05 January 2022

Book Report: October, November, December 2021

Before we get any more into 2022, I thought I'd share my reading for the last three months of 2021.  I have to say my brain spent a lot of time asking for non-complicated titles, but every once in a while I was in the mood to really dig in to a good story.  Here are my thoughts on the things I picked up at the end of the year.  (Note: most towards the end are holiday-themed books, as usual for me.)

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner.  This a very enjoyable story about a small group of people from the village of Chawton - plus one Hollywood star near the end of her career - who come together to try and save the cottage where Jane Austen lived and wrote.  It's after the end of World War II, and each is dealing with loss and uncertainty in their own way.

It's not a true story, but as the author mentions in notes after the end of the book, it's based on real events and of course a real place.  The story is very readable, and though it is somewhat predictable, the characters are appealing and it is the kind of book that feels satisfying when you are finished reading.

All Shall Be Well, by Deborah Crombie.  This book kept me guessing - not as far as what happened, but who killed the victim.

Duncan Kincaid has a neighbor named Jasmine who is dying.  She has a visiting nurse come every day, as well as a former co-worker and current friend Meg - who checks on her a couple of times a day, and visits.  Jasmine has asked Meg to agree to give her a fatal dose of her medication when things get close to the end and there is no hope.  So when Meg arrives one day to learn that Jasmine has changed her mind, she is relieved.  Until it turns out that the next day, Jasmine is found dead in her apartment.  And then it turns out that Meg inherits her estate, as opposed to Jasmine's brother, who receives a legacy but not the entire estate.  Kincaid becomes suspicious that Jasmine had not changed her mind and committed suicide - he feels that someone administered a deadly dose.

Kincaid and his partner Gemma are given permission to investigate, and though Jasmine had a very few friends and her only living relative was her brother, they interview everyone, and are led to the small town where Jasmine and her brother lived with an aunt when they moved back to England after their father's death in India.

This book was interesting, not just because of the mystery involved, and the unexpected (well, to me) reveal of the killer, but because it was about a woman who was somewhat solitary to start with, and how in the end, she was able to interact with, and rely on such a small circle around her.

The Last Detective, by Peter Lovesey.  I don't quite remember where I'd heard about this series, but it sounded interesting and worth a read.  So I started at the very beginning.  

When a naked body is found floating in a lake, it is identified as a former actress from a very popular British soap opera type of series, who was recently more or less pushed out of the series due to being"too old."  In another part of Bath, England, a young boy falls into some water and is rescued by a middle-aged man.

It turns out that the drowned woman and the rescuer of the boy are married to one another - though they have a rather unconventional marriage.  Detective Inspector Peter Diamond is assigned to the case, and becomes certain that first, it was the husband who killed the woman, and later, that it was the mother of the rescued boy who did it, based on some interactions they had after the rescue.  

The book goes back and forth mainly between the two suspects, but through Diamond's aggressive interrogations.  It's interesting to find out everyone's background, version of things, and possible motivations.  I changed my mind at least 3 times about who was or was not guilty.  I considered the eventual person at one point, but it didn't seem like the logistics made sense.

So we meet the main characters, as well as quite a few minor ones, and mostly of course, Peter Diamond, who was once called "The Last Detective" by one of his bosses, because of his way of approaching a case.  Not one to rely 0n - or even understand - modern technology, Diamond sees himself as a cut above others, and is always thinking he is in the right.  In this case, it spells the end of his career.

But in an interesting twist, he ends up helping the defense's case in the eventual murder trial, and realizes that just because he was officially off the case, it doesn't mean he can't contribute.

It was an interesting book, and Peter Diamond is an interesting character.  At least in this book, he is not very likable, and often is really annoying.  But he is also a character that makes me want to read at least another in the series so that I can see how much I do or do not want to continue.

The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner.  About a year prior to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Sophie Whalen, an Irish immigrant, answers a newspaper ad for a wife and mother for a widower in San Francisco.  Sophie has been waiting to escape the tenements of New York City, and her horrifying work conditions, and figures this is just the sort of opportunity she hoped to find.

