A Gift to Remember

Nice!

I really enjoyed this one back in 2017, but I never reviewed it. It came up again during Christmas in July or Merry Movie Week or whatever so I decided to re-watch it. I am pleased to say it really held up.

 First off, it was based on an amnesia scenario and thus was able to avoid the city bad/country good rescue the whatever from the evil corporation,” Let’s go to or save the festival!” Hallmark tent poles. It was actually set in Philadelphia although it is debatable whether it was filmed there. Another point in its favor was that this featured an interracial secondary romance, fairly unusual in 2017 for Hallmark. Third and most important were the talents and charm of the two stars Ali Liebert and Peter Porte. Ali has been up and down with me depending on the state of her botox treatments. One of her main appeals is her unusually expressive eyebrows. So when her eyebrows are working, all is well. I know that sounds funny, but it’s true! This is early-ish in her Hallmark career and her first lead role in a Hallmark after languishing in the friend zone for a couple of years. Peter Porte’s acting chops are not up to Ali’s but he is too gorgeous to be real and he seems like a nice guy. They worked well together.

Ali plays Darcy, a shy and reticent bookstore employee who does not like to take chances or rock the boat. She accidentally runs over Peter Porte on her bike sending him into retrograde amnesia. She feels responsible because she is so nice and in her desire to help him regain his memory she starts uncovering clues to his background and identity. By doing this, she discovers she is persistent, a problem solver, and is willing to conquer the fears which are holding her back from going for the job as manager of the bookstore. She figures out that he is rich, has an important job in the literary world, doesn’t like Christmas, and is about to become engaged to his girlfriend. These conclusions make sense given the clues, but don’t make sense as she comes to know Aiden and don’t jive with his gradually returning memory either. So we have a little mystery going on as well as a roadblock to their growing attraction to each other.  When the truth comes out, it all makes perfect sense and all of the details are tied up. (He is single for one thing) Aiden’s real story results in a very nice ending with Darcy meeting his real family, and her little local bookstore triumphing over Mega-book’s ruthless machinations. And she gets promoted to manager. Ali Liebert just has a special spark in this, and she was just charming.

This part is really silly, but I really liked her make-up. It was pretty rather than glamorous until she had a fancy event to attend, and only then did she have the false eyelashes and the red lipstick. It seems like these days Hallmark actresses put on the Glamour Shots treatment just to walk the dog. Oh, the good old days of 2017.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 26, 2022

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

By Kristan Higgins

I could tell from the git-go that Kristan Higgins’ new book, in some ways, was a return to her lighter fare of yesteryear after her recent forays into more serious women’s fiction. As much as I love and even esteem her more recent books, (4 out of 7 were 5-star reads for me)I welcomed her return to her days of yore. It was great to see that a beloved author can, in a sense, “go home again” no matter what Thomas Wolfe says. I say, “in some ways.” Her first books were definitely romantic comedies while incorporating emotional serious issues along with the fun. And this one has that lighthearted tone. But this one is not a romance. Not at all. The book concludes with our heroine in a satisfying hopeful relationship with a great guy. But the journey to that end is a very minor aspect of Lillie’s personal journey.

The book begins as our heroine, a happily married mother of a son about to leave for college in far away Montana learns that her husband, Brad, “out of the clear blue sky”, tells her he is leaving her for a beautiful, younger, and wealthy woman, Melissa. The story is told in first person by Lillie with occasional contributions from “the whore” who has a substantial journey of her own. Actually more substantial than Lillie’s, truth be told. Lillie is a 41-year-old nurse-midwife on Cape Cod who loves her family, her home, and her community in which she is a popular fixture. Everyone knows and loves her. At first, all she wants is revenge, and her brilliantly successful efforts are very funny. Yes, we know her stunts are petty, childish, and even mean. And she knows it too, but darn it, she just can’t help it. Brad deserves it all and more. But even as we laugh at Lillie’s antics, we start to get to know Melissa, her other victim. Yes, she is shallow (she almost makes it an art form), materialistic, a user, and a husband stealer. But such is Kristan’s imagination and craft, that as we learn her story and get to know her, you (by which I mean I) got to kinda like her and actually admire her. There was a lot to “Missy Jo” that was quite endearing (word of the day!). I didn’t always like and admire Lillie. Lillie has a lot of growing to do and challenges to overcome. In addition to losing her son (in a way) and her husband and his family, she tackles a problematic mother (a Kristan Higgins fixture) a fractured relationship with a once-beloved sister, financial difficulties, a childhood trauma that continues to impact her life, a terrible tragedy in her past, and even a professional nemesis who must be vanquished. It’s kind of amazing all of the issues that are explored in this book, without the tone turning dark. As in all of Kristan’s books, there are some epic scenes, both hilarious ones and triumphant ones. And, as always, some great lines:

