoy this heartfelt, honest memoir.

Every Last One

Author: Anna Quindlen
Stars: 4.5
Review by: Barb

This was a good book.
 

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry

Author: David C. Robertson with Bill Breen
Stars: 2
Review by: Miss Lucy

Interesting story of LEGO's successful and failed innovations over the years. But the book dragged on. I think the tale could have been told a lot more succinctly.
 

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

Author: Marie-Helene Bertino
Stars: 1
Review by: pla

Too quirky!
 

Night of the Grizzlies

Author: Jack Olsen
Stars: 3
Review by: Jambob

This summer I visited the spectacular Glacier National Park in Montana. This park has the breathtaking "Going to the Sun Road"  which is the opening scene in The Shining. In 1967 there was  a terrible double tragedy that occurred on the very same night. Two teenage girls were mauled and killed by grizzly bears. This book is no literary masterpiece. In fact there were times I felt the dialogue unbelievable, but it does adequately describe a terrifying night and the events that led up to it. This is a nonfiction book outlining the way a National Park operated so carelessly prior to these attacks. The almost "tripping over themselves" way they needed to address the fatalities was pitiful. If you love visiting our national treasures and hiking through any wilderness I recommend reading this book. It does leave you with a sobering respect for wildlife and distrust of official competence where your safety is concerned. You are ultimately responsible so take precautions seriously when entering any wilderness!
 

Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty
Stars: 5
Review by: Kee Read

I really enjoyed this book.  I liked it better than her other book, The Husband's Secret. She has great character development with great story lines too.  There is always a surprise ending with her books.

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Author: Jennifer Worth
Stars: 5
Review by: line82

Love historical fiction. Author weaves a wonderful story. Can't wait to read books 2 & 3.
 
 

It's OK To Die

Author: Monica Williams Murphy, M.D. & Kristian Murphy
Stars: 4
Review by: Miss Lucy

A book about end-of-life choices. It includes lots of stories to illustrate its points. The last quarter of the book seemed to just repeat what was already covered.
 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Author: Jan-Phillipp Sandker
Stars: 4
Review by: DeckReader

In a daughter's search for her father she learns about his sweet, unforgettable love.
 

Dark Skye: An Immortals After Dark

Author: Kresley Cole
Stars: 4
Review by: Saraswati

This is book 15 of the Immortals after Dark series.  It took me a little while to get all my characters in order, but once I got with the program it was a nice read.  This is the story of Thronos and Melanthe.  Like Romeo and Juliet they met and fell in love as their families were at war.  The war separated them for a long time and now they are forced together to work their way through a series of events being directed by those creating an end of the world scenario.  Another easy summer read.
 
 

Afterburn & Aftershock

Author: Sylvia Day
Stars: 3
Review by: Saraswati

Once again there are two books in one.  Both were published as part of the Cosmo Red-Hot Reads series.  The stories are continuous as soon as one finishes the other picks right up.  This is about a woman trying to make it big in the food industry.  Her family owns a restaurant but with a bunch of older brothers, she wants to find her own way.  She meets up with mover and shaker in the industry and gets the job of her dreams.  The dream gets shattered when a blast from her past shows up and derails a key business plan.  Their feelings for each other get reignited and off the story goes.  Another easy summer read.
 
 

A Flickering Light

Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
Stars: 2
Review by: Smudge

A family history of an early woman photographer.  The author could have edited out 75 pages of love story angst and included more about early photography and women photographers.
 

Secrets of Eden

Author: Chris Bohjalian
Stars: 4
Review by: Barb

I liked listening to this book and found the ending surprising.
 

Quiet Dell

Author: Jayne Ann Philips
Stars: 2
Review by: Julie

Abandoned. I wanted it to read more thrillingly, but it just never took off...
 

Longbourn

Author: Jo Barker
Stars: 5
Review by: Julie

Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice.
 
 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Author: Stieg Larsson
Stars: 4.5
Review by: Barb

This is the third book of the Millennium Trilogy. Lots of intrigue and evil doing, but I liked the way it ended. A good read. 

The Bees

Author: Laline Paull
Stars: 3.5
Review by: BookDancer

Somewhat repelling, yet strangely fascinating fictional depiction of the inner workings of a beehive as recounted by one of the lowliest members of the hive.  At times it contained heavy-handed social and religious analogies to human behavior, yet I couldn't put it down.  Besides Night Circus, the most unusual read of the summer for me.
 
 

Paddington Marches On

Author: Michael Bond
Stars: 5
Review by: BookWorm2

An adorable addition to the tales of Paddington Brown.
 

Glad Tidings

Author: Debbie Macomber
Stars: 3
Review by: E.L.

