The Something Girl

by Jodi Taylor

According to Russell’s many books on the subject, hen houses should be light and airy. This one looked like a Dickensian workhouse.

‘No one who has met you could ever forget you. I certainly can’t.’ I felt tears well up. ‘Why are you crying?’ he demanded, slightly panic-stricken. ‘What did I say?’ ‘Something nice.’ He seemed indignant. ‘I say nice things all the time. I’m famed for it.’

A very worthy sequel to the charming and unusual The Nothing Girl. Not quite the impact as the first book, as the arc that Jenny takes is not quite as dramatic. She is safe and sound, adored by her husband and ersatz family (even though she does not always realize it. She still struggles, sometimes, with very low self-esteem.) The plot revolves around her happy home being threatened by an enemy from the past and how she is able to triumph in the end. There were chuckles throughout while the subplot of Jack, the new kid on the block, brought the tears. As a big fan of unconventional heroes, Russell Checkland is in a class by himself.

The domesticity of the world and the comedy reminded me of Betty Macdonald or We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich. Old childhood favorites. I wish Jodi Taylor would draw the Chronicles of Saint Marys to an end, and concentrate her talents on book like these.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 2, 2017

The Girl He Used to Know

by Tracey Garvis Graves

“What if it turns out that after going through the evaluation, I find out I’m not on the spectrum. That I really am just weird. I don’t know if I can handle that.”

This is a lovely, sweet romance. In a way, it’s two for the price of one because you get the initial meeting and college courtship of Annika and Jonathan, and then, 10 years later, after a mysterious break-up, their attempt to reconcile now that they have changed and matured. Most readers, like me, will be amused, intrigued, moved by, admire, and come to love Annika. Actually, you love her from the first few pages. She is high functioning autistic. Jonathan is great too because he loves and supports Annika. We also meet Janice, the best friend in the world, and Annika’s wonderful mother, who is even more wonderful than you first think.

“It’s a Christmas present from Jonathan. He said I have to wait until Christmas to open it.” “Oh, Annika. That was so sweet of him. He seems like such a nice young man.” “He has never been mean to me, Mom. Not even once.” My mom didn’t say anything right away. But she blinked several times as if there was something in her eye, and then hugged me again. I wriggled away as soon as I could, because this one was so tight I could barely breathe.

I love when you close a book with a sigh of satisfaction, happiness, and emotion. When you read the last paragraph in this, you will know you have read the perfect ending.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 10, 2019

The Joyous Season

By Patrick Dennis

“Daddy always said that Christmas is a joyous season when suicides and holdups and shoplifting and like that reach a new high and that the best place to spend the whole thing is a Moslem country.”

A cross between Cather in the Rye, Parent Trap, and the Eloise books, I think it’s one of the most hilarious novels ever. It is certainly the most hilarious novel I’ve ever read. Set in 1960’s Manhattan, narrated by a VERY precocious and smart-mouthed (but nice) 10 year old, this book is a delight from start to finish. His take on the antics of the adults in his and his eccentric younger sister’s lives during his mother and father’s break up and ultimate reconciliation commences during a disastrous family Christmas.
For Cripes Sake.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday

By Milly Johnson

I don’t want to get back to reality, said Robin inwardly. He felt protected here in this odd little inn. It was as if it was enchanted, like the Beast’s castle when Belle walked in and found all the luxury food waiting for her. He wouldn’t have been at all surprised if clocks and candelabras had started dancing around the room singing “Be Our Guest.”

In reading the description of this book and right up to about the 20% mark, I thought I knew where this one was going to go. It starts out as a fairly typical Milly Johnson. She really likes to have 3 stories going at once. In this one, 3 couples get lost during a terrible snowstorm two days before Christmas and end up together in a deserted but charming inn (Which is magical. Of course.) One couple, once passionately in love, is meeting to sign their divorce papers after years of acrimony. They are tired of fighting, have new partners, and just want to move on with their lives. Couple number two is the head of a large company who is accompanied by his unappreciated PA who has been in love with him for years. The last couple is a very happy gay couple who have been together for over 30 years.

