Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just Jennifer

Summer Reads coming in June:

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Ten years ago, shortly after the disappearance of her best friend Corinne, Nicolette left her home town in Colley Ridge, North Carolina and made a new life for herself in Philadelphia.  Nic is now returning home to care for her father and just after she arrives in Cooley Ridge, another young woman, Annaleise, disappears, thrusting Corinne’s case back into the spotlight.  In an unusual, but very effective narrative, the story is told backwards from Day 15 to the day Annaleise disappears as Nic tries to figure out what happened to Annaleise and how it connects to Corrine’s disappearance and what Nic’s future will look like once she learns the truth.  Trust no one and nothing while reading this novel, not even what you think to know to by true.  Secrets are slowly revealed, some surprising, others not---as the truths hidden in Cooley Ridge for ten years slowly start to emerge.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry  
Nora is anxious to spend the weekend with her sister Rachel in the countryside outside of London but her world is torn apart when she arrives and finds Rachel murdered.  Soon Nora is suspecting everyone in her sister’s murder, not realizing that she is also a primary suspect.  As she begins to look for Rachel’s killer, secrets about Rachel, and about Nora, secrets about their relationship that the sisters kept hidden from each other and from the world begin to emerge, setting up a much different  story, though with the same, sad ending.  Shocked and afraid, Nora finds she cannot trust anyone, even the police, and sets out to find Rachel's killer herself.  Shutting herself off from her everyday life, Nora looks to the past, to a time when Rachel was assaulted, for answers, not knowing that the answers lie closer than she could have imagined.  Deceptively simple prose slowly builds tension as a true portrait of the sisters' relationship full of secrets and lies emerges slowly revealing a story from which you cannot look away.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine
Joy and Aaron Bergman have had a long life together and have built a family with their children Molly and Daniel.  Together they have witnessed their children’s journey to adulthood, the birth of a grandson and two granddaughters, the dissolution of their daughter’s marriage and her remarriage to a woman and her relocation from her home in Manhattan to Los Angeles.  Now faced with Aaron’s illness and eventual death, the Berman’s come together to grieve as a family, Molly and Daniel trying to help their mother get through her grief, forgetting that Joy’s grief is that of a widow’s, different from the grief they feel as children, and that sometimes that grief needs to be left alone so Joy can maintain her independence and make her own decisions on how she wants to live the rest of her life.

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
After a devastating fire takes away Pip and Grace’s home and father, their mother Clare finds a flat for them bordering on a communal garden in London, a place where her pre-teen daughters can be safe and heal; until Pip finds Grace unconscious in the garden after a neighborhood party.  Clare begins to search for who did this to her young daughter as she and her family wait for Grace to wake up hoping she can solve the mystery of what happened, leaving Clare to wonder if this place to which she has brought her children is as idyllic as she and her neighbors thought it to be.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
Catherine West appears to have it all: a trust fund, a beautifully furnished and decorated West Village apartment and a card shop she treats like a hobby; the one thing that eludes Catherine is true love and a family of her own until William Stockton appears before her, sweeping her off of her feet.  As the two get closer, things don’t add up for Catherine and William is sometimes elusive; how much is Catherine willing to ignore in order to have her dream or learn the truth about William and risk giving it up?
Catherine and her charmed life may appear shallow to some: a personal trainer, weekly massages in her house, new 1,000 thread count pillowcases when she is feeling down, but others will recognize that deep inside Catherine is searching for something and as afraid of finding as she is of never having it.  She is certain her mother, suffering from early stages of dementia, can give her the answers she needs, if not wants, but at what cost?  Catherine’s sometimes desperation and helplessness is as palpable as her generous spirit and the feeling of disbelief she gets as her world starts to unravel.  Catherine is a compelling character first in her privilege and then as she slowly puts back together all that has come undone.

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope
The FBI has a new secret weapon in tracking down people: Magnus “Steps” Craig, aka “The Human Bloodhound”.  Steps has stopped over a dozen serial killers and found many missing people in his five years with the bureau.  Now he is tracking one of the most complex killers yet---one who changes the rule mid-stream.  While Steps tracks the latest killer using his special ability to see people’s “shine” he gets the feeling he is being taunted by an unsolved case from his past, a killer who continues to haunt Steps.  This first novel is astonishing in details and depth of all the characters, especially Steps---a character readers will be anxious for more of---and soon.  

If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene
Henry thought he had tucked his love away twenty-one years ago and she for him.  A chance meeting on a Manhattan street reignites the pair’s love for each other stirring the feelings of “what might have been” as the story of how they came together and were pulled apart and what their futures might be is revealed in this tightly written meditation on love, loss and hope.

The Second Girl by David Swinson  
Frankie Marr is a former Washington, DC cop, now a PI with a drug habit, but also an uncanny knack for knowing just how far he can push people to get what he wants and needs.  After rescuing a teenage girl from a drug gang, he learns there is another missing girl who needs to be found and he knows that using orthodox police methods to find her may take too long or get her killed but with his connections and willingness to do what needs to be done Frank thinks he can save her if he isn’t’ shut down by the police.  Frank is a thoroughly damaged but complex character and the streets of Washington DC are a perfect back drop as the pomp of the nation’s capital stands in opposition to the grittier parts of the city.  Strong writing, fast-paced plotting and a character, flawed though he may be, that readers will be taken with add to a well-written thriller. 

Just Jennifer

Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre ed. Tracy Chevalier

One of the most beloved, certainly most read, characters from nineteenth century literature is Jane Eyre.  Plucky, often headstrong, Jane has caught the imagination of many readers throughout the years and her deceptively simple, yet telling line “Reader, I Married Him” that ends the eponymous novel may be one of the most quoted lines and now provides a prompt for twenty-one modern day authors, one admittedly never having read Jane Eyre.  Patricia Park brings the feisty heroine into modern day Harlem in “The China from Buenos Aries” as a young woman tries to find her place in New York City.  In “The Mash-Up” Linda Grant depicts an unorthodoxed wedding in which the bridge and groom try to tie the knot while accommodating each family’s differences, a union that is doomed from the beginning.  Some of the stories retell the traditional tale from another’s point of view, even Rochester’s, many are faithful retellings while other explore the famous sentence with modern sensabilities.  This is one of the better compilation homages to traditional literature by modern authors to come along in a while.

