Wendy's Easy Chair 2
Wendy's Easy Chair (second page)
Wendy is a constant reader, always with a book in her hands or in her ears. She has so many reviews on this site that she has literally filled one page to capacity. So now Wendy is on page number two. She's browsing and touching books, choosing what she should read next ... from her easy chair.
I can admit here that I love my vinyl record albums. Yes, in fact, I still call music on the nice, miraculously convenient compact discs, albums. I’ll go one step further and tell you I call cassette tapes with music on them albums, too. It just seems right. You can tell I fit right in with Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, Chabon’s protagonists in Telegraph Avenue.
Archy and Nat have their dream of a record store, Brokeland Records. Unfortunately, they see their dream being tampered with as they watch Gibson Goode move into their neighborhood with a massive megastore that threatens to change their lives forever. Why does Goode decide to have his store here? What are his motives? Also in the mix are Archy and Nat’s wives, Gwen and Aviva, respectively, who work together as midwives.
Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue starts us out in the center of two families hopelessly intertwined and yet dealing with separate sets of tragedy. As you turn each page you become more and more involved with their secrets, their thoughts and their solutions. He offers us a healthy mix of familial dysfunction, political unrest, friendships tested and; love won and lost. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Zoe, Jack and Kate are all champion cyclists. Zoe and Jack are Olympic medalists; Tom coaches all three. To further complicate matters, as they ready themselves for the 2012 London Olympics, Jack and Kate’s daughter, Sophie is battling leukemia. Kate and Zoe are friends, but competitors as well. Could it finally be Kate’s turn to shine? Could it finally be her turn to win Gold?
Tom and Jack are two of the most lovably flawed characters you’ll meet outside of a James Lee Burke novel. Tom can no longer borrow on his past glory as an Olympian as he coaches these three extraordinary athletes. Instead, he must use what he has at hand, in his heart and his mind to help Zoe, Jack and Kate achieve all they want. Jack is helplessly in love with Kate and he bursts with a father’s love and pride as he watches their Sophie mount each leukemia attack head on.
Zoe and Kate become friends early in their careers, but it is, of course, in the background during competitions. Zoe is the loner; she loves haphazardly, but trains with the will to win (200 ab crunches, 80 side planks, 60 seated oblique twists and that’s just the warm-up). Kate is not as fierce a competitor, but not any less determined, even as she splits herself between her two dreams.
I really, really want to tell you more – tell you everything; however, I’m taking lessons from the world’s best synopsis writer – Chris Cleave’s (who ARE you?) - and not give away anything that will spoil your reading of this exquisite novel. Cleave’s writing is sharp, his dialog, perfect and the situation quite timely. Gold is a story of passion, pride, acceptance, friendship, love and truth. What are you waiting for? Go out there and get Gold today! - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Chaperone is the story of Cora Carlisle who took five weeks of her life in the summer of 1922 to chaperone future film actress Louise Brooks in New York City while Brooks attends dance classes. You’ll like Cora. Cora is a hero for all she survives, all she teaches Louise and her selflessness.
Wichita , at the start of The Chaperone, is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business and it’s no surprise that gossiping is a sport. Appearances are all-important. Cora is a well-respected married woman with a handsome, successful husband and twin sons, the joys of her life. When Cora hears through the powerful grapevine that Louise’s parents need an escort for her on a trip to New York, Cora is eager for the job. She has her own set of reasons for going to New York and what she learns will shape the rest of her life.
Moriarty’s method of telling Cora’s story is wonderfully familiar without all the silly POV turns that have become popular in the last few years. Her use of Louise as a minor character, pivotal for Cora’s development, took me by pleasant surprise. There is no doubt this is Cora’s story. While I have complaints about Moriarty’s research, (extensive though it may have been) I have taken the reader’s prerogative to not dwell on them and instead choose to immerse myself in feeling Cora’s joy, her pain and her strength as she grows and shines through life. Cora has become one of my favorite female characters.
Settle in for a look at a different time with people who will show you that, sometimes, you simply must take a chance. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
In the Shadow of the Banyan is getting attention and I can see why. For me, it was a journey back to several different times in my life, both as a teenager and as an adult.
I was a new high school student at the height of the Vietnam War when I finally understood what was going on in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. By 1975, I attended college with young men who had just gotten back from one tour or multiple tours in Southeast Asia. It was a tumultuous time in the world. But unless you’ve felt the pain of having your home taken away from you, as Raami’s is or losing someone dear to you also as Raami suffers, it doesn’t register.
As an adult, I have felt the pain of losing loved ones, including my parents. As Raami describes her talks with her father on countless days, it brings back memories of the same sort of closeness I enjoyed with my father. It also makes me realize how there were moments I simply assumed he would always be there and perhaps did not cherish those times to the fullest. Sadly, as life goes on, we know those moments are fleeting at best.
How you deal with loss indicates the measure of who you are and gives you a glimpse of how you will live your life. Vaddy Ratner shows us, though Raami’s life story what it means to live the life you have been dealt and live it strong. You will be drawn immediately into Raami’s idyllic life and be just as wrenched as she when it all changes in less than a heartbeat. Because Ratner is a gifted writer and storyteller and because this is really Ratner’s life, you will feel the heat, the rain and the groan of hunger. You will be with Raami in the trucks over destroyed roads and in crowded boats where your only refuge is sleep to block out what is happening around you. You will question war and human behavior toward each other more than before.
I guarantee you will be moved and will read passages over and over. “…the lament of the monsoon, that period of the season when the rain came in a steady drizzle throughout the morning, then wailed inconsolably in the afternoon, before it softened to a sob that was to last through the evening…” You cannot help but savor this writing and Ratner’s story. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
It's 1972 in Britain and Serena Frome has just been selected to join MI5. To this point, Serena hasn’t made a conscious decision as to what she’d like to do so when she is mentored by a seasoned agent, Serena gives it all, including her heart. She is selected for her beauty and math skill. What also comes of value is her ability to read novels at the speed of light. She devours them. Sometimes it is suspect how much she actually retains of what she’s read, but none the less, it becomes a valuable skill for MI5.
She is recruited to work with a young contemporary author, Tom Healy. All of what she knows of life and love changes as she becomes more heavily involved with the mission and Healy.
It must be said that I'm not a huge McEwan fan. I know, I know, he's an excellent writer and I can be mildly opinionated (you find that hard to believe). The truth is McEwan just doesn't hit for me every time. Whether it’s the subject matter he’s chosen, the writing or the characters. When he does hit, though, it's out of the park. Sweet Tooth was a fascinating read. It spoke fondly of books, writers and rituals we readers employ, so of course, I was sold.
McEwan has the skill to write male and female characters equally well, though I think sometimes his female characters emerge much stronger than his male characters. Serena is drawn (for me) as strong, but wonderfully vulnerable, and isn’t that what women really want to be – if we’re honest?
If this is your first McEwan read, you owe it to yourself to settle in minimally with Enduring Love, Atonement (of course) and my all time favorite, Chesil Beach. In these truly great novels you’ll find the breadth of McEwan’s skill as a writer of all characters, situations and events throughout history. He also shows he can write about the most basic and complex of human emotions. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Buckle up. This novel will take you for a page-turning ride like you wouldn't believe.
Elroy Coffin is in a bit of jam. He's in prison and hasn't won any friends. He has caught a break in that he should have been in for many, many years and by knowing the right people and greasing the right palms, he'll get out earlier. He's in prison because of David Hartman. Hartman is ruthless and Elroy's on Hartman's "not so favorite" list.
Elroy's wife, Toni, has an ultimatum before our story begins: she has to decide to be with Hartman or Elroy dies. Naturally, she chooses to be with Hartman to save Elroy. Elroy's never positive Toni is still alive but doesn't lose hope. Elroy still goes to prison. Okay, so Elroy is trying to stay alive in prison and Toni's stuck with the world's most awful man. Enter a "Concerned Citizen" in the form of an extremely well-dressed, apparently extremely wealthy woman. She tells Elroy that her young daughter has been taken by Hartman and is in harm's way. She needs Elroy to use his extraordinary computer hacking skills to break her out. Oh, and by the way, she practically guarantees that Toni's alive and with her daughter. Elroy agrees to help her and in return, the Concerned Citizen gets Elroy released from prison even sooner. Not much goes smoothly or according to plan. But then, you knew it was going to be that way, didn't you?
I simply can't tell you anything more except that you will meet Elroy's father, a rather colorful man who has his own problems with Hartman, and a young ex-soldier with a unique connection to Elroy.
Romano directs this story with a sharp staccato writing style that will make you think you are in the middle of an action-packed movie with any one of your favorite actors. Grab some popcorn and start reading! - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Rent Collector is a novel that keeps you thinking from the moment you start reading until the last page. I often read books that make me think, keep me guessing or that offer profound knowledge and insight. This novel had everything.
We meet Sang Ly in a garbage dump in Cambodia: Stung Meachey. Yes, she and her husband Ki and their son Nisay live there. They have a home and their meager supplies get them through each day. Ki spends his days digging through the debris of the dump looking for items he can sell. With whatever money he gets from the items, Ki buys rice. Any leftover money is saved for the medicines they buy for Nisay. Nisay is not a thriving baby. There is something wrong with him that medicines just don’t seem to help.
A constant in their lives, in addition to the struggle of making a living, is the monthly appearance of Sopeap, the rent collector. No one really knows much about Sopeap. All they know is what she chooses to let them see which is a bitter, angry, wretched woman. She strikes no bargains and is unrelenting about rent payment. That is until the day that Sopeap sees a book Sang Ly has for Nisay. Sang Li can’t read, but it’s obvious that Sopeap recognizes the children’s book.
The balance of the novel centers around the secret that Sang Ly learns about Sopeap and how Sopeap and Sang Ly become more than the rent collector and the tenant. We learn the power of trust, love, hope, sacrifice and friendship and how literature can show us how to live. The gift of literature is a dominant theme throughout the novel. “Words are not only powerful, they are more valuable than gold.” Ah, I’ve known this my entire life.
Camron Wright does a magnificent job of taking a true story and weaving it into a novel that shows us that most times we all need a second chance. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Please, please tell me you’ve read something by Ivan Doig. If you haven’t, it’s not too late to begin; however, you must promise that you will read all he has to offer. Here is a writer who can perform the rare feat of writing nonfiction and fiction equally well. Doig “hits” for me every time.
The Bartender’s Tale is Doig’s latest achievement. Set in Montana, as a great many of Doig’s works are, we meet Tom Harry, the bartender. His son, Rusty is the narrator. The magnificent backdrop of Montana’s Two Medicine country in the summer of 1960 is where we find Rusty and Tom becoming acquainted. You see, Rusty and his father haven’t always lived together. Rusty spends the first six years of his life with his aunt’s family. His cousins are a nightmare and Tom comes to the final rescue just in time. With the rescue comes a welcome change in Rusty’s life. Admittedly, Tom is new to the father role: he’s learning as he goes along and, as is the case with most parents, parenting becomes better with practice. Tom manages to do a better than average job of it, all while running The Medicine Lodge saloon. The two settle into an easy life of working together, respecting each other and loving each other.
