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.
On May 20 at 10:00 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing the Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, a contemporary novel. At 18, Victoria is aging out of foster care in California. Alternate chapters describe her placement as an angry, unloved 9-year-old girl with kind Elizabeth, who teaches her about the meaning of flowers. In the present, Victoria uses this knowledge in her part-time job with Renata, a florist. Re-connecting with Elizabeth’s nephew Grant, Victoria must deal with a secret from her childhood.
On May 27 at 7:00 p.m., the Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, a non-fiction book. This is the true story of 10 of the thousands of young women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. Here is my earlier review.
The Crime Readers are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 15 to discuss Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver. Called the reigning “master of ticking-bomb suspense” (“People”), Deaver has written a gripping international thriller–with a range of real political figures and Olympic athletes–that introduces his most psychologically complex hero to date. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
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.