29 July 2022
27 July 2022
25 July 2022
22 July 2022
20 July 2022
Before July is over, I wanted to share what I read during April, May, and June.
A Killer Plot,by Ellery Adams. This was a pretty good read.
In Oyster Bay, NC, most everyone knows who Olivia Limoges is, and what her backstory is as well. She has returned to live in her childhood home, along with her standard poodle and as she says, "her best friend." In an unexpected development, she becomes part of a local writers' group, who meet regularly and critique, support, and guide one another. But at the first meeting, one of the group is missing and when they discover he has been murdered, things go into overdrive.
As each one in the group tries to find information that could help determine the killer, it becomes pretty clear that it is related to a land development deal. But will others die before someone is arrested?
Like I said, this was enjoyable. Not great, not awful, and with sudden points of interest. I might give another in the series a look.
There She Was : The Secret History of Miss America, by Amy Argetsinger. Wow, this book was fascinating. The author, Amy Argetsinger, is someone who has always been fond of the Miss America pagent, but devoted two years' worth of travel, interviews, and research into this book which talks about not only how Miss America was just plain part of her growing up years, but how the entire concept has dealt with so much cultural change since the first time it happened.
One of the things I learned, was that for a lot of the contestants, pageants are kind of a career prior to their career - whenever they don't win the state title that would send them to the national contest, they work on doing it again next year and beyond until it happens, or they age out of the pageant system. I didn't know that was something that happened. I remember in my first job out of college, one of my colleagues had a younger sister that was headed to the national pageant as Miss Kentucky. She did not become Miss America, but now I wish I could have asked her sister how many tries there were until she won the state title.
Anyway, this is a really interesting look at the people involved, both in the organization and at the state level. It's the story of an event that used to draw tens of millions of TV viewers and was held in Atlantic City, NJ for most of its existence, and is now viewed by thousands (if they are lucky) on a cable channel, and held at a Native American gambling casino in Connecticut.
So many of the former Miss Americas are working hard to try and not just keep it going, but bring it back to glory. With the world as it is now, not only is it not the only pageant out there, but things like social media present all kinds of problems, because it seems there is always someone out there ready to bring down the winner the day after, or the week after, she is crowned.
When I was a kid, we watched the Miss America pageant all of the time - maybe not always kindly, as my sisters and my mother had a LOT of commentary - and it was just something always there. As I became older, different things appealed to me, though I would occasionally see part of it on TV. I guess a lot of the contestants just seemed too unreal to me as I got older. But still, it was always there. I have to admit there is a small part of me that feels bad that it's sliding downhill. Having said that, and as the author mentions, there are so many other shows now competing for live contestants, to sing, dance, and whatever else can be thought of for a network reality show, no one wants to wait until they win a local pageant and make their way up the chain to be "discovered."
I really enjoyed this book. So incredibly fascinating and illuminating to hear about all of the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Death in the English Countryside, by Sara Rosett. Kate Sharp works for a company that scouts and supplies locations for films, commercials, and TV shows. When her boss who is scouting in England goes incommunicado, she is sent to track him down. In the past - as only she and one other employee know - he has had issues with addiction and alcoholism, so it seems just a matter of getting him back on the wagon, so to speak. But when she arrives in the small village, she learns that no one seems to know where he is. When she finds his body in a local stream, things get complicated, fast.
As Kate tries to deal with learning what happened to her boss, as well as keeping things mum, in case somehow the shoot can be salvaged, she starts to try and figure out what happened, when, and who was responsible.
This was a good read for a lunch hour during the week at work.
His Right Hand, by Mette Ivie Harrison. In this book, Linda Wallheim, the wife of a Mormon bishop, has to figure out what is happening and how to proceed when another one of the bishopric staff working with her husband is found dead with a pink scarf around his neck.
But Linda isn't just wondering who killed Carl Ashby, but has to deal with learning the shocking fact that he was transgender, which is a problem in the Mormon church. As she tries to deal with this, not just on a personal level, but on a family and communal level, Linda finds that it's all becoming much more complicated than she could have imagined.
