Wednesday, July 1, 2015

House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe

Sibyl Allston lost her mother and younger sister on the Titanic three years before this story begins. Living in Boston with her father and younger brother, she is almost on the shelf of permanent spinsterhood when Benton Derby, a former suitor reappears in her life. Helen, her mother, had introduced her to Mrs. Dee and the occult world so popular at this time and Sibyl is turning to it more often to help her with her grief and other emotions about her loss.

Benton is a total skeptic regarding the paranormal and tries to convince Sibyl that it is all sham by exposing Mrs. Dee’s trickery. While agreeing about Mrs. Dee, Sibyl begins seeing visions in a scrying orb the false medium gave her earlier. Believing she is moving closer to seeing her mother and sister in its shadowy sphere, she and Benton are surprised at what is really happening and where her apparent “gift” might take her.

House of Velvet and Glass is an entertaining picture of the society of the time with its strict rules, fascination with the occult, and burgeoning scientific knowledge. 
I listened to this and found the narrator did very well with her presentation and making the various characters distinguishable. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

Sophie Collingwood has just graduated from college when her uncle Bertram, with whom she shares an all-consuming love of books and literature, dies suddenly in a fall. He leaves his flat and library to Sophie, but when she comes to take possession, she finds the books were sold to settle his estate. She fixates on the manner of his death and the loss of his library as she takes a job in a rare book dealer’s shop.

When two men contact her, each searching for the 2nd edition of an obscure collection of moral allegories by a little known 18th century clergyman, things start to heat up. Does the book prove her favorite author, Jane Austen, plagiarized Pride and Prejudice? Sophie is determined to settle this question as well as prove her uncle did not die in an unfortunate accident. And what about the American professor on holiday and one of the book collectors – neither of whom she can dismiss from her thoughts and dreams?

A bit of literary history, modern day sleuthing, and romance all combine to make First Impressions fairly entertaining. Frankly, I expected better characterizations and a slightly more plausible story line from Lovett whose Bookman’s Tale (see July 2013) I really enjoyed. But the allusions to Austen and her works, as well as the historical sections, make up for many of the weaker points.


The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

Forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway, returns in the 7th book in this series set in northern England. When a developer’s backhoe operator uncovers a downed World War II fighter plane with a body in it, DCI Harry Nelson calls her in to help. Initially assuming the body in the cockpit is the pilot, a bullet hole in the corpse’s forehead quickly changes that conclusion. As the corpse is identified, more, not fewer questions surface about the how and why and where of this body’s demise and where it was buried before being moved to the plane.

 Griffiths excels at bringing in eccentrically realistic characters that fit Ruth’s world beautifully. Ruth herself is humanly quirky enough to be frustratingly appealing. Her relationship with Nelson and evolution as a sometimes conflicted single mother give her character added dimension. The touches of history are worked into the story seamlessly and add another layer of depth to Griffith’s writing. The Ghost Fields, named after the designation given false airfields meant to mislead German aircraft during the war, is a well-told mystery and interesting story.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

Disclaimer is one of those novels that is so good, so suspenseful, so different that you want to tell everyone to read it and tell everyone all about. BUT YOU CAN'T! Because... no matter what is said or written, there is the possibility of a spoiler. So here are the bare bones and if you like twists and turns and surprises all the way through, you will love this.

Charlotte Ravenscort and her husband have just moved in to their new home and are surrounded by chaos. Getting ready for bed one evening, Catherine notices a book on her nightstand that she is not familiar with. Did her husband put it there? Maybe her son? Well, whatever, she thinks, and starts to read it since she is intrigued by its title, The Perfect Stranger. Very quickly, Catherine realizes there is something wrong with this whole situation. Very wrong. The main character in this book is obviously her, and the story line is about a long ago buried secret that only she knows about. Or so she thought...

You won't want to put this one down.


Read alike: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Kitty Miller is contented with her life as a thirty-something, single woman in 1962 Denver. She and her best friend Frieda are independent booksellers, she’s close to her parents – currently on an anniversary trip to Hawaii, and she hasn’t really thought much about her earlier hopes for a husband and family for a long time. Life is good. Then one night she goes to bed and the dreams start.

Kitty’s dream world is populated by Katharyn (Kitty when she looks in the mirror!) and Lars Andersson, a couple deeply in love with each other, their children, and their life in 1963 Denver. It’s as if Kitty has entered her what-might-have-been alternate universe! Night after night she finds herself drawn further into Katharyn’s world and begins to start functioning as Katharyn even as she is aware that it’s all a dream. But her interactions in this other world start affecting her life in the current one as both worlds demand more of Kitty/Katharyn as time passes. She feels the need to finally end these dream trips for the sake of her health and sanity but is no longer sure where she truly belongs and which is dream and which is reality.

The Bookseller is a debut novel and has some of the bumps often associated with such. Some characters are not well-drawn or consistent in their actions; the story doesn’t always flow well and certain segments strain credulity. That being said, I was pulled in enough to want to find out how Kitty’s story is resolved and am glad I stayed with it. The premise was intriguing and I believe Swanson’s writing shows potential. While this could have been a true psychological drama, as an engaging beach read it still makes the cut.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

Place quirky characters in a small, rural town, add a calf born early on Christmas morning with the face of Jesus imprinted on its side and life gets more entertaining. Harley Jackson is trying to make ends meet on the surviving acres of farmland his father left him when his cow delivers the marked calf. As a subscriber to his late mother’s philosophy of living a simple, quiet life, which he knows will be impossible if this leaks out, his first reaction is how to avoid anyone seeing the calf.

He finally shares the news with his closest friend, Billy, who promises to keep the secret while Harley tries to figure out the next step. At one point, he even tries to cover the marking with black shoe polish! And then the female mail carrier sees the calf…

Before Harley is aware of the pictures going viral on social media, his yard is overrun and the world is arriving via the interstate. The secret is out and now his decisions are all about how to handle the ensuing chaos.

As event piles on event, Harley finds not only his own beliefs tested, but the true character of friends and acquaintances exposed as well – for good or not. Jesus Cow is laugh out loud funny in many places but is ultimately a thought-provoking allegory.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick

What female on this planet would not love this title???

New Uses for Old Boyfriends is another "woman falls apart and is forced to move back home to get on her feet again" story, but this one is full of good humor and some interesting fashion facts.

Lila Alders has always had it all, until her husband leaves her broke and she loses her high-powered flashy job. She is forced to return home, not only due to her financial situation but also to help her mother who is still grieving the loss of Lila's father a year earlier.

But if Lila thought she was going to be able to rest and lick her wounds, she quickly learns that life in Black Dog Bay Delaware is no picnic either. It turns out her mother has been living in the dark, and is in danger of losing her home. All of Lila's friends (and former beaus) have moved on.

Lila must act quickly to help her mother out, and decides to open a vintage clothing store with her mother's collection of couture fashion. It turns out her mother was once a high-end model, much to Lila's surprise. Will this revelation, along with a few others, end up saving Lila?

Find out in this entertaining novel.


Read alike:  Vintage by Susan Gloss