It's that time again - when I blather on about what I have read in the past three months, whether or not you care. Though I am always happy to hear in the comments that you find my thoughts interesting, or that you have similar thoughts about a book that I did, or that you have recently read _____ and would recommend it.
So here goes - what I have been reading, and what I thought about it. I hope you'll find something that makes you want to pick up a book!
Thistles and Thieves, by Molly MacRae. Janet Evans and her moved-from-America-to-Scotland crew are feeling more and more at home in their new country of Scotland, and their bookstore and tea room are doing great business. When Janet is riding her bicycle one morning in training for a local race, she stumbles across the body of a local doctor. It's not clear what happened at first, but soon it is determined that he was murdered. Which sets Janet and the others into action, trying to determine what and who.
A mysterious box of books left in front of the bookshop before opening one morning also supplies a mystery. As other people are killed - the late physician's brother and a local district nurse - things get even more puzzling. Did the books belong to the dead physician? Were they in fact stolen, as the his sister claims?
This was an enjoyable read in the series, and at least to me, had a surprise ending.
Passing, by Nella Larsen. When a chance meeting between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry happens, it leads to events that neither expected. Having been childhood friends, Clare is now living in New York as the wife of a white man, and mother of a young daughter; Irene is living in Harlem, with her husband and two young sons. The story is of two black women - one who decided to live her life by "passing" as a white woman (Clare), and the other - who, as the author points out, could have also done that - who remains living among the others of her race (Irene). It is New York City in the late 1920s, and Clare's husband - like most men of his time - wants nothing to do with Black people and does not trust them at all.
As Clare weaves her way back into Irene's life and those of her friends and family, by coming to Harlem whenever her husband is out of town, Irene is both intrigued by Clare but also annoyed by her. Irene thinks that it must be wonderful to live a life of luxury as Clare does, and not have to worry about money. For her part, Clare seems to want the opportunity to enjoy life among the people who she grew up with, though she can't really turn her back on the life she has made for herself without serious consequences. As Clare interjects herself more and more into Irene's life, Irene begins to worry if her husband is attracted to Clare, or worse, having a relationship with her.
This book has such depth and truth of feeling that you are able to picture the characters and the places mentioned. One of the things that I had not considered (being a very white person, even among white people) about those who lived their lives passing for white people was the fear that they would not just be found out by chance or design when someone spilled their secret, but that genetics would betray them if they gave birth to a dark child. This is addressed in the book when Clare mentions her dread that her daughter would be born with dark skin, and her husband would find out her secret.
The foreward to the edition I read also made the book so much more interesting, talking about not just the practice of passing, but the difference in how it was portrayed in literature and on film; admittedly, this is the first book I have read where a character is passing, but I have seen several (older) movies, and it is true that based on that alone, the premise presented in the foreward is true.
This was a truly excellent book, and a good read as well. Highly recommended.
Clammed Up, by Barbara Ross. This was an enjoyable summertime cozy mystery.
Julia Snowden has returned to her hometown of Busman's Harbor, Maine, leaving her job in a venture capitalist firm in New York City, to try and save her family's business. The Snowden Family Clambake is an institution in the town, and has been slowly slipping towards financial ruin. When the best man in a wedding party is found murdered as the plans for a wedding clambake are made, the business is forced to close down, making their financial issues even worse.
As Julia continues to clash with her brother-in-law Sonny, who has been running the business since the death of Julia's father, and she tries to avoid talking to the banker who calls her to remind her of the tenuous situation, she also tries to figure out why the best man was murdered and who the killer was. But more things happen, and everyone she felt she could trust suddenly seems to be causing other problems. As the book continues, it seems that it is more likely than ever that the Snowden Family Clambake will cease to exist.
Of course, the biggest problem with this book is that a) it makes you hungry, and b) it makes you long to go and live at the seaside for the summer!
Glass Houses, by Jane Haddam. I have read a few of the Gregor Demarkian books - mostly holiday-themed, I must admit - and not in any kind of order. So far, they have been early on in the series, so when I started this one, there were already things that were different. But it did not mean you couldn't enjoy the book and the story.
When a member of a prominent Philadelphia family is arrested as the Plate Glass Killer, who has been terrorizing women in the city for a while, the police can't wait to tell the public that the long horror is over. But Henry Tyder, for all of his wealth and family prestige, lives a mostly homeless life as an alcoholic, and does all he can to avoid his stepsisters, who have never really accepted him or his late mother. So when his court-appointed lawyer, who is a friend of Demarkian, feels strongly that Tyder is not guilty, and the district attorney's office hires Demarkian as a consultant in the case, we begin to learn about the secrets not only of the Tyder family, but others that seem only remotely linked as well. And the two officers who have been investigating the case have been messing it up due to personal dislike for one another. So Demarkian has his work cut out for him.
