Monday, May 31, 2021

Three Witches in a Small Town by Willie E. Dalton

Reviewed by Jeanne

Sisters Agatha, Maeve, and Cerulean have all left their small hometown in the mountains to make their own way in the world, but when Mamaw Mabry calls, they return. Mamaw feels that her time is drawing near.  She wants the girls to have a last chance to learn from her before she departs this world for the next.

The girls are devoted to their grandmother, having grown up under her watchful eye.  They have always known that they have certain gifts—reading tea leaves, premonitions, and the like—but now Mamaw needs them to hone these gifts and to accept their destinies as Appalachian witches.  They will need to help their community once she is gone.

Bound by love to Mabry, her granddaughters are determined to do what they can to please her-- but can these girls be happy living in a small town?

This book is by local author Willie E. Dalton who won the Jan-Carol Publishing Believe and Achieve Award.  It’s more of a romance than I expected; it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that each sister is going to find a too good to be true man to adore her. Somehow I don’t get a strong sense of place other than rural.  Briars and dirt roads are pretty much everywhere as are Home Depots and Targets.  I would like to have seen more character development and more showing and less telling.

The New Age/ Appalachian witch parts were well done; more description and feeling came through.  The strong ties to herbs and the natural world were also bright spots.

Overall, I think this is a good debut.  The parts written from Mabry’s point of view are the strongest and some of the scenes near the end are very nice indeed.  I’d have enjoyed it more if it had been a little more fleshed out in terms of characters and place, but I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for local tales brushed with magic.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Granny’s Got a Gun by Harper Lin

Reviewed by Kristin

Barbara Gold looks like a sweet little widow who just relocated to the aptly named New England town of Cheerville to be near her son and grandson. She’s seventy, missing her late husband James, and bored out of her skull. The Active Readers’ Society book club provides some weekly entertainment, but Barbara’s internal monologue continually criticizes the book selections, her fellow book club members, and even the way the cake is cut and served. Barbara’s not cranky, just used to a little more action, since she is retired from the CIA.

When the book club host clears away the refreshments and promptly falls over dead in the kitchen, Barbara is the only one who sees it as foul play. After all, at their ages it’s only a matter of time before a bad heart or a stroke hits, right? But something about the foaming around the victim’s mouth….

Barbara swings into action, as quickly as she can possibly move trying to get a jump on the investigation even before the coroner can pronounce the death a homicide. With a little help from her Xbox playing teenage grandson Martin, Barbara tries to determine method and motive as the clock ticks.

I downloaded this book from Tennessee READS and listened to the audio version. It’s more of a novella at 30,000 words/3 hours of listening time, but I found it to be a delightful short interlude between some of the weightier books that I have read during this round of BPL Book Bingo. Since the story is told in Barbara’s voice, I enjoyed hearing her little asides to herself about not having this much excitement since she was in Beirut in the 80s, or in some other political hotspot taking down would-be assassins with a single shot.

And of course I couldn’t avoid hearing the lyrics in my head of the 1989 Aerosmith song, “Janie’s Got a Gun.” (It’s in your head now too, right?)

If this has piqued your interest, Harper Lin has the following titles in the Granny series, and several other series in the works as well.

1.       Granny's Got a Gun

2.      Granny Undercover

3.      Granny Strikes Back

4.      Granny Bares It All

5.      Granny Goes Hollywood

6.      Granny Gets Fancy

7.      Granny on Board

8.     Granny Goes Rogue

9.      Granny Goes Wild


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Nevermore: Hill Women, Professor and the Madman, Mrs. Wiggins

 


Reported by Garry

 

The first book this week was Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers.  Our reader said that this book is a wonderful refutation to Hillbilly Elegy.  This biography follows the lives of 3 generations of women from Owsley, KY, one of the most impoverished counties in the country, less than a four hour drive over the mountains from Bristol.  The author examines her own family and tells the story of her Granny, a child bride who worked tirelessly on the tobacco farm and would not hesitate a moment to help a neighbor in need.  Cassie’s mother, Wilma, was the first child in the family to graduate high school, and Cassie herself went to Harvard for a degree in Law, the gilded Ivy League halls a world away from the hollers and tobacco farms of Appalachian Kentucky.  Our reader highly recommends this insightful, heart-felt book about resilience and power of women in Appalachia today. 

 


The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford Dictionary by Simon Winchester is something we don’t usually get:  A biography of a book.  The Oxford English Dictionary is arguably one of the most influential books ever published, and the story behind its publication reads like wild fiction.  The overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray collected definitions and spellings for words from around Britain – a process that had started in the 1850’s, and continued into the early 1900’s. Late in his term as Editor, Murray discovered that one of the most prolific contributors was William Chester Minor, a US Army Surgeon imprisoned in a mental asylum in Broadmoor for killing a man who he wrongly thought had broken into his home. Confined to prison, but with access to thousands of antique books, Minor became one of the most reliable, voluminous contributors to the dictionary.  Our reader really enjoyed this book, and highly recommends it.

 

Our next book this week was the surprising Mrs. Wiggins by Mary Monroe.  Our reader was not expecting this tale of small-town 1930’s era Alabama to get so dark.  Maggie Franklin is the daughter of a prostitute mother and alcoholic father who knows that the only way out of her situation is to marry into a prominent, wealthy family, and that is precisely what she does.  Hubert is the most eligible bachelor in Lexington and the son of one of the most prominent preachers.  But Hubert has a secret, one that Maggie helps hide in order to preserve the edifice of her life.  Things start to unravel once their son, Claude, becomes engaged to the worst possible fiancĂ© in the world, and Maggie decides to step in to make “corrections.”  Our reader, once she got over the shock of this book NOT being as light-hearted as she was expecting (don’t judge a book by its cover, dear reader!) thought that this was one of the fairest books she has ever read as far as the depiction of people.  This book is highly recommended for those who like a bit of darkness.

 

Also mentioned:

New York by Edward Rutherford

Beautiful Things by Hunter Biden.

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

Monday, May 24, 2021

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson

 




Reviewed by Christy

            Shirley Jackson is known for her quiet horror, specifically the novel The Haunting of Hill House and the you-probably-read-it-in-high-school short story The Lottery. While her horror writing is excellent, she also wrote about her family life and the chaos that is raising four children. I listened to her semi-autobiographical collection of short stories Life Among the Savages on audio from READS. It is in one word: charming.

            Having read a couple of Jackson’s domestic short stories, I expected to enjoy Life Among the Savages. What I didn’t expect was to laugh out loud several times, including when I read Jackson’s Wikipedia entry where she referred to this book as a “disrespectful memoir” of her children. I particularly enjoyed listening to their young son Laurie relay the horrible misdeeds of his classmate Charlie. Shirley and her husband are wrapped up in the many stories of Charlie’s anarchy, and Shirley is anxious to meet Charlie’s mother at the next PTA meeting to see JUST what kind of woman raises a wild child like that. Unfortunately, Shirley discovers that although those misdeeds certainly happened, there is no child named Charlie in her son’s class…

            Lesa Lockford narrates the audio book and does a wonderful job. She gives each child a distinct voice that is cute but not overly exaggerated. I think her delivery made the book even more enjoyable than simply reading it would have. But as always, Jackson’s prose is the real star. Whether writing about horrors or hand-me-downs, she is able to make the action or a character’s feelings vividly jump off the page. If you’re a mood reader like me, and need to break up heavier works with something light, I highly recommend these wholesome and delightful stories.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Shadows at the Fair & Key Lime Crime: Quick Reviews

Reviews by Jeanne


Shadows at the Fair by Lea Wait

Maggie Summer, owner of Shadow Antiques, is looking forward to the Spring Antiques Fair.  She sells antique prints and has enjoyed this particular festival for the last several years.  Not only has it been a good money maker, but she knows many of the participants from years past.

This year security is tighter than usual, because a dealer was poisoned at another recent event, but Maggie isn’t worried.  Not until another dealer turns up dead. . .

This is the first in the Antique Print Mystery series, and the first mystery for Lea Wait.  I have enjoyed her other books so I decided to give this series a try. I was not disappointed.  I like Wait’s strong and complex lead character Maggie, the well-developed supporting cast, and the fascinating bits of information I pick up along the way. Wait was an antiques dealer from a family of dealers, so she knows all the ins and outs of collecting, evaluation, and selling. 

Even more importantly, she knows the value of pacing and plotting to keep the story moving along.  I especially liked the way she portrayed one character who, although having intellectual challenges, is shown to be independent and capable.   It’s no wonder that this was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Debut Mystery.

I’ll definitely be reading more in this series.

 


 

The Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette is the tenth in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series.  Newly married Hayley Snow has her hands full with reporting on a major foodie event, one which will crown the best Key Lime Pie in Key West.  Naturally, all the local eateries are trying to win the title and wealthy show sponsor David Sloan is egging everyone on to create a major event when Key West is already in full swing with holiday celebrants clogging the streets and creating more chaos than usual.  Hayley’s husband, police detective Nathan Bransford, is having to pull extra shifts to try to keep things calm.

So of course Hayley’s new mother-in-law decides to pay a visit. Already intimidated by Mrs. Bransford, who apparently adored Nathan’s ex-wife, Hayley tries to go all out to show her a good time.  It does not go well.  Mrs. Bransford doesn’t seem to enjoy any of the things Key West has to offer, especially not Key Lime Pie.

And then they find a dead body. . . .

The mystery is well done, but I am one of those “fair play” readers and for me too much information is withheld until near the end-- which is also the case with some of the other titles.  That said, I love the setting and atmosphere which makes up for the lack of real clues.  Key West is a quirky place, and I really enjoy getting what seems like an “insider’s view” of the people, problems, and most especially the places to eat.  Burdette likes to use real people as characters in her books—there is indeed a David Sloan!—and gives some interesting insights into the locals versus tourist situation.  Her love for the place shines through the pages.  Definitely read if you like Key West or if you plan a trip there.