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Library - Brown Bag Booktalk
Brown Bag Booktalk

Looking for something good to read? Why not join us at one of our quarterly Brown Bag Booktalks? You bring your lunch; we'll bring the coffee and some fresh-brewed book recommendations. At the end of the session, we’ll open the discussion for some recommendations of your own, so feel free to bring a book to share with the group!

The next booktalk will be Thursday, August 2, at 1:15 p.m. at the Velma Teague Library. In the meantime, enjoy the booklist from the last booktalk! "JAC" are Judy's picks, "SCR" are Stephanie's picks, "CJ" are Christine's picks, and "OHN" are Olive's picks. Click on a book's title or cover image to find it in our library catalog.

For more information, please call 623-930-3430.

Brown Bag Booklist from May 3
Island of sweet pies and soldiers

Ackerman, Sara  Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers  (Fiction Ackerman) -- This historical novel takes place in Hawaii in 1944. Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, have been traumatized, not only by the destruction of Pearl Harbor, but by the disappearance of their husband and father. The story is told by both characters: Violet’s story is told in the second person, while nine-year-old Ella’s story is told in the first person. These differing points of view are an interesting way of shifting the story between the adult point of view and that of a child. Ella is keeping a big secret from all of the adults in her life and refuses to tell anyone what is really bothering her, other than the obvious distress of wondering where her father is. Violet, however, realizes that life goes on. Violet, her housemates and friends decide to make sweet potato and chocolate honeycomb pies to sell to the recently arrived American Marines. Ella finds some joy in her animal friends. There is a cat, a nearly bald chicken that she rescues, and a lion cub that the Marines have brought along as a mascot. There is romance, mystery and deeply felt descriptions which aid in telling the story. The issue of how Americans of Japanese descent are treated is sensitively demonstrated by haole Ella asking to go to Japanese school with her friends. The author lives and writes in Hawaii and this is her debut published novel. -- JAC

The taster

Alexander, V. S.  The Taster  (Fiction Alexander) -- In 1943, Magda Ritter’s parents sent her to relatives in Bavaria to escape the allied bombings in Berlin.  After she arrived, her uncle used his influence in the Nazi Party to get her a job in the Civil Service.  But Magda is not happy to learn that her new position is at Hitler’s retreat, as one of his fifteen food tasters.  As she becomes acquainted with other staff, she realizes that not everybody is on board with Hitler’s viewpoint of the world.  Apolitical in the past, her involvement with the silent resistance becomes more solid after she is shown pictures of atrocities involving Jewish men, women, and children. When the allies advance into Germany, Magda must decide how to best help both herself and the resistance. -- SCR

The handmaid's tale.

Atwood, Margaret  The Handmaid’s Tale  (Fiction Atwood) -- In 2005, the United States suffered a devastating blow when the U.S. government was overthrown and replaced with a military-style dictatorship.  The nation was renamed the Republic of Gilead, the U.S. constitution was suspended and women’s rights were totally eliminated. Before the coup, Offred had been married to Luke and was the mother of a little girl.  Because she had the proven ability to bear children, she is assigned a spot as a Handmaiden to the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy.  Offred’s only function is to conceive and give birth to the Commander’s child and then relinquish all rights to the baby.  Serena Joy is resentful of Offred, but understands that the Commander will not be able to father a child.  She is willing to help Offred go outside the established legal methods to conceive.  Offred’s involvement with both Serena Joy, the Commander, and the local resistance leads her into a very dangerous position. -- SCR

White chrysanthemum

Bracht, Mary Lynn  White Chrysanthemum  (Fiction Bracht)  -- Hana lives on the island of Jeju, once belonging to the country of Korea and now under the protectorate of Japan.  It is tradition for the women on the island to train as haenyeos, or sea divers.  As World War II spreads to the east, 16-year-old Hana continues in this tradition of her ancestors, and she dives each day with her mother to harvest food from the sea floor.  Her mother has also tasked Hana to watch over her little sister, Emi.  When a Japanese soldier comes to the beach where the two are diving and Emi is playing, Hana hides her sister, risking her own safety.  The soldier abducts Hana and assigns her a role as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers.  Years later, Emi discovers that she has terminal cancer.  Because she now has limited time, she must accelerate her search for Hana.  -- SCR

Paris by the book : a novel

Callanan, Liam  Paris by the Book  (Fiction Callanan)  -- Robert and Leah Eady first met over a couple of French classic children’s stories, The Red Balloon (screenplay and movie by Albert Lamorrisse) and Madeline (a series of books by Ludwig Bemelmans). They subsequently marry and have two daughters and still dream about going to Paris. Robert is an author who struggles with his muse. He is in the habit of leaving home on writeaways - short periods of time to immerse himself in writing. But this time it is different; Robert doesn’t leave a note behind and he is missing for months. Leah and her young teen daughters finally do track down some clues leading to Paris. So, they go to Paris hoping to find Robert. Before long Leah has purchased a struggling English language bookstore specializing in dead authors and the girls are enrolled in a French school. Leah and her daughters feel like they are constantly catching glimpses of Robert – but are they? The descriptions of Paris and of many books add greatly to the enjoyment of the story. -- JAC

The Mitford murders

Fellowes, Jessica  The Mitford Murders  (Fiction Fellowes) – Fellowes is known for her companion books to her uncle’s Downton Abbey television series. This mystery novel  builds upon our knowledge of post-World War I and the English aristocracy.  The Mitford sisters were a real family with six sisters. Two of them would later become fascists, one becomes a communist, and one marries and becomes a duchess. Two of them became authors. Two of them married nephews of Winston Churchill. The murder to be solved in this novel was also based on fact. A nurse, Florence Nightingale Shore, is killed on a train in broad daylight. The nursemaid, chaperone and confidante Louisa Cannon is fictional. She and the oldest Mirtford girl set out to solve the murder. They are assisted by Guy Sullivan, a young railroad policeman who hopes to work for Scotland Yard. Apparently there are plans for subsequent novels which will feature the younger Mitford sisters. -- JAC

Crimson Lake

Fox, Candice  Crimson Lake  (Fiction Fox) -- Fox has written two bestsellers with James Patterson and has published several best-selling crime novels in her native Australia. I don’t often read suspense/thriller novels, but I was intrigued by the premise of this novel and ended up enjoying it quite a lot. Sydney police detective Ted Conkaffey has been accused of a brutal abduction. He was not convicted, but all of Australia is convinced that he is public enemy number one. In order to escape his notoriety, Conkaffey has moved to the steamy crocodile swamps of Crimson Lake. His lawyer introduces him to another of his clients, eccentric private investigator Amanda Pharrell, who has already served time as a convicted murderer. Ted agrees to help Amanda solve a crime case filled with deception and obsession. At the same time, the two detectives try to find evidence that the crimes that each other has been accused of were not, in fact, committed by them. This is the first novel in a new series. -- JAC

Every note played

Genova, Lisa  Every Note Played  (Fiction Genova)  -- Richard Evans is a 45-year-old Boston concert pianist.  He has a college-age daughter named Grace, and an ex-wife, Karina, who was also a renowned pianist.  Early in the marriage, Richard accepted a teaching position in Boston, taking Karina away from the vibrant jazz scene in NYC.  Karina’s interest in jazz piano gets replaced by the birth of their daughter and with giving piano lessons to school children.  In the meantime, Richard finds fulfillment and fame in his career, but also feels the need to have frequent extramarital affairs.  It is not long before they divorce. At the peak of his fame, Richard’s right arm begins to twitch, and he is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).   When he begins to have symptoms on the left side, he realizes that his career is finished, and he can no longer live on his own.  Karina feels obligated to take care of Richard.  As Richard’s condition deteriorates, he is forced to make decisions about advanced life support options.  He also realizes he must atone for his past behavior with family.  At the same time, Karina and Grace must also learn the art of forgiveness. -- SCR

