Early Morning Riser

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Small town life in northern Michigan is this focus of this novel about family life, friendship, love, and teaching second graders. Jane is new in town when she meets Freida, who sings and plays mandolin, and then Duncan, who is charming but seems to have dated almost every other woman in town. Duncan moonlights as a locksmith, while his day job is woodworking, restoring furniture, but never quickly. Sweet and slightly slow Jimmy is his helper, who later helps bring Jane and Duncan together after a breakup. There are many funny passages about teaching second grade, especially guest speakers and field trips that never go quite according to plan. A cranky toddler often steals the scene later in the story. Aggie, Duncan’s ex-wife, and her second husband Gary are often present, especially for Taco Tuesdays, which might feature Aggie’s pork chops rather than actual tacos. Even trips to an ice cream shop to check out someone’s crush are both awkward and hilarious, as are a few of Jane’s thrift store outfits. Quirky characters, found family, happiness and occasional disaster all make for a delightful and memorable read. Readalikes include Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel, All Adults Here by Emma Straub, and books by Jodi Thomas and RaeAnne Thayne.

 

Brenda

Minor Mage

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

I read this eBook because I liked A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, a newer book by the author. I enjoyed this fantasy novel for teens, tweens, and adults even more. Oliver, a minor mage, is 12. His mother is out of town. His familiar is an armadillo. The armadillo’s mother was the familiar of the elderly wizard who taught Oliver everything he knows. And, other than learning about using herbs, it’s not much. Oliver only knows how to use three spells. Trying to summon an elemental or becoming invisible are just a bit tricky at the moment. But Oliver’s village is struggling during a drought, so he gets sent on a journey with his familiar to the Rainblade Mountains, in an attempt to bring back some rain.

Oliver and the armadillo are very appealing characters. Their adventures, while many, are not predictable, either to Oliver or the reader. They meet ghuls, bandits, pigs, an evil mayor, and a musician in this charming, heartwarming story. The eBook is available from Hoopla Digital and from Media on Demand/Libby.

Readalikes include the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett, beginning with The Wee Free Men, The Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold, books by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

Brenda

The Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

In the summer of 1954, Emmett Watson is heading home from a stint at a juvenile work farm to a failing Nebraska farm to collect his younger brother Billy and retrace their mother’s earlier journey on the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco. Emmett has a blue Studebaker in the barn, along with some money his father left him. Billy has his Army surplus knapsack, along with some treasures including a book of heroic stories by Professor Abernathe. Their plan is disrupted by Duchess and Woolly, stowaways and escapees from the work farm. Duchess wants to get revenge for some past wrongs, and pay back some other debts, including smuggling strawberry preserves into an orphanage. Nothing goes smoothly for Emmett over the 10 days that follow, as Duchess and Woolly plan to head to New York City and the Adirondacks to retrieve a fortune that should be Woolly’s. Woolly is sweet, irresponsible, and prone to sipping from a medicine bottle. Emmett and Billy end up riding the rails, meet Ulysses, a black veteran longing for his missing wife and child, and have many detours along the way. While this isn’t the mid-century road trip and family reunion readers might be expecting, this is an absorbing and entertaining read with some rather dark moments. A memorable third novel from a master storyteller.

 

Brenda

The Man Who Died Twice

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This is the clever and entertaining sequel to the Thursday Murder Club, a mystery series inspired by the upscale English retirement village where Brenda, the author’s mother, lives. A group of four retirees led by retired MI5 agent Elizabeth, gather weekly to discuss unsolved mystery cases, with occasional input from DCI Chris Hudson, Constable Donna De Freitas, and fixer Bogdan Jankowski. The first book is to be a Steven Spielberg film, and I am picturing Penelope Wilton to play Joyce, a retired nurse who narrates her adventures with Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron to her diary. Elizabeth gets a plea for help from a dead man. It’s really from her ex-husband Douglas, who’s in a safe house with new MI5 agent Poppy after some diamonds connected to the Mafia go missing. Douglas may have stolen the diamonds, and he’s definitely in trouble. Ibrahim is injured when his phone is stolen, and the friends plot revenge on his young assailant. If you enjoy crime novels, very dark humor, and excellent writing, you’re in for a treat. Lesley Manville does excellent work narrating the audiobook. Here’s a longer list of readalikes, as I’d like to read more books like Osman’s myself: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten, Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Celine by Peter Heller, and The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths. 

Brenda