Just Jennifer

Love Wins: the Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality 
by Debbite Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

What started as a fight to be acknowledged as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate became a Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 making same-sex marriage legal---and recognizable--- in all fifty states.  Jim Obergefell and John Arthur fell in love twenty years ago and lived with the constant knowledge that their home state, Ohio, would not recognize their relationship and they might even be subjected to harassment or discrimination.  John was diagnosed with ALS and was nearing the end of his life in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must afford married same-sex couples the same benefits as those with traditional marriages.  Jim and John flew to Maryland, were married aboard a chartered medical aircraft, John on a gurney and flew back to Ohio husband and husband.  It was only when they began attending to the details of John’s certain and imminent death that Jim realized the state of Ohio would life John as “single” on his death certificate and in John’s death, Jim would all but vanish, legally, from John’s life.  Meeting civil rights advocate and attorney Al Gerhardstein changed everything:  Al represented Jim who sued for widower’s rights, specifically acknowledgement on the final document that book-ended John’s life.  Al quickly realized the narrow scope of the suit (which they won) and sought to broaden it when he became aware of the fact that many states did not only not permit same-sex marriage, they would also not allow both same-sex parents to adopt a single child, nor in the case of a woman who gave birth to a child, the right for her wife to adopt the child, leaving the children essentially parent-less if the custodial parent were to die.  As family after family emerged, Al began to get a fuller appreciation for the magnitude of families living “under the radar” just to be a family.  John never lived to see the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states, but his legacy, and love for Jim, lives on.  Debbie Cenziper, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist has told Jim and John’s, and hundreds of others’, story with frank compassion and clarity making this account part memorable love story as well as the course of events leading up to the first landmark case of the twenty-first century.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Just Jennifer

Coming in May...check out LibraryReads for more great May books

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
At twenty-two, Tess leaves her small town and moves to Brooklyn because can’t not.  She lands a plum job as a backwaiter in an upscale Union Square restaurant where she falls under the spell of Jake and Simone, both older, who share a relationship with each other that Tess cannot, nor will never, be able to understand, but it doesn’t stop her from longing to be a part of each of them, though not together.  Tess quickly leaves about food and wine, working hard to secure her place on the staff, feeling as if she is exactly where she is meant to be.  Some lessons, though, don’t come as easily for Tess as the importance of terroir and she makes some missteps as she negotiates her new city and life, never losing her humor or resolve and she gains a new self-awareness and self-reliance that surprises her.  Danler is poised to be a major new voice in fiction with this honest and visceral novel; the characters are real, open and honest, the details of Tess’s new life believable and tantalizing in this compulsive read.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub 

Oberlin College (Ohio) in the 1980’s seems very far away to Elizabeth and her husband Andrew who, with their friends Zoe and Lydia, had a band that never quite got out of college.  Lydia, however, went out on her own, recording one of the songs Elizabeth wrote, “Mistress of Myself”, a song that became her signature song and something of a cult classic when Lydia died of an overdose before she was thirty.  Elizabeth and Andrew, their son Harry, and Zoe, with her wife Jane and daughter Ruby, are all living adult lives in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn.  Zoe and Jane have a restaurant but are having marriage troubles, Andrew, who never quite got the hand of being an adult and having a fulltime job is refusing to give a Hollywood production company the rights to “Mistress of Myself” so the story of Lydia’s life can be filmed and ends up involved with an odd, new-agey type of center, Harry and Ruby are having sex with each other, and Elizabeth, a Realtor, is the fixer, trying to help everyone else keep their lives together while ignoring her feelings of longing for what she left behind to be a responsible adult. 
Though not old enough to have experienced mid-life herself yet, Straub has captured a group of people facing mid-life with all the day-to-day problems, the regrets of things left undone, and the urgency of having a meaningful future.  The gentrification of Brooklyn, focusing on the microcosm of Ditmas Park is carefully detailed, the characters flawed but honest, and the observations keen and on point; the narrative moves along as the daily lives of these four friends is examined from many different angles and infused with new energy.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
Luisa "Lu" Brant, following in her father's footsteps, has just been elected state's attorney in Howard County, Maryland, the first woman to hold this office.  The first murder case she tries, a homeless man who has beaten a woman to death, begins to call to mind memories of a death her brother AJ was involved in many years ago, that saved the life of one of his friends.  As Lu recalls the events she witnessed as a child with an adult's perspective, she wonders if she misunderstood the situation or if there was more to it than was revealed.  Brilliantly paced, the story is told in the present with reflective flashbacks; once Lu begins to see a clearer picture of her current case and its connections to the other incidents, the surprises do not stop coming.  Complicated characters, a complex plot with unexpected twists and turns, this is a stunning novel.

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani 

In 1950’s Houston, Joan Fortier is the darling of the night clubs and gossips----both columnists and her friends.  Her lifelong friend, also Joan, redubbed Cece early on in school, has done more than be Joan’s friend and go through the typical childhood and teenage angst girls do, she has become Joan’s protectorate over the years and maybe has become a little bit  obsessed with Joan.  As Cece and her friends marry, start families and take their places in Houston society, Joan continues on her own, self-destructive path, endangering not only her friendship with Cece, but putting Cece’s marriage in jeopardy as Cece doggedly continues, out of love, duty, habit, or even jealousy, to try and save her friend as she has always done.  As the women’s relationship grows more complex, secrets about each are revealed and each must put their past aside, including perhaps their relationship, to allow productive futures, at last for Cece, a future of her own choosing.
A richly captured portrait of a specific time and place, the setting of the story depicts the glamour of nightclubs, cocktail hour with a new set of glasses, and knowing the proper outfit to wear to the garden club meeting.  Joan and Cece have a much more complex relationship than Cece realizes and it is Joan who must harshly snap Cece out of her created reality so she is able to live the life she has chosen, in the world where Cece belongs.  Complex characters and complex relationships set against the wealth of Texas in the 1950’s will keep readers’ attention from start to finish.