Over the next six years, Rusty gets used to his father taking off for a few days at a time when Tom leaves with the Packard filled with the treasures and trinkets he often takes in trade when a Lodge patron can’t pay the bill. It’s in the summer of 1960 that Rusty begins to worry about Tom on the road and the trips get longer and longer.
Also, when a blast from Tom’s past in the form of Proxy and her daughter, Francine, grind into the picture, Rusty is quite sure his close-to-perfect life is going to be blown to smithereens. Tom acts strangely around Proxy and everything Rusty knows as truth becomes uncertain. Rusty’s friend, Zoe, is with him through the obstacle course that is a child’s life as he moves toward adulthood.
Come along and partake of Doig at his best, again, with a cast of characters so rich, so real, so normal, you’ll be sure to recognize someone you know. Doig’s writing is superb. You’ll laugh yourself to tears as Doig describes sheep being herded through downtown and then cry as Doig describes the lengths Tom goes to, to keep his son close. Doig’s dialog is precise – you’ll be able to hear the characters speaking. What a treat from a master storyteller. The Bartender’s Tale is what I call a “No Chores Today” book. Forget the yard work, forget the laundry, forget the work you brought home. Grab a snack and a beverage of choice and open yourself to a magnificent journey through Two Medicine country. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
What would you do if your husband of several years and a couple of children didn't come home? You've had a nice evening out. You're home, getting ready for bed and your husband says he's going to take the babysitter home. Fine with you...you can brush your teeth and settle in under the covers. Sounds great. But - wait - your husband doesn't come home. What do you do now?
This is the situation Eve Adams finds herself in. When her husband, Eric, doesn't come home that evening and isn't heard from, Eve is at a loss. All she can do is go on. There are signs of his well being that she looks for, but in the meantime, she picks up all that is involved in running a family and keeping it whole. She is a nutritionist with a new book and new clients. Her two children, Maggie and Danny need her, too and so when it appears Eric just didn't come home, Eve assumes she's on her own. In the back of her mind Eve puts pieces of the mystery together. Now, it remains to be seen if she's right.
The minor characters are well drawn, especially the children and Eve's clients. Hanauer also takes the opportunity, through Eve's job, to discuss the issue of obesity and overall poor nutrition in the U.S. I particularly like how Hanauer showed the importance of eating properly while understanding there are times when you just need a couple of chips or a cookie. Moderation is the key.
Hanauer gives us a glimpse of behind the scenes of a successful marriage with bumps. Eric is an artist and spends hours in his studio every day. Eve's career is taking off and the couple is stretched. How do you cope when everything changes? - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Five generations of women all linked to a family olive grove. Let's face it: five generations of men linked to a family olive grove wouldn't be nearly as interesting. Women have more secrets, have more to share and that's just the way it is. Men don't talk enough and there are few women who don't need a good hashing out of the life's issues every now and again. There, I've said it.
Courtney Miller Santo has created a multi-generational story that focuses on the value of age, the value of life, the value of love and the value of family. We have Anna, the matriarch at 112, her daughter, Bets; her daughter, Callie; her daughter, Deb; and her daughter Erin. It becomes clear when a geneticist visits to interview them, that there can be nothing but changes in the future. What is the real secret to their longevity? What is the truth behind where it all started? Where do the men in their lives fit in? What secrets are revealed when the research requires proof of Anna's age? How would you feel if you had lived to be 112 and felt so fabulous you wouldn't mind living for several more years? Imagine living long enough to be with great-great grandchildren and enjoying every minute. Each woman's story is ordinary and anything but average.
Santo uses a twist on the popular storytelling method of each chapter having a different character point of view. It was subtle enough to not be off-putting (frankly, I can tire of this method - not so here) and it moves the story along beautifully. Santo's ability to create strong female characters from completely different decades and have them complement each other made for a great read. The best part for me was feeling close to each of the women. Each generation deals with family, love and life in their own ways and on their own terms. You won't forget these dynamic women. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
This was a quick read. Let me tell you more.
Kallentoft’s heroine is Malin Fors. She is a thirty-something, married young, now divorced, not bad looking, mother and hard-pounding police detective in a small town. She takes everything seriously and for all her strengths she is flawed, just like the rest of us and perhaps that’s why she is such a well written character. Malin has been divorced for several years with custody of her teenaged daughter, Tove. Malin is having second thoughts about her ex-husband (maybe they could have made it work?). Her personal life is a shambles and then her job takes center stage.
A man is found dead, hanging in a tree in the forest. He’s a very large man. How is it possible that he was hung in the tree? Who would do that? Who is this man? No one seems to want to claim him.
Was the victim a blood sacrifice done to the tune of old legends? What does the Murvall family of misfits have to do with it? Malin Fors dives into this case needing to find the answer. She digs up information from old cases seemingly unrelated and puts pieces together to solve current crimes. As is typical, her boss doesn’t want her to push quite so hard, interrogate quite so aggressively, but in the end, it is Malin’s perseverance that solves the case. It’s marvelous to watch her in action.
Midwinter Blood takes us to a Malin Fors world where she sees her daughter becoming more like herself every day, evil is rampant even in Malin's small town and the media still only works for itself. Kallentoft writes like Dan Brown with pages and pages of dialog and short chapters that leave us madly flipping pages to see what comes next. Kallentoft’s description of the countryside and the town are crisp and to the point. He has a storytelling style that is captivating - wait till you see it.
The best part is that we have three more standalone novels about Malin Fors coming up; one each from 2013 through 2015. Mark down these titles: Summertime Death, Autumn Sonata and Spring Remains. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
John Irving is one of our most gifted writers. He is one of those rare geniuses who can write fiction and nonfiction equally well.
In One Person is the story of Billy who narrates the story of his life: the good, the bad and the horrific. He is a bisexual growing up in the fifties and sixties without a prayer of surviving on his own. His conflicts with the person he is and who he is destined to become seem to be insurmountable. Thankfully, he is surrounded by people, family and friends alike, who care about him and help him grow up.
His stepfather, Richard, maintains a constant vigilance and introduces him to Miss Frost, the town librarian who opens him up to the wonders of reading: to reading classics as well as modern fiction. It is perhaps Miss Frost who succeeds in saving him, but we cannot deny the help of his friend Elaine and his grandfather, Harry and Uncle Bob who manage to be on hand when the going is tough. Billy’s mother is not much help in any situation unless it’s to prompt a stage actor his lines. That sounds harsh, but, it’s Billy’s mother who makes his life miserable when it could have been simpler – maybe not easier, but if your mom is behind you and believes in you, almost anything is possible.
When Billy realizes that he is attracted to an older classmate and so is Elaine, he understands how complicated life is going to be. Life is even more complicated when one of his friends shows that he is attracted to Billy and Billy cannot truly reciprocate the affection.
Irving does an excellent job of demonstrating how dangerous the 1980s were with the onslaught of AIDS, how it selected its victims and killed them before our eyes.
Irving shows us Billy’s life through those turbulent times with his usual style and gift of language. The first 200 pages must be slogged through (it pains me to say that), but the effort is worth it because the middle of the novel is exquisite. Bill matures and begins his adult life more solid and assured than ever before. It is when Bill accepts his sexuality and is able to deal with the uphill battles that he becomes whole. In One Person is about acceptance of yourself and our need to be accepted by others no matter how alone we live our lives. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Before you read the review put this book on your To Be Read List. Finished? Okay. Now, this book is a complete grabber. It’s a mystery with twists and hairpin turns every few pages. Grecian has done an excellent job of creating characters you want to meet. He has also taken the time to research what London was like right after Jack the Ripper tore it apart. Grecian has captured the time, the attitude, the people, the life of London - Post-Ripper.
Walter Day and his wife, Claire, move from Devon for this new job as a police inspector on the Murder Squad, an elite group of men dedicated to solving murders in London. This is no small task in part because the sheer numbers of murders taking place make the job almost insurmountable and, that the citizens of London no long respect or have faith in the police. Since the police couldn’t bring The Ripper in, the average citizen doesn’t think the police can do anything right. But, I digress.
Walter begins his work with the Murder Squad investigating the murder of one of his own, Inspector Little. Walter and his group of inspectors as well as the constables start the painstaking ordeal of finding clues, interviewing suspects and witnesses. We meet Constable Hammersmith and Dr. Kingsley, a forensic pathologist way before his time. Kingsley helps point toward the murderer, all the while adding his expertise in other areas of the investigations.
You’ll realize early on who the murderer is, and that’s not bad; figuring out how the police are going to catch the murderer, now THAT is where the real intrigue takes over. There’s also another murderer on the loose, but is it the same person?
Grecian uses several storytelling techniques to track the story and characters, and moves the story forward rapidly. His crisp, believable dialog is just the ticket to make this one of my favorite novels of 2012. The Yard also ranks as one of my No Chores Today (NCT) books. Get your beverage of choice, a snack and settle in. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
This book was very reminiscent of J. Courtney Smith’s Commencement (one of my favorite books of 2011), but so different. Both novels follow college classmates and how they cope with adulthood when they leave the comfort of the dorm.
The Red Book begins with each of the main characters’ (Addison, Clover, Mia and Jane) entry into Harvard’s Red Book which is a sort of complete life wrap up from the one written five years earlier. The cast left Harvard years before and is scattered throughout the world. Addison, Clover, Mia and Jane couldn’t be more dissimilar. The author chooses the five year entries as a method of introducing us. It’s kind of a clunky method, in my opinion, because I don’t think people really share that much information with folks they either spent no time with in college or a class or two. BUT, according to the author’s note at the beginning, The Red Book does exist. So, it’s just me. I wouldn’t reveal that much.
At the heart of the novel is the twentieth class reunion. As I said, the four friends couldn’t be more dissimilar. I won’t tell you who my favorite is – but there was only one. The other three and the endless (and I DO mean endless) cast of minor characters completely made me nuts. However, it is because of these that my favorite stood out and, therefore made for a good read. As a side note, there was only minor character who was my favorite too. Just thought I would share that. There is so much happening in the four day period you may need a scorecard. Of course, not everything went according to plan, which made for some harried moments and were the best of the novel.
