Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Without Warning by David Rosenfelt

I had already started reading another book when I started Without Warning by David Rosenfelt.  The other book isn't a library book, but Without Warning is, so I decided to read that one.  When I first started reading this book, I wasn't sure I'd stick with it.  Then after several chapters, the story sucked me in, and it was hard to put down.  I mostly wanted to see how the story ended and who the mastermind was behind the big crime and why the perpetrator was doing what he was doing.  I feel as if the whole motive behind the crimes was one of misplaced blame and rage.  It's clear the perpetrator is local, that he/she has spent years meticulously planning their revenge and that both protagonists know this person. Ultimately this person is hiding in plain sight under an alias.  And I kind of wondered why Jake didn't recognize the person sooner.

In the wake of a hurricane that has devastated a small, Maine town, the local newspaper publisher, Katie Sanford, and her managing editor, Matt Higgins, unearth the town's most recent time capsule that had been buried five years previously to check for water damage.  When they dig it up, they are shocked to find a human skeleton atop the capsule.  Katie calls in the local police chief, Jake Robbins, to report the decomposed skeleton.  The next day when Jake opens the capsule to check its inventory against the list that Katie has brought along, an extra unlabeled box of predictions is found in the capsule.  The predictions in the box are cryptic and tell of forthcoming tragedies that started the year after the capsule is buried.

The first of these tragedies is the murder of Jake's wife, Jenny, at the hands of her lover, Roger Hagel, who was Katie's husband.  The presence of this prediction re-opens the case of Jenny's murder, although Roger's eventual exoneration comes too late for him since the man was himself murdered in prison.  What is clear about the murders that have already occurred and were foretold in the set of chronological predictions in the unlabeled box is that each victim is connected to Jake.  In fact, Jake could be seen to hold a grudge against each of the victims although that wasn't actually the case for all of them.

Meanwhile, Katie and Jake have a complicated relationship.  The two were high school sweethearts who parted ways when they went to college, after they returned home with their respective spouses, the couples became friends.  However, upon the revelation of Jenny and Roger's affair and in the aftermath of her subsequent murder that friendship implodes.  Now that this new case has brought Katie and Jake back into each other's orbit, the two are pleasantly surprised by a spontaneously blossoming romance.  But their romantic entanglement is complicated by the case of the time capsule murders, and it must take a back seat until the case is solved.  When Katie suddenly disappears days after an attempt on Matt Higgins' life the pressure is on Jake to figure out who is targeting these people and why and what the person's endgame is.

Short chapters of shifting perspective help move the action along.  Despite the darkness of the story, the writing tone itself is light and at times humorous.  This is ultimately a thrilling page turner even if the reveal of the bad guy(s) and their motive seemed to pop up out of nowhere and was a little rushed.  And there is at least one chapter in which the copy editor really didn't do his/her job.  Harold a.k.a. Howard Novack, the newspaper's legal counsel, switches first names--in fact, in one sentence he is referred to by one first name at the beginning of the sentence and then by the other name at the end of the sentence.  Overall, there were several instances throughout the book that needed a tighter copy editor.  The incident with the name switcheroo really took me out of the story because I had to go back to double check and re-read it to make sure I was actually reading it correctly.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! is Ruth Reichl's debut fiction.  Although Reichl is a well known food writer who has published several non-fiction books, I hadn't heard of her before nor read any of her books.  I first read the excerpted first chapter of this book in a magazine.  I forget which one.  Good Housekeeping, maybe?  I enjoyed reading this book, and all aspects of food permeate throughout the novel--really food is almost another character.  One thing that bothered me was that we find out that Billie's given name is Wilhelmina, but we only know Genie as Genie.  What was Genie a nickname for?

Billie is used to living in the shadow of her older sister, Genie.  She looks up to her, she idolizes her, she adores her older sister, and Billie is more than happy for Genie to take up all the attention of everyone they meet everywhere.  Genie is smart, beautiful, popular, and perfect in every way.  As young girls, the two sisters started a bakery that quickly became famous for its delectable treats that were both visually arresting (thanks to Genie's talents) and mouthwateringly delicious (thanks to Billie's talents).  The sisters' partnership was a match made in business heaven, and the bakery was only shuttered when both girls went off to the same college where Genie continued to outshine Billie.

Billie quits college a year short of graduation, picks up and moves across the country to New York City to take a job as the assistant/secretary to the editor of Delicious! magazine (to be honest, that exclamation point really annoyed me throughout the book).  After her initial trial period at the magazine, Billie's position becomes permanent as she starts contributing articles for publication in each month's 'book.'

It's clear from the beginning of the book that Billie has run away from something in her past, and it is something that she avoids talking about or sharing with any of her new friends in the big city.  She's put physical distance between herself and her home and insists on keeping an emotional distance between herself and her family as well.  It's also clear that something has caused an estrangement between Billie and Genie and that whatever happened is that which caused Billie to run away.

