This is the story of the Annapolis wedding of Bee Evans and Matt Fee (yes she will become Bee Fee) and the five guests who despite receiving a plus on...moreThis is the story of the Annapolis wedding of Bee Evans and Matt Fee (yes she will become Bee Fee) and the five guests who despite receiving a plus one invite come solo to the wedding. Hannah, a college classmate of Beth’s is a bridesmaid. She dreads the wedding as she will need to confront ex boyfriend Tom who dumped her. She is hoping that Rob a college friend and old boyfriend will attend the wedding with her, but Rob the flakiest of the five solo wedding guests stays in Texas to support his dog Liz a rescue mutt with epilepsy. Rob stays current with the wedding events through texts sent by Hannah. Hannah’s roommate at the wedding is Vickie another college friend. Vicki, a romance novel addict, works at an unexciting but well paying job; she is constantly depressed and travels with a social affective disorder sun lamp in a guitar case. These three college friends are supplemented by two additional solo guests. The bride’s uncle Joe, a divorced father is attending even though the bride’s mother would prefer he not be in attendance. Joe is attracted to Vicki and has big plans for their relationship, plans that are not shared by Vickie. The final character in this farce is Phil. Phil is only attending the wedding as a favor to his mom who is ill and unable to attend. Phil is perhaps the saddest of these characters, unable to grow up he continues to linger in a prolonged adolescence that includes sports and failed commitments and not much else. The adventures of these five characters through the wedding weekend are enjoyable to follow. The story is told from alternating perspectives. Some of the scenes are quite funny. Hannah, on the advice of a controlling maid of honor, takes some pills to settle her nerves. Followed by a couple of drinks Hannah’s confrontation with her ex is painfully funny. All five of the solo guests experience character growth through this wedding weekend. The back and forth between Hannah and Rob is very well done. Rob, still in love with Hannah, but unable to act decisively on it, shows the most growth of all of the characters. All of these solo guests are changed by their attendance at this wedding. I loved the ending; it provided hope but was not an unrealistic take on life. This is a debut novel for Meredith Goldstein, the popular LoveLetters advice columnist from the Boston Globe and it is a good one. You’ll love the characters and if you’ve ever gone single to a wedding you'll relate to the events in this story. The Singles, I think will be a popular beach read this summer. The book has been optioned for film so read it now before the movie is cast and you can compare your casting choices with the actual ones. (less)
Kevin Purcell has recounted his years as a young boy growing up in a racially changing neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia, in the late ‘60s and ea...moreKevin Purcell has recounted his years as a young boy growing up in a racially changing neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The author is the second of five boys living in a row house on a small street in the city. From the time he was very young, play in the neighborhood centered on sports at the local playground (Myers) where the community gathered to watch sports. Pickup games included local high school and college kids, black and white known city-wide for their skill. As the neighborhood changes from white families to large numbers of black families tensions skyrocket. Fighting among young boys and teens from both races becomes commonplace. For the author 10 to 13 years old at the time, fear becomes a daily emotion. Over a fairly short period of time – 2-4 years – events in the neighborhood accelerate from fighting to murder. Both a black teen and a white teen are killed. The author actually traveled with the white boy on the night he was killed. The author does an excellent job relating these events. His narrative conveys the emotions and fears of the young who experienced this situation. I am sure his story will be well received by folks who grew up in that time in that area. He briefly tries to explain why this situation became so explosive. This neighborhood changed from white to black in an incredibly short time. Driven by realtors who frightened anxious white home owners about diminishing property values many blocks in this area saw every house change hands in 2-3 years. Add to the mix large numbers of adolescent and teenage boys white and black vying for use of a limited number of city play spaces. Finally think about the lack of community leaders who might have stepped in to help diffuse tensions. Chief among them in my opinion was the Catholic Church. Most of the largely Irish Catholic families in this neighborhood attended Most Blessed Sacrament (MBS) School. The church held huge influence within this community but with few exceptions provided no leadership or guidance during this crisis. In fact the church wasn’t good about teaching Catholics how to get along with anybody not just non-Catholics (publics!) but even other Catholics – they had separate parishes for Polish, Italian and Lithuanian Catholics. I enjoyed this book particularly all of the descriptions of the neighborhood. I also grew up four blocks from where the author lived, but we moved from this neighborhood in 1965, a few years before these events. What a heartbreak the author has described here, especially if we can’t take some life lessons from the experience. (less)