Her new husband is ... fine.  They have a lovely house, the husband's 7-year-old daughter is a wonderful little girl, though she hasn't spoken a word since her mother's death.  Sophie's new husband, Martin, is a decent provider, but doesn't really interact with any of the household that much, and is often traveling for his work for an insurance company.  Though Sophie is somewhat disappointed when she realizes that Martin really has no interest in developing a relationship with her, she adores Kat - her stepdaughter - and makes progress getting the girl to speak.

The day prior to the earthquake, a visitor shows up at the house, and turns Sophie's world upside down.  As Sophie, Kat, and the visitor - Belinda - prepare to leave the next morning, escaping from Martin's clutches and exposing who and what he really is, the earthquake hits.  Martin returned home just as it began, and was threatening the three of them.  They escape the house, and Sophie suspects that Martin is dead, because he was in bad shape the last time she saw him - but she doesn't know that for sure.

This book has so many twists, turns, whiplash moments, and mysteries, that you have to keep reading. It also has a really well-done description of what the earthquake and afterwards must have been like for those involved, as well as how the rebuilding efforts of the city started.  

In the end, I think the main takeaway from this book is that everyone has something to hide, or that they regret having done; everyone has a secret, big or small; but how you live your life because of/in spite of that is completely up to you.

A really good read.

The Redeemed, by Tim Pears.  This is the final book in this series, and I was sorry to see it end.

Leo Sercombe, who we have seen grow up throughout the series, survives his stint in the Royal Navy and makes his way back to where he started, hoping to reconnect with his friend Lottie, whom he promised he would come back to.  A lot has changed for both of them - Leo is of course more mature, and has had some extraordinary experiences as part of his naval service.  Lottie's father remarried, had sons, and then was killed in a horse-riding accident.  Her stepmother and the sons returned to London, visiting the estate only in the summer.  As Lottie has a younger stepbrother, she is no longer the one to inherit the estate, but stays on as a kind of caretaker.  She has taken her interest in animal anatomy and physiology and become a veterinarian.  

As you would expect, it's a long and circuitous path until these two come back together, but if finally happens, and the whole story is very satisfying.  There's very little sentimental type feeling in these books, but a lot of true emotions and deep feelings.  I found the stories interesting, and particularly during Leo's stint as a sailor, learned a lot about ships and the work done on them during that time period.

Consent, by Annabel Lyon.  There is so much that happens in this book, it's hard to describe.  But the story is very readable, and at least in my case, the ending was a bit surprising.

Jenny and Saskia are twins.  Jenny is adventurous, Saskia is a grad student.  When Jenny is in what turns out to be a fatal accident, Saskia is determined to make sense of it.

Sara and Mattie are sisters.  Sara is the eldest, and has always been interested in fashion, scents, and learning what makes people attracted to them.  Mattie is younger, and learning disabled.  When their mother dies, it becomes Sara's responsibility to take care of Mattie - something she more or less resents a  lot of the time.  When Mattie married a man that Sara thinks is unbalanced, she has the marriage annulled.

What intertwines these women  is a man named Robert Dwyer, who dated Jenny, and was the person briefly married to Mattie.  Saskia and Sara eventually meet, and Robert Dwyer re-enters their lives.  Both of them have wanted some kind of revenge on him, for being the cause of their sisters' deaths and the trauma to their families.  But they have very different approaches.

I think the main thing I got from the story is that families are different, but in the end when they love each other, familial duty and the desire to protect those we love can be exhibited in extremely different ways.

This was a good read, if sometimes puzzling and other times frustrating.

The Dead Cat Bounce, by Sarah Graves.  Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree has moved to an island in Maine with her teenage son Sam, after divorcing her neurosurgeon husband and giving up her career on Wall Street.  She has purchased a true "fixer-upper" old house, and has made some friends in the community. When a body is found in her storeroom with an ice pick lodge in its skull, the problems begin.

It turns out that the victim, though a resident of the town, was a well-known, ridiculously rich finance guy.  When Jake's best friend Ellie confesses to the murder, Jake knows that first of all, Ellie is innocent, and second of all, that it's up to her to find the true killer.  Which leads to a number of increasingly terrible situations for Jake and her son.