Addison, Clover, Mia and Jane have all made choices, sacrifices, if you will, in their adult lives. It is these wide and varied choices that fill this novel and makes it worth your time. Who among us hasn’t questioned what we have chosen, even if only for a moment? Who among us hasn’t wondered if the career we’ve chosen is the right one? What might have been had we just done this? Or that?On a few levels, The Red Book is not a simple read. You’re going to have to work a bit. You’ll have to pick and choose the characters you want to follow and concentrate on. And I think it’s okay if you don’t like or even care about every single one. That’s reality, isn’t it? What is important is the way Kogan has gently made us question our lives. As you read, grab your tissues. There are a couple of scenes that will make you reach for the box. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I can only guess that Faye did a ridiculous amount of research for The Gods of Gotham. I felt as though I was right in the middle of New York City during 1845. I could smell the streets, hear the horses, hear the wheels turning and hear the leather creaking. I could see the clothing, see the architecture. I could feel the morals of the time. Part history lesson, part mystery, I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. You MAY discover early on who is doing bad deeds, but it won’t diminish the pleasure of reading a well-written, well-thought out novel. We meet our cast when it’s just been decided that New York City needs a police force. There is a correlation between everything that’s happening in the city at the time and the influx of Irish immigrants caused by the potato famine. Timothy Wilde and his brother, Val are among the first new police officers, Copper Stars. The citizens have issues with the Copper Stars and are constantly attempting to undermine them and the quest for a safer city. Underlining the main story of the police force implementation is, of course, grizzly murders. When Timothy takes a young girl under his wing, he begins to piece together suspects and determines he can’t stop until he puts the murderer behind bars, no matter what the cost to him or what he may find out that he really doesn’t want to know. We also meet various clergy from Catholics to Protestants and all the usual issues resulting from mixing the two. Mercy Underhill, a daughter of the Reverend Underhill, (and in Timothy’s eyes the only woman for him) helps Timothy with his investigation. What he finds out about Mercy may be his undoing. Prostitutes, religious unrest, crime, politics, dirty police, family upheavals, good versus evil – The Gods of Gotham has it all. Step back in time to an early Big Apple. It’s worth the trip. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Variations is a book that’s a bit difficult to hold on to. The characters are on the pathetic/despicable side. There is the parish priest who has lost his faith, a budding pianist who pompously flaunts his gift, a young girl who craves attention from an elderly priest and when he passes, she becomes even more lost and various minor characters who are unremarkable. There IS the pianist’s tutor who talks of collections and that a "collector always wants to own more than can be experienced at once." Of course, she’s talking about books at this time; I can relate to this. The writing is good, though the situations are somewhat less than extraordinary. The Variations is a book that must be completely concentrated on without distractions. Do not have less than 30-45 minutes to spend with it per sitting. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Some things just need to be said. Some things just need to be exposed. This is what we find in A Land More Kind Than Home. Wiley Cash has presented us with a fantastic story that, I promise you, will grip and hold on until you close the book. Jess Hall is leading a typical life as a child. He has a mother, father and brother. Okay, so his older brother isn’t typical. Christopher, Stump as he is called, is mute. He hasn’t spoken, ever. Jess and Stump are inseparable. Jess is content with his life until his mother’s church becomes interested in Stump. Something happens that makes the pastor want Stump to come to his service. He wants to "cure" Stump. His interest is caused by a tragic incident. Who will keep quiet; who cannot. Cash’s writing is superb. His dialog is perfect. If you love John Hart (check out my recent review of Iron House) and Tom Franklin, you’ll feel right at home with Wiley Cash. Strength, love, forgiveness, hope, family. One of the best books I read in 2011. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I reluctantly started to read Vaclav & Lena. It held little interest for me. I blame the synopsis. A cover and a synopsis – that’s all I need to entice me. Neither grabbed me with this book. I blame the Marketing Department. I’m so glad I gave this delightful novel a whirl.
Vaclav and Lena, Russian immigrants, meet when they are 10 and 9 respectively. Vaclav’s parents gave up family and good jobs to come to the U.S. to give Vaclav a better life. Lena lives with her aunt; her home life is not comfortable like Vaclav’s. Lena spends a lot of time at Vaclav’s apartment. Rasia and Oleg, Vaclav’s parents, welcome her.
Vaclav is a budding magician and Lena is going to be his beautiful assistant. Vaclav has charts and lists and magic tricks galore that he and Lena practice after school every day. One day, Lena doesn’t come to school. Rasia is worried and goes to Lena’s apartment. When Rasia finally comes home, she does not speak about anything that she sees at Lena’s apartment and Lena disappears.
Vaclav doesn’t understand any of this and because Rasia doesn’t believe in speaking about it, everything is left unsaid for years. When Vaclav meets Lena again as a young man, he is sure his life will finally work out the way he has planned. He becomes a truly great magician, even when life is not what it seems.
Vaclav & Lena has so many layers it will satisfy even the most choosey reader. Haley Tanner lovingly grasps the extraordinary relationship between a mother and son with scenes that made me weep. Rasia’s care of Lena will have you wishing Rasia lived near you so you could know her even better. And, of course, we watch Vaclav grow into the sort of young man we all hope for our sons. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Lesley Kagen has given us a sequel to Whistling in the Dark, with Good Graces. I felt as though I was walking through the streets of Milwaukee (Vilet Street, North Avenue) as I read Whistling in the Dark and it was no different reading Good Graces. I love books written with such care to setting, characters and storyline.
We meet the O’Malley sisters a year after the fateful summer that rocked them and the residents from their neighborhood (Whistling in the Dark).
Sally, the older of the sisters, has made a promise to her father before he died that she would protect her sister Troo. Good Graces is the story of how Sally tries valiantly to keep this promise. It’s summer again in Milwaukee. Hot, steaming, unrelenting. The sisters return from camp where they’ve made crafts, experienced the great outdoors and are now back to the business of summer in Milwaukee. There has been a rash of home burglaries, Sally is working on her essay of good deeds for the summer, one of the neighborhood kids escapes from reform school and another of the neighborhood kids is missing. Sally’s got a lot to think about and keep in place. In the meantime, Troo is trying Sally’s patience. What’s with all the secrets all of a sudden? Sally’s working hard to figure it all out. Is Troo involved in something bad?
In between everything else happening in the neighborhood, Kagen weaves in subplots that keep you turning the pages. Where has the daughter of one of the neighbors gone? The parish priest is such a cutie, all the ladies swoon and is known to all from his younger days. Has he changed? Kagen also stays true to the time in our history where racial issues and neighborhood bias ran deep. Her ability to write from a child’s point of view will make you love the book even more. You will laugh out loud and shake your head at Sally’s naiveté while you turn the pages. Part mystery, part continued coming of age novel, Kagen has another winner. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Luz Avila has lived with her grandmother – Abuela (Spanish for grandmother) - in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as long as she can remember. At 21, Luz has worked hard in a factory, helped pay the bills as much as she can and taken care of her Abuela as much as her Abuela has taken care of her. Luz has a boyfriend, Sully, who is almost every woman’s dream: nice looking, hard-working and cherishes Luz. There are times when Luz thinks the best course in life is to marry Sully, settle down, continue to care for her Abuela and live out her days comfortably.
Soon, though, as you know it’s going to happen, Abuela gets a phone call. She won’t tell Luz who it is, but begins talking about taking a trip to San Antonio and Mexico, presumably where Abuela and, Luz, have relatives and where Abuela’s beloved Monarch butterflies migrate.
Woven through the story of Luz and her Abuela are stories and myths about Mexican gods and goddesses, the biology and strength of the butterfly’s life and the love of family and friends.
As Luz set out on the trip to Texas and Mexico in a rattletrap VW Bug, we watch her emerge as an adult. Along the way, Luz meets amazing women and men who help make her life’s journey. I admired Luz for her willingness to embrace the unknown.
Monroe is a skilled writer. She clearly has done her research on biology of butterflies, and while I find the migrating experience fascinating, I thought the over-the-top, obvious symbolism and metaphors a bit contrived. Monroe DOES do an excellent job of depicting Milwaukee’s South side. I’m from the general area and it was heartening to read her descriptions of the homes and neighborhoods I’m familiar with and know she’s either been there or knew someone well enough to have that person describe it. (I recently read a book by someone who has NEVER been to Milwaukee, used the setting as the main city in the story and failed miserably – he didn’t even have the streets running in the right direction!) The Butterfly’s Daughter will take you on a trip from the Midwest to Mexico. Buckle-up, grab a drink of choice – let’s ride! - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Stories – every family has them. Stories make us laugh, smile, remember and ultimately help us get through life. Stories are memories and are part of survival. No One is Here Except All of Us is set in a remote village in Romania in 1939 where WWII is raging in a world almost unknown to them.
No One is Here Except All of Us begins when a stranger enters the village. She’s obviously in a bad way. She is nursed back to health and tells the villagers about the problems on the outside with the WWII closing in.
The villagers revere her and make her the prayer/story keeper. Every villager comes to the stranger to tell her what they have prayed for. Not so strangely, we find prayers full of greed and unkindness. The stranger tries to guide them as she learns more about them and their lives.
In the center of the story is Lena. We watch her grow from a young girl, an adolescent, a mother. Later in the novel, when her husband is taken, Lena and her young sons set out to find them.
No One is Here Except All of Us takes some getting used to. The premise and, ironically, the storytelling can be challenging. The threads of the story are held together by other stories that show the power of love, survival, the strength of a mother and the strength of the heart. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Proulx takes in the group of people building her home and treats them like family. The entire gang goes camping together, visits health clinics together, eats together, braves the Western U.S. weather together and eventually, builds a home.
Proulx gives us breathtaking views of her landscapes and draws us in with every nail pounded, every floor poured, every delayed completed room and every wildlife species observed. We learn so much about Proulx, and, while we may think of some writers as larger than life or pompous poops (face it, there are a few), we come to understand that Proulx is regular folk. She struggles to juggle just like us.
My favorite parts, even more than the memorable landscapes and wildlife descriptions, are the passages about the care she takes in finding the right home for her boxes and boxes of books. Ah, a kindred spirit. These passages made me recall discussions my friend and I have routinely about our totally unashamed addiction to books and our quest to give our books a good place to wait for us to choose them.
I strongly recommend you read Annie Proulx. Start with The Shipping News (a worthy Pulitzer winner), then savor Brokeback Mountain (beautifully written) and then dip into Bird Cloud (her wit, style and “just like us” attitude will rope you in). Annie Proulx – three ways: novel, short story, nonfiction – the perfect Proulx meal. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I have three basic philosophies I live by: 1) Everything happens for a reason, 2) We all decide what we can live with and 3) Everyone handles grief differently. The Grief of Others illustrates these three philosophies admirably. The Grief of Others is the story of how a family can create a unique dynamic individually and that ultimately, connecting, somehow is the only way we can survive.
Ricky and John Ryrie have been married a while. When Ricky becomes pregnant with their third child, neither Ricky or John is sure how a third child will fit in to their family. Ricky is the main breadwinner; John builds theater sets. Their marriage is not without ups and downs.
Life takes an unexpected turn when Ricky finds out something about their unborn child at a doctor visit that she chooses not to share with John. Ricky and John’s son lives only 57 hours. The single incident should be enough to set the family into a tailspin; however, it also proves to be a catalyst for more than either of them expect. Their two other children, Paul, age 13 and Elizabeth (Biscuit), 10 each attempt to cope with the loss of a brother they will never know, while coping with the changes they’re experiencing as they grow and change.
There are many questions. Should Ricky have told John what the doctor found as soon as she knew? Was it her right as the mother carrying the child to withhold this information? Is it possible for a couple to completely move on when one feels betrayed? How do you deal with your own grief when there are others in the family suffering the same loss?
Subplots involving people known to the Ryrie family (Jess) and previously unknown (Gordie and Will), but now a part of the Ryrie family, play an important role in how the family manages all that has been thrown their way. I particularly enjoyed how Leah Hager Cohen used the writing style of alternating chapter-character-POV without the clunkiness and awkward voice that hugely popular authors have used in several books and has now become trite. Her style was third-person omniscient and draws us in with ease.