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong
There is one unsolved homicide that has always haunted Detective Casey Duncan: the one she committed twelve years ago, the one that has just caught up with her.  When her abused friend Diana suggests that she and Casey apply to Rockton, a town where people go to disappear, Casey is skeptical but is the ever devoted, protective friend and agrees to go along with Diana’s plan and a short while later, the two arrive in Rockton, though Casey has been told she is there on a temporary basis only.  Upon her arrival, Sheriff Eric Dalton informs Casey that the town has had several unexplained deaths, possibly murders that she will be investigating.  But Casey, who has always relied on her gut instinct, has a hard time getting a handle on things in a town based on secrets.  As she works her way into the town, Casey slowly learns the secrets, including the ones that brought her to Rockton in the first place, changing the entire view of things thus far and possibly changing the course of her life, shifting her very foundation.  Fast-paced, disturbing and intriguing with a laugh-aloud last scene, this very different novel from the author of the Otherworld series is not to be missed.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Five-year-old Jacob is killed in a hit and run in Bristol, England, an event that sends the police on a seemingly wild goose chase for the driver.  Jenna Gray flees to Wales to mourn the loss of her son and recover from her distressing past.  As Jenna slowly heals, she is able to create a life for herself even as she still mourns the loss of her son.  As the year anniversary of Jacob's still unsolved death approaches, a tip to police results in an arrest and just when all seems said and done, secrets emerge, creating a very different picture than what was originally thought.  This self-assured debut with a clever plot that challenges the readers’ beliefs combines jaw-dropping moments with complex, believable characters and an ending that is hard to see coming.

Seven Days Dead by John Farrow
Detective Emil Cinq-Mars has retired and taking his first summer vacation in either his or his wife Sandra’s memory.  Grand Manan, an island off the coast of Maine is picturesque, but has a history full of secrets that are about to come to the surface with deadly results.  Maddie Orrock races through a torrential storm from the mainland to reach her father’s bed before he dies, but she is too late.  Never close to her father, Maddie is not terribly distraught at the man’s death, though the realization that she now owns much of the island and the business on it is a bit overwhelming.  Her grief is intensifies with the revelation of a horrific murder committed on the island the same night as her father’s death, a death that sets off a chain of events and brings Emil out of retirement, much to his wife’s displeasure, for a few short days and with an outsider’s eye, Emil sees things that those closer to the island, islanders and their history are unable to see.  A picture of deception and a lifetime of lies begin to emerge and the killer ratchets things up as Sandra is drawn into the web of danger.  Fast paced with well-drawn characters and an ending that few will see coming, this second entry into the “Storm Murder” trilogy will appeal to fans of Louise Penny.

Redemption Road by John Hart  

Detective Elizabeth Black has been suspended pending an investigation into the rescue of a kidnapping victim, Channing, a rescue that turns deadly, the two suspects dead, shot a total of eighteen times.  But Liz is hiding something about that night and so is Channing and the FBI and Liz’s captain know it.  Former cop Adrian Wall, convicted of killing Julia Strange thirteen years ago.  Wall is scheduled to get out of prison and Gideon, Julia’s fourteen-year-old son plans to be waiting for him to avenge his mother’s death.  Wall has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison and was forced to endure much abuse not only from the inmates but from the guards and warden as well, abuse that he suspects will continue upon his release because of something they think he knows.  Almost immediately upon Wall’s release from prison, another woman is murdered in the same manner as the first victim, making Wall the obvious suspect.  Liz is the only one who believes in his innocence, having a strong attachment to the veteran cop who she feels saved her life when she was seventeen; a victim herself, with a strong sense of justice, Liz is also very attached to Channing and Gideon, trying to protect them with little regard for her safety or freedom and before she knows it, she is in the sites of a killer, a killer who is closer than she realizes.  Set against the sultry North Carolina landscape, this action-packed novel grabs hold from the first page and doesn’t let go until the final unsettling, but inevitably and oddly hopeful, conclusion.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Just Jennifer

Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower

Violet Waverly left her hometown of Cascade Springs, NY near Niagara Falls just after she graduated from high school and has never been back.  Almost finished with her doctorate in literature in Chicago, Violet gets a call from her Grandma Daisy, who raised her, that Daisy is dying and Violet must return home at once.  Violet races back to New York to learn that Daisy has no plans on dying any time soon but wants Violet to take her place as the caretaker of the family bookstore, Charming Books.  Violet has always known there was something special about the store with a birch tree growing up through the center, but never realized the special talents Daisy has, and the books possess, to match the perfect book with the reader at the right time; Violet insists she needs to return to Chicago to finish her PhD and storms off to bed, angry with her grandmother’s deception.  The next morning, Daisy’s man friend Benedict Raisin is found murdered with Daisy’s scarf wrapped around his neck and Daisy is the number one suspect.  Violet agrees to stay in Cascade Springs until the matter is cleared up, but being back in her hometown brings back the memories of the death of her best friend and the boy, now mayor of the town, who betrayed Violet to save himself from the wrath of his parents.  As Violet navigates these mine fields, she also learns that the water springs that have made the town famous are in jeopardy and that more than one person may have had a reason for wanting Benedict dead.  Cascade Springs, murders notwithstanding, is a pleasant place to live with some interesting history connected to the Underground Railroad.  Charming Books is a delightful place to while away the afternoon seeing which books strike your fancy, and Violet, with two men hoping to catch her eye, is a resourceful young woman with a strong sense of responsibility to her grandmother now that she is back in her presence, and Daisy is playful and engaging and may just be able to convince Violet to hang around for another murder or two.

