Tuesday, September 14, 2021

 

This book kept me guessing right to the end!  Lux McAllister is somewhat adrift.  Estranged from her father, when her mother dies she feels she's all alone in the world.  That is until she meets the gorgeous Nico.  Nico is from a wealthy family, but refuses to ask them for any help.  Instead, he sails around in his boat, stopping where the fancy strikes him, and does odd jobs to support himself.  When he and Lux become romantically involved, he asks her to sail with him to Maui, then on to other romantic-sounding destinations when they get tired of Hawaii.  Lux, with no other ties, jumps at the chance.   Once in Hawaii, Lux has to work to support them while Nico doesn't seem in any hurry to do anything to put their dreams into action.  Eventually, two young women offer Nico a large amount of money to sail them to the deserted Meroe Island.  Having nothing better to do, he agrees and Lux, who suddenly finds herself unemployed, comes along.  Once they arrive at the supposedly deserted island, they are somewhat dismayed to see another boat already anchored there.  It turns out the Aussie couple on board, Jake and Eliza, are friendly, welcoming, and willing to share their provisions.  Soon it becomes a daily event to swim to shore, spend the days on the beach and the nights eating and drinking.  When another boat with a somewhat shifty-looking man arrives, the laid-back vibe of the island turns sinister.  As strange things begin to happen, everyone's secrets come out and not everyone will leave the island alive.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Stan and Joy Delaney are at loose ends in Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty.  Their four adult children are all out living their own lives, and they've recently sold their tennis school.  That might explain why Joy is delighted to have a stray waif to mother when a disheveled young woman suddenly appears on her doorstep.  The young woman, Savannah, says she has been assaulted by her boyfriend and knocked on the Delaney's door because the house looked nice.  Without a thought, Joy immediately takes Savannah in.  Over the coming days, Savannah returns the favor of having a place to stay by preparing amazing, gourmet meals for the couple. When Joy suddenly goes missing, her children and the police go back in time to investigate events leading up to the disappearance.  All four children have their own problems.  Oldest son Troy has recently been left by his long-term girlfriend because he's too passive.  The other son, Logan, is also separated from his wife but she has recently come back into his life to ask a big favor.  Daughter Amy is something of a free spirit who is currently sharing a house with much younger housemates and flitting from job to job.  Youngest daughter Brooke has her own physiotherapy practice, but her husband has also left and it's been hard for her to attract clients to her new business. All of the children have a complicated relationship with their parents, especially their father.  He coached them all in tennis as well as taking on numerous students over the years.  All of the children eventually gave up the game, and Stan's best student left him for another coach as just as success started building.  Stan and Joy have also had a somewhat tumultuous relationship over the years, with Stan frequently walking out and staying away for frightening periods of time.  Still, he surely couldn't be responsible for Joy's disappearance?  The story goes back and forth between present time and the days surrounding when the mysterious Savannah turned up.  I listened to an audiobook version read by Caroline Lee.   Her narration was very good, if a bit squeaky when she wanted to convey disbelief.  Overall, the story was very good and many clues were dropped throughout which were eventually explained satisfactorily.  The only quibble I have is the tennis angle.  It was way overboard, in my opinion! Tennis, tennis, tennis on every page and coloring every action.  It all got to be a bit much.  If you can overlook that, it was a very enjoyable book.

Disclaimer: I received an audiobook copy of Apples Never Fall from NetGalley in exchange for this review

 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

 

Alice seems to be living the perfect life in The Therapist.  She's just moved to London to be with her boyfriend Leo, with whom she's been having a long-distance romance.  You'd think that she would be excited to start her new life, but Alice is a bit nervous.  She's moved from her hometown of Harlestone where she lived in a cottage she loved.  Not knowing anyone in town, she's eager to meet her new neighbors.  She and Leo move into a big house in an exclusive neighborhood called The Circle, since the houses all form a circle around a central communal garden area.  Soon after moving in, she invites everyone in the Circle to her new home for a neighborly get together.  

While she is entertaining, she notices that one couple, Maria and Tim, haven't turned up.  When a lone male rings the doorbell, she assumes it's the missing Tim and invites him in.  He asks to see the house and she happily shows him around while everyone else is out in the garden.  A few days later, she meets the real Tim and is shocked to discover he's not the man who came to the party.  Disturbed, since they live in a gated community, she begins asking everyone if they know who the man could be.

Leo is no help, since he was not too thrilled about having people around anyway.  He's also not very interested in getting to know the neighbors.  Since he works away from home during the week, Alice is left to try to investigate what's going on.  Her uneasiness isn't lessened when she keeps feeling as if someone is breaking into the house at night and watching her sleep.  When she discovers some information that Leo has been keeping from her, she is drawn into investigating some disturbing events that happened before she moved into the Circle.

Occasional chapters from some sessions between the "therapist" and the clients are interspersed with Alice's search for answers into what happened in her house in the past, and the strange events that are happening to her in the present.  We are left to wonder both who the therapist and the clients are and if there is a sinister connection between those sessions and what is happening in Alice's life.

The character of Alice is a bit of a trial.  She works from home translating books and has no family other than Leo, so at times it seems as if she has too much time on her hands.  The way she badgers her neighbors about every little thing is quite annoying (when one of the neighbors gives Alice a telling off late in the book for this behavior, I had to cheer her on).  She also has so many options when things get a bit tough that it's hard to believe.  Not only does she have a friend who owns a farm back in Harlestone who's forever offering her an indefinite place to stay, she has another friend in London with the same offer, as well as one of the neighbors who offers to let her move in.  She and Leo seem to shuttle around (mostly apart) playing musical houses amongst all the various friends and acquaintances.  It's all very difficult to keep up with!  The actual mystery of the novel, what happened to the previous occupants of the house, gets re-hashed and worked around so much that the final resolution is a bit too long in coming.

Disclaimer:  I received an Advanced Readers' Edition of The Therapist from St. Martin's Press in exchange for this review

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

 

Nora is a stressed out working wife and mother who's just asking for a little help from her spouse in The Husbands.  Although her husband, Hayden, helps out occasionally and will do specific tasks if asked, the vast majority of logistical household and personal duties fall to Nora.  While this situation would be maddening enough without the extra stress, Nora is in the process of going up for partner at her law firm.  To make matters worse, she also feels like she can't say no to any requests from her firm to work extra or be on call for emergency tech help from the older male partners.

Since Nora is expecting a second child, she and Hayden have outgrown their current living situation and begin looking around for a house to buy.  Nora thinks they've found the perfect home in the housing development known as Dynasty Ranch.  She becomes a bit alarmed when it seems like buying the house doesn't just require the signing of documents, but that she and Hayden will need to be approved by the current residents.  

Nora gets along well with the other women of Dynasty Ranch, although she is dismayed to find out that an author whose work she admires, Penny, has recently lost her husband to a fire.  Hayden isn't as charmed by the house or neighborhood as Nora is, but (as usual) he is content to let her sort out all the details.  At some social gatherings where they are being vetted by the current residents, Nora is amazed at the amount of cheerful help that the husbands of the neighborhood provide. In order to see if she can't get Hayden on this bandwagon, Nora talks him into attending some couples therapy sessions with Cornelia, the resident therapist.  While these sessions are somewhat unorthodox and dredge up some information that she would rather keep hidden, Nora can soon see a definite change in Hayden's willingness to help out around the house.

As Nora is brought in to investigate the fire that caused the death of Penny's husband, she begins to sense that everything might not be as picture perfect in Dynasty Ranch as it appears at first glance.  It was very easy to see how overwhelmed Nora is and to sympathize with her situation.  While the amazing array of professional women at Dynasty Ranch seem to have come up with the perfect solution to getting a little help, their techniques might be a little drastic for some!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Husbands from the publisher in exchange for this review

Monday, May 17, 2021

 

Far from looking forward to their weekly bingo game for some entertainment, the four members of the Thursday Murder Club hold meetings in their retirement community (when they can squeeze in around other groups) to discuss unsolved murders.  There's Joyce, a retired nurse; Ron, who is famous as a labor activist; Ibrahim, a retired psychologist; and Elizabeth, who did all sorts of mysterious and dangerous work although we're never really given any clear information about what her job title might have been.

After one of their meetings the group sees Ian Ventham having a heated exchange with Tony Curran.  Ian is the owner and developer of the retirement village and is planning a huge expansion over some nearby farmland which will require, among other things, the relocation of a cemetery.  The current buildings are on the site of a former convent, so the cemetery is the final resting place of the many nuns who lived there.  Tony is Ian's right-hand man, doing everything from building work to some light "enforcement" duties when the situation requires it.  Just hours after that argument, Tony ends up murdered, and the members of the club can't believe their luck -- here is a murder they can investigate where they know all the players.

A female police officer, Donna De Freitas, comes out to give frequent talks on safety, so the members of the club hope she will be helpful to them in supplying information about how the investigation is coming along.  Donna isn't allowed on the "murder squad" at the police station, but that's quickly arranged with a few quick phone calls from Elizabeth.  Donna and her boss, the overweight and slightly depressed DCI Chris Hudson, try their best to investigate Tony's murder, but really, the Thursday Murder Club is miles ahead of them in terms of technique and resources.  Still, they do share any helpful information with the police, and occasionally a helpful piece of information comes their way from official sources.

Another murder occurs, in front of nearly 100 witnesses, and the body of a victim that has remained undiscovered for nearly 50 years also turns up.  The members of the club keep busy trying to sort out who the killer (killers?) might be and trying to untangle all the possible motivations.

