The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

By Mark Toby

In the dream, Helen was not dead at all. she was in the bedroom, or the kitchen, out of sight, but within call, if I needed her…Pretty soon she would come to the door of the room, and look at us both, and smile. ad she might say something, or she might not.
So many nights it had been like that. So many little casual moments that I let slide through my fingers because they were so commonplace, so ordinary, so numerous.

This was a very cute if very short book (under 160 pages in the original hardback form.) It almost qualifies as a novella. I had just finished Ron Howard’s autobiography and he talked about the movie which he considers his best work as a child actor. It reminded me that the dramedy, a long-time favorite, was based on a book. It was not easily found for a price I was willing to pay.

It turned out to be as funny and touching as the movie. Sometimes more, sometimes less so. I was disappointed in the length but was surprised and happy that the movie was practically lifted from the book scene by scene. I had just hoped that there would be more to the story in the novel, not less. The movie actually adds some aspects and scenes that are not in the book.

Eddie and his father are recovering from the death of his wife a few weeks earlier and trying to get back to normal. It’s not long before Eddie starts to hint around, that as much as he loved and misses his mother, a new wife for his Dad and a new mother for him would not be unwelcome. After a minor false start, and a serious misstep, by the end of the book, Eddie’s wish is fulfilled.

The story is told mostly through dialogue between Eddie and his father. Their discussions and interactions are sweet, funny, and sometimes very touching. We are treated to many of Eddie’s ruminations and Tom’s reactions and inner thoughts as the plot plays out.

” Dad, you know why I like Elizabeth?”
“Why?”
“Because she doesn’t have skinny eyes.”
“Skinny WHAT?”
“Eyes. Like those ladies in the comic books who’re no good….You can always tell…they always have skinny eyes.”
It did sound very reasonable to me, and I decided to remember it. “No other clues? Just skinny eyes?”
“Well.”…The bad ladies always got big busts. Don’t get mad, Dad. It’s true. Very big. Skinny eyes and big busts is how you tell a bad lady from a good one.”

You will be relieved to know that the woman Eddie settles on very early on and the one Eddie’s father finally realizes is perfect for him has “round eyes” and a “medium bust.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

Amberwell

By D. E. Stevenson

This is the story of Five Little Children and How They Grew. I listened to this on Audible read by Lesley Mackie. With her gentle voice and slight Scottish accent, she added a lot to my enjoyment of this sometimes somewhat dark novel. While we hear about the children and their story it almost felt like I was being told a fairy tale and it was lovely, hoping as I was for happily ever afters for the children after the storms had passed. And lessons learned and justice served for those that required them.

The Ayrton children, two boys, and their three younger half-sisters are the children of two parents who don’t know or love their children or even care to. They are not socialites, jet setters, or workaholics, or V.I.Ps who are too busy with their own affairs to pay attention to their children. They are conventional and stolid pillars of the community. They keep the children from church and school and pretty much just ignore them unless they are of use or can’t avoid them. They just do not have any love in them. It was very odd.

Left to their own devices, they bring themselves up, thanks to a loving Nanny who unfortunately has little influence with the parents, and they do a wonderful job. Roger and Tom, in time, go off to boarding school where they learn that their parents and family are not normal. The reader spends the most time with Nell and Anne. The beautiful older sister, Connie, is nice as a little girl, but grows up only wanting to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty and doesn’t feel things very deeply. She gets married because that is what girls did and like her parents before her, we learn she is a horrendous parent, but in a different way. Nell and Anne are almost pathologically shy (unsurprisingly) sweet, and very close, with Anne being somewhat of a free spirit. They are both bright but ignorant scholastically and socially. It is Anne who was the most interesting with her fey ways, stronger spirit, and her unusual infectious laugh which is triggered mysteriously and unexpectedly.

It was no use of course. When Anne began to giggle it was hopeless trying to stop her. Anne shook with internal convulsions; she was seized with uncontrollable mirth and flung herself upon the bank writhing helplessly. The others caught the infection and laughed too. “What are we laughing at?” asked Gerald at last in a trembling voice. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Come on, Anne. Tell us the joke.” “Anne can never tell you,” said Nell hastily …“Anne can never tell you the joke, and even if she does it isn’t a bit funny.

