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TheLittleParisBookshopLet me start of by saying The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is not a guy book. I don’t normally segregate books by the gender of the reader, but in this case it’s the truth.

Jean Perdu (which means ‘lost’ in French) is truly lost. His lover, Manon, left him 21 years ago and he still hasn’t gotten over it. His apartment is devoid of furniture and he has a huge jigsaw puzzle on his floor, which he takes apart on completion and begins anew.

He lives in a small apartment building inhabited by a peculiar group of neighbors. One is a young and acclaimed writer, Max Jordan, who is hiding from his adoring fans, especially those expecting a new book which is not forthcoming. A new arrival is Catherine who has been in a loveless marriage for 20 years and has recently been thrown out by her husband with nothing but the clothes on her back. It is inevitable that Perdu and Catherine, two lost souls, would meet.

Perdu is a book seller (which is what attracted me to the book initially). His shop is a barge docked on the Seine and he considers it a Literary Apothecary. According to him, he can see into people’s souls and know exactly what book to prescribe to mend a broken heart or a broken soul.

For reasons you need to find out for yourself, Perdu impulsively pulls anchor and embarks upon a voyage. Of course you know it’s a voyage of self discovery. At the last minute, Max jumps on board and the two experience this life voyage together. As per the Publishers Weekly review, “Though George’s prose is sometimes a bit overwrought and the “physician, heal thyself” plot device has been done to death, her cast of engaging characters [on the river voyage and in the apartment building] keeps the story moving. Her sumptuous descriptions of both food and literature will leave readers unsure whether to run to the nearest library or the nearest bistro.” I agree, and the recipes she includes at the end of the book are an added bonus.

George’s prose do get a little bogged down, but there are some gems as well. Such as when Perdu is pondering his life,  “Where did the last twenty years go? The south is a vivd blue, Catherine. Your color is missing here. It would make everything shine all the more brightly.” Her discussion of literature is way beyond my comfort zone, both the real and the fictional literature. I much prefer her descriptions of the river towns the duo stop at and the quirky people that inhabit them.

I consider myself somewhat of a romantic but the story was a little over the top for me. Yes, we all have regrets and we’ve all suffered romantic heartbreaks, but to have put ones life on hold for 21 years seems a bit much to me.

The Little Paris Bookshop is an ode to love of the life long kind. I’m sure it exists and I wish I had experienced it as a young man. In some respects I’m jealous of Perdu. But in many others, I’m glad I’m not him. Your opinion?

GoodbyeStrangerRebecca Stead, author of When You Reach MeLiar & Spy and First Light has penned another thoroughly enjoyable middle grade book in WhenYouReachMeGoodbye Stranger.

When Bridget Barsamian was eight years old, she got hit by a car. Skating down the Manhattan street ahead of her friend Tabitha, she turned to look back, and when she turned back she realized that a car was coming through the cross street and it was unavoidable that she and the car were about to meet. One year and four surgeries later, Bridget was as good as new, but she had changed. Every now and then when she saw a car coming she froze. Also, she no longer felt like a Bridget and shortened her name to Bridge. Lastly, when she was discharged from the hospital, a nurse told her “…You must have been put on this earth for a reason, little girl, to have survived.” The question that was stumping her, though, is what is that reason?

Bridge missed third grade but when sheFirstLight returned the following year for fourth grade, Tab introduced her to Emily and the threesome became the ‘set of three’ among the entire fourth grade class, a set that would remain in tact through seventh grade.

Fast forward to the third Monday of seventh grade. For some unknown reason, Bridge  wore a pair of black cat ears to school. While at first they felt odd, by Wednesday they became part of her ensemble. It is this year that is recounted in Goodbye Stranger. The book deals with some issues prevalent in the lives of today’s kids. While it follows the seventh grade escapades of Bridge, Tab and Emily, some of which are fun, it also delves into serious issues. It is during seventh grade that boys become a part of their lives when Bridge meets Sherm and Emily meets Patrick. Each must deal with the complicated feelings that surround boys; a boy–friend vs. a boyfriend. Another major story line recounts Sherm’s reaction when his grandfather leaves his wife of 50 years for another woman. Both lived with Sherm and the one moving out creates quite a hole in his life.