The story is very entertaining, and because there are short chapters alternating with entries from Joyce's diary, the action moves along at a fast pace.  My only criticism is that there are an awful lot of characters to keep up with.  A list of characters would be helpful, especially since some of them have very similar names.  I also wasn't too thrilled with the ending, since several strange plot holes weren't addressed.  Still, it was a fun story and it was quite entertaining to see what information Elizabeth would unearth  next from her never-ending "sources" from her previous life.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

 

Grace Bennet and her friend Viv are beyond excited to have finally escaped their small village of Drayton for the bright lights of London in August 1939.  Friends since childhood, they had always dreamed of more exciting lives than what Drayton could offer.  When Grace's mother dies, she is told to leave the house she as lived in all her life and this is a good reason to fulfil her dream of moving to the big city.  Luckily, her mother's best friend, Mrs. Weatherford, has always offered Grace a place to stay if she ever comes to London. 

Grace and Viv are welcomed excitedly by Mrs. Weatherford and her son Colin.  Although Colin is a few years younger than the girls, Grace has known him since childhood.  He works at Harrods in the "Pet Kingdom" department (which seems, sadly to have become extinct in more recent times).  Colin helps Viv to get a job at Harrods, and Grace is told Mrs. Weatherford has arranged a job for her at Primrose Hill Books, owned by her friend Mr. Evans.  Grace, having never had much spare time, isn't a reader, but with no other prospects, she agrees to the job until she can find something better.

The store turns out to be very dusty and disorganized, so Grace immediately sets out to do what she can to make the shop more appealing to customers.  Having worked in her uncle's small store for most of her life, she knows a thing or two about enticing people into the store and persuading them to buy.  Mr. Evans doesn't put up much resistance to this new plan, and soon the store is very popular.  Unfortunately, just as Grace is settling in to her new life, World War II breaks out.  

Having survived the first war, Mrs. Weatherford is calm in the face of air raid sirens.  Colin has constructed a bomb shelter in the back yard, so everyone in their small house has a place to go when needed.  Mrs. W is terrified that gentle Colin will be drafted, and soon enough, this happens.  Not long afterward, Viv also decides to volunteer and moves away for training.  Grace has also met a very interesting and handsome customer, George Anderson, but he is also called away to serve.  Left somewhat alone, Grace volunteers to be a local Air Raid Warden.  After her days working at the bookshop, Grace spends her nights patrolling the neighborhood, assisting people to shelters, putting out small fires, and helping to look for survivors after bombings.

As the title suggests, soon Mr. Evans's bookshop is one of the few that hasn't suffered extreme bomb damage, and therefore becomes something of a refuge for booklovers.  Grace helps to spread her newfound love of literature to others by reading aloud in bomb shelters and the bookstore, drawing even more crowds.

The book does a very good job of showcasing the lives of regular people during WWII. Dealing with rationing, awaiting the next air raid siren, and emerging to find dead bodies and destroyed buildings was a daily part of the lives of Londoners for many years.  The fact that the bookshop was a central place for people to gather and find some distraction from the events taking place around them makes the story very enjoyable.  Perhaps things were very different in those days, but I did find it a bit of a stretch that apparently very, very few people were familiar with the works of Dickens, Austen, Eliot, etc. but it was heartening that once exposed to those classics, everyone embraced them enthusiastically! 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Last Bookshop in London from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Monday, May 3, 2021

 

Christopher "Kit" Marlowe is known both for his plays and for his untimely death at the age of only 29, purportedly after a disagreement over a bill at a tavern.  In A Tip for the Hangman, Allison Epstein looks at the tumultuous events that were happening during Marlowe's life, and offers up a different motivation for his death.

Kit was a student at Cambridge University when the story opens in October 1585.  The son of a poor and frequently drunken shoemaker in Canterbury, Marlowe was given a scholarship to study at the university, a fact which made both him and his professors feel he is unworthy to be in such exalted surroundings.  It comes as something of a shock when Sir Frances Walsingham, the Royal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, comes to Cambridge to recruit Kit to be a spy.  Catholic sympathizers are plotting to overthrow the queen and install their own favorite, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne.  Walsingham wants Kit to pose as a servant and gather as much information as possible about any potential threats to the crown.  

After this assignment, Kit moves to London and becomes a celebrated playwright until, due to his previous work and his talent at breaking coded messages, he's called upon for another mission 5 years later.  Unfortunately, his champion and protector, Walsingham, is not exactly the picture of health . . .

To make matters worse, Kit is romantically involved with Tom, a fellow student from Cambridge, who isn't too happy about Kit's spying activities.  Kit also has a never ending series of conflicts with various family members who aren't at all impressed by his fame as London's leading playwright.  Kit gets involved in some double-dealings which also put him in danger from both sides of the political divide.

I enjoyed the time period and all of the details of the story that put the reader back in Elizabethan times.  All of the political wheeling and dealing and double-crossing is somehow very familiar to a modern reader! I didn't always enjoy Kit's spying activities, which seemed to involve everyone taking him at his word, even when he'd been involved in some pretty suspicious activities that would have likely caused some questions among those he was spying on.  Still, it is good to have Kit Marlowe brought to life in this adventurous book.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Tip for the Hangman from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Saturday, April 24, 2021

 

Sister wives Rachel, Emily, and Tina don't seem to like their shared husband Blake (or each other) very much, so when Blake is found murdered, it would seem as if more than one wife had a reason to want him dead. The family lives out in the desert in a compound filled with broken-down equipment and not much else.  

