The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
In California in 1919, Vivian leads a remarkable life, but one that has been marked by grief since the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. Her best friend is now raising a family in Napa Valley, while Vivian accidentally becomes a writer of obituaries that give families closure. Having lost her lover David in the earthquake, she continues to hope that he is still alive somewhere.
In a parallel story in 1960s Virginia, Claire, a former flight attendant, feels trapped in bland suburbia. Her husband Peter is distant and demanding, her toddler daughter and housework fill her days. Volunteering for Kennedy’s presidential campaign provides a much needed outlet for Claire, and leads to an affair, which doesn’t end well. Claire’s pregnancy complicates an already strained marriage. On the eve of Kennedy’s inauguration, Peter and Claire travel to Rhode Island in a snowstorm for his mother Birdy’s 80th birthday celebration, where learning about Birdy’s past gives Claire needed perspective.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Three generations of Sinclairs spend every summer on their private island near Martha’s Vineyard, until last year. In this hard to put down young adult novel, Cadence is now 17 and has been struggling with migraine headaches and memory loss. She can’t remember what happened on the island two years ago, and no one, not even her younger cousins, will talk about it. Her mother and aunts are drinking a lot and arguing, her wealthy, aging grandfather is trying to start over without his late wife, and her cousins and their friend Gat are acting strangely. Cadence, teen cousins Mirren and Johnny and Gat (her aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew) are the liars of the title, and with her amnesia, Cady is an unreliable narrator. The island setting, with four family homes, two docks, one beach, and a building for staff, seems idyllic, but Cady finally learns the dark secrets everyone’s been trying to hide, leaving the reader stunned. And that’s really all I can safely say about this book. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful read with a gorgeous island setting, and don’t need any of the book’s characters to be completely likeable, then read We Were Liars.
My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner
A sweeping historical novel set in Jamaica, Quebec, and Massachusetts over the course of fifty years and almost 600 pages. Resolute Talbot is only ten when her family’s plantation on Jamaica is attacked by pirates, and she is taken captive with some of her family. Her older sister and brother do whatever they have to for survival. In Colonial America, Resolute is made to work hard for a family who moves to the wilderness, where they encounter bears and Indians. The Indians take her to a convent/orphanage in Quebec, where she is called Marie and learns to spin and weave. Escaping with help as a teen, she settles in Massachusetts, where a suitor abandons her when he learns she won’t inherit the Jamaican plantation. Inheriting a shack and a farm near Lexington from an eccentric woman, Resolute always longs to be a lady and return to Jamaica, but instead marries a carpenter, spins and weaves, and aids the Sons of Liberty in their rebellion. With a long and colorful life highlighted by the occasional unexpected visits from relatives, Resolute is a memorable heroine. Though long, this novel really kept my interest with compelling writing and plenty of action. The author is best known for a novel about her great-grandmother set in the Arizona Territory, These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine. Readalikes include An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon and Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.
Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
Molly, a food writer, marries Brandon, a graduate student in music composition. Brandon has lots of interests and ideas, but Molly is surprised and somewhat dismayed when his dream of owning a pizzeria becomes reality. They both love wood-fired pizza, but Molly prefers to cook at home for friends and family. This engaging, honest memoir gives the reader a close look at the challenges and accomplishments of finding, renovating, and opening a pizzeria in Seattle. Molly starts out as the salad and dessert cook, but finds the pace overwhelming. Cooks come and go, servers become friends, and Molly and Brandon learn to be true partners in Delancey, their restaurant. Molly writes a very popular blog, Orangette.
If you have enjoyed watching Your Inner Fish or Cosmos on television recently, you might enjoy this book. The author of Your Inner Fish combines cosmology, geology, paleontology, and evolutionary biology in a history of our planet and how all life is connected. His writing is accessible, informative, and often engaging, especially when he describes fossil hunting in Greenland and elsewhere. The formation of the planets, our moon, continental drift, ocean rifts and volcanoes, and even photosynthesis contributed to our biology. Why is hydrogen, the most common element, so important? When and why did mammals develop color vision? The discoveries of several scientists are described, along with the difficulties they had in having their discoveries accepted.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I really enjoyed reading this heartwarming romantic comedy. Australian genetics professor Don Tillman, who may remind readers of television’s Sheldon Cooper, has been on many first dates but no second dates. Striving for more efficiency on the Wife Project, he compiles a questionnaire to weed out women who smoke, drink too much, are often late, and are vegetarians. His friends, fellow professor Gene and his psychologist wife Claudia, encourage him to be more open-minded. Don likes routine and efficiency, and clashes with his Dean when a student plagiarizes an essay. Then along comes Rosie. She smokes, is late, works in a bar part-time, and only eats sustainable seafood. She is not at all suitable, but is intelligent, beautiful, and very good company. Rosie asks Don to help her find her biological father, and they initiate the Father Project, which even takes them on a trip to New York City, where Don discovers baseball. Don is frequently clueless but often charming, and struggles with the idea of love, while unpredictable Rosie is more than she appears at first. This first novel is a thoroughly engaging read.
