Second Thyme Around By Katie Fforde

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Second Thyme Around by Katie Fforde is the delightful story of Perdita, an organic gardener who produces fresh vegetables for local restaurants. Since her divorce, she has settled into a comfortable life spending time in her garden, chatting with her favorite customers, and spending time with Kitty, the delightful woman who raised her. Her cozy world is rocked when she discovers that the chef at one of her restarants has been replaced by her cranky ex-husband, who wasn’t even a chef when she last saw him.

The plot is a touch predictable, but the characters and back story, as well as all the discussion of good food, make for a delightful read.

Phoning Home

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Take a moment to imagine the following scenario: You wake up tomorrow morning and turn on the television. Your favorite regular program isn’t on; it’s been interrupted by an urgent breaking news event. On every channel you flip past reporters and analysts are talking over one another, their voices strained with obvious excitement – and perhaps a little fear. You sit down on your sofa and listen, trying to piece together what all the fuss is about. Finally a news anchor repeats the headline for anyone who’s just tuned in: we’ve made contact. A signal has been received from the neighborhood of a distant star: not the pulse of radiation from a quasar or supernova, but an artificial signal. Proof that intelligent life exists outside our planet.

How would you react to such news? Would you join an impromptu street party, or start digging out a bunker in your backyard? Would the revelation usher in world peace – or worldwide panic? What would the message say and how would we respond? And what might our far away neighbors be like?

These are some of the questions deliberated by Seth Shostak, head astronomer at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in his new book Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. In layman’s terms, Shostak describes the work that the SETI Institute has been doing for twenty-five years, the science behind the equipment and procedures currently being used to search for radio signals from other stars, and the emerging technologies that he predicts will find such a signal within the next few decades. Shostak also discusses the questions the institute’s scientists most frequently receive from Earthlings both supportive and critical of SETI’s mission: Where in the universe is other intelligent life likely to be found? Are aliens already here? Will we soon be zipping around space like the crew of the Enterprise? What might the aliens look like? Some of Shostak’s conclusions are sure to surprise you. (Think the aliens will have tentacles and six legs? Think again.)

Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, Confessions of an Alien Hunter is a fascinating, good-humored look at one of the most popular and controversial topics of the modern era.

Angels & Demons Read-Alikes

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I heard a rumor that the new flick Angels & Demons, based on the book by Dan Brown, is pretty good. If you already read the book and loved it, you might try these titles:

The Burning Road by Ann Benson – A medical thriller that alternates between medieval France during the plague and 2007 America where genetic engineering has gone mad.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears – Called a “whopping good read” by Newsweek, this literary thriller goes back to 17th century England. There has been a suspicious death at New College and a young woman is blamed.

The Confessor by Daniel Silva – A search for the truth about Pius XII’s role in the Holocaust leads to murder, ambition, greed, and revenge. Gabriel Allon, a master art restorer and part-time Israeli agent searches for the truth.

The Overseer by Jonathan Rabb – A ruthless group obtains a plan for world domination written by a 16th century monk. Sarah Trent, a government agent, and Xander Jaspers, a young political theorist from Columbia University, seek to subvert the deadly game.

Very Valentine: a Novel

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Very Valentine is pure fun. Who doesn’t want to stand on the sidelines and watch a typical Italian-American family duke it out, watch a growing love affair with a handsome celebrity chef/restauranteur, and travel to Italy on a buying trip of sumptuous fabrics.

Valentine Roncalli shares life and work with Teodora Angelini, her 80-year-old grandmother in her family-owned, handcrafted wedding shoe business. Thirty-three year old Valentine, the funny one of her boisterous family, is struggling to help hold this Old Country craftsman business together while her brother wants to sell the very valuable building and put Grandma in an assisted living facility. There is barely enough time to design and make shoes and figure out a way to keep the business afloat, let alone, find time to figure out where her relationship with Roman Falconi is going. When Bergdorf Goodman offers Valentine a chance to vie for designing the shoes for their Christmas windows, and Valentine accompanies Teodora to Italy to find the perfect fabrics and trims, there are further love complications, a family secret revealed and much more fun.

A Great Mystery with a Bleak Title

> In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Claire Fergusson is the new Episcopal priest in the small town of Millers Kill, New York. As she’s leaving church one evening she discovers an abandoned baby on the steps, opening a door to town secrets that someone wants to keep hidden. Russ Van Alstyne is the local police chief and would rather not deal with a priest who keeps stumbling into trouble. The two of them end up making a great team as they attempt to save the town from further tragedy. The title may be bleak, but the plot will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Down River

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In his Edgar Award-winning novel Down River, John Hart has created a novel about family relationships as well as a thriller complete with murder, vengeance, suspense and revenge. Adam Chase reluctantly returns home after years away. Although acquitted of murder several years before, he is still viewed with suspicion and fear by both many local people as well as some members of his own family. He returns home at the request of a childhood friend whom he discovers is missing and becomes embroiled in another murder, a struggle between economic progress and those wanting to preserve the land and the past problems and secrets that have divided his family. Hart is an exceptional writer and has created characters that are vivid and realistic with faults, virtues and divided loyalties. The story is engrossing, exciting and well-deserving of the awards won by the author.