First wife Rachel keeps the family together and spends most of her time canning food in preparation for the apocalypse that Blake assures them is coming soon.  Second wife Emily is flighty and immature, and not much help with anything.  Tina, a recovering addict and former sex worker from Las Vegas, provides most of the family's financial support through her job as a real estate agent.

When Blake is discovered murdered, the police are convinced one of the wives is the guilty party.  The problem is figuring out which one.  Although their suspicious fall to Rachel, suspected of being upset that her place as favorite wife has been taken over by the others, Emily soon confesses.  Based on this, the police have to let Rachel go.  She and Tina decide to work together to figure out why Blake was apparently attempting to buy a deserted compound previously occupied by a polygamist cult that Rachel grew up in. They also plan to prove that Emily is innocent and that her confession is just another in a long series of lies she tells.

The story is told in alternating chapters by each wife, so we get to see the events unfold from various perspectives.  We also see how each woman was drawn into the "sister wife" lifestyle.  The author doesn't hold back on her disdain for this type of lifestyle, from repeated pointing out how most of the women and children living in such situations are heavily medicated, to emphasizing how domestic violence is actively encouraged in such households.  The other, traditional Mormons, are also very contemptuous of people who live in such arrangements, calling it illegal, adulterous, and shameful. 

It was interesting to read a book about an alternative lifestyle and to find out what might cause someone to choose that way of life.  In reading the afterward of the book, it seems the author is British and had done a lot of research on this topic, rather than drawing from her own experiences.  

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Black Widows from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


Most siblings have a complicated relationship to some degree.  That potential conflict can be even worse when the siblings are twins.  Which twin is The Good Sister in Sally Hepworth's novel is the central question. Fern and Rose are living in Australia and each facing their own challenges.  Fern has sensory processing disorder and cannot abide loud noises or bright colors or crowds.  She also has problems recognizing social cues and is very blunt in her interactions with others.  Still, she is a very competent employee at her job in the local library and she maintains her own apartment.  Rose is married but unable to conceive a child.  Things aren't helped by the fact that her husband has taken a temporary job on the other side of the world in London.

The chapters alternate between Fern's day-to-day observations and a diary being kept by Rose where she discusses her own problems, her concern about Fern, and her memories of growing up with an unpredictable, vindictive mother.  

Fern decides that she can help Rose out by having a baby for her.  In her usual fashion, she thoroughly researches how she might go about this, and decides that the best way is to have a casual relationship with a stranger and conceive the old-fashioned way.  Luckily, a potential partner soon emerges in a library visitor she dubs "Wally" due to his resemblance to the main character in the "Where's Wally (Waldo to us Americans) books.  Wally has been living in the United States, but thanks to his mother's Australian citizenship, he's decided to relocate.  Since he's unsure of his future plans, for the moment he's living out of his van.  He meets Fern by coming to the library frequently to use their showers (?).  It turns out that Wally is a bit unconventional and has some similarities to Fern in the way he deals with the world.  What starts out as a casual fling soon becomes more serious.  This new relationship alarms Rose, but is she concerned for Fern's welfare, or that she might lose her influence over Fern?

While Fern and Rose are keeping a dark secret from their shared childhood, can they trust that their recollections of what happened are true?  I really enjoyed learning more about Fern and seeing how the other characters reacted to her somewhat unusual precautions to daily life.  It was also interesting to see how two people could have such different memories about the same shared events.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Good Sister from NetGalley in exchange for this review 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

 

Whitney Whitaker and her cousin Buck are in the business of flipping properties.  They have so far not done any major projects and their budget is somewhat modest.  That doesn't stop them from bidding on the derelict Music City Motor Court motel in Murder with a View. Because the site offers wonderful views of the downtown Nashville skyline, Whitney doesn't think there will be any problems in finding buyers for the planned condos.  After a bit of subterfuge, she manages to outbid her nemesis, Thad Gentry, and she and Buck immediately start the redevelopment of the site.

The first issue is . . . someone is occupying one of the empty rooms.  The non-paying guest turns out to be Jimmy, a vet who travels around the country on his motorcycle as the mood takes him.  At first Whitney wants to order him to leave, but then she decides that a willing, cheap worker might come in handy during the refurb.  The next problem is when another room is found to be occupied, but this guest has "checked out" of life.  Things get even worse when it turns out that the dead body belongs to none other then rising country music star Beckett Morgan, singer of the popular hit Party in the Pasture.

The motel becomes the site of crying fans and candle-carrying vigils as soon as word of the death gets out. Even with the unexpected increase in traffic, Whitney and Buck are able to continue the renovations.  Whitney does take time off now and then to help her boyfriend, homicide investigator Collin Flynn, question witnesses and track down leads.  She is also a cat-mom to Sawdust, who helps out in all sorts of ways, both with her job and in keeping Whitney safe.

Chapters alternate from Whitney and Sawdust's point of view (yes, we get to hear what the cat is thinking!).  The story is somewhat slow-paced, and the suspects and their possible involvements in the crime are repeated quite often so the reader doesn't lose track of anyone.  As a cat lover myself, I appreciated that Sawdust (and his small feline sidekick, Cleo) were such a prominent part of the story.  I can't recommend taking a cat along to a construction site, though . . .  The story was enjoyable and I enjoyed the vivid Nashville settings.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Murder With a View from NetGalley in exchange for this review


Thursday, April 1, 2021

 

Who doesn't love a candy shop?  Not only can you find your personal favorites, but there's also the tantalizing possibility of discovering something new and delicious.  That is if the shop is open and the stock is fresh.  Unfortunately, Rosie Hopkins didn't find that when she left London for the country town of Lipton to help out in her great aunt Lilian's shop.  

Rosie enjoyed her job as auxiliary nurse, even though she didn't have a permanent position and with her lack of full nursing qualifications, she was frequently given the most unpleasant jobs around the hospital.  Her relationship with her boyfriend of seven years, Gerard was . . . fine, no really!  Even though he showed no inclination toward proposing and lately seemed to have gotten a bit too comfortable.  

When Rosie's mother calls from Australia and guilt-trips her into helping out Lilian, Rosie hopes that a little distance from Gerard might make him realize how much he misses her.  So Rosie hops on a bus and heads north to the countryside to help out.  Lilian, at 87, is experiencing some health issues, but Rosie and there rest of the family had no idea that she had pretty much abandoned running the family candy shop.  When Rosie arrives, it is dusty and most of the remaining wares are well past their sell-by dates.

As Rosie takes charge of Lilian's life and business, she begins to make friends in town and catches the eye of several interesting men.  Interspersed with Rosie's adventures are flashbacks of Lilian's life, explaining why she never married or left the village.  There are also plenty of comments on particular sweets as well as candy in general.  Several recipes are included so that if the lure of the sweet treats gets to be too much, you can whip some up for yourself.

I was enjoying the book and all the talk of sweets until near the end when it suddenly took a turn into teenaged romance territory.  Rosie was having her flirtations and re-examining her relationship with Gerard, but suddenly there was a lot of giggling, "you really like him, don't yous," and stern advice from matronly ladies thrown about.  When pretty much the whole village turns out to help Rosie get ready for "the ball," I realized the book was aiming for a different direction than I had thought.  It was a good enough, if predictable story, but some of the elements were just a bit too cringey for my tastes.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Sweetshop of Dreams from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

 

The "Satanic Panic" scare of the 1980s is the main focus of Whisper Down the Lane, where adults were all too eager to jump to conclusions and ruin lives.  

Young Sean lives with his single mother.  Overworked and without any family support, Sean's mother has to work long hours to support them, leaving Sean in the care of babysitters.  When a bully in his class begins to beat him up, Sean is too afraid of repercussions to tell his mother or any other adults the truth about where his injuries came from.  The adults quickly look for someone to blame and their gaze turns to the local elementary school, where any teacher or staff member who seems a little odd or overly friendly with the children immediately becomes the focus of suspicion.  

Decades later, Sean is now known as Richard and is married to a fellow teacher.  His past is a carefully guarded secret, even from his wife.  When sinister things begin happening at the school where he now works, Richard begins to fear that his past is catching up with him.

The author did a really good job of showing how the adults in these types of situations are ready to believe the most outlandish tales that children come up with instead of attempting to find out what is really happening.  The children, suddenly thrust into the spotlight and not willing to disappoint, do all they can to tell the adults what they want to hear.  The adult "experts" also coach and cajole the kids into agreeing to point the finger at totally innocent people.  While this book does refer to the "telephone game," where children whisper a message throughout the group, only for it to become terribly distorted by the end, the story also had a lot of similarities with the Salem Witch Trials.  

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Whisper Down the Lane from the publisher in exchange for this review

Saturday, February 27, 2021

 

While being 11 is trying at times for everyone, Norman Foreman seems to have it harder than most.  Growing up in a single-parent household in the far southwest of England, he's never known his father.  A quiet and reserved boy, he also unfortunately suffers from a severe case of psoriasis which gets worse in times of stress (and also isn't helped by his love of cheesy toast).  The only bright spot in his life is his best friend Jax.  Jax is Norman's complete opposite:  loud, attention-seeking, and confident.  The two boys are united by their love of comedy and they make the perfect duo:  the natural clown and the straight man.   They set out a 5 year plan to perform a comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the time they are 15.  While they have yet to actually perform in front of an audience, they spend all their time writing jokes, studying famous comedians, and planning their future comedy careers.  This all comes to an abrupt and shocking end when Jax suddenly dies.  

Norman, naturally, is completely devastated by the death of his close and really only friend.  His mother, Sadie, is at a loss as to how to comfort him.  Sadie has been somewhat adrift in life since becoming an orphan at the age of 19.  With no family, she set out on a reckless and self-destructive path that led her to having a son (with no idea who his father could be), and also dropping out of college with no qualifications.  She's worked for the past 6 years at a car lot, taking calls and commiserating with her co-worker Leonard about their boorish boss, Dennis.  Leonard is over 80 and responds to Dennis's inappropriate and demeaning insults with quiet acts of rebellion that Sadie sees and appreciates.

With the death of his best friend, Norman's 5 Year Plan can no longer be completed.  Sadie notices that he has amended the poster in his bed with a new plan, which includes finding his father and performing as a solo act at the Fringe Festival.  Sadie, feeling helpless in the face of her son's grief, decides to do what she can to help him fulfil his new plan.  She even confides in octogenarian Leonard, and he enthusiastically decides to become her helper.  So the three set out on a road trip to find the four possible candidates for Norman's father while at the same time getting him some "open mike" experience on their way to Edinburgh.  Because by the time they get there word will have spread about Little Big Man (Norman's comedy persona) and it will be easy to get a slot to perform at the festival . . . won't it?

Norman is a very likeable and eager-to-please boy who is also sensitive to the feelings of others.  His mother, Sadie, is somewhat scattered and disorganized, so it's lucky that the elderly, but encouraging Leonard agrees to go along on the trip and arrange the details.  I enjoyed the story, but it seemed to lose steam somewhat about 2/3 of the way through when Norman unexpectedly embarks on a caper with a new character.  I thought that part of the story deviated from the previous action and dragged on a bit too long.  Still, it was nice to follow Norman's adventures and to see him overcome the loss of his friend and become a more confident individual.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, February 21, 2021

 

Three generations of the Gogarty family of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland go through all manner of upheavals in Good Eggs.  Millie Gogarty, the matriarch of the family, has been widowed for a long time.  Boredom and some unknown drive causes her to indulge in the occasional minor bout of shoplifting.  Unfortunately, this has not gone unnoticed in the small family-owned shop that is her usual target, so when her latest excursion results in a call to the police, her only child, Kevin, is called to collect her from the police station.  Kevin has recently turned 50 and experienced another personal setback:  he's lost his longtime job at a magazine that focused on celebrity gossip.  Now he has to compete with younger, tech-savvy applicants for positions covering celebrities he's never heard of.  His wife Grace has a high-paying job that requires her to work long hours away from the family.   Three of Kevin's four children are still at home, but teenaged twins Nuala and Aideen seem to always be at each other's throats.  Sixteen year old Aideen, in particular, is moody and uncooperative.  Kevin is left to try to keep his mother out of jail, find a new job, and keep Aideen from getting into trouble herself.

Kevin tells his mother that the police have agreed not to charge her with any crimes, as long as she agrees to have a home health aide check up on her a few hours each day.  Millie is appalled, but soon begins to appreciate the cheerful, take-charge young American woman Sylvia, who is hired to look after her (and report any misdeed to Kevin).  Is Sylvia too good to be true?

Aideen, much to her horror, is soon packed off to a boarding school across town in order to separate her from her sister and also give her a chance to get her grades up during her last few years of school.  While Aideen didn't really have friends in her old school, physical proximity soon means she has a new friend in the rebellious and angry Brigid.  If Aideen couldn't stay out of trouble on her own, how much hope is there once she has a willing accomplice?

Aideen and Millie have a bond based on their shared feelings of anger at being threated with being sent away.  Kevin continually suggests to Millie that she might be better off in a nursing home where she can be looked after, but of course she wants no part of that.  Aideen is sent to the boarding school against her will, so she can fully understand her grandmother's concerns. 

As more and more problems build for the Gogarty family, can they all navigate their current problems and the new ones that are constantly cropping up?  The book was very entertaining and I really enjoyed seeing what was going to happen next.  Millie, especially, is a character and her constant escapades would make for an interesting series!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Good Eggs from NetGalley in exchange for this review 

Monday, February 1, 2021

 

When teacher Margery Benson intercepts a particularly cruel drawing of herself circulating among her students, something inside her snaps.  The Miss Benson of Miss Benson's Beetle suddenly decides to give up her unrewarding career in education in order to fulfil a lifelong dream:  traveling to New Caledonia to discover proof of the golden beetle that has so far evaded capture.  As a 40-something spinster in post-WWII London, she knows she will need an assistant to help her on the expedition to the other side of the world.  She advertises the position and is somewhat dismayed to only receive three applicants: a someone peculiar former POW named Mundic, a flighty young woman named Miss Pretty, and (luckily) a perfectly competent woman named Miss Hamilton who is herself a retired teacher.  Just as everything is being arranged for the trip, Miss Hamilton drops out and Margery is forced to go with her second (and really only) choice, Enid Pretty.

