The wonderful books of Maeve Binchy have come to an end with her death last July in Ireland. This last delightful book, A Week in Winter was finished just a few weeks prior to her becoming ill. Those of us who are her fans will miss her common sense and creative approach to life’s obstacles and trauma. Maeve has written about every kind of personality imaginable in her Irish tales. Her stories unite characters bringing support to each other and finding answers to difficulties. Whether it be divorce, unwanted pregnancy, lover’s who run off, death, senility, Maeve’s characters learn to journey on.
In her last novel we are experiencing the windswept coast of western Ireland where Chicky is turning an old estate into a bed and breakfast. She has returned to her home town after many years in New York hiding the fact that her love deserted her after convincing her to leave home. The following chapters each tell the story of a person who finds themselves at Stone House that first week.
Maeve was a journalist for the Irish Times for many years. When interviewed about her books she shared this bit of philosophy that was evident in her wonderful books, “I don’t think you’re happier if you’re thin or beautiful or rich or married. You have to make your own happiness,” Binchy told Australia’s Illawarra Mercury newspaper in 2000. “My heroines do not become beautiful elegant swans, they become confident ducks and get on with life.”
Chris Honeysett, artist and private investigator from Bath, is tired of the cold, snowy weather of England. When offered the opportunity to investigate a missing woman in the sunny, Greek island of Corfu he borrows an old motorhome and starts driving south. Chris stays with an old friend from the past who lives on a remote part of Corfu where she struggles to make a living boarding tourists and giving painting lessons. Her warm welcome doesn’t compensate for the barren, austere, backward living arrangements. Soon Chris is feeling the hostility of the locals as he snoops around for the missing business woman. Strange things begin happening such as snakes appearing in bedrooms and turtles turned into walking incindiaries with lit candles on their backs. As Peter continues to investigate the danger increases and he wonders if he has taken on something he will regret. An Inch of Time is Peter Helton’s fourth Chris Honeycutt novel.
Who remembers Girl with a Pearl Earring? Tracy Chevalier wrote that international bestseller in 1999 which was adapted into a movie in 2003 with three Academy Award nominations. Her newest novel is again historical fiction but for the first time has ventured into pioneer America. A major focus of the abolitionist movement, Oberlin, Ohio is the setting for Honor Bright’s story of arriving in America from England after a very difficult ocean crossing. Knowing she can never survive the incapacitating seasickness again, Honor must make the best of life in the harsh landscape of this backward land. Grace, her restless sister, corresponded with and agreed to marry an older man who had started a new life in America. Honor decided to accompany her after suffering the heartache of being released from her engagement to a local Quaker man who found another to love. Grace dies suddenly from yellow fever and Honor must find her way among the Friends believers in Ohio. Much of the story deals with the Underground Railroad and how it affected families. We feel compassion for the runaway slaves and how lives were put in jeopardy for helping to move them to safety in Canada. The austere life of a rough existence in this new land with few friends is felt by the reader as Honor remembers the comforts of home. The Last Runaway is an experience of heartache and hope as we live life through the mind of a Quaker looking for the Light in all, even the slave catchers.
Adriana Trigiani has authored the Big Stone Gap series, a delightful character-rich, witty story of a spinster living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Walking through the young adult section, I found Triginani had authored two books for teens. The Viola Chesterton books begin as quick peeks into boarding school life in South Bend, Indiana for a 9th grader whose parents must relinquish that year as they travel to Afghanistan to film a documentary. Again, these books are character driven with teen foibles, fears and funny situations. Viola must figure out how to extend herself to a new environment with peers very different from herself, and find where her talents as a filmmaker can be used. Definitely teen material, but good for adults to see into a stage of life that may have been long- forgotten.