Rest in Peach by Susan Furlong 

Nola Mae Harper has returned to her home town of Cays Mill, Georgia to help with her family’s peach orchard and has decided to open her own business, Peachy Keen, which will sell all manner of peach preserves, jams, and conserves.  Just weeks from the grand opening, Nola Mae begins to get caught up in the excitement of the Peach Cotillion, the event of the season to be held at Congressman Wheeler’s mansion, and even agrees to help plan a peachy menu, thinking that might be a boost for her fledgling business.  She agrees to accompany her best friend Ginny to Hattie’s dress shop where Ginny’s daughter Emily’s cotillion dress, along with the dresses of many of the debutantes, has arrived.  Once in the store, the owner discovers a mistake was made and not only is she one dress short, but she allowed two girls, Emily and the daughter of Vivien Crenshaw, one of the nastiest and pushiest women in town, to order the same dress.  Ginny and Vivien have words, but Vivien claims the dress for Vivien’s daughter Tara.  The next morning, Hattie’s seamstress finds Vivien dead in the shop, a pair of shears in her throat.  Ginny becomes the main suspect and Nola Mae sets out to find a killer and save her friend.  Nola Mae finds that the polite, proper women of Cays Mill are not at all what they seem and many of them have secrets that Vivien had ferreted out, and someone wanted to make sure that one secret stayed dead.  Nola Mae also is trying to sort out her relationship with her handyman, one time boyfriend Cade McKenna; when she first returned to Cays Mill nine months ago, she thought they were back on track to a relationship, but now something seems to be holding Cade back and Nola Mae realizes she needs to tell Cade the reasons she left Cays Mill and face those difficult memories in order to move on with him.  Rest in Peach is a pleasant cozy set in a downhome Southern town with delightful, interesting characters, some of whom will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Just Jennifer

Sweeter off the Vine by Yossy Arefi

Blogger (Apt 2B Baking Co.) Yossy Arefi grew up in the Pacific Northwest, her tastes strongly influenced by her Iranian father moved to New York with dreams of going to culinary school; nightmares of mountains of college debt sent her to find a job in a restaurant, first as a receptionist, baking at home in her tiny kitchen, convincing her boss to give her a shot in the kitchen.  This gorgeously photographed cookbook takes home cooks on a journey through the four seasons using the fruits (and herbs) of each season to create spectacular, fresh desserts, some simple to put together quickly after a busy day, while others require a day off to spend the time with the ingredients for proper results.  Spring time includes the ubiquitous strawberry and rhubarb, but in completely new ways: rhubarb pairs well with a sturdy rye flour to create an unusual upside-down cake and strawberries purred with Campari make ice pops for grown-ups as the spring gets warmer.  Summer heralds the arrival of all manners of mixed berries and stone fruits for not only cobblers and buckles, but pies, frozen treats and filings for cream puffs.  Fall brings apples, pears and squash, but not forgotten are the persimmons and quince and harder to find Concord grapes to warm up the cooler days.  Winter celebrates the holidays with cranberries and dates, but citrus is the real star, brightening up heavier meals and days with shorter sunlit hours.  Even the most complicated recipes are easily explained, as is what to look for when selecting the fruit from the market or your own garden.  Arefi combines interesting ingredients in unusual ways with some most delicious results.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just Jennifer

Mystery and Mayhem in April...

Killer Takeout by Lucy Burdette

It’s October in Key West and that means Halloween, Fantasy Fest and hurricane season; Key Zest magazine food critic Hayley Snow is on hand to bring all the festivities and good eats, to her loyal readers.  Adding to the already crowded week, Hayley’s mother Janet and her fiancĂ© Sam have arrived to put the finishing touches on their wedding plays.  Hayley’s co-worker Danielle has been elected queen of Fantasy Fest but is unable to enjoy her reign as the runner up, Caryn, is a sore loser and gets into altercations with Danielle as often as possible.  During the Zombie Bicycle Parade Caryn collapses and later dies, suspicion falling upon Danielle of doing something to hasten the otherwise healthy young woman’s death.  Danielle turns to Hayley to suss out a killer; Hayley agrees, though her plate is full enough: her current article features the food trucks and take-out foods available at casual dining places on the island; a hurricane is bearing down on the island and Hayley’s friends are headed inland, save her stubborn octogenarian houseboat mate Miss Gloria who refuses to leave and Janet and Sam putting the final touches on a wedding that may be blown out to sea.
A vivid setting and vibrant colors add to the festive feel of this cozy mystery.  Hayley, a transplant from New Jersey has found a place for herself in Key West, including a new love interest in Detective Nathan Bransford.  Full of good food (recipes included), a quirky and energizing setting in Key West, much like Hayley, this series continues to be a strong and entertaining one.

Breach of Crust by Ellery Adams 

Ella Mae might no longer be the Clover Queen and though her magical abilities were lost when Ella Mae saved her community, she still makes some of the best pies in George and is flattered when Bea Burbank, president of the Camellia Club of Sweet Briar invites Ella Mae to be one of three celebrity bakers at their August retreat.  Ella Mae’s pleasure at being asked is short-lived when she finds Mrs. Burbank floating in the pond behind Ella Mae’s home.  The police rule Mrs. Burbank’s death an accident, but the more Ella Mae learns about the Camellias, the less certain she is that the death was an accident.  Still struggling with the events that led to her loss of power, Ella Mae is surprised when Opal Gaynor, the mother of her enemy Loralyn summons Ella Mae to her house.  Mrs. Gaynor is terminally ill and wishes to be reconciled with her daughter before her death.  Loralyn vanished at the same time Ella Mae’s powers disappeared but Ella Mae agrees and is startled where she finds Loralyn, though she’s not all that surprised to learn that Loralyn is up to no good…again.  With her waitress and longtime family friend Reba at her side, Ella Mae finds herself involved in circumstances and situations that even she doesn’t understand, but that will put many people in danger…and maybe…just maybe, Ella Mae’s powers have not vanished forever.  With the love and support of her mother and her longtime first, and only love, Hugh, Ella Mae realizes she’s up to facing anything that comes her way.  An enchanting series that will bring a bit of magic to everyone’s life who reads it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Just Jennifer

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

Constantina, Connie, Gifford gathers with other members of the Fishboune community on a cold, rainy night in April of 1912, St. Mark's Eve, when it is said that the spirits of those who are to die in the coming year will walk through the graveyard.  Twenty-two year old Connie lives with her father Cowley, a taxidermist who has passed on the love of his trade to his daughter who has become obsessed with birds, alive, dead and stuffed.  Cowley is very secretive, a bit reclusive, and an alcoholic; Connie suffered a bout of amnesia over a decade ago and only has vague memories and recall of her life before then.  The body of a young woman who Connie saw in the graveyard that rainy night turns up dead near a stream on the Gifford’s estate and sets off a series of events that will finally reveal to Connie the events she has kept suppressed and will either drive her to madness or allow her to recall, heal and live a more traditional life than the one she has been leading.  The cover of this book is gorgeous, and though the details of the taxidermy are not for the faint of heart, there is a traditional gothic atmosphere that will draw readers in and keep their interest as Connie, and Crowly’s stories unfold with no easy solutions.