Fortunately for Billie, she meets a motley crew at the magazine where she works during the week and is adopted into a second family at Fontanari's, the Italian, family run cheese and deli shop where she works weekends.  She's settled into her new life, writing for the magazine and building up a writing portfolio when that all abruptly comes to a halt when the magazine is suddenly shuttered.  Billie temporarily stays on at the magazine to answer its reader hotline, but for the most part she's become unmoored and uncertain about her future.  Then one day she unlocks the magazine's mysterious library and in its archives discovers the World War II era letters of Lulu Swan, a girl from Ohio, who corresponded with the legendary chef, James Beard throughout the war.  Billie works on a deadline to locate all the letters that have been mysteriously hidden among thousands of letters that span decades of reader correspondence.

The letters give Billie a welcome distraction, and they also help her work through the heavy and emotional baggage she's carried with her from California.  Together with a former colleague from the magazine, Billie works to uncover all the letters, the mysteries of why they were hidden and by whom, while she undergoes a physical and emotional transformation.  As Billie immerses herself in the mysteries of the letters, Lulu's fate, and the history of the mansion that housed the magazine's headquarters, she also begins a personal journey out of the shadows of her sister's perfection.  She learns that her sister had her own struggles about which those closest to her knew nothing.  As Billie learns some of her sister's secrets, she also learns to let go of her sister, of her grief, and of her need to live in the shadows, unnoticed.  She learns to embrace her own unique talents, personality and beauty.

Overall, this was a good book and a page turner while Billie's on the hunt, first for the letters, and then for Lulu herself.  The world of food, baking and cooking also added another dimension to a story populated with colorful characters.  I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't too far into the book before I figured out why Billie and her sister, Genie, are estranged.  And the slow burning romance between Billie and another character was another part of the story that the reader could see coming from the beginning of the book.  Despite, or rather partially because of these two elements, the book was hard to put down because just as much as you want to find out what happens to Lulu, you also want to find out just what happened between Billie and Genie and what happens with Billie and her beau.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind The Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! On PBS by Rebecca Eaton

Most people who know me know that I love British TV, and I watch a lot of British period dramas and British dramas in general.  I've watched Downton Abbey since the beginning, and I must admit that season 3 was losing me.  Then season 4 pretty much sucked me right back in.  Rebecca Eaton has served as the producer of PBS's successful and long running Masterpiece series that airs British period, contemporary, and mystery dramas each year.  I thought maybe the memoir about her experiences in this position would be an interesting read.

I actually finished this book a while ago, and I'm only now getting around to posting the review.  I don't normally read non-fiction.  For example, after this book I tried reading The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel, and I got about 60 to 100 pages in before I skipped to the epilogue and then ditched the book because I lost interest.  I'll just watch the movie.

Eaton intentionally writes in a conversational tone; despite this conversational tone, there are some passages that become tedious.  The chronology of events recounted within some passages can be confusing when she starts at one point in time and then backtracks in the following paragraphs to elaborate on how she ended up hiring a certain consultant, for example.

This is both a personal memoir and a history of the Masterpiece series.  Fans of PBS and Masterpiece will enjoy this book.

--Review by Ms. Angie

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

This is the first book by Marisa de los Santos that I've read; I think it's her third book overall.  And I must say that I really liked it, and de los Santos may have made herself a new fan.  When I first started this book, I remembered that I tried reading it a few years ago, and for some reason it didn't take, so I ditched it.  This time around, it was hard to put down.  It's funny how that goes--a book doesn't grab your interest, but then a couple years later it does.  Anyway, on the surface this book is about reconnecting with old friends, but really, it's about two old friends finally realizing they are made for each other and FINALLY admitting their romantic feelings about each other.

Cat, Will and Pen met a week into freshman year at college and forged a tight knit, intimate, living in each other's back pockets kind of friendship that lasted four years past college graduation.  Truth be told, their friendship was so intense that it fairly strangled any other intimate, romantic relationship the three might have had outside of their small trio.  When Cat wanted a marriage and a family, she realized a relationship would never survive the intense friendship of the trio, and so she moved away, cut off all contact with Will and Pen, and got married (to a real jerk, but that's neither here nor there).  In the immediate wake of Cat's departure, the ensuing tidal wave of grief sank the vulnerable surviving friendship between Pen and Will, although by the end of the book, it's revealed that it's not the only reason that Will decided he had to leave Pen, too.

Six years on from her permanent estrangement from Will and Cat, and Pen is still grieving the loss of their friendship, their absence from her life, as well as the sudden, tragic loss of her beloved father, while raising a five year old daughter as a single mother.  When a cryptic email from Cat calls her to attend their ten year college reunion, Pen eagerly and trepidatiously attends the reunion hoping to heal the rift of the painful estrangement between herself, Cat and Will.  Once there Pen meets up and reconnects with Will and both friends hope to track down Cat.  Instead, they are ambushed by Jason, Cat's husband, who has duped the two friends into meeting him at the reunion.  Jason shares that Cat's father recently died, and that in the wake of that painful loss, Cat left ("left, but has not left him," so says the husband in denial and determined to hang on to a wife who does not want to be hung on to), having disappeared without leaving neither a trace nor a hint as to where she's gone.  Jason knows not where she is nor when nor even if she's coming back.

