Saturday, November 28, 2015

Just Jennifer

Coming in January 2016...

Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen

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

The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

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

Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

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

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

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

What She Left by T. R. Richmond

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

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

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

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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

Just Jennifer

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

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

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

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

Just Jennifer

The Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just Jennifer

The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Just Jennifer

The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Just Jennifer

Web of Deceit by Katherine Howell

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

Just Jennifer

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

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