The Last Boyfriend

Nora Roberts has another winning romance with the second title in her Inn Boonsboro  trilogy. (The first in the series is The Next Always.)   The Last Boyfriend continues the previous story, with  the Montgomery clan  renovating the old Inn.  The entire community has a stake in the outcome of the success of the Inn. Owen Montgomery is the organizer of the family–running the construction company and keeping the renovation on schedule and under budget. Avery is the owner of the local pizza shop and has been friends with the Montgomery family since childhood. Her first boyfriend was Owen, and they have remained friends ever since. Owen patronizes the restaurant often during the inn construction and finds himself more and more drawn to Avery. Avery is cautious and hesitant to build a romantic relationship with Owen, for fear or ruining their friendship. Past losses make Avery afraid to commit her whole heart, and when a person from her past reappears, she wonders if she can ever fully devote herself to Owen. Filled with likeable and engaging characters, humor and  love and with a friendly ghost added to the plot, The Last Boyfriend is a delightful addition to this series–Book three in the series (The Perfect Hope) will tell the story of Hope and Ryder and is due to be published in November 2012.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe.  This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi.  The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm.  Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I love the way Anne Tyler looks at life and the humor in her books.  She can write about serious topics with such tenderness and compassion.  The Beginner’s Goodbye looks at the topic of grief through the eyes of Aaron, a middle-aged man, whose wife dies unexpectedly when a tree falls on their home.  Aaron tries to return to a normal life and adjust to being single but he finds such difficulties with relationships.  Interactions with friends are now so different.  He is uncomfortable with his closest friends and neighbors as they extend their sympathy and help.  He moves in with his sister who lives in their parent’s home and totally ignores repairs on his home.  Finally when the ceiling falls in and he can’t get in the front door he calls a contractor, Gil Bryan.  This man, with his own problems, shows compassion for the grief that Aaron is going through and begins a relationship with both Aaron and his sister, Nandina.

The first sentence of the book begins, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”  Throughout the story his former wife Dorothy appears and speaks to Aaron as he finds his way through life without her.  As Aaron remembers the quirky, problematic relationship he and Dorothy shared, Dorothy reappears to help him work out the regret.  This isn’t a depressing book at all, although I found very poignant instances  Aaron finally ends this chapter of his life and is able to say the final goodbye reminding all of us to tackle the unfinished business of love.

One, Two, Three Books to Read About the Old Ball Game

Whether you like baseball or not, you have to admit that it provides some good stories.  John Grisham just recently came out with Calico Joe, which I’m looking forward to reading.  Here are some other baseball tales to enjoy.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
One errant throw sets of a series of events that changes the lives of many in this story of the baseball team at a small liberal-arts college in Wisconsin.  Harbach explores the lives of the characters, as well as the beloved game.

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
If you’re in the mood for a good book/movie combo, this is the book that Field of Dreams was based on.  A farmer in Iowa builds a baseball field for the past baseball greats, roping a reclusive writer into the project along the way.

The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling
In a dream-worthy alternate history, Bill Veeck transforms 1940′s baseball by recruiting the best of the best Negro Leagues baseball stars to play on the the Philadelphia Athletics, causing an uproar from fans, players, and even the United States government.

 

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Watching baseball to me is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Well, I might like it somewhat better than that cliche portends if I have a connection to one of the teams playing, but it is not something I would normally choose to do.  So why did I pick up a book about baseball?  I like John Grisham’s legal thrillers and I was aware that his newest book, Calico Joe was on the New York Times Bestseller list and was a fairly short book.  Why not see how a good writer deviates from his normal genre?

I found myself enjoying the story and immediately getting caught up in the characters lives.  The story jumps between August 1973 when a professional baseball player, Calico Joe Castle is hit in the head by a pitcher, Warren Tracey and then thirty years later when Warren Tracey is dying of cancer.  Narrated by Paul Tracey, the book has a heartfelt message of righting wrongs, when Paul, estranged from his now dying father, pushes him to ask forgiveness from the man he hurt.  Grisham has successfully branched out of legal thrillers with a couple other titles also, Painted House,  Skipping Christmas, Bleachers, and Playing for Pizza. 

 

 

 

The Innocent by David Baldacci

  In The Innocent, David Baldacci’s latest suspense thriller, a government assassin is teamed with a teenaged girl and an FBI agent to determine the connections between several murders and to keep themselves alive in the process. Will Robie is the agent who assassinates enemies for the government–he is a loner and is careful and plans for any and every possibility that something could go wrong, trusting no one but himself. But an assignment goes wrong when he is told to kill a woman and her children–his refusal makes him a target and he is on the run, the hunter becoming the hunted. While fleeing from the scene, he crosses paths with Julie Getty, a 14 year old runaway who witnessed the murder of her parents. He saves her life and the two team up to try to discover the reason for the murders. They encounter Agent Vance when she is involved in investigating the murders and she eventually believes in Will and Julie and wants to help them solve the cases, but circumstances create more questions than answers. More killings, a plot with twists and turns and more turns, strong  and complex characters, and wonderful descriptions of characters and settings combine to make this a story that is hard to put down. If you enjoy the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child or the Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum, The Innocent is a book you will enjoy!