This is another good book, providing information and details about the lives, beliefs, and practices of everyday Mormons. The mystery is interesting enough, but I like the way the author weaves information about Mormonism into the story so that you learn things without feeling that you are being lectured or recruited into the religion. Linda is an interesting character, and her family has its own sets of challenges that keep her and her husband busy, even if there were no problems or issues involved in their ward.
In Love : A Memoir of Love and Loss, by Amy Bloom. When Amy Bloom's husband Brian is officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, it doesn't take long for him to ask her to help him find a way to die before he becomes completely disabled by it. And he wants her to write about it sometime as well.
So what we get is a bittersweet book about two people who came to each other late in life, after other spouses, children, etc., and are blissfully happy and incredibly compatible. Until small things start to happen that frustrate Brian and worry Amy. And then the diagnosis that they both understand all too well.
The book goes back and forth between Amy's search for a legal way for her husband to die, and the story of the two of them, their families, and all of the love they have shared. It's well-written, it's happy and also very sad, and it also is eye-opening regarding the difficulties faced by people who do not want to experience "the long goodbye," but would prefer to leave on their own terms. I found it to be interesting and informative. And I think it must have been one of the hardest things the author ever had to do.
Susan Settles Down, by Molly Clavering. This book was such a fun read. When Susan Parsons leave her life in London to go to a small town in Scotland to live with her brother who inherited a house and land there, it doesn't seem like something she will enjoy. But Susan finds it wonderful and delightful, and is herself surprised to realize how content she is.
This book reminds me a lot of those by Barbara Pym - though I guess you could say that Molly Clavering was an earlier Barbara Pym. The writing is really on point, the characters are fully drawn, and the story is one that would be really boring and seemingly predictable if it was not for the wit and precise character observations that Clavering provides.
A really enjoyable read.
A Room Full of Bones, by Elly Griffiths. The book begins with anticipation - in a small, family-run museum, a coffin containing the remains of a medieval bishop who is an ancestor of the family owning the museum is being placed, ready to be opened to great fanfare, with the press coverage and cocktail party to be expected. But shortly before the event begins, Ruth Galloway, who is there acting in the place of her boss to provide expertise about the age of the bones, etc. walks into the room containing the coffin, and finds the top askew and open, and the curator dead next to it on the floor.
Thus begins the story of the Smith family, owners of the museum and known for their knowledge and training of racehorses; the Elginists, a group dedicated to the repatriation of remains to their native countries and peoples; and, Ruth's latest project as she is asked to not only provide more information about the bishop, but also a roomful of bones in the museum's basement.
This was an interesting addition to the series for me, because it had a lot of interesting elements going on: a murder investigation, questions and emotions that come up whenever repatriation of remains and artifacts is brought up, and Ruth being more like the character from the earlier books. Yes, she now has a child, but instead of the story being all about her conflict about the child's parentage and her relationship with the child's father, which was getting old, this book is more about the mystery. There is still involvement in the story by Nelson (the father) and his wife and family, and Kate is still figuring things out, but fortunately (at least to me) in this installment of the series, it is more natural rather than in your face.
The magic, spirituality, and characters in this book all work together well, and there are several supporting characters that are really interesting for better or for worse. After reading this book, I will continue with the series, at least for one more.
The Bird in the Window, by Wendy Dalrymple. This was a decent short story about Ashley, a newly divorced woman who moves into a neighborhood where she always notices a large blue macaw looking out of a second-floor window on her street. When she mentions it to her friend Patience, who tells her that the house's occupant is a former deputy who is thought to have murdered his wife and daughter years ago.
The story goes on to see how Ashley's curiosity grows, in spite of danger. It's good enough to finish and see what the truth actually is.
Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo. Maggy Thorsen's husband divorced her so that he could marry his young dental technician. Her son Eric is away at college. So Maggy and her dog move to a small house, and along with two of her friends, they decide to open a coffee shop - Uncommon Grounds.
Right before their first day of operation, Maggy and Caron arrive bright and early to find the third of the partner group, Patricia, already there ... but dead. There's no indication of a break-in, and it's so early that no one else is around to ask if they'd seen anything. The police determine that Patricia's death was caused by electrocution and someone clearly interfered with the machine. Maggy and Caron are of course, the prime suspects, along with Patricia's husband, though Maggy feels that the local sheriff is just trying to take the easy way out.