Twisted Vines by Carole Price
Ohio crime analyst Cait Pepper gets a phone call on April 1 that her Aunt Tasha has died and left her a vineyard in Northern California and 2 Shakespearean theaters. Cait’s parents died five years ago, and she’s never heard of her dad’s twin sister. Her life already in transition, Cait takes a leave of absence and flies to San Francisco and finds that her aunt’s death is slightly suspicious and that her uncle died the previous year after being thrown from his favorite horse. Everyone has a secret and acts suspiciously from time to time. Some people want her to stay permanently, others are surprised she’s still at the vineyard after two weeks. The vineyard is only window dressing here, probably more of an element in the next book, Sour Grapes, due out in October. The upcoming Shakespeare festival is a nice setting, as is the house, with an owner’s suite above an office, gift shop and reception rooms. Detective Rook is helpful, temporary stage manager and Navy Seal Royal Tanner is a possible love interest, and young secretary Marcus is sullen and rude.
The series has some promise, but Twisted Vines has some first novel issues that better editing could have helped avoid, such as some phrases and gestures repeated more than once. Suspenseful, with a bit of romance. A good read, especially if you’re looking for a light mystery with an appealing setting.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
This isn’t the charming, feel-good book I was expecting from the publicity. The writing style is engaging and I found the book difficult to put down, but the tone is bittersweet with occasionally very funny sections. This is not a predictable book, and has more depth than I expected. Definitely a memorable read with wide appeal.
A. J. Fikry is a curmudgeon, although still in his 30s. Mourning his wife’s death in an accident, he has retreated from life. As he owns a bookstore on an island near Nantucket that is a problem, especially after the rare book he was saving to fund his retirement goes missing. He is very particular about the kind of books he will stock, and new publisher sales rep Amelia Loman finds him a tough sell. Then Maya, a little girl, unlocks the key to his heart, and the bookstore gradually becomes a community gathering place. I especially enjoyed the transformation of local police chief Lambiase from an infrequent reader to a passionate reader who leads a book discussion group. Eventually A.J. even finds love, as does Lambiase. Suggested for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and fans of bookstores everywhere.
A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
Cora Blake is working at the cannery in Deer Isle, Maine, when she gets an invitation to travel to France. Cora is a Gold Star Mother, having lost her son Sammy in World War I. A volunteer librarian who is raising her nieces, Cora has never stopped grieving for her son, and looks forward to the trip in 1931, with four other Gold Star Mothers, all from different backgrounds. Cora’s group gathers in New York City, and meets Lily, the nurse assigned to them, and their escort, 2nd Lt. Thomas Hammond. Immediately there’s a problem; Mrs. Selma Russell is African American and not meant to be part of their group. She is sent to a different hotel, and Mrs. Wilhelmina Russell joins the group. Once in France, they tour Paris, where Cora meets wounded journalist Reed, who wants to tell her story. It is a journey of new experiences, shared grief, and unexpected tragedy. Reed’s article also has surprising consequences for Cora. We don’t meet the ladies from any of the other groups on their ship, and at least one storyline is dropped. Cora is excellent company for the reader, but I was hoping for more depth and less drama. I think this book would be a good choice for a book discussion.
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
Romance, mystery, history, Victorian art, and rare books combine to make for an engaging read. The setting moves from the 1980s and 1990s in North Carolina and England to the Victorian era and Elizabethan England. In 1995, rare book dealer Peter Byerly has retreated from North Carolina to an English cottage after the death of his wife Amanda. Finally visiting a bookstore, he is stunned to find a Victorian watercolor portrait tucked into a book about Shakespearean forgeries. The portrait looks just like his wife, who studied Victorian art. When Amanda’s books don’t identify the artist, he is referred to an art society meeting in London, where he meets book editor Liz Sutcliffe. The mystery of the portrait and its artist are somehow connected to an Elizabethan novel Pandosto by Robert Greene, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. A copy of Pandosto with margin notes by Shakespeare and a list of people who owned the book could be proof that Shakespeare really wrote his plays; or it could be a forgery. The search puts Peter and Liz in jeopardy, while alternating chapters describe Peter and Amanda’s college years and the people who owned the copy of Pandosto. Peter’s joy in learning about rare books and his love for Amanda add depth to the story.