Wednesday, May 15, 2019

In Dog We Trust

A part-time dog walker's life is dramatically changed when she's named trustee and legal guardian for a pack of pampered Labrador retrievers.
Beth Kendrick (Once Upon a Wine, Cure for the Common Breakup) returns to Black Dog Bay, a fictional seaside town in Delaware that's become a refuge to the broken-hearted and romantically challenged over four previous novels. This installment features 27-year-old Jocelyn Hilliard, who runs a linen and laundry service for area condos and rental units with her mother and wise-cracking best friend, Bree. Jocelyn has her life upended when she rescues a dog from a busy street and, as a result, is offered a job caring for and walking a pack of Labrador retrievers--pedigreed, pampered, future world champion show dogs--who are owned by rich curmudgeon Peter Allardyce.
When the elderly Mr. Allardyce dies several months later, his will surprisingly appoints Jocelyn as the guardian and trustee for the beloved Labs. He also names her as financial fiduciary of the trust and benefactor of his lavish beach house mansion. The news leaves those in Allardyce's circle up in arms--including highfalutin show-dog trainer Lois and Liam, Allardyce's estranged son. Both feel they are more deserving and far better trustee candidates than Jocelyn. Thus begins a tangled legal battle that tests Jocelyn's patience and her judgments of people, while also forging her strength and resolve on the road to finding true love.
Kendrick's breezy style and quick wit enliven more serious themes centered on family, love, work, class differences and the universal human need for love and forgiveness

In Dog We Trust: A Novel by Beth Kendrick

Berkley, $15.00 Paperback, 97803999584251, 336 pages

Publication Date: January 8, 2019

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 22, 2019), link HERE

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Songbird

In this tender novel, the bonds among inhabitants of a British estate transcend the stories, burdens and secrets of their lives.
Prolific author Marcia Willett (Summer on the RiverChristmas in Cornwall) returns to the bucolic English countryside in The Songbird. The old Georgian estate Brockscombe Farm consists of a house, owned by the aging Francis Courtney, and three cottages.
In one cottage lives Charlotte, a 32-year-old web designer, her husband, Andy, and their five-month-old. The second cottage is home to William, Andy's father and Francis's cousin. William has been separated for several years from Fiona, Andy's mother. She left him to pursue an affair and a highfalutin architectural career in London, but begins paying regular visits to bond with her new grandson.
William shares his cottage with his other cousin, Kat, a retired ballet dancer in her 60s. She is a creative spirit coming to grips with the death of her Polish lover. And the third cottage is empty until Tim, on sabbatical, arrives to take a six-month lease. Connected to the others through Charlotte's sister, Tim is trying to regroup after a painful break-up. He is also secretly battling a neurological disease in its early stages. The atmosphere in Brockscombe proves as healing as the warm acceptance Tim receives from his new neighbors. But will they treat him differently if they know the truth?
Willett is an elegant writer and an unhurried storyteller. She understands people and the private burdens they carry, while empathizing with the consequences of their actions. This moving, multigenerational saga slowly reveals the essence of her fully realized cast of characters as the intimate stories of their lives unspool with tender, hopeful grace.

The Songbird: A Novel by Marcia Willett

Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99 Hardcover,  9781250177414,288 pages

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (December 14, 2018), link HERE

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Cat Flap

A successful, British executive--a wife and mother--has her mind and soul metamorphosed into the family cat.
In his novel Cat Flap, British journalist Alan S. Cowell presents a modern fable: Dolores Tremayne--wife, mother and a successful corporate executive of African British descent--wakes one day and discovers that part of her has migrated and metamorphosed into the body of the family's "finely bred, highly pedigreed" indoor cat.
The human Dolores sets off on a Lufthansa flight bound for a high-powered business meeting with a prestigious car company in Munich, Germany. Her feline self--her mind and soul, aka "X"--stays behind and gains a surprising glimpse into the daily life of her sexy, white husband, Gerald, a former drug dealer-user and stalled novelist. His first book had been "well-received, if not well sold or marketed" and a three-book commitment looms over him, along with his daily, demanding responsibilities as a house-husband to his and Dolores's two little girls.
One day, when Gerald exits the apartment, curious X slips out and follows him. She discovers that he is a serial philanderer juggling numerous shocking exploits. Being trapped in the body of a cat shutters all of Dolores's emotional human instincts and reactions. However, through some creative ingenuity, X and human Dolores join forces as avenging spirits.
Cowell (The Terminal Spy) has never shied away from exploring dark themes in his writing--those found in newspaper journalism, politics, war, risk taking and spying. Readers will eagerly suspend their disbelief, immersing themselves in Cowell's cleverly conceived, satirical novel that probes contemporary issues of race, identity and sexuality. 

