Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Just Jennifer

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

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

Just Jennifer

Pretend I’m Not Here by Barbara Feinman Todd

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

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Coming in April

Coming in April...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Jennifer

The Day I Died by Lori-Rader-Day

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Just Jennifer

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

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coming in March

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

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Just Jennifer

Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond

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

Just Jennifer

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Coming in February...

A debut thriller that will keep you guessing, a new, long-awaited book by Christina Baker Kline (The Orphan Train), the second book in Kelley Armstrong's new series about an off-the-grid town and so much more for the shortest month of the year!

What You Don’t Know by Joann Chaney
Seven years after a serial killer is caught, the detective who arrested him is working in cold cases, the journalist who told his story is selling cosmetics at the mall, and his wife is trying to hide in plain sight.  Then the murders begin again.  Is Jacky Severs manipulating someone on the outside from death row or does someone need to get Jacky’s crimes back in the spotlight in order to regain their life?  Told from three points of view along with an omniscient narrative observing the action from time to time, the unique structure of this novel helps propel the plot forward and keep tension high in this debut psychological thriller.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong 
Homicide detective Casey Duncan moved to the off-the-grid town of Rockton looking for safe haven from her past, but instead found murder.  Starting a new job in a new town, especially one as secretive as Rockton, is hard enough, but Casey has also started a relationship with her boss Dalton, the Sheriff of Rockton, who has his own set of secrets from his past.  As the winter comes to the Yukon, Casey finds herself, with Will, a sheriff’s deputy, searching for a runner in the woods outside of Rockton.  Stranded in a blizzard, they seek shelter in a cave system where they find a woman who disappeared from Rockton over a year ago and was presumed dead.  After Nicole is safely back in Rockton, Casey and Will find the bodies of two other women missing from Rockton in the cave system.  They still have a resident missing, are being stalked by a man in a snowmobile suit and need to find who is kidnapping the women of Rockton before another goes missing.  Not sure if it is a resident or someone from the groups of outliers who live in the woods and caves, further off the grid, if that is possible, than the residents of Rockton.  Once again, Casey and the people of Rockton pull readers into their world;  well-developed characters, a twisty plot and a strange setting will quickly pull readers into Casey’s world, wanting to stay as long as Rockton will have them. 

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline 
This vividly rendered novel, by the best-selling author of The Orphan Train, tells the story of Andrew Wyeth and his muse for the painting Christina's World, Christina Olson.  Christina lives in her family's legacy, a home off the coast of Maine and has a debilitating disease that leaves her unable to walk.   Stubbornly, sometimes to her detriment, Christina pulls herself through life and it is only through Wyeth's painting is she able to see how others see her and how she presents herself to others.  The deceptively simple prose imbues so much detail the reader is quickly transported to early 20th century Maine were the story of Christina, her ancestors and her legacy is revealed.

The Young Widower’s Handbook by Tom McAllister
Hunter Cady is almost thirty but in many ways feels as if he’s sometimes still in high school and is startled and amazed when he meets Kaitlyn who is not only smart, beautiful, and funny but also loves Hunter to distraction.  The two marry and are planning to start a family when the unthinkable happens: Kaitlyn dies unexpectedly, and to compound the tragedy, she dies of an ectopic pregnancy.  Hunter doesn’t have the skill set to handle this tragedy and cannot deal with Kaitlyn’s family who are still very attached to her and feel they have a claim on her ashes.  Hunter feels they are “his” and puts them in his car and sets off on a cross country trip without much of a plan.  Along the way he grieves, and grows up so that his return to home and rather jarring reentry into his world that has been turned around finds him better able to cope with Kaitlyn’s death and the new life he must forge for himself.