Later Will meets up with a friend of Cat's who has a line on where Cat went (but not where she is now): to the Philippines, the homeland of her beloved, if distant, deceased father.  Knowing this, knowing Jason's hostile, vehement bordering on violent reaction to the revelation of this news, Will worries about Jason going to find Cat on his own and knows that won't be good thing and that it won't end well.  So Will and Pen, along with Pen's five year old daughter, traipse across the world to track down their elusive friend.

Now.  Jason is an obsessive, hostile, insensitive jerk, and how Cat married him, I have no idea.  But he either needs to change his ways or Cat needs to leave his sorry ass by the end of this story or I'll be very displeased.  It's also clear that Will and Pen are meant to be (Will + Pen 4ever) and have been meant to be since they first met, but will they finally figure this out and draw up the courage to do something about it or will they settle for a long distance friendship?  What happens when they find Cat?  Will a third person upset their delicate dynamic and the momentum building between them?  These are all very important questions.

This is as much a novel about reconnecting friendships as it is about healing enough to be able to take the risk to build a future.  While the majority of the novel is spent wondering where Cat is, how Cat is, missing Cat's presence and so on, the woman herself does not make an appearance until near the end of the story (and this absence should be a clue as to how Cat will figure into the blossoming relationship between Cat and Will).  Yet her presence (or rather her absence as it were) is profoundly felt throughout the novel as the narration looks to the past to paint a picture of the blossoming and subsequent imploding of the friendship between these three people.  Having finished the novel, I look back now and realize that the absence of Cat throughout the story lent itself to a foreboding that I felt that once Cat was found, things were not going to work out the way Pen and Will (especially Pen) had hoped or thought they would.

Ultimately this is Pen's story--it's about her journey of self discovery.  She has some self-truths to acknowledge.  This is a woman who is sad, lonely, and grieving, who hates change, but for whom life is changing in profound ways and for Pen that is terrifying.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

It took me a while until I found another book to read.  I actually finished Lost Lake back in April and am only now getting around to the posting the review.  Then it took a while until I found another book.  Lately it seems like it's difficult to find a book that sticks.  I started one by Susanna Kearsley and got half way through it and then I abandoned it for the book I'm currently reading.  I knew this was not the first book by Sarah Addison Allen that I'd read, but apparently I didn't review any of them on the blog.  I just did a search and nothing came up and then I went back through the archive to read the titles for all the posts.  The Girl Who Chased The Moon and The Peach Keeper were the other two Allen novels I've read, and I do recommend them.  If they're here on the blog, I can't find them.  Allen's stories usually have a touch of fantastical magic about them, and this novel is no different.  And the mother-in-law's a real piece of work so I was glad when she disappeared for the most part from the story until she popped back in again just long enough for Kate to tell her what's what (not to spoil anything, but it had to happen).

Kate comes back again after a year of going through the motions in the wake of her young husband's sudden death.  She realizes that the decisions she's made in that year--essentially handing over the reins of control of both her life and her beloved, eccentric, daughter Devin's life to her domineering, controlling, and wealthy mother-in-law.  A woman who's remained mostly distant and estranged from Kate's husband and their family during Kate's marriage, Cricket, the mother-in-law (what kind of a name is that anyway for a woman of her generation?) is suffocating, overly concerned with appearances and a very influential power broker in Atlanta.  Cricket's sold her son's business and Kate's house at tidy profits, enrolled Devin in a private school that is a very ill fitted for the little girl, and taken over moving mother and daughter into her own large mansion.  But Kate has belatedly realized she has to stay present and take back control of her life and live it to make herself and her daughter happy.

At the behest of a newly discovered 15 year old postcard  from her beloved great-aunt Eby, Kate packs up herself and her daughter and makes an impromptu sojourn to Lost Lake.  Site of the last best summer of Kate's childhood, Lost Lake is the once thriving summer cabin retreat business Eby operates and having just decided to sell, this is also the last summer for Lost Lake.  Kate decides to stay on indefinitely during the summer to help her aunt inventory and pack up the many treasures scattered throughout the rundown resort.

While staying at Lost Lake, Kate reconnects with the boy with whom she spent that summer roaming the surrounding woods and swimming in the lake. Wes is a man who has made the adjacent town his home, both reluctant and unable to move on in the wake of the tragedy that claimed the life of his beloved brother so many years ago.  Also staying on at the lake for one final summer is a tiny assortment of equally eccentric, outcast characters who have spent myriad past summers at the lake with Eby, and have built long lasting and deep bonds of friendship with each other.

Many of the characters have been scarred by past tragedies and challenging circumstances that in various ways they've allowed to shape and circumscribe their lives.  This is a summer of reluctant change for them all as they prepare to say goodbye to the one place in which they have all felt at home, unconditionally accepted and at respite from a world that looks unfavorably upon their differences, and fails to understand their eccentricities.  Each one searches for a path forward into the future.  In these characters Kate and Devin will find a second family, but can they find a way to talk Eby out of selling out or is too late to salvage Lost Lake?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie