Several turning points in Willa’s life are described, from age 11 to 61, with the largest part set in the present. Willa, to her husband Peter’s dismay, agrees to fly from Tucson to Baltimore when her son’s ex-girlfriend Denise is injured and a neighbor is looking for someone to take care of Cheryl, Denise’s daughter. Willa has always been agreeable and responsible. At age 11 she coped with her mother’s sudden absence, next staying quiet on a scary plane ride with her college boyfriend, then reacting to being abruptly widowed. Willa remarries and doesn’t realize her grown sons dislike Peter, who is rather critical and calls Willa “Little One”. In a small house in Baltimore, Willa gradually spreads her wings, feeling welcome in the quirky neighborhood, and adored by 9-year-old Cheryl, who likes to bake, and her dog Airplane. I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging, bittersweet yet hopeful novel of renewal.
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
Residents of postwar London are still dealing with rationing and a slow recovery. Ann Hughes, an embroiderer for designer Norman Hartnell, is thrilled to be chosen to work on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, along with French immigrant Miriam. Decades later in Toronto, Heather seeks to learn more about her grandmother’s past. This is a sure winner with wide appeal, especially for Anglophiles and royal watchers, with appealing characters and a compelling plot. I could not put this book down, and really enjoyed reading about life in 1947 London, and how Miriam and Ann dealt with their challenges.
Actor and film producer Reese Witherspoon has written a love letter to life in the south. Reese grew up in Nashville, where she learned to enjoy music, food, and holidays, and learned the importance of manners and community. I listened to the audiobook, cozily narrated by the author, and glanced at the photos and recipes included as a document on one of the discs. Many of the recipes are from her grandmother Dorothea who was an inspiration to Reese on how southern women can be strong and beautiful. Menu suggestions for all kinds of celebrations and events are included, from a Kentucky Derby party to a book club gathering, along with music playlists and gift suggestions (especially monogrammed items or cake plates). Reese talks about her happy childhood, how she learned that you don’t have to be good at everything or bake from scratch, but be sure to be hospitable, respectful, and have some fun, maybe even catch some frogs. This is a charming, family-friendly look at southern life.
For lighter reading, I enjoy cozy and historical mysteries, often as audiobooks. Here are some recent reads you may enjoy:
The Christmas Cake Murder, by Joanne Fluke is a prequel to the popular cozy Cookie Jar mystery series set in small town Minnesota. This is a good place to begin the long-running series, before Hannah opens her bakery and acquires a cat and two boyfriends. It’s great fun reading about how Hannah and her family get started as amateur sleuths. Recipes are also included.
Toucan Keep a Secret, by Donna Andrews. Meg Langslow is locking up Trinity Episcopal Church one night while her pastor is on maternity leave and hears a disturbance behind the building. Meg’s large extended family in Caerphilly, Virginia all help solve crimes in this very funny series that’s up to 23 books and counting.
The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle by Susan Wittig Albert. This historical series is set during the Depression in Alabama, with the members of the local garden club working together to solve crimes. In this book, there are hints of corruption out at the local prison camp, and little Cupcake, Violet’s adopted daughter, might be taken away. Liz Lacey, part-time legal secretary and secret novelist, has a possible beau or two. I think it’s fine to start with any book in this series.
Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women, by Emily Brightwell is a recent book in another series that doesn’t need to be read in order. The servants and neighbors of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Witherspoon investigate behind the scenes and give their information to housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries and Constable Barnes. The group has solved many mysteries, but their latest case is six weeks old and may interfere with plans for the Christmas holiday.
A thoroughly enjoyable collection of eight short stories and a novella, set in England and Paris. All the stories are told by women, while the novella gives two points of view. Nell, who gives talks on risk assessment, splurges on a long weekend in Paris, surprising her boyfriend Pete. When Nell arrives in Paris alone, she would prefer to stay in her hotel room all weekend, except that she’s unexpectedly sharing her room with an American woman, and there’s no room service. With help from a hotel receptionist and handsome waiter Fabien, Nell takes a chance and explores Paris. An employee stays calm during a jewelry store robbery with startling results, another woman finds someone has switched gym bags and left her expensive high heeled shoes behind, and Chrissie finds a kind London cabbie giving her a new perspective on Christmas shopping for her unappreciative family. I really enjoyed the novella and hope that the author turns some of the short stories into novellas or novels. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed Fiona Hardingham’s narration of these appealing, humorous, and heartwarming stories.
This book has a novella and two short stories written to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Green Rider, first book in a fantasy series featuring Karigan G’ladheon. This is also a good place to start reading the series. Green Riders have minor magical talents and are called to serve as the King’s messengers. Estral, Karigan’s friend, narrates these tales. Lost on the road, she visits Seven Chimneys, where the Berry sisters are coping with a ship that has materialized in the middle of their house and use a dream lantern to draw dreamers to a party. The other stories tell some of the history and legend of Sacoridia. If you’re in the mood for compelling fantasy writing with some suspense and humor but don’t have the time for a long epic, this is an excellent choice.