Cat Flap by Alan S. Cowell

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, Hardcover, 978125014659, 240 pages

Publication Date: July 31, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 3, 2018), link HERE

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Murder at the Mill

A portrait painter turns amateur sleuth when a corpse is discovered on Christmas Day in an idyllic English town.
M.B. Shaw is the pen name of British writer Tilly Bagshawe, who has written several contemporary romance novels (Scandalous), as well as thrillers for the literary estate of Sidney Sheldon (Sidney Sheldon's The Tides of Memory). Murder at theMill is the first installment of her smart, lively mystery series; in it Shaw probes the secrets of an idyllic Hampshire village.
The book opens in December. Iris Grey--a 41-year-old portrait painter--has fled her home in Clapham and her estranged husband, Ian McBride, a once successful playwright. After several years of failing to conceive a child via in vitro fertilization, the couple--heartsick and broke--has split up. Iris had hoped that by settling in to Mill Cottage in Hazelford ("Alone. Like a mad cat lady, only without the cats") she would "paint and hide and lick her wounds." Shortly after her arrival, however, she's commissioned to paint a portrait of resident Dominic Wetherby, a charismatic and famous crime writer. During the Wetherbys' posh Christmas party, a corpse is discovered in the river. The shock leaves the family, townsfolk, gossipmongers and the paparazzi reeling. Speculations abound. Was the death an accident--or murder?
Shaw has created a wise and winning sleuth in Iris. Her keen, observational skills honed from her artistic sensibility allow her to detect subtle nuances of human emotion and motivation. This, along with an intricate, cozy plot--and fully realized characters embroiled in a dynamic whodunit and why--will keep readers guessing, and eager for future installments. 

Murder at the Mill: The Iris Grey Mysteries (Book One) by M.B. Shaw

Minotaur Books, $27.99, Hardcover, 9781250189295, 400 pages

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 15, 2019), link HERE

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

An eloquent memoir that explores personal and universal issues of paternity, genetics, science, ethics and truth.
Through nine books, Dani Shapiro has mined her own experiences, trying to find meaning in events that have shaped her life. Shapiro's ongoing literary narrative continues with Inheritance, an unflinching, deeply personal account of how a DNA ancestry test irrevocably altered her life and the familiarity therein. The shocking results forced Shapiro to question her identity and everything she believed about herself and her family history over 54 years of living.

Shapiro grew up an observant Orthodox Jew shaped by her parents and a large "dynastic clan" in New Jersey. Religion and her spiritual life became the bedrock of her existence until she ultimately rebelled, breaking with Judaism while in college. When Shapiro was in her 20s, a catastrophic car accident claimed the life of her father, whom she deeply loved and respected. It also left her mother afflicted by years of related injuries until her death. Shapiro eventually reconnected with the traditions of her Jewish heritage after she became a mother herself.

Several years ago, Shapiro decided on a lark to have her DNA analyzed. The report ultimately revealed a life-altering truth: Shapiro's father was not her biological parent. Relentless in her tenacity, she goes in search of the man who was. She grapples with the secrecy of her parents and the meaning of family while seeking to reconcile the consequences of this revelation.

Shapiro (Hourglass) is always an intellectual, analytical storyteller. The engaging way in which she renders the suspenseful details of this forthright, meaningful odyssey will keep readers totally enthralled.  