The Other Widow by Susan Crawford
Dorrie Keating has been sleeping with her married boss and makes a split second decision to walk away from a car accident on a snowy, icy night in Boston that kills Joe Lindsay, a decision that will haunt her and send Joe’s wife Karen, and an insurance adjuster Maggie, on the trail of the truth, putting lives in danger and revealing secrets and obsessions that might have otherwise stayed hidden.  Maggie is certain there was someone else in the car with Joe the night he died and becomes determined to track that person down.  Karen was just beginning to suspect Joe of an affair when he died and would like to put the entire thing to rest except there seem to be some irregularities in the business that Karen should now own half of, and she is beginning to get the feeling she is being stalked.  Dorrie, who is struggling with her marriage, the guilt from her affair and not owning up to being in the accident, is also worried because Joe’s last words to her were a warning that she was in danger.  Now she receives a call from the burner phone Joe used to communicate with Dorrie and she too feels as if she is being followed.  On edge and seeing danger around every turn, Dorrie relies on the memory of her mother to help her through difficult times, the memory of whom presents in a scene that is oddly out of character for the rest of this tightly written thriller.  As Maggie, Karen and Dorrie’s paths cross and lives begin to intersect, each is suspicious of the other, but together, a clear picture emerges, a picture that may be more dangerous than any one of the three realizes.  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Just Jennifer

Look for these new books coming in April:

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

In her twenty-third Faith Fairchild cozy mystery, Page focuses on attorney and new bride Sophie Maxwell, first seen in The Body in the Birches.  Sophie and her husband Will have moved to Savannah near Will’s family.  Sophie fits in professionally, taking a job at her father-in-law’s firm, but has a little more trouble with Southern sensibilities and Will’s step-family.  While Will is away in Atlanta investigating a case, Sophie goes house hunting and spends time getting her Yankee roots used to the warm Southern soil, though she can’t help but feel she’s always looking over her shoulder.  One night, Sophie finds a body in the wardrobe in her bedroom, but by the time the police arrive, the body is gone.  Sophie can’t decide if she’s overtired or if someone is trying to frighten her back to New England.  Turning to Faith for help and guidance, Sophie firms up and decides to make the best of it.  On the other end of the phone in Massachusetts, Faith is having troubles of her own.  Her almost teenage daughter Amy has just unwillingly switched schools and is the target bullies; her son Ben is almost too grown up to be mothered much longer (or so he thinks) and her husband, the Reverend Tom Fairchild has just uttered those most unsettling words “we need to talk”.  Easily working the plot back and forth, both stories are fully fleshed out with well-developed characters that are utterly likable and a plot with more twists than first imagined; low-country recipes and recipes from Faith’s catering business round out this most perfect old-fashioned cozy. 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

You don’t need to be a Jane Austen aficionado to appreciate Sittenfeld’s homage to Pride and Prejudice featuring the five Bennet women: Liz, the magazine writer and Jane, the yoga teacher who both live in Manhattan and Lydia and Kitty, health fanatics and Mary, a perpetual student who all live in Cincinnati with their father and shopaholic mother in their rundown family home.  After their father suffers a heart attack, Liz and Jane return home to help restore him to health.  Enter handsome Chip Bingley, reality-TV contestant on Eligible, a program where women vied to marry Bingley, and odious neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Mrs. Bennet thinks Chip is perfect for Jane and is certain the women’s step-cousin Silicon Valley geek Willie Collins is perfect for Liz who is repulsed by the mere thought.  On the other hand, Liz and Darcy hate each other at first sight, however have an instant attraction that leads them to engage in “hate sex”.  As Liz comes to realize the tudor house that the Bennets have called home is about to come tumbling down around them and that Mr. Bennet’s medical insurance is none existent and his bills overwhelming.  As Liz attempts to save the family from themselves, secrets and surprises about each sister are revealed.  Even as the slightly overdone, unbelievable finale unfolds, Sittenfeld’s delightful retelling of the famous story line will entertain and endear these modern day Bennets to modern day readers. 

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline

Christine wants nothing more than to have a baby to complete hers and Marcus’s family, but Marcus’s sperm count is non-existent, which is somewhat of a blow to his ego, but he agrees to use an anonymous donor which he and Christine carefully select: #3319.  Christine becomes pregnant on the first try and makes plans to leave her teaching job in June to raise the perfect family. Her reverie is shattered when the man she sees on television under arrest as a serial killer bears an uncanny resemblance to her donor.  At first, Marcus is unconvinced, but soon he too is caught up with Christine’s fear, but with a much different view and proposal of how to deal with the possibility of their baby’s father being a serial killer.  When no one will confirm the identity of donor #3319, Marcus travels to North Carolina to take care of a project his company is working on and Christine, unknown to Marcus takes a trip to Philadelphia to meet the man she believes to be #3319 to either put her mind at ease or confirm her worst fears,  Christine is surprised by what she finds in Philadelphia and finds herself on the trail of a killer, putting everything for which she has worked so hard to achieve in great jeopardy.  Christine will stop at nothing to learn the truth in this perfect blend of the story of a complex marriage in crisis, a woman fiercely fighting for her unborn child and a thriller that grips you, taking you on an emotional, unexpected ride until a game-changing final twist.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane 