Two stories in one book.  The first story is about fruitcakes, an interesting read.
 

Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn
Stars: 4
Review by: Sandy

He said, she said.
She did, he didn't.
Enjoy the #@&*% ride!
 

The Snow Angel

Author: Glenn Beck
Stars: 3
Review by: BusyMom

The wife in an abusive marriage decides to help a friend from the past while hiding it from her husband.  She also comes to understand her father's behavior when she was a child and had an alcoholic mother raising her.
 

The Five People You Meet In Heaven

Author: Mitch Albom
Stars: 5
Review by: BusyMom

When Eddie dies at the start of the story, he meets 5 people from different walks of his life who make him realize his life was worthwhile and something to be proud of.  Despite his personal disappointments, he was exactly where he was supposed to be and the things that happened to him really WERE for the best.  What a terrific book!! 

Memories of a Marriage

Author: Louis Begley
Stars: 3
Review by: BusyMom

Interesting accounts of the disintegration of a marriage uncovered by a life-long friend who is looking to understand a passing comment from the ex-wife.  Great insights into the hierarchy of the American Class system.
 
 

Summer People

Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Stars: 3
Review by: Lucky26

Good beach read.
 
 

The Coconut Oil Miracle

Author: Bruce Fife
Stars: 3
Review by: Mary NK

One must be skeptical at the word "miracle". However, in light of the growing body of research revealing that fats, even Sat.Fats, are not the poisons we were led to believe; this scientific explanation is a good start on restructuring one's culinary habits. 

We Are Not Ourselves

Author: Matthew Thomas
Stars: 3
Review by: BigDa

600 plus pages, detailed narrative about very ordinary lives that never seem to reach fulfillment.
 

The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green
Stars: 4
Review by: line82

Heart rending, but also heart warming.
 
 

The Diaries of Adam and Eve

Author: Mark Twain
Stars: 4
Review by: Mary NK

Observationist extraordinaire Twain reveals the inner thoughts of our first ancestors, from before their meeting until after "the fall". For taciturn, practical Adam and nature-loving, expressive Eve it is not love at first sight.
 
 

Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm

Author: John Katz
Stars: 3
Review by: Mary NK

A great recorded book with an excellent reader. Each story is complete (good for short commutes) and reveals the author's quiet satisfaction in a growing, eclectic collection of farm animals. NJ native Katz expresses humor & respect for his fellow farmers & other Vermonters.
 
 

When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win

Author: Carol Leifer
Stars: 3
Review by: Mary NK

Short humorous essays reflect the author's Jewish Long Island background. I especially liked the one about conversion to pet lover.
 
 

Dog Gone, Back Soon

Author: Nick Trout
Stars: 4
Review by: Mary NK

The 2nd week of Dr. Cyrus Mills' recently-inherited veterinary practice is alive with quirky patients, both human & animal. Throw in a maybe-romance, an intensely competitive rival practice, possible mad cow disease, and teenage cyber sleuths and you see why Cyrus longs for quiet days with a microscope.
 

Murder She Wrote: Close Up On Murder

Author: Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain
Stars: 3
Review by: Jambob

A fun, light, cozy read. The action takes place on a movie set in Cabot Cove based on a book Jessica wrote, but inspired by "true" events that took place years ago and never adequately resolved. Jessica tackles both mysteries with her typical aplomb. Favorite characters such as Mort, the police chief, and Seth, the doctor, are part of the story.
 
 

Pillars of the Earth

Author: Ken Follett
Stars: 4
Review by: Need to Read

Pillars of the Earth was a good read, but really long!  I really find all of Follett's detail incredibly interesting.  I  am impressed by how much time and effort he must put into his research--from the building of the cathedrals to the types of garments worn by all the types of characters, to the weaponry and building tools, even the types and descriptions of the horses.  Then, of course, the story itself.  Worth reading or listening to on CD as I did.
 
 

Dear John

Author: Nicholas Sparks
Stars: 4
Review by: Need to Read

Dear John is a really good read, interesting characters.  It was interesting to read how the characters interacted and how their relationships changed and grew throughout the book. It describes how people cope with their individual difficulties.  Overall, it is a love story filled with joy and sadness and acceptance.
 

Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning

Author: Arthur L. Costa & Bena Kallick
Stars: 4.5
Review by: Saraswati

This was a rather easy read for a text book.  This book focuses on assessments, as the title suggests, what they are, what they mean, and what a teacher can do.  The methods described are based on what I was taught as the scientific method.  Questions - formulate an answer - etc...  The big key to both this and the scientific method is re-evaluate after you complete your task.  In the text it is self-reflecting.  I think this is just a great life lesson.  The text contains a lot of sample handouts, grids, etc.  This is a good reference for teachers that want to make a difference.
 