The story is interesting, sometimes creepy, but also kind of interesting. It's not the best mystery I've ever read, but the resolution was really interesting and somewhat of a surprise.
Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. I tried really hard with this one, as I have really enjoyed all of the other books I've read so far by Emma Donoghue. Coupled with the time period here - San Francisco when it was a "new" city and experiencing the smallpox epidemic - I expected to at least find it interesting. But I just didn't care enough about any of the characters to find anything about them or happening to them that interesting. I forced myself to go just about halfway and then just decided I was done with this one.
A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier. This book takes place during the year 1932, and tells the story of Violet Speedwell. She suffered the loss of both her brother and her fiance in the war, and her father died shortly after. She has been spending time living at home in Southampton, England, with her mother - an unhappy woman, bitter at how life has treated her, and someone who can never be pleased. Violet's future looks pretty bleak, because due to the fact so many died in the war, the chances of her finding someone to marry so she can move away are pretty slim.
She makes a huge decision - she will move to Winchester, home of one of the great cathedrals in England, transferring her position as a typist in an insurance agency to the office there. She moves into a boarding house for single, employed women, and starts her new life. Her family is shocked and secretly believe it won't last.
But Violet has no plans to go back home. Though her life might not be exciting, it's hers. Then she happens upon the Broderers Guild of the cathedral - a group of women who embroider kneelers for the church. She joins the group, becoming enamored of embroidery, and making friends with some of the others, particularly one young woman.
As a result of this, her world opens up a bit more, and she meets others who will make a huge impact on her life. By the end of the book, Violet is a whole other person, with a new goal and a life that she could not have previously imagined.
I really enjoyed this book. Violet is an interesting character, and it was fun to see her experience her own life and change a lot of her somewhat provincial beliefs and opinions.
Before She Was Helen, by Caroline B. Cooney. Clemmie Lakefield lives in a small but pleasant condo in Sun City, South Carolina. She teaches Latin part-time at a high school, and otherwise fills her days playing cards with friends, or getting together for coffee, etc. - pretty much what you would expect. She doesn't have much family left - a niece who is getting ready for her fourth wedding, and a great-niece and nephew that she doesn't really ever see or hear from too much.
Her next door neighbor is a man named Dom. He's not necessarily neighborly or pleasant, and no one really knows anything about him. But he has made a deal with Clemmie that he will text her every morning to let her know he is OK, and otherwise, she has the keys to his house to check on him. One morning when she doesn't hear from him, and he does not respond to a text she sends, she decides to check on him. She's never really been in his house before, so she is not sure what to expect. Things appear to be lived in, but Dom is nowhere to be found, nor is his golf cart in the garage. Clemmie pokes around some more, hoping to find where he might be, but instead she starts a series of events that quickly balloon into way more than she could have expected.
I enjoyed this book. Clemmie is an interesting person, and her own personal story is sad, though mostly because she is a victim of the time and place where she grew up. Learning about her neighbors is also interesting, because as Clemmie points out, in a community like Sun City, no one asks what you did before, they just want to know if you can play canasta or golf.
There were a lot of things I didn't expect in this book, and it isn't the best story/mystery ever, but it is compelling, and interesting because it has characters that are usually consigned to be the grandparents who just are there to comfort other characters. I'm not sure really knowing any of these people would be a comfort at all!
Lunch in Paris : A Love Story, with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard. I had hopes for this book, but nope. I didn't like the author or her boyfriend/husband, so I gave it up after reading about a third of it.
Murder On a Girls' Night Out, by Anne George. This was a light but enjoyable book, where two adult sisters living in Alabama try to solve a murder.
When Patricia Anne learns that her sister Mary Alice has purchased a dive bar, she thinks that maybe she has really gone over the edge this time. But after heading there with Mary Alice before the sale is actually final, Patricia Anne decides that maybe it's not so bad. She also meets a former favorite student of hers, who it turns out is the cook at the bar.
However, once the bar's original owner is found murdered brutally there, things get uncomfortable fast. And when vandals trash the bar after that, the suspicion builds that it was a place where drugs had been sold. As Patricia Anne and Mary Alice start to poke around to see what they can learn, the whole thing becomes more complicated and dangerous.
The story comes to a shocking - if somewhat involved - ending after another murder happens at a political fundraiser.
I enjoyed this book enough to think I'll read at least the next one in the series. Some of the dialogue was really funny, and the descriptions of some of the characters were really vivid. A really enjoyable and amusing read.