I settled down to enjoy the journeys of at least several characters who had to learn, grow and break out of self-destructive patterns in order to find fulfillment and happiness. Of course, finding happiness would also mean finding true love with the obvious person as well. Well, all did not go according to plan. I am happy that Milly has grown out of her usual formula that all of or most of her early books incorporate, as delightful as most of them were. It became pretty obvious pretty early on, that the love stories were not going to follow the usual romantic comedy playbook. For one thing, Two halves of the prospective couples were so unlikable, almost toxic, that I was rooting for the people they would naturally be paired up with to run far and fast in the opposite direction. To make it more confusing, One of the prospective love interests was already in a very happy and healthy relationship albeit “off-screen”. So It was not predictable how all this was going to play out, romantically speaking.

Don’t worry. There are happy endings in this one and a love story or maybe two by the end. But it does not go how you think it would at the beginning. Turns are taken and there is some suspense up to the final climax. And that is a good thing. Once again Milly delivers a satisfying, touching, and amusing story. As always, it was very English. The title is based on a popular British Christmas song that is virtually unknown in the United States. And a dose of Jane Austen-love never hurts.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 21, 2021

Looking Forward

by Marcia Willett

“It had given [Freddie] a kind of fierce satisfaction to reject his faith, to mock at him; yet how little satisfaction he’d given her.
‘I don’t think you care about saving my soul,’ she’d said to him [Theo] once.
‘Your soul is God’s affair, not mine.’ he’d answered ‘It’s not a contest, Freddy. You have free will.’
She’d felt snubbed, considering her soul to be something rather special that God was waiting for with bated breath, as an ornament to add to His glory.”

The book begins with three children waiting alone at a train station for their grandmother to pick them up and take them to their new home, the Keep, in Devon, England. We soon learn that they are orphans. Their parents and beloved older brother have been hideously slaughtered in Africa during the Mau-Mau rebellion. Right away, we are invested in the fates of serious and responsible 10-year-old Fliss and her psychologically damaged 6-year-old brother Sam (Mole.) There is also Susanna who is just a toddler. We come to intimately know their new family: their strong and loving Grandmother, the wise and kind Great Uncle Theo, an Anglican priest, and the two devoted retainers, Ellen and Fox. Later, Caroline is hired to be their Nanny. She quickly becomes an invaluable part of the family circle as well. We soon meet 3 other key characters: their older twin cousins, Hal and Kit (children of their father’s twin brother), and their mother, widowed Aunt Prue, who is good-hearted but rather flighty and silly.

The book is divided into 4 parts, each approximately 3 years apart. Marcia writes poignantly, amusingly, and sometimes beautifully of the lives and relationships, growing pains, love affairs, and dramas of all 3 generations. In her deft characterizations, she often does not take the easy obvious path. Your expectations are set up for one thing to happen, but things don’t go according to the way they might have if the characters were not as kind, smart, and sensitive as they are. Oh, they are flawed. They struggle. There is plenty of heartbreak as well as joy. And the reader is right there with them. We are not on the outside looking in. Marcia Willett is a talented writer.

By the end of the book, two marriages are in the offing, and Mole has gone a long way to gain control of his fears and become a successful adult. Free-spirit Kit is footloose and fancy-free, and Susanna is a charming and popular teenager. We are left a little doubtful about the prospects of Fliss and Hal. There are still some questions as to whether their chosen paths are going to work out. There is still a secret between the two of the seniors. It definitely leaves us anticipating the continuation of the Chadwick’s stories.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

July 2, 2021

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael

By Beth Morrey

What was this fear, this terror of being alone, when I was never a particularly gregarious being and in fact used to go out of my way to avoid social engagements?

I don’t know why I’d allowed myself to become so maudlin. The wine, probably. Two glasses, which sounded better than half a bottle.

Not unattractive, as dogs go, but I’ve never been keen on them. Too dim and needy.

This book. Who would have thought I would so enjoy a book about an 80 year old “withered old shrew” as Missy describes herself? This is a triumphant debut novel by Beth Morrey and I am most anxious and curious to read the next book by this talented new author. Her transformation to a vital, popular, heroic, beloved woman is full of laughter, tears, and wonder. How did this happen? She reluctantly agreed to temporarily foster a dog.