The room on Rue Amelie

Harmel, Kristin  The Room on Rue Amélie  (Fiction Harmel)  -- Ruby Henderson is just finishing college at Barnard in NYC when she meets a handsome Frenchman named Marcel Benoit.  They fall in love, marry, and move to Paris in 1939 despite her father’s warning about Hitler moving across Europe.  It is not until they are confronted with Hitler in France that the two lovebirds face reality. Despite the dangers, they stay in Paris and Marcel becomes an active member of the resistance.   Ruby befriends her Jewish neighbor’s daughter Charlotte and takes her in after her parents are arrested. After Marcel’s death, Ruby and Charlotte work hard to convince the network that they are worthy of also joining the resistance.  Under a new identity and in a new location, the two women begin to hide fallen allied pilots.  Ruby meets Thomas, an English pilot who stays with them, and falls in love.  He escapes back to England and the operation continues through the rest of the war, at great danger to Ruby and Charlotte. -- SCR

Sweet tea and sympathy

Harper, Molly  Sweet Tea and Sympathy (Fiction Harper)  -- This is a romance novel with a good dose of humor. Margot Cary is an exclusive event planner for Chicago’s high society. She is abruptly fired when an event goes horribly wrong – it involved a seafood tower and flamingoes. She is unable to find a new job until a distant family member reaches out to hire her for the family business. By the way, the business is in sleepy Lake Sackett, Georgia. The business? It is the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. Organizing wakes and fishing trips is not something Margot has experience with, but how hard could it be? Eventually she gets a job offer back in her society life. Margot has to decide if she wants to leave her newfound family and a possible love interest (the hunky widowed principal of the local elementary school) in order to jump back into the rat race she knows. -- JAC

The bookshop at water's end

Henry, Patti Callahan  Bookshop at Water’s End  (Fiction Henry) -- I cannot resist novels that include the word bookshop or books in their title. Bonny Blankenship’s most idyllic memories are the summers she and her family and friends spent in Watersend, South Carolina. She needs someplace to start over after her marriage fizzles and her career as an emergency room doctor comes to an abrupt end after a mistake. She packs up her life and teenaged daughter, Piper, to return to the beach house. She also convinces her childhood best friend, Lainey McKay, to join her. Lainey is an artist with a happy marriage and two small children, but she is still haunted by the memory of when her mother disappeared one summer’s night – never to reappear. Despite the underlying angst of both women, the spell of the beach and the bookshop still owned by their friend Mimi remains. If you like Mary Alice Monroe, Mary Kay Andrews and Dorothea Benton Frank you will enjoy this summer read. -- JAC

I was Anastasia : a novel

Lawhon, Ariel  I Was Anastasia  (Fiction Lawhon) -- Is Anna Andersen the real Anastasia Romanov?  She has spent the years living on the generosity of different sponsors while trying to prove her identity. Now she and her husband are awaiting an official verdict from the courts. When the phone call comes in from Germany’s Prince Frederick, Anna understands that the verdict is not in her favor.  There will be no official recognition. Woven into the story are the last days of the Romanovs during the Russian Revolution.  Confined to a lesser palace, the family hears shots are being fired into the air and noisy rioting in the nearby city.  As time passes, the servants flee, the palace loses electricity, and all lines of communication are cut.  Another move is made to Siberia where the family meets its final fate.  The question remains whether Anastasia survived the massacre, and lives on as Anna Andersen.  -- SCR

As bright as heaven

Meissner, Susan  As Bright as Heaven  (Fiction Meissner) -- This is a historical novel featuring a time and place that I knew little about. Thomas and Pauline Bright lived in the Pennsylvania countryside with their three daughters. With the death of their infant son, they realize that it is time to move to the big city where there are better chances for employment and education and it might become easier to overcome their grief. They move to Philadelphia and Thomas becomes apprenticed to his great-uncle Fred, who is an undertaker. Things are not necessarily better, but they are different, and the loving family is adjusting well and making friends. Unfortunately the specter of World War I is ever looming, and then the Spanish flu pandemic reaches America. The flu claimed more than 12,000 victims, including some friends and family members. Even as they lose some loved ones, they take in an orphaned baby who becomes a source of hope. The story is skillfully told by Pauline and her three daughters and ends by being a novel of hope. -- JAC


The pearl sister : Cece's story

Riley, Lucinda  The Pearl Sister: Cece’s Story  (Fiction Riley) -- Three years ago Stephanie introduced us to the D’Apilèse family. The family consists of six daughters that Pa Salt adopted from around the world. Pa Salt died suddenly in the first novel, The Seven Sisters, and now each sister in turn learns more about her true heritage by following clues left by Pa Salt. CeCe is the fourth sister and is feeling very much alone. The sister she felt closest to, Star, is embarking on a new life and CeCe feels both abandoned and an outcast. She has clues to her origins in a black and white photograph and the name of a female pioneer who once lived in Australia. The female pioneer was Kitty McBride, who travels to Australia as a paid companion. She ultimately winds up on the northwest shore of Australia in the heart of the pearl fishing industry in Broome, Western Australia. CeCe eventually reaches the searing heat and dusty plains and something deep within her responds to the energy of the area and the ancient culture of the Aboriginal people. The interlocked stories of Kitty and CeCe are fascinating and compelling. The novel can be read as a stand-alone, but I intend to read all of them in the series. -- JAC

The glass universe : how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars

Sobel, Dava  The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars  (Nonfiction 522.197444 S677g) -- Sobel has written several nonfiction best-sellers: Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets. In the late nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began hiring women as calculators to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. Sobel has sifted through an immense amount of material, including letters, diaries and memoirs, to bring the ground-breaking study of the stars to the attention and understanding of present-day amateurs. The contributions and lives of the women of the observatory during the directorships of Edward C. Pickering and Harlow Shapley are examined and recounted in some detail. Harvard College Observatory under Pickering arguably contributed more to the advance of astronomy than any other single institution. By 1920, the telescopes of HCO began to be dwarfed by new large instruments at other institutions, but under Shapley HCO remained at the forefront of astronomical research and education in many areas. During these years, Henrietta Leavitt discovered the Cepheid period-luminosity relation that would be vital to determining the distances to other galaxies, Annie Jump Cannon studied the spectra of hundreds of thousands of stars, and Cecilia Payne pioneered methods for determining the chemical composition of the stars. These and other stories are followed in Sobel's fascinating work. Sobel also writes of the lives and motivations of the wealthy sponsors of the observatory's research, including scientifically-minded women such as Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce. Numerous appendices aid in making the book more accessible, including a Catalogue of Harvard Astronomers, Assistant and Associates, various bibliographies and an index. -- JAC

The woman's hour : the great fight to win the vote

Weiss, Elaine F.  The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Nonfiction 324.623 W429w) -- I assumed that this book of women’s history would focus on the lives and times of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Instead it is the fascinating account of the final struggle to get the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution passed.  In August 1920, the amendment must be ratified in Tennessee. It is the last state still in play. Thirty-five other states have approved it and the rest have turned it down. Weiss concentrates on the last six weeks of the campaign. It is one of the most important political campaigns of all time and Weiss does an excellent job of bringing it back to our attention. -- JAC

Educated : a memoir

Westover, Tara  Educated: A Memoir  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Westover, Tara) -- Tara was the daughter of two survivalists, brought up in rural Idaho.  After the Ruby Ridge raid in 1992, her father became convinced that government agents would burst through their door at any time.  In his bid for total self-reliance, he forces Tara’s Mom to apprentice as a midwife to learn critical medical skills. They kept their 7 children off the radar, and never even registered the youngest four children at birth. Mom “homeschooled” the kids, but her idea of schooling the children was to assign 50 or so pages to be read on occasion, with little or no oversight.  The kids spend most of their days helping dad salvage materials, often at great danger to themselves. Despite the lack of guidance, Tara’s older brother Tyler left home to seek a formal education.  Moving in with an aunt, he managed to take and pass the ACT, stating that his schooling conformed to state educational standards.  Against the wishes of her parents, Tara followed Tyler’s path, studying basic high school subjects, taking the ACT, and affirming her homeschooling as required.  But earning a PhD degree came at a high price to Ms. Westover and her brother. This memoir will appeal to readers of Hillbilly Elegy or The Glass Castle.  -- SCR

Also Recommended :
Death of an unsung hero

Arlen, Tessa  Death of an Unsung Hero  (Fiction Arlen) -- This is the fourth novel in the Lady Montfort Mystery series. Arlen has set her series in the Downton Abbey time frame. There are actually two main characters: Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson, who was her housekeeper, but now functions as the quartermaster for a World War I hospital. The hospital, which was formerly the dower house of the Montfort family, is for officers who are recovering from shell shock. Needless to say, not everyone in the community supports this idea. Real trouble begins when one of the officer patients is murdered. Who would murder a decorated captain who is suffering from amnesia? The two women are afraid that this will be the excuse that the War Office will use in order to close the hospital. They combine their efforts to find the murderer. -- JAC