This was a good read. Lots of red herrings, and then at the end crazy weirdness involving secret meetings, local militias, and one of Maggy's friends proving to be someone completely different than she thought.
Time Pieces : A Dublin Memoir, by John Banville. This is a lovely evocative memoir, starting with the childish excitement brought on by a day away from Wexford and into Dublin on the train at Christmastime, and ending after the author has taken us through his life and experiences in Dublin as an adult.
It's such a pleasant and enjoyable read, it seems a shame when the book is over.
The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson. As a child, Miranda Brooks spent magical times with her Uncle Billy, her mother's brother. Every time they were together, he made it an adventure, and turned it into a scavenger hunt in one way or another. And then, on her 12th birthday, something happened between him and Miranda's mother, and she never saw him again.
Miranda as an adult has a job teaching history at an elementary school in Philadelphia, a boyfriend she just moved in with, and considers her life to be quite happy. One day she receives a mysterious package in the mail, and isn't sure what to make of it. Then at the end of the school year, her mother calls to tell her that Uncle Billy has died. She decides that the mysterious package was somehow from Uncle Billy, and he is sending her on one last scavenger hunt. So she returns home to the Los Angeles area, at first simply to attend his funeral, but circumstances change.
As Miranda tries to learn more, she starts to become estranged from her parents, because they don't really want to talk about Uncle Billy, and they think she should leave any questions she has about him unanswered. But when it's revealed that he has bequeathed her the bookstore he owned, the location of so many of her childhood memories, she can't just sell it and walk away.
This is a winding road kind of book, as we follow Miranda in her quest to unlock a family mystery. But like all of Uncle Billy's scavenger hunts, this one takes time to unfold. By the end of the book, Miranda has unraveled the mystery, and answered her questions - but where does she go from there?
I enjoyed this book. At a certain point, I had my suspicions about the solution to the mystery, but I kept reading to see how the author would guide us to that answer.
In Vino Duplicitas : The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire, by Peter Hellman. I was given this book by a friend who is studying to become a sommelier, and so I feel certain that a lot of it registered more with her than it did with me. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating true story.
Rudy Kurniawan is a young man from Indonesia who suddenly appears on the scene of those people most interested in wines of the finest vintages, both to drink and to collect. Even to those who become part of his inner circle, he is a somewhat mysterious character. But his palate for tasting the best wines is remarkable, and soon he is considered one of the experts in the world on vintages.
However, things start to fall apart when an auction house pulls a group of wines from offering because something doesn't seem right. And a few other people start to notice tiny little details about labels, winery names, etc. Soon the FBI is involved, and the first case of wine fraud in the U.S. is underway.
Now I love wine, but know nothing about it and have no interest in it as a collector. I daresay I have even been known to drink and enjoy box wine. So a lot of the details in the story were well beyond my interest or comprehension, but it was a fascinating story of someone who fooled so many people for so long by mixing lesser wines with the original vintages, re-using bottles, and having labels printed that were nearly perfect duplicates for the originals. And from what the book tells us, he did a lot of this in the kitchen of his home in California.
So although I'm sure I missed the grand overview of duplicity and impostor-ism involved in the story, what it boiled down to was a bunch of rich people being fooled completely by a con man. Even one of the Koch brothers was duped, which I have to say pleased me in my own twisted way.
It's a good read - full of details that I admittedly glossed over, but a really interesting story of how one person fooled so many so completely for so long. I'm passing this book along to my brother-in-law, who is much more of a wine snob than I am, and an attorney to boot. I think he is likely to appreciate all aspects of the book more than I did.
Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Portia Nathan is a middle-aged woman who is an admissions officer at Princeton University, and has lived with her partner Mark, a professor at the school, for sixteen years when the book opens. Portia is fairly content with her life, she likes her job and is comfortable in her relationship. She has a somewhat strained relationship with her mother, who has always been a sort of counterculture activist, and dragged Portia from place to place, cause to cause.
When the book begins, Portia is headed to her first high school recruitment trip for her new territory. Formerly she was responsible for California and the west coast schools, but now New England is her territory and she is excited because she grew up in the area and though she did not attend any of the elite prep schools she will be visiting, she knows a lot about all of them. Except for a new one, the Quest School, which is an experimental learning environment, getting ready to graduate its first class of high school seniors.