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

Knopf, $24.95, Hardcover, 9781524732714, 272 pages

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 18, 2019), link HERE

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Peggy and Me

A popular British actress, writer and comedian and her lovable dog, Peggy, share fun, clever stories of life-changing moments.
Not many writers can claim to have written the same book twice--the exception being popular British actress and comedy writer, Miranda Hart (Is It Just Me?). Hart opens her very funny memoir by explaining that her first attempt at writing Peggy and Me was burgled. A thief broke into her apartment and made off with her laptop, which contained the original and only copy of her completed manuscript. "Very cross" about losing great material and years of labor, Hart was forced to reconstruct the story of how a Shih-Tzu Bichon Frise puppy (a "Shitty Frise") entered her life at a very low point. The endearing, unexpected antics of the small dog--whom Hart named Peggy--lifted her spirits.
An obsessive "animal nut," yet first-time dog owner, Hart chronicles her experiences and disastrous encounters with pets pre- and post-Peggy. As a child, Hart was infatuated with zoo animals, badgered her parents for pets every Christmas and even encountered memorable pet-sitting misadventures. With Peggy in her charge, Hart suffers a "poo apocalypse," swoons over a handsome and hunky vet, follows Cesar Millan's puppy training methods--Hart believes the dog handling guru's name sounds more like a salad!--and she cleverly analyzes the quirky, over-zealousness of dog owners at the park. Braided throughout are witty, comic monologues offered by Peggy herself on what it's like to cohabitate, work and travel with single, childless, lovelorn Hart. The trials and travails of this woman-dog bond spur hilarious and profound life lessons.  

Hodder & Stoughton, $26.99, Paperback, 9781444769142, 304 pages

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (November 30, 2018), link HERE

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Late in the Day

A moving, multifaceted novel explores how a sudden death changes the lives of two British couples and their children.
More than 30 years of love and friendship--and the loyalty and betrayals therein--are central to Late in the Day, a psychologically astute novel by Tessa Hadley. The story launches with a death that disrupts the lives of two British couples bonded inextricably since their college years.
Zachary Samuels, one of the four, dies suddenly from a heart incident. The death of this middle-aged gallery owner overwhelms his needy, helpless wife, Lydia. And this tragic news also shocks the lives of Lydia and Zachary's closest friends: Christine, an artist who had many showings at Zach's gallery, and her husband, Alexandr, a poet who gave up his writing dreams to become headmaster at a progressive primary school.
Zach is absent throughout the narrative, but his presence looms large in these three lives--and those of the offspring of each respective couple. In Zach's wake, roads not taken are reconsidered, affections shift and old wounds and jealousies are resurrected. This all leads to responses and actions that ultimately upend these once seemingly settled lives.  
As in her other work, Hadley (The Past) has a firm grasp on the complexity of grief and the strengths and foibles of human nature. This exquisitely rendered, character-driven novel probes emotional depths of an ensemble cast of ordinary people who are forced to come to grips with the meaning of life through loss and death.

Harper, $26.99, Hardcover, 97800062476692, 288 pages

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 15, 2019), link HERE

Tessa Hadley: Catching Fragments of the Living World

Photo by Mark Vessey
The Writer's Life

British author Tessa Hadley has written six novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short story collections. Her work appears regularly in the New Yorker. Her seventh novel, Late in the Day (see my review), is about two couples and how the sudden death of one of the spouses uproots their lives. Hadley lives in London. 

Love, friendship and betrayal are central to Late in the Day. Could this novel be called a love story?

Yes, I suppose it is two love stories. Or three, or four. In our private lives, what could be more interesting? Like the electric charges zinging between molecules, two forces are perpetually at work: the love that draws us together and binds us, and its opposite--resistance, the reaction to love, driving us apart and keeping us separate. Both forces essential for our equilibrium, for our vision. As cultures change through time and history, these forces are expressed in new shapes and new versions. Novelists (and other artists) are the chroniclers of this.

Was marriage the seed that grew this story?

The origins of any novel, the very first seeds, often get lost as you write. I think I wanted to trace the long life of a marriage--or, even better, a couple of marriages. I wanted to see the characters hanging onto one another, or failing to hang on, while they changed shape over time. Marriages last longer now than they ever used to in history, because we live so long. And actually my first novel, Accidents in the Home, is obsessed by the same shape-shifting, couples converging and then falling apart.

Late in the Day begins with a death and winds back in time.

In the very beginning, I thought I'd tell my story in a linear way. But as soon as I tried to imagine arriving at Zachary's death--which would have happened, say, three-quarters of the way through the novel--I knew that wouldn't work. It would have felt to the reader like cheating, or like a mean surprise, a malevolence on the part of the author.... I convinced myself that for his death to work, it had to be written in first, where everything begins.