Tears of salt : a doctor's story

Bartolo, Pietro  Tears of Salt  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Bartolo, Pietro)  -- This saintly doctor was born on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily.  This island was so small that it lacked educational facilities past an elementary school level.  Though his father wanted him to become a fisherman, Bartolo continued his education on the Italian mainland and eventually obtained his medical degree. He returned to the island with his wife (also a doctor), children, and in-laws, and eventually became the director of the local medical clinic.  It is this position that puts him at the forefront of the immigration wave coming in from the Mediterranean, often meeting refugees on the edge of death and starvation.  This is a remarkable story about a remarkable man. -- SCR

Brown Bag Booklist from February 1
The secret, book & scone society

Adams, Ellery  The Secret, Book and Scone Society  (Fiction Adams) – This story is a delightful combination of mystery and women bonding. Adams has written numerous mysteries in at least five other series, but this new series is a bit of a departure. Nora Pennington has a small book store in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. She specializes in helping her customers choose just the right book, which will ease that patron’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burdens. She knows exactly what book to prescribe for a visiting businessman, but before she can meet with him he is found dead on the train tracks. Nora reaches out to three others to help solve the crime. The group also includes baker Hester, beautician Estelle and health spa manager June. Each of them has her own deep dark secret and must be willing to gain trust and redemption by helping others to divulge their own secret. They meet in the bookstore to share books, scones and their deepest secrets and solve the mystery along the way. This book has gathered many positive reviews and appeared on several “best of the year” lists. -- JAC

The other Einstein : a novel

Benedict, Marie  The Other Einstein  (Fiction Benedict)  - I didn’t really know much of anything about Einstein other than E = mc2. This is the fascinating fictional biography of his first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Maric. The story begins in 1896 in Zurich, Switzerland. Mileva has arrived to take her place at the prestigious Swiss Polytechnic campus. She will be studying physics and mathematics in a class with five other students (all male, of course) and the intimidating Professor Weber. Mileva is from Serbia and has been encouraged by her family to pursue the most rigorous studies she can. They all assumed she would never marry because of a hip deformity that caused her to limp. In the class with her was the charismatic and brilliant Albert Einstein, a student whose work habits left a great deal to be desired. Almost inevitably they fall in love. First, the relationship causes Mileva to take a semester off to study in Heidelberg, which puts her behind her classmates. Then she falls pregnant and returns to Serbia. She leaves their daughter with her parents and the child subsequently dies. Einstein never saw the baby and never even asked about her. Mileva returns to Switzerland to continue her studies and eventually, she and Einstein marry and have two sons. Again, unfortunately, all this turmoil results in Mileva never receiving her degree. She and Albert definitely worked on the theory of relativity together and she was, by far, the better mathematician, but he never gave her full credit. This is another novel of a woman who is forgotten by history in favor of a more famous man. -- JAC

The Story of Arthur Truluv : a novel

Berg, Elizabeth  The Story of Arthur Truluv  (Fiction Berg) – Arthur Moses makes a habit of visiting his wife every afternoon at the cemetery where she was buried just six months ago.  On many of those days, he sees a teen girl named Maddie.  Maddie visits the cemetery to escape the harassment from her fellow students at high school, and to get over her broken heart.  Slowly over time, she and Arthur become friends and when Maddie discovers she is pregnant, she moves in with Arthur and his neighbor Lucille, who is getting over her own heartbreak.  The three learn to make accommodations and become family when Maddie gives birth.  If you liked A Man Called Ove, then The Story of Arthur Truluv would be a good follow-up selection. –- ON

The German girl

Correa, Armand Lucas  The German Girl  (Fiction Correa) – In reading about the Holocaust there are many references to the S. S. St. Louis. This is the story of one of the few survivors of that incident. The St. Louis was a transatlantic liner that offered Jews a safe passage out of Germany to Havana, Cuba. Twelve-year-old Hannah Rosenthal and her parents embark on a hopeful journey that turns into a nightmare. The bureaucracies of Cuba, the United States and Canada decide not to issue visas to the vast majority of passengers. Hannah was one of only thirty or so passengers who were allowed to land in Havana. The rest of the passengers were sent back to Europe, where many of them ultimately perished. Correa tells the story primarily through the eyes of Hannah, but also introduces Anna, who is her great niece living in New York after 9-11. This is not an easy read, but it is well worth it to reinforce (if that were ever necessary) the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust. – JAC

Prairie fires : the American dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fraser, Caroline  Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder  (Nonfiction Biography 92 Wilder, Laura Ingalls) – Life on the prairie was not at all like the television series of the 1970s and 80s.  Instead, Prairie Fires documents the time as darker than chronicled through the popular children’s books and television drama.  The Wilder family moved over a dozen times, and needed Laura Ingalls Wilder to seek outside employment to help support her family.  Money, or lack of it, was always the driving force in a time that had its own economic depression. But clearly Ingalls-Wilder revered her father and loved listening to the stories from his youth, eventually passing them down to her own daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  Though Lane was the first in her family to use her writing skills as a professional journalist and ghostwriter, Ingalls Wilder also wrote local newspaper columns, eventually beginning her autobiographical volumes when she was 65.  Though it has been rumored that Lane wrote the books instead of Wilder, Fraser credits Lane with a heavy hand as an editor, not as the ghostwriter. -- SCR

The orphan's tale

Jenoff, Pam  The Orphan’s Tale  (Fiction Jenoff) – In 1944, 16-year-old Noa gave birth to a German soldier’s child.  Kicked out of her house by her parents, her fair hair and Nordic looks made her eligible for the German Lebensborn organization.   After she delivers her baby, she has second thoughts about the process, but is still forced to give the child to the state. While recovering from her losses, she hears whimpering noises at the train station.  When she investigates the sound, she finds several tiny babies that have been left to die in a train car.  Noa impulsively grabs one and hides from nearby German soldiers.  Though she understands there are risks to her actions, she runs away with the child until they are finally discovered almost frozen to death near the circus.  The local circus master takes them in, nursing the two back to health.  Since they are short of acrobats for the flying trapeze program, it is decided that she will join the team to earn her keep.  But life at the circus is fraught with both the inherent danger of learning how to function on the trapeze and is further complicated by anxiety-inducing visits from the Gestapo.  -- SCR

The widows of Malabar Hill

Massey, Sujata  The Widows of Malabar Hill  (Fiction Massey) - Perveen Mistry is the young adult daughter of a solicitor, a golden girl with a seemingly golden life. But things have not always been this good; after she met and married a handsome young man, life takes a turn for the worse.  She is forced to give up her dreams of education, loses all freedom, and must follow her mother-in-law’s strict rules, which include being secluded in a tiny dank room for 8 to 10 days each month.  When the behavior toward her becomes downright abusive, she escapes her prison, returns home, and successfully sues for a legal separation. One of her first cases involves settling the estate of Mr. Omar Farid, who has left three widows and four children behind.  The women have lived their lives in full purdah, away from the public. They are now at the mercy of Mr. Mukri, who wants them to sign over most of their inheritance to set up a boys’ school.  When he ends up dead on the day Perveen visits the home, it leads to a fascinating look at what life is like behind closed doors.  – SCR

Caroline : Little House, revisited

Miller, Sarah  Caroline: Little House Revisited  (Fiction Miller) – Little House on the Prairie has turned into quite the cottage industry. At least half a dozen books have been released in recent years treating various aspects of the saga. Sarah Miller has chosen to tell this story from the viewpoint of Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. It is the tale of the first journey of the Ingalls family in 1870. The family leaves the Big Woods of Wisconsin to travel to the Indian Territory of Kansas. There are obvious differences from the books by Wilder, in that Laura is only three years old – too young to remember the journey except as it was told to her later.  Also, be warned that this book is for adults and can be a bit graphic in descriptions. Another big difference is that Carrie was born in Kansas. Imagine making that journey while pregnant, and first meeting your neighbor when she arrives to help you give birth. I had never realized that at the end of their time in Kansas the Ingalls were forced to return to Wisconsin due to monetary constraints. In all, this is a worthwhile addition to the saga and has been approved by the Little House Heritage Trust. -- JAC

The radium girls : the dark story of America's shining women

Moore, Kate   The Radium Girls:  The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women  (Nonfiction 363.179908 M822r) - “Dip, lip, and paint,” were the precise instructions given to the lucky women who were employed at radium dial factories during World War I.  The work was difficult and precise, but had generous financial rewards if you followed the instructions.  It was possible to make 3 to 4 times the salary of other positions, placing these girls in the top 5% of female wage earners. At the time, radium was thought to have great health benefits.  Called “liquid sunshine,” it was used to cure some cancers, and was put into health-giving dressing and pills.  But, almost from the beginning, there were clues to the dangers of radium.  At first, there were mouth sores, low blood counts, fatigue, arthritic aches and pains, weight loss, and extracted teeth that would not heal. But because it often took time for these symptoms to develop, it was not until 1928 that the first lawsuits were filed.  Working up through the court system, it was 1939 before the company ran out of appeals and was forced to pay for some of the medical costs.  -- SCR

A rising man

Mukherjee, Abir  A Rising Man  (Fiction Mukherjee) – Captain Sam Wyndham was a broken man.  The former Scotland Yard CID man fought in the Great War for the Brits where he was seriously injured, and became addicted to morphine.  To make things worse, his young wife Sarah died from influenza.  When the Commissioner of the Imperial Police Force in Bengal recruits him to work in India, he packs up his morphine and sails to Calcutta. Almost as soon as he arrives, he is assigned to investigate the murder of a senior British civil servant.  The victim, whose mouth was stuffed with a note telling the British to get out of India, was an unpopular man even among the British.  At a time when India was rebelling against Britain, he spent his days making sure life was good for the ruling class.  When the investigations lead to a notorious revolutionary group leader, it looks as if the crimes will be solved quickly.  But Wyndham and his aide are not convinced the man is the killer. Character development, strong writing, and a compelling mystery set amidst a colorful historical time frame, earned this debut novel a place on Lisa Holstine’s list of best mysteries this past year.   I am looking forward to the next volume of this new mystery series. -- SCR

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Preston, Douglas  The Lost City of the Monkey God  (Nonfiction 972.85 P937l) – This volume documents the true story of the discovery of Ciudad Blanco, located in the dense overgrown jungles of Honduras.  Long an unconfirmed legend, finding the ancient city became a real possibility with the advent of laser mapping.  In fact, 2012 was the first time that such advanced technology would be tried to locate ruins.  And when the laser maps showed shapes that were indicative of man-made structures, the crew got permission from the Honduran government to explore further. Since the land was so dense and hostile, they must helicopter onto a small patch near a river.  From there, the team uses machetes to find the site and set up camp.  They spend their days surrounded by lethal snakes, quicksand, jaguars, spider monkeys, mosquitos, and sand fleas.   But these efforts are rewarded with the discovery of untouched and pristine archeological relics.  Since they had just a short period of time to explore, they make plans to excavate the relics on their next visit. After the group returns home, several of the team members begin to develop rashes that later turn into deep lesions.  When the men are finally diagnosed with a rare parasitic infection, leishmaniasis, scientists begin to theorize that this parasite may have been tied to the demise of the civilization.  Scientists now think that this area just may be too dangerous to fully examine.  – SCR

The second Mrs. Hockaday

Rivers, Susan  The Second Mrs. Hockaday  (Fiction Rivers) – This is a debut novel that is outstanding. Rivers chooses to tell this story of the Civil War through letters and diary entries and really pulls off quite a tour-de-force. The Second Mrs. Hockaday is about a seventeen-year-old girl who marries an older man and has two days with him before he is called back to fight for the South in the Civil War. This young wife, Placidia, is left alone with a few slaves to care for her infant stepson and manage Major Hockaday's three-hundred-acre farm. Despite all odds it turns out to be a love story with a happy ending. The novel is based on a true incident and is the result of a great deal of painstaking research. -- JAC

The stowaway : a young man's extraordinary adventure to Antarctica

Shapiro, Laurie Gwen  The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica   (Nonfiction 919.8904 S529s) – This is Shapiro’s first full-length work of nonfiction. The young man in question is Billy Gawronski, a new high school graduate, seventeen years old, who desperately wants adventure. He has idolized explorer Richard Byrd for years and is determined to go to Antarctica with him. The adventure begins in 1928 when Babe Ruth is hitting home runs, the economy is booming, and the music is jazz. You can tell from the writing that Shapiro is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her choice of protagonist is an inspired one and her grasp of the social history of the time is evident everywhere. Billy does not want to enter the family upholstery business, and while he is very bright, he is not really committed to getting an advanced education. The night before the expedition’s flagship departs Billy jumps into the Hudson River, swims to the ship and stows away. It ends up being an incredible voyage despite all the odds. This is a true story that reads like a Jack London adventure. -- JAC

The hidden thread : a novel

Trenow, Liz  The Hidden Thread   (Fiction Trenow) – This historical novel takes place beginning in 1760 during the reign of George III. Anna Butterfield has just arrived in London, and is living with her uncle’s family in the Spitalfields area of London, the center of silk weaving.  She has come to London following the early death of her mother. Her clergyman father hopes that she will be able to find a husband. Anna does not really fit in and is bored with nothing to do. She has always been something of an artist, but it is difficult to find subjects to sketch in the city landscape. While her uncle is in the silk trade, Anna is more interested in the design and weaving of the luxurious fabrics. She meets a very young apprentice weaver, Henri, who is a French Huguenot and clearly not of the same social class as her uncle’s family. When Henri sees some of Anna’s colorful drawings from nature he is captivated and they figure out a way to translate her designs into silk. The story is based on that of Anna Maria Garthwaite. The author’s family have been silk weavers for several hundred years and she also diligently researched the subject before writing this compelling novel and social history. This book has also been published as The Silk Weaver. -- JAC

The hidden light of Northern fires : a novel

Wang, Daren  The Hidden Light of Northern Fires   (Fiction Wang) –  This historical novel takes place during the American Civil War. The unique hook is that it takes place in the tiny hamlet of Town Line, New York (just outside Buffalo and very near Canada). That location is important because it was the only town north of the Mason-Dixon line to “secede” along with the southern states. That had no real legal effect, but it does show just how conflicted the citizens of the hamlet were. They did not vote to rejoin the union until 1946. Some of the citizens fought for the Union and several fought for the Confederacy. The main character in this first novel by Daren Wang is Mary Willis, a recent graduate of Alfred University and a staunch abolitionist. She worked on the Underground Railroad and even hid runaway slaves in her family’s barn. Joe Bell was one of the negroes she rescued. He stayed hidden for a long time to recover from a leg amputation. Other important characters include the requisite slave catcher. This is a beautifully written novel, based on true stories. I look forward to Wang’s next book after reading this riveting story. -- JAC


Also Recommended

The seafront tearoom

Greene, Vanessa  The Seafront Tearoom  (Fiction Greene) – Four women are brought together through tea. I couldn’t resist that premise. Letty owns the Seafront Tearoom in small-town Scarborough, England. She doesn’t really want to attract massive numbers of tourists, but prefers to keep things low-key and homey. Journalist Charlie Harrison, who is on a visit to her sister Pippa and her family in Scarborough, would love to give the tearoom a boost by featuring it in her foodie magazine. Local tea obsessive Kat and French au pair Séraphine also love the tearoom just the way it is. However, Charlie works out a compromise. Letty suggests other worthwhile and quaint tearooms in the area and Kat and Séraphine arrange to visit them and write mini reviews. Charlie returns to London to edit her magazine. The descriptions of the tearooms and the recipes are mouthwatering and the developing friendships are heartwarming. -- JAC

The leavers : a novel

Ko, Lisa  The Leavers  (Fiction Ko) – Deming Gou was just 11 years old on the day his mother Polly disappeared from his life.  Stunned by the loss, he stops going to school and stays home with the mother’s boyfriend Leon, his sister, Vivian, and her son, Michael, until he is finally turned over to foster care.  Deming, now Daniel Wilkensen, becomes the child of two well-meaning professors in upstate New York.  Deming drifts through life with his only interest being music.  Things change when Deming turns 21, after Michael contacts him with information about Polly.  When Deming calls Polly and discovers what happened all those years ago, we learn Polly went back to China in search of a better life.  Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature, this is a moving story of a son in need of stability, and a mother who must come to terms with her past choices. -- SCR

The wedding bees : a novel of honey, love, and manners

Lynch, Sarah-Kate  The Wedding Bees: a Novel of Honey, Love and Manners   (Fiction Lynch) – Sarah-Kate Lynch is the author of eight novels and travel editor of New Zealand Woman's Day, New Zealand's bestselling weekly magazine. Sugar Wallace is a “runaway bride” from South Carolina, who has been running to a different city for over ten years. She travels with a bare minimum of possessions and her hives of bees. She lets the bees decide their next destination by setting the queen free to crawl on a map of the United States. This year Queen Bee Elizabeth VI has chosen New York City. The naturally gregarious Sugar soon bonds with her eccentric neighbors in the East Village apartment building (the bees live on the balcony). The neighbors include Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements, reclusive chef Nate, single mom Lola who owns a balloon store, a courtly ex-doorman named George and a charming Scotsman named Theo. This is a heartwarming story with a little magic woven in. -- JAC

Brown Bag Booklist from November 2
In Farleigh Field : a novel

Bowen, Rhys  In Farleigh Field (Fiction Bowen) – Bowen is well-known and beloved for her three mystery series: Constable Evans, Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness. This stand-alone novel takes place during World War II in Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham. Imagine Downton Abbey moved from World War I to the second World War. Westerham has five daughters with unique personalities. The action opens when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the grounds of the estate. Although he is wearing a British uniform, it soon becomes apparent that he is not an Englishman. Ben Cresswell is a friend of the family and a secret MI5 operative. As he tries to determine if the parachutist was a German spy, he becomes close with Pamela, the middle daughter of Lord Westerham. She also has a secret as she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the code-breaking facility. As more and more secrets, spies and traitors are uncovered, it seems possible that someone in the Westerham circle may have an appalling agenda. --JAC

The girl who wrote in silk

Estes, Kelli  The Girl Who Wrote in Silk (Fiction Estes) –  Inara Erickson has just graduated from business school and returned to her home in Seattle, where she is taking a well-earned vacation at her Aunt’s Orca Island Estate.  Though she spent many of her childhood summers on the island, she wants to spend one last bit of time there before she sells her inheritance and heads off to the working world. Memories reawaken and remind her why she loved the property so much. Inara begins to think about turning the property into a boutique hotel instead of taking a corporate job.  Though her wealthy father agrees to bankroll needed renovations, he is not happy about her project.  To complicate matters, she discovers a heavily embroidered sleeve on the property.  Wanting to find out more about the sleeve, she consults with a local history professor. The garment’s creator, Mei Lein, was the daughter of a Chinese merchant in Seattle when the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted. Pushed off the transport ship, she washed up on the island and married a local farmer.  But not even marriage protected Mei from bigotry, and slowly Estes leads us to understand just what the sleeve reveals about Mei’s life. --SCR

Love and other consolation prizes : a novel

Ford, Jamie  Love and Other Consolation Prizes (Fiction Ford) –  The author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet returns to Seattle, this time with a biracial Chinese boy who has been sent to America for a better life. Ending up as a ward of the state, Yung is raffled off during the 1909 World’s Fair to the flamboyant owner of a bordello.  As the home’s handyman and later chauffeur, Yung, now renamed Ernest Young, finds friendship and warmth with the Madame’s daughter, Maisie, and a young Japanese scullery maid named Fahn.  But, it is just a matter of time before the local women exert their right to vote and rid Seattle of its red light district. Fifty years later, Ernest visits Seattle’s 1962 Fair and recalls the dismantling of the only home he had known as a child and the two girls who befriended him. --SCR

How to find love in a bookshop

Henry, Veronica  How to Find Love in a Bookshop (Fiction Henry) – Emilia Nightingale has inherited a bookshop in an idyllic English village near Oxford. But Emilia is having a hard time keeping the store alive after the death of her father. The store and the stock need to be updated while keeping the ambiance and the old regular customers happy. Even though Emilia promised to keep the shop going, it is becoming harder to ignore the property developers who would love to get their hands on the land. Several of her customers have intriguing love stories: Sarah owns the stately Peasebrook Manor and uses the bookstore as her escape from reality. Jackson needs help in choosing books for his son, whom his former wife keeps away from him. Thomasina is extremely shy, and runs a pop-up restaurant in her home, but she has a secret crush on a man she met in the cookbook section. --JAC  

The other Alcott

Hooper, Elise  The Other Alcott (Fiction Hooper) – Most of us have read and loved the story of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is the story of her youngest sister, Abigail May, who went by the name of May. Louisa, of course, was Jo March in Little Women and May was Amy March. May had actually resented Louisa for her portrayal of shallow, selfish and spoiled Amy in the iconic novel, but the sisters were also very devoted to each other. The Other Alcott is biographical fiction at its best, as it tells how Amy becomes an accomplished artist. This is Amy’s story from 1868 to 1880. She takes art lessons in Boston and then goes to Paris, Rome and London in order to pursue her muse. Some of those studies are funded by her novelist sister who is now quite well off. But May truly has talent. She has two paintings accepted by the Paris Salon and becomes friends with Mary Cassatt, among others. She is able to make a living by making and selling copies of J. M. W. Turner’s paintings. And, ultimately, she marries a Swiss businessman Ernest  Nieriker who was also an outstanding amateur violinist. She married him because he had no hesitation in encouraging her artistic pursuits, unlike earlier suitors who expected her to settle down to family life. This is Hooper’s debut novel and shows her to be an expert researcher. But she is also able to create a tone that is somehow reminiscent of Little Women. I look forward to her next novel. --JAC

The last castle : the epic story of love, loss, and American royalty in the nation's largest home

Kiernan, Denise  The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home (Nonfiction 975.688 K47l ) – This is the story of Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina. It was conceived and built by the multi-millionaire George Washington Vanderbilt. He designed a spectacular estate on 125,000 isolated acres of North Carolina wilderness. Vanderbilt could afford the best, so he hired famed architect William Morris Hunt to design and oversee the construction of a 175,000 square foot château. He also hired the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to design and oversee new gardens and vistas. Vanderbilt married another member of New York’s famed 400 first families, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. Other features of the mansion included priceless art and antiques, a charming village beyond the gates and the site of America’s first attempt at scientific forestry. Changing fortunes and the premature death of George nearly destroyed the castle, but the astute Edith was able to save Biltmore and preserve the legacy. The book includes photographs, I only wish there were more of them and that they could be in color. The book has made me determined to visit Biltmore. Kiernan’s previous nonfiction book, The Girls of Atomic City, was very different but equally meticulously researched. --JAC

The Prague sonata : a novel

Morrow, Bradford  The Prague Sonata (Fiction Morrow) – I think Morrow wrote this book just for me! A couple of years ago we recommended his book, The Forgers, about a notorious forger of literary works. Now he has shifted his focus to the world of musicology in an epic novel about an unknown piano sonata. In 2000, Meta Taverner is given the manuscript of a beautiful middle movement of a sonata by an unknown composer. She is told that the manuscript was entrusted to an elderly Czech immigrant living out her last days in Queens, New York by her best friend in Prague during the awful days of World War II. Her friend inherited the sonata from her father and is determined to keep the music out of the hands of the Nazis. She keeps the first movement for herself, gives the second movement to her best friend and the finale to her husband, who is destined to die as a member of the Czech underground. This is the story of Meta’s journey to find the other movements, traveling from Prague to London and around the midwestern United States. It is also an enlightening look at the history of Prague, a beautiful city which was conquered by the Nazis and the Communists and ultimately freed after the Velvet Revolution. The next part of the quest is to determine the name of the composer – it could be Mozart or Haydn or Dussek or C.P.E. Bach or someone else entirely. Morrow’s music and history scholarship is impeccable and this monumental saga was hard to put down. --JAC

Code girls : the untold story of the American women code breakers who helped win World War II

Munday, Liza  Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II (Nonfiction 940.548673 M965c) – We have been treated to several books recently that bring to light the role of women in professions we commonly thought of as men’s exclusive domain. This is the story of the ten thousand American women who worked as code breakers in the second world war. I found the history fascinating. Mundy gives us background on many individuals, which helps to bring the story to life. Some of the “girls” were recruited from elite colleges, others were school teachers looking for a better-paying, more fulfilling challenge, and many more simply answered the call to serve. It was surprising to me that there were women commissioned to the Navy. Others worked for the Army, although they were not official members of the armed forces. These extremely bright and patriotic women were responsible for breaking the both the Japanese codes and the German codes. They were ordered to never reveal the details of their wartime work. As a result, their story was almost totally lost to history, but Mundy and other archivists have preserved that history and now made it readily available. --JAC

The romance reader's guide to life

Pywell, Sharon  The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life (Fiction Pywell) –   On a trip to Alaska, Pywell discovered she had nothing to read except romances, a genre she had never read but heartily disdained.  Desperate to read, she was astonished at her turnaround. Pywell created Neave, a young frustrated reader who, with the help of her hapless brother, lands a job at the age of 10 reading to a neighbor who owns a whole case of romance novels.  Though the books are off-limits to Neave, she manages to steal a copy of The Pirate’s Love. With the chapters of this romance as a guide, we learn how Neave discovers her independence, overcomes travesty, looks out for her siblings, deals with evil, forges ahead to commercial success, and develops love that overcomes all obstacles.  Superb writing, original situations and characters set in the mid to later 1900’s; I might have read it a third time.  --SBB

The Alice network : a novel

Quinn, Kate  The Alice Network (Fiction Quinn) –  Eve Gardiner is recruited into a female espionage network in 1915.  Sent to France, she is trained by Lili, AKA Alice, and is assigned to seek work as a waitress in a renowned restaurant.  Because she can understand German and English, she is especially helpful in relating conversations of the German officers.  Based on a real female spy network, the three women become instrumental in relaying news of Hitler’s visit and the upcoming Normandy Invasion. In the late 1940s, Charlie St. Clair has been taken to London because she is pregnant without the benefit of marriage. Though her mother intends to take her to a clinic to end the pregnancy, Charlie only agrees to take the trip because she wants to find out what happened to her cousin Rose during the war. Locating Eve from Rose’s old correspondence, Charlie manages to escape her mother.  Landing in the Normandy area where Rose last worked, the two discover that the man who employed Rose is also related to Eve’s saga. –-SCR

The baby thief : the untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption

Raymond, Barbara Bisantz  The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption (Nonfiction 362.734 R268b) – After the turn of the century, Memphis was particularly hard hit with mosquito-borne illnesses that decimated the local population.  The city’s political structure was also wiped out, making it ripe for corruption under new elected mayor Edward Hull Crump.  Around this time, Georgia Tann also started to work for the government at the Tennessee Children’s Home.  A social worker, albeit one with no moral character, she is credited for making adoption socially acceptable. Protected by complicit judges, lawyers, city officials, police, nurses, and social workers, Tann had a network of scouts who took mostly poor, blond babies right from the maternity or pediatric wards and/or homes, and then brought them to her agency.  She renamed the children, reissued birth certificates to match, and then redistributed them to wealthy families.    It was only after Tann’s death that her methods were exposed.  She personally pocketed over a million dollars over the 30 years. Raymond’s thorough research documents how over 5,000 children were negatively impacted by Tann’s inexcusable actions.   Still, despite the illegality of Tann’s work, so many wealthy clients and officials were involved that it took time and legal pressure for the state to open the children’s adoption records in order to give them some sense of closure. --SCR

The last chance matinee

Stewart, Mariah  The Last Chance Matinee (Fiction Stewart) – The is the first book in a new trilogy by Mariah Stewart about the Hudson Sisters. When Fritz Hudson suddenly passes away, he leaves quite a Hollywood legacy behind. But the impact on his families is startling, to say the least. Yes, he left behind two families who knew nothing of the other’s existence. Allie and Des are the daughters he had with Hollywood starlet Honora. Cara is the daughter of Susa, with whom Fritz had a wonderful relationship – but he never told them about his West Coast family. Now there is a large inheritance to be had, but only if the three daughters upend their lives and work together to restore an old theater in the Pocono Mountains. Stewart is one of the best writers of family fiction. --JAC

Penhale wood : a mystery

Thomas, Julia  Penhale Wood (Fiction Thomas) –  A year after her youngest daughter was brutally murdered in Penhale Wood, England, Iris Flynn is now living in Australia.  Still beyond grief, Iris borrows money from her sister and flies back to England to urge Robert McIntrye, the original investigating officer, to reopen the case and find her daughter’s killer. Robert has troubles of his own, with a sharp-tongued boss and the surprising departure of his long-time girlfriend, who has just published a best-selling mystery.  Robert sets aside his problems and resumes the investigation using both his and his client’s clues and theories.  This novel is thoroughly believable with interesting characters and spot-on writing.  --SBB

A gentleman in Moscow

Towles, Amor  A Gentleman in Moscow (Fiction Towles) – Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced to spend the rest of his days within the walls of Moscow’s famed Metropol Hotel for writing subversive poetry.  He is forced to move into an abandoned area of the hotel, leaving behind his luxurious suite and most of his possessions. But his confinement isn’t all bad.  He has access to funds that afford him some luxuries. He is held in high regard by the hotel staff.  He has friends who provide occasional companionship. And when he meets a lively young gal named Nina, she introduces him to people and places in the hotel he has never seen.  As she grows up and departs, he adapts again and begins to work at the hotel’s 5-star restaurant. Life takes another turn when Nina returns with her young daughter Sofia and charges him with a not-so-temporary guardianship.  What starts out as punishment ends up as a most blessed life.  I adored this book. --SCR

The countess of Prague Weeks, Stephen The Countess of Prague (Fiction Weeks) – This is the first book in a projected series of ten mystery novels published by Phoenix’s own Poisoned Pen Press. We are introduced to Beatrice von Falkenburg, known as Trixie, in 1904. Her investigations take place all over Europe. Trixie is the daughter of a noble Czech father and an English mother. She begins her career at the age of 28. She is growing apart from her husband, is bored with society and is terrified of becoming truly impoverished. This case is centered around finding out what happened to an old man who was once under the command of her military uncle. Trixie does an admirable job of mixing with kings and princes and government officials and becomes more and more comfortable with a new view of her servants. The novel is a great mix of a mystery, humor and a history lesson. –JAC
Before we were yours : a novel

Wingate, Lisa  Before We Were Yours (Fiction Wingate) – In 1939, 12-year-old Rill Foss was babysitting her 4 younger siblings on a river boat while her mother was taken to shore to give birth to twins.  Soon after the parents leave, the children were removed from the boat by police and told that they would be taken to the hospital to see Mom. Instead, they were placed into custody of the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home.  Renamed, they are given fictional backgrounds, housed in a dank basement, and fed meager rations.  The 5 children were only nicely dressed and nourished when showcased to prospective adoptive parents. In present day, Avery Stafford is a young lawyer who is being groomed to take her Father’s South Carolina Senate seat when he retires.  While she is reestablishing her South Carolina residency, she makes a visit to a nursing home with the Senator. During the function, resident May Crandall calls Avery by the name of Fern, and pockets her bracelet.  Curious, Avery returns to the nursing home to retrieve the bracelet and speak with May.  Slowly May’s background is revealed and we come to understand how the two stories converge. --SCR

Wagging through the snow

Berenson, Laurien  Wagging through the Snow (Fiction Berenson) – I always enjoy reading a Melanie Travis Canine Mystery. Melanie is happily married, with two sons and five poodles. In her spare time she teaches special needs children at the elite Howard Academy. Then she is told by her brother and ex-husband that they have just purchased a dilapidated Christmas tree farm only a few weeks before Christmas. There is no way to get the farm ready in time for Christmas and things are complicated by the discovery of a dead body of a vagrant on the property. After pure bred Maltese leads them to discover the body, Melanie and her dog show judge Aunt Peg must find out who killed the man. -JAC

An Arizona Christmas

Johnstone, William W.  An Arizona Christmas (Fiction Johnstone) –  I have never recommended a western novel for the Brown Bag Book Review, and I figured it was about time. William W. Johnstone and J. A. Johnstone are renowned authors in the genre. First of all, this is a Western, which means lots of gunfights, plenty of action and suspense. But usually the good guys win, and the bad guys get their just deserts. The very beginning and the very end of the book is set in Belgium in 1944. During a break in the action, Sarge is begged to tell a story to his platoon. He tells a story involving the Jensen clan who are travelling to Tucson for a Christmas reunion.  A train trestle is blown up, a stagecoach is hired, and then comes the worst sandstorm imaginable plus the Apache Indians in addition to some gunslingers. It can’t be any worse than World War II, can it? The story actually brings hope to the platoon, who learn the value of never giving up. --JAC

Merry and bright : a novel

Macomber, Debbie  Merry and Bright (Fiction Macomber) – Debbie Macomber always has at least one novella for the Christmas season. This year it is the story of Merry Smith and Jayson Bright. It is the holiday season and Merry is taking care of her family as well as working at a temp job with a huge deadline coming up on December 23rd. Her boss is Jayson Bright who is a curmudgeonly Grinch, even though he is a young man.  Merry gets home one night to discover that her Down syndrome brother, with their mother’s approval, has signed her up for an online dating service. At the same time Jayson hears that his best friend is going to be married and is inspired to sign up at the same site. Both he and Merry submit photos of their golden retriever dogs and meet online. After many false starts and almost in-person meetings of the couple, there is, of course, a happy ending. --JAC

Holly and ivy

Michaels, Fern  Holly and Ivy (Fiction Michaels) –  Romance author Fern Michaels has also written a number of Christmas novellas over the years. This year’s story takes place in North Carolina. Ivy Macintosh is wondering how she can face another Christmas alone. Ever since her entire family was killed in a plane crash eight years ago, she has been unable to function. Her self-imposed exile is broken when frightened eleven-year-old Holly Greenwood knocks on her door. She is lost and needs help to get home. Holly’s life is not very happy. Her mother has died and her father doesn’t seem to be able to relate to the child. Holly’s greatest love is music. She is a beautiful singer, but her father hates music and will not allow her to study. And that is how she came to get lost. She had gone to visit her music coach, without her father’s permission, and somehow became lost on the way home.  Holly and Ivy connect and the Christmas season ends up happy after all. --JAC

Brown Bag Booklist from August 3
The general's women : a novel

Albert, Susan Wittig  The General’s Women (Fiction Albert) –  During the London Blitz in 1940-41, a beautiful Irish girl named Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh aided the wartime effort as an ambulance driver.  After bombing eased, she also served as a chauffeur for American officers.  By May of 1942, as one of the most senior drivers, she was entitled to choose the best assignments.  Fate intervened when she overslept on a crucial day, and she was matched with a lowly, two-star American general named Dwight David Eisenhower.  This undertaking changed the life of a woman who became known as Kay Summersby. Kay proved to be a bright, capable, and loyal driver and then aide, who fit right into Ike’s work family.  As time passed, Eisenhower’s career took a dramatic rise and the two became more than just work companions.  Back in Washington, Mamie heard the gossip, and used her considerable influence to bring him back into her world after the war ended.  SCR

Salt houses

Alyan, Hala  Salt Houses (Fiction Alyan) – In Alyan’s debut novel, she follows the lives of a young Palestinian family residing in Israel.  Salma and Hussam Yacoub have married, settled in Jaffa, and started a family. In the early 1950s, they are forced to resettle around the Golan Heights.  In the fifteen years spent there, the Yacoub’s eldest daughter, Widad, married an older widower, son Mustafa became involved in political issues, and youngest daughter Alia married Mustafa’s best friend, Atef.  In 1967, Israel invaded Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and took over the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.   The Yacoub family are driven from their home again. Though the novel follows the tensions in the Middle East, the book focuses more upon the family and how they cope with being uprooted.  SCR

The last days of Cafe Leila : a novel

Bijan, Donia  The Last Days of Café Leila (Fiction Bijan) – Noor, a beautiful young Iranian, settled in San Francisco in 1979 because her father Zod wanted her to be far away from the Islamic Revolution. There she studied nursing, met her surgeon husband, Nelson, and had a daughter named Lily.  On the day of their 16th wedding anniversary, Noor’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses her husband embracing another woman. Seeing their marriage as beyond repair, she files for divorce. Though Noor has remained close to her Dad, it has been over 30 years since she has been home. Zod has spent his life running the family’s Café Leila in Tehran. Deciding that she needs the comforts of her Dad and home, she takes Lily to Iran.  Lily is a handful there, testing the limits of both her mother and the local police.  Over time, Noor and Lily must come to terms with the divorce, their familial connection to Iran, and Zod’s declining health.  SCR

The forever summer : a novel

Brenner, Jamie  The Forever Summer (Fiction Brenner) – Marin’s life is suddenly falling apart. Instead of being a lawyer on the fast-track, she is unemployed. Instead of having a handsome fiancé, she is alone. Then a stranger, Rachel, arrives claiming to be her half-sister. What else could go wrong? The two young women go to visit Rachel’s grandmother Amelia in a beautiful beachside inn in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. In this idyllic setting, the three women are getting to know one another when Marin’s mother shows up with even more upsetting revelations. This has been hailed as THE beach read for this summer. It will be enjoyed by fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Adriana Trigiani. JAC

A dog's way home

Cameron, W. Bruce  A Dog’s Way Home (Fiction Cameron) – Cameron’s dog books are always popular. This one reminds me of The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (or Disney’s movie Homeward Bound). Lucas Ray works in a VA hospital while earning enough money to go to medical school and to take care of his mother, who suffers from PTSD. But he also has an incredible desire to help homeless animals, especially feral cats. He is amazed when a small puppy who has been nesting with the cats jumps into his arms. Lucas decides to adopt the affectionate puppy, whom he names Bella, but they face almost insurmountable obstacles. First, pets are not allowed in his apartment. Second, pit bulls are not permitted in Denver, Colorado. Third, a corrupt animal control officer is determined to euthanize Bella, who, despite appearances, is not a pit bull. The boy and dog manage to elude these problems and Bella soon becomes an emotional therapy dog at the VA hospital. But then Bella is captured and fostered out to a community some 400 miles away from home. This is Bella’s story, told in her own voice,  of how she finds Lucas by traveling across the wilderness. JAC

The lost letter

Cantor, Jillian  The Lost Letter (Fiction Cantor) – It’s 1989, and Katie Nelson is going through a bad divorce.  As she is cleaning out her old home, she comes across her father’s old stamp collection.  Thinking that it needs to be appraised, she takes it in to a young expert, Benjamin Grossman.  There, in his shop, they come across a stamp that hides a distinctive, but miniature flower in the background. During World War II, Kristoff answers an ad to become an apprentice to Frederik Faber, a famed Polish stamp engraver. Kristoff loves being with the Faber family, and daughter Elena especially.  After the Nazis invade Poland, only Elena and Kristoff remain in the family home.  Under Elena’s influence, the two begin to forge identity papers until they inevitably get caught.  Cantor alternates chapters between the time periods, ultimately linking the two stories together.  SCR

Miss you

Eberlen, Kate  Miss You (Fiction Eberlen) – This is a romantic debut novel that received outstanding reviews in all of the professional library journals. It is a story of two people, Tess and Gus, who first meet briefly in Florence, Italy when they are eighteen years old. The novel goes on to tell each of their stories separately in alternating chapters. Tess has plans to go to college and become a writer, but those plans are derailed by the death of her mother. Gus is also about to attend college, but is still coping with the sudden, tragic death of his older brother. Each character gets to about the same place at the same time over the next fourteen years, but they never really meet. Then the improbable happens and they do meet again. Both characters are very appealing and the reader can’t help but hope that this time they will get together.  JAC

Victoria : a novel

Goodwin, Daisy  Victoria (Fiction Goodwin) – I love biographical fiction and this is one of the best in the genre. This book was the basis of the Masterpiece program Victoria on PBS. Reading the novel will get you ready for the second installment of Victoria later this year. This novel focuses on the young Victoria as she becomes queen upon the death of her uncle, William IV. She is headstrong (call me Victoria, not Alexandrina), immature (her best friends are dolls and her dog) and impetuous (falsely accusing her mother’s lady-in-waiting of being pregnant). But this story shows how the young queen begins to understand her role as a constitutional monarch and focuses on her mentor Lord Melbourne. And then there is Albert, the love of her life, whom she initially dismisses as being dull and priggish. Goodwin was a student at Cambridge University and began her research into the life of Victoria by studying Victoria’s own diaries.  JAC

The forbidden garden

Herrick, Ellen  The Forbidden Garden (Fiction Herrick) – Sorrel Sparrow is one of three sisters who run and nurture a gardening nursery on the New England coast. She is then hired to restore the walled Shakespearean garden at Kirkwood Hall in England. She is reluctant to leave home and family, but decides to take on the challenge. And challenge it is: the garden is desolate, even cursed. Any family member who has tried to bring it back to its former glory has been harmed in some way. Sorrel immediately bonds with both the Kirkwood family and the garden itself. Sorrel’s efforts to restore the magical balance of lavender, roses, sage, peonies, elder, apple, pear, sweet pea, campanula, monkshood, thistle, hawthorne, wisteria, marigold, phlox and many more plants is captivating. I especially loved the map of the garden, which helped me to envision the garden as it is being restored. There is also romance and a bit of magic that helps the story to progress.  JAC

Magpie murders

Horowitz, Anthony  Magpie Murders (Fiction Horowitz) – Editor Susan Ryeland works with best-selling mystery author Alan Conway.  Conway has just sent his latest manuscript, Magpie Murders, featuring detective Atticus Pund, for editing.  Though Conway’s detective is beloved by millions, Ryeland knows she must endure Conway’s reprehensible behavior if she wants to keep her position.   And it isn’t long before she learns that this novel is not going to follow the normal path to publishing when she cannot locate the last chapters to the book, and the author, himself, turns up dead in his own mansion. This mystery within a mystery echoes the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and makes a perfect summer read.  CJ

The baker's secret

Kiernan, Stephen P.  The Baker’s Secret (Fiction Kiernan) – Emmanuelle, a baker’s apprentice living on the Normandy Coast in 1944, has been working under master baker Ezra Kuchen for the last 10 years.  After the war starts, life becomes increasingly difficult with the loss of both Ezra and her father at the hands of the Nazis.  To make things even worse, she is forced to share her home with a German officer, while Phillipe, her lover, leaves for the front. But Emma’s sorrow slowly turns into action.  She begins by using her baking talents to stretch her allotment of flour by adding straw to feed both the Nazi soldiers and her neighbors.  Emma also becomes instrumental in creating a bartering system to help others in her village survive the occupation.   Recommended for readers who enjoyed The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah.  SCR

Beach house for rent

Monroe, Mary Alice  Beach House for Rent (Fiction Monroe) – This is the fourth novel in Monroe’s Beach House series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. The beach house, Primrose Cottage, is on the Isle of Palms in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Monroe has previously written about the environmental issues affecting the loggerhead turtles on this island. This time, she branches out to the problems facing shorebirds in the area. Monroe also weaves a heart-warming story about women who are seeking comfort, healing and strength. Cara, who owns the cottage, is desperately seeking income to keep her late husband’s ecotourism boat business going. Heather is a young, naïve and introverted artist who has been given a commission to paint shorebirds for a series of United States postage stamps. She needs a place to stay for the summer where she can study the birds (while taking care of her pet canaries, who are her only friends). I love the photographs by Barbara Bergwerf which grace the title page of each section in the novel. JAC

Rise and shine, Benedict Stone : a novel

Patrick, Phaedra  Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone (Fiction Patrick) – It’s been a tough time for Benedict.  His village jewelry business is failing, his long-time assistant needs major surgery, his wife has left him because they cannot have children, and his 16-year-old niece, Gemma, has dropped in from America for an undetermined spell. Gemma is the daughter of his long-estranged brother Charlie. Though she is vague about her father, she eagerly shows Benedict a sack full of gems that once belonged to their parents. Gemma is very curious about the history of the gems, and is determined to stay in England and help run the business.  Along the way, she also comes up with a plan to help Benedict win back his wife. SCR

A front page affair

Vatsal, Radha  A Front Page Affair (Fiction Vatsal) – Vatsal grew up in Mumbai, India, but she moved to the United States to attend boarding school when she was sixteen and has stayed here ever since. She also attended Duke University, where she earned her PhD concentrating on women filmmakers and action film heroines of the silent cinema era. This is her first mystery and is very accomplished. It will remind many of Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy Mystery series. The heroine of Vatsal’s novel is Kitty Weeks, an aspiring journalist in New York in 1915. Kitty is well-traveled and educated and writes well, but, as is typical of the time, her assignments are always for the “women’s” pages. She is covering a high society picnic when a murder occurs. Since Kitty was fortuitously on the spot, she is temporarily assigned to the story. The second book in this series, Murder Between the Lines, is equally enjoyable.  JAC

The garden of small beginnings

Waxman, Abbi  The Garden of Small Beginnings (Fiction Waxman) – Lilian Girvan is a single mother of two small daughters. She has been a widow for three years following the sudden death of her husband in an accident. Lilian is still grieving intensely, but it may be time for her to open up to new possibilities in her life. She works as a textbook illustrator and is afraid that her job may be ending. However, her editor offers her an opportunity to illustrate a vegetable encyclopedia if she will attend a gardening class. She reluctantly registers for the class and brings along her two children and her sister. Surprisingly, the class, which includes a quirky and diverse group of people, ends up being Lilian’s impetus to move on with her life while discovering a new passion for gardening. Each chapter begins with a pen and ink drawing of a vegetable accompanied by growing and harvesting instructions. This is a debut novel and a new author of women’s fiction to keep your eye on.  JAC

Also Recommended
The windfall : a novel

Basu, Diksha  The Windfall (Fiction Basu) – Anil and Bindu Jha have been married for 30 years.  When Mr. Jha sells his internet company for $20 million USD, their lives become open to endless opportunities.  Soon, they not only have a beautiful new Mercedes, new furniture and a new look, but they have sold their modest home to relocate to the priciest part of Dehli. Though the Jha family is eager to leave some of their nosy neighbors behind, they find that their new neighborhood and newly acquired lifestyle come with a whole new set of problems.   SCR

To the farthest shores

Camden, Elizabeth  To the Farthest Shores (Fiction Camden) –  Camden has a real knack for writing historical romances. This story is about a naval officer and an Army nurse stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1898. Jenny Bennett has fallen in love with Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher while nursing him through a typhoid attack. He is about to be sent on a secret mission and asks her to wait for him. Six years go by and she has heard nothing. Ryan suddenly reappears with no explanation and a four-year-old daughter in tow and acts like he doesn’t even know Jenny. Be assured that the star-crossed lovers will get together and that you, the reader, will get historical information about some of our earliest spy attempts and the beginnings of the cultured pearl industry. Camden is also the author of Beyond All Dreams, about a map librarian at the Library of Congress. JAC

Starting over on Blackberry Lane

Roberts, Sheila  Starting Over on Blackberry Lane (Fiction Monroe) – If you love Debbie Macomber’s series set in Cedar Cove, give Sheila Roberts’ series Life in Icicle Falls a try. Starting Over on Blackberry Lane is the tenth volume in this addicting series. It features three women who need help. Bakery owner Cass Wilkes has an empty house and a hole in her roof that caused the ceiling to fall on her dining room table. Photographer Griffin James is suddenly single and needs to sell her fixer-upper house in order to pursue her career elsewhere. Stefanie Stahl has a husband who starts and never finishes home projects. The three team up to win the services of handyman Grant Masters at a charity auction. This emotionally satisfying and warm-hearted romantic story is also infused with chuckle-inducing humor.JAC

Moonlight over Paris

Robson, Jennifer  Moonlight Over Paris (Fiction Robson) – Canadian author Jennifer Robson has writen fiction set in the World War I era and the post-war years. Her first best-seller was Somewhere in France, followed by After the War Is Over. This novel takes place primarily in Paris in 1924, although the main characters are English or American. Lady Helen Montagu-Douglas-Parr is the daughter of British aristocrats. She is trying to recover from the physical effects of surviving scarlet fever and the emotional effects of being blamed for the ending of her engagement to a British war hero. She goes to Paris to live with her eccentric aunt while attending art school. She is determined to make friends as plain old Helen Parr and mostly succeeds. She meets many of the ex-patriots living in 1920s Paris, including Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. She also meets fictional American journalist Sam Howard. He is irascible and much too uncompromising in his honesty, but somehow, they have a great effect on each other. I really enjoy the Paris descriptions in the 1920s. JAC

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