Monday, January 21, 2013

Rise and Shine

I've loved Anna Quindlen's essay writing for a long time, but somehow I'd never read any of her novels.  I picked up Rise and Shine at the last library used-book sale, and read it over the last few days.  And I loved it, absolutely loved it.

It's the story of two sisters in New York city, one a famous morning television journalist in the Katie Couric/Diane Sawyer mode, the other a social worker whose days are spent working with mothers and children in crisis.  Narrated by the social worker sister, the story explores the sisters' relationship, life in NYC, motherhood, celebrity, and the roles we take on in our families.  There isn't a complex plot, more of a series of unfolding events that shows each woman evolving and revealing more of who she is at her core.

From the reviews of this book on I see that a lot of readers thought it was mediocre.  That surprised me because I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Maybe it was a matter of finding the right book at the right time -- sometimes that confluence can make a book feel perfect and delightful it might not have if read at another time -- and I think it has something to do with the fact that I like Quindlen's smart writing and her sense of strong women.

I give it four stars out of five.  


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vanity Fare

I'm a sucker for those novels about women who chuck their careers to open a restaurant, or who go to visit their ailing grandmothers and end up taking over the town bakery, or who start making bread to release anger after a divorce, and end up as successful bakery owners.  And when I picked up Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell after spotting it in a local book shop, it sounded to me like it'd be in that vein.   The subtitle is "a novel of lattes, literature, and love."  So what's not to like?

As a quick, light read this was okay.  I think I was expecting more of a woman's journey of discovery, and what this turned out to be was a bit more of a traditional romance novel.  It had its charm, and it was written well. 

The plot? Heroine Molly has been left by her husband, is low on funds, and takes a job doing copywriting for a bakery owned by a handsome chef whose plan is to tie the bakery in with the nearby public library.  The literature tie-in is mainly that Molly write literature-related description of baked goods ... you know, naming menu items things like The Bun Also Rises. A Room of Ones Scone. Of Mousse and Men. Much Ado About Muffins. And the best? Tart of Darkness. 

It was a fun book, in a minor sort of way. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Twelve Clues of Christmas

I like to read Christmas-y books at Christmastime, and so when Amazon's book recommendation genies told me that I might like "The Twelve Clues of Christmas" by Rhys Bowen, I decided to give it a try.  I'd not read any mysteries by this author, but I found myself charmed right away.  "Her royal spyness" is Lady Georgianna Rannoch, a distant relative of the queen's (34th in line for the throne, she reports) and an accidental amateur detective.  (What can one do, when one keeps stumbling across murders?!)  All of this series is set in the 1940's in England, and Georgianna narrates with a tone that reminded me of the breezy charm of Myrna Loy in the Thin Man and the Topper movies. 

In this one, Georgianna is desperate to escape the prospect of spending the holidays with her brother and sister-in-law in the drafty ancestral Scottish castle, and takes a job as a social activities leader at a country house in a small village where the house's owner is taking in paying guests to provide them the proper English country experience.  Meanwhile, a series of seemingly unrelated and accidental deaths to local villagers starts up -- one a day -- and Georgianna sets out to sort out why. There is much amusing commentary on the different classes of guests and their reactions to the holiday traditions, and of course reading about the Christmas activities is quite entertaining. 

This wasn't a particularly twisty plot but it had a lot of amusing turns.  It was the perfect enjoyable and well-written story for post-Christmas light reading.  I'll be hunting down others by this author.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Mark Upon Her

Hello! And welcome to 2013!  I fell down rather heavily last year on doing book reviews -- but one of my goals for the coming year is to return to blogging more regularly, so I'm trying to get off to a fresh start.  I read incessantly, as well, so the issue isn't not having books to talk about -- it's the taking the time to do the review.  Well, here goes a fresh try.

I finished "No Mark Upon Her" by Deborah Crombie on New Year's Day, sitting on my friend's couch (where I was staying for a few days) and sipping my morning coffee.  So I can't call this the first book read in the new year, as I started it in 2012.  But as a year end book, it was a good one.