Enid seems entirely unsuited to trekking in mountainous terrain in search of the elusive beetle.  She has died blonde hair, high heels, a tiger-print bikini, and does not stop talking except for brief periods when she is asleep.  Additionally, she brought along a great deal of luggage, including a red case that she never lets out of her sight.

On the ship during the first part of their voyage, it soon becomes apparent that the person who didn't get the assistant job is not going to take being passed over lightly.  Mundic stows away on the ship and keeps track of Margery's movements in a notebook.  At times he becomes confused as to where he is and if he's still being held prisoner, but for the most part his stalking of Margery remains his focus.

Once they make it to New Caledonia, Margery discovers that the majority of her beetle collecting and observation equipment has failed to arrive.  With limited supplies, she and Enid must rely on unorthodox methods to try to find the beetle before their allotted two months of searching is up.  Through rough terrain, dangerous weather and assorted disasters, Margery and Enid form an unlikely bond where secrets are revealed and a deep friendship takes hold.

I really enjoyed the story of Margery's unlikely search for the beetle that she'd only heard vague references to throughout her life.  The unusual cast of characters constantly threw up surprises and showed an unusual amount of resilience.  A mystery involving Enid also makes the story quite thrilling as we root for her while also fearing what she has in her red case!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Miss Benson's Beetle from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Friday, January 22, 2021

 

I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and I was excited to read the book If I Disappear due to its story involving a true-crime podcaster.  Obsessive fan Sera Fleece becomes concerned when the host of the podcast Murder, She Spoke suddenly stops putting out her very regular episodes.  As the majority of episodes of the podcast had dealt with missing women, Sera immediately becomes convinced that Rachel, the podcaster, has been murdered (or somehow the victim of foul play).  Using clues from the various episodes, Sera decides to travel to Rachel's home and see if she can get to the bottom of the disappearance.

Sera is a very hard character to like or even sympathize with.  She mentions over and over how she was "born to disappear" and has just never felt at home in the world.  She married her ex-husband because he seemed like some she could tolerate and describes feeling detached at her wedding. She couldn't hold a job and wasn't close to her parents.  Now in her 30s, she has been sitting at home doing nothing for the past year other than listening to Rachel's podcast over and over.  

Rachel began her podcast with a story that was local to her:  the disappearance of a girl from her high school when she was also a student there.  Rachel has talked about her life a great deal on the podcast:  that her parents run Fountain Creek Guest Ranch in Happy Camp, California; that she doesn't get along with her parents; that she lives in a yellow house on the property.  

Sera shows up in town asking for directions to the ranch and is met with stares and hostility from the local townspeople.  When she finally finds it, the ranch appears to be mostly run-down and overgrown with blackberry brambles.  Rachel's mother, Addy, quickly agrees to give Sera a job at the ranch cleaning and helping with the horses.  The other people who live at the ranch are Rachel's father Emmett and a hired man named Jed.

Soon, Sera begins, not very subtly to ask about Rachel and her disappearance.  Maddeningly for her, no one seems concerned or upset that Rachel is gone.  Many people tell her Rachel was strange, didn't get along with anyone, and had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time only to return with outlandish tales of what had happened to her. Only her mother Addy has a different story: that Rachel has been murdered by "gangs" from town.  Even if her mother believes that, Sera finds it odd that no police investigation has been done.

The story meanders along with Sera confronting everyone at the ranch and in town with her suspicious about Rachel's disappearance.  She keeps trying to find a bond between her "disappearance" from her own life and Rachel's absence.  The book was a little confusing because while real-life true-crime cases were mentioned, there were also many fictional ones that made up some of the cases Rachel covered on her show.  The only thing I can say I really enjoyed about the book was the fact that several times I thought I had elements of the story figured out, but none of what I was expecting happened. Still, the ending felt somewhat rushed and illogical, so I wasn't entirely left feeling as if the story delivered on a satisfying resolution.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of If I Disappear from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

 

Kara Sullivan is a NYC-based author of romance novels who is not very successful in the romance department herself in Talk Bookish to Me.  Her friend Crissy is getting married, and as maid of honor Kara is doing her best to make the wedding day as smooth as possible for her friend.  At a pre-wedding party for the happy couple, Kara is shocked to find out that one of the groom's best friends, in from North Carolina for the wedding, is her old college sweetheart, Ryan.  

Even though it's been 10 years, Kara still has unfinished business with Ryan.  He graduated before she did, and while they tried a long-distance relationship, she could never believe that he wasn't seeing other girls.  After going out with Ryan for drinks, Kara finds that her writer's block has mysteriously disappeared.  She's able to finally make progress on the novel that is due to the publisher in only a few days.  Since Ryan seems to be the key to finishing the book, there's only one thing to do: spend as much time as possible with him while trying to maintain her aloof demeanor (guess how long that lasts?).  

As Kara works on her latest novel, we get chapters of that book showing the progress she's making.  Helpfully, Kara explains the romance genre to Ryan in great detail, which of course he's only too eager to absorb.  She details the various types of romance novels (Kara's own specialty is 19th century British historical novels), as well as the tropes that appear in all romance novels.  

While there was some funny banter in the book between Kara, Ryan, and her friends, the action moved along at a glacial pace.  The same things were gone over and over (the misunderstandings that led to the initial breakup, parental problems, etc.) without much progress being made.  I also didn't understand the romance-writer tutorial that was sort of awkwardly thrown in.  Still, Kara and Ryan's relationship did employ several of the tropes she mentioned, so at least this book followed the guidelines!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Talk Bookish to Me from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

A Beautiful Blue Death turns out to be nothing of the sort.  Lovely housemaid Prudence Smith has been found murdered with the rare poison bella indigo.  To confuse matters further, a small bottle of arsenic is left on the bedside table, even though this is not what killed her.  Could it be a strange case of suicide? These are all matters that require the investigative skills of Charles Lenox, second son (therefore untitled) but still wealthy enough to pursue his interests and hobbies without having to worry about making a living.  Charles is asked to investigate the death by his childhood friend and current neighbor the widow Lady Jane Grey.  Prudence has only left Lady Jane's house to take up another job in a house where her fiancĂ© is also employed.  So, if Prudence's death is indeed a murder, how did she manage to make a deadly enemy so soon in her new place of employment?

Charles has just successfully solved a forgery case that had baffled his nemesis, the Inspector Exeter of Scotland Yard.  Sadly, it doesn't take much to baffle Exeter, but he still insists that Charles should stay out of his cases and absolutely avoid meddling in any ongoing investigations.  Still, Charles agrees to help Lady Jane find out what happened to her former employee.

Plenty of suspects soon emerge at the new house where Prudence was working.  The man who owned the house, George Barnard, is the director of the Royal Mint.  He also happens to have many houseguests who all come under suspicion:  other mint/government employees, impoverished relatives, and of course, numerous servants.  

Charles is assisted in his inquiries by many eager would-be detectives: his elder brother Edmund, his butler Graham, Lady Jane's cousin Toto and her husband the alcoholic Dr. Thomas McConnell, Prudence's distraught fiancĂ©, and other assorted helpers from London's busy streets.  While trying to find a motive for the murder of the maid, Charles must traverse London in shoddy boots, pour over the latest travel/historical books and maps accommodating booksellers deliver to his home daily, and keep up his social schedule of visits, balls, and teas.  It's all very exhausting!

While the beginning of the book was a bit difficult to follow, due to the many characters that were introduced, I was eventually able to keep track of them and I began to enjoy trying to figure out who the guilty party was.  Although most of the characters go about their upper-class lives without much thought for "how the other half lives," there were occasional twinges of social conscience, such as when some shady characters lead the shadowing Graham into "the Rookery" slum and the conditions are very shocking for him.  

This book is the first in the Charles Lenox mystery series, which is now up to 12 books.  I look forward to returning to Victorian London to see what new adventures he finds!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Beautiful Blue Death from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 

Fans of Liane Moriarty will rejoice at the events in the novel The Push. The story begins with a social event at an upscale home in suburban London where *someone* ends up dead.  Of course, it takes most of the book to even find out who the corpse is, never mind the revelations that could lead to murder for most of the guests at the party.

Six expecting couples meet for the first time when they all show up to a meeting of a support group for new parents.  The leader of the group, Nina, instructs the couples on such issues as baby first aid and what to expect during the birthing process.  The couples seem to be a complete cross-section of society.  There's Jax (whose story is most fully explored) and Aaron.  Jax is 38 and 14 years older than Aaron, who has grown up in foster care.  Cathy and Hazel are a lesbian couple who have used a sperm donor from abroad.  Monica and Ed are a 40-something wealthy couple.  Aisha and Rahul are an Asian couple who married after only knowing each other for a few months.  Anita and Jeremy are receiving updates from their surrogate mother who lives in the United States. Finally, there's Kelly, a nervous 22 year old who almost always attends the meetings alone since her boyfriend Ryan is unenthusiastic about becoming a parent.

While the stories of the various couples are told in flashbacks leading up to the day of the party, other chapters are interspersed into the story involving Alison, the police detective who is investigating the death at the party.  Alison is also currently undergoing fertility problems, so she is sympathetic with the parenting problems that the couples are exhibiting.  While the people she interviews about the death all insist the deadly fall was an accident, Alison can't help but feel that every single person she's spoken to is hiding something.  With her bosses eager to close the case as an accident and move on to other things, Alison must trust her instincts and experience in order to get to the truth.

The story moved along at a very fast pace, and with so many characters, there were a lot of secrets to unearth. Although the narration moved back and forth between characters and events before and after the death, it was easy to keep up with all the various characters.  There was a side plot with Jax having a big secret from her past that might be coming back to haunt her.  I really enjoyed the final chapter which tied up all the loose ends and explained where all the couples ended up.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Push from NetGalley in exchange for this review

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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