Here we are a week into 2016, and I don't want to wait any longer to tie up a loose end from 2015 - so here are the books I read in the last three months of the year.
The Diva Haunts the House, by Krista Davis. Other than classic tales like "Dracula" or horror stories, which I do not enjoy, it's hard to find a Halloween-themed book. So when I saw this one, I was happy. I enjoy "The Diva" series, because they do not in any way take themselves too seriously, and the main character, Sophie Winston, is always making delicious food and drinks.
In this installment, Sophie and some friends are putting the finishing touches on a haunted house for the community for Halloween. The house at one time was a boarding house where a vampire allegedly lived, and a lot of the high school kids helping her are both excited and scared at this story.
Then, someone is murdered during a Halloween party at Sophie's ex-husband's house, and Sophie finds the body. The person she saw running away was dressed like a vampire ... but then, so were plenty of others!
As the story progresses, other creepy things start to happen, and Sophie's life may be in danger. Everything leads up to Halloween night, when things come to a head.
This was a fun read, and was good for putting you in the Halloween mood. I like this series.
Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny. Unlike most of the Inspector Gamache books to this point, the focus of this one is only partly in Three Pines, the small Quebec village that we have visited in Penny's previous books. Instead, Gamache spends the time frame of the book in Quebec City, where he has come to stay with his mentor and dear friend, Emile, now a widower. As the story unfolds, we learn that Inspector Gamache has come to heal (physically and emotionally), after a disastrous result in a case where one of his officers was kidnapped and killed. Of course, being Armand Gamache, he finds a local place, the Literary and Historical Society, a library originally established to mark the place of the Anglos in Quebec society, but that is now a relic of itself. When a body belonging to a resident of the town known for his fanatical devotion to locating the final resting place of Quebecois hero Samuel de Champlain is found buried in the Society's basement, Gamache's initial consultant involvement becomes a way for him to work through his grief and doubt by focusing on solving the murder.
Meanwhile, Gamache has sent one of his officers, Jean Guy Beauvoir, to Three Pines. He wants to find out if it is really the case that one of the residents imprisoned for murder is in fact guilty, due to regular notes from the person's partner, asking the same question: Why would Olivier move the body? Beauvoir sees this first as a fool's errand, something the Chief gave him to do while recovering from the same failed rescue.
During the course of the book, each one of them is able to work through things and reach the point where they can once again move forward in their lives.
I thought this book was extremely well-written, very sad in places, and a departure from the usual scenarios involving these characters and those around them. Beauvoir was definitely humanized in this story, becoming just a tad more tolerant and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.
An excellent addition to this series, in my opinion.
The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa. This is a small, poignant, lovely book about a woman who is sent through an agency to be the housekeeper for a former mathematics professor. His once brilliant future was brought to a halt when he suffered severe head injuries in a traffic accident years before. Though others sent from the agency have found him problematic, the housekeeper of the title finds him to be brilliant, fascinating, and she works to understand him. For his part, he introduces her to the fascinating and intricate world of numbers and mathematics. When he learns she has a son, he insists she bring him along, and the two hit it off, particularly over their love of baseball.
The story details the relationship that develops among these three characters over time. The housekeeper and her son find not just friendship, but an added level of wonder in the world because of their exposure to the professor. He in turn learns to enjoy small things and can return to sharing his knowledge with them, even in his otherwise limited state.
Even if you are not well-versed in some of the finer points of mathematics (and I'm not!), this is a wonderful book about people learning from each other.
The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty. There's a lot in this book that could be food for thought. But it is also just a great read!
Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who seems to have everything, comes across a letter by chance one day in the attic, while looking for something else. It is addressed to her, from her husband, and the envelope is marked "To be read after my death."
Rachel is trying to get over the murder of her daughter Janie many years ago, and is certain that justice was not served. The person she feels is responsible for Janie's death works at her school, and every day she is insulted by his presence there. On top of which her son, his wife, and their little boy have just told her they are moving from Australia to New York for two years.
Tess is trying to figure out how she never noticed that her husband and cousin were falling in love. They are all business partners as well as family, and the revelation of their relationship has thrown her for a loop.
During the week leading up to Easter, these women will have life-changing experiences that will intersect with one another. The stories intersect back and forth and then finally at a crucial, heartbreaking point.
This book has so much to say about the various choices we make, and what we do or do not know about those closest to us. I found it interesting, well-written, and found the epilogue particularly touching, with it's "what could have been" tone.