LiarAndSpyThe book also follows an anonymous person on Valentine’s Day (which is the title of each chapter dealing with her disillusionment) as she recounts the events leading up to it, her realization that some people are just downright mean and most likely not someone you want to be friends with, regardless of the fact that you are drawn to them.

The convergence of Bridge and Anonymous came as a surprise to me, although my daughter figured it out.

Goodbye Stranger is certainly a ‘coming of age’ story in that the girls must understand their feelings about friendship and love. They must also deal with a situation that they both know is wrong, but weigh friendship against rightness.

Rebecca Stead has populated Goodbye Stranger with some spectacular characters primarily Adrienne, the barista (would be boxer) in Bridge’s dad’s coffee bar, Celeste, Tab’s older sister, and Anonymous.

My one criticism? One significant issue, while handled realistically (probably/possibly), seemed to be minimized…in my mind anyway. Despite that, Goodbye Stranger is a fun read. Some authors write the same book over and over and then others, like Rebecca Stead, keep reinventing themselves, which only increases the anticipation for the next book as soon as you’ve finished the current one.

I must be going through my quirky character phase. I’m cCrookedHearturrently reading The Little Paris Bookshop and if that doesn’t have quirky characters, I don’t know what book does. Crooked Heart, though, follows a close second. Crooked Heart is Lissa Evans’ first book published in the United States, although she is no stranger to writing, having published three other books for children and adults. It is a book about dysfunctional LittleParisBookshopfamilies, connivers and swindlers coming together and it’s two main characters are endearing.

It is World War II London. Noel is 10 years old when his godmother, Mattie, with whom he lived and who he adored, dies in a snow bank. Having nowhere to go, he ends up living with Mattie’s cousin, the insufferable Geoffrey Overs and his fragile, neat to a fault, wife Margery. As the war closes in, Noel is forced by Geoffrey to evacuate. Ending up in the small town of St. Albans, he along with his classmates, is paraded door to door to find a suitable foster home. However, having big ears and a limp, placing Noel poses a problem…until Vera Sedge sees him and has an idea. A schemer and always short of money, she realizes that she will get compensated for tending to ‘poor Noel’.

Noel had been mostly silent at the Overs’ and continued this with Vee, as well. But, his intelligence and her lack of common sense in her efforts to raise money, force him to start talking. Her need for money and his lack of (some) scruples, lead them to team up and together they form a formidable pair. Add Vee’s illegitimate son Donald, a schemer in his own rite, her mother who doesn’t speak a word and constantly writes letters to England’s leaders stressing her opinion on their ineffective leadership and Hilde, the Austrian girl living in England and working at a munitions factory and always comparing her spare life to the grandeur of her former Austrian home and the quirky characters get quirkier.

Noel is smarter than the average 10 year old, with an ethical code that is unusual. While he doesn’t mind swindling some people, he is outraged when others act similarly. Vee is just a down and out in need of some money to survive. What begins as a financial transaction for Vee, however, turns into true caring and it is this process that makes Crooked Heart so heartwarming.

I don’t know how Evans came up with the idea of the book or how the schemes she describes came to mind, but they are unique. Her descriptions paint images of people, places and situations, including war torn London. While I was reading the first hundred pages sporadically, I whizzed through the last 150 pages because I couldn’t wait to see where Evans took Vee and Noel.

For those readers looking for the unusual, not your run of the mill best seller, you’d be wise to pick up Crooked Heart. It’ll do your heart good.

I was between books. I’d just finished one and had a week to go beforeManhattanMayhem I started those books I purposely set aside for vacation. I needed a filler. A short story book was just the answer. I could switch around, not read them all and not feel any the worse. I knew Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark, had stories by a few authors I like, primarily Thomas H. Cook, so I thought I’d give it a try. What did I have to lose?