I quite like Deborah Crombie's mystery series with British detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.  This is number 14 in the series, and it finds Duncan and Gemma newly married, balancing family life and a newly adopted child, with a murder case that requires poking some of the Scotland Yard highers-up and threatens their careers.  The murder arises in the elite world of rowing, so there's that angle that is fascinating and novel (at least to me).  And of course, there is the pure delight of Crombie's excellent writing, clever plotting, and strong characterizations.  This book was no exception to her usual skill.

If you've not read any of the series, I'd recommend starting with the first one, A Share in Death.  While the mystery plots each stand alone, the relationship between Duncan and Gemma evolves through the series, and I think understanding the history makes each book more enjoyable.  That's just me, though -- I like to read things in order. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Surface Tension

I've been big into escapist reading lately, light summer fare that doesn't require much thinking.  I just finished Surface Tension by Christine Kling and it fit the bill perfectly.  I think I found this novel via a free Kindle ebook promotion online, and unlike some free books, this was pretty good.

It's a mystery, with an unusual heroine.  Seychelle (her parents named all of their kids after islands) is a salvage boat operator off of the coast of Florida, and her world involves boats and diving and navigating the people and waters of that world.  It made for unusual and interesting reading.  The plotting was good, with an unusual and unpredictable storyline.  It was fun reading -- I enjoyed being immersed in Seychelle's world for a time.

I see there are other books in the series and I'll have to track them down.  Meanwhile, I see that Barnes and Noble has the paperback version of this book for $.01 and Amazon is offering the Kindle ebook for $.99.  A good deal for some fun entertaining reading.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Diary of a Small Fish

Speaking of free books, one I read recently is Diary of a Small Fish by Pete Morin.  I probably shouldn't have started out with that introduction, because that makes it sound like the free part is what is important.  (Which it wasn't, but it WAS a nice bonus.)  And really, what I want to tell you is that it was a terrific story. 

I like a good legal mystery, and as a lawyer I'm easily annoyed when courtroom or other legal things are portrayed badly or inaccurately.  So I'm more inclined to try a new legal story if the author is a lawyer or judge or someone who should know how things actually work.  This author, Pete Morin, actually does.

This story takes a lot of twists and turns.  Paul Forte, a former Massachusetts state legislator, is indicted by a federal grand jury for hosting lobbyists at his golf club and accepting invitations to theirs.  But a flimsy indictment suggests a prosecutorial vendetta, and Paul can't understand why.  As he unravels the net of political intrigue around him, Morin takes readers into the world of politics and grand juries and even the etiquette of golf. 

It's a good debut novel, with some different twists, a complex plot, and solid writing.  I'll look forward to this author's next novel.  If you're in the mood for something a bit different from the usual courtroom drama, try this one.  (And if you have a Kindle, it's free right now!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

I Love Michael Gallagher

No, that's not the title of a book.  It's my declaration to the world of how utterly, totally grateful I am to this fellow.  Why, you ask?

Every day, our beloved Michael Gallagher trolls the pages of in search of free books for the Kindle.  And every day, he posts links to five or six free books on his blog, Free Kindle Books and Tips.  It's amazing, really, what a service Michael (may I call you Michael? Since we're so close?) provides to those of us Kindle-owning readers. 

If you own a Kindle, you'll want to check this out.  I've downloaded quite a few free books, thanks to Michael.  Did I mention that he only lists ones that show 4 or 5 stars on Amazon?  So he's not only helpful but he's discriminating, too.  I'll confess that a few I've read have been duds, and I've learned once I follow the link from Michael's blog to the Amazon page to a) verify that it's free; and b) look at who publishes it and c) see if there are reviews or comments from any magazines, known authors, or anyone else with credibility.  It's the self-published ones I've learned to watch out for.  That and the "Christian fiction" -- but of course, your tastes may differ and you may be hunting for Christian fiction.

But, as an avid library user, I pull books off of the shelves to try all of the time when I've never heard of the author.  So this isn't any different... except I have the fun of knowing that in one small, neat Kindley package, I have scads of reading material of all types.

Thank you, dear Michael.