The War Against Miss Winter, by Kathryn Miller Haines. This book had an interesting premise. Miss Winter is Rosie Winter, a struggling actress in post-Pearl Harbor New York City, working as a file clerk for a private investigator since she does not have a full-time acting job. Her boyfriend - well, she's not 100% sure about that - left to fight in the war, and she is feeling conflicted about their relationship.
When the private investigator who is her boss is murdered, and a mysterious visitor asks her to find a play by a world-famous playwright that is missing, things start to get weird.
I wanted to like this book, and it wasn't awful. It was good enough to finish, but that's about it.
All Our Worldly Goods, by Irene Nemirovsky. A really lovely book, following one family in a small French town, beginning in World War I through the end of World War II. The story makes the characters seem very real, and it is also a portrait of small-town life at a time when the world was changing, and it was impossible to remain in your own little universe.
I really liked this book. It was beautifully written, and though it covered a span of years, it always seemed to take its time. This is the book prior to "Suite Francaise," which I also really enjoyed, and I think the two together paint a vivid picture of French life at the times when they are set.
I had an Advanced Reader's Edition of this, which I have obviously had for a while, and picked it up to read right after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. That was unintentional on my part, but it did reinforce my ideas of the spirit of the French people, and their ability to survive the worst and go on with their lives.
Roast Mortem, by Cleo Coyle. I haven't read one in this series for a while, so it was nice to get back to the characters. This installment has Clare Cosi investigating a series of arson attacks on coffeehouses in New York City. I found it particularly interesting, with the story involving members of the fire department. I think as far as development of additional characters, this was one of the better in this series.
It was also interesting to learn the differing levels of the chain of command in a fire department.
I liked it, and am definitely trying the recipe for the Old Fashioned Donut muffins!
Betrayed, by Lisa Scottoline. I liked this book well enough, but not as much as the others involving the characters in the law firm of Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, and Judy Carrier. It was still a very entertaining read.
The focus in this installment is Judy. She is helping Mary prepare for her upcoming wedding. She has just been assigned a boatload of cases involving asbestos, which she really does not want to be involved in at all. She is being continually frustrated by her live-in boyfriend Frank, who is a great guy but not responsible.
Then Judy learns that her favorite aunt, Aunt Barb, is having treatments and surgery for breast cancer. This news throws her for a loop. While visiting Aunt Barb beforehand, she meets Iris, her aunt's cleaning lady and good friend. Judy's mother is suspicious of Iris, and that only adds tension to their already strained relationship.
When Iris is found shortly afterward, dead in her car, Aunt Barb and Judy find it hard to believe that it was due to a heart attack. Judy begins looking and asking around. We are then introduced to the lives of undocumented workers on mushroom farms in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where Iris also worked. When answers to her questions don't add up, others are killed, and Judy finds a huge sum of money in her aunt's garage, things start to get serious fast.
Besides the main mystery of the story, there are a few side stories, all working in the theme of betrayal. Between Iris' secrets, the underground lives of the mushroom workers, and Judy's own family secrets coming to light, a lot happens all at once.
Like I said, interesting but not a favorite.
Someone, by Alice McDermott. This is a lovely book. A quiet book, told by Marie Commeford, about her life. A collection of stories, or memories, of things she realizes as an adult that she didn't see clearly as a child growing up in Brooklyn before the Great Depression. She is the youngest in her family, consisting of her parents, and her older brother Gabe. They are an Irish-American family in a predominantly Irish-American neighborhood, and to a large extent, Marie's story is everyone in the neighborhood's story.
But like any individual's story, the common is also the uncommon. Marie tells her story in a fashion that almost makes her seem like a person who spent a lifetime moving forward, reacting to things rather than acting upon them. She is a product of her time, her culture, but also her own unique perspective on everything.
The Grief of Others, by Leah Hager Cohen. I know that any of you who know me think this is a weird book for me to read during December, as I usually am reading holiday-themed books. But I started this in the last few days of November, and since I had been on the list of holds at the library for quite a while, I decided it was worth delving into.
The book is the story of a family - John, Ricky, Paul, Biscuit, and John's daughter from a dalliance before they were married, Jess - and the aftermath of the loss of a baby. Baby Simon was born anecephalic, and lived for only slightly more than two days. The book deals with each character's ways of coping, more or less separate from one another.
I found Ricky (the mother) to be the least sympathetic character (which I know is not a popular opinion), because to me she was selfish and saw herself even before Simon was conceived as a martyr. The other characters, though not incredibly lovable, were far more interesting to me. (And there is another character, Gordie, who plays a part in the story, who has a Newfoundland dog named Ebie. They are not primary characters, but they help the story along.)