The war comes and has a dramatic effect on Amberwell, the center of the universe in this book. Mr. And Mrs. Ayrton are inconvenienced by the war, but that is the end of their involvement. But Roger and Tom go off to do their duty and become fine young men. Roger marries and has a baby. Nell comes out of her shell somewhat and becomes the dependable rock of the family. Anne, however, goes off to London with their Aunt and under her influence disgraces the family by eloping without the blessing of her parents. She disappears off the face of the earth. And we lose the most fascinating character in the book. Throughout the novel, the reader and Nell are consumed by Anne’s fate. Is she well and happily married? We have reason to hope, but why doesn’t she write? Or is she in dire straits? We don’t know until the end.

There are some sad and tragic times as well as a lot of growth and hope in this novel. Despite the happy ending, there were some disappointments and a boatload of loose ends and unrealized promise. Hopefully, the sequel (Summerhills)will resolve some questions and fates and provide some more closure. But I really liked this gentle and serious story with its intricately fashioned characters, insight, thoughtfulness, and atmosphere. **3 1/2 stars, rounded up**

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4)

By Lucy Parker

Set in the glittering world of London’s West End theatre and a country estate, this is a sparkly, light, and frothy romance between a scary theatre critic and one of his frequent targets, an actress who comes from a long line of theatrical leading lights. Freddy Carlton, our bubbly light-hearted heroine is torn between wanting to please her illustrious father, who wants her to be a “serious” actress like her grandmother, and her own love of musical romantic comedies, the genre in which she shines.

When she accepts a role in a new interactive live TV production called The Austen Playbook behind her father’s back, it throws her together with her nemesis, James Ford-Griffin, because it is to be filmed at a private theatre on his family’s estate. Not only has he been very rude when reviewing her serious dramatic performances but their grandparents had an affair that did not end well and the two families have been enemies since.

Taking an equal stage with the satisfying “opposites attract” romance, are numerous other plots, seamlessly woven together. We have family drama and reconciliation, imminent financial disaster, a plagiarism scandal that threatens to bring down a family and their legacy, professional rivalries, and many more!

This book was just delightful. The romance was solid and well-paced, the dialogue sparkling and witty, and the plotting intriguing and intelligent. The theatre-world setting seemed authentic. There was a lot going on, but each character and story were given their due with plenty of suspense, mystery, and tension as well as romance. Lucy Parker is definitely on my radar. This is my first book by her, and I am quite excited.

I listened to this on audio, read at breakneck speed by Billie Fulford-Brown. Take a tip from me and turn the speed down to 90% so you can keep up.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 24, 2021

The Woman in the Middle

By Milly Johnson

Shay had too much of a past history of being honourable, a good girl who flew under the radar so she wouldn’t upset any more applecarts, who stood in the shadows propping up those who wanted to stand in the sun.
But Mrs Nice Guy was having a day off today.

Milly has done it again! Shay is a wife and mother of two grown children and is in her mid-forties. She is also caring for her beloved mother who, though she lives alone, is in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. Shay goes to her house almost every day to do what needs to be done. Her father is in a coma in a care home and Shay visits him faithfully. There is something wrong with her marriage of 24 years. Although everything is OK on the surface, she and her husband have not had sex in months. Her feisty (too feisty)free spirit of a daughter keeps going back to a bad boyfriend and is struggling financially and career-wise. Her sweet and gentle son has given up his art and gotten himself engaged to a controlling older woman. And her sister is a selfish piece of….work.

Shay, who is a lovely woman both inside and out, is in the middle, trying to keep everyone around her afloat with no help from anyone. Yet, though she is put upon, she is not a doormat. (Yay!) She seems like a real person. Someone you could really know, and whose challenges many women will relate to. The reader realizes long before Shay does that her husband is a lost cause and is not worthy of her. We also know that there is a tragic secret in her past that changed the direction of her life and separated her from her first love: a love she still yearns for in unguarded moments. As her mother reaches the end, secrets are revealed which further turn her life upside down. Her marriage is irretrievably broken and Shay goes back to her childhood home to try to heal.

Milly’s style continues to move forward from the template that served her so well for years. Shay is a woman rising like a phoenix from a difficult situation. That is a familiar theme to her readership. But the story is more realistic and her writing is more thoughtful and leisurely. The book is funny and full of lovable and sympathetic characters as well as dastardly villains. Yes, there are moments of high drama and plenty of justice to be meted out, to be sure, but everything is more down-to-earth and not so extreme. There is wit and humor, but very little rambunctious comedy. There is eventually a sweet romance, but it is there only to complete Shay’s journey to a happy fulfilled life.