*He studied the wine list like it was a lost gospel

*”What’s your daughter’s name?” “Ophelia.” I winced. Who names their kid after the doomed innocent who commits suicide in Hamlet?

*…my own mother, who had the same maternal instincts as a lizard that eats her own eggs.

*“Calm down,” he said, because women love hearing that.

*“Name’s Harminee. Spellin’ it different to be special. Harminee Fawn.” Well, that would just about guarantee the baby would become a stripper, Melissa thought. Harmony was a beautiful name. Harminee though? Gosh.

*I turned on the outdoor lights and peered out. It was a woman dressed in high boots, a fur coat, fur hat and fur gloves. It was either Lara from Doctor Zhivago or Melissa. Sadly, it was not Lara.

*“Thanks for buying me,” Ophelia whispered. She took a shaky breath, and Melissa knew she was crying, and hugged her close.

And as always, we are blessed with another Kristan Higgins trademark, an adorable dog with personality plus.
So what kept this from being one the best of the best Kristan Higgins novels ever? Two things. First of all, I found that Lillie was a little too hung up on her son. The time between the marriage breaking up, keeping that from him so as not to ruin his last weeks at home, and him leaving for college really dragged for me. I honestly couldn’t wait for him to go. Thank goodness Dylan was an independent, well-adjusted kid (yes, thanks to Lillie being a perfect mother). No woman ever loved a son more than Lillie loves hers. And she does go on about it. And no son is more perfect. I couldn’t really blame her.

Of course, no husband who cheats on his wife will ever be a hero. But Brad “Bridiot” Fairchild has got to be the most contemptible human being on Cape Cod or in any Kristan Higgins book ever. Not the evilest Kristan Higgins creation, I hasten to clarify, because she has created some doozies. Even Melissa started to see his true colors before the ink was barely dry on the marriage license. And Lillie was married to this pompous pretentious dickhead for 20 years? Happily? And mourned his loss (or the loss of who she thought he was) so dramatically and sincerely? As she looks back on him and their life together, she sees him clearly. Getting shot of him should have been #bestdayever, #Thank-youGod, #IoweMelissabigtime, #GoodRiddance. I have to admit I got very impatient with our heroine. Maybe even a little disdainful? To be fair, late in the book she does explain why the strong Lillie was happy with the weakling husband, but not until the 96% mark! I think Kristan kind of piled on a little too much when it came to Mr. Brad Fairchild (that’s Dr. Fairchild, huh, huh, huh.), as entertaining as his weaknesses and assholery were. It intruded on the credibility of her main character.

As I finished the book (kept trying to stretch it out!) I felt that this must be one of her shorter books. But it turns out that it was actually one of her longer ones. I think that is a high compliment. I can’t wait to see what her next one is like.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 15, 2022

Romance to the Rescue

It’s All about the Dog

The human cast was OK but the dog stole every scene. He was adorable and hilarious. What an actor! Hallmark better get “Nova” locked down with an ironclad contract before GAC comes a-callin’. Just saying.

Andrea Brooks plays Kyra, a young and ambitious marketing person who works in a pet store. In order to impress her new boss, who she is also crushing on, she lies about having a dog. In order to cover her tracks, she goes to a local rescue organization to adopt a dog. The owner (Marcus Rosner-Kevin) is very picky about who rescues his dogs. She has to lie to him about her qualifications in order to fulfill his strict requirements. She really had to jump through a lot of hoops. Believe me when I tell you that Nova, who plays Sam, the dog, was absolutely pure liquid joy.

