The Spare Man

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The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

This blend of mystery and science fiction from the author of the award-winning Lady Astronaut series and the Glamourist Histories makes for an entertaining read. Tesla Crane and Shal Steward are on their honeymoon on a luxury spaceship en route to Mars, along with Tesla’s therapy dog Gimlet. Tesla is traveling incognito, and Shal is a recently retired detective. When Shal witnesses a murder, he becomes a suspect, and Tesla, who has wealth and great tech skills, goes into action to clear his name. Tesla has anxiety and back pain from a lab accident years ago, and Gimlet both helps with her anxiety and charms almost all the passengers and crew. The spaceship has different levels with Earth, Martian, and lunar gravity, a fancy bar, an auditorium with a spectacular magic show, and plenty of staff corridors for Tesla to try to search for answers. Tesla and Shal enjoy spending time together, trying a variety of imaginative cocktails (with and without alcohol), and very much resemble a future version of Nick and Nora from the 1934 film The Thin Man. There is plenty of witty banter, a funny and indignant remote lawyer, and plenty of drama as well as security personnel with varying levels of detecting skills. Tesla is famous as well as wealthy and walks a fine line between asserting her privilege and needing accommodations for her disability. The mystery is clever and certainly kept me guessing. This book will be published October 11.

Brenda

An Island Wedding

island wedding jacket

An Island Wedding by Jenny Colgan

On the tiny Scottish island of Mure, Flora MacKenzie is planning her wedding to Joel. They have a baby, Douglas, who is taking his sweet time learning to walk, at least according to the other MacKenzies. Flora dreams of a gorgeous wedding at her family’s hotel, but Joel wants a micro wedding with only immediate family. When former islander Olivia MacDonald, a social influencer, gets engaged, she arrives on Mure with a wedding planner to organize a lavish midsummer wedding.

When Flora agrees to share her hen night with Olivia, she is dazzled by the Alice in Wonderland themed extravaganza and rethinks her own wedding plans. Both Flora and Olivia’s maids of honor are having their own struggles. The (fictional) island is full of colorful characters, rapidly changing weather, a visiting whale pod, lots of charm, and some humor. How all the tangled plotlines get resolved make for an enjoyable summer read. While the Mure books start with Café by the Sea, a lengthy introduction brings new readers up to date. Readalike authors include Jill Mansell, Felicity Hayes-McCoy, Sarah Morgan, and Sheila Roberts.

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

Flying Solo

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

Laurie has always admired her Great Aunt Dot, a world traveler who lived to be 93. Her home in Calcasset, Maine, was a quiet refuge for Laurie as she was a middle child with four brothers. In Calcasset to sort through Dot’s belongings, Laurie is having a mid-life crisis as she turns 40. Her best friend June is happily married with three kids, but Laurie has always enjoyed living alone. She has just canceled her upcoming wedding, but is still looking forward to returning to Seattle, where her house and garden are designed just how she likes it. Laurie’s former boyfriend Nick is now the director of the Calcasset Library, and sparks fly when they spend time together, but Nick has never wanted to leave small town Maine.

A very enjoyable part of this book is the adventure of a carved and painted wood duck Aunt Dot kept in a cedar chest. Is it valuable? Apparently not, or has Laurie been scammed by a con man? Nick helps with research and Laurie’s brother Ryan, an actor, helps in the quest to get the duck back. Laurie finally is able to decide what she really wants in this engaging read.

Set in the same town as Holmes’ debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over, this is not a sequel. Readalikes include novels by Jennifer Crusie, Mary Kay Andrews, Abbi Waxman, and Beth O’Leary.

Brenda

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir by Kate MacDougall

Kate has a dull entry level job at Sotheby’s auction house in London, appropriate for her university degree, but not very fulfilling. It isn’t going well, and Kate impulsively starts a dog-walking business. Her mother is upset, but partner Finlay, though not a dog lover, is supportive. In 2006, dog walking hasn’t yet caught on in London as it has in American cities, so Kate starts small. She quickly learns that the hardest part of the job is working with the dogs’ owners. Gradually Kate needs to hire other dog walkers, and meets rival Agnes. Each chapter is focused on a particular dog, their owners, and the neighborhood where they live. Even readers who prefer cats may enjoy this charming memoir, a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. The quirky personalities of the dogs are lovingly described, as Kate shares her successes and failures in business, and life. Muddy, messy, and joyful, this is an uplifting read.

Brenda

The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Three cheers for Scalzi’s Plan B! This is not the science fiction novel that the award-winning author meant to write during the pandemic, but it’s one that will entertain and delight his many fans. In this very funny adventure thriller, New Yorker Jamie Gray is unexpectedly fired at the beginning of a very bad year. Demoted to food delivery driver, Jamie renews his acquaintance with Tom, a frequent customer who gives Jamie a job lead with KPS, the Kaiju Preservation Society. Jamie ends up in a warmer parallel earth with a jungle full of flying insects, creatures called tree crabs, and the super colossal kaiju, whose rare visits to our world inspired the Godzilla films. Jamie’s smart, snarky coworkers all seem to have a Ph.D. (unlike Jamie), and are studying the kaiju and trying to encourage a pair to mate and produce offspring. Suddenly Jamie encounters his terrible former boss, a billionaire tourist who almost gets himself kicked off a helicopter. Soon, Jamie and his coworkers have to strategize to protect the kaiju, themselves, and a small Canadian city from danger. Pure escapist reading, sure to be a hit. Readalikes include Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.

