The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
In 1947, Grace Holland has two children and an unhappy marriage. Gene brings her a wringer washing machine as an apology, but discourages Grace from visiting his mother when she is taken ill. Later, Grace learns that Gene’s mother has a washer and dryer, along with a large jewelry collection and expensive clothes. Grace has her young children, her lively friend Rosie, and walks on the Maine shore. Grace’s mother expects her to make the best of things, which another pregnancy does not help. Fires break out all along the coast, and Grace is saved only by her daughter coughing in the night and her own quick thinking. Gene is away fighting the fires, and the family finds shelter at his mother’s house, which is being occupied by a gifted pianist. The night of the fire is vividly described, as is Grace’s new job at a doctor’s office. Her husband and mother-in-law are sketchily drawn, and some plot twists are rather melodramatic. The reader is meant to worry about Grace’s safety, but we know that the newly self-reliant Grace will dare to do the right thing for her children. Excellent period details and plenty of action make for a fast-paced, compelling read.
The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
Christina Baker Kline is best known for Orphan Train, her bestselling historical novel. Her new book, A Piece of the World, received lots of publicity, but I overlooked this appealing contemporary novel, published in 2007, until another librarian recommended it to me. Angela Russo, 33, an event planner in New York City, loses her job and heads to Maine to visit Rich, a guy she’s met only once. There’s not much to do on Mount Desert Island in the fall (except Acadia National Park, which barely gets a mention), and Angela starts working with Flynn at the local coffee shop. She rents a tiny shack, adopts a dog, and starts baking muffins and scones for the coffee shop. Angela inherited the gift of cooking from her Italian nonna, and hosts a few Italian cooking classes. Rich clearly isn’t her soul mate, but she’s surprisingly content. Back home in New Jersey for Christmas to visit her ailing nonna and the rest of her family, Angela has to decide whether to follow her head or her heart. Recipes are included, and they sound delicious. This is a good readalike for The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller, although Kline’s book is more cheerful.
Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen
Imagine spending the whole month of August in a rambling cottage on an island off the coast of Maine. No cars allowed, cell phones rarely work, there are amazing views and trails, and cold water for swimming. There are blueberries to pick and sea glass to collect. Add in a hat party, a lobster bake, a tiny library, friendly islanders, a children’s musical that needs a director and you get a charming beach book, inspired by The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Two preschool moms, Lottie and Rose, leave their families behind in Brooklyn for a real escape, and are joined by actress Carolyn and Beverly, an older gay man in mourning who enjoys cooking. Lottie and Rose eventually welcome their families for a visit, and cottage owner Robert even comes to stay. The cottage and the island setting are lovingly detailed, and are a large part of this novel’s appeal. This is a pleasant summer read.
Dead Level by Sarah Graves
The latest book in the Home Repair is Homicide mystery series, this is more suspense than mystery. Dewey Hooper, an escaped murderer, heads toward Eastport, Maine, with revenge in mind. City guy Harold takes a rare vacation, planning to hike in the Maine woods. Jacobia (Jake) and Ellie head out of Eastport to a remote cottage, where Jake plans to spend the week finishing a deck. The reader knows they are all likely to meet up, with possibly dire results. Jake’s son Sam is in Eastport, trying to keep a boat from sinking, hindered rather than helped by its new owner. He thinks about going to check on his mother, but is delayed. Jake’s stepmother, Bella, is uneasy and also wants to go check on Jake. It turns out that they’ve all seen the ghost of Sam’s father on the anniversary of his death, but none of them believe it. The only spooky part of the book is the ghost, but there is the feeling of listening to a ghost story around a fire, waiting for something to jump out of the dark. It turns out that Ellie and Jake are tough and resourceful, and probably up to the challenge of facing Dewey, while Harold and Sam face their own problems, as does Bella. Usually I like to start a series at the beginning, but it’s not necessary with this series. An exciting, suspenseful, satisfying read. For more about the series and Eastport, visit the author’s website.
A Simple Murder, by Eleanor Kuhns
Are you looking for a new mystery author? I’m happy to recommend Eleanor Kuhn’s outstanding debut, A Simple Murder. Late 18th century Maine is an uncommon setting for fiction, and that much of the book is set in Zion, a Shaker community, makes it even more unusual. William Rees has been a traveling weaver for five years since his wife died, leaving his sister and brother-in-law to manage his farm and raise his son, David. During an unexpected trip home, Rees learns that the farm and David have both been neglected. David, 13, has run away to live with the Shakers. Rees is allowed to stay at Zion for a while and set up his loom because a young Shaker woman has been killed, and Rees investigated crimes in the Continental Army.
A former Shaker, Lydia Jane Farrell, is assigned to help Reese question the women and they visit nearby farms and the local sheriff. Horse theft, flying musket balls, and the unsolved disappearance of two Shakers on a trip two years earlier make for a lively mystery. Rees tries to repair his relationship with David, and puzzle out the motive for all of the crimes.