Leah Hager Cohen writes a beautiful story that will make you question all your relationships, all your decisions made in these relationships. Placed in Ricky and John’s shoes, what would you do? How much are you willing to give? How much can you forgive? - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
BEDBUGS! EWW!!! Have you seen these creatures? Imagine them LIVING with you! This is the dilemma presented to Susan Wendt after she has moved into a seemingly almost perfect home with her husband and daughter. Their previous home was too small, so Susan spent an inordinate amount of time seeking out a new home. When she happened on the ad for the brownstone with a rent so reasonable it was impossible to pass up, Susan was sure everything would be great and on course in their lives if they could just move into this brownstone. You know what they say about the best laid plans.
Susan loves the new home. The landlady is odd, but it seems minor. Everyone is adapting nicely, except Susan’s not painting. She stopped working outside of the home so she could paint fulltime. It just never seems to happen. She finds other activities that must be done, so when she finally takes the initiative to set up her easel, gather her paint supplies and begin painting, Susan is shocked at what transpires when she walks into the room that she and her husband agree is the perfect room to paint in. As the Samuel L. Jackson character says in the movie Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts!”
Ben H. Winters concocts a riveting story in Bedbugs. I guarantee that you will cringe at every sighting, gasp at every bite and itch repeatedly. You’ll need all the lights on and nightlights, too. Doesn’t matter. Won’t help. Keep them on anyway! Winters shows us, while telling Susan’s story, how our minds can work at a fever pitch, but yet make us wonder, is it our minds or is it real? This novel has been compared with Rosemary’s Baby, and while I see the comparison, I thought it was more akin to something Stephen King would write (The Secret Garden). But, really who cares? Bedbugs will keep you guessing. It was a great, satisfying, grabs-you-and-won’t-let-go (how fitting!) kind of story. I read it in three hours. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Laura Lippman is a master storyteller. I haven't read all of her novels, but those I've read have impressed me. And, here she goes again with The Most Dangerous Thing.
Five kids start out as pre-teen friends: three brothers, Tim, Sean and Gordon and two girls, unlikely acquaintances, Gwen and Mickey. What happens to them as they play in the woods in the 1980s will shape them as adults, even as they grow further and further apart. Why can't you talk about that particular incident? What would you do to be popular? What would you do to save someone? How does your conscience grow or deteriorate as you age?
Lippman asks these questions, but as an incredible bonus, she tosses the children's parents into the story and how their lives are shaped by the event in the woods. The parents range from poor to middle class to wealthy. How much will their lives so far keep their children safe and how much will it change it? What happens to the parents as they age? Did they do the right thing? How will they know?
When Gordon dies unexpectedly, the remaining four former friends go back in their minds to the time, for a few summers, when they were as close as friends can be and what changed everything forever.
My advice: when this novel hits the shelf, snap it up. Lippman proves again that she can write recurring characters as well as develop new ones in standalone stories that grip us. Have you talked lately to your friend from 10, 15, 30 years ago? It's not too late. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Language of Flowers qualifies as a No Chores Today (NCT) book. If you aren’t moved by this story in some way, check your pulse. You may be dead.
I hardly know where to begin. There is so much to love about this novel, the characters, the unique storyline, the writing, oh my! Vanessa Diffenbaugh gives us a glimpse of the foster care system and puts us right into Victoria’s situation as a foster child turning 18 who is getting ready to live on her own. But, she is a survivor. As we get to know Victoria, we also learn she has a well-defined need to be alone. She is most comfortable in a room, alone, with the door locked. We’re talking bathrooms, bedrooms, apartments, homes. It’s difficult for Victoria to trust anyone. All Victoria knows is that she can’t count on anyone except her social worker. Until, of course, Renata, the owner of Bloom, a flower shop, takes a chance with Victoria and both are rewarded.
But even more interesting than Victoria and her situation, is how Diffenbaugh draws us into the language of flowers. I had no idea that every flower has a specific meaning. And, really, who doesn’t love flowers? Forget your allergies. Who doesn’t love to look at a field of flowers or a lovingly tended garden? You pretty much have to be made of stone not to wonder at their creation, their ongoing beauty. Victoria had the good fortune to be placed with a foster mother, Elizabeth, who taught her each flowers’ meaning and how flowers can be used as a communication tool when words are too difficult or the right one is not available.
Throughout the novel, Diffenbaugh tells Victoria’s story from the present and from the past, weaving them together as people from Victoria’s life try to make her whole. Will Victoria be able to come to grips with what happened while she lived with Elizabeth? Will Victoria allow Renata, to help her establish herself as the master flower arranger she is? And, will Victoria allow Grant, a person from her past, to see the kind of person she really is and who she could grow to be? Almost every person in Victoria’s life uses flowers as a form of expression and communication, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there are times when words just aren’t enough.
Take the time to sit down with this glorious novel that explores the foster system, motherhood, second chances, human frailty, betrayal, love and forgiveness. You will be amazed. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
So you thought you loved John Hart’s last novel, The Last Child? Forget about it. Okay, okay, so you did when you read it, but I guarantee that after you’ve read Iron House, The Last Child will be merely a fond memory. Hart drops you right into the middle of the action and it doesn’t stop until you close the book. I absolutely crave books like this. There is so much action in this novel, even I didn’t need as much caffeine as I usually do.
We meet Michael and Elena. You just know something horrible is going to happen because the situation seems too perfect. It’s morning, the lovers are waking up, ah, it’s grand. That’s the last of the quiet for the rest of the 400-plus pages. Michael is trying to hide his real, past life from Elena. And you know, that whenever that happens, all hell breaks loose. Michael was one of the key players in a mob organization. Michael was found when he was a teenager on the street by a mob boss, Kaitlin. Kaitlin’s second-in-command, Jimmy, takes young Michael under his wing and trains him as a killer. And, Michael has turned out to be pretty good at it. The thing is, Michael wants out of the life. Elena is pregnant and he wants a real, normal life with her. Kaitlin is dying and grants Michael his wish. Jimmy and Stevan, Kaitlin’s son, don’t want to let Michael leave. Oh boy.
Now, we still haven’t met Julian. Julian is Michael’s brother. They were abandoned when Julian was a baby and Michael, not much older. The orphanage they were eventually taken to came to be known as Iron House. It was a life where you adapt or get eaten alive. Julian wasn’t capable of adapting well. Something occurs just at the moment when everything could finally go right for the brothers. It shapes their lives and ends up with Michael in a life of crime while Julian manages to get adopted.
How has Julian survived? Will he survive when Michael’s life is in danger? Will Kaitlin’s son let Michael walk away? What about Elena? And, how will Julian’s adoptive family handle Michael’s appearance into Julian’s life? There are so many twists, turns, plots and subplots that are so expertly woven together, I promise you, no scorecard needed.
Iron House is a rip-roaring, nail biting read. Superbly written with beautiful descriptions of the East coast and dialog so well done, only Robert B. Parker’s done it as well, in my opinion.
Turn off your phone. Grab your beverage of choice, make sure a snack or two is available and put your feet up. This is one of the books I call a, “No Chores Today” books. Just block out the entire day and don’t even think about feeling guilty. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Summer We Came to Life is one of those novels where I advise: push through the first 50 pages or so, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.
Cloyed takes us on a vicarious tour of her characters' lives. Okay, initially, you won’t think it’s so hot’nsteamin’ – but trust me, it’ll be worth it. We meet Samantha, Isabel and Kendra who are the life-long friends of Mina, who has recently died from cancer. The friends did everything together – celebrated all their achievements – all of life’s joys. They traveled together, even taking their parents (!!) with them. When Mina is diagnosed with cancer, the friends are pulled apart.
Samantha is on a vacation in Honduras, and having a crisis, when Isabel and her parents and Kendra’s parents pop on down to join her. Kendra doesn’t make the trip with them. Each of the friends has been given a journal written by Mina, especially for each of them. As is always the case with a group of friends, there is (nope, no exceptions) a pairing within the group that is closer than the group dynamic. This seems to be the case with Mina and Samantha. But what is apparent, is that Mina’s efforts in keeping the journals has kept her alive in her friends’ hearts long after she’s gone.
I was just about to chuck the book when something monumental happens. It was even way past my allotted 50-75 pages I usually give novels (so many books, so little time – why waste it on a lousy book?). I was so taken up with this that I cut Cloyed slack for a bit of gobblety-gook in the middle of the story. I hope you like this part as much as I did.
Learn again what it’s like to love, to feel, to have friendships so extraordinary you can’t imagine living without them, to share dreams, to watch the dreams come alive and to have that second chance. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
There is so much to like about this book, I don’t know where to start. I’ll do my best. My friend and I saw Jodi Picoult at a local event for Sing You Home when it was first released. I don’t care what people say, there’s something about hearing an author read his work and talk about it, that gives me shivers and tingles every time. Picoult has so much passion about writing, storytelling and trying to get it all right, you can’t help but want to see what she comes up with next. What made the book event even more satisfying, was the music CD included with the novel. Jodi Picoult wrote the lyrics and Ellen Wilber, who accompanied Picoult at the event, wrote the music and performed songs from the CD (“Sammy’s Song” is my favorite). A reading AND a concert in one - simply magnificent.
Sing You Home introduces us to Zoe and Max Baxter who have tried for nine years to have a child. At first, both want nothing more than to have children. They have used in vitro on more than one occasion and are financially ruined because of it. At one point it becomes clear that the desire for a child has shifted from both of them to only one. What follows is a story of betrayal, misunderstanding, love and hope.
Watch closely as the cast of characters is introduced, including Vanessa Shaw, someone Zoe grows to love; Zoe’s mother, Dara (I think it’s safe to say, we’d like a bit of Dara in all our mothers); Lucy, one of Zoe’s clients; Pastor Clive; and Reid and Liddy, Max’s brother and sister-in-law.
Zoe is a music therapist and consequently, music shapes her life. There is a melody that runs through this novel and Zoe and her music are at the heart of it. The characters are well-drawn and promote definite feelings in us as we read.
I did tire of Picoult’s method of shifting narrator POV each chapter. It’s time she tried something new, or old, for that matter. The alternating typeface was getting on my nerves too. There are so many hot issues introduced in Sing You Home, it amazes me how Picoult links them into one story. Maybe a bit much to absorb and that seems to be recurring in Picoult’s work in the last several years. However, her attention to research, facts and their presentation cannot be beat.
I confess here that I did not read the end of the book, something I routinely do (I HAVE to know it’s going to work out). I was about ready to whip to page 466 when I groused to my friend that everything had better end well. She said, “just wait until you get to the end.” Oh, no, did that mean I was going to have to hurl this book across the room (yes, yes, I know, it’s a petulant act, but sometimes a book has to be hurled)? I did not tell her my plan to sneak a peek. For once in my life, I did as I was told. I closed the book; I cried, then I called my son to tell him again how much I love him. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Reading Sixkill was bittersweet for me. This is the last book written by Robert B. Parker. I will never read a new story with Spenser, Hawk, Susan and Pearl, the Wonder Dog. Robert B. Parker died last year. I cried when I heard he died. I cried again when I read the eulogy written by his son. Parker could take five words and string together English that would make me weep, smile, laugh or even think, “He’s absolutely right.” Parker could also create a character and dialog for the character that was so completely believable the character could have been sitting right next to me. You can tell, can’t you, that Robert B. Parker was one of my favorite authors? I routinely re-read his books – Spenser is Parker’s greatest creation, in my opinion – and I am always amazed at how satisfying a reading experience it is for me.