I love the old Milly-style, but I also love the more evolved Milly. Wherever she goes next, I am there.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 23, 2021

The Loving Couple

Virginia Rowans (Patrick Dennis)

Despite Patrick Dennis’s trenchant and sometimes problematic skewering of 1950s New York society and their behavior and attitudes, this was, at its heart a sweet story. The young married couple in whose company we spend almost all of our time is good, kind, smart yet rather innocent, and thoroughly decent. They are the only people in the book who escape the authors cruel yet funny barbs.

The book begins with an epic quarrel between John and Mary, once very happy and in love, and now dissatisfied. Their 6-year marriage changed a year ago when John gave up his writing career, took a high-paying job, and moved to Riveredge, an exclusive suburban mecca for affluent New Yorkers of a certain status and income.
Here is the ideal Riveredge couple as described by the author:

Together they deplored reactionaries, Hollywood and Miami, bright colors, communism and fascism, juke boxes, slums, child labor, strong labor unions, vulgarity, social climbers, snobs, comic books, tabloids, the Reader’s Digest, Life and the Book-of-the-Month Club—although they solemnly agreed that anything that instilled the reading habit among those less fortunately endowed couldn’t be entirely bad. You could hardly wonder that everybody loved the Martins.
“Well, you’re out bright and early,” Whitney said, his tortoise shell glasses and splendid white teeth sparkling in the sunlight. Whitney’s statement, while cordial, also managed to convey surprise, criticism and hope for reform

John has stormed out of his house and left Mary. He spends the day on his own meeting old friends, visiting old haunts, spending time with his shady and vulgar boss of one year, and almost cheating on his wife with the boss’s evil daughter. After a series of appalling encounters and painful adventures, He realizes that his wife is the only decent person in New York City and environs.

Meanwhile, Mary, his lovely wife, is having a similar set of horrific experiences throughout her day. She goes to the city in the clutches of her “friend”, Fran, to escape her big sister Alice a relentless scold and bully.

Alice was active in Planned Parenthood. A couple of decades earlier, Alice would most certainly have been jailed for passing out contraceptives on the cathedral steps. Today she took a more moderate, but no less ardent, stand. Alice believed that those who could afford children should have all the children they could afford and when they could afford them. Alice always said that it was the duty of superior people to bring forth superior offspring. So far Alice and Fred had produced two—a boy of seven, given to chronic nausea and bedwetting, and a girl of five with nineteen distinct allergies. Alice and Fred felt that they could now afford to treat mankind to yet another superior being, and its birth had been as carefully plotted as the Invasion of Normandy.

By the time John and Mary coincidentally meet up at the end of the night outside the old apartment in which they were so happy, they have been through the gauntlet, are ready to fall into each other’s arms in relief and gratitude. They are more than ready to start a whole new life. Or rather, return to their old one.

Patrick Dennis wittily leaves no section of the populace unscathed. Many of his descriptions of the people and their antics are laugh-out-loud funny, but most are pretty bitter as well. He saves his most stinging barbs for…well everybody gets pretty well raked over the coals. The unconscious and casual racism is a little hard to take even if you can keep it in the context of its times. It is quite similar in tone and structure to The Joyous Season, but some of his zingers in that novel come off gentler, funnier, and less corrosive coming from the first-person narration of a formidable but lovable 10-year-old boy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

October 16, 2021

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors

by Sonali Dev

HRH’s take on it was this advice to his children: “This is our home. This country is yours. Take everything you need. Give everything you have. From the beginning of time, humans have migrated. We’ve claimed land and let it claim us. Don’t ever fulfill anybody else’s definition of your relationship with your country. How many generations ago their forefathers got here may be how some people stake their claim, but I stake mine with how much I give. How wholly I love. This place called to me, I’m here, it’s mine. And now, it’s yours.”