It turns out that the visit to this school will change Portia's life in ways she could have never imagined, and I won't say more so as to avoid spoilers.
It was an interesting book, full of details about the admissions process at elite universities, which sounds difficult and extremely exhausting for both the students and the admissions officers. The best thing about it was the way it made me think about how some people value the *where* of education more than anything else. Yes, the best schools offer more than most schools can even think of offering, and often those students have a bit of a leg up on the job market once they graduate. But there are two things I always think of related to all of that. One is that at least in my case, once I had my first job, no one going forward ever asked me about where I went to college. And secondly, the emphasis is of course on your kid going to the best possible school for them - but I think it's worth remembering that no one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, "I sure hope my kid gets into a crappy school." Everyone wants the best they can hope for, and if you can't make it to Princeton, or Dartmouth, or Stanford, that shouldn't be akin to failure.
Matchmaking Can Be Murder, by Amanda Flower. This was a freebie for my Nook reader.
Millie Fisher is an Amish woman who has returned to her hometown of Harvest, Ohio. She spends a good deal of her time making quilts, and keeping the goats she has acquired to help with her lawn and garden from getting into too much trouble. When her niece Edith, who owns the local greenhouse, is accused of murdering her former fiance, Millie goes into action to prove Edith's innocence.
This book was fine, just not really my cup of cozy mystery tea. It was interesting to learn more about Amish lifestyles and beliefs, and I liked all of the parts about animals, but it was too romance-y for me in the sense of the emphasis on marrying, having children, serving your husband, etc.
There were some really amusing parts, which was nice, but I sincerely doubt I'll go forward in this series.
The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue. First of all, I read this because I generally like Emma Donoghue's books - it didn't really register that it took place during the 1918 flu epidemic in Ireland. Anyway, it didn't mean that that book wasn't a good one!
This takes place over three days during the 1918 influenza epidemic in Ireland. World War I has just ended, and people have barely had time to deal with the changes brought by that when influenza takes hold. Julia Power, a nurse-midwife in a Dublin hospital works in a temporary spot set up as a maternity ward for women with the flu. It's not even a proper area of the hospital, and at the beginning of the book, she is always on her own during her shift. One day, one of the nuns who works in the hospital brings her a volunteer, Bridie Sweeney, to help with basic duties. Julia and Bridie hit it off, and while Julia is surprised at how little Bridie knows of the world, Bridie soaks up knowledge like a sponge. Then, a female doctor arrives (very unusual for the time) who is also a known revolutionary. She brings a different kind of energy to the hospital and to Julia's outlook on the treatment of the patients.
Meanwhile at home, Julia's brother Tim has returned from the war, physically unscathed but unable/refusing to talk. He has rescued an injured magpie, and that is his only companion while Julia is at work.
This book is amazing, heartbreaking, and heartfelt. The cases Julia is caring for - all women ready to give birth who are sick - makes you want to cheer for them to recover, even though you can tell that things are grim. The incredible pace of the three days, everything that happens, and the whole milieu is so clear and so astounding. I really liked this book.
I also learned where the term "influenza" comes from and what it means. This is a quote from the book: "That's what influenza means, she said. 'Influenza delle stelle' —the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. "
Found Key, by Lea Charles. This book was just barely OK. Most of the characters were incredibly predictable, and it could have been resolved in an even shorter book than it is.
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. This was a good read, about twin sisters who are black but have extremely light skin. One returns to her hometown as an adult with her daughter, who is very dark, causing some commentary in the town. The other stays away, passing as white and living the life of a privileged person.
There's not a lot else to say without either going into too much detail, or giving away main parts of the story. I liked the book quite a bit.
The Plot Is Murder, by V.M. Burns. This was an excellent palate cleanser after a few books that were somewhat serious in nature.
Samantha Washington is finally opening her own mystery bookstore in her Michigan hometown, after years of it being the dream of hers and her late husband's. Though bittersweet, she has given up her teaching job and is all in on her dream. Things are moving along well towards the opening of the store when she finds a dead body at the back door of her store. Worse, it's the body of a local real estate agent who Samantha clashed with when buying the property that is now her store and her living space on the upper floor.