On to Sixkill. Zebulon Sixkill is a Cree Native American who has the misfortune of working for Jumbo as a bodyguard. Jumbo is a creep of the highest degree. He’s a movie star who is quite sure everyone in the world is just waiting for him to grace them with his presence. It’s even worse than this, but I can’t be more direct without offending my readers. When one of Jumbo’s female fans is found dead in his room, Jumbo finally begins to realize that perhaps all is not going according to plan. Sixkill decides it’s time for a career change.
Enter Quirk, a Boston police Captain who has a business relationship with Spenser. Occasionally, Spenser has the ability and connections to accomplish more than Quirk or his staff can accomplish in putting away criminals. This is one of those times. Quirk has come to Spenser’s office to hire him to find out who killed Jumbo’s fan. The film company connected to Jumbo knows it’s in its best interest to find Jumbo innocent so Jumbo’s latest film makes boatloads of money.
Spenser takes the job and in the meantime, takes Sixkill under his wing. Sixkill kicks his drug and drinking problems with Spenser’s help and discipline. They make a great team and end up finding out more than they really wanted to know about Jumbo, the film company and how the fan was killed.
Spenser isn't without flaws, but he is human and Parker has written Spenser to be one of the best people we'll meet - imperfections and all. The snappy dialog and crisp storytelling is all here and will keep you carrying around the book until you're finished. I can’t help but think that Parker was warming us up for Sixkill to take Hawk’s place or at the very least, stand in for Hawk on occasion. What a pity we’ll never know. I enjoyed Sixkill, and I confess I dragged out reading it as long as I thought I could. Reading Parker is food for the soul. I didn’t want to close the back cover on the last new words I’ll read by Robert B. Parker – one of the truly great writers of my lifetime. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Let’s talk about Luanne Rice. Her latest novel is called The Silver Boat. We meet three sisters right after their mother has died. Dar, Rory and Delia really want to keep the family home located on the East Coast. They all have fond memories even if two of them have moved away and have homes elsewhere. Those of us of a certain age understand the dilemma (score points for Rice). Their father left them early on and had minimum contact with his family. Their father was off in Ireland trying to prove he and his family were entitled to land. During the awful cleaning and sorting that always occurs when a parent passes, the sisters come across letters from their father that leads them to believe there was merit to their father’s claim. But, there are still the nagging taxes and upkeep for the house. What to do?
Dar, the oldest sister is the one who has had it the roughest. She never married, is a writer/graphic artist and is a recovering alcoholic. Coincidently, she and one of her childhood friends are romantically involved, and he too, is a recovering alcoholic. Dar was the closest to her father of the sisters and cuts him the most slack for virtually abandoning his family.
Rory is the middle sister and has issues of her own. She’s married to a man who strays more often than a neighborhood tomcat. Alas, she loves him.
Delia the youngest sister has a son who doesn’t talk much to his family unless he needs cash for another fix. Dar tries to help.
Wait until you see how the sisters pull together and reach out to help each other, just the way sisters do. And, as the case in families, how well do we know the ones we love? Dar, Rory and Delia discover parts of their parents’ lives they never guessed and they each find a way to forgive.
Rice has the talent to move a story along as she creates memorable characters. Her descriptions of landscapes both in the U.S. and in Ireland are breathtaking. She can also take the family dynamic of three sisters and make us believe it. It’s remarkable storytelling (more points for Rice).
My complaints with Rice’s work over the last five or so years is that she’s lost the sharpness of writing and routinely strong story lines she had early in her career. Some of her later novels seem formulaic. Lucky for me I’ve read her from the beginning. If you’ve only just met Luanne Rice and enjoy her work from the last few years, pick up Blue Moon, Home Fires and Follow the Stars Home. These are early novels that are so crisp, so precise and so completely well-done, you’ll wonder what took you so long to read them. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Linda Fairstein is a staple author in the mystery genre. She is wildly prolific and routinely writes characters we'd like to know.
Fairstein's back with Silent Mercy, set in her beloved New York City. The usual cast is back including Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper, Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace to investigate a series of murders all staged at various churches around the city. All the victims are women and they all have a history that makes them a target. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Fairstein tells the story in first person from Alexandra Cooper's point of view. Amazingly, though Cooper has lead an privileged life (she has a beautiful apartment, wears expensive clothing and has a home on Martha's Vineyard), she seems to be able to get into the heads of the criminals. Chapman and Wallace are constants in Cooper's life as are her immediate supervisor and the district attorney - always worrying about his next chance in an election. These touches (Chapman's cool, but caring; Wallace is rock-solid and a family man; the DA is greedy and highly political) give realism to the story that Cooper's lifestyle does not (Cooper has a French restaurateur significant other, can you imagine?).
Fairstein also manages to toss in subplots that keep us guessing. Overall, Silent Mercy is what you would expect from Linda Fairstein: a good read that takes us away from our lives and into a world we only want to read about. She has a decent pace and knows when it's time to wrap up the loose threads without galloping to the end (WHAT - I've written 350 pages?? I have to hurry up and finish!!). Pick up Silent Mercy and snuggle in.
This is a very light read without gore, mystery and such, but with some strange moments in Barb Barrett’s life. She is a recently divorced woman who has no real plan for survival. Her husband has run her life for years and Barb and their two children are completely dragged along. We meet Barb as she’s trying to make a fresh start. She has issues. She hasn’t worked in years, but manages to find a job at the local (tiny, east coast town) dairy answering customer service mail. It’s great because she can do it at home – in comfortable clothes. Heck, she doesn’t have to get dressed for days. She’s lost the custody of her children and her ex-husband has taken up with the social worker assigned to the case. It gets worse. Barb is cleaning one day and finds a manuscript. The house was rented at one time to Vladimir Nabokov (that naughty man who wrote Lolita). Naturally, Barb assumes the manuscript was written by Nabokov. In the short time between her divorce and moving into the house, Barb’s has had almost no umph. Now she’s pumped with new life. She immediately tries to shop the manuscript and meets an agent who happens to live in her town (personally, I thought this was a huge stretch, but I overlooked it for the sake of the story). Wait until you see how she manages her life when the manuscript adventure isn’t going as she’d like. Gradually, Barb meets more people in the town – which is good for her – and she has more contact with her children – excellent for her and she begins to find out who she’s been and who can she and will become. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
What do you do when your life is going so well, maybe TOO well and then, without warning, you do something so incredibly stupid? Why, you go to jail, of course. I’m not making light of Allison Glenn’s plight. This is what happened to her. The time she relaxed for just a moment; the moment when she allowed herself to do what she wanted to do instead of what everyone else wanted her to do; the second she failed to plan or think ahead; that’s when her life fell completely apart and she landed in jail. We’ve all had experiences like this; perhaps not to this extreme – hopefully NOT to this extreme – but a point in our lives when we let our guard down. The story opens as Allison is released from jail. We really don’t know what she was in jail for, just that it was something hideous. (There are those of us who sometimes read the last few pages of the book just to be sure the story is going to turn out how we want/need it to turn out. I warn you – don’t do it. Close the book and walk away for a bit. Do not read the last few pages.) Let the book take you. Let Gudenkauf guide you through the story where you’ll meet every person in Allison’s life who in some way contributed to her downfall or who was there to help. Allison’s sister, Brynn and their grandmother are major parts of their lives and, certainly, their parents. But we’re surprised to meet a local bookseller and her family who offer unexpected help and unexpected discoveries that will keep those pages turning. These Things Hidden is a No Chores Today book. Plan your weekend around it. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
So, we meet Rigg and his father in a world that seems from long ago. They are fur trappers and make a reasonable living. Rigg is 13 and seems to enjoy his life with his father who teaches Rigg about the world, history and how to manage Rigg's gift: Rigg has the ability to "see" the paths of others. He can tell where people have walked, traveled...it's remarkable and comes in handy. When Rigg's father dies unexpectedly, Rigg goes to the town where his father has told him to meet up with a local merchant, who they routinely work with, to guide him and give Rigg items from his father. Rigg is surprised at what he is told, but willingly accepts the information. In the meantime, Rigg meets up with an old friend and they go off in search of Rigg's sister. Rigg learns that all is not what it seems and his life is not what he thinks it is and nothing is remotely like it was. The Pathfinder is geared toward teens, but like the Harry Potter series and books like The Book Thief, you don't have to be of that tender age to enjoy a great read. I do think you need a score card handy: there are a lot of characters, events, history and plot lines to remember, absorb and blindly believe. Read carefully to not miss a moment. (This is the start of a series.) - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Here is the sequel to Waiting to Exhale. We catch up with the four friends first introduced in Waiting to Exhale: Gloria, Savannah, Robin and Bernadine. If you enjoyed your first meeting, you’ll enjoy this meeting – it might be best to read Getting to Happy instead of Waiting to Exhale. It’s just my opinion, but I think McMillan does a good enough job of describing the four friends and their unique relationships with each other, you don’t need the first book unless you must see their younger selves. All are basically kicked in the teeth by the middle of the novel and it is their journey to Happy that is most impressive. These are all women in the middle of middle-age and their perseverance was phenomenal. I confess that I did tire of the slapstick speak, random cursing that seemed out of character and some wildly stereotypical behavior by all the characters that was disconcerting. It seemed as though McMillan tried to pile on all the horrible events of the last 15 years and make them integral parts of the novel. I cringe and get irritated when authors do that. It seems so cheap, so beneath their skills, when really good authors don’t trust their writing enough to just, well, write. McMillan did say she wanted the book to leave readers hopeful and that is accomplished. By the way: my favorite of the women is Gloria. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Do you miss Tony Hillerman? William Kent Krueger is an extraordinary companion to Hillerman when you’re in the mood for great writing (Krueger’s descriptions of Minnesota seasons and landscapes left me breathless), real characters (recurring, Native American) and situations, you can’t miss with Krueger. Hillerman always gave us intriguing mysteries with a Native American influence and better than average recurring (though truly human) characters. Krueger does all this, with perhaps a bit more spice. Former sheriff Cork O’Connor and his wife, Jo are trying to get back to the good life they had with their children before each decided to try stepping out on their lives and each other. It’s a long way back, but they are doing their best. No longer sheriff, Cork contents himself (for the most part) by running a small burger shop with his teenaged daughters. Of course, there is an ever-present current of events that needs his expertise. Cork is part Anishinaabel/Ojibwe so he moves with ease between the Native American world and the white man’s world. This comes in handy when Karl Lindstrom’s lumber mill is almost destroyed. Cork steps in to help the current sheriff solve the crime. We meet John LePere, a Native American who can’t understand why life has dealt him such a blow as to be the only surviving member of his family. A freighter accident takes his brother. What can he do about it? And, Grace Fitzgerald, wealthy in her own right, married Karl Lindstrom after her first husband dies. Grace writes about times past and present and uses her life as a basis for her writing. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
New to the U.S. market, Sophie Hannah, won’t be unknown long. The Wrong Mother is definitely a “No Chores Today” read. Pick up The Wrong Mother for the weekend and just forget about the laundry – or toss in a load, curl up with a coffee and Danish (okay, okay, a yogurt or high fiber of choice) and dig in. The first 30 pages or so are a bit strange, but don’t you dare put down this book. It all comes together soon enough. Sally Thorning’s life is hectic. She has two small children, a full time job and a husband, Nick, who has no clue what it takes for Sally to keep their life together. He just knows it runs pretty smoothly and he has to do almost nothing. It’s all good. When Sally has an opportunity to zip off (sans kids and hubby) to a week-long conference for work, well, heck, she can’t wait. The conference is cancelled. Sally decides not to tell Nick. Nope, she doesn’t fill in Nick on the particulars.She takes the trip. All is well when Sally arrives at the hotel. It’s exactly what she needs. But, Sally isn’t prepared when she meets Mark Bretherick at the hotel and they spend the week together. It’s a meeting between strangers with no strings. Nothing else happens between Sally and Mark after the week together. But when Sally sees a news report saying that Geraldine and Lucy Bretherick are dead and husband/father Mark’s picture isn’t the same Mark Bretherick Sally spent a week with, her mind goes into a spin. Geraldine and Lucy were the names of Mark’s wife and daughter. It can’t be a coincidence. Who did she spend a week with? Are you confused? Wait, soon (in about 150 pages) you’ll be so wrapped up looking for clues with Sally, you won’t realize that load of laundry’s done and it’s time for the dryer. Don’t even try to guess what’s going to happen. I guarantee you’ll be wrong. Books like this are why reading’s so good for us. Hannah’s supporting cast of Sally’s friends and the police round out a fabulous book that will make you wonder where the day went. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
When a writer is this good, why does he need a pen name? Benjamin Black is John Banville (The Sea). No matter – this writer can write literary pieces and mysteries alike. I don’t care what he calls himself as long as he keeps writing. We meet Quirke again. Perhaps you’ll remember him from Christine Falls. Quirke is the Irish pathologist from the 1960s who can’t/won’t leave any “not right” event alone. Quirke is called upon by an old school chum, Billy Hunt, for a favor. Hunt’s wife, Deirdre has just died under circumstances that suggest suicide, but Billy asks Quirke to forgo an autopsy. He simply can’t bear to have his wife “carved up.” Quirke, being Quirke, dives in to the case, to his detriment, to solve what really happened. Through the novel, we encounter Quirke’s daughter, Phoebe, who has not fully accepted Quirke as her father. She becomes entwined in the Hunt case as Quirke digs deeper and deeper into Deirdre’s death. We cheer on Quirke while we boo and hiss Leslie White, the rotten suave rat who makes a mess of Deirdre’s life. Watch how Black unfolds the story. You will enjoy his unique storytelling touches and his clever methods as drops both subtle and meaty clues for us to devour. (Read Christine Falls first and be sure to catch the next book with Quirke: Elegy for April.) - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
WOW! I heard about this book a few weeks ago and decided I just HAD to read it before anything else. What a superb read!
Eric Shaw is down on his luck. He was an up-and-coming movie guy – he could find the right shot no matter what; Eric just tended to shoot off his mouth a bit. He is married to a great gal, Claire, who he alienated – not good. He has a tiny ego issue too. He’s not in the movie business when we meet him. He’s working in his own business putting together slide shows and collages for funerals. Eric is really good at this and his latest one, well, is the best one yet. Alyssa Bradford’s sister dies. Something Eric did with the slideshow, prompts Alyssa to hire Eric. The money is great, by the way.
Alyssa wants Eric to find out all he can about her father-in-law. He’s a mysterious guy, but she just thinks it would be interesting to know something more about him. Eric gets himself into some dicey situations with the living and the dead AND some crazy old water. Each piece is related to Alyssa’s father-in-law, the water and the towns of French Lick and West Baden. Hang ON!
There is so much to love about this book, you owe it to yourself to wrap your hands around it for a day or two. Koryta manages to capture your imagination in the first several pages – So Cold the River was impossible to put down. I recommend an autumn weekend outside, So Cold the River, a beverage of choice and NO interruptions.
- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Aw heck, who wants to work when you’ve got a book like The Fall to read? This is a “No Chores Today” book. It’s rare for me to praise collaborative books, but here it is! Amazing! If you love to be scared out of your wits and feel immense pleasure in cheering for the good guys, you have to read this novel, second in a trilogy (refer to my review of The Strain). Okay, you have to like reading about vampires too. The Fall picks up where The Strain left off where Dr. Eph Goodweather is joined by a mighty force of vampire killers who try to rid the New York City metropolis of this vampire scourge. Toss in the Ancients, a group of vampires from way back (old school) who don’t like how this new strain of vampires is messing up the Ancients’ delicate balance established between vampires and humans and you’ve got a story that doesn’t quit. And, trust me, there are enough twists and turns, ups and downs, thrills and chills, you’ll run out to the grocery for more flashlights, matches and garlic – just to be safe. Don’t forget the crosses. And some silver. The human emotional aspect of the newly created vampires shown in The Strain and The Fall gives a different tilt to what we know of vampires. Watch for this in all the recently “turned” vampires. You’ll be torn between who they were before tragedy struck and what they have become. Authors del Toro and Hogan manage to create a tale of drama, supernatural and rip-roaring suspense that will make you stay up way past your bedtime, every light on in the house. The last night of reading for me gave me a lousy 2-1/2 hours of sleep for the next day. No matter what you think you know about vampires, you’ll still be learning what they are capable of and need to know more. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
No Good Deeds is a Tess Monaghan novel. Tess is one of Lippman’s recurring characters. Tess is a private investigator, based in Baltimore and she’s just making ends meet. She even takes a job giving a workshop to journalists. It pays the bills. Her boyfriend, Crow Ransome doesn’t help the money situation. He borrows Tess’s new-to-her car and manages to confront Lloyd Jupiter, a young black man who happens to be part of team of two young men who vandalizes Tess’s car. Crow brings Lloyd to the home he shares with Tess. Crow eventually makes Tess understand his reasoning, but by the end of the evening, so much has happened, it’s almost a moot point. Follow Tess and Crow as they find out how Lloyd is involved in a high-profile U.S. Attorney’s murder and how they try to keep Lloyd safe. It’s a gripping mystery that keeps you guessing until the end. There is greed, corruption, murder, FBI guys, DEA guys, philanthropy and obvious good guys and bad guys. No Good Deeds makes you imagine when you do what you have to do when you’re sure you can’t. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Part one of a trilogy – if you love vampires and the suspense and horror that goes with them, you’re going to shut yourself in a room (put yourself in the corner so you can see all the windows) and read this book from cover to cover. Personally, this book was so satisfying, I can’t wait to snuggle up with number two (I’ll need something of a silver nature as protection). You know the Twilight series – where the vampires are hot’nsteamin’ and refrain from killing humans, right? Ah – the vampires in The Strain are NOTHING like the Twilight vampires. These vampires are dirty, smelly, disgusting and there is no way you want to be in arm’s reach of these wretches. It all starts when a flight from Europe lands in New York City and no one gets off the plane. Dr. Eph Goodweather, a doc with the CDC, is called in to find out why everyone is dead (or are they?). This isn’t the only problem Eph has, though you’d think 300+ dead passengers (and no apparent cause) would be enough to rock a doc’s world. No, his family’s falling apart. His 11 year old son, Zack, wants to spend time with Eph, but ex-wife, Kelly doesn’t think being with EPH is a good idea. No Stability, Eph runs off to the next crisis no matter if it’s his time to be with Zack. This added to the very brief affair Eph had with a close co-worker, well, geez, this guy’s got a load of worry. But, he hasn’t seen anything yet. We are privileged to watch Eph and his team (with added help from unexpected sources) try to beat back these vile vampires of all shapes and sizes who are vampires by no choice of their own. Even the vampire who’s running the show didn’t have a choice in his situation. Of course, there is one human who wouldn’t mind having a crack at immortality and will stop at nothing to get it. This book was enhanced for me by the superlative voice of Ron Perlman (he worked with del Toro on the Hellboy movies). Perlman deftly gave deep bass tones and splendid European accents where they belonged. I can’t wait for The Fall, second in this series. The message from the flight deck is: Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It’s definitely going to be a bumpy night. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Again, I’m late to the party. This time, it’s the Laura Lippman party. I can’t wait to read another book written by Lippman. I’ve commented before about book covers and how certain covers draw me in; I’d Know You Anywhere grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Definitely a “NO CHORES TODAY” book. Eliza Benedict has a secret. She’s kept it from everyone except her parents and husband for a very long time. It started when she was 15 and known as “Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was abducted and held captive for six weeks. Elizabeth traveled all over with the man, Walter Bowman, and it’s always been a mystery why the abduction turned out as it did. As Eliza, builds her adult life, she graduates from college, marries, has children and leads a wonderfully ordinary life that suits her. You’ll love her husband (even though he may seem over-the-top in the “understanding” department). All is very well until she receives a letter from Bowman, on death row for other abducted girls’ murders, asking Eliza to re-live what happened that six weeks they were together. You will be amazed at how Bowman and his supporter work the art of manipulation to an art form. In the midst of this, Eliza must also cope with the contact of one of the murdered girls’ parents. A riveting good read! - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I say this every time I finish a Pat Conroy novel: This may be his best yet and has become one of my favorite books. All Conroy’s novels have this deep effect on me and keep me thinking about them long after closed the book. I think that’s the sign of a superb writer, don’t you? Leo King is our narrator and Conroy’s vehicle for illustrating to us once again that there are differences between classes and people within those classes and it’s how we choose to deal with these classes and differences that shows what we’re made of. Like all of Conroy’s male protagonists, Leo has much to deal with in his young life when we first meet him. His brother killed himself at ten years old and no one knows why. It doesn’t seem as though anyone has tried to find out either. It’s accepted as a fact of life. It happens to be Leo’s bad luck that his brother was the favorite – the golden child. Leo worshiped his older brother, but could never reach the heights he did in the family. Leo’s parents are both teachers; his mother is the principal at his high school. There’s more about Leo’s mother which will raise your eyebrows, but I won’t spoil it for you and don’t read the book jacket! The central part of the novel is Leo’s friendships made throughout school. There are orphans, odd twins, and two ultra-rich, high society kids. The bonds made in high school last a lifetime and are of the extraordinary type where even with no contact for years, they still pick up their friendships where they left off when last they spoke. The friends prove they will do anything for each other – the test of true friendships. Conroy makes us laugh even while we cry, feeds our hearts while we nod knowingly, gives us resolution without a neat bow and leaves us wanting more. Conroy is such an excellent writer, I always wish he were more prolific, but then perhaps, it just wouldn’t be the same. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
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I always tell myself I’m not much for period pieces, but I barely get the words out of my mouth and I find myself turning the pages of yet another period piece. I usually surprise myself by having something positive to say, too. Never say never.