On a home visit(!) to Kyra’s house, to make absolutely sure Sam and Kyra are doing OK, it is obvious to Kevin that she doesn’t know what the hell she is doing as far as discipline and training are concerned. Sam has trashed her house in 10 seconds flat. Kyra goes through an amusing montage of prospective dog trainers. They range from militaristic to a holistic new-age approach, and none are a good match for the dynamo that is Sam.  Kevin ends up with the job and the rest is history.

Andrea Brooks was energetic, perky, and cute. I liked her, but I can see that a little of her could go a long way. After many many secondary roles in the Hallmark factory, she deserves the promotion to head girl. Marcus Rossner was fine, but I felt he was a little miscast. I feel like the part was written for a nerdy underdog type (no pun intended), and Marcus is anything but. But he carried it off.

Anyway, this was a perfectly serviceable Hallmark as far as plot and character, but OMG, that dog!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 23, 2022

Again, Rachel

by Marian Keyes

‘ “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” Emily Dickinson.’

I loved much of this book. First, The Walsh family is a main character here, with each of the sisters maintaining the personalities that we have come to know and love or not love as the case may be. I hate it when an author does a sequel or a series and personalities that were interesting and intriguing, that made you want to come back for more, have vanished and we have reconstituted versions. The people we were introduced to and came to know throughout the Walsh family chronicles are the same people, yet some have been allowed to grow and mature. And some haven’t.

Confidence was usually seen as a positive. But Mum was from that generation of Irishwomen who prided themselves on raising children with rock-bottom self-esteem. Nothing galled them as much as an offspring with confidence.

 I definitely need to re-read Watermelon and Angels. And maybe skip through Anna’s story to find references to Angelo. After the last book, my favorite sister is Helen and I loved her role in this.

Rachel is back. She is 20 years sober and the head counselor at The Cloisters, the rehab center that saved her life back in the late 90s. Marian Brings back the patients and their heartbreaking yet entertaining stories that I found so involving in Rachel’s Holiday.

In here, clients gave only the most sanitized, tragic version of themselves. To get the full picture, you had to talk to everyone who knew them. It was a little like investigating a crime.

Readers of previous books know that Rachel and Luke got married, and now we find out they have now been divorced for 6 years and he lives in Denver, Colorado. She is in a happy relationship with another man, Quin, who is not easy, but he is interesting and complex.  In the beginning, Rachel is told that Luke’s mother has died and of course, Luke will be back for the funeral and to take care of his Dad’s affairs. Told largely in flashbacks we learn that, according to Rachel, Luke deserted her (but how can that be?) and we are taken through their heartbreaking story that led to that surprising circumstance. Meanwhile, we explore Rachel’s present life, her relationships, her work, and catch up with the Walsh family. And of course, Rachel and Luke are in the same country again. Rachel wants an explanation and apology from Luke but he is distant. It can’t be over for them, can it? But what about Quin? And what’s up with Luke’s long-time partner who came with him to Ireland?

In all of Marian Keyes’ books, The heroines go through horrendous times before getting to the happy and uplifting. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes of their own making, or circumstances out of their control but exacerbated by bad decisions and self-delusion. Rachel part II was more heartbreaking than usual. I had some problems with some aspects of Rachel’s story and some of it was a little hard to swallow. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but in order for everything to come right, it had to be. Could Rachel have had her epiphany a little sooner? Maybe. could there have been a little more fair play with the reader? Hmmm. Not sure. But the book was as insightful, involving, and hilarious as usual. Marian is a master at balancing tragedy and comedy. And with a writer this good, the more words we are given, the better. So not too long for me.

After Anna’s story, Is Anybody Out There and Helen’s, the last sister’s, story there was an over 5-year gap.  Right before Marian came out with The Mystery of Mercy Close, she wrote a refresher to catch everybody up with the Walshes and kind of get them up to speed. If like me,  you have read Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family,  you can forget about what she told us about Luke and Rachel. This book completely retconns what we thought we knew about them. This is by way of fair warning. I wish I had had one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 27, 2022

The Homewreckers

By Mary Kay Andrews

“They stood in a small semicircle, facing the Creedmore house. “Jesus, Mary, and Fred,” Tug exclaimed, wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. “Hattie, what have gotten us into?”

