Monday, April 24, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

In 1938, Marianne von Lingenfels makes a promise to watch over the families of German resistors. As the war comes to an end, she finds herself taking in Benita and her son, Martin, and Ania and her two sons, Anselm and Wolfgang, at the family's run-down castle. The three women struggle to survive on their own as they come to terms with the enormous toll the war has taken on them. Taking place over almost sixty years, the novel explores the lives of everyday Germans during the war, a view that hasn't really been explored at length in popular fiction. An absorbing read that would be great for discussion. Give to people who enjoyed Lilac Girls and other female-centered World War II fiction.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Murder Is for Keeps by Elizabeth J. Duncan

While painting a watercolor at Gwrych Castle, Penny Brannigan discovers the dead body of local resident, John Hardwick. Hardwick and others had been working on the gardens of the long-vacant and crumbling estate. Not knowing if he died of natural causes or more sinister means, the police have their hands full when human bones are discovered on the property. Penny and her friend, recently retired DCI Gareth Davies, are fascinated with the history of the castle and find themselves involved in both cases. I always look forward to reading the newest book in the Penny Brannigan series because of the characters and the small town setting of Llanelen, Wales.

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

After a particularly bad break-up, Paul takes his editor's advice and heads to Tuscany to finish his latest cookbook. After arriving, he discovers that his rental car is nowhere to be found. Left without a vehicle and desperate, Paul agrees to rent a bulldozer for his stay in Italy. While staying in the village of Montalcino, he interacts with the locals and tries to mend his broken heart. My Italian Bulldozer is a light and humorous read similar in feel to McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

Six months: no falling in love, no dating anyone that we both know and no talking about it with each other. That's the agreement that married couple Lucy and Owen decide upon. Living in an upscale Hudson Valley community with their son, Wyatt, they are secure in their marriage, yet are intrigued about the possibilities of being involved with someone else. When both Lucy and Owen start exploring their options, they find their relationship changing in ways they never expected.  The Arrangement is a highly entertaining yet believable novel similar to Tom Perrotta and Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman

A former colleague of retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn asks her to come to Florida and assist on an appeal for Marcus Creighton, who's soon to be executed for the murders of his family, although his children's bodies were never found. Brigid agrees to help her friend, Laura Coleman with the case. A native Floridian, Brigid will also be able to spend time with her elderly father, who's in the hospital and not doing well. Brigid and Laura have an uphill battle to save Creighton's life by searching for old evidence and seeing if any mistakes were made with the original case. Laura, though, appears to be a little too close to Creighton for Brigid's liking. In addition to all this, they are also trying to figure out what really happened to the Creighton children all those years ago.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Knife Creek by Paul Doiron

In the heat of a Maine summer, game warden Mike Bowditch, along with his girlfriend, Stacey, discovers a baby buried loosely in the ground. Both Mike and Stacey are extremely upset and wonder what lead to the baby's death. The only clues are the initials K.C. carved into a nearby tree and the clothes the child was wearing. Even though it's out of his jurisdiction, Mike continues to be haunted by what he saw, and finds himself involved in the investigation. In this latest book of the Mike Bowditch series, Doiron crafts a mystery that's extremely hard to put down. It has a great setting, a compelling story, and a main character with supporting characters that are interesting and believable. A top-notch series that deserves to mentioned as one of the best being written today. It will be published in June.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

When Alice Stanhope is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she tries to stay strong for her teenage daughter, Zoe, who has severe social anxiety. Alice and Zoe have been each other's only family for many years, although with her diagnosis, Alice needs extra support from Kate (a nurse) and the hospital's social worker, Sonja. Alice keeps the news of her cancer from Zoe, but when she has complications, mother and daughter find that Kate is a godsend. Kate, though, is going through issues in her own life--mainly the sadness with not being able to carry a baby to term. Sonja, meanwhile, is hiding her own secret that her husband, George, abuses her. The Mother's Promise explores all these women's lives in detail and, while I enjoyed the story, there was a plot point near the end of the novel that I thought was unnecessary.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Forty years ago, Anthony Peardew's fiancee passed away. Since that day, he has picked up things that people have left behind or lost, such as a puzzle piece or an umbrella, cataloged them and then devoted a room in his house to the possessions. After Anthony dies, his housekeeper and secretary, Laura, is given his home in his will. She is also tasked with reuniting the items that Anthony has collected back to their owners. Laura is slowly regaining her sense of self after a divorce and has feelings for Anthony's gardener, Freddy. Will she be up to the task? The Keeper of Lost Things is a story of interesting characters and how their lives intertwine. Give this heartwarming tale to readers who enjoy the author Helen Simonson.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Death of a Ghost by M.C. Beaton