The Postmistress – what a delight. If you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress is for you. E.M. Forster wrote at the beginning of Howards End, “Only connect…” and we find that drive to “connect” prevalent in The Postmistress. The novel opens during close to present day with an unidentified character reflecting on the possibility of not delivering a letter. Blake then whisks us back to Europe, 1940 where the U.S. has not yet entered what will become WWII. We meet Frankie Bard, a female reporter working in London, who decides she really must see more of the war.
Back in the U.S., in Franklin, a small New England town, we meet Iris James, The Postmistress who takes her job very seriously. Iris passes on each of the town’s inhabitants’ secrets. One of her own secrets is her feelings for Harry Vale. Both a little older, they seek out each other. Will and Emma Fitch, much younger than Iris and Harry, also manage to find each other. It will be the decisions made by Frankie, Iris, Harry, Will and Emma that will shape the story and bring to our heart the need to connect with someone else.
I can’t say which part of the story I liked more, but perhaps that’s not important. What’s more important is Blake’s way of drawing us in to these two very different, but connected stories: one in Europe and one in theU.S. We see how people deal with war – when they're in the middle of it or when it touches them where they live.
Frankie’s radio broadcasts will chill you with their timeless sadness and the refugees we meet in her travels through Europe will make you hug your loved ones just a bit harder, keep them just a bit closer.
- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Nina Revskaya is an older Russian ballerina living in the U.S. She’s had a good life, but a rough one. She’s been lucky to have a great career and to be loved. We meet Nina while she reflects on her life as she puts her jewelry collection up for auction. She will donate the proceeds. Nina’s quite sure she’s doing the right thing, but is she? What truths are held in the amber?
Nina is haunted by her memories as the auction house representative, Drew Brooks delves into the jewelry’s history. Nina recalls her stellar career and marriage to Viktor Elsin, a poet and moments with her friend, fellow ballerina, Vera. Her marriage was, at first glance, magical, but when friendships become entangled, the magic is gone and the realities of Russia under Stalin’s rule make life beyond difficult. Not only is her marriage strained, but solid friendships are shaken.
In the present, Nina is contacted on several occasions by Grigori Solodin who has a piece of jewelry that matches hers and he has translated Viktor’s poems into English. What is Grigori’s other link to Nina’s past and how is it Grigori has a piece of jewelry matching her collection?
Kalotay does an excellent job of weaving past and present without using any clunky plot devices. The two separate, but linked stories read beautifully and neatly from page to page. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
We’re back with Cork O’Connor, Krueger’s fantastic recurring character, who is perfect because he’s flawed and, well, he’s likeable.
We like Cork for a myriad of reasons, but the opening scene of Blood Hollow illustrates just one reason: he never really gives up. Charlotte Kane, the young daughter of a wealthy widower, has disappeared. Cork is part of the search party. There’s a blizzard (well, it IS Minnesota) and even though the sheriff insists he should come in,Cork knows he has to try just one more place Charlotte might be. No, she isn’t there, but at least Cork tries. It is his willingness to keep persevering that makes us like him.
Blood Hollow is the search for Charlotte’s body and, perhaps her killer. The new sheriff thinks he’s got the mystery solved when he arrests Charlotte’s former boyfriend, Solemn Winter Moon. Blood Hollow touches on racism, faith, bullying, love, friendship and our need to have something more than faith to believe in. There are several twists, turns, re-directs, ups, downs as Cork digs for the truth. Another “No Chores Today” read. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Help is the story of one white woman’s attempt to show how black maids were treated by white employers. Set in the 60s, The Help takes us on a wild ride throughJackson, MS at the height of racism in the U.S. The Help is told through the eyes of Aibilene, Minny and Skeeter (Eugenia). Skeeter is the young white woman who wants to see a change. She approaches Aibilene, her friend’s maid and asks the simple question, “Do you ever wish you could…change things?” And, of course, Aibilene does. Soon Aibilene’s friend, Minny is in the mix, a sassy (in a delightful way), irreverent younger maid who just wants to provide for her family. The three women meet in the evenings to put together incidents from their lives into a book that Skeeter is trying to get published. The obstacles and near discovery the three surmount are at once scary and unbelieveable. The character sketches drawn will have you shaking your head in disbelief and understanding. I know I've met some of these characters. My favorite parts of the book were when the maids described, well, pretty much anything, from the white women’s silliness to the weather, to Miss Celia’s pathetic attempt to cook. Stockett gives amazing voice to Aibilene and Minny while never missing a detail or nuance. I admit when this book came out and it seemed to be the rage, I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon with millions of readers. Once again, I’m forced to admit I was wrong. But, when a book is this good, this strong, this thought-provoking, this well-written, it’s a transgression I’ll easily confess. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
You like dogs and you loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle? Forget about it. Solomon’s Oak is the book to read for dog lovers. Solomon’s Oak takes dog loving to another planet. In my opinion, Jo-Ann Mapson’s latest does a much better job of illustrating the impact pets (mostly dogs) have on our lives. Mapson is one of the rare authors who writes male and female characters well and is not afraid to put strong characters in supporting roles. In Solomon’s Oak we meet Glory Solomon, a widow, who is trying to handle her grief (husband Dan hasn’t been dead a year when we first meet Glory) and make ends meet. In the midst of her despair, an unlikely source of income opens up the next segment of her life in more ways than she could ever imagine. Glory and Dan never had children of their own, but they made a beautiful life of rescuing children and pets. They have served as foster parents to several children, mostly boys, who have gone on to make good, solid lives for themselves. It’s given Glory and Dan much satisfaction through the years. The pets they have rescued include border collies and a wonderfully precocious Italian Greyhound. The story opens with a wedding. Glory is providing the venue and the food for this unlikely pirate-themed wedding. I know, I know, what the heck?? But it works. Glory has this enormous, completely out of the ordinary, oak tree and a chapel that serve as the backdrop for the pirate and wench as they exchange vows. Glory enlists the aid of grown foster kids as her wait staff and everything is moving along well until the social worker Glory usually works with calls her with a special case: a teenaged girl needs a place to stay, just for the night. Can Glory help? In walks Juniper McGuire who desperately needs someone to love, she just doesn’t know it yet. We are also introduced to Joseph Vigil who comes into Glory and Juniper’s lives in the nick of time and he turns life into even more of an adventure. Mapson shows us the infinite possibilities in life as long as we stay open and ready to embrace them. Also try Hank and Chloe. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Pack your bags! We’re going to Italy! Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, but do we really? Juliet makes us re-think all our notions of this timeless love story. Fortier bases her novel on extensive research done by her mother, (which places the story in Sienna, not Verona) and weaves the love story anew with intimate details, quotes from Shakespeare and characters drawn between centuries that will keep you fascinated. Use a scorecard (scorecards are our friends) for the jumps between present day and the 1300s. It’s worth the effort. We meet Julie Jacobs just after her Aunt Rose dies. Aunt Rose has cared for Julie and her sister Janice, since their mother died when they were small. Though twins, Julie and Janice give new meaning to “mixing like oil and water.” Julie is driven by her love of Shakespeare (from her mother’s perseverance) and her relatively quiet life. Janice prefers taking chances and is the louder, more rambunctious of the two. Aunt Rose told them little about their parents except that their mother died in a car crash. Aunt Rose was also never supportive about them traveling anywhere, especially to Italy. Umberto, a house servant of sorts, joins the family early in the sisters’ lives and helps sustain the home. Aunt Rose dies unexpectedly when the sisters are adults and the contents of her will and their mother’s personal items left behind, send the house into a spin. Julie is given the key to a safe-deposit box in a bank in Italy. Julie traipses to Italy where she discovers places her parents lived, worked and visited during their short time together. The contents of the safety-deposit box lead Julie on a hunt to find out what really happened to her ancestor, Giuletta, the true “Juliet,” and her love, Romeo. Janice is left back in the States, twisting in the wind, until she takes matters into her own hands. Well, now you knew that was going to happen, didn’t you? Excellent mix of intrigue, family discord, good guys, bad guys, guys you’re not sure of, romance – basically the whole shebang. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
We’ve all been excited for this novel and with good reason. Justin Cronin departs from the genre of his two earlier works and let’s just say, he departs with a bang. The Passage is set in the future and follows a disastrous attempt by the government to improve what is already working just fine. The first 100 pages of The Passage are the meat of the story where we are introduced to the catalyst – the Army and the people who will ultimately shape the course of the story. The premise – someone takes another’s idea, ruins it, and makes part of the world go wildly stupid. The cleanup is left to the rest of the human race with a few standing out as leaders. Amy, an unlikely source of strength, leads groups of humans as they combat the results of experiments gone horribly wrong. The Passage is chock full of subplots, hops in the timeline from the near future to far into the future, intrigue, massive foreshadowing, and characters drawn so well there’s no doubt about their appearance – their souls Cronin has left up to our imagination. You’ll want a scorecard for plots and characters through the middle of the book. There are numerous themes and, at times, it seems as though Cronin struggles with where to take us next, but the ending screams sequel. Justin Cronin wrote an epic novel, and follows in the footsteps of extraordinary authors who wrote extraordinary novels. As you read his book, you will have flashes of Stephen King (The Stand, The Dark Tower Series), Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), David Brin (The Postman), and Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Congo). If you loved The Summer Guest and Mary and O’Neil, Cronin’s earlier works, you owe it to yourself to pick up this doorstop of a novel so you can see how Cronin as stretched himself. You won’t be disappointed. And, on a personal note: Even though I thought the book was a tad long, I didn’t think twice about carrying this 700-plus page epic with me on vacation, on a plane, in my carry-on bag. (What? – ALL my books for trips travel in my carry-on bag. What would I do if my books were in a CHECKED bag and the bag was….LOST? I can only read the cereal box for so long.) My point is you will not want to let this book out of your sight; you will want to hold this book, turn the pages and brush them flat as you try to think one jump ahead of the storyline. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Helen Ames, recently widowed, successful author, is at a crossroads. That, and she can’t seem to write a word. Helen is trying to decide if she wants to apply for a department store job (don’t ask) or if she should do something else with her life – she doesn’t know what. In addition, she manages to drive her daughter, Tessa, (on her own and out of the house) nuts because Helen has become so dependent on Tessa to do chores around the house Helen’s husband used to do. Oh, and, Helen can’t resist offering Tessa advice. What a nightmare. When every part of Helen’s life becomes almost more than she can bear, her accountant calls with startling news. Helen has to come to grips with the knowledge that she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought and that it’s okay to let Tessa fly on her own course, make her own mistakes. Once Helen allows this for Tessa, she realizes she can do it too. You’ll want to watch Helen grow into the woman she’s always been, but didn’t know it. Toward the end of the novel, there’s a lovely piece about owning and holding books (not electronic devices), and independent bookstores. I was already completely captivated with the novel, and then Berg throws in these pages and I’m off and crying again because I do so enjoy the act of reading. Truly magnificent. If you’ve ever been a part of a couple, this book is for you. If you’re a parent, (no matter your child’s age) this book is for you. This is Berg at her exquisite best. Berg manages to hit us where we live and makes us realize the strength to believe in ourselves has been there all along. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
This book is definitely a candidate for my new book category of “No Chores Today” or NCT.
You won’t see it coming – any of it – and that’s just as well. It’s even more of a kick like that.
Irene America is clearly not a happy woman. She’s successful, has three children and one husband, who is clearly, well, I’m not going to tell you. It would spoil everything. Suffice it to say, Gil, Irene’s husband, would not be welcome in my home.
Irene indulges Gil’s artistic bents when soon after they met, he began painting her in various ways: nude, sexual, depraved – the list goes on. And if this doesn’t make you uncomfortable, his constant verbal and physical manipulation will.
Their marriage goes through all the stages some marriages go through, but the gigantic leaps and turns down dangerous life highways are what will keep you guessing and wondering how this ultimate mind game will end. Who will survive and at what cost? - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
You’ll remember Elizabeth Kostova’s name if you read The Historian. If you’ve read The Historian and aren’t sure about The Swan Thieves, given its size, put it out of your head and pick up this book. It is so different from The Historian in so many ways and yet so similar…it’s magnificent.
Robert Oliver, a renowned painter, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital after he attempts to slash a painting in the National Gallery of Art. No one can figure out what is going through his head, least of all his psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow. Marlow begins with the patient and when that produces a dead end because Oliver refuses to talk, Marlow goes in search of the truth and a way to heal his patient. We are introduced to Oliver’s ex-wife, Kate and Mary, an ex-lover.
Join Marlow as he searches between centuries to find the answer and ends up learning more about himself and Oliver.
Kostova tells a remarkable tale full of art, beautiful landscapes, blatant betrayal and rich, enthralling characters, you will be sad when you close the book. I can’t help but believe Marlow’s love of books is Kostova’s way of telling us about HER love of books. A wonderful, satisfying read, like a delicious meal for the soul between two covers. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
If you’re in a “bad patch” in life, So Much for That may not be for you. The cast of characters is huge, (they all will make you fluctuate wildly between loving them and hating them), the themes and subplots are not, at first glance, uplifting. Keep reading.
Shep Knacker has had an excellent life. He sells his successful handyman business to an employee for one million dollars. Shep is well on his way to his “After Life.” The “After Life” is Shep’s euphemism for his life away from every part of his current life that makes him unhappy. Every detail is in place and he’s ready – packed even – in fact to make the move to Africa. That is, until his wife comes home with startling news.
The storylines are indeed “ripped from the headlines” and are compelling. There are a couple of instances where Shriver has her characters on a several page soapbox (where the character beats the issue to death), but those are not central to the story. The general nature of what each character is dealing with in the novel is the true meat. The diatribes are necessary to show the character, but they do tend to get in the way.
No matter. Shriver weaves such an excellent story that touches on so many parts of real life, you’ll be unable to put the book down. I won’t promise you that you won’t be depressed – you most likely will be, but there is so much to hold on to between the covers of this superb book, you must read it. Shriver’s a master storyteller. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
(Also try: We Need to Talk About Kevin.)
I’ve been having good luck with books lately. Here’s another for my “No Chores Today” or NCT category. The house is getting to be a disaster! Dinner has been on time for weeks!
Still Missing is the story of Annie O’Sullivan’s abduction. You know from the first page that she must be okay, right? You know this because Annie is telling her story to her shrink. The entire story unfolds as Annie re-lives the ordeal and all its aftermath. The first thing I wanted to know is why did this happen to Annie? Then I wanted to know how she could possibly survive to tell the tale. Then I thought there has to be a whole part of this madness that the author is not letting me in on and WHEN will she let me in? Goodness, if there ever was a story where I wanted/needed to read the back of the book , it was Still Missing (of course I’ve done it before, don’t look so shocked!).
Stevens has done such a superb job of grabbing hold and pulling us in that you almost feel as though you are with Annie as she attempts to live through one of our worst nightmares. We learn that most of us are stronger than we think we are and that help comes from unlikely places. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Tale of Halcyon Crane made me realize I need a category for books like this. So here it is: No Chores Today (NCT). Don’t even think about getting anything accomplished. This book has it all: ghosts, legends, intriguing characters, great writing and a plot with mysterious happenings that will keep you turning the pages so quickly you’ll have it read in no time and wish for more.
So here’s a taste of what you’re in for. Hallie James is content with her life in the Northwest. She’s recovering from a divorce that left her in a certain amount of shock. She’s content with her job. The really, really sad part of her life is her father has Alzheimer’s and while he was once a large, vibrant part of her life, he is now reduced to mixed days of clarity and lost memories.
When Hallie receives a letter in the mail from an attorney, William Archer (you have to watch this guy!!), from Grand Manitou Island near the Great Lakes, he informs her that Madlyn Crane has died and named Hallie in her will. Enclosed in that letter is another letter from Madlyn Crane herself to Hallie which opens up a whole other portion of Hallie’s life that she would never have guessed or known about. What had her father done when Hallie was young? Why does she remember nothing about Grand Manitou Island? What should she do? Her curiosity tells her how to proceed and this is where you REALLY need a seatbelt. So buckle up and get ready to be scared, surprised, delighted, romanced, awed. And remember: NCT. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Tracy Winn has given us ten linked short stories and a cast of characters that will keep you smiling and crying.
All the stories are set in or are related to Lowell, Massachusetts and are surrounded by characters affected in some way with the textile mill. Some characters work at the mill or the mill is owned by their family.
The most interesting aspect of linked short stories is discovering HOW they are linked and this is no different in Mrs. Somebody Somebody. The best part for me was every time I said, “Oh good!” when a character I particularly liked came back in another story. It will be Winn’s excellent grasp of storytelling that will keep you mesmerized. The drawings at the beginning of each story were a big selling point for me too. I love sketches, photos, handwritten notes – anything that seems like a character's or author's ultra personal touch – in books. I’m a sucker for that.
Pick it up now! It’s a delightfully short read at under 200 pages; perfect for an afternoon. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
City of Dreams is set in New York City from 1776 through 2009. We follow Peter Fallon, an antiques expert and his fiancé, Evangeline Carrington as they search for a box of valuable bonds from 1776. It’s a mad, mad clandestine dash that has them (and us!) caught up with a bag lady, a bookseller, Wall Street biggies, shady characters who could be either with Peter and Evangeline or against them and very bad, determined men who are clearly against Peter and Evangeline.
First we're in NYC, in 2009 and in the next chapter, Martin has us comfortably back in 1776, 1893, 1987 or 2001. Try to read a chapter a sitting; this keeps the story straight. His attention to architecture and historical detail was magnificent. Then, the characters! You will be completely involved with every character's life and feel as though you are walking (or running!) with him, dodging bad guys, protecting loved ones and all the while in search of something more. We also see how politics has evolved (or not) throughout the years - excellent!
Martin does an excellent job of storytelling, alternating between past and present characters and situations as we trace the bonds from their first owner to their final destination. Throughout City of Dreams, Martin tosses in wonderful bits of U.S. history without a heavy hand, while he takes us on a “hold onto your hair” kind of read.
Do you like Dan Brown? You’ll feel right at home with City of Dreams.
Bonds, bonds, who’s got the bonds?? - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I was given this book. I would never have picked it up on my own. The book jacket didn’t grab me, and, as I’ve said before something on the jacket must grab me. The synopsis or the cover art itself must urge me to pick up the book. When a book is given to you, you must read it.
Little Bee is the story of two women, their first and last meetings and how their lives change in between those meetings. The synopsis begs you not to tell anyone about their story when you’re finished. Sounds like marketing hype, but it’s the truth. Don’t tell anyone much about the book. It’s much better to discover as you read. It’s a forceful, well-written story that is a mystery, political and out of the ordinary. Little Bee forces us to ask: how well do we really know the people in our lives and, ourselves? What would you do?
Note: Little Bee was also published as The Other Hand (similar cover). - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Have you seen this book? Unbelievable! I’ve said before what happens to me when a book grabs me like this – you guessed it – not one single chore was done at home until I finished it.
Reading the synopsis, you may think that Girl in Translation is a similar story to recent novels about coming to the U.S. with nothing and having success. Well, yes, it is similar, but that’s all it is. You will be riveted as you watch Kimberly Chang and her mother struggle to succeed in a place where they thought they would have an advantage because they knew someone.
Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from China, beholden to Kimberly’s Aunt Paula. Kimberly is intelligent but doesn’t speak much English. Girl in Translation is the story of her struggle to be more than people thought she could be. She is lucky to have a wonderful, steadfast mother. Kim also relies on her one true friend in the States, Annette who remains true to her throughout every turn in Kimberly’s life.
A story of love, friendship, romance, perseverance, Girl in Translation was a terrific, satisfying read that will make me watch for Kwok’s next novel.
Pick up Girl in Translation if you enjoy Amy Tan and Lisa See. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I had absolutely NO interest in this novel. I’m old enough to remember the gentleman who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers, but the rest of the synopsis still didn’t do it for me. It appeared on one of my book discussion reading lists and I knew I had to read it. My reluctance was silly and it doesn’t even pain me to say this – when I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
The novel is divided into sections each told from a different character’s perspective which seems to be the new norm. As I’ve said before, I have no quarrel with this method as long as it’s done well. Trust me, it’s done well. McCann weaves each character’s life with another using the tightrope walk between the Twin Towers as the backdrop and a link. Don’t read anything about the novel until you’ve finished it. Block out at least enough time to read a section a sitting.
Let the Great World Spin is written so artfully and with so many wrenching moments I’m not going to tell you anything more – it would ruin the read for you. I will make one more comment: think of it as a quilt put together by a master quilter. Magnificent! - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Where do I start? One of the reasons I enjoy Anne Tyler is she seems to write for me. She writes about subjects I understand, are reasonable to me and always leaves me wondering what I would do in the situations she writes about. That’s a sign of a great author.
Liam Pennywell in Noah’s Compass is a laid off, 60-year old fifth grade teacher who manages to be forced or shoved into situations he wouldn’t want to be in, except he has no choice. Every position he’s held since college hasn’t been of his choosing, but for family obligations, he does what needs to be done. He is forced to retire and finds himself adrift, but coping. He’s a widower and most recently divorced. He moves from a large apartment to a smaller one and the night of the big move, his apartment is burglarized with him in it! He wakes in the hospital with no memory of the incident and throughout the novel, he only wants to remember/know what happened.
Along the way, we meet his daughters, his ex-wife Barbara and Eunice, a love interest. Liam finally chooses to do what he wants to do instead of what is expected of him and it’s refreshing to see how surprised and pleased he is with himself.
One reviewer didn’t see much hope or contentment by the novel’s end, and that’s fine for this reviewer. But I think this is a novel where the reader is allowed to make decisions. There are several ways to interpret Liam’s life (past and present) and your interpretation may depend on your life.
If you haven’t read an Anne Tyler novel, I recommend you begin anywhere. You may be comfortable with The Accidental Tourist because you know the film. I began withBreathing Lessons. You won’t be disappointed. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin