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 Sauté, 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.  

Just Jennifer

The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn

This gorgeously illustrated book not only offers ideas for brightly colored flower gardens that will attract bees to your garden, but includes ideas for herbs and produce that will also attract these vital insects.  The awarding-winning authors explain the importance of bees in gardens for pollination and the problem of bee colony collapse, discuss the benefits of bee-friendly plants (shrubs, perennials, trees and herbs) and include a list of plants that don’t particularly encourage bee visits.  They offer design suggestions for every setting from a small area, dense plantings replacing lawns, wildflower meadows and more formal, structured gardens.  An extensive list of plants includes hardiness zones and whether the plants are native to the area, invasive or spreading.  Bee-friendly resources include public gardens and nurseries.  This is the perfect book to have at hand during these cold winter months while dreaming and planning for the spring planting season. 

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