Scorpions – the title references a description of the Supreme Court Justices as “nine scorpions in a bottle” – is the story of four widely different j...moreScorpions – the title references a description of the Supreme Court Justices as “nine scorpions in a bottle” – is the story of four widely different justices all appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. These four, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William O. Douglas could not have been more dissimiliar. Frankfurter, a Jew was perhaps the most liberal voice in the country when Roosevelt appointed him to the court. Black was a southern country lawyer former KKK member with an altogether unique interpretation of the constitution, Jackson, a plain spoken lawyer seeking a pragmatic resolution to court cases and Douglas, a westerner who defined wide limits for individual freedom. I enjoyed the detail and back story the author presented on all of these men. The intellectual growth that allowed these men to listen, learn and change their minds from where they started was so appealing in this story. Black from a KKK member to perhaps the strongest civil rights supporter on the court. Frankfurter from the most liberal to arguably the most conservative member of the court. I was fascinated at how men of such widely divergent backgrounds could come together to decide some of the most important issues of the twentieth century. The background of the Japanese interment in WWII, Truman’s seizure of the steel mills, civil rights and lastly the Brown v. the Board of Education decisions are all covered with the deliberations and interactions that led to the court decisions. Personalities are on full display. I admit much of the legal theories were lost on me and did for me (the clearly non legal reader) drag out the story a bit but I still enjoyed this book as a history of the Supreme Court and the justices who served there. In today’s acrimonious political environment one really longs for the time when disagreements were discussed, debated and had compromises developed that moved the country forward. A good narrative history of the Supreme Court in the mid twentieth century. (less)
Major Pettigrew is a very entertaining read. It is an English village comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen. It is set in present day Britain...moreMajor Pettigrew is a very entertaining read. It is an English village comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen. It is set in present day Britain but peopled with throwback characters. Major Pettigrew is a widowed Army officer who as the book opens has just heard of his brother’s death. Mrs. Ali is a first generation Brit of Pakistani descent who runs the local convenience store. They share a love of literature, tea and decorum in all things. The major is curmudgeonly and a bit arrogant but at heart a good soul. He has an uncaring, materialistic son; Mrs. Ali now widowed is subject to the oversight of an overbearing Pakistani family. The village in Sussex is full of charming characters - scheming greedy relatives, the requisite befuddled vicar, the intolerant ladies of the club, and the local lord of the manor. The story revolves around the developing love between the major and Mrs. Ali and the reactions of villagers and relatives to this couple. While this story would be described as a "gentle" read it is really well done and deals with the serious subjects of intergenerational conflicts, cultural clashes, the deadly effect of village gossip, class prejudice (among both the Brits and the Pakistanis) and racism. The writing is witty and often very funny. The characterizations are so well done you become invested in them, rooting for the Major and Mrs. Ali to triumph. You are reminded that love is ageless as this couple faces the obstacles before them.
I am not terribly tolerant of romance type novels as many seem very contrived to me but I did like this one I think because it seemed so genuine in both the people and the situations they experienced. This whimsical story is a perfect beach read, the antithesis of a page turner, certain to make you see the often underappreciated value of civility and kindness in all things. This is a debut novel for Helen Simonson. The marvelous book cover is adapted from a March 1924 Life magazine(less)
**spoiler alert** This is a book that is very hard to categorize. Part sci fi, part mystery, part literary satire, part alternative history, part fant...more**spoiler alert** This is a book that is very hard to categorize. Part sci fi, part mystery, part literary satire, part alternative history, part fantasy but all fun! Suspend belief and travel to 1985 Britain where the English continue the Crimean War with Russia, Wales is a socialist republic and the citizenry are mad for literature. Characters that can suspend time and travel back and forth are common. Some science is far advanced (cloned dodos as house pets) while other aspects are not well evolved (blimps are the primary means of air travel). Witty wordplay and colorful characters abound.
The heroine of the novel is Thursday Next (character names are a hoot). She is a literary sleuth who works for a government police agency that specializes in literary crimes from the most common such as plagiarism right up to the theft of original literary works. Her adversary is Archeron Hades a villain who has stolen the original work of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. When he kills a minor character in the novel, a deed that erases this character from the work forever, the plot is on! Before you know it, not only are minor characters in danger but Jane Eyre herself is threatened! I will not even make an attempt to summarize this plot as it will sound ridiculous in an abridged form but each page holds its own delights. This novel will charm English majors with the satire aimed at English lit. Characters argue over the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, join societies dedicated to John Milton and in my favorite chapter, audience participation in the presentation of Richard III that harkens back to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think even if you do not have a detailed knowledge of English literature you’ll enjoy this book, but it is certainly enhanced if you know the story line of Jane Eyre. Thursday Next is a fully developed character with a quirky family, appealing work colleagues and a love interest. A veteran of the Crimean War (Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade is a sub plot) Next is human and sympathetic enough to carry this series – I understand there are a total of 5 books.