Just as Dr. James Donnelly is buzzed into Special Collections Librarian Harry Larkin’s office on the second floor of the famous beaux-arts library on Fifth Avenue, he is shot by an unknown, unseen, assassin who seems to disappear into thin air.  Ray Ambler, who curates the library’s crime fiction collection has more than a passing interest in the murder as Donnelly was studying the papers of the somewhat reclusive, private, and often drunk, author Nelson Yates:  Donnelly and rival scholar Max Wagner were purported to both be writing completing biographies, Donnelly’s the more scholarly, Wagner’s promising to be the more sensational.  Ambler has helped (butted in) with NYPD homicide Mike Cosgrove’s investigations before and helps Cosgrove to assemble all the players, many of whose relationships stretch back over twenty-years to Hudson Highlands University, but the key seems to be Yates’ daughter Emily who has been estranged from her father for decades.  When Yates is murdered in Bryant Park behind the library, Ambler is baffled, but is certain the answers lie within the contested collection of papers that the library acquired through an anonymous donation.  This smart, academic mystery takes full advantage of the rich scholarship and history, the almost mythical image one of the most famous and recognizable libraries offers.  Ambler is a complex, multi-faceted character with past demons of his own that, if he works through them, may offer a hopeful future for more than just himself.  The mystery is complex and does rely on a couple of coincidences to be completely tied up, but good, solid detective and reference work, sort out fact from fiction and the liars from those telling truths, no matter how unlikely.  Good fun for bibliophiles, library lovers and those who love this landmark of Manhattan along with a good old-fashioned murder investigation. 

Lilac Girls by Martha Kelly
Europe and the coming of World War II seem very far away to New York socialite and volunteer at the French consulate Caroline Ferriday whose days are spent assisting French immigrants and sending care packages to orphaned French children.  When Hitler’s armies invade Poland in the fall of 1939, Caroline knows that changes are coming, but she doesn’t realize who deeply and personally they will affect her.  In Poland, a teenage girl, Kasia Kuzmerick, the daughter and sister of nurses, finds herself drawn further and further into the underground resistance until she makes a move that puts her and her family in the wrong place at the wrong time, a set of circumstances that ends with them being sent to Ravensbruck, the female-only concentration camp, noted for the experiments performed there on the Rabbits as some of the interred were called.  In Germany, Herta Oberhauser has just begun her career as a doctor and accepts a government position, finding herself at Ravensbruck conducting unthinkable experiments at the behest of the male-centric regime.  As war rages on, each woman finds herself doing things she never imagined, often out of love, desperation and the will to survive.  Once the war is over, lives begin to be rebuilt and these women’s lives will intersect as justice, forgiveness, anger, compassion and reality all collide with no easy answers or pat endings. 
Based on the lives of real women, these characters are brought forth with such life, their horrors and heartbreaks, visceral, these small victories triumphant.  This novel is as transformative as it is transfixing, as stories and secrets, hidden for decades, are retold and relived, often with a chilling, yet often hopeful realism. 

 Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen 

Mimi Miller is a Miller from Miller’s Valley and has a certain sense of ownership and responsibility to the land and its people even if she doesn’t recognize it as a young girl.  Growing up in the 1960’s, Mimi observes the care her mother takes as a nurse, of her family and as a keeper of the valley, though not of her own sister.  Mimi watches and learns as the residents of the valley fight off the government who wants to flood their valley to create a reservoir, as her eldest brother goes to college, marries, has children but never seems quite happy, as her other brother, who has never quite found his place in his world, joins the Marines and returns from Vietnam someone she doesn’t know.  As Mimi grows into young adulthood she begins to unwittingly take on responsibilities for her family, the valley and secrets as she lives a life she didn’t plan and then struggles to gain control of her own destiny, allowing others to make their own mistakes and learning what can be changed and what needs to be accepted.  This quiet meditation reminds us that sometimes we need to lose what we love in order to move forward with our lives and ourselves.  Mimi is an extraordinary character, depicted with care, as what we learn about her friends, family and surrounds are reflected in her and as she is in them.  

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

As a new decade dawns in Manhattan, there are life changes in store for three strangers who will be brought together and have lasting and irrevocable effects on each other:  Raul has left his sister in Argentina to pursue freedom and his desire to be a painter; James has always been considered odd, but he learns to use his gift as a synesthetic to become an art critic for The New York Times and a renowned, if not financially viable, art collector; Lucy is a beautiful young woman who has come from a small town in Idaho looking for something, though what she does not know.  Raul and James become ascending stars in the downtown art scene just as separate tragedies touch each man, and eventually Lucy.   As the two men’s paths cross and become intertwined it is an orphaned boy sent from Argentina that help the men face what each has lost and learn to reassemble and reframe their lives, talents and loves.  This stunning debut novel will make downtown in 1980 feel familiar even to those who have never set foot in Manhattan.  Without hyperbole, the grittiness of the East Village and Soho before the gentrification and million dollar rents is described in careful detail.  As each character’s story is revealed, each voice is unique and distinct yet they meld together easily as their stories weave in and out of each other’s lives creating an honest portrait of love, community and art.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Just Jennifer

The Flower Workshop: Lessons in Arranging Blooms, Branches, Fruits, and Foraged Materials by Ariella Chezar

Based on workshops taught by Ariella Chezar throughout the United States and in the Netherlands, this book is the perfect thing to get gardeners and flower lovers through the last long weeks of winter as they await the spring blooms…but aren’t there things out in the garden right now that might make gorgeous arrangements, bringing a bit of the outside inside in between snow falls.  Before the cutting, purchasing and arranging even begin, Chezar sets the foundations for all arrangements, suggesting flower and branch arrangements be thought of in painters’ terms, color, value, light and tone.  She offers suggestions for where to forage for unusual things to add to arrangements and then describes the tools necessary for building successful, not frustrating arrangements and then techniques starting with building a good base.  She discusses living with flowers, taking things found in the supermarket and repotting them to bring life to any area and suggests having more unusual things (fruits, perhaps) making their way into arrangements to add interest.  Chapters on single color arrangements illustrated the idea of tonal arrangements, and include in which season you are likely to find these flowers.  If you like brining in forsythia each winter to force, the chapter on branch arrangements will spur your imagination as you look around a winter yard waiting for the first robin to appear before bursting into spring beauty, and then to consider using these same branches in all their budded glory.  Some more complicated arrangements such as garlands and wreaths and a marigold curtain are included.  A list of seasonal blooms will help with planning for year round fresh flowers.  Gorgeous photographs accompany the clear text with easy to follow instructions, but plenty of room for improvisation for your own tastes.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Just Jennifer