Throughout the book, my opinions and judgments I made about Missy and her family changed and developed. My disapproval turned to love and back again and then back still again. The revelations in the final chapters moved me to no end as I finally understood everything.

In England, this book is called Saving Missy. I don’t know which title is more appropriate. This is a wonderful wonderful book. **5 stars out of 5**

October 27, 2020

Dear Enemy

By Jean Webster

“Dear Judy: Your letter is here. I have read it twice, and with amazement. Do I understand that Jervis has given you, for a Christmas present, the making over of the John Grier Home into a model institution, and that you have chosen me to disburse the money? Me – I, Sallie McBride, the head of an orphan asylum! My poor people, have you lost your senses, or have you become addicted to the use of opium, and is the raving of two fevered imaginations? I am exactly as well fitted to take care of one hundred children as to become the curator of a zoo.”

“You remember that illuminated text over the dining-room door–“The Lord Will Provide.” We’ve painted it out, and covered the spot with rabbits. It’s all very well to teach so easy a belief to normal children, who have a proper family and roof behind them; but a person whose only refuge in distress will be a park bench must learn a more militant creed than that. The Lord has given you two hands and a brain and a big world to use them in. Use them well, and you will be provided for; use them ill, and you will want,” is our motto, and that with reservations.”

This is an old favorite from my childhood. A sequel to the much more famous Daddy-Long-Legs, it is a much better book. Sallie, the heroine, is a charmer. Open, gregarious, brave, funny, compassionate, and a modern woman. There is a sweet romance, and some real drama and tear-jerking moments. Sallie is a society girl who takes over the orphanage that her friend Judy from DLL was raised in. She is bored with her easy meaningless life. She takes the old-fashioned behind-the-times orphanage by storm. We learn the stories of the orphans, some funny, some heart-rending. Sallie and Judy’s friends and Sallie’s fiancé have minor roles. Sandy, the local Scottish doctor, plays a major role and has a backstory of his own. One of the modern ideas Sallie has in her toolbelt is, unfortunately, eugenics. Today, the notion is anathema, but back then it was considered to be modern science and embraced by many intelligent professionals. Try to ignore those parts.

The novel is a series of Sallie’s letters to Judy and others detailing her triumphs and challenges in her new position. I love epistolary novels because of this book. Oh! and the letters are illustrated with Sallie’s very cute drawings!

 **5 out of 5 stars**

April 3, 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer

Some Books you Read, Some Books you Enjoy. But some books Swallow you up Heart and soul.—-Joanne Harris

I was completely transported by this book. It was partly on its own merits, but also because it forcibly reminded me of another book which is very dear to my heart, Dear Enemy by Jean Webster. It has been a long time that I kept putting off finishing a book because I didn’t want it to end. I researched Charles Lamb, the Guernsey Islands, Its occupation by the Germans, read about the upcoming movie, went back and read the first several letters at the beginning of the book, looked at 3 episodes of the mini-series Island at War, etc. etc. I really can’t say more. It just meant too much to me: “I’ll write no more of this, and I hope you’ll understand if I do not care to speak of it. As Seneca says, “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” There was grief in this book, but there was so much more besides.

March 30, 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

By Gail Honeyman

“But I don’t have any emotional needs,” I said. Neither of us spoke for a while. Eventually, she cleared her throat. “Everyone does, Eleanor. All of us—and especially young children—need to know that we’re loved, valued, accepted and understood . . .” I said nothing. This was news to me. I let it settle. It sounded plausible, but it was a concept I’d need to consider at more length in the privacy of my own home. 

There really is no need to add to the excellent reviews that already exist for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The plot has been outlined and sketches of the unusual personality of the eponymous heroine have been many. She is funny, her voice is funny and her relationship with the social situations she gets herself in are downright hilarious at times. Eleanor is invited to a birthday party by her new friends, and remembers that she must bring a gift.

I noticed that I had failed to consume all of my vodka allocation; the best part of a half bottle of Smirnoff was extant. Mindful of my gauche faux pas at Laura’s party, I put it in a Tesco carrier bag to present to Keith tonight. I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese….Keith came up to the table and thanked me for coming. I gave him his birthday present, which he seemed to find genuinely surprising. He looked at each item in turn with an expression that I found hard to read, but I quickly eliminated “boredom” and “indifference.”