While Fforde’s novel clearly gives a nod to Dickens, Christie, James, Orwell, Rowling and Monty Python his work is unique and very creative, perhaps this first novel is just a tad too complex but I really enjoyed it. All but the most literal of readers should like this engaging story. Whether the story and characters will hold up over all five books is for me, still to find out! (less)
Tami Hoag has written a real pager turner here (no spoilers). Some of her recent efforts (The Alibi Man Prior Bad Acts), in my opinion were not up to...moreTami Hoag has written a real pager turner here (no spoilers). Some of her recent efforts (The Alibi Man Prior Bad Acts), in my opinion were not up to her earlier work but Deeper Than The Dead is good. The story is set in suburban California in 1985. Four elementary school children find a body on their way home from school. Their teacher, Ann Navarone, arrives on the scene to help the children with this horrific event. The murder is soon seen as the work of a serial killer. FBI profiler Vince Leone, a new and untested breed of law enforcement officer, arrives to help. Hoag presents the family life of each of the four children and we are introduced to dysfunctionality in each of these families. The children narrate the story and it is an effective method in revealing key facts in the murder investigation. The dysfunction extends to the local police department where small town politics and ignorance prevent the investigation from proceeding in an efficient fashion. All of the major characters (Ann, Vince, and most of the children’s parents) have back stories that when revealed influence the investigation. Hoag is good at giving just enough clues to keep you thinking but not enough to give away the murderers identity.
One of the key plot elements is that in 1985 modern forensic techniques are not yet available. Not only does this set of circumstances limit the investigative options it also exquisitely slows the action as cell phones and internet searches are not available. All of this allows for the suspense to build. There is a love story but it is pretty thin in the telling. There were also a couple of loose ends that were not tied up, at least one unidentified skull and one untried child molester. Perhaps there is a sequel in the making that will answer some of these questions. (less)
**spoiler alert** This book is the second in a series that features fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. Most of the characters in this book...more**spoiler alert** This book is the second in a series that features fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. Most of the characters in this book were introduced in the first of the series, Strong Enough to Die. I’d strongly recommend that you read that book first. I did not and struggled to understand the background and motivation of some of the characters. The story opens with Caitlin Strong investigating murders of Mexican girls on the Texas/Mexico border. A serial killer, Marcielo is the target of her investigation. Caitlin saves a kidnapped Mexican girl, Maria Lopez from the serial killer. Subplots abound! A billionaire, Hollis Tyree is drilling for water and finding something completely different. People living near the drilling site are acting strangely and committing violent acts. Strong is accompanied by Cort Wesley, an ex-convict and Special Forces veteran who is also her love interest. A shadowy character, Paz, lurks in the background playing the part of Caitlin’s protecting angel. Colonel Montoya, a Mayan rebel plans terrorist attacks on the United States. If all of this wasn’t complicated enough we are given flashbacks scenes from Caitlin’s Texas Ranger grandfather and great grandfather, including a description of the Texas Rangers versus the Al Capone gangsters in the 1930s. The good guys prevail as Caitlin, Cort and Paz thwart all of the bad guys in their attempts to terrorize citizens in the US and Mexico; the body counts are really very overwhelming.
This was one of the most complicated police procedurals that I’ve ever read, but the author just pulls it off in my opinion. Several things that I enjoyed about this book were: 1) Caitlin Strong is a smart Old West type police officer and a great character with depth and passion 2) all of the Texas Ranger history was fun to read and enhanced the story 3) the multi-generational story was a plus even though it added to the complexity of an already complex story. Some of the things I though could stand improvement were: 1) without reading the first book I was clueless about why a Texas Ranger would take up with an ex convict and also what the motivation was for Paz to become Caitlin’s protector 2) too many sub plots, I left out many of them in my review 3) too much gratuitous violence. All said though if you like police procedurals with a slightly historical twist this might be for you. (less)
The author has written an excellent comparative account of the lives of Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. These mo...moreThe author has written an excellent comparative account of the lives of Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. These monarchs all reigned in pre World War I Europe in a time of great change. They are all related - Wilhelm and George are grandchildren of Victoria and Nicholas is married to Victoria’s favorite granddaughter. What a dysfunctional family! The author recounts the lives of these monarchs from 1858 until after WWI. Both public events and private family gatherings are covered. The author does a great job using primary sources to tell intimate details of family gatherings and relationships. None of these monarchs were really educated, none had experiences that allowed them to in any way understand the social change that was going on in Europe and each of them was profoundly out of touch with their people. Queen Victoria’s plan to tie together all of the European royals through intermarriage resulted in royals who were distinctly unqualified to lead their countries. The way that Europe lurches and stumbles toward WWI is told through the individual actions of these monarchs. While George and Nicholas did not cause the war, they did nothing to strengthen their governments that might have allowed a saner course to be taken. Wilhelm appears as the most dysfunctional of the trio. Bellicose and arrogant, his public rantings incite a war climate within Germany and spread fear throughout the continent. Nicholas lived in a privileged cocoon and did not interact with the Russian people at all; he was completely taken aback by the events up to and including the revolution. George while having less power than the Nicholas or Wilhelm manages to be totally spineless, refusing to take the risk of giving asylum to Nicholas and his family and then denying it after the assassination of the czar. What a motley crew, it only made me wonder why anyone would think hereditary monarchy would be a form of government worth having. This is a good book and an easier than expected read. I’d recommend it to those interested in nineteenth century early twentieth century European history.(less)