After realizing that the local police detective is fairly determined that she is the murderer, Samantha, her grandmother Nana Jo, and her grandmother's friends at the retirement home decide they will use their connections to ferret out some information to help solve the crime. As it turns out the real estate agent had made a lot of enemies and there were plenty of people in town who would have been happy to see him gone.
While all of this is happening, Samantha is also working on a murder mystery that takes place in England during the late 1930s. It's her pet project to help her settle down, focus on something other than her worries, and provide her with entertainment. When the local detective winds up with a copy, he decides that it's just a bit too coincidental that her book is about the murder of a character with a very similar name to the actual person murdered at her back door.
An entertaining read, and something worth enjoying on a quiet summer weekend.
The Unsinkable Greta James, by Jennifer E. Smith. As the book begins, Greta James - a musician of some note whose star is rising - is getting onto a cruise ship headed to Alaska, along with her father and two other couples, long time friends of her parents and family. It was supposed to be a 40th anniversary celebration for her parents, but her mother died unexpectedly and suddenly three months before. So Greta's brother talks her into going with their dad, since she is currently experiencing some down time.
It's a very enjoyable, very readable book about relationships and what they can or do become. It's about loss and how it can be different and yet the same for each person. Mostly it's about life going on, even when you might wish it did not.
A Rare Interest In Corpses, by Ann Granger. Lizzie Martin moves to London after her father dies, to live as a paid companion to her godfather's widow, who she has never met. Upon arrival, she learns that her predecessor mysteriously disappeared, ran off to get married, according to a note from her that was later received.
But when a body is found in the rubble of slum houses when they are building the St. Pancras station, it turns out to be the body of the former companion. How did she get there? What happened, and most importantly, who killed her? As Lizzie learns of her employer's involvment in the slum homes, and ends up meeting a childhood acquaitance who is now a member of the Metropolitan Police, she begins to wonder who is hiding something, and if she is in danger.
An interesting read, since it takes place in 1864, and the author manages to bring the reader a vivid picture of places and people of the time.
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, by Claire Vaye Watkins. I tried with this book, but nope. Just not what I wanted to read, at least not right now.
The Postscript Murders, by Elly Griffiths. Well, this was an enjoyable read.
The whole thing starts when an elderly woman named Peggy Smith is found dead in her apartment by her carer, Natalka. Peggy was elderly, and had a heart condition, so it isn't a big surprise that she has passed away ... except when Natalka is going through her things, she finds a ton of crime novels (which Peggy loved) - all of them either dedicated to, or acknowledging her help with the books. This is something that neither Natalka nor any of Peggy's friends seemed to know about. After the funeral, Peggy's son tells each of her closest friends - Natalka, Edwin, and Benedict - to feel free to take one of the books as a memento. When they are in her apartment choosing, an armed gunman comes in and threatens them, then disappears.
And that's when Harbinder Kaur becomes involved in the investigation. At first, she is not completely convinced that Peggy was murdered, but as the evidence mounts that something wasn't right, and some of the other authors that had books related to Peggy's help are suddenly "dying of natural causes" as well, finding the truth becomes even more necessary.
I really enjoyed this book. Harbinder is a complex character who also has a sense of humor. Peggy's three friends are interesting characters, because each of them has an involved background that wouldn't make you think they should be close, but they are. And of course, I always enjoy stories where books are somehow involved.
I think this series appeals to me because it's not quite as intense and serious as Griffiths' series featuring Ruth Galloway. Each character has a time and place, but this time around, I was in the mood for something more like this book.
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. This is a lovely, but very sad book. It starts with the death of a 15 and a half year old girl, Lydia Lee. She is the daughter of a history professor at a local college in Ohio in 1977. Her mother is white, and her father is of Chinese heritage, though he is third-generation American. She has a brother close in age, and a much younger sister.
This is the story of one family, but also their ancestors, also other people who are different because of their ethnicity and/or appearance. Previous generations struggled to make lives better for their children, and have had some degree of success. But they are still the "other," and never feel quite as comfortable as they should.