I’ve finally read a Mary Kay Andrews book! Yay! I’ve seen her name many a time, and a former co-worker highly recommended her, but I just couldn’t decide which one to start with so I just kept putting it off. When this one came up on NetGalley, it seemed like a sign.

Hattie is a young widow who works with her father-in-law flipping houses. When we first meet her she is struggling to renovate a house in Savannah, her hometown, but it is a disaster and she ends up selling it at a loss. Eager to atone for her bad judgment in buying the house, she jumps on the opportunity of a lifetime to bid on a condemned beach house in foreclosure on nearby Tybee Island. Meanwhile, she has been discovered by a producer for an HGTV or Magnolia type media company who wants to feature her “Saving Savannah” reclaiming and renovating historic houses. Her decrepit beach house is perfect for the show. She is the successful bidder and gets it for a small fraction of the worth of the lot alone.

We follow the likable heroine as she deals with the jealous hostile former owners, the officious local building inspector, falling trees, fire, possible sabotage, a vain male diva of a co-lead, his fan-girls, constantly shrinking impossible deadlines, a tyrant of a network boss, hair, make-up, and wardrobe, and oh yes, that producer.

Everything bubbles along (Ms. Andrews is a talented storyteller) when a dead body is discovered in the property’s septic tank. And not a moment too soon, because the ante needed upping just a bit. From there, we learn about the victim, her family, some shocking history, many secrets, and meet the almost retired detective who investigates the 17-year-old murder with Hattie’s help.

A few things bothered me. Hattie loses all of her savings on her failed project because she didn’t get the house inspected first. Then she signs a contract with the network without a lawyer looking over it. It did not give me a good first impression of an essentially admirable character. Not to mention the guy she is initially attracted to doesn’t speak well for her taste or judgment either. There were other inconsistencies in the character building of two “baddies” as well and the timeline in a chain of events at the end, but it did not distract too much. The main thing, though, was this: Hattie wins the condemned property with a less than $30,000 bid. We are told the lot alone is worth at least half a million dollars. Yet the former owner offers her only $50,000 to get it back, and her rich father-in-law is appalled she spent $30,000 on it and wants her to sell it back to him “for a handsome profit.” What? I kept thinking “What am I missing? Is it me?”**Spoiler**She ends up selling it for almost a million, and should and would have probably gotten more if not for that pesky murder. **End Spoiler**

The ending was a little abrupt. I would have liked more closure for her love life, her pawned engagement ring, the victim’s family, her relationship with her father, and the outcome of the TV show we invested so much time in filming. I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, though once you rule out the obvious suspects, it could have only been one person.

My picky faultfinding aside, Homewreckers is a light fun read. It is mostly a mystery with a splash of chick-lit, and of course a bit of a romance. It doesn’t go very deep, and nothing truly upsetting or emotional happens, and that’s OK. Ms. Andrews keeps things moving with both the mystery and putting us behind the scenes of a challenging home renovation. Some nice entertaining banter, a lot of action and crises, southern charm, and lots of characters we are given good reason to root both for and against made this an enjoyable read. And one more thing. I liked that the chapters had titles. The first chapter, where the president and producer of the media company, Mo, meets Hattie by falling through the rotting floor on top of her is called “Do-Drop-In”. Definitely chuckled. I will certainly keep Mary Kay Andrews at the front of my back burner of TBRs in the future. **3 1/2 stars**

Thank-You to Net Galley and St. Martins Press for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 10, 2022

Frederica

by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis believed himself to be hardened against flattery. He thought that he had experienced every variety, but he discovered that he was mistaken: the blatantly worshipful look in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, anxiously raised to his, was new to him, and it pierced his defences. He was capable of giving the coolest of set-downs to any gushing female; and the advances of toadeaters he met with the most blistering of snubs; but even as he realised how intolerably bored he would be in Soho he found himself quite unable to snub his latest and most youthful admirer. It would be like kicking a confiding puppy.

