Frank Mackey left Faithful Place, a low income Dublin neighborhood, when he was nineteen. He had planned to run away to London with Rosie Daly on that winter night but Rosie didn’t show. Rosie was never seen again. Twenty-two years later Rosie’s suitcase is found in a fireplace in a demolished row house. Frank is a detective on the Dublin police force and is determined to solve the puzzle of what happened to Rosie.
Faithful Place is not picture perfect Ireland. It is grim, Frank’s father is a nasty wife beating alcoholic and Frank’s brothers and sisters are highly dysfunctional. The neighbors generally distain the Mackey family and distrust of the police is high. How Frank comes to terms with his past and his intense love for Rosie in the solution of the crime creates great pacing and character development. The steadfastness of Frank supports the structure of the novel. The novel’s strength lies not only in the suspense but in French’s forceful examination of family dynamics in contemporary Ireland.
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It isn’t easy being the new kid in the school, or in the house. Sophomore Lucy Norton is left in her new home with her stepmother and her evil twin stepsisters by Lucy’s bi-coastal working father. Feeling ostracized in the house and isolated in her new high school, she takes refuge in her art class. Inspired by an older classmate Sam’s painting, she thinks he’s a jerk in person, but her opinion changes after he invites her to a show at an art gallery. Lucy finds herself struggling to find her identity and place in the world when she has an assignment to create a self portrait. But when a basketball game comment in the cafeteria attracts the attention of Connor, the star of the varsity team, Lucy suddenly rises in social status. She gets a date and some new girlfriends who are plugged into the school’s gossip feed. Will she remain the art aficionado or become part of the “in” basketball crowd? Is Connor really her prince?

Melissa Kantor’s If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? provides her independent narrator heroine with the wit and sarcasm to have the reader identify with her. She allows Lucy to show us the humor in her uncomfortable home and school life – “It’s so Brothers Grimm.” As she tries to maintain her bond with her dad, she feels that her stepmother is changing everything.

This is a good account of a created family trying to adjust to their new life together. It is a charming story of a contemporary teen dealing with the change and uncertainty that being in a new environment can bring. This book shows that having different and creative talents can be a beneficial and positive experience. Kantor does a great job at updating the Cinderella fairy tale. A fine frothy read for young adults and a fun read for adults too.

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This one was slow starting for me. But, once I got into the “Kitteridge” groove, it was a ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I think one of the off-putting things for me was that Olive is not the most likable character. Actually, she can be quite a B$*&%& at times. But, she does have her soft side, so once you get to know her, she does grow on you. Another thing that might have initially hindered my immediate enjoyment was that Olive’s story told in a series of interconnecting short stories. I’m not a big short story reader, so I admit I might have started this one thinking…”Oh, I’m not going to like it. It’s stories…” But, soon, that prejudice vanished when I figured out that Strout was not writing separate stories that happen to feature some continuing characters. She was weaving a tale of a woman’s flawed and marred life, through the eyes of all of the people around her. A strikingly good read!

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Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer manage to do it again in their latest book Wild Ride. With action, adventure, and quirky characters, the paranormal storyline take the reader on one heck of a trip.

Dreamland, an old amusement park in Ohio, needs some work. Mab has been working her butt off restoring the park to it’s former glory. Her goal is to have it shining for the Halloween celebrations. But it is a little strange that the owners and long time residents Gloria, Gus, and Delpha don’t want her working at night. And they are a bit anxious when she is working with the statues of the park mascots. Especially after FunFun the clown seems to run her over – or was that an illusion she had? Maybe she has been working too hard.

Gloria’s son Ethan returns from the military and gets shot at on the Dreamland grounds. Who is after the Dreamland residents? And what is up with the midnight roller coaster run? His mom keeps talking about demons. Ethan might just have to sober up to figure this all out. What do you mean he’s the new Hunter?

Using humor, and great plotting, Crusie and Mayer lead the reader down the path to figuring out just how paranormal this family park is. With twists and turns galore, it is indeed a roller coster of a ride. Great dialogue and lots of frothy fun! And it makes one want to visit Dreamland for real! A great read.
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Entertaining book about high NYC society. The late Dunne (he passed away just after finishing this book) really captures the insiders view of society life perfectly, mostly because he was ONE OF THEM. So, the world he is writing about was really his own world. Silly in parts and the ending was too vague for me, mostly I enjoyed this romp through the lives of people I will never be allowed (or, for that matter, want to) socialize with.
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Meet the Amlingmeyers. A pair of brothers riding the range from one grub stake to the next. Are they just obsessed cowpokes thinking about food, smokes, horses, women and more food? Nope. Old Red (Gustav) and Big Red (Otto) have other things on their mind. Like detecting. Just like that Sherlock fellow. Welcome to the world of Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith.

Old Red’s obsession with all things Holmes – read to him by his brother from Harper’s Magazine – leads them to adventure. The slightly shady outfit they have signed up with – the Bar VR – ends up having two deaths on the premises. And the foreman really does not seem to care since everyone is supposed to be preparing for the arrival of the foreign owners of the ranch. Just who is lying to whom? And just what is going on with the ranch finances and stock? And those fancy English folks might have a hand in this mess too.
Hockensmith’s characters are great fun. The story is told in Big Red’s voice and he is a perfect doubting Thomas about his brother’s detection skills. But he will stand by him as a loyal “Watson” and family member should. Old Red sometimes doubts himself – he is just an average uneducated cowboy – but he has studied his hero Holmes’ methods.
With wonderful characters and a twisty plot, this series is off to a great start. I’m eager to read the rest. A very fun read!
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There are those that say certain kinds of mystery books are cozy. I think they categorize cozies, by having amateur sleuths, lovely little towns, and having folks getting murdered “off stage”. So what happens when you have a series that has a little Minnesota town, the main character owns a needlework/craft shop, solves mysteries on the side, but the killings are not necessarily pretty. How’s getting tossed off a balcony (Crewel Yule), cut by the throat (Cutwork), and having a knitting needle pushed into your brain (Sins and Needles)? Cozy? I think not.

