Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

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From Publishers Weekly: Mixing nostalgia, baseball and a boy’s mostly epistolary friendship with a 1940s baseball star, this inventive but sentimental novel consists entirely of letters, fictional newspaper clippings, telegrams, war dispatches, report cards and other documentary fragments. Growing up Jewish in a tough, Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, Joey Margolis is troubled by anti-Semitic neighbors, by Hitler’s rising power, by his parents’ divorce and by his absent cad of a father. Craving a surrogate dad, Joey strikes up a correspondence with Wisconsin-born New York Giants slugger Charlie Banks. The boy’s outrageous fibs, tough-guy posturing and desperate pleas grab the reluctant attention of the superstar, whose racy vernacular guy-talk (peppered with amusing misspellings and misusages) hints at his deepening affection for Joey.
I want to thank Les for posting about Last Days of Summer a few months ago. It was published in 1998 and reprinted in 2002. I hadn’t heard of it but her comments piqued my interest. My whole family are baseball fans so I really enjoyed all the player and game references. The friendship between Joey and Charlie is quite touching. They were equally important to each other and watching their story unfold was a wonderful reading experience. I recommend this to anyone who loves a good story with a lot of heart (baseball fan or not)!

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Book Cover

The Shell Seekers is the sweeping tale of Penelope Stern Keeling and her family. It’s also the title of a painting by her father and given to her when she married. We learn Penelope’s story in flashback form – much of it taking place during WWII. A fair amount is also in the present (at the time the book was published – the mid 1980s). If you’re a fan of family sagas and haven’t yet read The Shell Seekers, you’re in for a treat.

The chapters are titled after important characters in the story. I thought the book was a fair reading experience until the chapter “Richard” – that’s when it became a wonderful story for me. I couldn’t put the book down from that point on. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.

Snowfall at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs

Snowfall At Willow Lake (Lakeshore Chronicles Series) by Susan Wiggs: Book Cover

Back of the book: International lawyer Sophie Bellamy has dedicated her life to helping people in war-torn countries. But when she survives a hostage situation, she remembers what matters most – the children she loves back home. Haunted by regrets, she returns to the idyllic Catskills village of Avalon on the shores of Willow Lake, determined to repair the bonds with her family.
Snowfall at Willow Lake speaks from the heart about all the loves that fill a woman’s life, and all the ways that love is tested and made to grow. It’s the story of what comes after a woman survives an unspeakable horror and finds her way home, to healing and redemption and a new chance at happiness.
This is the fourth book of The Lakeshore Chronicles and probably my favorite. I didn’t expect that because what I knew about Sophie Bellamy from the previous books didn’t leave me with a positive impression. Susan Wiggs fleshed her out in such a way that I’d say she’s now one of the best characters in the series. Great story. Brava, Ms. Wiggs!

Small Town Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Small Town Christmas by Debbie Macomber: Book Cover

Small Town Christmas is the reissue of two backlist Macomber titles. The first is Return to Promise which is a follow-up to her Heart of Texas series (I sped through that last week because I don’t like to read series books out of order). The second was written more than twenty years ago – Mail-Order Bride. That one really doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas other than it takes place in Alaska and there’s snow on the ground. They were both easy, enjoyable stories.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs: Book Cover

Back of the book: Once a week, an eclectic group of women comes together at a New York City yarn shop to work on their latest projects – and share the stories of their lives. . .
At the center of Walker and Daughter is the shop’s owner, Georgia, who is overwhelmed with juggling the store and single-handedly raising her teenage daughter. Happy to escape the demands of her life, she looks forward to her Friday Night Knitting Club, where she and her friends – Anita, Peri, Darwin, Lucie and K.C. – exchange knitting tips, jokes, and their deepest secrets. But when the man who once broke Georgia’s heart suddenly shows up, demanding a role in their daughter’s life, her world is shattered.
Luckily, Georgia’s friends are there for encouragement, sharing their own tales of intimacy, heartbreak, and miracle making. And when the unthinkable happens, these women will discover that what they’ve created isn’t just a knitting club: it’s a sisterhood.
I’m just going to quote part of Kristin Hannah’s blurb from the cover of the paperback: “. . . moving portrait of female friendship. You’ll laugh and cry along with these characters, and if you’re like me, you’ll wish you knew how to knit.”

