Nevermore – a novel of Edgar Allan Poe and Allan Pinkerton

Monahan, Brent
Mystery

Monahan puts an interesting spin on a historical mystery by introducing Allan Pinkerton, the father of the famous detective agency, at the very start of his career.  Aiming to make a name for himself, Pinkerton sets out to solve the mysterious death of author Edgar Allan Poe, who was discovered delirious and fatally ill on the streets of Baltimore several days before his untimely demise.  Men with motives for revenge abound, but was there one who hated Poe enough to devise a plot sufficiently intricate to make the murder seem like accident or self-inflicted injury?  Only Pinkerton and the few surrounding him at the end of this novel ever knew for sure.

I enjoyed this book but felt that the solution to the puzzle – and the hero’s ability to get himself out of sticky situations – were a bit too contrived.  For a novel that required the twisting of historic facts and events into a believable work of fiction, though, it deserves praise for creativity and entertainment.

Hyperbole and A Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms and Other Things That Happened

Brosh, Allie
Humor

Warning: by reading this book, you are putting yourself at risk for moments of uncomfortable introspection and disconcerting self-realization.  But you’re also giving yourself the gift of uncontrollable, pee-in-your-pants laughter.  As Allie recounts her varied experiences, ranging from training (or trying to train, rather) two unconventional dogs to getting lost in the woods with her mother and sister, she aptly finds the humor in even the worst situations, primarily by poking fun at herself and illustrating her memories with horribly drawn (but oh-so-funny) cartoons.  Somehow, her combination of biting sarcasm and hopelessness along with a bit of disdain for the rest of the world make for an entertaining read that’s hard to put down.  I found it especially compelling since several of her own flaws and fears are my own.  It’s a little spooky how often I felt like she was writing MY story!!  Like her popular blog (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com), the book leaves the reader hungering for more.  (Speaking of which, Allie, where have you been in the past few months? I’ve been waiting ages for your next post!!!  I need my HaaH fix soon.)

PS – A note on why I don’t rate this book five stars….I know that Allie is being her honest, upfront self and I appreciate that, but I still could have done without quite so many “four letter words.”

Samson in Gaza

Ford, Tex
Historical Fiction

The proof of an author?  His or her ability to take the barest bones of a true story and flesh them out into a believable narrative that grips the reader and rings with truth.  In Samson in Gaza, Tex Ford has done just that.  He has taken the already tantalizing Biblical tale of the strong man Samson (and his infamous tryst with Delilah) and turned it into a captivating book that grips the reader firmly and doesn’t let go until the very last page.  Its bittersweet look into Samson’s life makes one rethink everything learned about this interesting man.  Wonderful read!!

Paris in Love

James, Eloisa
Memoir

Eloisa James’ sparkling memoir about her year spent in Paris is a love letter to the city of lights and a beautiful chronicle of her family’s sartorial, culinary and aesthetic education.  Even more important, it is the story of healing after a diagnosis of cancer, of learning to feel beautiful in the skin one is given, of growing as individuals and as a family.  Humorous and thought provoking by turns, James’ book is just the right one to read when you need a little escape from the humdrum of today and need to be reminded of the things in life that really matter.  Written in short vignettes and micro-essays, it’s easy to digest and will leave you wishing Eloisa and her family had stayed in Paris just a bit longer, so that you could enjoy it with them!!

Dilly of a Death

Wittig Albert, Susan
Mystery

When it rains, it pours.  China Bayles knows the literal and figurative truth of that trite saying.  In the middle of preparation for Pecan Spring’s annual Picklefest, China is confronted with a slew of problems including the murder of a pickle heiress and her young lover, unsolved crimes that are threatening the career of her good friend, the pregnancy of her best friend’s daughter and her husband’s new career as a private investigator.  Not to mention the Texas downpour that has threatened to wash away everything not firmly rooted!  China’s reluctant to add her amateur sleuthing skills to the messy mix, but when the crimes begin to creep closer to those she loves, she doesn’t have much of a choice.  Will China be able to solve this dilly of a mystery before things get even uglier?

Sprinkled liberally with interesting tidbits about herbs and herb lore, A Dilly of a Death is an enjoyable read in the China Bayles series.  The mystery itself is a little bland and wrapped up too fast, but the unfolding drama between Amy, Ruby and those around them adds enough spice to make the book worth reading.  Certainly not the best by SWA, but a good read nevertheless.

Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade

Browning, Guy
Humor

Do you find yourself stumped by life’s little challenges?  Are you uncertain of the proper way to argue?  How about flirting?  If you’ve faced these tough situations and been unable to formulate the proper response, pick up Guy Browning’s guide and laugh yourself silly.  You won’t really find any serious advice, but you’ll have a wonderful time learning to see the ridiculous in all the little things that we often find difficult in life.  I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Simon Vance, and found myself laughing harder than I had in a long time.  If you need help in seeing life with a sense of humor, this book is sure to do the trick!  DISCLAIMER: The author does refer quite a bit to the physical aspects of life, so this book isn’t a suitable family read.