What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine

When Izabella Haywood was six-years-old she lost her father and her voice on Tillings Island off the coast of Rhode Island.  Eight years later, in 1974, Iz’s mother, who has tried to bring Iz’s voice back with the help of doctors and social workers makes one last attempt at helping her daughter by bringing her to the island where it all began.  Once on the island, Iz knows the answers are here, and even suspects that the people who live here know something, but it remains out of her grasp.  The arrival of Izabella’ bohemian grandmother, the island’s annual Yemaya festival and anger all that has built up for years within Izabella all converge, threatening to send her everything out of control---including Iz’s carefully controlled mother---unless maybe that is what is needed for Iz to learn the truth, forgive her father---and herself---and regain her voice, her past, and her future.  First time novelist Valentine tackles a lot: mysticism, love, mental illness, selective mutism, mothers and daughters, and fathers and daughters, yet handles it deftly without the narrative feeling overstuffed or overwrought.  She uses natural imagery to great effect as foreshadowing, almost personifying the creatures, especially the fish, giving powers to rocks from special places.  As Iz learns what she needs to know to regain her voice, she learns about her father and her mother as parents, as individuals and as a couple, and her mother as a daughter and faces what has been hidden for so long and how to deal with the past and not let it dictate the present or the future---and most importantly, Iz learns to forgive, especially herself. 

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and The Great War  

This group of nine stories by a variety of authors focuses on the effects of World War I not only in the days and months leading up to the armistice being signed, but the longer last effects in the second part of the twentieth-century and even into modern day, not just in Europe, but on several continents.  In modern day Dublin, a photograph almost one hundred years old helps heal family strife as Birdie’s children gather with her to commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of the 1916 Uprising, one of the children with a surprise announcement that will lead to the revelation of long kept family secrets.  One story, by best-selling author Lauren Willig begins in 1980 Kenya and crisscrosses the Atlantic and the decades as a lost love is finally realized.  Some stories are told with letters, some poems; one story from the point of view of a nurse in Belgium and several set in post-war Paris.  These stories can be read in order or at random, but taken as a whole is a gorgeous collection of stories.

Just Jennifer

Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

This first part of The Tale of Shikanoko set in medieval Japan, sets the stage for the next three parts of the tale, all of which will be published during 2016, introducing the characters and their relationships, foreshadowing conflicts that are to come.  The tale, for it is truly a tale, begins with Kazumaru, a seven year old, who, when his father dies, is sent to live with his uncle who has no intention of letting Kazumaru live to adulthood.  Escaping, Kazumaru lives among the animals and an almost enchanted forest until he reaches a sorcerer who bestows on him a magical mask and transforms him into Shikanoko.  As “the deer’s child”, Shikanoko works with a mountain thief and the woman with whom he believes he had conjugal relations while under the sorcerer’s spell.  A parallel story, a widower with one daughter tries to unite two dynasties using his sister-in-law with whom he has fallen in love; all the while a priest tries to alter the succession to the Lotus Throne.  These stories all seem to stand on their own, though all have similar themes, childless children, the love of a woman, power being usurped and seized from the righteous, yet feel as if somewhere further into the cycle they will all come together and form a rich tapestry, painting a mystical picture of creatures, spirits and lore in a faraway land in a long forgotten time.   This modern fairy tale is sure to enchant and delight. 

Just Jennifer

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

As a mid-nineteenth-century orphan, Jane Steele could have steeped right out of a Dickens’ novel or the novel bearing her namesake Jane Eyre.  This sardonic, almost satirical retelling of the Bronte novel features a heroine who not only claws her way out of bad situations, she often murders her way out of them, beginning with her lecherous cousin.  Sent away to a dreary school, Jane leaves the only home she has ever known, the hone she feels is rightfully hers, the home in which her embittered aunt made Jane and her now dead mother unwelcomed.  Out of school, Jane begins to write “last confessions” of executed criminals to support herself until she learns that a Mr. Charles Thornfield is seeking a governess for is seeking a governess for his ward, the two living in the very home Jane believes to be hers.  Getting the job, Janes arrives home to Highgate House and an entirely new household staff, most of whom are Sikhs, including the butler Mr. Sardar Singh who has a mysterious connection with Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor who fought in the Sikh Wars.  Hoping her murderous past doesn’t catch up with her, Jane cannot help herself as she falls in love with the master of the house, but will each of their secrets keep them apart or if each learns the other’s secrets will that doom them or bring them closer together?

Jane Steele is a wholly absorbing novel.  Almost a book within a book at times, Jane often refers to Jane Eyre and readers will easily draw comparisons with the two.  Jane is an irrepressible heroine and is at home in any nineteenth-century dreary orphan novel as she is in this modern day novel.  Oddly, she has a very open and honest way about her, though she is secretive about her murderous ways, and is thoroughly enjoyable, murdering only those truly in need of it.  Mr. Sardar Singh and Mr. Thornfield, dark as their secrets may be are equally enjoyable; young Sahjaran is beguiling and a “Javert-esque” constable is always lurking in the shadows as a threat and a reminder to Jane.  A thoroughly enjoyable novel, parts of which are worth rereading to catch glimpses of so many classic novels.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Just Jennifer

Cravings: Recipes for What You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Chrissy Teigen does everything in unapologetically---including eating and cooking.  She began posting pictures of her food on social media, her tastes running to big flavors, something she attributes (in part) to her Thai mother, Pepper, and the spicy, sometimes exotic, home cooking she grew up knowing.  Lest you worry that this is a cookbook full of recipes to give you a swimsuit perfect body, fear not: some of these dishes are full of wholesome ingredients (Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Grapes and Almonds or Cheeseless Scambled Eggs with Burst Cherry Tomatoes); some more indulgent (Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Parsley or Pull-Apart Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy).  Dishes with nods to Tiegen’s Thai heritage include Jok Moo (Thai Pork Rice Porridge) or Pork-Stuffed Cucumber Soup; recipes with an Italian flair such as Caprese Salad with Crispy Prosciutto celebrate hers and her husband’s love for all things Italian.  These recipes, full of flavor and hearty, sometimes provide twists on traditional dishes (Pot Pie Soup with Crusts Crackers or Siracha Caesar Salad).  Teigen’s slightly in-your-face, sometimes opinionated, sometimes chatty, commentary on the ingredients and life make this a book of full of savory recipes and love.  