 

Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob is the third legal thriller by Dagger Award winner William Landay and it is well worth the read. In the picturesque town of Newton, Massachusetts, a well-to-do suburb of Boston, a murder has just been committed. Fourteen year old Ben Rifkin’s body is found in a popular park with three stab wounds to his chest. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber takes the case in spite of a potential conflict of interest. His son Jacob attended the same school as Ben and is in the same grade. At first, the investigation points to a pedophile who lives near the park. Soon, however, based on physical evidence and comments on Facebook, Jacob becomes the primary suspect. Andy is taken off the case, and instead of prosecutor he is now helping to defend his own son. To do that he must face up to his own secrets that he has kept from his wife Laurie and his son, that he is descended from a line of murderers. He worries that the prosecutor may argue that Jacob has the “murder gene” because of his family history. Andy is convinced that his son is not possibly capable of committing such a horrific crime, although his actions at times speak differently. Laurie, on the other hand, seems to waver back and forth on Jacob’s  guilt or innocence. Each character is well developed and the family drama is just as compelling as the legal drama. Combine this with a couple of twists at the end, and it makes for a great read!

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins has added another delightful romance to her collection of novels such as Catch of the Day and The Next Best Thing.  Her latest, Somebody to Love, tells the story of Parker Welles–a single mother and children’s author whose father, a financial advisor, has provided a life of wealth and luxury. When he is involved in an insider trading deal, he goes to jail, after having bankrupted the family. Parker and her son Nicky are forced to move to a small town in Maine, where a distant relative has left her a dilapidated cottage. James Cahill, her father’s personal attorney, comes to Maine to help fix up the cottage, despite Parker’s hostility towards him. Can they each overcome past disappointments to fine love?   This is a heartwarming story filled with quirky (and some familiar) local characters, witty dialog, humor and likeable characters. Another winner for author Kristan Higgins!

The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain

The Good Father is a touching story about what it means to be a parent, told from the perspectives of three characters. Travis is a young single father who fought for custody of his child, even though he was a teen parent. His love for his daughter is unconditional and overwhelming. After a family tragedy,in desperation, he is forced to make some difficult choices in order to provide for Bella, and the repercussions of those decisions may be devastating for him and his daughter. Robin has put the daughter she gave away out of her mind–she was deathly ill at the time of the birth and agreed to give up custody. Erin is a mother lost in grief after the death of her  three year old daughter. Their lives intersect when Travis and Bella meet Erin at a local coffee shop and though she is struggling with her grief, Erin recognizes that Travis and Bella are in need of help and she extends her kindness to them. Alternating chapters tell the story from each characters point of view, offering gradual insights into their intertwined relationships. This is a touching and powerful story about compassion, grief, choices, and unconditional love, with suspense and plot twists added. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult or Kristen Hannah, you will enjoy this complex and heartfelt novel.

The Orphan Master’s Son

This political thriller by Adam Johnson deservedly gets starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in modern-day North Korea. The book follows the life of Pak Jun Do, from an orphanage, to a tunnel soldier, kidnapper, hero, starving prisoner, and impersonator.  I had difficulty putting this book down even though I knew there were most likely horrors waiting around the corner. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen but being unable to take your eyes off of it. Reading about some of the physical and mental torture, starving people, and other brutalities inflicted on individuals was hard to stomach. To give a further sense of living under a dictatorship, the book is interspersed with narration by the national radio station that spouts propaganda all day long. As people are starving and living in constant fear, the national broadcasts paint a rosy picture of North Korea while portraying western nations as villainous. Some of the propaganda is so darkly funny that I would almost catch myself  laughing at its absurdity. And of course the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il is ever present, if not physically then always in thought. The reader gets a real sense of the fear that the North Korean constantly lives under, where one misspoken word from yourself, lie from another, or bad luck can spell doom for yourself and your family. Amidst all the tragedy, there are some very touching moments and the love story is truly heartwarming. Obviously, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a light, feel-good read, but if you want a book that is intense and thought provoking, that will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading it, put this on your to-read list for 2012.

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

>Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor Napoleon III in France in 1852.  He began to modernize Paris in an effort to boost the French economy.  With the aid of Prefect Baron Haussmann the streets were widened, the working class neighborhoods were moved to the outskirts of the city, and parks were constructed.   Paris during this controversial time in history is the focus of Tatiana de Rosnay’s newest book, The House I Loved.