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett: Book Cover

From the book flap: When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J.R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.
The Uncommon Reader has been on my TBR list for a while now. I decided to read it today, and what a good decision that was. It’s quite the witty ode to reading – what one reads, why one reads, and what others think of one who reads. I liked it very much and plan to give it as a Christmas gift to one of my reading relatives. I recommend it to all my book lover friends.

The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo: Book Cover

Back of the book: To this irresistible debut collection of short stories, Richard Russo brings the same bittersweet wit, deep knowledge of human nature, and spellbinding narrative gifts that distinguish his bestselling novels. His themes are the imperfect bargains of marriage; the discoveries and disillusionments of childhood; the unwinnable battles men and women insist on fighting with the past.
Even my favorite author couldn’t make me a fan of the short story. That said, I was intrigued by The Whore’s Child which is about a nun who attends a college Fiction class (without enrolling) and writes about how she ended up at a convent. I think Poison is a great idea for a book. Another story, The Farther You Go, was worked into Russo’s book Straight Man (if I remember correctly). I really liked that book (much more than the short story). My issue with this form is I’m always left wanting more – that there’s something missing. My problem, I know.

Sweet Life by Mia King

Sweet Life by Mia King: Book Cover

Back of the book: When her husband, Paul, gets a new job, Marissa Price leaves the island of Manhattan for the island of Hawaii. Paradise seems like the perfect place to find herself, save her marriage, and reconnect with her eight-year-old daughter. But once there, Marissa discovers her new life is less about beaches and beautiful sunsets and more about cows and lava flows. Their new “home” is a fixer-upper at best. But what most needs fixing – her marriage – is the first to crumble when her husband announces he wants some time apart to find himself.
It is when her husband makes his announcement that the book really takes off. Mia King is a wonderful story-teller. Her writing is smooth and her characters are believable. Sweet Life touches on family, women’s friendships, and homeschooling among other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland by Shannon Hale: Book Cover

Back of the book: Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man ~ perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths to her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
I thought Austenland got off to a bit of a slow start but then I realized it was necessary to set the tone of Jane’s pre-vacation mindset – the Colin Firth obsessed Jane. Once Jane arrived at the resort she had to assume a role and stay in character for the duration of the 21 day vacation. This made it difficult for her to know what was ‘real’ and what was acting. That led to some broad comedy and a lot of giggling for this reader. It’s an entertaining and fun book.

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich

Seven Up (Stephanie Plum Series #7) by Janet Evanovich: Book Cover

Back of the book: All New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has to do is bring in semi-retired bail jumper Eddie DeChooch. For an old man he’s still got a knack for slipping out of sight ~ and raising hell. How else can Stephanie explain the bullet-riddled corpse in Eddie’s garden? Who else would have a clue as to why two of Stephanie’s friends suddenly vanished? For Answers Stephanie has the devil to pay: her mentor, Ranger. The deal? He’ll give Stephanie all the help she needs ~ if she gives him everything he wants. . .
Janet Evanovich delivers another entertaining, laugh-out-loud episode in the Stephanie Plum series. Seven Up includes many of the usual characters and introduces us to Stephanie’s sister Valerie. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who needs a laugh.

Dollar Daze by Karin Gillespie

Dollar Daze by Karin Gillespie: Book Cover

Back of the book: Moons and Junes are the flavors of the month for the Bottom Dollar Girls, whose sudden fondness for wooing and cooing has them in a Dollar Daze. From the night of the Sweetheart Dance, love begins blooming all over Cayboo Creek. Attalee, soda jerk at the Bottom Dollar Emporium, and her beau Dooley seem headed for the altar via Thrill Hill. But Elizabeth is pining for her newlywed days when she felt more like a wife than a mother, while widowed Mavis has been up nights nursing a case of loneliness. Not so for newspaper woman Birdie. “I’m glad my dating days are done,” she claims, and Gracie Tobias agrees that she, too, is “done with romance.” They couldn’t be more wrong.
Dollar Daze is the third installment of the Bottom Dollar Girls series. It continues the multi-generational story of a group of women in a small South Carolina town. They support each other through various situations with sensitivity and great humor. If you need a good laugh, these books will do the trick. I’ve chuckled and laughed out loud through the entire series. I hope Karin Gillespie has a 4th book ready to go soon.

Good Things by Mia King

Good Things by Mia King: Book Cover

Back of the book: Deidre McIntosh became famous teaching women to live simple, and simply live – ironic for a woman who thrives on the chaos of a television career and shares a home with her best friend, the one man she can count on, who happens to be gay.
But when her Seattle cooking-and-lifestyle show gets bumped off the air, and her best guy moves in with his boyfriend, she’s left trying to figure out the next segment. She can achieve the perfect balance of ingredients in a corn fritter, but it’s not so easy in her life.
Seizing on a chance encounter with an attractive stranger, Deidre accepts his offer to use his country home. She hopes to get away for a while and learn to practice what she preaches: to appreciate life without voice mail; to gain the courage to start again; and to take the first slow, cautious steps toward a new kind of success — and maybe even love.
It seems like a simple task. But it may be the hardest thing she’s ever done…
Good Things has been on my TBR stack for several months. I finally decided to dust it off and give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised! I didn’t want to put it down after starting, but life got in the way and it took me 2.5 days to read. I found the characters likable and mostly realistic. This is Mia King’s first novel and I can’t wait to read her next. It was entertaining and fun – it would make a great vacation read.

But Come Ye Back by Beth Lordan

But Come Ye Back by Beth Lordan: Book Cover

Back of the book: For thirty-some years, Lyle has made a life for his family working as an accountant. But when he retires, his Irish-born wife, Mary, wants to leave America and go home – where the ocean is near and the butter has flavor.
Somewhat grudgingly, Lyle agrees, but during their years in Galway, they discover that the surprises of life are not over. Going home is more complicated than butter and the bay, and thirty content years does not mean that a couple is immune to romantic intrigue. In this new life, while Mary and Lyle are rediscovering each other and building a richer life together, an unexpected event forces Lyle to decide where his home truly is.
I so wanted to like this book. The description on the back gave me high hopes but, in the end, I found it lacking. The book is told in connected but separate stories. It begins with Mary and Lyle Sullivan deciding to move to Galway for their retirement. Interesting, right? Well, maybe a little. It moved to curious and then rather boring stories. It ended flat, I thought. I suppose that’s how some people’s lives are but I expected more.

Broken by Daniel Clay

Broken by Daniel Clay: Book Cover

Back of the book: Until that fateful afternoon, Skunk Cunningham had been a normal little girl, playing on the curb in front of her house. Rick Buckley had been a normal geeky teenager, hosing off his brand-new car. Bob Oswald had been a normal sociopathic single father of five slutty daughters, charging furiously down the sidewalk. Then Bob was beating Rick to a bloody pulp, right there in the Buckley’s driveway, and life on Drummond Square was never the same again.
I won this book through a giveaway on Dar’s blog. Thank you so much, Dar! The book took me way out of my comfort zone but that’s not always a bad thing. I’m glad I read Broken.
There is cruelty in this world. Some people use it against others to get through life and then there are those on the receiving end – trying to avoid it and not sure why they can’t. There are decent, honorable people in this world and sometimes bad things happen to them. Broken is a tale that starts with a lie that sets in motion a series of cruel events which have devastating results. Daniel Clay’s debut novel is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It took me on an emotional ride that at times made me laugh but mostly had me wincing. There’s a blurb on the back of the book that says the author “tells the truth about childhood in the modern world”. I think that may be a bit of a stretch – maybe kids are like this in some neighborhoods but I’d like to think it’s the exception and not the norm.