Retired police superintendent Handy Ebrington has bought a run-down castle in the town of Drim and wants the authorities to investigate, because he believes there's a ghost lurking about. Hamish Macbeth and his assistant, Charlie Carter, decide to spend the night in the castle and end up finding a dead body. Then the body disappears, and Hamish wonders if the crime might have been the work of smugglers. Soon, there are more murders, and Hamish attempts to wrap up the cases, all the while letting someone else take the credit (so he's not promoted and can stay in his beloved village of Lochdubh).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward

Successful, driven heart surgeon Suzette is caught off guard when her husband, Hyland, tells her that he'd like them to have a child. Married now for fifteen years, they had agreed that they weren't going to have children, because Suzette feared passing on her mother's mental illness. Hyland explains that he would like them to have a baby with a surrogate. Reluctant at first, Suzette agrees. After several false starts, a young woman named Dorrie agrees to be their surrogate, hoping that she can use the money she receives to go to college, but things don't go as planned... Taking place over the next fifteen years, the book explores the bonds of motherhood, marriage, and what it means to be a family.

Monday, February 27, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Living and working in London hasn't exactly turned out how Katie Brenner has planned. Barely scraping by on her salary at Cooper Clemmow and having to do the most menial jobs at the company have at times left her pretty depressed--albeit in a funny way. When she meets co-worker Alex, Katie--or Cat (as she has now christened herself to everyone)--feels really alive and attracted to him. Her boss at the firm, Demeter Farlowe, however, treats all of the staff in a demeaning way. Katie, though, feels Demeter is creative and really good at her job. Soon, however, Katie is fired and ends up back home in Somerset trying to help her dad with his latest business venture, a vacation spot for people who are into glamping. Will Katie show everyone that she really has the talent to make it in London? My Not So Perfect Life is a light, humorous tale of a woman trying to make her dreams come true.

Shadow Man by Alan Drew

Police detective Ben Wade moved back to his hometown of Rancho Santa Elena from Los Angeles four years ago. He and his wife, Rachel, have since divorced, but are co-parenting their teenage daughter, Emma. Life in Rancho Santa Elena has been quieter than L.A., but Ben finds himself tracking down a serial killer and trying to determine if a high school student's death was suicide. The boy who possibly committed suicide was on the school swim team, like Ben was at his age, and the boy's death brings back memories of Ben's childhood and teen years that he would really like to keep buried. Set in the 1980's, Shadow Man, features a changing Southern California along with a character-centered mystery.  It will be published in May.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie

Gemma James finds herself both professionally and personally drawn to investigating the murder of nanny Reagan Keating, who was found dead in a Notting Hill communal garden. Working with DCI Kerry Boatman, Gemma tries to uncover who would want Reagan dead. At the same time, she's worried about the boy Reagan looked after, ballet dancer Jess. Meanwhile, Gemma's husband, Duncan Kincaid suspects possible high-level corruption in Scotland Yard when his former boss, Denis Childs, is viciously attacked. With help from their colleagues Doug and Melody, will both Gemma and Duncan be successful in discovering the truth? While I enjoyed catching up with the characters in this long-running mystery series, I found that the use of four points of view diluted the storyline. Also, a substantial part of the novel relied on events in the two previous books, and I wished I had retained more of the plot points. An ok read, but not one of her best.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe

Thea Paris' job as someone who rescues kidnap victims takes her around the world and puts her in lots of dangerous situations. Growing up as the daughter of wealthy businessman, Christos Paris, her childhood was altered with the kidnapping of her older brother, Nikos. Nikos came home after almost a year, but returned angry and different. In addition, a rift developed between Christos and Nikos. Now, when Christos is kidnapped on the eve of one of the biggest deals in his career, Thea (with help from childhood friend and colleague, Rif Asker) works hard to bring him home. Nikos seems to be trying to assist Thea--or does he really want Christos dead? In this fast-paced series opener, Howe gives the reader a story with non-stop action and intrigue and a likable main character in Thea.  Give to readers who enjoyed Taylor Stevens' excellent thriller The Informationist.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Psychiatrist David and his beautiful wife, Adele, move to London to try and put the past behind them. However, after David kisses his receptionist, Louise, and appears to restrict Adele's movements by checking in with her a couple of times a day and watching her spending habits, their relationship seems to be heading in the same awful direction as before. When Louise and Adele become friends without David's knowledge, the triangle of their relationships becomes even more complex and disturbing.  Is Louise just a pawn--and can she really trust either David or Adele? Behind Her Eyes is a fast-paced novel that will appeal to readers of The Girl on the Train. It also has a truly unexpected ending.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

In 1863, sixteen-year-old Placidia agrees to marry Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for a very short time. He is a soldier on leave, so while he goes back to fight for the Confederacy, she travels to his South Carolina farm to look after it and be a mother to his young son, Charles. Being alone and isolated, living with only the slaves and no other family leaves Placidia vulnerable. When Gryffth comes home after the war is over, he finds that she has been accused of having a child while he was gone and then murdering the baby. Placidia finds herself arrested, in jail, without her husband's support. What really happened while Gryffth was gone? The Second Mrs. Hockaday is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical fiction (especially Sandra Dallas) that highlights the everyday lives of women.