Through letters to her beloved husband, Armand, who died ten years earlier, Rose Bazelet tells the story of the home she moved into when she first married.  Her husband’s family home was on rue Childebert, a narrow street in a traditional neighborhood of shops and two story houses.  Rose immediately falls in love with the home and with Armand’s mother.  The years pass and Rose raises her children there and nurses Armand until his premature death.  As she deals with his death, Rose develops deep friendships with the neighbors and shop owners.  She spends many hours each day with the flower shop owner who rents space from the Bazelet family property.  Napoleon’s hazing of surrounding streets is dreadful and worrisome, but the location of their house so close to the church surely will protect them from the demolition.
More and more the surrounding streets are ruined with the impending progress and Rose must decide what to do and where to go.  Can she leave the house she loves?

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

>Mr. J. M. Rosenblum just wanted to fit in.  He had aspired to be a middle class gentleman in London ever since escaping Berlin.  As a German Jew just prior to World War Two he was always striving to obey the rules set out in the Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee pamphlet handed to him by the German Jewish Aid Committee representative as he arrived on the London dock with his wife Sadie.
As the years passed, Jack became a successful carpet factory owner and acquired a nice home, beautiful Jaguar and  fitted suits from the finest tailor.  The one need that he continued to have was acceptance into London society through membership in a golf club.  When this failed, Jack decided that he would build his own golf course. 
Jack buys land in Dorset and moves his wife to the countryside.  Now he has another society to fit into as he begins building a golf course on his own. He studies all the great courses and begins writing letters to the famous Bobby Jones, designer of the world renowned Augusta golf course.  Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English will charm and delight as Mr. Rosenblum deals with rampaging woolly-pigs, migrant struggles and dreams dared to be dreamed.

The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson

>Justine is a 43 year old mother who drifts from job to job and place to place, estranged from both her father and her teen-aged son. The only constant in her life is her dog Mack, a dog who  Justine has taught to dance. Alice and Ed Parmalee are a couple caught up in grief and unable to accept the death of their daughter several years earlier. Their lives intersect when a trucker driving Justine from Seattle to the east coast to see her dying father, leaves Justine at a rest stop and unknowingly continues with Mack in the truck. When he discovers the dog, he releases it along a busy highway. Mack finds his way to Alice and Ed, while Justine begins a frantic search for her dog. Needing to be at her father’s side, Justine leaves the search for Mack to others. Mack, called Buddy by Alice and Ed, begins to bring them happiness and interest in life and each other again.
Much of the story is told through the eyes of Mack, who describes his perceptions of human behavior and feelings.
The Dog who Danced is a touching story about recovering from loss, building relationships, forgiveness and the loyalty and unconditional love that pets bring to our lives.

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

>17 year old Ahalya and her 15 year old sister Sita are made homeless orphans when a tsunami sweeps through their town in coastal India, killing everyone they know. As they try to make their way to a convent school in another town, they are abducted and sold to a brothel owner in Mumbai, leaving the girls caught up in the brutal world of sex trafficking.
After losing a high-profile case, Washington, D.C. attorney Thomas Clarke has fallen out of grace at his law firm and elects to take a sabbatical at a non-profit agency in India, with the hopes of re-connecting with his Indian-born wife as well as escaping his job. Clarke is faced with the horrors of human trafficking at his NGO, and with the corrupt systems that allow it to flourish. Becoming involved with the cases of Ahalya and Sita, he attempts to locate the girls and free them from their enslavement.

This is a compelling thriller whose plot has many twists and turns with well-defined, strong characters. Addison has offered eye-opening insights into the horrific world of the international sex slavery trade, but he also offers hope and redemption through the portrayals of the characters who work tirelessly in dangerous situations to free enslaved women, often under dangerous circumstances, and offer them a better life.  A Walk Across the Sun is a riveting, thought-provoking novel that depicts both the worst that can be found in humanity as well as the resilience and hope that can be found in the human spirit despite the most awful circumstances. This is a story that will remain with you long after reading the last page.

Home Front by Kristen Hannah

>

In this timely and touching novel, Kristen Hannah tells the story of families and soldiers and how each are affected by deployments to war zones overseas.
18 year old Jolene joins the Army and finds a family and life-long friendships among it’s ranks after her alcoholic parents are killed in a car accident . She becomes a Blackhawk pilot and after marrying and having children, joins the National Guard. Her marriage to Michael, a defense attorney and workaholic, is a distant one and when Jolene receives orders to deploy to Iraq, neither can discuss their fears about the war. Jolene leaves for Iraq with her best friend and co-pilot Tami, leaving behind husbands and children who are filled with anger and anxiety. Michael is left to build relationships with his children and manage their home, as well as continuing his law practice. A murder case forces him to re-evaluate his opinions about war and the military, and tragedy forces him to adapt to changes in his marriage and his family.
Home Front conveys the hardships and tragedies of going to war and the affects of war on both soldiers and families. Hannah’s extensive research into PTSD and it’s traumatic effects on soldiers and their families is described through the experiences of several characters. This is an intense and emotional story, with well developed characters, offering insights into the experiences our military families endure when a family member is deployed.