Broken is the nickname assigned to Rick when he can no longer deal with life after the beating he takes from Bob Oswald. He ends up medicated, uncommunicative and rarely leaves his bedroom. No longer is he the young man who was so proud of his new car. I think each character has a bit of ‘broken-ness’ about them – from the single fathers to the motherless children.

Daniel Clay says he was inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and there are a few similarities. The edition I read has a P.S. at the end of the book where Clay explains the inspiration. I found that quite interesting. Dar at Peeking Between the Pages has a fine interview with the author here.

High Five/Hot Six by Janet Evanovich

When I began reading the Stephanie Plum series everyone told me to have Hot Six ready to read after finishing High Five. That time was this week and they were right! I enjoyed both books. They were so entertaining that I’m very tempted to jump into Seven Up. But I’ll wait. I made an exception this month in that I read two Plum books when my rule has been only one per month.

I’ve felt like the last reader on the planet to discover this series so I’m glad I finally got on board. Hot Six made me laugh out loud more than any book I’ve ever read. Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur moves in with her for a short while and the hilarity ensues. One more thing, you may be familiar with the Edward/Jacob choice that Bella has in the Twilight series. Well, that doesn’t hold a candle to Stephanie’s choice between Morelli and Ranger. Glad I don’t have to make that one!

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Back book cover: When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and joining the Ladies Aid quilting circle. Soon her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by a vacant house, owned by the once-prominent Mickelson family. As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of the Mickelson men and women – and unravels dark secrets woven through the generations of a family. As Keeping the House moves back and forth in time, it eloquently explores themes of heroism and passion, of men’s struggles with fatherhood and war, and of women’s conflicts with issues of conformity, identity, forbidden dreams, and love.
Keeping the House is an old-fashioned family saga that takes place over the first half of the last century. It tells the story of three generations of the Mickelson family. Author Ellen Baker made me feel as though I was part of the quilting circle – learning the story of the most prominent family in Pine Rapids. It was a page-turner that kept me wondering ’til the last page how things would turn out. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good story.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

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From the book cover: After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy?
From the first time I heard of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict I knew I would buy this book. I finally got around to reading it this week and have to say I enjoyed my time with Courtney Stone in Regency England. I liked experiencing the smells and tastes and feel of the time through the heroine. There are a couple of minor issues I had but none moved me enough to write about here. That said, I would have liked the book to go on past the 288 pages. It was a different and fun novel.
Follow this link to an interview of the author by Book Club Girl.

Run by Ann Patchett

From the book jacket: Since their mother’s death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard cares about is his ability to keep his children – all his children – safe.
The title Run comes into play in a few different ways: run from a life, run for life, and even run for political office. The story takes place over a couple of days. Author Ann Patchett stays true to form in her easy, smooth way of supplying detail so realistic that I shivered along with the characters in the snowstorm.

The edition I read included a P.S. section. Patchett explains why she wrote Run.

8 Sandpiper Way by Debbie Macomber

8 Sandpiper Way continues the saga of Cedar Cove – a charming small town near Seattle. Actually, Cedar Cove is a fictional town but loosely based on the author’s hometown of Port Orchard, Washington. If you haven’t read this series I suggest you begin with the first (16 Lighthouse Road) and work your way through.

This installment finds major characters dealing with breast cancer, the grief of losing a husband/father, and suspected foul-play among other issues. This could definitely be a Lifetime series. 3/5 stars.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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From the book jacket: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’d never met, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis. He’d come across her name on the flyleaf of a secondhand volume by Charles Lamb. Perhaps she could tell him where he might find more books by this author.
I can’t remember the last time I read a book as lovely as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is written in epistolary form. I think that is responsible for keeping the book from becoming maudlin. I found myself laughing out loud at times and reaching for a tissue at others. It’s rare for a book to move me to either emotion, much less write about it. 5 stars.