Other Birds

other birds jacket

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

A long awaited novel of magical realism by the author of Garden Spells and Lost Lake. The residents of the Dellawisp condos on Mallow Island, South Carolina include a few ghosts. Zoey Hennessy inherits her mother’s studio and moves in for the summer before starting college. She is hired by the manager to help clear out another condo, and befriends henna artist Charlotte and young chef Mac. All three have secrets and some healing to do, as does a legendary local author. Memorable and intriguing, you’ll wish you could visit magical Mallow Island. Other Birds will be published August 30.

Brenda

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon

Giovaninno Speranza, vacuum repairman and mayor of tiny Prometto, Italy, is distraught. He has to tell the other 213 residents that they have 60 days to come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s plumbing, or else. When his cousin tells him about the sudden increase in tourism his city had when it was rumored a major movie star was there, Signor Speranza comes up with a mad scheme. Perhaps if they pretend that actor Dante Rinaldi is coming to Prometto to film a movie, the town’s fortunes will improve. With the help of his assistant Smilzo, they start casting and actually filming a movie that Smilzo writes, with his crush Antonella as co-star. Speranza’s daughter Gemma and young granddaughter Carlotta are so happy that even temporarily housing an overweight Pomeranian diva can’t dim his sudden happiness or that of his elderly uncle, who starts building an outdoor amphitheater to screen the movie. Wise advice from wife Betta, benevolence from priest Don Rocco, and comic relief from goats and miniature schnauzers all enliven this warmhearted first novel. Offbeat and often hilarious, this is an engaging and uplifting read. More, please!

Brenda

Turbulence

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Turbulence by David Szalay

While not a typical armchair travel read, this short novel about the connections people make on 12 flights will take the reader around the world, touching down in five continents. The author has lived in five countries, including some mentioned here. In case you’re wondering, no planes crash, and I remember only one significant flight delay. More than just the flights are covered; this book details the interactions of those traveling together on a plane, traveling to or from an airport, and between those arriving in a city and someone else who will be traveling onwards. Wealthy and poor, urban and rural, healthy and not, even different views of a traffic accident are all covered. Cities flown to and from include London, Madrid, Dakar, Sao Paulo, Delhi and Kerala, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Doha, Budapest, Seattle, and Toronto. I had to look up more than one of those! Sisters, parents and their adult children, an author, lovers and others meet and connect and the reader is left to ponder the effects of these connections on each other. A quick yet memorable read.

Brenda

Think of Me

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Think of Me by Frances Liardet

A companion novel to Liardet’s 2019 debut, We Must Be Brave, this covers three different times in vicar James Acton’s life. As a young pilot in the Second World War, he meets his future wife Yvette in Alexandria, Egypt. The war separates them, and then they marry after the war and settle near Liverpool in a poor parish. A pregnancy loss early in their marriage threaten to divide them again, and James doesn’t care where Yvette finds support on her long drives in the country. Later Yvette keeps a diary before her death in the 1960s. In 1974, with son Tom a college student, James moves to a new parish in Upton, where he has a leaky roof, a study full of the last vicar’s papers, and a crisis of faith. Tom and James quarrel over Yvette’s diaries, then James starts meeting people who knew Yvette. Not as sad as We Must Be Brave, with a puppy and Tom providing comic relief, and a stern archbishop providing unexpected support, the plot keeps the reader guessing in this compelling read. The Alexandria setting is unfamiliar and has links to the author’s family. I also enjoyed the English countryside setting and the scenes of daily life of a 1970s English vicar.

Brenda

By Her Own Design

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By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register by Piper Huguley

This historical novel is based on the remarkable life of Black fashion designer Ann Lowe. Fourth in a family line of dressmakers, Ann was born in Alabama in 1898. Her grandmother was born a slave. Ann was designing and making fabric flowers as a young girl, and she finished a commission to make four dresses for Alabama’s first lady at 16, after her mother died.

Married extremely young, Ann had one son. Discovered by a Tampa socialite, Ann and young Arthur lived with the family in Tampa, where she designed and made dresses for the family. At their suggestion, Ann studied at a design school in New York City, where she wasn’t allowed to sit in a classroom with the white students. Racism also hampered her ability to open a dress shop in the south near where her wealthy clients lived. Later, Ann designed dresses in New York City for the rich and famous, sometimes in her own shop and sometimes in a department store, struggling with finances, her eyesight, and especially, for recognition of her talents. Among Ann’s notable designs were the gown Olivia de Havilland wore to the Academy Awards when she won an Oscar, and Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding gown, which had to be made twice.

A compelling read, well researched, and with a good sense of time and place. A moving and thought-provoking novel about an extremely talented artist; well worth considering for book groups. Readalikes include The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and The Gown by Jennifer Robson.