But the humor comes from a very dark place. You laugh, but you are uneasy doing so. She is not quirky in the same ways Don, the Asperger sufferer in The Rosie Project is quirky. She was a bright and normal child damaged by tragedy and abuse. The thread of a mystery that is slowly revealed throughout the novel of the exact nature and source of Eleanor’s social awkwardness is cleverly done. Clues to the truth are placed by the author for the reader to puzzle out . The author plays fair, and the so-called twist at the end should not come as a major shock. I’ve read that Reese Witherspoon who has proven very perspicacious at spotting and acquiring the film rights to great novels has acquired this one as well. That alone is an encomium enough for this book, for me. The book ends hopefully and positively, and most readers will love her even more by the end of the book than they surely do in the middle. As a side note, Eleanor is brilliant and I learned many many cool words reading this book!**5 out of 5 stars**

June 28, 2017

P.S. It’s been almost 4 years now. Gail Honeyman has still to publish another book. I hope she is completely fine and not a one hit wonder.

Pack Up the Moon

by Kristan Higgins

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

from “Funeral Blues” by W.H.Auden

I knew I was in trouble when my throat started to close up on page two. Kristan goes further down a darker path that is leading her books away from the touching yet hilarious and witty romantic comedies that she built her early reputation on. This book is a deep exploration of the grief and pain of losing a beloved spouse way too young. Letters are both the basis and the jumping-off point of how Kristan tells the story.

After the devasting loss of 31-year-old Josh’s lovely 28-year-old wife to a terminal illness, we go with him on his journey for a little over a year afterward. Lauren has left him 12 letters one for each month to be opened after her death. In each loving missive, she gives him a task that is meant to help him heal. The first one is to go to the grocery store by himself. The last one is to find another woman with whom to share his life (and she has someone in mind.) Lauren’s letters to Josh move the story forward and Lauren’s private letters to her beloved dead father fill us in on the past. Interestingly those take us from 8 days before her death backward to when Lauren was 18 and first met Josh.

Although Josh is a genius who became a millionaire at age 18 with his patents for cutting edge medical devices, he is also “on the spectrum”, as they say now, with Asperger syndrome. Without his beloved Lauren, he is lonely and lost. More so than a typical widower would be. He has no friends of his own and doesn’t function well in social situations. . Lauren was his love, but also his guide. And in turn, Lauren worshiped the ground he walked on. He has plenty of support among his own family and Lauren’s friends and family who are all devoted to him. He is so vulnerable although Kristan wisely does not make a huge issue of his disability. Most of the book is from Josh’s point of view and we see signs of the “neurodiversity” in his thoughts and actions, but we are not hit over the head with it. It is handled beautifully and contributes humor as well as pathos to the story.

The other thing that Kristan handled beautifully is Josh and Lauren’s incandescent love, their pain and grief, Lauren’s physical struggles with and progression of her disease, IPF, and her death. From what I know of Kristan, she has not personally experienced all of these things but one would never know it, so authentic and heartrending is her writing concerning them. I kept pausing in my reading marveling how she could possibly know what she knew unless she knew. If that makes any sense.


We get to know and be invested in all of the people in Josh’s life after Lauren. This book is not all sadness and pain. There are some classic Kristan Higgins scenes and people. Pebbles, the dog. Josh’s dinner party. Gertie the Medium and what happens when Josh and his surrogate father Ben visit her is my favorite. How anyone’s life could not be changed by such an encounter, I don’t understand. There are other favorites as well, one of which I can’t mention because it would be too much of a spoiler. But it is the task Lauren gives Josh in month 10. Radley, Josh’s first real guy friend. And I love the hapless waitress Josh keeps encountering from chapter 11 on. I wish we had had much more of her. She would fit right into one of Kristan’s earlier romantic comedies. And we are blessed with a “3 years later” epilogue.

It’s hard to give a rating for this book, because as beautiful, insightful, and touching as it is, there is too much sadness and pain for me personally, even though it is leavened with humor throughout. The good news is, that Kristan’s next book has to be happier because she couldn’t get any more sad, right?**4.25 stars**

June 12, 2021