In the Lee family, the mother was ignored by her mother after she married her Chinese-American husband. Except for her, the father and the kids are subjected to ridicule, curiosity, and prejudice.
Lydia was a young girl with a great future ahead of her, but at a terrible cost. Her siblings are forced to live in her shadow, which of course gives them a completely different outlook on things. Her parents see what they want to see, based on their own dreams and desires.
Though the ending is hopeful, everyone goes through way too much to get there. Celeste Ng is able to write the story in a way that makes you really get a lump in your throat when you think about what each person has had to experience. As I said, lovely, but extremely sad.
28 Summers, by Elin Hilderbrand. This book was fine, but I didn't like it as much as some of Hilderbrand's other books I've read. But I do enjoy reading at least one of her books in summertime.
In this story, Mallory Blessing inherits her aunt's cottage on Nantucket Island in her early 20s, and moves there to make a life for herself. When her brother asks if he and two friends can come for a bachelor weekend over Labor Day, prior to the brother's wedding, she says yes. Her brother, his lifelong best friend who is like a brother to Mallory, and her brother's college friend Jake come for the weekend. A series of events leaves Mallory and Jake at the cabin alone. They have "met" previously over the phone when Mallory's brother was in college, but now they are alone in person, and they are strongly attracted to each other.
Thus begins the story of Mallory and Jake's Labor Day weekends throughout the rest of their lives. It's about both of them, and their individual lives, but how they always spend Labor Day weekend on Nantucket at the cottage, like the couple in the movie "Same Time, Next Year."
At the beginning of the book, Mallory is dying and she tells her son where there is an envelope in her dresser with a phone number, and that he should call the number. Thus starts the story.
One thing that made this book entertaining was that at the start of each section, it will highlight a year and show "What were we talking about in ____" and it was a reminder of the things that were SO IMPORTANT then, and how so many of them are barely part of memory in the current day. I also enjoyed the mentions of places in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and South Bend, IN/Notre Dame, all places I'm really familiar with and so it was fun to know exactly where they were referencing.
Another plus was that in one part of the book, Mallory bakes some Orange-Rosemary muffins - that sounded good to me, so I looked for a recipe and tried it, and boy are they yummy!
A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson. This is a lovely, poignant book about three people in particular in the small town of Solace, in northern Ontario, Canada. Each chapter is told by a different character, but they are all joined together.
Elizabeth/Mrs. Orchard is currently in the hospital; Clara is the eight-year-old girl who lives next door and is coming over to feed Moses, Mrs. Orchard's cat, while dealing with the disappearance of her older sister Rose; and Liam Kane comes to Solace because Mrs. Orchard has given him her house, to do with as he pleases, so he wants to clear it out and sell it. Recently divorced, he could use the money and it would help with his chance to start over.
So much of the book is about what brings these individuals together and how they change each others' lives. It is a study of what connections, memory, and friendships can mean to people their entire lives. How a photograph can bring back a feeling; how a new friend can give you a new perspective; and how memory can get you to move forward instead of backwards.
The ending is happy in many ways, but also bittersweet. I really wish I could have spent more time with these characters because I really loved them all.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper. Etta is an elderly woman living in rural Saskatchewan,Canada,who has never seen the ocean. One day she gets up very early, collects some things she thinks she'll need, and starts on a trek to see the Atlantic Ocean. She leaves a note for her husband Otto, saying she'll try to remember to come back.
When Russell, their neighbor and Otto's childhood friend finds out, here's in his truck to go after her.
Etta's journey rakes her through the memories of her life. Along the way, she teams up with a coyote, who she decides to call James. They make excellent travel companions.
Otto has memories of the Atlantic - he traveled across it to fight in World War II. As the book goes along, we relive the lives of Etta, Otto, and Russell as each takes their own kind of journey.
This book is written in a fashion that resembles memory - sometimes just small snippets, other times in long story form. It's lovely and sad.
So there you go. Let me know if you've read anything you liked particularly lately, I'm always looking for suggestions!
18 July 2022
01 July 2022
Happy Canada Day!
Here in the U.S., we have a long weekend for the July 4th holiday, so "vacation mode" is in high gear! Here's to a great one, wherever you are, and whatever you may or may not be celebrating.
But no matter what, remember these words to live by: