Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay: Book Cover

From the back of the book: Four months after her husband’s death, Janie LaMarche remains undone by grief and anger. Her mourning is disrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of a builder with a contract to add a porch onto her house. Stunned, Janie realizes the porch was meant to be a surprise from her husband—now his last gift to her.

As she reluctantly allows construction to begin, Janie clings to the familiar outposts of her sorrow—mothering her two small children with fierce protectiveness, avoiding friends and family, and stewing in a rage she can’t release. Yet Janie’s self-imposed isolation is breached by a cast of unlikely interventionists: her chattering, ipecac-toting aunt; her bossy, over-manicured neighbor; her muffin-bearing cousin; and even Tug, the contractor with a private grief all his own.
As the porch takes shape, Janie discovers that the unknowable terrain of the future is best navigated with the help of others—even those we least expect to call on, much less learn to love.

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Shelter Me by Juliette Fay is about grief. Not just the grief of a young widow but also grief caused by other loss – trust, innocence, hope, to name a few.

Janie LaMarche is barely coping after the tragic death of her husband when construction begins on a porch he’d contracted without her knowledge. Her never-married aunt is trying to convince her to take a self-defense course because she needs to be able to protect herself and her children. And while she’s at it, Janie may as well help her aunt at the soup kitchen. These are just a few of the ways Janie is forced to move forward with and through her grief.

Fay’s writing is so natural and her portrayal of the emotions of loss, true. I enjoyed the secondary characters. The bits of information I learned about them drew my own comparisons to people in my life. At first glance it may seem that the book bites off more than it can chew – so many people with their own issues (Janie’s brother, her mother, her parish priest, her son’s best friend’s mom, I could go on) but I think it all distills down to this: everyone deals with their own grief, in their own way and yet most try to move forward and most have people who love them, depend on them and need them to not give up – people who will also help to give shelter on the journey.

I recommend Shelter Me to everyone. I borrowed it from the library but will be buying a copy for my “keeper” shelf.

Sweet Love by Sarah Strohmeyer

Sweet Love by Sarah Strohmeyer: Book Cover

From the book jacket: Like other well-meaning mothers, Julie Mueller’s believed she did the right thing when she secretly ended her teenage daughter’s crush on Michael Slayton, a wild older neighborhood heartthrob with a penchant for Shakespeare and the pedigree of trailer trash.

Twenty years later, Betty Mueller has come to realize that was a big mistake. Her daughter Julie – divorced and raising a teenage daughter alone – is a workaholic obsessed with her career. And Michael, the one man to whom could make her happy, is the one man to whom she won’t speak a word.

Now near the end of her life and determined to make amends, Betty stages her last great feat of motherhood by reuniting the couple in a dessert class where she hopes the sweetness of a chocolate almond Torta Caprese will erase the bitterness of a wretched misunderstanding.

If you spot me reading a Sarah Strohmeyer book chances are you’ll see me laughing. It’s as if my best friend is sitting next to me telling me a great story. Sweet Love had me laughing most of the time and tearing up a little as well. I was pulling for Julie to have things work out with Michael. For me, the stars of the book are Julie and her mom. I loved their relationship . A lot of their give and take hit close to home. That said, I wanted to know more of the supporting characters’ own stories. Michael could be a book by himself. Julie’s brother, Paul or her friend, Liza were so enjoyable and yet only in the novel to move the plot, I guess. I could have read on for a few hundred more pages. Just saying…

It’s a good romantic comedy. I recommend it.

Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

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From the book jacket:
Lanie Coates’s life is spinning out of control. She’s piled everything she owns into a U-Haul and driven with her husband, Peter, and their three little boys from their cozy Texas home to a multiflight walkup in the Northeast. She’s left behind family, friends, and a comfortable life–all so her husband can realize his dream of becoming a professional musician. But somewhere in the eye of her personal hurricane, it hits Lanie that she once had dreams too. If only she could remember what they were.

These days, Lanie always seems to rank herself dead last–and when another mom accidentally criticizes her appearance, it’s the final straw. Fifteen years, three babies, and more pounds than she’s willing to count since the day she said “I do,” Lanie longs desperately to feel like her old self again. It’s time to rise up, fish her moxie out of the diaper pail, and find the woman she was before motherhood capsized her entire existence.

New in Boston, Lanie took her three young children to a park while her husband unpacked the U-Haul. Unfortunately, she met a person at the park who asked her when she was due – this while Lanie was holding her not-yet-one-year-old baby. Fortunately, that was the last time she spoke to that woman. She was still reeling from the rude question when she heard her name called out. An acquaintance from high school in Texas had recognized her. That was the start of a good friendship. Lanie and Amanda did what good friends do – they were there for each other. And they would need each other in the weeks and months ahead.

This is just a small part of Everyone is Beautiful. Center’s writing is clear and true (and quite funny). I identified with so much of what she wrote into the story. I would guess most women – daughters or mothers – will see some part of themselves in this book. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more books by Katherine Center.

You can read another review at S. Krishna’s Books. There’s a giveaway of the book!

The Long Walk Home by Will North

The Long Walk Home: A Novel

From the dust jacket: When forty-three-year-old Fiona Edwards first sees the lanky backpacker striding up the lane toward her award-winning farmhouse bed-and-breakfast in the remote mountains of North Wales, she’s puzzled. She’s used to unexpected strangers, but few arrive on foot. The man to whom she opens her door is
middle-aged, unshaven, sweat-soaked . . . and arrestingly handsome. What neither of them knows at that moment is that their lives are about to change forever.

American Alec Hudson has carried the ashes—and the memory—of his late ex-wife, Gwynne, all the way from London’s Heathrow Airport, honoring her request that he scatter them atop a mountain they had climbed together years before—the same brooding peak whose jagged cliffs rise to the sky from the back pastures of Fiona’s farm. But the weather doesn’t cooperate, and as Fiona and Alec wait for it to clear, they are drawn together by mutual loss, longing, and the miracle of love at midlife.

On the day he finally reaches the summit, Alec is caught in a vicious hailstorm. As he struggles to descend, he stumbles upon the body of a man he recognizes from a photograph at the farm: it is Fiona’s ailing and reclusive husband, David, and he is close to death.

Will North’s debut novel, The Long Walk Home, is a story about grief and hope, about love and loss, and about two people struggling with the agonizing complexities of fidelity—to a spouse, to a moral code, to each other, and to a passion neither thought would ever appear again. By turns lyrical and gripping, set amid a landscape of breathtaking beauty and unpredictable danger, this is a story you will not soon forget.

What struck me first about The Long Walk Home was the beautiful cover. It intrigued me enough to want to know what the book was about and that was found by reading the description above. In simplest terms, it’s a tale about good people faced with difficult decisions. The dialogue got a little too dramatic for my taste at times, but overall I thought it was a good book with a tidy ending. I look forward to reading Mr. North’s new novel: Water, Stone, Heart. It will be on sale April 28th.

Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle

Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle: Book Cover

BN Synopsis: Manager and head barista of the bustling New York coffeehouse The Village Blend, Clare Cosi’s been hired to create a gourmet coffee and dessert bar for a swanky wedding. Clare should be thrilled at this chance to shine, but it’s Matteo Allegro, her ex-husband and current business partner, who’s tying the knot – to Trend magazine editor Breanne Summour, who’s in full-blown bridezilla mode. Claire’s got to put her misgivings aside and focus on business, but since she’s a successful amateur sleuth, murder is Clare’s business too. And when fatal accidents begin befalling people close to Breanne, Clare becomes suspicious. But what she unveils, amid melted chocolate and steaming mochaccinos, may just get her burned…
Well this was a fun book. My first Cleo Coyle and I really enjoyed it. I believe Espresso Shot is the 7th in the series but I didn’t feel lost. The mystery is fast-paced, funny, and filled with interesting characters. Although there were plenty of possibilities, I had no clue who the murderer was – and I liked that. I can say with certainty I’ll be back for another coffeehouse mystery…which will hopefully include even more Mike Quinn!

Thanks to Vickie for recommending this series. You can read her review here – check out her blog – it’s great!

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom: Book Cover
Back of the book: Israel Armstrong is a passionate soul, lured to Ireland by the promise of an exciting new career. Alas, the job that awaits him is not quite what he had in mind. Still, Israel is not one to dwell on disappointment, as he prepares to drive a mobile library around a small, damp Irish town. After all, the scenery is lovely, the people are charming – but where are the books? The rolling library’s 15,000 volumes have mysteriously gone missing, and it’s up to Israel to discover who would steal them . . . and why. And perhaps, after that, he will tackle other bizarre and perplexing mysteries – like, where does one go to find a proper cappuccino and a decent newspaper?
If you’re a fan of light, sometimes silly, mysteries – this is your book. I found myself giggling more than once as various townspeople would wind Israel up. He was always a bit late in his realization of the wind-up. More than one scene brought to mind Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine. Perhaps avid mystery readers will figure out The Case of the Missing Books long before the end of the tale – if so, I hope they will find delight in the details. This is the first in the Mobile Library Mystery series. I’m hoping to read more about the characters introduced in this book. Thanks to Vickie for the recommendation!

Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga

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Book flap: Rudy Harrington, an avocado dealer in Chicago, is ready for a new life. His daughters are grown, his wife has died, and the idea of running an avocado grove in Texas suddenly seems infinitely more appealing than the rambling house and the wholesale produce business that have sustained him so far.
So a new life it is. Rudy leaves home and heads for a part of the world where he knows scarcely a soul. But he has a guide: a slender book one of his daughters has given him called Philosophy Made Simple, each chapter highlighting the ideas of a different philosopher. As he plunges into his unknown future, Rudy meets his challenges philosopher by philosopher, beginning with Plato and Aristotle and ending with Schopenhauer and Sartre.
But no amount of philosophy can prepare Rudy for the surprises that emerge as he arranges for his daughter’s Hindu wedding and gets to know Norma Jean – an elephant with a talent for painting who is abandoned to Rudy’s care. Norma Jean’s vast heart opens up Rudy’s spirit and leads to his encounter with an extraordinary woman and the prospect of a new love.
Several weeks ago I noticed a book being given away on several book blogs. That book is The Italian Lover by Robert Hellenga. It sounded interesting so I entered a few of the give-aways. I read that it is a sequel to The Sixteen Pleasures which I found at my local library. After reading that book I learned that Hellenga wrote a book called Philosophy Made Simple that included characters from The Sixteen Pleasures. Rudy is the father of the main character in The Sixteen Pleasures.

I really enjoyed reading about Rudy and his quest to find meaning in his life – before and after his wife died. This would be a wonderful discussion book for a club. Would I do things differently or the same as Rudy? Do men and women handle life-changing events differently? Do we let life happen to us? Do we have a choice? Do omens really mean anything? These are all questions I thought about while reading this book. Serious topics but written with humor and compassion. I’m glad I ‘found’ this book. And I’m glad the book included an elephant named Norma Jean. If you’re looking for a book that’s a little different from your usual fare, give this a try.

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga

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Book Flap: “Mud angels” is what the Italians call the selfless young foreigners who come to Florence in 1966 to save the city’s priceless art from the Arno’s flooded riverbanks.

Margot Harrington is an American volunteer, an expert at book conservancy. While struggling to save a waterlogged convent library, she discovers a fabulous volume of sixteen erotic drawings by Giulio Romano that accompany sixteen steamy sonnets by Pietro Aretino. When published more than four centuries earlier, the Vatican had insisted all copies be destroyed. This one – now unique – volume has survived.

The abbess, with wonderful aplomb, prevails upon Margot to save the order’s finances by selling the magnificently illustrated erotica, discreetly. Meaning: without the bishop’s knowledge.

The young American’s other clandestine project is a middle-aged Italian who is boldly trying radical measures to save endangered frescoes. She is 29 and available; he, older and married. He shares her sense of mission and then her bed in this ambrosial story of spiritual longing and earthly desire.
I read this book because the author has a new book, The Italian Lover, which is a sequel to The Sixteen Pleasures. (The latest book takes place 25 years after the earlier book.) I found the aspects of book conservancy and art restoration very interesting. The author gave more detailed explanations than I expected. I’m amazed at the number of volunteers from around the world who arrived in Florence to help after the flood. Margot, the main character, comes from Chicago and discovers many things about herself and people close to her while working in the convent library and other places. It’s an interesting book. I look forward to The Italian Lover.
Here’s a link I found with photos of the flood: Florence Flood 1966

‘Tis the Season by Lorna Landvik

'Tis The Season by Lorna Landvik: Book Cover

Book flap: Heiress Caroline Dixon has managed to alienate nearly everyone with her alcohol-fueled antics, which have also provided near-constant fodder for the poison-pen tabloids and their gossip-hungry readers. But like so many girls-behaving-badly, the twenty-six-year-old socialite gets her comeuppance, followed by a newfound desire to live a saner existence – or at least one more firmly rooted in the real world.
As Caro tentatively begins atoning for past misdeeds, she reaches out to two wonderful people who years ago brought meaning to her life: her former nanny, Astrid Brevald, now living in Norway, and Arizona dude ranch owner Cyril Dale. While Astrid fondly remembers Caro as a sweet little girl, Cyril recalls how he and his late wife were quite taken with the quick-witted teenager Caro had become when she spent time at the Dales’ ranch as her father was dying.
In a series of e-mail exchanges, Caro reveals the depth of her pain and the lengths she went to hide it. In turn, Astrid and Cyril share their own stories of challenging times and offer the unconditional support Caro has never known . . .
‘Tis the Season is written almost entirely in e-mail exchanges. I read it in a couple of hours (including several interruptions). While it could be considered a very light book, it addresses some serious topics – two being alcoholism and celebrity obsession. There’s a lot left out of this book where character development is concerned. I blame that on the epistolary style – a style I usually enjoy. It’s an interesting holiday book that’s wrapped up with a pretty bow.

Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi

Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi: Book Cover

Back of the book: Angie Mangiamele runs a film company in Hoboken, New Jersey — a long way (in more ways than one) from Ogilvie, Georgia. But a new project has brought her to this small Southern town, where she stands out like a fire truck in a flower garden.
She’s been invited to Ogilvie by Miss Zula Bragg, the intensely private literary legend who’s agreed to appear in a documentary made by Angie’s highly unconventional crew. And there’s someone else in town Angie looks forward to seeing: John Grant, a descendant of Ogilvie’s founders, with whom she had a long-ago summer romance. But John’s wedding to the daughter of a prominent local family is just days away, and promises to be the sleepy town’s social event of the year. What could possibly go right?
Tied to the Tracks is the name of Angie’s documentary film company. In those old-time movies where someone is ‘tied to the tracks’ there was always a story of how that person came to be ‘tied to the tracks’. That’s what the film makers strive to do in their documentaries – tell the story. I found that very clever and funny – which is how I found the entire book. I liked the characters, cheered for most of them as well as booed and hissed the villains (keeping in the mood of the title and all). Rosina Lippi is a wonderful storyteller.

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi: Book Cover

Book flap: When Julia Darrow’s life in Chicago falls apart, she moves to small-town South Carolina and opens a shop specializing in luxury linens. Five years later she’s satisfied with the life she’s made for herself: Cocoon is doing very well; she wears designer pajamas all day, every day; she’s got a houseful of foster dogs; and she has friendly, efficient, if quirky, employees and all the other Lambert Square shop owners to occupy her. Julia has no interest in going anywhere.
John Dodge grew up an army brat and he’s still a rover: the idea of sticking to one place gives him hives. He makes a living moving around the country, fixing up small businesses on the brink of disaster. The newest venture to capture his imagination is an odd little shop that specializes in collectible pens, located in a renovated printing plant in the Deep South. He arrives in Lambert Square on a sunny fall day, and on his first morning there he runs into bellicose fishermen, curious tourists, a former underwear model who is now the no-nonsense mayor, a dozen friendly new neighbors full of advice on how to clean his bathtub and where to go to church, and Julia Darrow, walking across Lambert Square, in pajamas. When he goes to Cocoon to introduce himself, Dodge ends up spending a fortune on linen and asking Julia out to dinner. He takes her refusal in stride, but he also comes away with the distinct sense that there’s something going on with this woman from Chicago, something below the surface that she never lets anybody see. He is warned, right from the start: Don’t set your sights on our Julia. She’s shut up tight as a Chinese puzzle box, nary a seam to be seen.
But Dodge likes puzzles, and he’s really good at fixing things. There is a collision in the making, and all of Lambert Square is watching.
The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square is why I like to read. It is an entertaining tale filled with interesting and humorous characters. Rosina Lippi has a talent for local color. I felt like I was in Lamb’s Corner, shopping in Lambert Square and enjoying a meal at Annabeth Tindell’s place.

And then there is the story of Julia and (John) Dodge. But you need to find out about that on your own. I found myself smiling through much of this book. If you’re looking for a book to take you away, Pajama Girls’ would be a great choice.

Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman

Back of the book: John is cool, practical, and deliberate – the polar opposite of dreamy Arlyn – yet the two are drawn powerfully together even when it is clear they are bound to bring each other grief. Their marriage traces a map no one should follow, leading them and their children to a house made of glass in the Connecticut countryside, to the avenues of Manhattan, and to the blue waters of Long Island Sound. Glass breaks, love hurts, and, like all families, John and Arlyn’s makes its own rules. Ultimately, it falls to their grandson, Will, to walk a path of ruin and redemption in order to solve the emotional puzzle of his family.
Skylight Confessions is a novel full of symbolism that portrays a family so stuck in their situation they can’t see more than one way out. Arlyn and John know they probably weren’t meant for each other but don’t try to change the fact. Children feel the effect of that kind of union. Some more than others and that is how it is for the Moody children. We follow this family to different ends, some excruciatingly painful and sad. Why read this book? Well, there is a final message of hope – that you can change your situation in life if you want it badly enough.

This was not an easy book to read – meaning the lives of the children were so emotionally difficult. Hoffman’s pace is fast and her writing is very smooth so the actual reading is easy – it’s just that I had a tough time with how one of the children dealt with his life.

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

From the book jacket: Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…Until she finds her closet harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis – and two parts fairy godmother…
The Sugar Queen is Sarah Addison Allen’s second novel – following the bestselling Garden Spells. I found it to be as enchanting as the first. I hesitate to explain the plot as I think it takes away from the wonderful experience of reading the book for the first time. I borrowed it from the library but will probably buy when the trade pb is published. I was happy to read that the author’s next book will be out in 2009. I’m a fan.

How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper

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Back of the book: Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet town that makes him something of a minor celebrity – and the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, even unbridled desire. But Doug has more urgent things on his mind, such as his sixteen-year-old stepson, Russ, a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. As Doug starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time-around dating scene, it isn’t long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across a suburban landscape.
I wasn’t surprised to read that this book has been optioned for a movie. It read like an entertaining script full of colorful characters such as Doug’s potty-mouthed twin sister who just happens to be separated from her husband and expecting their first child. She moves in with Doug and his stepson. She manages to start Doug on the road to living again. I thought the author did a good job portraying the grief felt by a young husband and son when the wife/mother dies so unexpectedly. This is NOT a tear-filled Terms of Endearment kind of book. There are laugh out loud moments as well as astonishingly poignant ones. I hope the movie comes close to the book.

Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy

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From the book flap: In this humorous and poignant novel, Edward Hardy explores the depths of modern love, parenthood, and compromise. Keeper and Kid is the story of how a normal guy receives an unexpected gift and in turn must learn to ask more of others and himself. A coming-of-age story for the guy who thought he had already grown up, Keeper and Kid is a sharp and witty account of what we do for love.
James Keeper is moving happily through life in Providence working at a job he enjoys and living with the woman he loves (but won’t marry). Then, one day, he gets a call to come to a hospital in Boston – and that changes pretty much everything.

I almost gave up on this one. Really, I felt so annoyed through most of it. But I hate to quit after reading half a book. So I kept going. It was ok. I didn’t love it but felt better about ‘things’ when I finished it. If you decide to read it, please let me know your thoughts. I’m curious. For now I’ll just return it to the library.

Bryson City Tales by Walt Larimore, M.D.

Bryson City Tales is the story of a physician’s first year in private practice. At the start of the book Dr. Walt Larimore arrives in Bryson City, North Carolina with his wife and young daughter. They decide to settle there and quickly begin their education of life in a small town in the Smoky Mountains. Dr. Larimore is a good story teller and I enjoyed reading about his patients and colleagues. I found myself seeing similarities to James Herriott – in fact, Dr. Larimore was called upon more than once to treat an animal! I found it refreshing that his patients welcomed his prayerful approach to medicine. I’m not so sure that would have been the case in a large city hospital. At any rate, I’m glad I read this book and thank Kay for the suggestion!

The Blue Star by Tony Earley

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Jim The Boy introduced us to Jim Glass, a boy growing up in 1930s North Carolina. He was 10 years old when the book ended. The Blue Star picks up Jim’s story when he is finishing high school and the world is involved in war. Jim has grown in many ways but finds he still doesn’t always get what he wants. There are lessons to be learned that aren’t taught in the classroom. He’s ready to learn them, though. We leave Jim as he is heading out into the world and I am glad I had a tissue nearby. Tony Earley has written a wonderful story and I hope to read the next installment very soon. Four Stars!

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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In the town of Crosby, Maine lives a woman named Olive Kitteridge. She’s a tough nut and most people avoid contact with her. She’s a retired 7th grade math teacher and she taught many of the people of Crosby. This book of linked stories (yes, I read another book of short stories!) involve Olive in one way or another. To quote the book jacket: “As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – it’s conflicts, it’s tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.”
I enjoyed reading this book if for no other reason than to see how Olive would figure into each story. I found several stories depressing, yet thought provoking. I’m still not in love with short stories but this book was better than the other collections I’ve read in the past several weeks.
Olive Kitteridge would be a good book club selection. Discussion could go in so many directions.

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

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“Tony Earley celebrates the world of one young boy in one small place in a simpler, sweeter time. Deceptively understated, Jim the Boy is a luminous rendering of an ordinary life, told with gentle grace and good humor….Earley is a master at sketching small but crucial moments with bright, telling strokes.” – Philadelphia Inquirer
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Jim’s father died a week before he was born. Jim lives with his mother and near his uncles in a tiny North Carolina town during the Great Depression. Most of the book takes place between his 10th and 11th birthdays. It’s a fast read and I didn’t want it to end. Earley is a wonderful storyteller. I think this would be a good audio book.

I recommend it for all ages. It might be a good book to read aloud to a child.