Winter reading…February 2015

As usual I am fortunate to have more than I can read, but it has been a wonderful diversion during the cold weather.  How wonderful it is to read good books and have the pleasure of talking about them with family, friends, and coworkers!

spool of blueMy recent most favorite!!–Anne Tyler is the author of about twenty novels, many of which I’ve enjoyed.  Her most recent, A Spool of Blue Thread, is wonderful.  With  humor and poignancy, the story of the  Whitshank family is recounted.  Family sagas usually grab me, and this one finds Abby and Red in their later years, living in the house which has been in the family for years.  There is a wayward son who pops in and out of their lives, an adopted son, two daughters, several grandchildren and the accompanying “in” and “outlaws”.  Red owns a construction company, and Abby has recently retired as a social worker.  She still brings ‘strays’ in for family gatherings.  If you read this book, you will laugh and perhaps, cry, but I think you will enjoy it!


paying guests

 The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is a kind of Gothic page turner set in 1922.  Widowed Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, who has a secret past,  are forced to take in lodgers in order to keep their ‘upper crust’ home on Champion Hill.  The arrival of a lively young middle class couple  as tenants brings a big change of circumstance into the house.  Living in close quarters involves the characters in relationships  which ultimately result in  a love triangle.  Waters infuses the mystery with sensuality, drama, and intrigue, all of which lead  to a thrilling conclusion…I couldn’t put it down!

sweetlandSweetland by Michael Crummy kept me mesmerized for most of a weekend!  It is set in Newfoundland on an island with an economy based upon fishing.  The island  is about to be resettled, and a monetary payment made to all the inhabitants only when  all agree to move to the mainland.   Moses Sweetland whose ancestors originally settled the island is the last holdout.  Sweetland wants to stay, and he must withstand  increasing efforts to move off the island.  When tragedy strikes, the quirky characters are spurred to action, and Moses has to make a fateful decision.  The rugged landscape and the bleak setting may not appeal to everyone, but I couldn’t put it down.

my sunshine

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is a debut novel which has been receiving lots of acclaim.  It is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989  where a young girl is the victim of a crime.    The narrator is a fourteen year old boy who is ‘in love’ with the victimized girl who lives across the street.     The narrator, along with several boys and men are suspected of the crime.  The novel evokes the damp heat of a southern summer and  and elements of ‘coming of age’ along with themes of family, memory and forgiveness.  It is an engrossing story.


big sevenThe Big Seven by Jim Harrison is classic ‘Harrison”.  In this follow up to The Great Leader, retired Detective Jim Sunderson has bought himself a small  cabin in a remote area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The new neighbors are a family of outlaws which Sunderson must confront, while trying to relate to the ‘seven deadly sins’.  He remains the crusty character we saw in his previous Sunderson novel.  The ending seemed a little weak, but if you like Harrison’s writing, this one will not disappoint.


womenThe Women by T.C. Boyle was the February library book group selection.  It is a fictional work which reads like a biography of the four women which Frank Lloyd Wright married, and or, lived with during his life.  The narrator is a  fictional Japanese student who has become one of Wright’s apprentices.  It is an interesting depiction of what happened as Wright moves through his ‘adventures’.  Boyle arranges the narration so that it culminates with the most dramatic episode at Taliesin.  As usual, the discussions were lively with varying reactions to the novel.  Most agreed that although Wright was a charismatic architectural genius, he was a dastardly character in his personal life!

mrs tom thumbThe Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin was a topic for discussion with my personal book group–my selection, chosen because it’s one I always wanted to read!  It’s a novel based upon the real story of  thirty two inch tall Lavinia Warren  Stratton who married Tom Thumb in a highly publicized wedding which rivaled that of Charles and  Diana.  The book depicts P.T. Barnum in an interesting light–historical fiction which seemed to have a strong aura of truth.  The book group gave it mixed reviews.  I like learning a bit about history when reading for pleasure.

