Monday, March 30, 2009

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

When Jo Mackenzie's husband dies in a car crash after telling her he wants a divorce, she figures a change of scenery is what's best for her and her two young sons, Jack and Archie. Jo decides to move to a small seaside town in Kent and take over her grandmother's knitting shop. She also figures some changes would be good for the shop, which she renames McKnits. Concentrating on seasonal window displays, ordering new stock, and starting a weekly "stitch and bitch group" allow Jo to put her talents to good use. Managing the shop, along with taking care of Jack and Archie keep her too busy for romance, although her best friend Ellen (a famous news anchor) insists she should start looking. The Beach Street... is a delightfully cozy novel about one woman's quest to put the sad events of the past behind her and look towards her future surrounded by her family and friends. Jo's adventures continue in Needles and Pearls which hasn't been published in the U.S. yet. Let's hope Hyperion picks it up. People who like Katie Fforde should give this novel a try.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Cassandra Fallows has become famous as a writer by penning two books about her life. After publishing a novel that's not well-received, she wonders what her next project will be. Thinking that she's best suited to non-fiction, she decides to frame her next book around an acquaitance from grade school who, years later, was jailed because she wouldn't speak about her young son who went missing and was presumed dead. The woman, Calliope Jenkins, has disappeared from the Baltimore area. Cassandra knows she has to visit childhood friends whom she hasn't seen in years and who might resent her for how she portrayed them in her two memoirs. Growing up in the 1960's, there was also the racial divide that, at times, separated white Cassandra from her African-American friends--Donna, Tisha, and Fatima. Researching the book causes Cassandra again to think about her past and to question her memory. Will finding Calliope and uncovering her truths help Cassandra lay everything to rest or cause pain to all those involved?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum

In Nine Lives, Dan Baum gives the reader a glimpse of New Orleans from Hurricane Betsy until after Katrina. Told through the eyes of a group that cuts across racial and class boundaries, Baum is able to convey how New Orleans is an unique and complex American city. In the book, we meet a coroner, a high school band director, a resident of the Garden District's elite, a policeman, and the wife of a Mardi Gras Indian Chief, among others. Baum is able to bring these five people's stories (along with four others) to life and show how their histories and New Orleans' intertwined for the past forty years. A compelling and page-turning read for anyone who is interested in contemporary New Orleans.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

Kevin Brace is considered the "voice of Canada" because of his radio program that is broadcast across the country. When he's arrested for killing his girlfriend, the case is big news. Brace hires lawyer Nancy Parish to defend him, but this is proving difficult for Parish because he refuses to talk to her, communicating only through the written word. Albert Fernandez is the prosecutor on his first murder trial, working with homicide detectives Ari Greene and Daniel Kennicott to get a guilty verdict. In this first novel, Rotenberg takes the reader from the crime through the trial with a wide cast of interesting characters. He also gives loads of detail about the city of Toronto, so that it becomes a character itself. A great legal fiction debut.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, is five and has Osteogenesis Imperfecta. When you have OI, your bones are so brittle that they break tremendously easily. Already, Willow has had more than fifty broken bones in her life. When the opportunity arises for the O'Keefes to sue the obstetrician who was caring for Charlotte during her pregnancy, Charlotte jumps at the chance to get help financially (a settlement), since Willow will need special care her whole life. In filing a lawsuit, however, Charlotte is saying to the world that she would have ended her pregnancy, had she known her child was going to be born with OI. To make matters worse, Charlotte's doctor is her best friend, Piper. Also, Sean is against the lawsuit from the beginning. In the novel, the reader sees the story unfold from the points of view of Charlotte, Sean, Piper, Charlotte and Sean's teenage daughter, Amelia (who has problems of her own), as well as Marin, the O'Keefe's lawyer. Picoult weaves a story full of love, heartbreak, and the hard choices one has to make as a parent. It is similar to her bestseller, My Sister's Keeper.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Gus Carpenter is the editor of his hometown newspaper, The Pilot, after his stint at the Detroit Times ended in disgrace. Growing up in the town of Starvation Lake, Gus played goalie on the local hockey team. Ten years ago, while Gus was in Detroit, his coach, Jack Blackburn, disappeared while snowmobiling on the lake. Now a snowmobile has been found on nearby Walleye Lake. When it is determined to be Coach Blackburn's, Gus' memories of his hockey-playing childhood are dredged up. This includes the whole town blaming him for losing their one chance for a state hockey title. A lot of people in the town want the truth of what happened to the coach to stay buried, but as a reporter (and for himself), Gus knows he must find out what really happened. While I enjoyed Starvation Lake, I was expecting to really love it because people have been comparing the novel to Dennis Lehane and the book has glowing blurbs on it by both Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly. Gruley is not quite the writer that Lehane is. I think the similarities come because both authors write about the working class and have a detailed setting. Gruley's characterizations could have more depth. I would have loved to see more complexity in the people of Starvation Lake.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Stepmother by Carrie Adams

Tessa King, the main character of Adams' last novel, The Godmother, is now the girlfriend of James, who has three daughters and an ex-wife, Bea. Tessa hasn't met the girls at the story's start, but when she does, she realizes that she faces an uphill battle to get them to accept her. This is especially true of fourteen-year-old Amber, who seems to be in direct competition with Tessa for James' affections. Tessa also has to deal with the fact that James and Bea have an amiable relationship and that people (James' family included) consider Bea to be a great mother. Bea, however, is barely hanging on. She has presented the front of a strong mother, but inside she's a mess--overweight, unhappy and wanting James back. Of course, she doesn't realize her love for him until he announces that he's met someone he wants to marry--Tessa. In The Stepmother, the reader gets to see both women's points of view on their entangled lives. Is there some way for everyone to find happiness?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Kingdom of Silence by Lee Wood

It's 2001 and the United Kingdom is in the midst of the Foot and Mouth Crisis in its livestock population. DS Keen Dunliffe is asked to be the handler for young police officer Rachel Colver as she goes undercover to try and infiltrate an animal rights group. In return for his assistance, Keen will be promoted to inspector and become the head of the Sandford station in North Yorkshire. Rachel went to school with a woman named Beryl Rafferty, who has ties with the activists. The police hope that this will be their “in.” While Rachel is enthused about her role, she may be woefully underprepared. Will Keen and Rachel succeed in their mission? Kingdom of Silence is the second book in the Keen Dunliffe series. The book features lots of details about the culling of animals during the foot and mouth outbreak, which according to the author was, at times, senseless. The mystery also has a long setup to the undercover operation (half of the book). I would have preferred if more time was spent on the ins and outs of Rachel and Keen's task.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry

Jane Whitefield has made it her life's work to help people who are being hunted to disappear forever. She helps them get new identities and sets them up in their new lives. A man named John Felker shows up at her house asking for her assistance. Jane agrees to aid him, despite having reservations about his story. In this, the first novel of the Jane Whitefield series, Perry spends a lot of time on Jane's background as a half white/half Seneca woman and her Native American rituals. While I enjoyed The Vanishing Act, it has less action and suspense than Runner, the latest book in the series.