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

The books I loved most last year were all mysteries or thrillers.

In alphabetical order, by author:

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

This Edgar award-winning novel featured several memorable characters that are still vivid in my mind more than six months later.

Home by Harlan Coben

Coben has never appeared on my list before, but he consistently writes page turners that are extremely hard not to gulp down in more than a few sittings.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Sorry, Bosch still remains, after all these years, probably my favorite series character.

Thursday's Children by Nicci French

This fourth book featuring Freida Klein is one of the best.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

When Aaron Falk gets word that his best friend from childhood, Luke Hadler, has been murdered, along with Hadler's wife, Karen and six-year-old son, Billy, Falk travels back to the small town of Kiewarra to attend their funerals. Aaron left Kiewarra twenty years ago under a black cloud after a good friend of Aaron's and Luke's, Ellie, was found dead of an apparent suicide. At the time, many believed that Aaron was responsible, and even now, many still hold that view. With Luke the prime suspect in his family's death and with questions still lingering about Ellie's, Falk decides to stay in town for a bit to try and clear his and Luke's names. The Dry is a gripping debut novel with a great sense of place and two intriguing mysteries. I do wish the book were longer, to allow for more character development. A sure bet for those looking for a new thriller writer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Best-selling novelist and professor Thomas Huston has fled his home, leaving behind the bloodied bodies of his wife and three children. On the run and suspected of murder, he doesn't know what to do. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco of the Pennsylvania State Police recently had become friends with Huston and doesn't believe he's a killer. Leading the investigation, DeMarco hopes they will find Huston alive and unravel the mystery of who killed the Huston family. However, DeMarco has his own demons that threaten his task. Two Days Gone is a fast-paced tale of secrets and jealousy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

As a professor of Forensic Archaeology, Ruth Galloway is called to a underground tunnel where some bones have been found by a surveyor. Ruth determines that they are human bones and they appear to have been boiled, which is odd.  Around the same time, a local homeless man, Eddie, reports to DCI Harry Nelson that a friend named Barbara has gone missing. Like Eddie, she lives on the streets. Could there be some connection between Barbara's disappearance and the bones Ruth found? In this latest series mystery, Griffiths continues the personal stories of Ruth and her friends from the police force. While the mystery in The Chalk Pit is not especially compelling, it's still good to spend time with the characters. It will be published in May.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry

For thirty-five years, Dan Chase has lived quietly in Vermont, raising a daughter and happily married until his wife died ten years ago. Chase has kept himself mentally and physically sharp waiting for the day when someone discovers who he really is and comes to kill him. That day is now. All those years ago, Chase delivered $20 million for the CIA to a man named Faris Hamzah, who was supposed to give the money to Libyan insurgents. Instead, Hamzah kept the money for himself. Chase stole it back, and when he tried to get in touch with his superiors, they cut him off completely. Chase had no choice, but to disappear. Now on the run, trying to outwit and overpower those who are coming after him, it's a cat and mouse game to see who comes out on top. The Old Man is a extremely satisfying fast-paced thriller perfect for a cold winter's day.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Hollow Men by Rob McCarthy

In his job working as a doctor for the London Metropolitan Police, Harry Kent is called to the scene of a hostage situation. Teenager Solomon Idris is holed up in a fast food restaurant with a gun and appears really sick, so the authorities want Harry to go in and assess his condition. While in there, Solomon reveals that he has taken everyone hostage because of Keisha, but before he can reveal more, Solomon is critically injured. Harry along with DI Frances Noble finds himself delving into Solomon's life to find out what would cause him to commit such a desperate act. Along the way, Harry's life, along with others', are put in serious danger as the truth is uncovered. While The Hollow Men, the first book in a projected trilogy featuring Harry Kent, isn't a police procedural, its frame and pacing make it feel like one. It's also a good choice for readers who enjoy British mystery novels and are looking for a new author.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

In 1940 in the small town of Chilbury, Kent, the vicar has disbanded the village's choir, since almost all the men have gone off to fight in the war. But the women, lead by newcomer Primrose Trent, start the Chilbury Ladies' Choir. Taking place over six months and told from four characters' points of view, the story gives the reader a close up view of what it was like living in coastal England during World War II.  Mrs. Tilling, a widow, has just sent her son, David, off to war. Lonely, she finds a new purpose and strength. Meanwhile, midwife Edwina Paltry is not entirely honest and is out to make some quick money. Thirteen-year-old Kitty and her beautiful older sister Venetia, from the wealthy Winthrop family, bicker and dream of finding love. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a heartwarming tale great for readers who enjoyed The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It will be published next month.