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January 2015

winter solsticeI ended 2014 with an old favorite, Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  I was reminded of it by a library patron who says she reads this every year in December.  It’s a lovely story with a sort of timelessness, and it addresses the history of the solstice and this dark time of year. Written 10 years ago and set in the English countryside, Pilcher tells a heartwarming story which helps the reader consider what is  important in life.  I recommend settling in with a cup of tea while enjoying this gem of a story.


diy typeDIY Type by Dana Tanamachi was sent to me as a review copy by its publisher–Potter Style, a division of Crown Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.  It is a lovely book with two full sets of alphabet stencils to be used for personalizing items.  I hope to use it in two ways–the first as a resource for an altered book class we will be offering at the library this spring. The class will be taught by an accomplished artist, and I’ll be helping with supplies.  I am also thinking of using the stencils in making ‘initial’ pillows for my grandchildren.


bk of strangeThe Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber was a recent foray for me into the world of fantasy.  I heard the author interviewed on a radio program, and so was tempted to give it a try.  It is about interplanetary travel as a young Christian pastor is accepted into a program to travel to another planet as part of a team which is attempting to colonize the planet.  Young Peter leaves his beloved wife behind on earth, and while he is far away, cataclysmic events are taking place on Earth.


magians lie

A reminder to those who were waiting for The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, is should be on the shelves soon.  It’s the one that is a cross between The Night Circus and Water for Elephantshighly recommended.


pioneer girlI had eagerly awaited a look at Pioneer Girl The Annotated Autobiograpy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill.  When it arrived at the library, I was surprised at its size.  It is a very large volume, and is exhaustively annotated , documented, and footnoted.  The ‘meat’ of the books is the handwritten  remembrances of Laura Ingalls Wilder, about growing up as a pioneer girl in the Dakotas.  This work was the basis for the Little House books which were written by Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  The original work tells us that life was much more raw and disturbing for Laura than the young adult books would lead us to believe.  Laura’s real story has tales of her family leaving in the night to avoid debts, bar brawls, and even abuse of children.  Although it provided more details than I really wanted to know, it is certainly a significant historical accomplishment.

secret wisdomThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton is a ‘just released’ first novel which was more than fifteen years in the writing.  It is a captivating morality tale set in Kentucky coal country in 1985.  The story opens as 14 year old Kevin and his mother are sent to live with Kevin’s grandfather after the tragic death of Kevin’s younger brother.  Moral issues, environmental issues, and coming of age are some of the topics explored in this eloquent novel.  I think we’ll be discussing it in the library book group next year.


life changingThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I’m ever on the quest to be better organized, so I eagerly awaited the arrival of this compact little volume.  Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea of taking out every item in the closet or every book off  the bookshelves at once…that one would take me days!  But what I did find helpful, was the idea of folding or rolling all the clothing in drawers, rather than stacking, so one can see at a glance what is available to wear.  The author recommends vertical rows over horizontal stacks. So I went to my desk at work and removed the stacks of things, and placed folders in a vertical holder–so much easier to see everything at a glance, and I feel much more on top of things when I’m able to put my hands on a folder I need within seconds.  I plan to reread parts of Kondo’s advice with hopes of becoming even a little neater this year.  It does have a calming effect to rid oneself of unneeded stuff!


to darknessTo Darkness and To Death is one of the Julia Spencer Fleming mysteries in the Claire Ferguson-Russ Van Alstyne series.  It was the discussion book for the book group at the library this month.  Spencer Fleming writes some pretty good mysteries with an interesting cast of characters.  The title of each book in the series is taken from a line in a hymn.  There were mixed reactions by discussion attendees.  Most liked the author, but some criticized the back and forth theme.



trip to the beach

Last this month is an oldie, but goodie–one of my favorite reads on a frigid winter day.  A Trip to the Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard is a true story published in 2000 about a couple who are living their “dream”.  After visiting the small island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, they moved there hoping to build a beach bar and enjoy the slow pace of island life. Instead, they leased a run down abandoned bar and built it into a fine restaurant which has become world famous.  Reading about the details of their adventures and tribulations are enough to make you feel warm inside.