In rereading Frederica (on audio) I did something I don’t often do which is read two books by the same author in a row. But, since my experience with the narration of These Old Shades was less than the best, when I saw The unabridged Frederica in my audible library, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take another whack at one of my most beloved authors. Besides, this book always reminds me of springtime with its settings and outdoor adventures: a family dog harassing cows in the park unaware of proper canine London manners, a runaway bicycle, scientific excursions, balls and parties, and of course a runaway hot-air balloon. Thankfully the narration of Clifford Norgate was “bang up to the mark” with even his female characters escaping the affected tones too many male readers give their females.

Although no longer available on audible, I had downloaded this to my phone at one time so I still had access to it. Hopefully, the unabridged versions will be available again eventually in the United States as they are in the U.K. This one was an excellent interpretation. Mr. Norgate’s voicing of the Marquis of Alverstoke had nuance and subtlety and lived up to my imagination of his tone and expression. His inner dialogue trying to suss out his true feelings for the redoubtable Frederica gave a fresh insight into Heyer’s words. Some of the most amusing and memorable scenes (The Baluchistan Hound Incident and the dampening effect of “Restorative Pork Jelly” on incipient declarations of love) were “complete to a shade.”

Frederica Merriville has come to London so her beautiful and impossibly sweet and gentle younger sister can have her season and hopefully find an eligible match so she can be comfortably settled. She has audaciously reached out to her very distant cousin Alverstoke whom she has never met for assistance in getting her launched into society. He has no intention of doing any such thing, but once he meets the unusually frank and unaffected Frederica, her two young brothers, and Charis, a “diamond of first water” he thinks it might be an amusing joke on his two tiresome sisters, who have been needling him to give balls for their unimpressive daughters. He will do so but only if Charis is introduced at their sides. They are surprised but thrilled at his change of mind as their brother Vernon is a very rich and important figure in the topmost ranks of society. The Marquis has served them the lesson they deserve when they meet the lovely Charis, who totally outshines every girl in London and certainly her two plain cousins. But he’s not shot of the little family yet.

Charis soon becomes the darling of society, and her 24 year old “on the shelf” sister Frederica is well-received as well. Meanwhile, Felix and Jeremy, Frederica’s young brothers, take a liking to “Cousin Alverstoke” and he starts to become much more involved with the lively family than he ever intended. As he is drawn into their escapades, the perpetually bored Alverstoke is for once, not bored. Of course, Charis falls in love with a totally unsuitable but handsome blockhead, and Frederica struggles mightily to not be a bother to the formidable Marquis. But far from being intimidated, she finds herself constantly in need of his help and advice. The marquis, meanwhile, is falling deeply in love with this girl who treats him like an indulgent and kind uncle much to his bemusement.

This is a bright and delightful book. Georgette Heyer was at the height of her powers and Frederica is one of her most charming and likable heroines. Alverstoke is one of her most well-drawn and witty romantic leads and their interactions are high points. Felix and Jeremy are two very different brothers but are both irrepressible and fun. Even Alverstoke’s quiet and efficient secretary, Charles Trevor, shines and even plays a surprising heroic role during a final crisis. My favorite Heyer novels take place in London during the season where conversation, descriptions, and settings sparkle, and the ability to navigate the tricky conventions and manners of society put futures on the line. And you might even meet real historical figures like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Gentleman Jackson, or Sally Jersey and her cohorts. This one has the extra attraction of a warm and happy family at its center.

Frederica, The Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Beautiful Charis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 21, 2022

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe

By Debbie Johnson

As sweet and pleasant as this was, I don’t think the style of this author is for me. I listened to this on Audible and am not sure how much this influenced my lack of enthusiasm. I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice and charming accent at first, but after about halfway through it started to get on my nerves. On the surface, this seemed very reminiscent of a Rosamunde Pilcher, D.E. Stevenson, or Marcia Willett at first.

Laura, a young widow with a young teen daughter and a younger son finds herself in need of some income. She sees an advertisement and writes a long letter to the owner of the Comfort Food Cafe in Dorset and is offered a job there for the summer. She is still grieving, we are told and told, the sudden death of her husband about 2 years prior. He was her childhood sweetheart and they were married for 14 years. But she didn’t come across as still devastated. She seemed pretty chipper, actually. (Maybe it was the narrator?) Her daughter Lizzie is a typical teen girl with no more brattiness or rebelliousness than is normal for a girl that age. She seemed like a pretty nice kid. The son, Nathan is pretty much a nonentity.

She settles in smoothly to her job with the quirky ex-hippie owner, Cherie, and her merry band of quirky customers who are like family. She meets cute with a very nice and sexy Veterinarian who looks like a “young Harrison Ford” and who goes around shirtless a lot. Romance ensues. The meet-cute involves underwear flying out of her suitcase and landing on his head. It was cute but at least two of my favorite authors would have created laugh-out-loud comedy out of the situation. Two bad things happen near the end, but in one case, it leads to opportunity, not tragedy, and the other is foreshadowed pretty expressly. It was too bad so sad, but, not heartrending. Laura goes out on a limb and organizes a reunion for two people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years. She is very nervous about it but it all goes fine.

In the end, to her children’s and her new friends’ and her new boyfriend’s dismay she decides to go back to Manchester at the end of the summer as planned for no good reason. That was the one occurrence in the book that really stirred my feelings. Unfortunately, that feeling was disgust. I was so turned off by her senseless decision to leave her godsend of a situation to go back home, that I was totally unmoved by the inevitable change of mind and happy ending.

This book is an amiable diversion with a shadow or two here and there that we are told about. There is very little tension, suspense, or anticipation. It’s smooth going, but I guess I prefer my fiction with more peaks and valleys, hilarity, and tears. But you know, you get what you are promised, “comfort food”, and there is certainly a place for that. But not for me, at least not at this time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2022

A Castle for Christmas

Hallmark or Netflix? Hallflix? Netmark?

I was pretty much done with Christmas movies until next Christmas or maybe Christmas in July, but I ran across this by accident on Netflix looking for some mindless entertainment before retiring for the evening. And I am a big Scotland fan. A Castle for Christmas is as pleasant as a romance between two 60-year-olds can be. It is a Netflix original and it’s obviously targeted at those for whom Hallmark, UPtv, GAC, or Lifetime cant churn out enough Christmas. Hard to believe, no? Yet here I am. I’m for more diversity in TV romances as far as age is concerned. I certainly prefer a 60-year-old couple pretending to be in their 40s to Hallmark’s old habit of using actors closing in on 40 in scripts written for actors in their 20s and acting like they are in their teens. A great example of the former is the delightful A Kiss Before Christmas. Brooke Shields is pushing 60, and she looks it. I mean that as a compliment. She has aged naturally and is beautiful.  She would look even better if she would lose the long brown hair and the bronzer. Cary Elwes is 3 years older and doesn’t look it. If possible he is even more attractive now than he was in his youth.

Brooke plays a romantic novelist who is facing a lot of fan hostility due to her killing off a beloved character in her best-selling romance series. She escapes to Scotland to visit a castle that her grandfather was a servant in. She meets the financially struggling lord of the manor and sparks fly as they must and do. Brooke wants to buy the castle and Cary, the grumpy Lord, is torn between giving up his heritage and taking care of his tenants and the community who rely on him. Brooke divides her time between living there at the Castle on the flimsiest of pretexts and hanging out at the local pub/inn with a charming club of Scottish knitters.

The plot is as uninspired and dull as the scenery and townspeople are charming. Netflix went all out on the casting as well, with Drew Barrymore making a rather hefty cameo, Hamish the dog, and Andi Osho playing the warm and friendly innkeeper. Despite the cast and setting, the acting (except for Hamish) and the production as a whole were no better or worse than a slightly above average Hallmark Christmas movie. There was one strange thing. Smack dab in the middle of the goings-on a couple shows up at the Inn and seems to be poised to be game-changers or flies in the ointment or deus ex machinas. They check in and we never see them again. It was very weird.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2022

Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King

“Everybody likes the ice cream man.”

“The woman says her name is Holly Gibney, but I think she’s really Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

“It’s as if there’s a fumble-fingered but powerful universal force at work, always trying to put wrong things right.”

One of the reasons I wanted to read Mr. Mercedes was because I heard tell of Holly Gibney, who is introduced in this book and is a character in several others of King’s works.

“I just love Holly, and I wish she were a real person. […] She just walked on in the first book she was in, Mr. Mercedes, and she more or less stole the book, and she stole my heart.”

