Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent
Isabel, an investigative reporter for the New York Post, is befriended by her colleague’s father, Edward. They both live on Roosevelt Island, in the East River. Edward was married to Paula for 69 years, and promised before her death to keep on living. Happily, he’s a gourmet cook, and Isabel starts visiting weekly for dinner and advice. Edward tells stories about his life, shares his poetry, and turns Isabel into a foodie. She has moved many times with her husband and daughter, and her marriage is unraveling. In later chapters, Edward is visibly aging, while Isabel might be falling in love again. This charming memoir reads like fiction. I only wish that it were longer and included recipes.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Tristan Lyons recruits Boston linguist Melisande Stokes for a top secret government project, translating modern and ancient documents. Their research shows that magic did exist, but abruptly stopped in 1851. Mel gets absorbed into D.O.D.O. (so secretive that it’s months before she learns she works for the Department of Diachronic Operations) as the pair work with physicist Frank Oda and his wife Rebecca to build an ODEC. At first, the office memos and messages are just something to get through between Melisande’s diary and action scenes. As the pace picks up, the messages get funnier and wilder as the improbable becomes mundane, even as the acronyms pile up. The ODEC is a time travel machine that can only be operated by a witch, and the person sent through time by the witch arrives empty handed and naked. Melisande tries repeatedly to acquire a rare book to help fund their work, Tristan learns to fence, an Irish witch plots to stop the end of magic, Vikings plunder Wal-Mart, and Melisande gets stuck in Victorian London, close to the ending of magic. A complicated, mostly entertaining, and lengthy tale that blends technology, history, and fantasy, along with a good dose of humor.
Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family by Kathy McKeon
In 1964, Kathy Smith leaves a miserable job to become Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant and substitute nanny. Kathy grew up in a large family in a three room cottage in rural Ireland, sharing a coat with her sister Briege. While money was short and the children started doing chores on the farm quite young, there was also time for fun and weekend dances. Her uncle Pat’s family sent hand-me-downs and food from New York, and bought tickets for Kathy and Briege to come to America, where Irish girls could easily find work. Kathy’s interview with “Madam” was basically meeting little John and watching his dog do tricks. Generous and very kind, Jackie Kennedy was also a demanding employer, wanting Kathy to help fill the lonely evenings after young Caroline and John were asleep, and often coming up with just one more errand at the end of the day. Well trained by the previous assistant, Kathy took care of Jackie’s wardrobe, especially packing and unpacking for her many trips, and spent lots of time with the family on Cape Cod, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Still a teenager, Kathy became lifelong friends with John, and was clearly devoted to the Kennedy family, mourning along with them when Bobby died. Full of humorous anecdotes, a wonderfully readable memoir of life with the Kennedys in good times and bad.
The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
This gothic romantic suspense novel was published in 1960, and may remind readers of both Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Martha Leigh travels to Cornwall to begin her career as governess to Alvean TreMellyn, age 7, who lost her mother Alice a year earlier. Three other governesses have stayed only a short time in Mellyn, the mansion belonging to Lord Connan TreMellyn. Martha’s room is near Alvean’s room and the schoolroom, but she isn’t meant to dine downstairs with the family, even when guests visit. The house is huge, on a cliff overlooking the sea, with another manor house on the opposite cliff, where Peter Nansellock and his sister Celestine live. Peter quite likes Martha, but Celestine is more interested in Mellyn, and in Alvean, who is quite a handful. Martha gets Alvean interested in learning to ride a pony to impress her rather distant father. The mystery of Alice’s death is clever, the mansion atmospheric, and Connan is intriguing and slightly menacing. Martha has a romantic admirer that’s not totally believable, but rather predictable. This book, while a good read, does seem dated, although gothic novels, such as Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, are still popular.
Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
This book has two mysteries. One is narrated by book editor Susan Ryeland, who is searching for the final chapters of the last Atticus Pund mystery after the author’s sudden death. The other puzzle is the manuscript Susan is reading, a traditional British mystery set in 1955 England that’s a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot books. Very clever writing with plenty of twists and turns in the plot make for an intensifying pace, but Susan is the only really likeable character in either mystery. I don’t want to reveal much of the plot as there are so many clever puzzles for the reader to uncover. Don’t confuse this inventive book with another fine mystery also featuring a book editor, A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders.
by Peter Wohlleben
An absorbing, leisurely read, about how trees grow and communicate. If you enjoy a walk in the woods of area forest preserves or the Morton Arboretum, you may enjoy spending time with German forester Peter Wohlleben. I was interested to learn that trees, even of different species, can communicate with each other through scent and chemical signals sent through the fungal network around their roots. They can send signals of attacks by insect pests or herbivores, and even share sugar when another tree is stressed or injured. They also compete for sunlight and space, migrate (very slowly) when the climate changes, react to storms, drought, and injuries, and take risks deciding when it’s best to grow taller or shed their leaves. The likelihood of a single seedling growing up to be a mature tree is very small, but it can be supported by its parent tree as it grows. Urban trees have more challenges, but still manage to communicate, though they aren’t likely to live hundreds of years like a beech or oak tree in a forest. Wohlleben even has a 500-year plan to create thriving forests, which may be aided by getting his many readers to think about and see trees differently.
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Adventure and discovery await Yale student William Johnson when he accepts a dare to join Professor Othniel Marsh’s expedition to dig for dinosaur fossils in 1876. A crash course in photography later, Johnson is on a train headed west, until the paranoid Marsh leaves him behind in Cheyenne. Marsh’s rival, Edward Cope, is in town, and Johnson heads west with his group, to the Montana badlands. Their timing is bad, as Custer is just making his last stand at Little Bighorn. A wonderful find of huge dinosaur teeth highlights the summer fossil dig, but they have to get the fossils safely back East. As the rest of the group wait for a riverboat, Johnson and two others are ambushed with a wagon and half the fossils. Now the adventure really begins, as Johnson makes it to Deadwood with an arrow wound, ten crates of bones, and two dead bodies. Deadwood, a mining town, is both dangerous and expensive. He sets up a photography studio to earn enough money to travel south, and accidentally photographs a murder. No one believes his crates only contain bones, and he hires Wyatt Earp and his brother for protection. This entertaining historical adventure was discovered in the late author’s files, and was written before Jurassic Park. Enjoy!