The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn
Rachel and Liam are sent from the future back to 1815 England, to meet the Austen family, assess Jane’s health, and find the manuscript of The Watsons, along with some of Jane’s letters. They must be careful not to change the time line, but Rachel soon rescues a young chimney sweep. Rachel is a physician and fan of Jane Austen, while Liam is an actor turned Regency scholar. They are posing as a wealthy sister and brother who grew up in Jamaica. While they’ve had extensive training, adapting to the past is challenging, especially for outspoken Rachel. Rich in period detail, I really enjoyed their interactions with the Austens, especially siblings Henry and Jane Austen. Their future world isn’t nearly as appealing, especially after Liam and Rachel return to find that their world has changed. Witty dialogue, with some romance, but no explanation of how time travel works. Enjoyable, especially for fans of Regency romance, Jane Austen, or time travel. For more books featuring Jane Austen, try Stephanie Barron’s excellent mysteries, beginning with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.
The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, by Jean Pendziwol
Foster teen Morgan gets caught spray painting graffiti, and is assigned community service at a retirement home. Scraping away her work and painting a fence, she is befriended by blind resident Elizabeth Livingstone. Elizabeth has just been given the journals kept by her father Andrew, a lighthouse keeper in the 1920s and 1930s. Elizabeth and her twin sister Emily, a mute but talented artist, grew up on an island on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, with their two older brothers. War, influenza, isolation, and the challenging duty of keeping the light and fog horn working make for a unique upbringing. Morgan reads the journals to Elizabeth, and learns that her grandfather knew Elizabeth. Elizabeth is hoping to find answers to old family secrets, including the mysterious grave of another baby with her name. The plot is melodramatic, with numerous twists and turns, but I found Morgan and Elizabeth to be very good company, and enjoyed their interactions. Readalikes include: The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, and Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.
Patagonian Road: A Year Alone Through Latin America by Kate McCahill
Kate McCahill brings the reader along on her yearlong journey through Central and South America, roughly following by bus the journey Paul Theroux made decades earlier by train. She gets a writing fellowship that pays for Spanish lessons, rooms in hostels, food, and travel. Kate also volunteers as an English teacher in a couple of villages and in Buenos Aires. She misses her lover and her Finnish grandmother, shares her joys and fears, and tries to immerse herself in the local culture, although she’ll always be a traveler, not a local. While readers of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild may enjoy this book, I think closer readalikes are Wild by Nature, by Sarah Marquis, and Jodi Ettenberg’s blog, Legal Nomads. I enjoyed the occasionally lyrical writing, descriptive without being wordy, and McCahill’s willingness to share her experiences and feelings with the reader.
Brain Storm by Elaine Viets
The author of two cozy mystery series set in St. Louis and Florida had her life changed by stroke a few years ago. Brain Storm introduces death investigator Angela Richman, working at crime scenes near St. Louis. Severe headaches make it difficult to do her work at the scene of a deadly car crash involving wealthy teens. At the emergency room of the local hospital, neurosurgeon Porter Gravois sends her home, saying she’s too young for a stroke. All too soon, his rival Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt saves Angela’s life with surgery and an induced coma after she has a series of strokes. A long recovery motivates her to investigate a suspicious death in the hospital cafeteria, but her faulty memory doesn’t help. Suspenseful with occasional flashes of humor, this is a promising new series, and should appeal to readers of Kathy Reichs. The author recently completed a death investigator training course in St. Louis, adding authenticity. A sequel, Fire and Ashes, has just been published.
On August 22 at 7:00 pm, the Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet to discuss the novel Let Him Go, by Larry Watson. This novel, set in North Dakota and Montana in 1951, is both tender and violent, like a mid-century Western, and may appeal to readers of Kent Haruf and Ivan Doig. A couple is worried about their young grandson after their widowed daughter-in-law remarried and moved away. Larry Watson is best known for his novel Montana 1948.
The Tuesday Morning Group and the Crime Readers will meet again in September, while the Tuesday Evening Group takes September off.
Camino Island by John Grisham
Perfect for vacation reading, this entertaining thriller has a devilishly clever plot that keeps the pages turning. A well-planned heist of five rare manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald from Princeton University opens the story. Months later, with the FBI still investigating, a private company contacts Mercer Mann, a young English instructor, with an intriguing offer. If she spends a few months on Camino Island mingling with the literary community, her college loans will be paid off and she’ll have the time to work on her long overdue second novel. Mercer spent several summers on the Florida island, but hasn’t returned since her grandmother’s sudden death. Mercer is asked to get close to island bookseller Bruce Cable, and to try to get a look at his rare book vault in the basement. The local and visiting writers get together often for drinks and to talk about writing and publishing. Mercer spends much of her time walking and sunning on the beach, and is still struggling to find a book plot. Soon enough, the thieves and book dealers connect. The FBI wants to arrest the thieves, while Princeton’s insurance company is focused on getting the manuscripts returned, and Mercer struggles to do the right thing.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Rich New York socialites are befriended by writer Truman Capote in the 1950s. Truman is openly gay, so their husbands don’t mind having him around on their yachts and in their villas. Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Slim Keith freely confide in him; only C.Z. Guest doesn’t share her secrets. Twenty years later, Truman reveals their secrets in a fictionalized article for Esquire, with grave consequences. The author explores the lives and relationships of these glamorous women and the colorful writer, best known for his book In Cold Blood and a remarkable black and white ball. Gossipy, entertaining, yet often sad, this novel is a compelling read.