                                      The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth 
Alice and her daughter Zoe have created a tight family unit, Zoe, who has a severe anxiety disorder, relying heavily on her mother for shelter and protection until Alice is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  With no family to speak of, her parents are dead, her brother and alcoholic, Zoe’s father never acknowledged, Alice does not know where to turn for help and for assistance in caring for fifteen-year-old Zoe during her treatment and possibly longer term if the inevitable and yet unthinkable occurs.  Alice, and in turn Zoe, find help from two unexpected women, neither of whom have been in Alice’s or Zoe’s lives before yet become the most important part of their present and possibly future.  As Alice and Zoe each come to their own terms with Alice’s disease and prognosis and with Zoe’s need to gain some confidence and coping skills for her own disorder, they form an unusual partnership with Kate and Sonja and in the process, Kate and Sonja face their own demons, revealing secrets that have the potential to change everything for everyone, not only in a good way, but perhaps in a negative way as well.  Filled with love, heart, and the willingness to go to the ends of the earth for those we love and hold dearest, there is not one character in this book left unchanged by the courage show by Alice and Zoe as they face the hardest thing they must ever learn to do: say goodbye all the while keeping faith that love will abide.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
As World War II comes to England, more and more young men are being called up, vanishing from the small villages, fighting in the war; Chilbury is no exception.  When the last of the men are called up, the Vicar declares the choir will be disbanded due to the lack of male voices; the women of the village band together declaring if ever there is a time for uplifting, spiritual music, the time is now, and form their own choir.  Told from the points of view of five choir members, through their letters and journals, a portrait of a village emerges, with romance, heartbreak, and all the foibles of human nature as a young girl pines for her childhood crush, her older sister becomes involved with a man who is not who he seems; a mother watches her friend bury a son and worries for her own son, and a mid-wife sees the chance to earn some illicit extra money, hoping that it will mend fences with her sister.  This debut will charm and warm the soul as endearing characters are introduced intrepid while they keep the home fires burning and hope alive.   

I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Commuting home on the London tubes one evening, Zoe is startled to see her face in a classified ad for a dating service called FindTheOne.com.  Her live-in boyfriend Simon and her grown children Justin and Katie convince Zoe it is just a coincidence and only someone who looks like her.  Day after day, the advert changes and Zoe realizes the women in the pictures are victims of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder.  Finding someone to investigate is difficult, as when Zoe brings her concerns to the police they chalk it up to coincidence; Zoe chases down the advert’s purpose and finds a cop who will listen to her, but the closer Zoe gets to the truth, she realizes that the person behind this evil ad is closer to her than she realized.  This taut thriller has one surprise after another until at last, it seems all has been uncovered…or has it? A shocking last revelation will have readers turning back to see what clues were missed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Just Jennifer

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell

After twenty-four thrillers featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta and her colleague investigator Pete Marino Patricia Cornwell has regained her stride as she creates a story that on the surface appears chaotic and disorganized, but all leads back to Kay’s perpetual nemesis Carrie Gretchen who will not be happy until she bests, perhaps kills, Kay.  As the September heat builds to a crescendo in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kay is walking to meet her husband, FBI profiler Benton, using the time to wrestle with the impending visit of her sister Dorothy with whom Kay has a difficult relationship in spite of having a mother-like relationship with Dorothy’s daughter Lucy who Kay often raised as her own.  While walking through Harvard Yard, Kay encounters a young woman on a bicycle, a young woman she ran into earlier when purchasing theater tickets.  Kay and Benton are used to their dinners being interrupted by the call of business, but even so it is odd to both of them when they each receive calls.  Kay’s is a summons to a body found along the path in Harvard Yard, found by pre-teen twins.  To her surprise, it is the young woman she saw earlier, and even more so, it appears the woman was struck by lightning, even though there has not been a drop of rain or a cloud in the sky for days.  Precisely timed messages that would mean nothing to most people but have no pattern or order to them, add to Kay’s chaos theory and brings the plot back to Kay and her family and those who will stop at nothing to bring them harm.

Just Jennifer

A Torch Kept Lit by William F. Buckley

Conservative commentator, founder of the National Review and talk show host of Firing Line, William F. Buckley was above all a keen, often wry, observer, even judge, of people.  In this collection of obituaries and eulogies (edited by Fox News’s Washington correspondent James Rosen) Buckley recaps and recounts lives of people, and the effect they had on others and others’ reactions to them, in encapsulated essays, sometimes only half a page.  Divided into six sections, Presidents, Family, Arts and Letters, Generals, Spies, and Statesmen, Friends, and Nemeses, no one is spared.  Entries range from the [mostly] obscure, Rosalyn Tureck, Buckley’s favorite performer, a classical pianist and harpsichordist, to some of the most famous deceased, John Lennon and Princess Diana.  The introduction essays to each piece is as keenly observed as the eulogies themselves.  One has to wonder what eulogy or obituary of himself Buckley would have chosen for this collection.

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

Coming in January...