Brenda

The Grief of Stones

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The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison

Sequel to Witness for the Dead, this is a stunning shorter fantasy mystery set in a steampunk world where technology is mostly in the background, with Thara Celahar traveling the city of Amalo with his new widowed apprentice Velhiro Tomasaran by tram and sending notes by pneumatic tube, and rarely, airship. Thara is a cleric who has the ability to read the thoughts and feelings of the recently dead, which helps in investigating the cause of death, location of a will or treasured item, or even identity or religion. His new cases involve him with all classes of society in Amalo. He is elven, many of his clients are all or part goblin. I like how the set of a character’s ears show their mood or energy level. His friends, including admirer and new friend Pel Thenhior, a composer and director of opera, often aid his investigations. Thara is not well paid, and has a single room, taking all his meals and tea out, and visiting bathhouses. When his secondhand black coat of office needs extensive mending, he gratefully trades with his female apprentice. Thara is frequently asked if he is well after a dramatic confrontation with a monster in an underground tomb, and he is clearly shaken up, having lost something very valuable in the process. Readers, along with Thara’s allies, will hope his health and fortune improve in the promised final book in The Cemeteries of Amalo trilogy, set in the world of The Goblin Emperor.

 

Brenda

The Marlow Murder Club

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The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

At 77, Judith Potts is perfectly happy with her solitary life. She lives in a cluttered mansion along the Thames in Marlow, creates crossword puzzles, has a nightly scotch, walks through her neighborhood in a cape, where she thinks her age makes her invisible, and enjoys swimming nude in the Thames. While swimming one evening, she hears a gunshot in her neighbor Stefan’s garden. The police find nothing, not even the body she discovers the next morning, complete with a medallion inscribed Faith. Soon, Judith connects with two other Marlow residents, vicar’s wife Betts and dog walker Suzie, to investigate. After another murder with a different medallion, the trio look into whether the victims are linked by a fondness for rowing or a valuable modern painting sold cheaply many years ago. Their favorite suspect, smug auction house owner Elliot Howard, unfortunately has a solid alibi. The women become friends, though not sharing all their secrets with each other, or with DS Tanika Malik, heading the investigation due to budget cuts. I look forward to a return appearance with The Marlow Murder Club. Readalikes include The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton, Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, and The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman.

 

Brenda

The Littlest Library

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The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

What Anglophile hasn’t dreamed of buying a cottage in a charming English village? Made redundant when her public library closes, Jess impulsively buys Ivy Cottage in a small Devon town, and opens a little library in a red phone booth with 10 boxes of books left to her by her beloved grandmother Mimi. Soon she’ll need a paying job, but for now she’s weeding the lush garden, making friends, and falling for handsome neighbor Aidan and his tween daughter Maisie. Charming and well-written; perfect summer reading. Readalikes includes novels by Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan, Jojo Moyes, and Katie Fforde

Brenda

Fencing with the King

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Fencing with the King by Diana Abu-Jaber

In 1995, King Hussein of Jordan is about to turn 60. Gabe Hamdan is invited to his homeland for the festivities, including participating in a fencing match with the king. Gabe’s daughter Amani, a recently divorced poet in upstate New York, offers to accompany her father. Scraps of poetry written by her grandmother make Amani curious to learn her family’s history, and eager to finally visit Jordan. One of Gabe’s brothers, Hafez, works with the king and is delighted to host his relatives, but with the ulterior motive of reclaiming an ancient family dagger.

There is some intrigue, complex family dynamics, and even a potential love interest for Amani. The real highlight of the novel for me was the beautifully described scenery and historical sites of Jordan, including a Bedouin camp. Amani overcomes her writer’s block, uncovers family secrets, and even ventures alone into the desert in this compelling and atmospheric story. The author’s father is Jordanian and fenced with the king in their youth.

Brenda

A Desolation Called Peace

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Literary science fiction that concludes the duology begun with A Memory Called Empire.  While sometimes described as space opera, Martine’s writing is more descriptive and complex than most adventure filled space operas. If you enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie or Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor or The Witness for the Dead, you may find this a very satisfying read. The world building, characterization, and writing are all top-notch, and there are feline-like creatures that purr. However, there are also aliens so dangerous that just an audio recording of them can make listeners ill. In this first contact story, there are multiple narrators from two very different cultures. Young ambassador Mahit Dzmare has most of the memories of her predecessor, and is in some danger back home on Lsel Station. Her former liaison to the Teixcalaan Empire, Three Seagrass, spots an emergency request from Nine Hibiscus, in charge of the fleet facing these aliens, and travels with Mahit, her potential love interest, to Nine Hibiscus’s fleet to try to communicate with the aliens. Back on Teixcalaan’s capital world, young imperial heir Eight Antidote, 11, is exploring the tunnels and back ways of the palace complex, where he is encouraged to observe and learn how the empire is governed. While observing quietly, Eight Antidote picks up information that may help Mahit and Three Seagrass, and keep Nine Hibiscus from escalating the conflict. While there are several main characters and multiple plotlines, the author skillfully draws the reader in with beautiful prose and an ever-intensifying pace. A finalist this year for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, this story may also appeal to fantasy readers of Guy Gavriel Kay. Future books are planned in the Teixcalaanli Empire, but they will not be sequels.

Brenda