Tuberculous is a dreadful diagnosis any time but especially before antibiotics existed during the first half of the twentieth century. Queen of Hearts is a realistic and heartwrenching story of how this disease touched lives in a Canadian sanitarium at the beginning of World War II. This young adult book hooked me and kept me emotionally charged as I followed the story of Marie Claire and her family as they battled this disease. People of all ages and all stations in life spent months to years in TB sanitariums. This historical novel does what I love in any good novel set in a prior time; it made me want to find out more about the history of tuberculosis. In the nineteenth century it was named the romantic disease because people suffering from tuberculosis were thought to have been bestowed with heightened sensitivity. The slow progress of the disease allowed for a “good death” as sufferers could arrange their affairs. It wasn’t until the development of streptomycin in 1944 that cures became the norm. Now with multidrug resistant strains there has been a resurgence of the disease. Every year, nearly half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are estimated to occur worldwide.
Christmas in January? Well, I’m just catching up from an overly busy holiday season so that means that I’m just finishing my books that were intended to put me in the holiday mood. Marcia Willett’s Christmas in Cornwall easily can be enjoyed at any time of year. Her charcter-oriented novel overflows with interesting people, including a young widowed father, his endearing five year-old son, Jakey, a cast of nuns (some with halos and some without), and a widowed caterer who is always looking for love in the wrong places. The picturesque English countryside, descriiptions of quaint homes and decades old architecture add to the charm of this sweet story. There is a side story of unscrupulous real estate dealings that add a bit of mystery to this engaging cozy.
Pamela Rdmond Satran has authored seven novels, a humor book which has been optioned by Amblin Entertainment called How Not to Act Old, and eight baby name books which she coauthored. Now she has given us a very funny book about people who are insane dog lovers. The fun of this book is the crazy stories, photos and doggie crazed items that people will buy or create for their pet. Included are chapters on Dog Therapists that prescribe chewable beef-flavored version of Prozac called Reconcile and the World’s Richest Dogs telling of dogs who have inherited fortunes and purchased mansions. This is a dog lover’s jem. Analyze just how dog crazy you are and enjoy the insane things people all over the world will do for their dogs when you pick up Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog OR JUST CRAZY?
Malcolm Bannister is a lawyer that got caught-up in an unfortunate money laundering scheme. Never intending to help a client hide ill-gained money he now is in a federal prison camp in Maryland. As a lawyer and the camp librarian, Malcolm meets and helps many of the inmates challenging the system and hoping to find a loophole to get out. Now Malcolm is working the system as he applies the ‘rule of 35′. Rule 35 allows for the reduction of a sentence if a defendant provides “substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person.”. Malcolm is put in a witness protection program after identifying the killer of a federal judge. Now known as Max, and with a new face courtesy of plastic surgery, we are lead on a wild storyline with unusual schemes never knowing if this is trickery or truth.
Anne Lamott has a beautiful way of sharing her faith in the most honest way. She writes from the heart about her personal experiences in a way that we all can identify with. Having just experienced a life crisis with my 91 year old mother, I was greatly blessed by this little jewel of a prayer book. Help prayers for when we need God to hear us in the most crucial times, thanks for the many little happenings so that hopefully we will develop a gratitude habit, and wow for the amazing world that surronds us. This tiny book, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers is packed with a multitude of thoughts and prayers to help us release our hold and allow God to overcome all that the world throws at us
Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel have produced a beautiful cookbook that has only one flaw….you need a forklift to get it home. I recently toted this massive mega-cookbook home and delighted in it all weekend. My inspiration led to a batch of outstanding oatmeal-raisin cookies, easily the easiest of all the recipes to produce. If you enjoy baking or just enjoy perusing photos of baked goods, Bouchon Bakery is definitely the cookbook for you. I am so impressed by the beautiful photographs and easy to understand directions for baking just about any loaf of bread or pastry you have ever drooled over. He uses weight measurements that may not be the easiest to adapt, but if you are not quite as precise the rest of the instructions are doable. HINT: He adds 2 tablespoons of cinnamon to his oatmeal-raisin cookies, YUM!
