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

 

Plaid & Plagiarism

plaid-jacketPlaid & Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

This book is an appealing beginning to a new cozy mystery series set in the Scottish Highlands. Librarian Janet, her daughter Tallie, and two of their friends buy a bookshop in Inversgail with plans to open a tearoom next door and a B & B upstairs. Making a quick visit to Janet’s house to see why her move has been delayed, Christine finds the kitchen full of trash while Summer, a reporter, finds a dead body in the garden shed. Later they find a biscuit tin full of threatening letters at the bookshop, which were probably written by the victim, advice columnist Una Graham. I found the four women a bit difficult to tell apart at first, but it was interesting having four amateur sleuths working together on the same case. There are plenty of descriptions of learning to run a bookshop, remodel a tearoom, and plenty of local colour, although sadly no scone recipes. A good start to the Highland Bookshop series, with some room for improvement.
Brenda

A Man Called Ove

ove jacketA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove, a newly retired railway worker in Sweden, can fix many things, but not his heart. He is grumpy yet loveable, and doesn’t see the point in living without his wife Sonja or his job. Gradually Ove finds out that he is needed: first to back up a trailer, then to fix a radiator and a ceiling fan, to rescue a cat, drive neighbors to the hospital, and even to give driving lessons. His new neighbors, Parvaneh and Patrick, along with their two young daughters, help Ove break out of his shell. Gradually the reader sees that there’s more to Ove than complaining about rule-breakers and government bureaucrats, and learns about his childhood and his unlikely marriage to always late Sonja, as well as regular feuds with neighbor Rune, who prefers Volvos to Saabs. It took me quite a while to warm up to this book of mixed sadness, warmth, and humor, but I’m very glad I kept reading until I did. A movie, hugely popular in Sweden, may be coming to this country soon, and Ove is sure to gain more fans when it does. Readalikes include The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
Brenda

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

broken wheel jacketThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Sara Lindqvist arrives in Hope, Iowa for a long visit with her pen pal, Amy. Amy never shows up to drive her to Broken Wheel, and Sara arrives at her home just in time for Amy’s wake. Oddly, the residents of the tiny town in Southern Iowa want her to stay in Amy’s house, eat up all the casseroles, and get driven wherever she wants to go by lonely George. She is invited to the local bar to meet the town’s only eligible bachelor, Tom. No one will let her pay for her meals, drinks, or groceries. Once she gets to know Amy’s friends, Sara wants to give back to the town, and opens a small bookstore in a vacant storefront, stocking it mostly with Amy’s large collection of books. Sara generally prefers books to people, having worked in a bookstore in Sweden for years, but that could change. When a newsletter promotes the bookstore, the shop and the local bar fill up with tourists from Hope. The residents of Broken Wheel hope that maybe Sara will stay. Charming, quirky, and endearing, this is already popular with staff here at the library. I listened to the audiobook, with Sara’s part read by Fiona Hardingham, and the Iowans given a southern accent by Lorelei King, which only added to my reading enjoyment. This is a first novel by a Swedish writer who had only visited Iowa in books before this book was published.
Brenda

The Sparrow Sisters

sparrow jacketThe Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

An unusual first novel, an excellent readalike for Sarah Addison Allen fans. Set in a seaside town on Cape Cod, the three Sparrow Sisters run a plant nursery, and youngest sister Patience makes herbal remedies for the town. When doctor Henry Carlyle moves to Granite Point, he is skeptical of Patience’s talents. Neither Nettie nor Sorrel has ever married, and the three sisters live in the house they grew up in. When tragedy strikes, Patience’s remedies come under suspicion, and many of the men in Granite Point turn against the sisters. Magical realism is strong but never stated in this book, as Patience’s moods seem to affect the whole town, just like her ancestor Eliza Howard. In spite of the turmoil, one sister falls in love and another gains an admirer. The tone of the book changes, which makes for an unsettling reading experience. I’m expecting small town charm, quite a bit about plants, some romance and magic, and that’s what the first half of the book is like. Then it turns darker, melancholy and suspenseful, with the ending rather uncertain. But that makes for a memorable book, with more depth than a typical cozy mystery or romance.
Brenda

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

filling station jacketThe All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

After marrying off her three daughters, Sookie Poole longs for some peace and quiet. But she can’t keep blue jays from emptying her bird feeders, and her demanding, eccentric mother Lenore lives down the street in Point Clear, Alabama. When Sookie learns that she was adopted in Texas, is actually 60 instead of 59, and that her birth mother was from the Polish town of Pulaski, Wisconsin, her world is turned upside down. Sookie pretends to have the flu to keep her mother away while she learns more about her fascinating birth family, supported by her kind husband Earle. Fritzi Jurdabralinski’s father opens a filling station in the 1930s, and builds an air strip nearby. Fritzi learns to fly a plane and does some wing walking, before she and her three sisters are needed to run the filling station. Three of the sisters, along with their brother, end up as pilots during World War II; much of their experiences are told in letters. Sookie doesn’t feel like she’s accomplished much with her life, but learning about her birth family inspires her. I think Lenore was a bit too eccentric to be believable, but this was a very enjoyable, heartwarming book.
Brenda

First Frost

first frost jacketFirst Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost is a pleasant, mostly gentle read that may make you hungry. I didn’t realize at first that it’s a sequel to the author’s first book, Garden Spells, set ten years later in Bascom, North Carolina. Claire is living in the house she inherited from her Waverley grandmother, but now makes candy with edible flowers instead of catering. Her niece Bay enjoys helping out, but Claire is increasingly tense. The Waverley women all have minor magical talents. Elderly cousin Evanelle gives people unusual gifts they may need later, such as a spatula. Claire’s affinity is for flowers and cooking, while her sister Sydney is a wonderful hair stylist. But Claire’s young daughter seems quite ordinary. Bay knows where some people and things belong, making her a great organizer, but when she gives Josh a note telling him that he belongs in her life, he doesn’t know how to respond. When a stranger in town tries to convince Claire that she’s not really a Waverley, it takes the magic of first frost, when their apple tree blooms, to set things to rights. It’s nice to visit with the Waverleys again, and Bay is an appealing narrator, but I wanted more back story to remind me what happened in the first book. Actually, I’d really like a book set earlier than First Frost. Complaints aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read, and I will probably re-read Garden Spells.
Brenda