Eating in the Middle: a Mostly Wholesome Cookbook by Andie Mitchell 

Andie Mitchell, whose weight loss of over 100 pounds was chronicled in the New York Times bestseller It Was All Me shares her favorite recipes that have helped her achieve and maintain her goal weight while still being able to enjoy all her favorite flavors and foods, sometimes in different forms and sometimes just in smaller portions.  An addiction to a sausage, egg and cheese bagel sandwich led Mitchell to create healthier Turkey Breakfast Patties using zucchini as a binder, upping the nutritional value; steeping oats overnight creates a creamy, no-cook healthy, full-of-fiber grab and go breakfast.  Soups, salads, and quick sandwiches full of protein provide energy to get you through the day without sugar-filled treats and vegetable sides and low-fat, full flavor main courses leave room for slimmed down or well-portioned desserts.  Some of the recipes (Meat Loaf Burgers with Bacon, Pepper Jack and Frizzled Onions or Cheddar Biscuit Topped Barbecue Chicken Pie) are decidedly not low-cal or low-fat, but meant for sharing with a crowd and part of Andie’s new lifestyle that focuses on moderation.  Andie’s recipes, her life growing up, her dad dying young, her mother remarrying and her fight to maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy relationship with food without feeling she is giving anything up will provide inspiration along with some really good recipes. 

Find more new cookbooks on our website 

Just Jennifer

The Whole Coconut Cookbook by Nathalie Fraise

Coconuts have often been considered a more exotic---and difficult---fruit (really a one-seeded drupe), but they are now being widely recognized as a versatile health food, the meat and water easily transformed into a variety of products including oil, cream, butter, sugar and aminos in addition to chunks or flakes, all of which blend with a variety of other ingredients to produce dairy and gluten free dishes from savory to sweet.  Chef, educator and blogger Nathalie Fraise demystifies this hard-to-crack fruit and all the new products appearing in markets, explaining what each looks and tastes like, how to handle and store, how to make some of the products at home and general uses for each in recipes.  The recipes that follow are divided into Breakfast, Main Courses, Salads and Sides, Snacks, Drinks, and Desserts.  Simple dishes, such as Almond Vanilla Chia Pudding get a lift by adding an equally simple topping of roasted blueberries and toasted almonds.  A traditional chickpea humus is transformed with fresh coconut meat, aminos and fresh cilantro.  Main dishes range from meat-free Millet, Kale and Miso-Tempeh SautĂ©, Grilled Salmon on Cauliflower and Broccoli “Rice” (a “rice” that has many other uses) to Oven-Roasted Chicken with Zucchini Spaghetti that will satisfy the heartiest of appetites.  These recipes are written in such a way as to be springboards for other dishes and brightly colored photos provide inspiration to create tasty and healthy dishes with a perhaps, surprise, ingredient.

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

Just Jennifer

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

In this first novel, Tina Seskis takes her main character, Emily Coleman, now Cat, on a journey that many of us imagine but few ever take.  Emily has left her husband, her family and home behind to start her life over.  The now former attorney rents a room in a London flop house and starts a new job at a London advertising agency where her rise to the top is swift, but on the edge.  With her new friend Angel, Cat manages to keep one step ahead of anyone looking for her, erasing all traces of her past, except for her memories: memories of growing up as a twin in a dysfunctional household and memories of how she thought she had escaped her life growing up when she married her husband.  What Emily cannot escape is the memory of the events that have led to her running away and if she is not careful, it will catch up with her as her present collides with her past and things that Emily thought she had under control spin so far out of control that she may never be able to recover and regain a life that is her own.  Flashbacks are told in the third person while Emily’s present life is related in first person, a very effective technique as readers watch her spiral out of control still held fast by her past.  Emily/Cat is a tough character to get to know as she reveals very little about her present self.  Readers will come up with many variations on what might have caused Emily’s break with her life but few will see the twist that comes.  A little too much detail is given after the big reveal slowing down the pace of the story a bit but wrapping up any loose ends and questions that were remaining.  An author interview and suggested questions for reading groups offer much food for thought.

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore
Jett Bennett knows she’s very lucky to have landed in her grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment in a hip neighborhood of Brooklyn, temping while she is waiting to break into the music journalism business.  Jett gets her upstairs neighbor, baker KitKat’s mix tape in the mail and takes it upstairs to deliver it, only to find that KitKat has been murdered, the weapon, a marble rolling pin, soaking in the sink.  Jett knows that KitKat’s boyfriend Bronco is not the murderer, and when he is arrested and charged with the murder, the entire neighborhood bands together, raising money for his defense, taking turns visiting him in prison, bringing him care packages with all his favorite foods.  Jett decides she can do one better and sets out, with her best guy friend, the ever polite and oh-so adorable, Sid, to find the murderer on her own.  She decides to start with the secret boyfriend who must have sent the tape and sets out on a journey through KitKat’s past and present to find who killed her friend.  At the same time, Jett relives some of the mix tapes she received over the years, pulling mementos out of her “Boyfriend Box”; but will she ever be able to put all her past loves in the past and live in the future.  Jett’s search for KitKat’s killer takes her on a musical journey into the eighties, into hipster bars, and secret parties.  There is so much nostalgia packed into this novel, along with great characters and several subplots, but first-time novelist Cudmore handles it all like a pro without the book feeling stuffed.  The narrative is deceptively light and breezy, and as Jett searches for a killer, she also looks into her own past and is able to say good bye and deal with her heartaches, heartbreaks, and guilt and will maybe finally be able to move on with the love life portion of her life. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Just Jennifer

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

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

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves 

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

A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders

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

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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