“The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn is a beautifully written novel that combines several genres and does credit to them all. It’s about women spies, about romance, about determination, and occasionally about men who wouldn’t believe them just because they were women.
The story alternates between the times of the two World Wars. In 1915, the reader meets Eve Gardiner, an intelligent young woman with a stutter, who because of her language ability — she speaks English, French and German — is recruited to be a spy for England. She is sent to France to work in the restaurant of a collaborator, an amoral man of fine taste who owns an equally fine restaurant frequented by the German officers.
“How to Change a Life” by Stacey Ballis is not just a lovely beach read; it’s filled with yummy food ideas and also some more serious topics. For example, when is a friend not really a friend? What happens when you lose touch with a friend and then find it’s too late to renew the friendship?
Ballis’ writing is lovely. It’s apparent that she is an experienced author. She does a nice job balancing description, dialogue, and plot. When Eloise, almost forty, meets up with her two best friends from high school, her life changes. They reunite and decide to pursue some of the dreams that they haven’t fulfilled in the past twenty years. They make it a bet, and they have to accomplish it before their 40th birthday.
Reading “The Good Daughter” by Karin Slaughter is like finding a nugget of gold after slogging through acres of mud. It’s that good.
Slaughter’s narrative grabs the reader from the first few pages. The story revolves around two sisters, Charlotte and Samantha (Charlie and Sam). Almost immediately, the reader learns about the horrible tragedy that tears apart their family, resulting in the death of their mother. Their family will never again be the same, and neither will Sam and Charlie’s relationship.
Reading the “Andy Carpenter” series by David Rosenfelt is dangerous. The books should come with warnings: “Read with Caution, Extremely Addicting.” The latest book in the series, “Collared,” is no exception.
In this case, Carpenter must uncover the mystery of what happened to an abducted baby. It all starts with a dog — of course. A border collie is dropped off at Carpenter’s animal rescue, and the dog’s microchip connects the dog to a woman whose child was abducted, with the dog, three years before. Carpenter’s wife, Laurie, is friends with Jill Hickman, the woman whose adopted baby was kidnapped, so he gets involved.
With “The Ultimatum,” Karen Robards creates a strong, powerful, intelligent female protagonist/criminal whose abilities and actions rival the best male hero. Super criminal power? Bianca’s got it down. Karate moves a must? Bianca’s mastered them all. Spy gadgets? Bianca’s got them in her super sexy garter belts.
She stays cool under pressure, has a perfect alter ego life when she’s not working, and doesn’t exactly remember her past. In this first book of a series, Bianca comes face to face with who she is and where she comes from. She uncovers secrets that were meant to remain hidden, and that had remained hidden at the cost of many human lives.
“Lucky Boy” is the story of two women and the lengths to which they go to have or to keep the child that they both love. The two women have led very different lives.
Solimar comes from a very poor, very rural village in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s so poor that all the young people leave, and there are no students for the school, which closes. Solimar decides to go north to America, where she will have a chance to make money to send back to her parents. Her journey is fraught with danger and disappointment. She ends up pregnant in Berkeley, California.
“The Café by the Sea” continues Jenny Colgan’s string of lovely, light stories about women who need to take charge of their lives and make difficult changes. In this story, it’s rather the reverse — or it appears to be at first.
Flora MacKenzie has fled the tiny northern Scottish island where she — and her ancestors going waaaay back — were born, to live a “modern” life in London working as a paralegal for a large law firm. It becomes apparent from the start that Flora has no desire to go home. Absolutely none. Moreover, there appears to be a reason, not shared, why she can’t go back.
With their new book, “The Good Widow,” Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke depart from their usual “turning forty” theme and create a mystery about two couples and the betrayal that the survivors face when two of them die.
Jacks, a teacher married to James for many years, had a secret she kept from him until long after they said their vows. Now she’s regretting keeping the secret and wondering if that’s why he died in Maui, far away from Kansas, where he was supposed to be traveling for work. The fact that he died on what was clearly a vacation with another woman, Dylan, was devastating.
Longing for a bit of country lovin’ in your life? “The Whole Way Home” has country and loving to spare because the main character is a country singing star on her way to the top. Like many of the most famous and successful country singers, Jo Lover’s life has not been easy.
Jo Lover grew up in a one-bedroom cabin in a small town in Virginia. She and JD Gunn played music together since they were in fifth grade. They were best friends and then lovers. But JD left their band when he went to L.A. to make a movie, and since then, Jo has been determined to make a life — and a successful career — without him.
Fredrik Backman is the wildly successful author of “Beartown,” “A Man Called Ove,” “Britt-Marie Was Here,” and other novels from Sweden, but one would barely know that from his perfect grasp of the English language.
The “LL” book club
He met with a group of fans at the Old Orchard Barnes & Noble in Skokie, Illinois. Some fans braved terrible storms to travel hours to hear him speak and get their books signed. Backman did not disappoint.
His serious demeanor is belied by his obvious charm and self-deprecation. “I am weird,” he said when explaining that he writes about difficult people and tries to defend them, because he is one himself. He explained how the character of Ove was created. ‘Whenever I meet someone obnoxious, I think, “There must be someone who loves you.”‘ He shared that many of Ove’s characteristics come from him, and he charmingly admitted that,
“I call the internet provider a lot and I’ll end up shouting — you do this every day of your life and I expect the best. Why don’t you want to be good at your job?”
Sometimes you read a book that takes a long time to finish. It’s not because the book isn’t riveting or because you aren’t enjoying it. “Beartown,” for example, is not a quick read — it’s much, much more than that.
“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman is the kind of book that contains such a plethora of beautifully put together sentences, poetry almost, that the reader is compelled to read them, stop, think, read them again, and do it all yet again.
The philosophy, the wisdom, the absolute beauty of Backman’s language is not the only reason that this book is a slow read. There is also the story — and it’s a heck of a story. It’s about loyalty, courage, love, honor, and family. It’s also about failure, losing everything that’s important, selfishness, lack of accountability, and the worst behavior of the rich and successful.
In “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows,” Balli Kaur Jaswal manages to combine several interesting story lines into one fascinating read that is in turn tender, touching, humorous, exciting, and exotic. The protagonist is Nikki, whose parents immigrated to Great Britain in search of a better life. She considers herself quite a modern woman, and contrary to her family’s very conservative Sikh principles, moved out and quit law school trying to figure out what she wants in life.