If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now by Christopher Ingraham

Chris writes an article for the Washington Post about the least scenic counties in America and keeps getting polite comments from the residents of Red Lake County, Minnesota, ranked worst. He visits, writes another article, and eventually moves to Red Lake Falls (which has neither a lake nor a waterfall) with his wife Briana and young twin sons. He leaves behind an awful commute from Baltimore to Washington, a cramped row house with three flights of stairs, and very limited time with his wife and sons. Briana takes time off from her government job to stay home with the boys, then gets involved in local organizations. In northwest Minnesota, they find a purple house with a playroom and back yard, a wide variety of mostly friendly neighbors, and brutally cold winters that have its own rewards. Candid and humorous, this memoir about discovering the joys of Midwestern small town life is sure to be popular.
Brenda

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Except for weekly breakfasts with best friend Andy, young widow Evvie mostly stays in her house. Andy encourages Evvie to consider renting the apartment attached to her house to his friend Dean, a former major league pitcher. Evvie and Dean are attracted to each other, and I really enjoyed their interactions, complete with laugh-out-loud dialogue, especially when Evvie describes a cereal box race at the local minor league baseball park in coastal Maine and when Dean buys an old pinball game. Evvie wallows in misery a bit too much, especially as she was planning to leave her husband the day he died. Dean’s struggles to figure out what happened to his pitching career lead to an interesting agreement with Evvie: she won’t ask about his arm and he won’t ask about her husband. Overall, a charming first novel that’s full of heart and humor, not too predictable, and is a great summer read.
Brenda

Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

As a third generation fan of Anne Shirley, beginning with my Canadian grandmother, it was a real pleasure to read her Aunt Marilla’s story about growing up on Prince Edward Island in the 1830s and 1840s. Fans of Green Gables will enjoy spending more time in Avonlea, getting to know Matthew, Marilla’s brother, as a young farmer, and learning some Canadian history, including the role of the Underground Railroad in eastern Canada. Marilla meets her aunt Izzy, a dressmaker, makes friends with John Blythe and Rachel, and visits an orphanage. Knowing that Marilla never married made it a little sad to read about her one romance, and you never learn why Anne has to wait for her puffed sleeves, but overall a very enjoyable gentle read.

Brenda

The Lost Queen of Crocker County

The Lost Queen of Crocker County by Elizabeth Leiknes

Jane Willow, the former Corn Queen of Crocker County, Iowa, moved to Los Angeles after high school to study film and hasn’t been home since. Now a successful film critic, she adores her practically perfect parents and wants them to move to L.A. Jane isn’t always likable, and has too much drama and tragedy in her life. I had a hard time believing the secrets she kept from her parents and best friend, Charlotte. Charlotte, who now runs a meatloaf hotline, is more interesting than teen Bliss and her screenplay. The story is a page-turner, but not quite the feel-good read I was expecting.

Brenda

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson

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.
Brenda

 

 

 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

chilbury-ladies-choir-jacketThe Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

This is not the cozy tale of home front life in an English village that I expected, but instead a grittier, more memorable story of life in southeast England in 1940. Told in letters and diaries, we experience the points of view of several women and one girl in Chilbury. 13-year-old Kitty Winthrop befriends a young Czech evacuee and uncovers disturbing secrets, while her 18-year-old sister Venetia falls hard for a visiting artist. Widowed Mrs. Tilling, who has sent her only son off to war, resents giving his room to Colonel Mallard. Also featured is a conniving midwife who values money over morals. Newcomer Miss Prim starts a ladies only choir, over the objections of traditionalist Mrs. B, and the women gradually learn the power of music to entertain, comfort, and inspire. I would have liked to learn more about Miss Prim and about the backstories of other characters, but found this to be an absorbing, enjoyable pageturner. Readers learn how far a father will go to have an heir, what happens to the survivors when a house is bombed, and how the women of Chilbury struggle to adapt to their new roles during a time of constant change. Readalikes include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and though it’s set decades earlier, The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. A first novel by an editor of non-fiction books, the author was inspired by her grandmother’s stories of life in WWII, and by the many memoirs of life in WWII England that she read, especially those of evacuees.

Brenda

The Whole Town’s Talking

fannie-flagg-jacketThe Whole Town’s Talking, by Fannie Flagg

In 1889, Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstrom founds a small town in Missouri. Nordstrom is a dairy farmer and Elmwood Spring’s first mayor. In this appealing tale, the town ladies encourage Nordstrom to find a Swedish-American mail order bride, and they send her notes along with his letters. Over the decades the town grows and changes, with the progress overseen fondly by the residents of Still Meadows, the cemetery on a hill. Much to their surprise, the folks at Still Meadows can talk freely with each other, and even (silently) enjoy visits from their relatives. Quirky small town charm and plenty of nostalgia make for a quick, pleasant read.

Brenda