The Janus Stone, by Elly Griffiths. Ruth Galloway, who has recently discovered that she is pregnant after a one-night stand with a detective from the last case she worked on, is now called to another site where an archaeological dig is happening, and they found a skull. The dig is on the site where some new, expensive condominiums are being built by a well-known developer, who wants the whole dig to hurry up so he can proceed.
Prior to the condos being built, the last inhabitants of the building had been a home for orphaned children run by the Catholic Church. It also turns out that years before, two children had mysteriously disappeared from the home, so some wonder if the new uncovered skull has anything to do with that. Forensic study determines that the child's skull was from an earlier owner of the property, which is surprising for a number of reasons.
As Ruth, her friend Cathbad, another archaeologist named Max, and Detective Inspector Harry Nelson begin looking into the mystery, they come across some of the people formerly associated witht he children's home. In addition, someone is out to scare Ruth away from anything to do with the dig site, and things ramp up quickly. She also learns something really shocking about Max, and has to tell Nelson that he is the father of her baby.
I liked the part of the story dealing with the dig and accompanying mystery. It was interesting and really creepy. I also liked how a few of the characters that were new to this story were written and how their knowledge of the past is making a difference in what is happening now. I was really less interested in Ruth's pregnancy, its effects, and the conflict with Nelson being a married man. I really hope that going forward, this doesn't become the story that overtakes any of the future books.
The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. I feel like anything I could say about the specifics of the story and the resolution of it would not even come close to what happens. So I'm just going to give the broadest summary.
Fiona Maye is a judge in the High Court of London, and a great number of her cases involve Family Court. She has a level of success and respect that has always made her feel grounded and confident in herself and her decisions. When, at the start of the book, her marriage starts to break up, she feels that as long as she buries herself in her work, she will be able to deal with her personal life in a reasonable fashion.
One of the cases that comes up shortly afterwards deals with a young man suffering from leukemia, who could be saved by a blood transfusion, but who refuses it, along with his parents because they are Jehovah's Witness members. Basically, Fiona must decide if the family's faith is more important than the hospital's role in saving the boy's life. It turns out that her decision has both surprising and unintended consequences that she likely would not have been able to foresee.
Meanwhile, her husband returns home, and they are slowly making their way back to their marriage. But by the end of the book, a single event shakes Fiona's world, and threatens to tear them apart again.
I liked this book, though I found it very sad in some ways.
For Whom the Book Tolls, by Laura Gail Black. his book is the first in a new series, and after reading this one, I'm hoping the second will be just as good.
Jenna Quinn has moved herself to Hokes Folly, NC, at the invitation of her favorite uncle. He has offered a place for her to live, in exchange for helping him in his antiquarian bookstore. It couldn't be better timing-wise, as Jenna is more than ready to leave her current home in Charlotte, NC, after her life there fell apart in a major way.
Jenna arrives *very* late one night, and finds the key her uncle left her under the mat. When she finds her way downstairs to the bookstore the next morning, she also finds him dead at the foot of the stairs. A local policeman is convinced she committed the murder. And when it's learned that Jenna was also the sole heir to her uncle's estate, his suspicion gets stronger and stronger.
It's up to Jenna and her neighbor Rita - a neighbor and former girlfriend of her late uncle - to try and figure out who did actually commit the murder, so that Jenna's name can be cleared.
The thing that struck me about this book was that the main character and the story were very different than those that you expect in most cozy mysteries. Jenna does not start out at the usual type of heroine and her story is very different than most in this genre. That's one of the things that most stuck out for me, and made it more interesting than I was expecting.
The Word Is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz. As the book begins, Diana Cowper, who is the mother of a famous actor, visits a local funeral parlor to plan her own funeral. By the end of the day, she is dead, having been murdered in her own home.
Former police detective Daniel Hawthorne is called in as a consultant to the Metropolitan Police in London to work on the case. Though he was let go from the force and disliked by nearly everyone working there, it is recognized that he is a good detective. Hawthorne decides that he wants to find a biographer to work with him because his life as a detective would be worth reading about. He approaches this book's author, Anthony Horowitz, to work with him, citing Horowitz's extensive background with not just books, but several TV shows and movies. At first Horowitz wants nothing to do with it, but eventually decides to give it a go. And that is where the bulk of the story begins.
Though having written crime shows and murder mysteries, Horowitz is not really familiar with real police work and real crime scenes. From the beginning, Hawthorne wants him to just accompany him from place to place, noting how he works and the questions he asks, etc. Whenever Horowitz happens to add a question or make an observation, Hawthorne gets even more bristly.
I found this book entertaining to some degree, and there were some really entertaining parts. The murder mystery was interesting enough to keep reading, and it was fun when Horowitz would describe Hawthorne and his maddening personality and behavior.
Grounds for Murder, by Tara Lush. OK, this one was enjoyable, while still keeping the mystery going.
Lana Lewis, let go from her newspaper job in Miami, returns to the small island beach town where she grew up to run her late mother's coffee shop. She is partnering with an employee who has already been there for a while - Fabrizio ("Fab) - who is a barista extraordinare and also the island's biggest playboy; Fab is teaching her latte art, as they plan to enter a barista competition.
That is, until Fab deserts Lana and goes to another coffee shop nearby without any notice. But worse, the next day, he is found dead on the alley way next to Lana's shop, which is on the ground floor of the building her family owns where he had an apartment. Everyone assumes that Lana is the killer, so she decides that she will find out who the real murderer is, to both keep her reputation clean, and also to keep the business going.
The book was entertaining and very readable, with some funny characters.
It Had to Be You, by Georgia Clark. The book opens with Liv Goldenhorn trying to problem-solve at an outdoor wedding - she and her husband Eliot own a successful wedding planning business, called In Love In New York. As things pile up going wrong, Liv keeps wondering what is keeping Eliot, who was supposed to return from a business trip in time to help out. Then Liv receives a phone call, learning that Eliot is dead from a heart attack.
Fast forward a bit, and Liv meets Savanna Shipley, a twenty-something blond Southern belle, who has been left Eliot's half of the business in his will! With the business suffering, they slowly start to work together, though Liv is really not interested in partnering with Eliot's girlfriend.
As the book progresses, the two women learn to work together, but more importantly, they learn how their lives should move forward. Along with other characters they work with and meet along the way, everyone in the book eventually finds a way to make their lives as happy as possible.
This was not a great book, or even that wonderful of a story. But it was very readable, I liked some of the characters, and frankly, I was wondering where some of the stories were heading.
All Adults Here, by Emma Straub. One day in the small upstate NY village where she lives, Astrid Strick sees an acquaintance get struck by a school bus and killed. Besides just shocking her to her core, it makes her think about her life, and her family. At the same time, her granddaughter comes to live with her for the school year, after an incident at her school in Brooklyn. Her parents think a stay at her grandmother's and a new environment will help.
Astrid is the mother of three grown children - two sons and a daughter. Her husband has been dead for a while, and she has continued to live her life pretty much the same as always. She follows the rules, remains to some degree aloof from her children, and tries to always do the "right thing." But after she sees the acquaintance killed through no fault of her own, she starts to rethink some things about her life. And the addition of her granddaughter helps her to see her children and their lives in a completely different light. It's time to follow your own rules and make some changes, even if things are surprising and shocking to those around you.
I really enjoyed this book. Astrid and her children are pretty interesting characters. I also loved the parallel story about her granddaughter and the friend she makes while she is in school there. This book and the story had a lot more to think about than you realize until after you are finished. And I found some of the language on the last few pages to be beautiful and evocative.
The Office of Historical Corrections, by Danielle Evans. This is a book with several different short stories in it, mostly about how people of color live their lives in today's world. Some of the scenes are amusing, some cringeworthy (mostly when white people say things that just make you wish you could disappear), but every story gave me a lot of food for thought.
I have to say that I liked them all well enough, and was intrigued by the order in which they were presented. I think ending the book with the story that is also the title of the collection was a brilliant idea. It's not just possibly the most thought-provoking and even upsetting, but even though it the longest one by far, you just can't stop reading.
Hello, Sunshine, by Laura Dave. Sunshine McKenzie is a woman with a huge following on YouTube for her cooking show, who is riding high when she is signed to host a show on the Food Network. She is married to a man she adores, whose own career seems to be on a huge upward swing as well.
But when the book opens on her birthday, a day which started so well, things have already started to fall apart. She receives a mysterious text on her phone which promises she will be exposed. And sure enough, as the day continues, things only get worse. She is exposed as someone who is not at all the same person as her online persona. First of all, she doesn't know how to cook! Secondly, she is not a farmer's daughter from a small town. And the recipes she uses and has included in her cookbooks are not developed by her, but by others in her orbit. The final blow is when a nude photo surfaces proving that she and her producer had an affair.
So what happens? Well, things fall apart quickly. She loses her job and her career. Her husband wants nothing to do with her, and people start looking away when they see her. She retreats to her hometown of Montauk, New York, and camps out for a while with her estranged sister. As she tries to devise a way to rebuild her life, she begins to understand her relationship with her sister better, she becomes close to a niece she really has never known, and she even as the book moves on, has a chance of redemption, as a producer has an idea for a new show for her.
In the end, she decides against doing the new show, and finds a way back to New York City, making baby steps towards her plans of making relationships work and living a more authentic life.
A lot of this book is about how people "show" their lives on social media, instead of living the actual lives that they have. It's about being honest with yourself about who you actually are, rather than who you want others to think you are and envy you. And there are a lot of good points made about the trues and falses of how we present ourselves.
Not a great book, but readable enough, with some parts that show how life can be today when "influencers" are the new role models.
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. This book started for me really well. I found the main character interesting, and I was fascinated by his story, and his development of his orchard. Then two young and pregnant girls arrive, trying to escape from a nefarious character. He ends up taking them in, and a while after that, things went downhill for me.
I think this book could have used a good editor. There are segments that just drag on and on and on. I got to the point where I felt sure the this book WOULD NEVER END. So I made the decision to just stop reading it and return it to the library. I might have liked finding out how it all ended, but reading it was becoming torture for me.
I know so many people who loved this book, so don't necessarily take my thoughts as the norm. I gave it two stars because I actually found the first part of the book very readable. But about halfway through, I was just done.
The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell. This is a weird and slightly creepy book. It starts when Libby Jones returns home from work one day to find a letter from a solicitor's office, asking her to come in regarding an inheritance. Libby knows she is adopted, and she has always wondered about her birth family. When the solicitor tells her that she has inherited the entire family estate - a formerly lovely but abandoned house in the Chelsea section of London - things slowly move along as she learns who she is, and what happened to the rest of her family.
The house has been abandoned because 25 years ago, three people were found dead in the kitchen, dressed in black ... and a baby (Libby) was upstairs in a crib. The theory has always been that the family got involved in a cult, and that the three adults killed themselves as part of that. But as the book continues, we find out a lot more. The story is not all that it seemed, and the reader gets some answers to what really happened.
But what might still happen is just as unsettling.
This was a good read. Not my favorite book ever, but it kept me wondering what the whole story was enough that I read through to the end.
A Killer in King's Cove, by Iona Whishaw. This was a new author and a new series for me.
Lane Winslow is a new resident to King's Cove, a small town in British Columbia, Canada. She decided to move there after World War II was over, because it was a chance to start completely fresh, and leave her memories of her work during the war (she was a spy), her dead boyfriend (except he didn't get killed in the war, and he's married), and her lack of family ties. She finds a lovely house with its very own ghost, and sees herself being quite happy and managing to do a lot of writing.
But almost as soon as she arrives, a body is found in a nearby creek. No one knows the man, but there is a piece of paper in his pocket with Lane's name written on it, so of course she becomes the chief suspect - a stranger in town, a single woman. The long-time residents are sure that she has brought trouble with her. But as the story continues, Lane (and therefore, we the readers) learn more about the locals, and their families and lives.
I found this book interesting, as it had an unusual heroine, and was in a time and place that was fascinating to read about. The characters were varied, and of course some more interesting than ohters, and Lane herself is not your usual character in a sort-of cozy mystery.
American Sherlock : Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, by Kate Winkler Dawson. This was a fascinating read about Edward Oscar Heinrich, a man who would become the father of American forensic science. It talks about his life particularly as it related to the cases he worked on, and the methods he used and developed in the name of science to assist courts in determining the innocence or guilt of a person. Because his methods were new, it was often difficult for people to understand exactly what he was talking about, which often led to his testimony, determinations, and likely proof to be disregarded or mocked.
Having never heard of him before, I found the whole book very readable and really interesting. I think forensic science is a riveting field, and was very surprised to learn in the epiologue of the book that often the forensic work is carried out by untrained or poorly trained individuals; there is no organization that sets national standards for training or certification. As the author pointed out, you may have a forensic "expert" testifying who just recently completed approximately 40 hours of training!
That part of the book notwithstanding, Heinrich was a really interesting individual, who ended up working obsessively to prove himself and to keep his head above water financially. Reading about the various cases was also a way to understand the painstaking way he went about his work.
One interesting fact is that he was the forensic expert involved in the infamous case of Fatty Arbuckle that captivated Hollywood and the nation when it was happening.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in American legal history, social history, criminology, or even fans of any of the "CSI" franchises.
So that's it for my reading lately. I always like doing these posts, because sometimes I forget some of my recent reads and I enjoy finding them again! I'm also often surprised at how much I actually read over the course of three months - does that happen to you?
Anyway, I hope you found something of interest, and please let me know if you have any suggestions, as I'm always on the lookout for my next book.