It's not too early to start your New Year's reading list. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

This is Not Over by Holly Brown

Dawn and her husband stay at gorgeous upscale rental on the California coast and live the high life for a weekend.  When Dawn returns home, she is shocked to learn that Miranda, the home owner, intends not to return the full deposit as the sheets were, in Miranda’s opinion, ruined with a gray like stain in the center of them.  Now through threatening e-mails and bad reviews on Getaway.com the two women begin cyberbullying, each trying to teach the other a lesson.  Both women are stubborn and determined to hold their ground but as the story unfolds, told in alternating points of view, it becomes clear that neither woman is as stable as they think they are and each has secrets they are keeping, secrets that hold them back from uncovering the truth of what really occurred during that weekend.  But in the end, it is this ferociousness and stubbornness that will save both women from themselves and from each other.  A quick read that sometimes gets bogged down in repetition, but that has an ending worth waiting for even if neither woman is ever redeemed in the reader’s eyes.

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian 

Twenty-one-year-old Lianna Ahlberg’s world is turned on end when her mother Annalee disappears one night, sleepwalking, Lianna fears.  Annalee suffered terribly from sleepwalking, causing her family great concern over the years, Lianna even had to pull her off a bridge railing one night while Annalee was posing, naked, as one of the decorative angels.  As long as her husband, Warren, was in bed with her, Annalee didn’t seem to have a problem, but after years of treatment and no nocturnal wonderings, he decides it is safe to leave their Vermont home and attend a conference in Iowa for a short time.  Lianna’s twelve-year-old sister Paige is understandably upset by her mother’s disappearance, almost fierce in her quest to find her while Lianna is, by contrast, almost preternaturally calm.  A piece of Annalee’s nightshirt caught on a branch by the river seems to confirm everyone’s worst fears though Annalee had yet to be found.  Gavin Rikert, from the state police, has taken a special interest in the case, though Lianna cannot figure out why, and eventually, he develops a special interest in Lianna.  Lianna, deciding not to return for the fall semester of her senior year in college, attempts to hold the family together while at the same time continuing the search for Annalee, a search that takes her into places in her parents’ marriage a daughter shouldn’t have to go, a search that will lead her to places she never thought she’s have to go, places from which she can never return. 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
After filling out a detailed and unusually intense, probing application, Jane scores an ultra-modern, high-tech London apartment that seem to anticipate all her needs…but does it know her too well?  Once in the apartment, Jane learns that the previous occupant, Emma, died in the apartment under perhaps, mysterious circumstances.  Jane embarks on a dangerous cat and mouse game with her landlord but who is the aggressor and who is the pretty?  A tale of obsession that switches between Jane and Emma’s stories, weaving them together irrevocably in this tale of obsessions with twists and turns that don’t stop until after the final page is turned.

My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry 

Lily, a young lawyer, has married Ed an artist, and plans to make a fresh start at life, moving on from family secrets and guilt she has been carrying since she was a teenager.  An appeal case, Lily’s first murder case, her firm has taken on changes everything.  When Lily meets the clever, smart Joe who has been convicted of killing his girlfriend, she is drawn into a dangerous cat and mouse game that will change her life for years in unforeseen ways.  At the same time, there is a nine-year-old girl living in Lily and Ed’s building who lives with her single mother who moved from Italy to London.  Carla has more secrets than any nine-year-old should have, but has also learned that knowledge is power and has learned to manipulate people to get whatever she wants.  Sixteen years later, Lily and Ed have an autistic son and Ed’s art has finally taken off, including some portraits he did of Carla when she was a child.  Now Carla returns with an agenda, an agenda that can only end in one way, and one that reintroduces Joe into Lily’s life asking questions that Lily is not ready to answer, even to herself. 