I received this book as a freebie (and cannot remember where at the moment) and it was an enjoyable enough read.  I may read another in the series because it takes place at holiday time, but I'm not certain I will go out of my way to read many of the others.

Death by Chocolate Lab, by Bethany Blake.  This was my lunch hour reading at work for the past week, and it served me well - interesting enough to keep reading, but not requiring so much concentration that picking it up and putting it down was an issue.

Daphne Templeton owns a pet-sitting service in a small Pennsylvania town.  Her sister Piper is a veterinarian in the same town, and Daphne lives with her in her farmhouse while Daphne is figuring out where to live and what she can afford.  When Piper's ex-boyfriend is found dead on the grounds while setting up for a dog agility event, Piper is the main suspect.  So Daphne decides that she is going to find out who the guilty party actually is.

A new detective in town appeals to Daphne, but she doesn't think he is investigating the case properly, mostly because he doesn't answer a lot of her questions, or seem to appreciate her "help."

It's an enjoyable book, good for a quick read and palate cleanser.

Publishable by Death, by A.C.F. Brookens.  This series is new to me, and takes place in a small tourist town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Harvey Beckett has returned to the area where she grew up, after spending many years in San Francisco.  She has purchased an old gas station and turned it into a bookstore, which has been her dream for as long as she can remember.  Everything is falling into place on opening day, until the body of an unpopular reporter from the small local paper is found in the bookstore's storeroom.  

After taking so long, and working so hard to get her dream into existence, Harvey decides she needs to find out what happened and why.  And when the local sheriff's deputy is murdered shortly afterwards, things get even more upsetting and dangerous.  She is able to continue to become part of the community, even arranging a spring fair for all of the merchants along the street, but she doesn't want her business to be famous only for murders.

During the spring fair, she overhears a conversation that is the catalyst for solving the crime.  But will that be something she has the chance to do?

This was an enjoyable book, though I have to warn you there is a lot of talk about food, so it you are like me and get hungry just reading about it, you can't say you didn't know.

Who Is Maud Dixon?, by Alexandra Andrews.  Florence Darrow is a young woman who dreams of being a writer, and has left her hometown in Florida and her mother, who still lives there.  At the start of the book, she has a job as an editorial assistant in a publishing house in Manhattan, and is trying to learn how to find success.  She is extremely jealous of other young women in the office who have had privileged upbringings, and wants to try and find a way to get that kind of better life for herself.

But when she has a one-night stand with one of the higher-ups, and then more or less stalks his family, she is eventually fired from her job.  She decides it's time to make her mark, and sends off a manuscript of her own.  When she gets a call from an agent, she is thrilled ... except the call is not for her book.  Rather, the agent wflorking with the author whose current best seller is taking the world by storm contacts Florence to see if she might be interested in becoming the author's assistant.  As Florence is currently unemployed with no good prospects, she accepts the position, knowing that it means she will have to move to a secluded location and sign a non-disclosure agreement.  The author, Maud Dixon, is actually a woman named Helen Wilcox, and she is extremely secretive, not wanting anyone to find out who Maud actually is.  

Soon after her arrival, she decides that she and Florence will travel to Morocco, as part of research for her next book.  Shortly after their arrival, Florence wakes up in a hospital, with the staff there calling her "Miss Wilcox."  They explain that her car went off the road into the ocean, and a night fisherman was able to rescue her.  Florence realizes that the real Helen must be dead.  And then starts to consider that maybe it wouldn't be a terrible thing for her to go ahead and become Helen Wilcox ...

And that's just the beginning of the story.  This book goes everywhere by the time you've gotten to the end of it.  There are so many twists and turns and surprises and events that you didn't see coming, it's a wild trip in Florence's world.  I finished the book quickly because I just *had* to see how it all turned out.  Maybe it's not realistic or possible, but it's certainly readable!

Eight Hundred Grapes, by Laura Dave.  This book was OK, but didn't really do much for me.

When Georgia Ford learns something about her almost-husband that throws her life into chaos, she retreats from her current life in L.A. back home to her family's home in northern California, close to the time of the last grape harvest of the family winery.  As the story continues, she and her brothers also learn that their father has sold the winery to a large, mass-market company.

The book is kinda like a bad Hallmark movie.  You know what will probably happen, and who she will end up with, etc.  But whereas, sometimes in a Hallmark movie you can at least enjoy the unlikeliness of it all, this book had none of that for me.

The House at Sea's End, by Elly Griffiths.  Good story, about finding the bodies of Nazi soldiers near a house on the coast of England owned by a prominent family.  Griffiths is really good at evoking time and place, so that you feel engulfed by the fog, or wet from the damp snow, etc.

I really liked parts of this book, but the Ruth/Nelson relationship, especially now that she has given birth to his child is seeming a bit cliche for me.  I'll see if I change my mind by reading another in the series, but with a nice long break in between this one and that one.

Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty.  This one kind of surprised me, because I have generally found Moriarty's books to be very readable. This one slogged along and I only finished it because I was hoping for something other than the ending I felt was inevitable.

Nine people arrive at a health spa in Australia for a ten-day program which promises to transform them.  Each person has their own reasons for being there, and their own hopes/expectations of what transforming themselves can mean.  The woman who runs the place had a severe heart attack years back when she worked in the corporate world, and as she took back her life and became healthier, she became more and more convinced that she should share her experience with others.

The problem is that things are not what they seem, and the woman in charge is not really what she claims to be.  The practices she uses turn out to be of very questionable legality, and the fact that the participants have no knowledge of it causes real problems once they find out.  

I had read about 70% of this book and was ready to quit, but I really wanted to find out how it ended.  The ending was somewhat of a let down.  Overall, I cannot recommend this to anyone I know.

Angora Alibi, by Sally Goldenbaum.  Not my favorite book in this series, but fine really.

The Seaside Knitters are busy making things for Izzy Chambers' soon to be born baby.  But their happy plans are interrupted when a young man is found murdered.  No one can quite figure out what happened, because though he was not the most upstanding citizen, he was pleasant, and always friendly to most people.

When Izzy finds an empty baby car seat that appears to be discarded in the parking lot near where she does her daily run, she wonders what might have happened.  After seeing it there for a few days, she realizes that the worn blanket in the seat is knit from yarn purchased at her shop.  She puts it in her car trunk to try and figure it out.

It turns out that the car seat and the murder are related, not necessarily as you might expect.  

By the end of the book, things have been resolved, and Izzy has had her baby.

As I said, this is not my favorite in the series, but I do enjoy the main characters, and love hearing what knitting project they work on, as well as the wonderful food and drink throughout the book.  But mostly, I love that it all takes place on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, which is one of my most favorite places in the world.

Good Company, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  Flora and Julian are busy preparing for their daughter Ruby's high school graduation. Flora is looking for one particular photo, that includes them as well as their dear friends, Margot and David.  She finds the photo, but also finds an envelope containing Julian's original wedding ring, which he claimed to have lost years ago.

While Flora is digesting all of this, we learn the story of Flora and Julian ("Florian") and how they met in New York City as young, struggling actors.  Margot - Flora's best friend, also an actor - and David, a pediatric cardiac surgeon are of course woven through the story.  We learn the history of all them, learn about Ruby's childhood surrounded by these wonderful people, and the person she has become.

I'm not going to say much more, because I think this book is worth a read. If you enjoy books about families, friendships, relationships, and how a long history of shared experiences can be the best but also the worst, you'll enjoy this book.

The Mistletoe Cake Murder, by Lena Gregory.  This was a decent mystery.  

Gia Morelli accompanies her friend Savannah to a cake-tasting one week before Savannah's wedding which is on Christmas Eve.  As they are parking their car, they see a woman and a young man come out of the venue, arguing loudly and then going back inside.  Once inside, as they are waiting for their turn, they hear voices raised in the next room, followed by a scream.  It turns out that the woman they saw arguing is on the floor, and in spite of Gia's CPR efforts, she eventually dies.  