 

The Self-Directed Learning Handbook: Challenging Adolescent Students to Excel

Author: Maurice Gibbons
Stars: 5
Review by: Saraswati

A great teaching reference for those teachers that want to break out of the industrial age model.  There are many practical examples and guidelines to create a self-directed learning environment.  The text also lets you know that it's OK to have a combo environment and that things take time to implement.
 
 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Just Jennifer

 Sweet Water and Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow, reprinted 2014)

With four well-received novels under her belt Christina Baker Kline stormed onto best-seller lists and into the hearts of book groups everywhere with her 2013 surprise best-seller Orphan Train.  Four of her earlier novels are being reprinted and repackaged this summer for readers who missed her marvelous prose and characterization the first time around.

In Sweet Water, Cassie Simon is trying to earn a living in New York City as an artist.  Growing up in Massachusetts after the death of her mother, Cassie had very little contact with her maternal grandparents which is why she is shocked to receive a phone call from a magistrate in Tennessee requesting her presence at the reading of her grandfather’s will.  She can’t imagine what Armory Clyde might have left her or why, and is very shocked to learn it is not only sixty acres in Sweetwater, Tennessee, but sixty acres that her grandfather could probably have sold several times over the years to developers, making Cassie curious about the man she never knew and his reasons for not selling the land, deciding to leave it to her instead.  Taking her inheritance as a sign, of what she’s not quite sure, Cassie decides to move to the small Southern town from where her mother, aunt and uncle came, and the place of her mother’s death.  Not quite sure what she is looking for or hoping to gain from her move, Cassie is overcome with the emotions, memories and stories that await her in a place where she’ll learn about a mother she never knew and more about herself than she would have ever thought possible.  Told from two points of view, Cassie and an omniscient narrator adds depth and perspective to Cassie’s story and prevents her from appearing too self-absorbed.

Desire Lines begins on the night of Kathryn Campbell’s high school graduation when she and her four best friends sit around a bonfire reliving their past, planning and looking forward to their future, a future none of them can imagine will not include Jennifer Pelletier.  As the bonfire fades away, so does Jennifer, walking off into the woods, never to be seen again by her friends.  Once almost sisters, Kathryn felt Jennifer withdrawing over their senior year, but she was never able to pinpoint what was happening to her friend and spends the next ten years missing Jennifer, wondering what happened and what Kathryn might have been able to do to help her.  After a failed marriage, Kathryn returns to their hometown of Maine, hoping that by going back to where it all began to fall apart she will be able to piece together what happened and find peace for herself and maybe too for Jennifer. As Kathryn revisits her past, she finds herself taking stock of not only her relationship with Jennifer, but with their other friends and her own family, thinking about her future, one that she knows will not include Jennifer, but can be anything she wants.

Baker Kline fills her novels with characters that stay with us long after we have turned the last page.  She writes about memories, the truth we find in them, the truth we tell ourselves and how memories can haunt and even cripple our daily lives if we allow them to.  She reminds us of the redemptive power of forgiveness, but only if we can forgive ourselves first.   Readers who only just discovered her last year will be pleased to have her older works readily available as they wait to see what she creates for us next.

Just Jennifer

The Home Place by Carrie La Seur (William Morrow, July 2014)


Alma Terrebonne is the only one of her siblings who left their hometown of Billings, Montana but as she quickly learns, you can never really escape your family, nor they you.  Alma is practicing law in a successful firm in Seattle, about to make partner, when she gets a call that her sister Vicky is dead and her eleven-year-old niece Brittany is staying with her great-aunt and uncle until permanent arrangements can be made for her.  Alma, who has been estranged with her sister for several years, does not hesitate in taking the next flight out, identifying and claiming her sister, making preparations for a funeral.  When Alma arrives in Billings she hesitates to accept the claim that her sister’s death was accidental, due to being drunk or high, falling outside in the bitter cold, hitting her head and freezing.  The more time Alma spends in her hometown, the less provincial it seems and the less real her life in Seattle feels, making her reassess her choices, making her feel responsible for the siblings that survived the car crash that killed their parents when Alma was a teenager.  Stories that need to be told and secrets that need to be revealed slowly emerge, Alma more broken than she would admit to herself realizes home, with everything and everyone from which she ran away, may be the place she needs the most in order to heal.  A visceral atmosphere of longing, wanting, false prophets giving false hope and the need for redemption where it may not be possible but must instead be overlooked to go on, gives this book the haunting feel of a novel set in the deep, gothic South.  The Home Place is a well-assured debut from a writer with much promise.