-Stephen King

I was further encouraged because it won the Edgar Award for best novel of 2015. Unfortunately, Holly doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through, and I liked her, but I was a little underwhelmed considering the hype, including the miniseries which features her character. Just a little. I don’t think SK knew what he had with Holly Gibney until the book was almost finished. I look forward to seeing more of Holly. This was a good introduction and there is a lot of promise there. (I’m sure the great Mr. King will be relieved I think so) But I also hope Jerome and his family are in other related books because I loved them right from the get-go.

Mr. Mercedes is about the cat and mouse game between a twisted evil young man and a broken-down retired detective. The young man is Brady Hartsfield who has already committed mass murder by mowing down a group of innocents with a borrowed Mercedes.

“Most people are fitted with Lead Boots when they are just little kids and have to wear them all their lives. These Lead Boots are called A CONSCIENCE. I have none, so I can soar high above the heads of the Normal Crowd.”

The old before his time “ret-det”, Bill Hodges, is so done with life that he is flirting with suicide.

“What he knows now is that guilt isn’t the only reason people commit suicide. Sometimes you can just get bored with afternoon TV.”

Brady has already driven one innocent woman connected with his heinous act to suicide and now he is targeting Bill Hodges, who was the head investigator in the murder and failed to catch him before his retirement. But Bill is wily.

Once Brady makes contact with Bill, it gives him the purpose he needed to keep living. He starts to re-investigate. Thanks to the puzzle, what he learns along the way, and a lovely woman he meets in the course of his search, he is rejuvenated. When he learns that Mr. Mercedes had a role in the death of the woman who owned the car, whom he and his partner had wrongly accused of negligence, it ups the ante. When Mr. Mercedes victimizes someone closely connected to Bill, it gets personal. Along with his young friend Jerome and the neurotic emotionally disturbed Holly, his junior detectives, he is hot on Mr. Mercedes’s trail. But will they catch him before he can commit an atrocity that will make his first mass murder look like just a prelude to the main event? I loved that the car comes full circle from a force for evil to a force for good. It just depends on who’s doing the driving.

Most of the book is told from Bill Hodges’s point of view. But it was necessary to tell some of it from Brady Hartsfield’s as well. What we learn about him and his thoughts are so gross and disgusting, it actually took away from my enjoyment of the book. Every time we had to go there, I had to force myself not to skip through those parts. But don’t worry, the dog is not harmed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 9, 2022

The Fledgling

By Elizabeth Cadell

This is the story of a journey of a most formidable and inscrutable 10-year-old girl. Tory lives a lonely restricted life with her elderly aunts and equally elderly governess in an ancient castle in Lisbon. Her widowed and still grieving father, whom she hardly knows, decides she must go to school in England to gain some balance in her life. On the way to England, she discovers her chaperone is a nasty drunk and a thief. They are together on a train until he “somehow” leaves the train in pursuit of his luggage he “somehow” thinks has been mistakenly off-loaded by the porter. Tory makes her way to London contentedly alone and, safely in her care, is a priceless gold figurine that had been stolen by the man from the chapel of her aunts.

She is to stop over with her father’s cousin, for a day, before making her way north to her boarding school. Phillipa is lively and lovely as well as frank to a fault. She is forthright and open and she wastes no time expressing her justified disapproval of Tory’s father and his failings as a parent. Even though, or maybe because Tory is quiet and prefers to watch and listen, she immediately feels a kinship and rapport with this distant cousin. Because of her trust and confidence, she confides in her about the figurine which she had meant to keep secret until she could get it back to Portugal. This sets off a chain of events that extends her stay with Phillipa and brings her father back from South America. She becomes acquainted with a boy and his dog, a wicked old lady, a nice old lady, and a suspicious but upright highly placed government official. To further add to the mix, both her father and the stern official both used to be engaged to the charming Phillipa. And Phillipa is still in love with one of them.

This is a thoroughly delightful novel starring one of the most intriguing children I have run across in a book. Let’s just say it would not be wise to oppose her. By the end of the book the people Tory likes or loves are happy and the ones she does not like are not happy. Her future is bright with the promise of newfound freedom and a new family.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 15, 2021