Monica Ferris has created a great character in Betsy Devonshire. And she has given her a interesting group of friends and neighbors. Betsy has a talent for figuring out the little things that solve cases. And she is not so sure she likes this talent. It does bother her that some of these killers are people in the community. Folks that she knows. (Now, that is why I always find these “malice domestic” books creepier – these are not strangers doing the killing!)

She’s embarked on this path by accident. She really was just intending to stay with her sister and help her in the store, while she was getting over her divorce. And then her sister was murdered. And she inherited the store and estate. So she stuck around for awhile. And got more involved with her employees and her customers.

Ferris does a nice job fleshing out the secondary characters throughout the series; it is a rare “cozy” that has a regular character that is gay. But Godwin grows and develops through the series. He becomes more than the guy who can match the right thread colors. Various members of the store’s regulars – the Monday Bunch – get their own spotlight in the books in the series.

And then there is the needlework. Cozy? Maybe. It has been considered an art form for years. This series is a great way to see how Ferris mixes it in with the mystery. One book has Betsy trying to identify a certain bobbin lace pattern, the next has her researching symbols on a church tapestry. And the store is used as a place where folks in the community can gather. Actually, I wish we had a store like Crewel World locally. These books make me want to take up my cross-stitching again! So do yourself a favor – start with the first three books in order, and then you can mix them around a bit. And discover the world of Excelsior, Minnesota. A fun series.

Monica Ferris’ mystery series featuring Betsy Devonshire:

Thai Die (2008)
Knitting Bones (2007)
Sins and Needles (2006)
Embroidered Truths (2005)
Crewel Yule (2004)
Cutwork (2004)
Hanging by a Thread (2003)
A Murderous Yarn (2002)
Unraveled Sleeve (2001)
A Stitch in Time (2000)
Framed in Lace (1999)
Crewel World (1999)

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Cara Black starts off her series with lead character Aimee Leduc in the book Murder in the Marais. What starts out as a simple and overpaid job of hunting down a encripted website, ends up becoming a case of murder. Aimee finds the body and sets in motion an investigation that goes all the way up to the top level of French politics.

The Marais is the traditionally Jewish section of Paris. And this is where the French Jews were rounded up during the occupation. Memories are long for injustices, and Aimee finds she is sifting through the history of the occupation in order to find out who would want an elderly Jewish woman murdered and who wants her to stop investigating.

This is a fast paced story but Black gives the reader enough time to get to know Aimee and her unusal background. Black hints at the fact that Aimee has secrets of her own that will be revealed in later books. Aimee is a tough character who has been trained by her recently deceased father in the art of detection. And it does not take the reader long to admire her tenacity and skill at going undercover to figure out the case. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series. A good mystery and a very good read.

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One of the more delightful surprises in fiction in recent years, this Keyes book was a beach read that turned out to be a little more than that. I’ve read quite a few of Keyes books before but this one is probably my favorite of hers…it’s fresh and engaging and simply delightful. Told from the POV of three London ladies: 1. Gemma, who has a neurotic mother and is still mourning the loss of her stolen-out-from-under-her-by-her-best-friend boyfriend…2. Lily, who is the best friend who stole Gemma’s boyfriend…and 3. Jojo, a literary agent who ends up representing both Gemma and Lily. I loved the way Keyes weaved all three stories together…yet giving each of the 3 enough space for us to get to know them all. Even though each change of character is marked with the ladies’ name before the chapter, towards the end, we knew each of the three enough to know whose part we were reading. A great way to tell a fun, entertaining story!

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A chance encounter with a book by Charles Lamb, leads to a inquiring letter written to an author, who just happens to be looking for her next project, and her curiosity leads her to the island of Guernsey in the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have written a book that is full of characters that we want to get to know – right away- and the format that the authors use – personal letters between characters – gives us the opportunity to be eager (and inquisitive) for the next missive.
Their letters give us the chance to examine the relationship between the characters, as it grows from being formal strangers, and moves to becoming beloved friends. They contain a lot of the minutia of life, and give the reader a bit of the background of the main writer – Juliet and what her life has been like during the war. All of the characters are experiencing the recovery of Great Britain from the war, but those on Guernsey have a special reason to be grateful after the sorrowful years of occupation.
The Literary society came about because of a special pig dinner. Special because it was being hidden from the Nazis. And as the islanders bonded over dinner and being in trouble, the society grew to be more than just a group of people talking about books. And one person, Elizabeth, seems to be the catalyst that brings them all together. When Juliet learns about their stories, she wants more than ever to bring their tale to light in a book because she is falling in love with the island too.
Filled with war stories, book references, British slang, and good humor, the authors have a definitely created a great story to tell. If you don’t like the style of the book – personal letters – you might have trouble with it. But I think it is splendid! A very good read.
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