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December 2014

first familyI’ve always been fascinated by ‘insider’ accounts of life in the White House and have been enticed by these supposedly nonfiction accounts, starting with Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies by J.B. West, in 1973.  So I couldn’t resist First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler who claims insider access to members of the Secret Service staff.  At first, it seemed believable, but as the narrative continued, it seemed obvious to me that Kessler has an obvious political bias.  I wasn’t sure which stories were really true, and am surprised that the sensational accounts have not been widely publicized.  My advice…not really worth the time…

me beforeMe Before You by JoJo Moyes was the the local book club selection.  I would definitely classify it as ‘chick lit’.  You’ve probably heard the plot line:  young female caretaker falls in love with handsome quadreplegic who has been injured in a tragic accident.  Of course, it adds to the ‘suspense’ that the helpless victim has tons of money, and the beautiful caretaker is charged with trying to persuade him not to commit suicide (which he had previously scheduled  via a death with dignity movement).   This kind of story emotionally engages a lot of readers (and moviegoers), but I did not find it as engaging as the rest of the group members. Most of the group members loved it, and that’s what is so interesting about books…many different opinions and something to appeal to everyone!

bridge of san luis reyThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder was the November discussion title for our library discussions.  The discussions were very lively and ‘in depth’.  Although not an easy book to read, each discussion participant had some interesting insights to share.  The story is a timeless  in its never ending search for meaning in life, with the inevitable conclusion that all we really ‘have’ is love.

perfectionPerfection by Julie Metz is not a new book.  (I am reading my way through some of the books I have on shelves around my home).  It is a memoir which  opens with the sudden death of a young suburban man in 2002 of a pulmonary embolism.  His distraught young wife is coping with shock, grief, and caring for their six year old daughter.  As she moves throught the grieving period, it becomes evident that her friends and family have been shielding her from discovering that her beloved Henry had been carrying on affairs–a particularly torrid one with a neighbor and ‘friend’!  It is like watching the approach of a freight train, as Julie describes what she now realizes she had failed to see.  Not a pleasant story, but I felt I had to finish it and saw that Julie and her daughter came through the experience.  I was surprised that the author revealed so much of her personal self.

running the booksRunning the Books:   The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg is about a writer and former orthodox Jew who is gets a job as the librarian of Suffolk county prison.  He is a young man who has no ‘experience’ of prison and many mistake him for a young volunteer.  Steinberg recounts his experience with humor and poignancy.  I had enjoyed Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan much more than the tv show.  This account was similar but is from the point of view of a prison employee with admirable intentions (he even led writing groups with prisoners) but who runs up against the bureaucracy of the prison system, and the nature of those behind bars–so much mental illness!  He has many descriptive stories about the prisoners and their communication system which uses  ‘kites’ (letters left inside books) in the prison library as a means of corresponding with other prisoners.  It’s an entertaining and enlightening expose.

lilaIn Lila, Marilynne Robinson returns to the town of Gilead and continues the story of the widower and minister, John Ames.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by an itinerant woman who kept Lila safe in a hardscrabble existence.  Lila became a homeless wanderer.  When she happens upon Gilead and  and the gentle Christian views of John Ames, her life is about to change.  This is a poignant and hauntingly beautiful work.  I’m seeing it on several reviewer and critics’ lists as their favorite book of 2014.

good wifeHow to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is a thriller which  I think could be described as noir.  There is a mystery, but I found the eerie circumstances of a long married woman who is remembering her past as a captured young girl to be disturbing.  I didn’t like the subject matter or the ending.  This was Chapman’s first novel.  Chapman writes well, but I found it difficult to read because of the topic.

Christmas TrainWhen I chose The Christmas Train by David Baldacci for the library December title for discussion, I had no idea what to expect.  I enjoyed it a lot, and those who attended the meetings, liked it, as well.  We had soup and a potluck meal at both meetings, and attendees seemed to enjoy telling their memories of travels by train.  It was fun to read  and discuss a ‘lighter’ book for a change. It is a departure from Baldacci’s usual fare.  One person who had traveled to San Francisco by train said that Baldacci’s description of the accommodations on board almost exactly matched what she remembered.

sin of fathersSins of the Fathers by Shawn Lawrence Otto is a thriller which begins in Minneapolis and moves on to a native American reservation in northern Minnesota.  The plot line involves predatory banking and issues of native American gambling rights and gambling addiction.  The characters are well developed and the tension builds to a thrilling conclusion, which is not all that it seems.  The timely topic of racism is involved in the story, as well.  An interesting read set in the Midwest.

all girl filling stationThe All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg is a delightful romp which starts in Alabama and winds up with a reunion in Pulaski, WI! Picked as the December selection by one of the members of the local book club, it combines a comic mystery with true facts about WASPs (Womens Airforce Service Pilots) the first women who flew military aircraft and were instrumental at the start of  WWII.  The program was disbanded after two years.  There is a strong connection with Wisconsin, and it is a very entertaining story.

tradition of deceitTradition of Deceit by Kathleen Ernst is the fifth in Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson mystery series.  This one takes place in Minneapolis and Milwaukee.  Chloe is off to Minneapolis to help her friend with a proposal for a restoration project.  Meanwhile, boyfriend Roelke’s best friend is murdered in Milwaukee.  There is a murder and accompanying mystery in Minneapolis, as well.   I enjoyed seeing what is happening with Chloe and Roelke.  Both settings are somewhat familiar to me, so I enjoyed ‘picturing’ the events.  The plot was quite complicated, and the book was enjoyable, but maybe needed a little more editing.  Regardless, Ernst tells a great story!

                                                                    Happy Holidays to All!

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Fall 2014

evergreenThe first two novels I am writing about this time are by Wisconsin authors.  Actually, Rebecca Rasmussen, who wrote Evergreen, no longer lives in Wisconsin.  Her earlier, Bird Sisters, was set in Wisconsin.  Evergreen is set in the wilderness of Minnesota.  It is a beautiful story about those who choose to live beyond the boundaries of civilization–a concept which is somewhat appealing to me–at least in theory.  The story is intriguing and beguiling.  I consider it a worthwhile and entertaining read.


Scavengers is by Michael Perry, a well known Wisconsin author.  I was interested to read it because it his first fiction novel (his others have been memoir–all nonfiction.  This, his first fiction novel, is for young adults.  It’s a pretty good story set in a post apocalyptic world complete with zombies, solar bears, and  a demented rooster.  There are chase scenes, danger, and enough adventure to entertain young adults.  The heroine, Maggie, aka “Ford Falcon” is intrepid.  What makes it especially fun for those who’ve read Perry’s earlier works is recognizing characters from real life,  as they are used as models for characters  introduced in the book.  Perry also makes references to the poetry of Emily Dickinson as the story evolves.   The ending definitely leaves the door open for a sequel.

close your eyesThe poetry of Emily Dickinson also has a big part in Close Yours Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian which has another teenage narrator in an apocalyptic situation.  In Scavengers, the situation is a result of the planet being destroyed because of the thoughtlessness of humans in misusing the environment.  In Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, the narrator’s father, whose negligence was the cause of a nuclear reactor explosion, is killed, along with her mother in the disaster.  The countryside is destroyed for many miles around, and young Emily escapes to become a homeless teen in the city.  The  invented identity of Emily is based  upon Emily Dickinson.  How interesting to me that Dickinson was central in these two books I happened to read back to back!  This story is one of loss, adventure, and friendship all within the scope of a huge catastrophe.  Bohjalian writes very well, as usual.   Bohjalian’s daughter, Grace Blewer, an actress reads the audio book of the novel.