I do think the book is well-written, and I do think that a lot of the characters' reactions and feelings were authentic. It's a sad story in so many ways, but probably the saddest thing is that it is not uncommon. It did end on a positive and hopeful note, but I think because I felt ambivalent about the characters, the ending did not have the effect on me it might have otherwise.
Death with All the Trimmings, by Lucy Burdette. Hayley Snow is a food writer/restaurant critic for the Key Zest, the local magazine for the Key West community. She is sent to talk to a new to the area chef, who is opening a restaurant. The chef is half of a former couple in NYC who had a four-star restaurant. The husband was caught cheating, so the ex-wife has moved south to try to make it on her own.
With problems of sabotage in the kitchen, to the ex-husband being found dead on the restaurant premises after a suspicious fire, as well as Hayley fearing for the future of her job, the holidays are looking iffy. Plus, Hayley's mother is strangely silent as to why she did not immediately say yes to a marriage proposal from a wonderful man.
This is the first book I've read in this series. Though it stood well enough on its own, I felt like at least a bit of background might have made it more interesting. I found the lifestyle in Key West, plus some of the Christmastime traditions, to be really interesting.
This was an enjoyable read.
Silent Night, by Donna Ball. This was a new-to-me author and series, and I enjoyed reading this one very much.
Raine Stockton is the main character. She lives in a small Tennessee town, and as this book opens, is hoping that she will be able to afford the remaining construction costs on the dog-training/boarding facility she and a friend/partner need for their business. Her ex-husband, Buck is the sheriff, and there is some unfinished emotional business between the two of them.
Anyway, as the book opens, there has been a mysterious murder, and a young girl has mysteriously disappeared. Raine is busy enough, but then her current boyfriend's nine-year-old daughter is in town, and through a series of events, ends up staying at Raine's house.
I'm not going to say much, because there are a lot of characters, background, and intersecting stories here that would make this pages and pages long. Suffice it to say that Raine gets involved in solving the murder and the young girl's disappearance, and learns some things about herself while spending time with the young girl.
This was a slightly different kind of story, and the characters were different than a lot of the other holiday-themed books I've read. But it was a good read, and included plenty of holiday stuff to satisfy even me. :-)
Antiques Fruitcake, by Barbara Allan. I read this during on my lunch hour at work. Apparently it is part of a series where the main character runs an antique shop. This is just a short (~60 p.) story about a year when the main character, Brandy Borne, is recruited to help her mother, Vivian Borne, with a local theatre production that the mother has written, is producing, and directing. In spite of the fact that it is Christmastime, Brandy agrees to help, because she doesn't feel like fighting with her mother about any of it.
When the leading lady drops dead during the dress rehearsal, seemingly from eating a piece of a fruitcake made as a prop, Brandy and her mother have to determine what happened, and of course the show must go on.
This was entertaining for a lunchtime read. Not engaging enough for me to want to run out and read any of the other in the series, but a nice short amusing story.
The Diva Wraps It Up, by Krista Davis. This was an enjoyable, holiday-filled book. I think that the series is picking up, as far as becoming better written and a little bit more involved. But it is still a fun series, and made for excellent Christmastime reading.
At the very beginning of the story, Horace Scroggins - a local real estate man who has done well for himself, and who is a beloved member of the community - has a serious accident at the Christmas party for his own employees. Sophie Winston and her friends become curious at to what actually happened, since Horace seemed to be in good health.
While they are trying to figure this out, the neighborhood Christmas decorating contest is underway, the cookie swap is happening, and another neighbor turns up dead! But why? How? Who? Sophie and the gang have a lot on their hands all of a sudden, besides just their holiday preparations.
Entertaining and very Christmasy. :-)
Mrs. Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen, by Emilly Brightwell. I tried reading this book last December, and for whatever reason, just couldn't keep going. I thought it had potential though, so I tried again, and this time found it really interesting!
Mrs. Jeffries is the housekeeper for Inspector Witherspoon of Scotland Yard. Along with the other household staff, they work to help their employer solve murders - without him realizing it, of course! In this installment, it is close to Christmas, and Stephen Whitfield, a prominent Londoner, has been poisoned at his own dinner party. It would appear that the poison (foxglove) was in a bottle of Bordeaux given to him by a couple of guests. But things are not that simple!
I found this really an interesting mystery, as it seemed obvious at first, then not, and was somewhat surprising to me at the end. The characters were all interesting in their own ways, and I'm glad I gave this one another try. This is the only one I've read in this series, so I may check out one or two more to see what I think.
Until now, I didn't realize how much of a little bit of everything I'd read over the past few months ...
Tune in tomorrow, when I'll announce the winner of my 1000th post giveaway!