On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Faith Frankel’s life is rather chaotic. Her boyfriend Stuart proposed with a ring made of red thread and set off to walk cross-country, posting frequent selfies in bars and with former girlfriends. Her father has left her mother and is painting faux Chagalls for bar mitzvahs. Faith is in some trouble at the private school where she works, supported only by coworker Nick Franconi. And the small house she’s impulsively purchased at a bargain price may have more history then she can handle, with one or more suspicious deaths. I enjoyed this frank and funny look at work, love, and family relationships, with great dialogue, appealing characters, and some very funny scenes. Enjoy!
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this first novel is set during the British heat wave of 1976. One Monday, Mrs. Margaret Creasy goes missing, and Grace Bennett, her 10-year-old neighbor, decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. They visit all the neighbors on their street, even Walter Bishop in #11, who has been shunned after being suspected of stealing a baby. Flashbacks to 1967 reveal some of the villagers’ secrets, but don’t solve the mystery. A possible image of Jesus captures the neighborhood’s attention at the peak of the heat wave, and almost everyone, even the new Indian family from Birmingham, gathers in the shade to visit and play canasta. I thought the plot quite clever, with some twists, and I enjoyed the occasional humorous scenes, the refreshingly ordinary girls, and the 1976 English village setting.
Year One by Nora Roberts
Bestselling romance and fantasy novelist Roberts goes in a new direction with this first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. A pandemic sweeps the globe from its start near a stone circle in Scotland. Returning home from a family holiday, Ross MacLeod and his wife bring the sickness to New York City. Their pregnant daughter Katie later continues the story. While many people die, some are immune and others, known as the Uncanny, develop paranormal powers. Reporter Arlys finished her final television broadcast, then heads west through the subway tunnels with intern Freddy, an Uncanny. Paramedic Jonah delivers Katie’s babies, and they head southwest with some others, ending up in New Hope, Virginia, where the small community thrives until challenged by enemies with paranormal powers. Several appealing characters and a fast-paced story showcase the author’s storytelling skills. While this isn’t the best post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read recently, it’s very good. For readalikes without the paranormal elements, try When the English Fall, by David Williams or Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For post-apocalyptic novels with paranormal elements, check out Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, the first book in The Change series.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard only travels through time in his memories, but they are vivid and go back to Elizabethan England. A member of the Albatross Society, Tom ages very, very slowly. As he has to move and reinvent his life every eight years to keep his condition a secret, he isn’t supposed to fall in love. Back in London as a history teacher, Tom has only to look out the window to see places from his own history, where his true love Rose was a fruit seller, and where he played the lute at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. French teacher Camille thinks Tom looks familiar and may tempt him into a relationship, but Hendrich, the head of the society, sends Tom on a quick trip to Australia to recruit surfer Omai, who Tom first met while sailing the Pacific with Captain Cook. Enthralling yet bittersweet, full of history and adventure, a sure bet for readers of historical fiction or time travel. This novel is a February Library Reads pick.
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
If you like reading about books, village life, starting over, the Scottish highlands and/or romance, then you will probably enjoy this heartwarming contemporary novel. Nina is a librarian in Birmingham, where branch libraries are closing and books are no longer the main focus. When her roommate Surinder won’t let her bring any more books back to their apartment in case the stairs collapse, and she doesn’t get hired at the new main library, Nina buys a former bakery van in a Scottish village and converts it into a mobile bookstore. Surinder and a friendly train engineer help bring the books she’s acquired to Kirrinfief, and Nina’s adventure begins. Luckily, Nina’s able to rent a converted barn from sheep farmer Lennox, and a local dance and midsummer festival help her feel welcome. Nina has a real gift for finding the right kind of book for each reader, and finds enough customers at area farmer’s markets, even though the big van is hard to drive. I really liked the highlands village setting, and the descriptions of Nina’s challenges at starting over. I would have enjoyed more about the bookselling and a bit less romantic drama, but other readers will probably disagree. Readalikes include books by Alexandra Raife and Katie Fforde, along with The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Enjoy!
A candid memoir about Amy’s life in tiny Freeville, New York, with her teenage daughter, Emily, and with many family members nearby. Amy is an advice columnist, and travels to Chicago monthly to meet with her editors and appear on the radio show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” A follow-up to The Mighty Queens of Freeville, this is frank and funny while also dealing with love and grief. Amy falls in love with local contractor Bruno, who has a house full of daughters, one of whom wonders why Amy keeps showing up for dinner. They get engaged, plan a fun wedding, and work hard to blend their families. Amy finds quiet time at the movies, in her car, and in the little house she uses as an office. She also visits her frail mother Jane daily. Eventually, Amy loses and mourns her mother, struggles with clearing out her mother’s house, regains her love of music, reluctantly reconnects with her father, and works on becoming her best self. I found this book hard to put down, and enjoyed Amy’s vivid descriptions of family and small town life.
Munich by Robert Harris
A gripping spy thriller about the Munich conference in September 1938 that averted war for a while. After taking over Austria, Germany wanted Sudetenland, an ethnically German section of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Chamberlain flew to Munich with some of his staff and advisers to meet with Hitler, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Daladier. Apparently, the British and French military weren’t yet ready for war, and Chamberlain was trying to prevent or at least delay England’s entry into war. Over the course of four very tense days, two junior staffers who met at Oxford try to exchange secret documents that could affect the conference’s outcome. Hugh Legat, one of Chamberlain’s secretaries, is the only German speaker of the British delegation, but is mostly stuck at the delegation’s hotel. Hugh is at the beginning of his career, and money is tight. By disobeying orders, he risks his career. In Berlin, his former classmate Paul van Hartmann is caught up in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, but his main role is to get to Munich with Hitler’s entourage, and transfer the documents to Chamberlain via Legat. Hartmann is under suspicion from the very beginning, and his life is in jeopardy. It’s fascinating to get glimpses of Hitler and Chamberlain, with their very different motivations and personalities, through the eyes of Legat and Hartmann. Hard to put down, although not as outstanding as his earlier novels Pompeii and Conclave.