Well, I would have lost a lot because it is totally enjoyable…a little unpublicized gem. Manhattan Mayhem was published to commemorate the Mystery Writers of America’s 70th anniversary. The hazy photo of the Empire State Building on the cover portends what you’ll find inside. Each story takes place in a different section of Manhattan-Sutton Place, the upper East Side, the Flatiron District and Central Park to name a few. At the beginning of each story is a photo of some area landmark and a small map for those of us not familiar with Manhattan’s various neighborhoods to identify where the action takes place.

The authors include Mary Higgins Clark, Thomas H. Cook, Jeffrey Deaver, Julie Hyzy as well as authors I hadn’t heard of before reading the book. The always ethereal writing of Cook is a tad less so in his story Damage Control, but the mystery is present in the misinterpretation (or is it a misinterpretation) of actions and words. It can drive a man crazy. The take off on the play Death Trap in Trapped by Ben Winters is just as suspenseful as the play. The remake of Cinderella in Margaret Maron’s The Red Headed Stepchild is, while you know the ending, totally amusing. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d rather read the stories.

I think my favorite thought must be S. J. Rozan’s Chin Yong-Yun Makes a Shiddach which only goes to show that mothers are mothers regardless of their ethnic origin.

There is a mystery for every type of mystery lover in Manhattan Mayhem.

It’s tough when your competition are masters of the trade. Ed McBain and MurderDCMichael Connelly are the masters of police procedurals. Kathy Reichs is the master of forensic anthropology. The crown goes to Arnaldur Indridason for Icelandic mysteries and Thomas H. Cook for literary mysteries. And the head honcho for journalistic mysteries is Bruce DeSilva.

So, while Neely Tucker’s journalistic mysteries, which take place in Washington, D. C., are readable, they don’t live up to the bar set by Mr. DeSilva. In Murder, D. C. Billy Ellison, the son of a prominent Black family in Washington, is found washed up on the shore of the The Bend, the former site of slave trading and currently a run-down park used primarily for drug deals. Sully Carter, reporter for ‘the newspaper’, is the journalist on the scene. Initial interviews with Billy’s mother and her employer, the prominent lawyer, Sheldon Stevens, portray Billy as a boy who had everything. However, as Sully gathers more facts, they soon change their tune, stating Billy was gay and was dealing drugs in a big way. Private investigators hired by Stevens seem to be making as little progress as the police in solving Billy’s murder.

WaysOfTheDeadThose readers who met Sully in The Ways of the Dead, know he’s a likable character. He drinks a bit…well maybe a lot. He was reporting the war in Bosnia when he got wounded and has the scars and limp to prove it. He has a good working relationship with the police as well as one of the major drug dealers in the metropolitan area. And once he gets hold of something, he rarely, if ever, lets go. So, when things don’t make sense, Sully keeps plugging away, regardless of how many times he gets beaten up, suspended from work, etc.

However, Sully Carter doesn’t have the edge and cynicism of Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan. In addition, the turmoil that the news industry is going through is totally ignored. This is surprising in that Tucker is a journalist, a staff writer at the Washington Post.

The plot of Murder, D.C. is good. The characters are good. You’ll enjoy reading Murder, D.C. I just think you’ll enjoy the Bruce DeSilva/Liam Mulligan mysteries more.

In Kissing in America, Margo Rabb has put a new twist on the road-trip story, KissingInAmericagrowing up story and realistic fiction story. Eva Roth’s father died when his plane crashed into the ocean two years ago. No bodies were recovered. Eva and her mother went to counseling and have joined a chat room about the accident. But it’s almost like her mother has forgotten her father: she’s thrown out his belongings and never talks about him. (Eva managed to salvage a few of his possessions.) To numb the pain, Eva’s fills up her time reading mindless romance novels. Even though she knows real love isn’t like the books, it gives her hope.

Towards the end of her junior year in high school Eva meets Will and romance starts to bloom, just like in her romance novels. However, his divorced mother is in bad financial straits and they’re forced to vacate their apartment. She moves into the one bedroom apartment of her friend and Will decides he’s better off living in California with his father. After a sad goodbye, Eva is now wondering how to get from Queens, NY to Los Angeles to visit her true love.

When she hears about a televised contest The Smartest Girl in America, she convinces her genius friend, Annie, that they should enter–actually Annie should enter and Eva be her ‘go to’ companion. The winner will receive a $200,000 scholarship and Annie desperately wants to go to MIT. Of course, the program will be conducted in Los Angeles.

Kissing in America follows Annie and Eva on their two-week cross country bus trip, stopping at friends and relatives in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona along the way. Annie and Eva are a study in contrasts, the former postponing love until college while Eva is desperate for it, possibly to provide something her mother seems incapable of providing. But of course there is more than meets the eye in the various adult characters and Eva learns this through her interactions with family and friends.

This is the second book recently where something terrible happens and parents either over react by becoming overly protective and/or shut down totally, depriving their children of the love and attention they want and need. It is also the case where the children are too shy or insecure to say what they feel, to open the dialogue that might get a parent/child relationship back on track.

Each major section of the book starts with a poem. And Ms. Rabb entices readers with this (which is really just a come on since there are very few other romance novel quotes that are worthy of reprinting):

“Sir Richard’s chest sparkled with man-dew as he whispered “Lilith, it may hurt you when I burst they womanhood.” “Hurt me,” Lilith breathed. Her rosy domes undulated like the sea as he joined her in a love that vanquished every sorrow known on earth.”

I’m not going to tell you that you can’t predict what’s going to happen because that would be a lie. Much of what happens in the end you can predict in the beginning. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”. If it’s any indication, I stayed up until 12:30 AM to finish the book, so it must have been an enjoyable journey.

LetMeDieInHisFootstepsI recently read the excellent book Burial Rites BuriaRitesby Hannah Kent, inspired by the last public execution that took place in Iceland in 1830, so it is fitting that I move forward to Let Me Die in His Footsteps which is inspired by the last lawful public hanging in the United States, held in Owensboro, KY, in 1936. Lori Roy, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First BentRoadNovel for Bent Road,  expanded this into “…an atmospheric suspense novel which opens with Annie Holleran sneaking away to her neighbor, the Baines’ well in the dead of night. Local folklore holds that if you look into a well at midnight, you will see the reflection of your future husband. But for Annie, the events of that evening have far-reaching consequences. There’s a rift between Annie’s family and the Baines—a gulf that dates back to when Annie’s Aunt Juna, a dark-eyed beauty, cast a spell over the Baines boys. Roy’s tale moves back and forth in time between Annie’s experiences in 1952 (told in third person), and those of her mother, Sarah (told in first person) and her sister Juna, in 1936 when one of the Baines sons was accused of a terrible crime.” (Source: Library Journal)

Let Me Die in His Footsteps is steeped in atmosphere. Roy describes life on the Holloran lavender farm in rural Kentucky in vivid detail, and the mystery of what happened years ago kept me reading into the night. It’s interesting that the folklore of the early 1900s stayed in force through mid-century and Annie, with the know-how or ability to sense events before they occur, was as feared as her Aunt Juna, almost twenty years earlier. Readers will picture the broken down shack that Sarah lived in, full of shadows and cold because it was built where the sun rarely shines. The rock wall fences separating the farms is straight out of 18th century pictures.

While the story of the public hanging is a small component of the story, the mob mentality surrounding the hanging is captured expertly.

Roy’s engaging story of young love, Southern folklore, family feuds, family skeletons and crimes of passion is bound to satisfy readers who enjoy a good, well told story. And don’t forget the surprise ending, which went nicely with the story. If you’re looking for a good beach/vacation read, this is perfect.

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