Better Luck Next Time

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Ward Bennett spent the summer of 1938 working on a dude ranch near Reno, Nevada. The Flying Leap catered to wealthy women who spent six weeks living there, then got a no-fuss divorce in Reno. Handsome cowboys Ward and Sam chauffeured the ladies to and from Reno, served meals, took care of the horses, and guided the ladies on trail rides. Max and Margaret hired the men for their good manners and their looks. When Emily drove cross-country to Reno and Nina flew her plane there, the folks at the Flying Leap know they’re in for an eventful summer. Both amusing and dramatic, this character-focused historical novel was inspired by both of the author’s parents, and is an engaging and memorable read.

Brenda

The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Ray McMillan has a dream to play the violin and possibly earn a living from his music. Only his grandmother encourages him, and has Ray search her attic for her grandfather’s violin. But as a Black teen in rural North Carolina, the odds are not in his favor. When the family violin turns out to be valuable, his mother and her siblings just want to sell it and split the money. And Ray’s family aren’t the only ones with a suspicious interest in his violin. When Ray finds a supportive violin teacher in Janice, he sets his sights higher, with hopes to be a classical and jazz violinist, and maybe even a soloist and a contestant in a prestigious music competition in Moscow.

The author is a Black violinist and music teacher who put some of his stories from his own journey to becoming a musician into this moving, suspenseful thriller; and all of his love for music. A second novel, The Composer’s Last Score, though not a sequel, is in the works. Engaging and dramatic, this memorable debut is a Library Reads pick and a Good Morning America Book Club selection.

Brenda

The Boys

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard & Clint Howard

Fans of the Howard brothers will enjoy this upbeat, candid memoir of their childhood in show business, including their parents’ improbably journey from Oklahoma to Hollywood. Rance and Jean Howard were both actors, and Rance also did some writing. They never hit the big time, except in their parenting of Ron and Clint. Rance was Ronny’s dialog and acting coach when he was in The Sound of Music and The Andy Griffith Show and when Clint was in Star Trek, and one parent was always on the set, making it challenging when young Clint was filming Gentle Ben in Florida. Rance taught the boys to approach their roles with emotional truth and relatability, understanding their character’s motivation. Sometimes the whole family was on a set together, including the 1970 film Wild Country. They lived modestly, and the boys enjoyed baseball and basketball, with Ron coaching Clint’s basketball team, and Clint showing Henry Winkler how to pitch softball. Ron was bullied a bit in school, and Clint struggled with an addiction to alcohol and drugs, but the family stayed close, working together into their parents’ later years as Ron became a successful director and Clint a much in-demand character actor. Full of behind the scenes stories from beloved television shows and movies, this is an entertaining and engaging read.

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

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Mona, 14, is an orphan who works at her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery. She has a knack with bread and cookie dough, and can make gingerbread men dance for the bakery’s customers. Her bread is exceptionally good, thanks to a sourdough starter named Bob. One early morning, Mona arrives at the bakery to find a body on the floor; someone who also had a magical talent. The dreaded Spring Green Man has struck, again. But Mona first has to clear her name, aided by the city’s Duchess. A boy named Spindle and a skeleton horse help her in what turns out to be a quest to save their city, aided by some really massive baked goods. By turns funny and deadly serious, this exciting Andre Norton Nebula Award winner is a good readalike for Terry Pratchett’s fantasy novels featuring Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men.

Brenda

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

The Pulitzer Prize winning author of All The Light We Cannot See has written another masterpiece. Set in an astonishing variety of settings and time periods, with a story within the larger story to keep the reader enchanted. In a modern day public library in Idaho, Zeno, a Korean War veteran, is helping several children produce a play he translated from the Greek. Young seamstress Anna and Omeir and his oxen are caught up in a siege of Constantinople in 1453. In the future, teenager Konstance is living on a spaceship bound for planet Beta Oph2. Doerr excels at storytelling, plot, and characters, although this is not a happy, upbeat story. Somehow, the storylines converge with the theme of the importance of story to inspire, cheer, and remember. Readalike authors include Elsa Hart, David Mitchell, Natasha Pulley, and Neal Stephenson.

Brenda

Honey Girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Grace Porter celebrates earning her Ph.D. in astronomy with a short vacation in Las Vegas with friends Agnes and Ximena. She wakes up the last morning with a hangover, a wedding ring, and a picture of Yuki Yamamoto, who hosts a late night radio show in New York City. Back in Portland, Grace tries to live up to the expectations of her father, Colonel Porter. Biracial and queer, Grace is struggling to land an astronomy job, which she somehow thought would be easy. Grace is used to working hard and living up to her father’s expectations. Her response is to flee, visiting Yuki and her roommates in NYC, then her mother at the family orange grove in Florida. Essentially ghosting her friends for long stretches, they are still there when she needs them. I would have liked more about Grace’s astronomy studies; with perhaps a cool field trip to an observatory in Hawaii or Chile. But Grace’s story is much more about an identity crisis, her relationships with her friends, Yuki, and her parents, and learning to accept her own imperfections and uncertainties. Grace and Yuki are memorable characters, and this is an appealing and compelling read.

Brenda

Majesty

Majesty by Katharine McGee

This is an enjoyable coming of age story set in an alternate American future, in which George Washington was crowned king. In this sequel to American Royals, Beatrice is now America’s first queen, and is feeling burdened with her new responsibilities, especially the expectation that she will marry a nobleman. Her fun-loving sister Samantha is now the heir, and has her own romantic problems, as does her friend Nina, along with Nina’s rival, Daphne. There is more pomp and circumstance than glitz and glamor in this second book. The main characters are appealing and I didn’t predict the ending. While the author could write another American Royals book, none is currently planned. Perfect for royal watchers looking for an entertaining read.

Brenda

I Was Told It Would Get Easier

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

A road trip with nine other Los Angeles area families to visit East Coast colleges could be a perfect chance for mother-daughter bonding for Jessica and Emily. Busy lawyer Jessica spends so much time taking calls and texts for work that she misses a whole day of the tour. 16-year-old Emily is worried about a scandal at her private high school, and has no clue where she’d like to attend college or what she wants to study. A couple of joint sessions with a college counselor might have made the whole trip unnecessary, but then the reader would miss out on a very funny and heartwarming mother-daughter relationship. Emily is the most interesting character, but visits with her mother’s college friends reveal more of Jessica’s personality. There’s also cute, geeky Will and his attractive father to make their free time in Philadelphia, New York City, and Rhinebeck, New York even more appealing. This witty novel is sure to appeal to readers of Waxman’s novels The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

Brenda