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
On New Year’s Eve 1984, 84-year-old Lillian Boxfish, once the highest paid advertising woman in America decides to take a walk from her Murray Hill apartment; through lower Manhattan, she meets new people, and revisits her life, making peace with her choices and with her future.  Heading out to get a pre-supper drink, Lillian has a final Negroni of 1984, finds she is too full from half a package of Oreo cookies to have supper at her usual restaurant; a restaurant she learns is going to be sold to the owner’s nephew in the new year.  Deciding to walk almost three miles to Delmonico’s where she and her ex-husband had their divorce dinner almost thirty years prior, Lillian takes the time to reflect on coming to Manhattan from Washington D.C.  in the 1920’s.  Her dry wit and delightful verse earned her a spot on R.H. Macy’s advertising team and quickly catapulted her to the top of her trade.  Lillian eschewed marriage and motherhood and was a surprised as anyone when she fell head over heels in love with a seventh floor carpet salesman Max and had to leave her job almost a decade later, pregnant with their only child, Gian.  Lillian recalls her books on “lunch time” poetry that were published in the 1930’s and muses on the state of the city mid-1980’s.  Along her walk, Lillian encounters kind people giving her hope that the city will get better as it always has in the past.  Alternating chapters recount Lillian’s present day journey and her journey in life, including a difficult time mid-century when she sunk into a deep depression that required intensive treatment, but Lillian came through with the grace and aplomb that served her well throughout her life, the same grace and aplomb she exhibits on her ten-mile-walk through Manhattan on a chilly evening.  Lillian Boxfish is an engaging heroine, someone to delight in and yearn to be like.  Her candid reflections of the growth of a city and the snapshot view of her present day city bring Manhattan to life the way many of the most beloved writers of the twentieth-century did, a remarkable feat for Kathleen Rooney a resident of Chicago.  Rooney, who is a young writer, also portrays an elderly woman reflecting on her life with the same acuity she portrays the hopes and dreams of a young woman of Lillian’s memory.  Lillian Boxfish is indefatigable in not only her instance on making this New Year’s Eve journey on her terms, but in the way she lived her life---so far---on her terms.

Home Sweet Home by April Smith 

Living in New York City during the 1950’s, Calvin Kusek, a World War II pilot hero and an attorney, and his wife Betsy, a nurse, should be at the top of their game.  They met after Betsy was arrested in a department store protest supporting unionization and a brief stint as a member of the Communist Party.  Eager to escape all the trappings  they fear for their family, they decide to move across the country to a small town in South Dakota where a war buddy of Cal’s offers the two a chance to start over and even try their hands at cattle ranching.  Hard work though it is, Cal and Betsy, and their daughter Jo and son Lance, quickly fall in love with this new way of life; though they are ideologically different than their neighbors they are respected and fit comfortably into the community.  When a State Assembly seat becomes open, Cal runs for and easily wins three turns.  When his ambitions turn to the U.S. Senate, his friends and opponents become suspicious of him and Betsy finds the FBI investigating her and her activities as a young woman and a smear campaign begins, turning neighbor against neighbor and entire state against Cal and his family; a libel lawsuit vindicates the family but causes deep ruptures in their relationships, ruptures that don’t heal until one night thirty years later when Lance and his family are brutally murdered in their home.  A town now comes to Jo’s side, though she has been living in the Pacific Northwest for many years, supporting her and offering their assistance into finding out who committed such a heinous crime, even if it means opening up wounds that never really healed, but have stayed dormant, a series of events that not only reunites families but will preserve the land for generations to come. 
Calvin Kusek and his family move from 1950’s New York City to South Dakota where they embrace a new way of life, learning to fit in with their new neighbors in spite of their liberal tendencies.  Everything changes when Cal runs for public office and the family finds themselves under a cloud of suspicion, one that will tear their lives apart until many years later, a horrific event brings a daughter back to her home town and gives everyone a chance to heal and move forward.  For fans of Jane Smiley

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
Kate Priddy agrees to swap her London apartment with a distant cousin, Corbin Dell in Boston hoping that the time away will help heal her neurotic tendencies after being kidnapped and held hostage by an ex-boyfriend.  Once in Boston, however, Kate is shocked to learn that Corbin’s next door has been murdered and that the police are interested in talking with Corbin.  Curiosity gets the better part of Kate, especially after she meets her neighbor across the courtyard who, though he didn’t know the murdered woman, seems to know an awful lot about her, including the fact that Corbin frequently visited her in spite of his not admitting to knowing her that well.  The more Kate learns about her cousin, the less she knows what is real and as a killer is slowly revealed she finds herself in a dangerous maze in which she’ll have to trust someone, but will she pick the person who can keep her alive?  Full of twists and turns, Peter Swanson once again plumbs the depth of human emotion keeping the tension high, even until the last page that may leave some readers wondering if Kate has made the right choice, the choice that will keep her alive. 