That first scene--the news of Zachary's death--has such immediacy. It blindsides the characters.

I was seized by that first scene as soon as I thought of it: Christine and Alex's peaceful evening, reading and listening to music, is broken open by a dreadful phone call. I could see it vividly, and it made me think for some reason of Michael Haneke's marvelous film Amour. I had to begin with that scene, once it was in my mind's eye. By opening with Zachary's death, all the characters' past experience is altered as we read it, in the light of what's to come. This isn't at all like life, of course.

How so?

The novel can play with time in ways we're not allowed, as mere mortals living inside it. Philosophically, I find this interesting. Perhaps time in the novel relates to Nietzsche's eternal return.

Structurally, this novel is complex.

The structure is quite complicated--sections from the present in which Zachary is dead, alternating with sections from the past.

How did you shape the material?

From the beginning, I needed to have an idea of the knotty complications of relations between the couples, because these complications are the pillars sustaining the novel's structure. But I didn't know what these complications would feel like, until I'd written them.

Ensemble casts of characters are prevalent in your work. Is this a conscious choice?

I suppose it's conscious, although I'm not sure it's a choice, exactly. The first reason for choosing to write about ensembles of characters is that I've always lived inside them. All my experience is of a knotted network of family and friends: perhaps I can't easily imagine a life lived in isolation, where one individual carries the whole story.
The second reason is that ensembles make for such rich material. I can remember discovering this when I was writing as a little girl. By the end of chapter four I was bored with the countess and her lover Frederick Fillet. What joy when I realized I could move the story downstairs, among the servants! New perspectives, new interactions; I could see the old story in a new way, just by shifting my angle to another character. An ensemble trebles, quadruples the material inside a given scene.

What interests you most as a writer?
Catching a small fragment of the living world in the net of writing, holding it still while time passes through it and leaves it behind.

This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness for Readers (January 15, 2019), link HERE 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Proposal

After a public marriage proposal goes awry, an unlucky-in-love writer on the rebound grapples with her attraction to a handsome doctor in this snappy romance.
Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date) opens her lively novel The Proposal at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Nikole "Nik" Paterson--a young freelance journalist and not a baseball fan--is sharing a day out with Fisher, her "perfectly nice, incredibly boring" beau of five months. Nik gets the surprise of her life, though, when Fisher proposes marriage to her on the stadium JumboTron. With a crowd of 45,000 baseball fans eagerly awaiting her answer, Nikole renders a rejection. That's when "perfectly nice" Fisher turns perfectly insulting and nasty. But Nik is rescued when Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angela swoop in, pretending to be long-lost friends of Nik, and usher her away.
The fortuitousness of this meeting soon sparks a fling between Nik and Carlos, a conscientious, handsome young doctor. Carlos is very much involved with the demands of his self-appointed responsibility to everyone in his family, especially a beloved cousin during her difficult pregnancy, marred with medical complications. For Nik, the fallout from the JumboTron disaster resurrects insecurity and self-esteem issues from painful past relationships. These respective dilemmas pull Nik and Carlos in opposite directions, creating impediments to their deepening romance. They must confront what they truly want for their lives, their futures and their relationship.
Through snappy dialogue and short scenes, Guillory explores the traps, pitfalls and triumphs of contemporary young love in the age of social media and viral videos. And Carlos's dynamic extended family and Nik's wisecracking girlfriends enliven and fortify the appeal of the fast-paced story.

Berkley, $15.00, Paperback, 9780399587689, 352 pages

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 30, 2018), link HERE

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

When a middle-aged Danish woman learns how to drive, she gains greater insight into who she is and her place in the world.

Sonya--unmarried, childless and in her 40s--is in a rut. Her learning to drive forms the basis of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, a richly drawn novel by Danish author Dorthe Nors (Karate Chop) and translated by Misha Hoekstra. Sonya has never felt at home in metropolitan Copenhagen. She longs to return to the Jutland countryside, where she grew up--even more so now that her beau, Paul, has dumped her for a 20-something. Sonya is burned out in her job translating violent crime novels from Swedish into Danish. She suffers spells of vertigo exacerbated by stress. And she can't seem to connect with her sister, Kate, who is a happily married wife and mother with a "golden retriever and a membership in a gymnastics and fitness club. She bakes kringles and knits woolen stockings." Sonya is determined to conquer her fear of driving. However, her inability to shift gears becomes a metaphor for change in her life. And change is never easy--especially for someone as complicated and lost as Sonya.