Little Bertie is showing signs of brillance as a four year old. He already is able to divide twelve by three. Isabel and Jamie must decide what is important to teach Charlie and at what age. Everyone hates a push parent! But this time the pushy babysitter is the problem. Will they let Grace continue coaching Bertie in math?
Another question Isabel must ponder is why do people keep asking her to help them work out their problems. Her reputation for solving problems is getting around. This time a very valuable painting hanging in the home of a wealthy country gentleman has disappeared. Duncan Munrowe has inherited a number of valuable paintings including a Nicholas Poussin which he intended to donate to the Scottish Nathional Gallery. The theft of this favorite painting has left him heartsick so he calls on Isabel to help him recover it. Now she must deal with an unsavory women lawyer representing the thief and ransom payments.
This philosopher is always having to apologize for not paying attention to others speaking as her mind wanders off on rabbit trails that we accompany her on. All through this delightful book are thoughtful observations regarding human nature. McCall-Smith is excellent at pointing out the way we misunderstand each other by leaping to conclusions when simply stepping into another’s shoes will prevent so much of our unfortunate interactions.
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds is number 9 in the Isabel Dalhousie novels.
To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story - This memoir by Dr. Mary C. Neal, an orthopaedic surgeon, is a fascinating account of her spiritual journey. An outdoor enthusiaist, Dr. Neal was kayaking in southern Chile when her boat became wedged under water and she drowned. She describes this event as one of the greatest gifts she was ever given. Mary describes her experience of death and then the immediate soul experience of being greeted by human spirits sent by God to guide her on her journey. The vivid recollections are fascinating and uplifting as she shares how God has used her experiences in the subsequent years. This extremely gifted and educated scientist and mother answers many questions that people have asked about her unique experience throughout the book and in a Q and A section at the conclusion of the book.
If you are looking for a great legal thriller try Randy Singer’s books. I found that The Last Plea Bargain rivaled any John Grisham book for intriguing plot and interesting characters. High profile courtroom drama is just a part of the excitement of this book. Written by a veteran trial attorney, who is also a part time pastor, Singer brings elements of faith into the story but is not preachy. Jamie Brock has never recovered from the heartache of losing her mother to a murderer 12 years ago. She is waiting anxiously for Antoine Marshall to pay the penalty for this heinous crime. As an assistant DA, Jamie is also deeply involved in prosecuting a powerful attorney whom she believes murdered his wife. As this jailed attorney is waiting for bail many of the other jailed criminals are sabotaging the legal system by not accepting plea bargains and the legal system is becoming overwhelmed with criminals. Who is behind this and why? The Last Plea Bargain won’t disappoint.
Choose this delightful movie when your spirits need a lift. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a story with a ridiculous premise- but haven’t we all heard of some pretty far out accomplishments that sheikh money have produced, such as the world’s largest indoor ski resort. Author of the book by the same name, Paul Torday, has a very rich sheikh desiring to be able to salmon fish in the desert of Yemen. Nothing will stop him from finding someone to accomplish this. He hires a financial and land management group with lovely Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot to lead the project. She in turn contacts the National Center for Fishiers Excellence in England to work out the difficulties. No one can dream that this will be possible, but plans begin to fall into place. This is a story with humor, romance, faith, intrigue, delightful characters, and much charm.
City of Women is a deeply wrenching story set in Berlin during World War II. Most of the men have been shipped off to fight on one of the fronts, including the husband of Sigrid Schroder. She tries to maintain a normal life going to work at the patent office and coming home to a meager existence in an apartment with her impossible mother-in-law. Sigrid, as many other Germans, tries to ignore the atrocities that are happening all around her. She hides her involvement with a Jewish lover and then becomes friends with and helps a young woman who is hiding a group of desperate people.
This is not an easy book to read. Sigrid is not a likeable character even with her involvement against Hitler’s movement. The setting of Berlin during bombing raids is very bleak and disturbing. It is a very interesting perspective of war as we are taken inside the minds of people caught up in an ugly, desperate situation. The theme captures you as it plays out during a very real moment in history.