Recent books I liked….

long way homesome luck

Here are two of my favorites–both new releases this fall.  In The Long Way Home, Louise Penny is at her finest in this latest installment in the Inspector Gamache series which is set in the fictional Canadian village of Three Pines.  A local artist has disappeared, and the recently retired Gamache and many village characters are drawn into the search.  Some Luck by Jane Smiley is excellent!!  The only problem with it is that now we have to wait for the next installment in the trilogy!  It’s a family saga which begins in 1920 and follows an Iowa family to 1953.  Smiley says she has finished writing the trilogy, but I suspect that in typical publishing ‘fashion’, they will be published one per year.  By the time the next one comes out, I’ll have to re-read Some Luck to remember what happened to the Langdon family during the three transformative decades which it covers.

magicians lies

The Magician’s Lie  by Greer Macallister will be released in January.  I was given a pre-release copy, and it lives up to it’s promotional description as being a combination of The Night Circus and Water for Elephants.  I liked it even better than both of those!  It is set in the midwest, and I recognized many of the settings, including the train depot in Oconomowoc, WI.  The story is about a female magician, which was rare in the early 1900’s, and whether she is guilty of murdering her husband.

martianI highly recommend reading  The Martian by Andy Weir.  This spellbinding novel took me out of my reading comfort zone–it is science fiction. I am seldom drawn to this genre, but I’ve read great reviews, and it was personally recommended to me by a fellow librarian.  The premise is that when a U.S. space landing on Mars has to be cut short, one of the crew is left behind, and astronaut Mark Watney is sure he will die on the planet.  It is a thrilling, mesmerizing account of Marks’ quest to stay alive.  (This free copy was sent to me by the publisher, Random House, in exchange for an honest review).  I couldn’t put it down and am considering it for a discussion book for the library book group next year. I had ordered a copy for the library shortly after it was released.  Since then I’ve heard that this is a first novel by the author which was originally available only online through the author’s website. Weir is a software engineer and self described ‘space nerd’.  After it was published in hardcover, it became a bestseller, and the movie rights have been sold.

cattle kateAnother new book which I like is Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach.  Its subject is the only woman ever lynched as a cattle rustler.  This historical novel is based upon the true story of Ella Watson who wasn’t a cattle rustler or a whore.  She was a tough hard working  immigrant homesteader who, along with her husband, was lynched by rich cattle barons who wanted her land and the water rights which she owned.  It is a story of a gutsy, brave woman whose true story is finally being told.  Reading this is an interesting way to learn about history of the American West, and I appreciated that Bommersbach  devoted many pages to historical facts about what really happened to Watson and how the false legend of her life was created.

Finally, I will mention two others that I wasn’t very fond of–the first is Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm.  It reminded me somewhat of The Goldfinch which is not a favorite of mine.  If you like books about the art scene in Manhattan and Paris, you might like it better than I.  I have seen several positive reviews.  I also read a young adult novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar  Children, by Ransom Riggs.  The story is ‘peculiar’, and the book includes many photos of freakish people.  I believe there is a sequel to this, and I don’t intend to read it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and happy reading!



















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Two new books about food!!

Two wonderful new books about food came in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to do a special post about them.  The first is a cookbook–eat, The little book of fast food by Nigel Slater. 

A great little book with lots of ideas for quick and nutritious meals!

A great little book with lots of ideas for quick and nutritious meals!

This delightful cookbook is filled with ideas for simple, nutritious and quickly prepared meals.  For example, my favorite so far:  Salmon with Artichokes has five ingredients–salmon, marinated artichokes, parsley, dill, and lemon.  It is prepared in two pans.  Slater’s description at the end is my kind of recipe description–“For 2.  Light, clean, delicate.”  There are recipes galore for everything from appetizers (in the hand) to (on the stove) and desserts.  In the front of the book there is also a helpful guide to recipes listed by main ingredient.  There are some, to me, exotic ingredients with which I am not familiar, but that is part of the fun in learning something new!  For most of the recipes, Slater suggests modifications or alternate ingredients.  If you like to try new recipes and food combinations, this book is worth checking out! ( I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.)

A delightful compendium of culinary tidbits!

A delightful compendium of culinary tidbits!

The American Plate by Libby O’Connell, is subtitled:  A culinary history in 100 bites.  This book, written by the Chief Historian for the History Channel and A & E Networks,  would be an excellent gift for those who love food and the history behind many of our traditions and uniquely “American” foods.  Each chapter and each “Bite” (description of food) stand alone, so the book may be read front to back, or starting with a particular time period that interests the reader.  The chapters are organized by ten eras of our national history.  Who knew that serving celery was a symbol of wealth and a table decoration for a heavily laden Victorian table?  Need a recipe for Classic Mint Juleps?  That’s in the book, too, along with many others.  From venison to sushi, and all things in between–like jello, Spam, and salsa! If you like food, you will be entertained and informed by this book.

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From women posing as Civil War Soldiers to a new ‘read alike’ for Jodi Picoult fans!

We had another nice afternoon floating on our boat in the lake recently.  I was reading five daysFive Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  This thriller is a ‘read alike’ for fans of Jodi Picoult.  Timmer’s first novel is the kind of ‘edge of your seat’ reading that will appeal to those who can’t get enough of emotional suspense  like that written by Jodi Picoult.  Five Days Left examines the situation of a high achieving attorney’s struggle to come to terms with her diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease and its devastating symptoms.  This situation is juxtaposed with the tribulations of a middle class family fostering a young black boy from inner city Detroit, as the family is forced to return the child to his mother who has just been released from prison.  The story is heart wrenching.

OrangeI was compelled to read Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman after watching the Netflix series of the same name.  While I was interested to watch the series, I much more enjoyed the memoir.  It is an interesting expose of the womens’ prison system.  While the Netflix series was entertaining, it was obvious from the memoir that there were a lot of liberties taken in the video script–guess it was necessary to keep it entertaining rather than doing a documentary!   If you like nonfiction, this is a very informative read about a current and controversial topic.


feverFever by Megan Abbott is a Young Adult novel about a mysterious illness spreading through a school and community.  As more girls begin to experience bizarre symptoms,  contagion, hysteria, and misinformation abound.  There is a point where HPV immunizations are suspected.  This  book would  be appropriate for high school age and above, as it provides a  brutal portrait of teenage life today, replete with crushes, competing alliances and the immediacy of technology.


This one was released last spring.

This one was released last spring.

Within the space of a few months, I read two novels about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.  Both of the women in the books fought on the side of the Union Army–one along side her husband, the other left her husband at home to take care of the farm.  In I Shall Be Near To You by Erin McCabe, the young wife, Rosetta, doesn’t want her husband to enlist, but when he does–sneaking away the night before to avoid painful goodbyes, Rosetta cuts off her hair and takes off to find his regiment and becomes a soldier herself.   It is a compelling and heart rending tale.



Neverhome by Laird Hunt is getting early acclaim.  Its language is poetic and sparse, and he manages to convey the personage of this strong young woman who leaves her husband on the farm to take up arms in support of the Union army.    We are engaged in an engrossing journey in this portrayal of the tragedy of war.  This woman, who takes the name Ash Thompson, becomes a fierce

Neverhome is being released on Sept.9

Neverhome is being released on Sept.9

fighter, a traitor, and a legend. Both of these novels are based on the fact that  there were many females who served as soldiers in the Civil War.  Having recently watched the movie, Lincoln, brought to mind vivid mental pictures of the bloody gore and awful battles of that war.  Both novels had  a ‘cameo’ appearance of Clara Barton.

These were both great books.  If forced to choose one over the other, it would be I Shall Be Near to You.  It had a strong emotional appeal–it made me cry at the end.  Both were well-written, and I liked them both very much!

Historical fiction such as this  is a wonderful way to revisit history and rediscover our heritage.



let it burnLet It Burn, the latest Alex McKnight novel by Steve Hamilton, takes us to Paradise, Michigan in the U.P. and to current day Detroit which has been almost destroyed.  When Alex McKnight drives to Detroit to see his old sergeant and a certain female FBI agent, McKnight is drawn in to ‘detecting’ when a young man who McKnight had helped put away, is released from prison, and questions arise about the validity of his guilt.  Hamilton writes a great mystery novel which keeps the reader guessing, and the details about Michigan  may appeal to those who have lived or visited the locations.  Even if you’ve never been in Michigan, you may enjoy a good police procedural thriller.