I’m a soft touch for novels that are re-imaginings of or sequels to Jane Austen‘s works in film or on the page. I have a soft spot for even ones that are not all that good. This is one of the best ones. Sonali Dev did a masterful job of using P and P as an inspiration for similar themes while making it wholly her own. The looseness of the adaptation worked very well. A reader who enjoys contemporary romance or women’s fiction would enjoy this even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. There are many characters in Dev’s novel that are not in the original and many characters and situations Austen’s classic that are not in Dev’s novel. Yet while they diverge in interesting ways, they also mirror each other in the essentials. There is the prideful, arrogant, but socially inept aristocrat (Trisha), the formidable love interest from a suspect background (DJ), victimized loved ones past and present, the evil opportunist, The cold and powerful head determined to “protect” the family from scandal, and the sweet and good sister. But they are deliciously shuffled up. A few scenarios are faithfully and delightfully reset in today’s times. One of the highlights of Austen’s work and this one as well is when Trisha (Darcy) pours out her heart to DJ (Elizabeth) and is rejected.

“I have absolutely no interest in you, Dr. Raje,” meeting the wild pleas in her eyes…it hadn’t struck her for one instant that he might not lap up her proposition or whatever this was.
“This might baffle you, but despite not being a physician, I do have some pride. Although most certainly not enough to withstand the kind of beating you’re capable of dealing to it. The kind of beating you’ve repeatedly dealt it from the first time we’ve met. You’re right, I value honesty, so I’ll tell you that I make it a practice not to find women who insult me at every opportunity attractive.”
…she looked entirely devastated. Had no one ever denied her anything?

One thing I really liked about it was how the black hero in the book was portrayed. Too often, lately, it seems like authors are using diverse ethnic characters to make a political statement but they are ethnic in looks alone. In one book I read recently, we’re told that the swoony successful love interest looks like Barack Obama, but other than that, he might as well be a white guy. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s like the author wanted points for having a diverse cast of characters but didn’t want to make her mostly white readership too uncomfortable. Kind of like the Hallmark channel checking the boxes. Oh well, baby steps. In this one, Trisha, although “brown” has always had power and privilege. Unlike DJ who knows very well what is probably going to happen if a white cop sees him breaking into his own luxury car.

“Are you laughing because you think you taught me some sort of lesson?” Because he had, he had pulled the world from beneath her feet…DJ had stood there helpless as a cop reached for his gun for no reason other than fear based in prejudice…Trisha didn’t want him to be standing there in that inequitable ocean, unable to do anything about it. She wanted to live in a world where the waves hit everyone the same way, where everyone could choose how they surfed them. Where the only thing that mattered was ability. And she had allowed herself to become oblivious to the fact that they did not live in that world. 

I was not too impressed with the first book I read by Ms Dev. This one also slowed to a crawl in several places. It was repetitive (the constant rhapsodizing about food got old and kind of creepy in places, to me) There were a little too many tangents explored and too much detail which did little to advance the story. But even so, it kept my interest. Sometimes the sentence structure seemed a little off and sentence meaning was a little obscured at first. But this book was a really good novel and a superbly creative riff on Pride and Prejudice. I love books about interesting families and especially ones I have to do a family tree to keep everyone straight. 4 stars for the novel and 5 stars for the Pride and Prejudice connection. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 16, 2020

The Huntress

By Kate Quinn

We don’t hunt the helpless, luchik. We hunt the killers. Is like villagers going after a wolf gone mad. Only when the wolf is dead, villagers go home and we find the next mad wolf.

Ian Graham, a former British war correspondent teams up with Nina Markova a former Night Witch, one of the legendary female Russian night bombers. Their mission is to find and bring to justice a vicious Nazi predator, The Huntress, with whom Nina has a personal score to settle. They track her to Boston, where Jordan, a young budding photographer’s widowed father has just brought home Anna, his serene and reserved new fiancée, and her traumatized daughter, Ruth. From Germany.

I hovered between 3 stars and 4 stars for this one. I re-read the ending pages again, and 4 stars it is. Part of the problem, if 3 stars is a problem, was that I didn’t really take to Nina or her lengthy story while she was in Russia. It wasn’t until she came to the United States that I really warmed to her.

“Is a Russian thing. Sit around, drink too much, talk about death.” She pushed her empty plate away. “It makes us cheerful.”

I guess it was because I just prefer light over dark. I was much more intrigued by Jordan’s domestic adventures with Anna and Ruth on the home front.

I hope there is a sequel someday. I would like to see all of the characters again and read more of Ruth, all grown up. I would also like to see more Nazis caught.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 14, 2019

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.

Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.

When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.

And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.

Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.

Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.

The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.

In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.

Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away. 

Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 5, 2021