Brenda

Three Romantic Comedies

I recently read a historical romantic comedy and two contemporary romantic comedies, or rom-coms, and enjoyed reading all three books. If you’re in the mood for some light, entertaining reads, check out one or more of these titles.

Never Fall for Your Fiancée by Virginia Heath

Hugh Standish, an earl in 1820s England, has a matchmaking mother who lives in America with his stepfather. He doesn’t think he’d make a good husband, and invents a fiancée named Miranda to keep his mother from finding him a real wife. His letters about the fictional Miranda’s serious illness and father’s death have delayed any wedding plans, but Hugh has run out of excuses. When Hugh helps a lovely engraver collect money she’s owed, he is stunned to learn her name is Minerva. Quite soon, Miranda and two two younger sisters are visiting his country estate, along with an actress hired to play their mother, getting lessons in etiquette and fine dining, when his family arrives early. Hugh’s mother is surprised to learn that Miranda can’t ride a horse or sing, and is getting suspicious. Some very funny scenes delight the reader while Hugh and Miranda bicker, and of course, fall in love. Readers of Julia Quinn’s Smythe-Smith quartet will likely enjoy.

 

How Sweet It Is by Dylan Newton    

 

Kate Sweet, an event planner known for weddings with an “aww” moment, is asked by her best friend to fill in and organized horror writer Drake Matthews’ book launch. The pair are uncomfortable spending time together, especially after a disastrous introduction. Drake is secretly writing a historical romance, while super-organized Kate is struggling with her plans for the elaborate book party. While I’ve never heard of a book launch quite so elaborate, it makes for entertaining reading. Kate and Drake’s chemistry is fun to read about, especially as the both deny their mutual attraction.

 

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca  well matched jacket

Another pretend relationship turns friends into lovers when April Parker asks Mitch Malone for help with some home improvements so she can sell her house and move to a nearby city. Mitch, a high school gym teacher and coach, is known for his performances in a kilt at the local renaissance Faire, yet needs a pretend girlfriend for a big family dinner. When Mitch’s family unexpectedly visits the Faire, April steps in again, and somehow their relationship doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Well Played and Well Met are the earlier rom-coms set at Willow Creek’s Renaissance Faire.

 

Brenda

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman

Carpenter, actor, comedian and author Nick Offerman narrates the audio version of his new memoir. In 2019 and 2020 he travels to Glacier National Park to hike with two famous friends and a guide, visits a sheep farm in England where he helps rebuild a stone wall, and buys an Airstream trailer and travels from California to Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois with his wife Megan Mullally and their dog. During his travels, Offerman shares amusing anecdotes, reflects on nature, public lands and their origin, the pandemic, common sense, and food. This is an entertaining and thought provoking read, with perhaps a bit too much time on his soap box. Excellent armchair travel with plenty of humor to enliven the book. Readalikes include the author’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, A Walk in the Woods and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and The Longest Road by Philip Caputo.

Brenda

Early Morning Riser

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Small town life in northern Michigan is this focus of this novel about family life, friendship, love, and teaching second graders. Jane is new in town when she meets Freida, who sings and plays mandolin, and then Duncan, who is charming but seems to have dated almost every other woman in town. Duncan moonlights as a locksmith, while his day job is woodworking, restoring furniture, but never quickly. Sweet and slightly slow Jimmy is his helper, who later helps bring Jane and Duncan together after a breakup. There are many funny passages about teaching second grade, especially guest speakers and field trips that never go quite according to plan. A cranky toddler often steals the scene later in the story. Aggie, Duncan’s ex-wife, and her second husband Gary are often present, especially for Taco Tuesdays, which might feature Aggie’s pork chops rather than actual tacos. Even trips to an ice cream shop to check out someone’s crush are both awkward and hilarious, as are a few of Jane’s thrift store outfits. Quirky characters, found family, happiness and occasional disaster all make for a delightful and memorable read. Readalikes include Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel, All Adults Here by Emma Straub, and books by Jodi Thomas and RaeAnne Thayne.

 

Brenda

The Man Who Died Twice

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This is the clever and entertaining sequel to the Thursday Murder Club, a mystery series inspired by the upscale English retirement village where Brenda, the author’s mother, lives. A group of four retirees led by retired MI5 agent Elizabeth, gather weekly to discuss unsolved mystery cases, with occasional input from DCI Chris Hudson, Constable Donna De Freitas, and fixer Bogdan Jankowski. The first book is to be a Steven Spielberg film, and I am picturing Penelope Wilton to play Joyce, a retired nurse who narrates her adventures with Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron to her diary. Elizabeth gets a plea for help from a dead man. It’s really from her ex-husband Douglas, who’s in a safe house with new MI5 agent Poppy after some diamonds connected to the Mafia go missing. Douglas may have stolen the diamonds, and he’s definitely in trouble. Ibrahim is injured when his phone is stolen, and the friends plot revenge on his young assailant. If you enjoy crime novels, very dark humor, and excellent writing, you’re in for a treat. Lesley Manville does excellent work narrating the audiobook. Here’s a longer list of readalikes, as I’d like to read more books like Osman’s myself: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten, Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Celine by Peter Heller, and The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths. 

Brenda