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July-August 2014

Suddenly, July has ended and we’re partway into August, so I’m combining this issue and am hoping to quickly finish it with short comments about what I’ve been reading,


The library book club picnic in the park  was delightful!  There is a lovely park directly across the street from the library, and the weather was perfect–in the 70’s with sunshine and a soft breeze.  There were eight of us in attendance, and it was interesting to hear what book each person talked about.  They were to bring a favorite book, and the titles ran the gamut from young adult to mystery, travel , and theology!  It’s an interesting group with diverse reading tastes.

small blessings

My favorite book so far this summer will be released this month.    This is your ‘heads up’ to look for it!!  Small Blessings is by Martha Woodruff who writes for NPR.  It is a charming story set in a college town.  When the newest employee in the college bookshop comes to town, a romance  and mystery ensue, when one of the professors is told that he is the father of a son he never knew he had!


doll babyDoll-baby is a novel by Laura Lane McNeal which is set in New Orleans during the unrest of the 1960s.  It is a coming of age story seen through the eyes of a young girl.  The characters are well developed, and there is a twist at the end–a worthwhile read. It might be of interest to young adults.



the arsonistThe Arsonist is the latest book by Sue Miller who has always been one of my favorite authors.  Miller’s writing is wonderful–very descriptive, and it is an engaging account of the summer people and their interactions with the year round inhabitants of a New Hampshire village as they search for the arsonist who has been setting fire to numerous properties owned by summer people.  I was a bit unsatisfied with the ending, but it would certainly provoke an engaging discussion.


cats pajamas  Sorry to say, but I did not finish this one.  I’ve read many good reviews, but I just couldn’t seen to get into it.  It is a debut novel set in Philadelphia about a young girl who is an aspiring jazz singer.  Give it a try, if you wish–just was not my “cup of tea”.



EverythingEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a complex, suspenseful and engaging story of a Chinese American family’s grief upon the disappearance and death of the teenage daughter.  It is the story of the parents, brother, and those in their community who are affected and changed by the girl’s death.  It is also about race and what it means to live in two different worlds at the same time.  The parents had not realized that the daughter inside their family was an ‘outsider’ in the world she inhabited.  It is well written and engaging.


one hundred names  One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern was given such a rave review by one of my book club friends, I had to read it!  She said that she and family members had stayed up late to finish it.  Told from the perspective of a recently fired journalist, Kitty Logan, it is the riveting account of Kitty’s search to find the answer to her mentor’s last directives before the mentor, Constance, died.  As Constance was upon her deathbed, Kitty asked Constance “what is the one story you’ve always wanted to write?”  Before Constance answers the questions, she dies, and Kitty is left only with a list of one hundred names which Kitty starts pursuing name by name in a quest to unlock the mystery of their meaning.

ordinary graceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is my other ‘not to be missed’ book for this issue.  I’ve read most of Krueger’s work, but this is a stand alone and  a departure from the Cork O’Connor series.  In language almost poetic, and with lyrical descriptive prose, Krueger sets this mystery in 1961, and relates it to the reader in the voice of 13 year old Frank Drum, son of Methodist minister Nathan Drum.  The book opens with the death of a young boy and becomes more intense when Frank’s older sister, Ariel disappears.  It’s a coming of age story, a mystery, and about ethics, the perils of gossip, and human foibles.  Krueger won the Edgar Award for Ordinary Grace, and after reading it, I completely agree with the committee’s choice.

oveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a debut novel by a Swedish blogger and author.  It has received wide acclaim and sold over 500,000 copies in Sweden.  The novel, set in Sweden, is about a curmudgeonly man named Ove (pronounced with a long ‘O’vee) who lives alone following the death of his wife.  He is making plans to end his own life when ‘life happens’, and he is unwillingly brought into the  of activities of his neighborhood and its inhabitants.  It seemed rather slow at first but the action did pick up about halfway through, and it does have a satisfying conclusion.

hundred year houseI  had eagerly anticipated The Hundred Year House by Rebcca Makkai.  It is an interesting story line about an artist’s colony in an old estate house.  I did not find it as absorbing as I had hoped.  The story went back in forth in time.  Many authors use that technique, but I find it difficult to follow.  I loved Makkai’s previous book, The Borrower, and I will probably reread it, but not this one.


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