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
When Louise kisses the man at the bar she has no idea he is her new boss David, her new married boss, nor does she have any idea that she and his beautiful wife Adele will become close friends, keeping their relationship a secret from David. As Louise observes David and Adele’s relationship from the point of view of first a secretary, then a friend, then a lover, she knows something isn’t quite right in the marriage but the more questions she asks the more things don’t seem right. A frightening tale of coming undone with an unforeseen, shocking twist at the end; it has been said before "You'll never see this ending coming" but never has it been more true than with this debut.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Just Jennifer

Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

Janet Marsh, her daughter and two friends have all moved to Inversgail, Scotland to run a bookstore/tearoom/bed and breakfast; upon arrival in Inversgail, Janet learns she cannot move into the house she and her ex-husband owned and have been renting out because someone has turned it into a garbage dump.  Janet blames local newspaper columnist Una Graham (fondly known as Ug) but when she and her friends try to catch Una in the act they instead find her body in Janet’s shed.  Now in addition to learning to run Yon Bonnie Books, setting up the tearoom and readying the B&B, Janet has a murder to look into; a stack of unpleasant blackmail letters found in the back of the story opens up new possibilities for suspects, including Janet’s ex-husband.  To add to Janet’s already too long to-do list, she has been tapped by the local librarian to be the judge of the writing contest for Inversgail’s upcoming literature festival, along with a reclusive author who is also Janet’s next door neighbor and who may just be on the suspect list.  This first book in a new series introduces readers to a delightfully quirky cast of characters in a charming setting that they will look forward to returning to time and time again.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Jennifer

The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy

In this laugh-aloud no-holds barred memoir, stand-up comedian, writer Tara Clancy details growing up in Queens during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Tara was born to an Irish policeman and an Italian social worker, both with big families.  She spent part of her week with the "the Geriatrics of 251st Street" (her Italian grandparents and aunts and uncles), every other weekend with her father and the alternating weekends with her mother at her mother’s boyfriend’s home in the Hamptons, complete with a swimming lagoon and small motorized car for Tara’s use.  Tara tells her story in vignettes, not entirely chronologically, making the narrative a bit hard to follow.  She focuses more on her earlier life and spends less time detailing her high school and college years and her time since then, years that might make an interesting sequel.  The Clancys (and the Riccobonos) loved hard and played hard and Tara was the self-proclaimed Queen (or rat) or the neighborhood, in and out of the neighbors’ homes as if they were her own.  Tara’s honesty and entertaining narrative also illuminate the differences in social classes and shows how her mother’s family (especially her grandparents) who identified strongly with their Italian heritage reacted to the choices their children made as they grew up.  The out-of-time narrative notwithstanding, this is an enjoyable, quick memoir of a time not so long ago that will win Tara some new fans hoping for more of her life so far.

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

Just Jennifer

Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner

Novelist and short story author Peter Orner turns his attention to his own reading habits and preferences in this collection of essays that revisits some of his favorite books, classic (mostly modern) authors such as Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel and John Cheever, as well as some more unknowns, Elias Canetti, Juan Rulfo and Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.  These essays are not just reflections on the work but include personal recollections about where Orner read the work, what was going on in his life and why the book is so important to him.  In many of the essays Orner muses on fathers and sons as he mourns the loss of his own father and reflects in their time together and their relationship.  Orner is a watcher, an observer; some of his favorite places to read and write include the San Francisco hospital’s cafeteria, reading John Cheever in Albania or The Matisse Stories of A.S. Byatt in a run-down Victorian in Cincinnati.  Orner reveres the books as almost sacred objects, both physically and for the wisdom and solace contained within.  Of the Byatt he says it has a “beautiful light blue cover. On it two people are reading. There’s a window and tree in the background.”  Each essay is intimate and personal and reminds us that while reading and writing may be solitary endeavors books bind us not only to the characters within, their creators, but also to each other as they tether us to the world at large while allowing us to float freely wherever we may choose.  Sources and Notes at the end offer further insights to the works mentioned throughout the text.  

Just Jennifer

The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier

In this second collection edited by Cathi Hanauer, (The Bitch in the House) over two dozen authors (nine from the original collection) reflect on being a woman in the modern world, feminism, and yes, getting older.  These essays, on topics ranging from relationships with husbands, exes, mothers, finding new men friend, having a baby using IVF without a partner, sex after menopause, co-parenting, and divorce, are brutally honest, but offer a light touch, assuring women we WILL get through it, gracefully, and maybe come out even better than before.  Best-selling author Ann Hood reflects on body image and a healthy weight both at her current age and as a younger woman who worked as a flight attendant during a time when a “perfect” physique was required.  Lizzie Skurnick writes about her decision to get pregnant without a partner, including her family’s reaction, her longing to have a “husband” during the pregnancy and the “what am I doing” moments when she realized how much money she had already spent on getting pregnant, but also how much more money she was going to spend over the course of her child’s lifetime.   The essays are divided into four sections (Me, Myself, and My Midlife Choices; Sex, Lies and Happy(ish) Endings; To Hell and To Hold; and Starting Over making it easy to dip into a section as the mood (or mood swing) strikes.  Read the essays that best suit your current place in life, read the essays written by your favorite writers, but don’t miss a single word in this entertaining, wise collection.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