She was also there for a cake-tasting, and they learn the young man she was arguing with was her son, who was trying to convince her that her fiance was only marrying her for her money.  Then the caterers become the main suspects, and Gia and Savannah decide to see if they can find out what really happened, so that Savannah's wedding reception can proceed as planned.

There are a lot of people in this book who are shady, and at different times seem to clearly be the killer.  It was fun to try and figure it out.

Wreck the Halls, by Sarah Graves.  Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree is still working on her magnificent but neglected large home on an island in Maine.  With every step forward, something else breaks down, or needs fixed, etc.  As she is busy making plans for Christmas, her friend Ellie asks her to help find out what happened to one of her (Ellie's) friends - a woman who has suffered domestic violence for years, and whose husband's dismembered body was found wrapped in pieces in his butcher's shop.  The woman was found in their home, covered in blood, and not remembering what happened.

As Jake and Ellie start poking around, they deal with possible suspects, severe winter storms, Christmas plans, and unwelcome visitors of the human and other varieties.  Just when they feel they have found the perfect suspect, something happens or someone else shows up who is a better choice.  There is a lot of winding road - literally and figuratively - to get to the final discovery of who and why.

There are also some really amusing parts of this book, particularly when/how they find out how one woman who never wears a coat in winter in Maine manages it - that discovery is highly amusing!

Death of a Christmas Caterer, by Lee Hollis.  It's Christmastime, and Hayley Powell's boss suddenly tells her that she will have to cancel the caterer she found for the office party and do it herself.  Fortunately, it turns out to be a hit.  When the original caterer asks Hayley to lend him a hand for a local event, she is thrilled - until she shows up at his warehouse office to find his body.

This was fine in a lot of ways, but it's not a book that you can really read on its own, since so many of the characters are obviously fleshed out in earlier installments in the series.

Mistletoe, Merriment, and Murder, by Sara Rosett.  This was a fun Christmas mystery.  Ellie Avery lives with her husband and two young children in North Carolina, where her husband is in the military.  She is a professional organizer, and as Christmas approaches, she suddenly has to deal with how to help a hoarder, as well as a new woman in town who is stealing her clients.  Then, another of the military wives is murdered, and Ellie is the prime suspect.

I enjoyed this.  It was interesting enough to keep me wondering, and I liked Ellie well enough.

Christmas by the Book, by Anne Marie Ryan.  Nora and Simon run the bookshop that she inherited from her mother that is located in a small town in the Cotswolds in England.  Their college-age daughter is taking a gap year, and Simon is recovering from a heart attack that took them all by complete surprise.  To keep him from being too stressed, Nora has been dealing with the shop's finances, and things don't look good.  So many people are buying online that business is down, even though people come into to look for books.  They see them, take a good look, and then buy them online.  Nora is hoping against hope that the Christmas season will help them survive.

When an older man comes into the shop to buy a book for his grandson, he and Nora talk for a bit, and she is able to choose exactly the book he has been trying to find.  This inspires Nora and Simon to ask their customers to nominate someone who deserves a free book, for whatever reason.  They will give away six different books to the individuals they choose.  This turns out to be a much more popular event than they could have imagined, and so the books are wrapped up and randomly chosen to be delivered.

As each person receives their mysterious gift, we learn how it changes their life, their outlook, the meaning of the holiday season for them.  And one person in particular is able to not just appreciate receiving a book, but lets others know and has enough of  a degree of influence to really make a huge difference in how the story ends.

In some ways, this book was very predictable, but it is so warmly written that you really don't mind as you are reading it.  It's a lovely evocation of small towns that count on small businesses, and how just the closing of one place has a huge ripple effect on the entire population.  There is nothing new or earth-shattering revealed about any of the main characters, it's just a lovely holiday visit that you are happy turns out well.

To Brew Or Not To Brew, by Joyce Tremel.  Max (actually Maxine) O'Hara is finally realizing her dream of opening an brew pub in a newly revitalized area of her hometown, Pittsburgh.  She has been able to purchase an old brewery, remodel it, and is preparing for the grand opening, along with her associate and the brewpub's chef, Kurt who she worked with while training in Germany.  They have both noticed little things happening in recent days, just small acts of vandalism that are annoying with everything else they have to do.  When Kurt calls Max one evening to ask her to come to the brewpub, because he has figured out who the culprit is, she arrives only to find Kurt dead.  

As she tries her best to try and figure out what has happened, she learns through her father - a Pittsburgh cop - that the medical examiner has ruled her friend's death to be an accident.  Max is certain that it was homicide and sets out to prove while also moving forward with her plans for the brewpub.

This was a fun book if you are from, or have ever lived near Pittsburgh.  The expressions and terms used by the characters throughout the story are pure Pittsburgh-ese, and it made me laugh more than once.  It's also a good mystery from the standpoint that just when you think you have figured out who the murderer is, that person is suddenly taken out of consideration.  I got a charge out of reading this.

Comfort & Joy, by Kristin Hannah.  Joy Candallero needs a change.  She is divorced from her husband Thom, because she found him in bed with her sister Stacey.  Now Stacey has told her that she is 4pecting a baby and getting married to Thom.  As Joy is driving home she takes the exit to the airport on a whim.  She sees the sign for a chartered plane heading to so a place called Hope in Canada and buys a ticket. It's a group of trophy hunters, but there's a seat left so she takes it.

When the plane crashes, and Joy walks away from the crash site, it's the perfect place and time to start fresh.  She happens across a B & B that is being fixed up by a man with a young son. She stays there happily, until she sees a news report about the plane crash and an interview with her grieving sister - she realizes it's time to go back and face things.  So she tells the man and young boy she can only stay until Christmas Eve.

Things don't go quite as planned, and things are not quite shat they seem.  Suddenly everything she thought was true is called into question, and she decides to return to the B & B and pursue her own happiness.  Is that really possible though?

This was a good read, but the ending was a bit too fantastical for my taste.

Murder at the Mistletoe Ball, by J.D. Griffo.  This book was a surprise to me.  It was a freebie I had, and I figured what the heck, it was a holiday book and it was during the holidays, so I'd give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Alberta Scaglione's estranged daughter Lisa Marie sends her a message, asking for help, but with no other details.  Eventually, we learn Lisa Marie and her husband are in Alberta's town in New Jersey, and they need her help because their son has been missing for a month.  They have very little information to go on, but Alberta and her friends - who apparently in previous books have formed an informal investigating group - take on the search.

Happening at the same time, plans for the revival of the Mistletoe Ball, a fundraising event that had fallen by the wayside in recent years.  Except it turns out that during the festivities, Alberta's grandson is found next to the dead body of his girlfriend, and he is holding a bloody knife.  So now the grandson is located, but the family has to prove his innocence.

This book was deceptively well-written.  When you start it, you wonder if it's going to be worth reading, and then about two chapters in, you realize that both the plot and the characters are more interesting and slightly more complex than expected.  On the one hand, some people might think there is a lot of stereotyping of people with Italian backgrounds in the book, and though I agree, I also have to admit to knowing a lot of people with that background who fit the stereotype ...

An interesting read.


And that's a wrap for the year.  I've already finished my first of 2022, so I'm on my way once again to a year of making new friends, discovering new ones, and deciding others are just not my cup of tea. 

Happy reading!


Araignee said...

I always look forward to your book reviews. Right now I am wishing my printer worked because I would love to print this out. I am always looking for a good holiday read and I usually end up reading the same books over and over. You've got some good ones on your list that I need to make a note of for next year.

Judy S. said...

I enjoyed The Nature of Fragile things, too. Looks like you enjoy mysteries, and so do I so your list will be a good resource for titles. Thanks!

Shirley said...

I love your book reports and read them with my library's catalog open so I can switch over and request the books that appeal to me. Thank you very much for sharing!

Kim in Oregon said...

I loved "Maud Dixon" and "Good Company" . I don't think I finished Nine Perfect Strangers--just didn't care.

Ellen D. said...

I have been reading the Magic Men series by Elly Griffiths and am enjoying those. I also read a bunch of the Christmas mysteries by Anne Perry as I enjoy all of her books.