The loose plot of Nors's compact, minimalistic story--her first novel to be released in English--is enlivened by flares of deadpan wit and a well-developed cast of secondary characters: two male driving instructors--abrupt Jytte and Folke, with whom Sonya flirts--and Ellen, an outspoken massage therapist, who prods Sonya for being a "tight-ass" with her feelings. Nors's exceptional writing and her insightful grasp on the human condition bolster the heartbreak of Sonya's isolated, solitary existence.


Mirror, Shoulder, Signal: A Novel by Dorthe Nors (Translated by Misha Hoekstra)

Graywolf Press, $26.99, Hardcover, 9781555978082, 192 pages

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE 

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (July 6, 2018), link HERE

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Family Gathering

An army veteran reconnects with his extended family and falls in love with a woman who tightly guards her heart.
In The Family Gathering, third in the Sullivan's Crossing series by Robyn Carr, Dakota Jones returns to the States following an abrupt discharge from the U.S. Army after 17 years of service. Coming off a heartrending love affair with a Muslim woman he met in the Middle East and several years of wanderlust, Dakota hopes to reconnect with his family, who have settled in Timberlake, Colo. 
Dakota is warmly welcomed by his adult siblings in the tight-knit mountain town, and several local women take a shine to him. However, he is instantly smitten with Sidney, a smart and beautiful local bartender who protects her privacy and a broken heart of her own. The two are generous, caring souls--and deeply devoted to their respective families. But what will it take for Sidney to drop her guard and let Dakota in? His siblings, too, face challenges. Cal--oldest and a successful lawyer--and his doctor wife, Maggie, are new parents. Sierra--youngest and a recovering alcoholic--fosters an abandoned child with her sensitive firefighter beau, Connie.
Meanwhile, Sedona--the second child, visiting Timberlake from Denver--faces a harrowing mental health crisis. This harkens back to the scars of the Joneses' shared, shame-filled childhoods: their eccentric father suffered from untreated schizophrenia and their powerless mother was no help. A well-drawn cast and an intricately woven, romantic plot make for another engaging Jones family saga that will lure new readers to the series and keep already established fans eager for the next installment. 
The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr

Mira, $26.99, Hardcover, 9780778330769, 352 pages

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 11, 2018), link HERE

Sunday, December 30, 2018

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good

Swedish crime takes a clever turn in five stories about an unassuming yet devious 88-year-old female retiree-turned-murderer.

Swedish crime author Helene Tursten is no stranger to creating strong-willed female heroines who are embroiled in the dark undersides of society. In An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, Tursten adds comic relief to a murderous mix. In five brief stories, she shares the exploits of Maud, a never-married, 88-year-old woman who lives alone in a spacious, rent-free, first-floor apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden. Maud has long outlived her family. The retired language arts teacher has pressed on, undaunted and self-reliant--traveling the world, relying on the aid of a walker. With nothing to lose, Maud lives life on her own terms and doesn't let anything--or anyone--get in her way. Whether in her apartment, on the streets or in the shops of Stockholm and even aboard a Mediterranean luxury liner, Maud oils the wheels of justice. She capitalizes on--and oftentimes creates--"accidents" as retribution for those she distrusts and with whom she has an ax to grind. This includes antique dealers with designs on Maud's precious belongings; nosy, overbearing and disruptive neighbors; and a glamorous model, a star of Swedish soft porn on the brink of marrying a now 90-year-old man who was once Maud's one true love.
Tursten is best known for the hard-boiled Detective Inspector Irene Huss series of novels (Who Watcheth). However, the comic twists and turns she delivers in this compact collection are equally engrossing. Unassuming, murderous Maud--with her devious, pseudo-innocent charm--makes these concise stories wickedly funny and addictively readable.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

(Translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Soho Crime, $12.99 Hardcover,  9781641290111, 184  pages

Publication Date: November 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (December 21, 2018), link HERE