New For November

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

This story of a family, told from the point of view of an unnamed dying grandfather slowly reveals the light and shadows of a marriage and a family, as well as the social context of their existence, as a grandson sees the history of the family he thought he knew in a different light, much the way moonlight reflects and refracts light with shimmering prose and insights.  As a grandson sits by this dying grandfather’s bedside, he tries to glean the last bit of information and family secrets his grandfather has to offer.  In a family that kept secrets as a way of life, the grandson learns more about his grandparents’ marriage than he was ever able to observe as a young child or a young man; he learns of his grandmother’s life growing up in France during World War II and her coming to America and living with a man who lies about his short time in prison during their marriage, a lie which she easily saw through.  Technology and space exploration and rockets are backdrops to this story which often feels more like a reflection or refraction, an autobiography than a novel, all with Chabon’s signature style, carefully observed, characters that are both new and familiar and footnotes to boot.   A November www.libraryreads.org pick. 

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman’s books have always been touched with angels, good and bad, and her latest novel is no exception.  Just before their high school graduation, Shelby Richmond and her best friend Helene were in a horrible car accident, one from which Shelby walked away but one that left Helene in a coma hovering between the now and the hereafter.  Shelby spends the next years of her life wandering around also in an in between place while Helene, ensconced in a hospital bed in her childhood home, seeming unaware of what is going on around her, becomes a shrine to which people make a pilgrimage touting Helene’s ability to heal what ails them just by being in her presence.  The one person who probably needs Helene’s miracles, and forgiveness, the most is Shelby who cannot bring herself to visit her old friend.  Shelby follows a high school classmate to Manhattan after Ben professes his love for her, but she still has a hard time feeling anything except for Chinese food and now abandoned dogs; as she navigates a new city she learns there are souls just as lost as she, some more, learns to make friends, and yes, love again, all the while, being guarded by someone who knows her, someone who is real but is not ready to be seen until an unlikely set of circumstances throws them together finally making Shelby feel complete.  Alice Hoffman’s books have a magical realism to them that makes you want to believe in something more than yourself and to never lose hope.  A November www.libraryreads.org pick.

I’ll You There by Wally Lamb

Sixty-year- Felix Funicello (yes, a distant cousin of THAT Funicello) is divorced and cheering on his young adult daughter Aliza as she embarks on a magazine writing career in Manhattan. One evening while setting up for his film club, the college professor is visited by the ghost of an early 20th-century female director who leaves Felix reels of film of his life, offering him the chance to re-enter his life in order to gain, perhaps, a new appreciation of the women in his life and how he got where he is today and where he might go from here.  As Felix revisits his life he sees his mother and sisters as he saw them as a child, but in the back of his mind he can draw on the knowledge and experience of a sixty-year-old as he “watches” the movies from the inside out.  He learns the circumstances of his sister Frances’s birth, a story that would have been enough as a focus for the entire book, but rather Lamb turns these memories and revelations into ways for Felix to understand his young adult daughter more and support her as she tries to break into journalism in New York City and becomes a mother herself.  Charming and witty, this book offers social history from feminism to pop culture.   A November www.libraryreads.org pick.

Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Boston reporter Jane Ryland is on her way to interview a college administrator about date rape on campus when she and her producer witness a hit and run, unwittingly ruining an alibi, stumbling into something that she’d be better off nowhere near.  On the other side of town, her secret fiancĂ© homicide detective Jake Brogan is investigating the drowning death of Hollywood screen-writer, local adjunct professor Avery Morgan.  In Avery’s community, The Reserve, the residents are quiet and keep to themselves, but Avery’s next-door neighbor is particularly so making Jake have to work harder to find witnesses.  When Jane finds a young woman willing to go on the record about date rape, she quickly realizes that she may unwittingly have information that could help Jake, but how can she feed him the information without revealing her sources and how can she talk to the District Attorney about the hit and run she witnessed without compromising her position as a reporter and how can she and Jake ever tell the world about their engagement and get on with their lives without one of them giving up their livelihood?  Intricate plotting and an engaging, intrepid heroine and hero are trademarks of Ryan’s Jane Ryland series and her latest entry doesn’t fail to disappoint as Jane and Jake once again pursue parallel investigations that ultimately connect in most unexpected ways.  This series with its complex stories lines and complex characters is one not to be missed.