The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Flagg, Fannie
Fiction

Sookie has lived in the shadow of her mother for fifty-nine years. Now that she has just married off the last of her daughters, she’s hoping to find a little peace and quiet. But the arrival of a letter that changes everything she knows about herself upsets her plans and sends her on a journey of self-discovery that leads her back to a Polish family of girls who ran a filling station in the early part of the 20th century. Couched in her story is the history of the WASPs, female aviators who were the first to fly military airplanes for the United States, freeing up their male counterparts for jobs overseas. Used and then dismissed when they were no longer needed, the WASPs played an integral role in the war and deserve the respect that Fannie Flagg rightly pays them in this heart-warming novel that’s full of her characteristic Southern charm.

The Headmistress of Rosemere

Ladd, Sarah E.

Historic Fiction
Her name belies her heart.  Left alone with a grieving mother and a houseful of girls, Patience Creighton feels her strength and perseverance slowly ebbing away as she watches her mother shrink into a shadow of her former self and tries to keep the school her father founded running smoothly without help from her absentee brother, Rawdon.  When a visitor arrives, bloody and beaten, on her doorstep late one evening, Patience’s fragile world begins to crumble.  The man is the rakish William Sterling, owner of the property on which the school sits and the subject of several scandalous rumors that Patience has heard whispers of.  Despite her vague wariness about him, Patience finds herself strangely intrigued and is disappointed when he disappears back into the night.  Their paths are destined to cross again, however, for William has enemies that will stop at nothing – even placing young girls in danger – to take their revenge.  Rosemere is all that stands between him and ultimate destitution – or possibly death.  But when he finds himself likewise drawn to the young headmistress, will he sacrifice her happiness for his own salvation?

A beautifully written novel and the second in her well-crafted series, The Headmistress of Rosemere was a delight to read.  With depth of character and plot, a bit of mystery and romance and an excellent moral theme, the book is sure to cement author Sarah Ladd’s reputation as a writer of stellar historic fiction.  She adds just the right amount of darkness and intrigue to keep the reader anticipating the next page and spices it up with a lovely romance that blossoms slowly and comes to beautiful fruition in the end.  Five stars.

I received a copy of the book from the author in return for the above unbiased review.

An Unlikely Witch

Geary, Debora
Fiction

What happens when the glimpse of a future that made you fell in love with your husband and with a little boy who didn’t yet exist falls to pieces, despite your firmest belief that it’s meant to be?  Natalia Sullivan, serene yogini and beloved non-witch member of the Sullivan clan, finds her calm and inner peace rapidly crumbling as the dream she’s held onto for so long vanishes with each month of negative pregnancy tests.  The universe – and her body – are conspiring against her and Jamie, denying them the fulfillment of the hope they’ve built their relationship on.  Can the two – and the rest of Witch Central – survive the loss of a little boy they’ve loved for three years, even though they’ve never felt his kisses or wrapped him in hugs?  When all of the magic in California and Nova Scotia combined is unable to waken Nat’s womb, Nat and Jamie just might crumble along with their dream.

Tears and laughter mixed wonderfully as I read through this book.  I’ve tried time and again to explain what exactly makes Debora Geary’s books so enchanting – so absolutely heart breaking and heart healing in the same moment.  This time, I’m going to borrow a few of her words from a recent interview with Herbiary.com’s Meg Smith.  (For the entire interview, go here:  http://herbiary.com/blogs/herban-wisdom/11126069-wisdom-an-exchange-with-debora-geary)

“There are few values I hold more dear than that we are each wonderful, unique, and worthy of love. And when we as a community can’t manage that, it weakens all of us. I grew up in a small town and felt very different. Other. And then I went to an international school in Italy for two years and found deep connection with people who shared nothing of my culture, language, or upbringing. It was transformative, and it shaped a very important part of who I am (including the deeply ingrained belief that a shared meal makes everything better ☺).  I’ve spent much of my life since reaching across divides of one sort or another – to delinquent teens, senior executives, cancer patients. Learning how much of me lives in each of them. But nothing drove this message home more than the chance to be mother to my son. Griffin is severely autistic – he doesn’t speak, and he understands only a very little of what we say to him. And some days, being his mama is the most deeply frustrating experience of my life. But mostly, it has stripped my sense of what love is back to the very essentials. When he curls up against my chest, full of giggles or sleepy snuggles, it is so obvious that we are, in all the most important ways, so very much alike. Everything else is just trappings. My books are my plea to the world to see his heart. To see every heart.”

Debora puts her heart – and ours – in her work and creates a community we’d all love to be a part of: one of acceptance, love, humor, compassion and understanding.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read one of her books without longing to be a part of Witch Central and the crazy, amazing clan of Sullivans.  Ten stars out of five!

Learn Something New Every Day

Malesky, Kee
Fact Book

Research has proven that if we exercise our brains every day, we’re much less likely to experience age-related degeneration of our much valued mental capacities!  Crossword puzzles, sudoku, trivia: they all help.  It makes it easier to add these activities to your daily routine if they’re interesting and fun.  Enter Kee Malesky’s book: Learn Something New Every Day.  This compendium of interesting facts, whose topics range from science and religion to history and geography, is a wonderful resource for anyone who just likes to know more “stuff.”  My family and I read this together through the year and though not all of the entries were interesting to all of us, there were enough to make us say “Ah!” or to laugh or to want to look up more that it was well worth the read.  It was also a great family activity that added more depth to our dinner table conversation!  Highly recommended.