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Karen G.'s Picks

Book Cover for A Touch of Stardust Alcott, Kate
A Touch of Stardust

What a wonderful novel — perfect for Gone with the Wind fans, admirers of vintage Hollywood, or just those who enjoy a sweet love story. Julie, a naïve girl from Indiana, moves to California with dreams of becoming a successful screenwriter. Little does she know that a chance encounter with movie star Carole Lombard would lead the way to rewarding friendships and professional opportunities. Set on the backlot during the filming of Gone with the Wind, the real life romance of Carole Lombard and leading man Clark Gable is expertly interspersed with the story of Julie’s own budding relationship. Written by the daughter-in-law of a Hollywood screenwriter, A Touch of Stardust is an honest and engaging look at the behind-the-scenes Hollywood lifestyle.
Recommended July 2015

Book Cover for The Girl on the Train Hawkins, Paula
The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is the quintessential psychological thriller. Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee, rides the London commuter train each day to hide her recent job loss from her roommate. Bored, she creates a fantasy life for a couple she notices daily and is horrified when real life events overtake her make believe world. The story is perfectly paced and told in the viewpoints of three women who may or may not be trusted. Full of tension and aching to be read in one sitting if you have the time, this debut is a crowd-pleasing good read that is already optioned for an upcoming film.
Recommended April 2015

Book Cover for Mr. Bridge Connell, Evan
Mr. Bridge

Mr. Bridge is a hard-working Kansas lawyer in the mid-1900s. His success allows his wife and children to enjoy a large house, cook, laundress, luxury cars, country club membership, and all of the other extravagances of an upper middle class life. This beautifully written novel, told from Mr. Bridge’s perspective, comprise more than one hundred vignettes of happenings in his life and how he reacts to each. By learning about him through his relationships with others, the reader soon adopts a solid understanding of his character. The novel, published in 1969, is the companion piece to Mrs. Bridge, published a decade earlier. Fans of this book may enjoy moving on to the earlier book, to better understand the wife’s perspective on all of the same circumstances.
Recommended January 2015

Book Cover for Meet me at the Cupcake Café Colgan, Jenny
Meet me at the Cupcake Café: A Novel With Recipes

After Londoner Issy loses her office job and her boyfriend/boss, she impulsively decides to strike out on her own and open a shop called Cupcake Café. Her inexperience at running a business breeds many heartwarming and comical adventures in this lighthearted tale. With the help of loyal friends, quirky neighbors, a beloved grandfather, and a somewhat unprofessional banker, Issy starts leading a life different than she ever imagined. This sweet story, complete with delicious recipes to try at home, is a perfect addition to a good cup of coffee and a buttercream-topped cupcake.
Recommended G., August 2014

Book Cover for After I’m Gone Lippman, Laura
After I’m Gone

Felix is a charming and smart man with a full life. He runs multiple businesses — mostly illegal ones, and he has a beautiful wife, three daughters, and a longtime mistress. Upon realizing that he is prison-bound, he disappears, upturning many lives in the process. After I’m Gone examines those lives — from all the women’s points of view and across five decades. Eventually, Felix’s disappearance is brought back to present day by a retired detective who is working on a related never-solved murder case. What he uncovers brings more startling twists and turns to this mystery, which will keep the reader totally captivated until the end.
Recommended June 2014

Book Cover for Pagan Spring Malliet, G. M.
Pagan Spring

In the small English village of Nether Monkslip, an unpopular new resident dies amidst mysterious circumstances. Max Tudor, a handsome former spy-turned-Anglican vicar, agrees to help the authorities solve the case. By using his keen sense of observation and acute listening skills, Max slyly persuades the possible suspects to share their stories and ideas. In this third and perhaps best contribution to the series, the reader becomes reacquainted with the well-illustrated village characters of the first two books, in addition to being introduced to new memorable personalities. Fans of Louise Penny and other literary mysteries will likely consider Pagan Spring to be a delightful page-turner.
Recommended December 2013

Book Cover for While We Were Watching Downton Abbey Wax, Wendy
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

In a posh apartment building in Atlanta, a concierge tries to foster friendliness among the occupants by hosting a weekly showing of the popular television show Downton Abbey. Among others, three women attend — three women who could not be more different. Samantha spends most of her days maintaining her appearance and attending charity luncheons. Claire, a recent empty-nester, is under a deadline for her latest novel. Brooke, still reeling from her recent divorce, is concentrating on raising two young daughters. From their shared interest in the television show, the three develop a strong friendship, which shows its value when life’s problems begin to surface. Wax’s relatable characters will likely make the reader long for a similar group of TV-watching pals.
Recommended November 2013

Book Cover for Chose the Wrong Guy Harbison, Beth
Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger

Beth Harbison’s latest offering opens with a scene occurring 10 years prior to the present day. Protagonist Quinn abruptly cancels her wedding after the groom’s brother shares some unsavory gossip about him. Now wary of love and the pain it can bring, Quinn spends the next decade building her bridal gown business and avoiding relationships at all costs. But when the grandmother of her former fiancé requests her seamstress skills, Quinn finds herself embroiled in the family dynamics once again and caught in the middle of a romantic triangle. Readers will delight in Harbison’s genuine characters and humorous storyline — a perfect beach read.
Recommended August 2013

Book Cover for What My Mother Gave Me Benedict, Elizabeth (editor)
What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts that Mattered Most

In this endearing collection, 31 women share inspiring stories about their mothers and the unexpected lessons they learned from them. The reader is exposed to the stories of a varied collection of writers: journalists, bestselling authors, and even Pulitzer Prize winners. Mary Morris writes of being taken on an unwanted tour of Europe as a child and the profound effect it had on her life. In “White Christmas,” Ann Hood reminisces about receiving an undesirable present from her mother — a white suit — and the ensuing conversation after this exchange. In the hilarious story “The Broken Vase,” Reverend Lillian Daniel recalls her mother’s confidence during a catastrophic dinner party. Lisa See and Luanne Rice both share memories of growing up with mothers who desired to be writers and the differing paths taken to reach that goal. Some stories are humorous, some are heartbreaking, but all are captivating. Furthermore, they all elevate the powerful impact that a mother can have in a daughter’s life. This is a perfect book to share any day with female friends and relatives.
Recommended June 2013

Book Cover for Nothing Gold Can Stay Harper, Valerie
I, Rhoda: A Memoir

As a child in the early 1970s, I would eagerly await 9:00 on Saturday nights to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Richards, played by Moore, was the fashionable and successful newswoman most female viewers wanted to be. But it was neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Harper, with whom most fans could truly identify. Rhoda was the slightly awkward one — flitting from job to job, struggling with her weight and overbearing mother, and never getting many second dates. In Harper’s upbeat memoir, she spends a good portion of the book detailing her years playing Rhoda. She warmly recounts the friendships that she developed over the years with the cast and crew. This is not a tell-all book — rather, just a story of a woman with a happy childhood and dreams of being a ballerina and, ultimately, an actress. Filled with reminiscences of her personal and professional life, the author comes across as just as approachable as Rhoda herself.
Recommended May 2013

Book Cover for Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Strayed, Cheryl
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Travel can be educational — especially when one steps out of her comfort zone. Cheryl Strayed did just that when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail through three states by herself. Armed with a heavy backpack and a trail guide, the 26-year-old novice of a hiker encountered bears and rattlesnakes, heavy snows and rains, and wonderful fellow hikers (and a few not-so-nice ones). Cheryl’s recollections of her younger days are interspersed with tales of her traveling adventures, and that’s what makes this memoir so readable. Readers will learn how Cheryl’s emotional past led her on a downward spiral — and how hiking helped her to cope. As she traveled 1,100 miles, and gained strength in both body and spirit, she learned more about herself and her capabilities. This page-turner is engaging and honestly written and comes highly recommended.
Recommended April 2013

Book Cover for My Beloved World Sotomayor, Sonia
My Beloved World

This illuminating tale exposes Sonia Sotomayor’s tumultuous road to the Supreme Court. In 2009, Sotomayor was confirmed as the first Hispanic and the fourth woman Supreme Court Justice — but few people realize what she endured to earn such an honorable appointment. Sotomayor grew up poor in a Bronx housing project. Her parents fought constantly over her father’s alcoholism, their finances, and family responsibilities. Sotomayor explains these hardships in heartrending detail. The reader learns of Sotomayor’s childhood, including her enrollment in a Catholic school where she soon started to see the beginnings of her future scholastic success. This is followed with descriptions of her acceptance to Princeton University and her eventual ascent to the legal profession. One particularly compelling moment described in this autobiography stands out: as Sotomayor was finishing law school, a law partner at a recruiting dinner asked her, “Do you think you would have been admitted to Yale Law School if you were not Puerto Rican?” She calmly replied, “It probably didn’t hurt. But I imagine that graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton had something to do with it too.” Her steadfastness and courage to stand up for herself, coupled with intelligence and a drive to succeed, illustrate what it takes to rise to a position of authority.
Recommended March 2013

Book Cover for The Big Screen Thomson, David
The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies

In The Big Screen, David Thomson captures the very essence of movie-going: the roles that movies have played in our lives and the experience of watching them — from early nickelodeons to today’s personal electronic devices. Instead of the expected flow of a year-by-year synopsis, Thomson masterfully organizes the content in engaging chapters. There are chapters dealing with just one movie (Brief Encounter) and just one director (Howard Hawks), while others have broader subjects (1930s Hollywood). A detailed index makes it easy for the reader to quickly find information about favorite movies, actors, or directors. While all years of cinematic history are discussed, special emphasis is placed on earlier productions. Thomson, a noted film scholar, has created a book perfect for fans of old-time cinema.
Recommended February 2013

Book Cover for Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House Hodgins, Eric
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

In this light-hearted 1940s based tale, title character Mr. Blandings lives in a crowded New York apartment with his wife and two school-aged daughters. In the opening sequence of the novel, the family happens upon an advertisement for a country home in Connecticut; on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip with visions of a quaint country lifestyle in their heads, they decide to purchase the home. Hilarity ensues as everything that could go wrong definitely does! The affordable house that the family envisioned seems out of reach; when insurmountable issues arise with the mortgage, water supply, and more. Anyone who has endured home remodeling will easily identify with the challenges and (hopefully) the eventual contentment of completed repairs. Fans of Hodgins’ novel will also enjoy the classic laugh-out-loud film of the same name, which stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.
Recommended July 2012

Book Cover for EatingWell Fast & Flavorful Meatless Meals Price, Jessie
EatingWell Fast & Flavorful Meatless Meals: 150 Healthy Recipes Everyone Will Love

Even non-vegetarians will enjoy the quick and delicious meatless entrees found in this cookbook. The book features clear instructions and mouthwatering photos — but the recipes are what really make this book top-notch! The black bean quesadillas are tasty and filling, and when paired with a side of rice can be a complete meal in 10 minutes flat. The vegetarian taco salad is another winner. Rice and corn stand in for the traditional meat ingredient. The tasty half-hour chili lives up to its name, as it is extremely easy to prepare. The roasted tomato-bread soup is also hearty and flavorful. Onions and tomatoes are roasted and then added to vegetarian broth, along with a few spices. This is poured over thick toasted bread with some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. There are many other recipes I plan on trying in the future, including corn and basil cakes, Provencal summer vegetables, and packet-roasted balsamic green beans and peppers. This is a cookbook brimming with wonderful, healthy dinner ideas — for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike!
Recommended June 2012

Book Cover for The Descendants Hemmings, Kaui Hart
The Descendants

Matt King is a Hawaiian businessman with a demanding schedule — and is consumed with the complicated matters of a land trust inherited by his family. So when it comes to his two daughters, he defers most of the parenting responsibilities to his wife, Joanie. But when a boating accident leaves Joanie in a coma with a grim prognosis, Matt must suddenly learn how to be a good father – amidst very tragic circumstances. He is, of course, unprepared for the force of his daughters’ personalities, especially in this time of extreme stress. Matt also learns some unpleasant truths about Joanie through his daughters and sets out on a two-day journey with them that both exhilarates him and breaks his heart. This book has already been made into an Academy Award-nominated film of the same name, and fans of the film certainly won’t be disappointed by Hemmings’ original story.
Recommended May 2012

Book Cover for The Odds O’Nan, Stewart
The Odds

A middle-aged couple ­heads to the casinos in Niagara Falls in a last-ditch effort to win the money they need to save their home. They decide to go all out and book an expensive hotel for Valentine’s Day weekend. This simple premise sets the stage for a wonderfully written tale about the highs and lows of married life. Flashbacks from both spouses’ points of view give intriguing insight into the dynamics of a 30-year marriage. This slim and savvy novel was written by Pittsburgher Stewart O’Nan and is sure to strike a chord with many readers.
Recommended March 2012

Book Cover for The Girl in the Green Raincoat Lippman, Laura
The Girl in the Green Raincoat

This short novel, originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, will implore you to read the whole thing in one sitting! Private investigator Tess Monaghan is stuck on the couch because of pregnancy complications. In a plot reminiscent of Rear Window, she finds herself wondering about the various people she notices outside her window. In particular, she watches a beautiful blond woman wearing a green raincoat walking her similarly dressed dog at the same time each day. When Tess spots the dog running free, her inquisitive nature gets the better of her and she initiates a little investigation of her own. With the aid of her best friend, one devoted employee, and her ever-patient boyfriend, Tess begins her quest to find out what really happened to the “girl in the green raincoat.”
Recommended January 2012

Book Cover for Growing Up Amish: A Memoir Wagler, Ira
Growing Up Amish: A Memoir

Author Ira Wagler tells the story of growing up Amish, first in Canada, and then in Iowa. At age 17, Wagler secretly leaves home in the middle of the night to take a ranching job in Oklahoma, the first of many attempts to attain the freedom and excitement of typical American life. Still, the sense of familiarity, his family and friends and comfortable surroundings pull him back home, again and again. He delves into many challenges inherent in an Amish life, in particular, limited career choices and lack of dating opportunities. Positive facets are also illustrated, especially through his parents' unfailing love. They welcome him home each time he returns, and attempt to bring him back to the family and their faith. With a fresh perspective and a wealth of intriguing anecdotes, Wagler writes an eye-opening account of what it’s really like to grow up Amish.
Recommended December 2011

Book Cover for Year We Left Home Thompson, Jean
Year We Left Home

If you enjoy a good family drama, try this novel. Author Jean Thompson weaves the tale of the Erickson family, and all that happens to them between 1973 and 2003. The point of view switches with each chapter, so the reader becomes well-acquainted with the various characters. Anita marries and settles down in her hometown but soon grows dissatisfied with her decision. Ryan takes the opposite route and leaves home as soon as possible. Chip, a veteran of the Vietnam War, struggles to fit in with American society. An eating disorder creates problems between Torrie and her mother, but a tragedy brings them closer. Blake works hard but becomes frustrated by his lack of material success. The narratives interlock flawlessly and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics of one Midwestern family, and a superb ending brings the stories full circle.
Recommended August 2011

Book Cover for Drop of the Hard Stuff Block, Lawrence
Drop of the Hard Stuff

Matthew Scudder, a private detective and recovering alcoholic, recounts a story to a friend about a man he grew up with named Jack. While Scudder went into crime investigation by becoming a police officer, Jack entered into a life of crime. The two old friends reconnect as adults at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Jack is trying to turn his life around and wants to atone for all his past sins by confronting the people he has wronged. These confrontations, however, lead to disastrous results. Scudder tells his story in flashback mode, allowing the action to take place in the first year of Scudder’s quest for sobriety. The 1980s setting also allows for the absence of modern day investigation conveniences, such as the Internet and cell phones. Scudder fans have been waiting since 2005 for a new installment in this series, and their patience will be richly rewarded with this fast-moving mystery.
Recommended June 2011

Book Cover for Dolci di Love Lynch, Sarah-Kate
Dolci di Love

Lily, a 44-year-old executive, makes an astounding discovery when checking her husband’s shoe size. A photo, folded neatly under the sole, takes her breath away: her husband, embracing another woman and two children. As she inspects the laminated photo closely, she realizes that Daniel has been leading a secret life during monthly trips to Italy. On a drunken whim, she flies to Tuscany to confront her husband and soon becomes the newest cause of a group of elderly women, "The Secret League of Widowed Darners," who specialize in finding happy endings. They try to work their magic on Lily while she enjoys lush Tuscan scenery and the relaxed Italian way of life, not to mention a handsome widower whom she always seems to run into. This light, romantic tale will keep you rooting for Lily’s happiness all the way.
Recommended May 2011

Book Cover for The Big Picture Kennedy, Douglas
The Big Picture

Looking for a book that’s hard to put down? Look no further than The Big Picture. The story centers on Ben Bradford, a wealthy lawyer living in Connecticut. He is married to Beth, a woman who hoped to be a writer but is now a stay-at-home mother of two. Ben also had aspirations of another profession–but despite his dreams of being a photographer, he followed his father’s footsteps into the law profession. Partly because of their unfulfilling occupations, the couple does not have a happy marriage. Their dismal relationship is the springboard for the rest of the action in the story–which turns into quite a thriller. It reminded me of reading a suspenseful Harlan Coben book. If you like to be on the edge of your seat, try this book–you won’t be disappointed!
Recommended April 2011

Book Cover for Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Simonson, Helen
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Major Pettigrew receives a call informing him that his brother has died. As he sits in a fog trying to comprehend the news, he absentmindedly answers the doorbell. Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper, has come to collect the newspaper money. After that seemingly mundane meeting, the two begin a formal but lovely romance. They find they have much in common – recent widowhood, demanding relatives, and a love of literature – but wonder if their cultural differences are too great to overcome. Their relationship slowly develops amidst comical and poignant happenings in the small English village where they live. This debut novel is sure to please readers who enjoy a leisurely tale about lovable, multi-faceted characters.
Recommended March 2011

Book Cover for The Stuff That Never Happened Dawson, Maddie
The Stuff That Never Happened

If there is a sad chapter in a marriage, does it make more sense to keep talking about it or to never bring it up again? That is the central question in The Stuff That Never Happened, a well-written debut that begs the reader to skip ahead to find out how it ends. The story focuses on Annabelle, a middle-aged empty nester with a stable long-term marriage to a reliable, albeit workaholic, husband, and a fulfilling career as an illustrator of children’s books. When she suffers a full-blown panic attack while grocery shopping, she realizes she must take time to consider her choices in life. The novel then alternates chapters between the present day and incidents early in the marriage, including an extramarital affair, which were never to be talked about again. This is a great book, full of realistic characters and emotions.
Recommended January 2011

Book Cover for Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr Shearer, Stephen Michael
Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr

This intriguing biography covers all 85 years of actress Hedy Lamarr’s life. And what a life she had! Born Hedwig Keisler in Austria in 1914, an only child of doting parents, she dropped out of school at a young age to pursue an acting career, and soon landed the lead part in the controversial film Ecstasy. The adult nature of the movie caused a stir and was banned by many countries and religious organizations. However, Hedy’s striking beauty caught the eye of a wealthy arms manufacturer, whom she married at age 18. After a few difficult years with her controlling older husband, she made her escape. In London she met Louis Mayer, head of MGM Studios. With a Hollywood film contract and a more appealing stage name — Hedy Lamarr — she was billed as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Her stardom rose at a dizzying speed as she acted in popular films including Algiers, Ziegfeld Girl, Come Live With Me, Tortilla Flat, Boomtown, My Favorite Spy, and Samson and Delilah. Hedy’s off-screen life was also a whirlwind of activity. While in her twenties, she teamed up with an inventor and patented a technical way to help with war efforts called frequency hopping. This invention was later used during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She was married six times, yet she said in later interviews that the happiest times of her life were when she was single. She had three children, wrote an explosive autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, and pursued countless lawsuits against ex-husbands, business associates, and companies that used her image without her approval. This book is a well-researched examination of a fascinating woman. Fans of classic films especially will welcome this glimpse into Hedy’s extraordinary life.
Recommended December 2010

Book Cover for When Winter Returns Haines, Kathryn Miller
When Winter Returns

World War II has just ended, and protagonist Rosie Winters and her best friend Jayne are back in New York City after finishing their USO tour. Jayne’s fiancé, Billy, was recently killed in action, and the friends decide to visit the bereaved parents to offer their condolences. After a brief conversation, they are horrified to discover a startling secret: The fiancé had taken the identity of a fallen soldier. This naturally inspires Rosie and Jayne to start sleuthing to find out the truth. Amidst their detective work, the young women must remain afloat financially, and continue auditioning for acting jobs. Haines, who lives in Pittsburgh, recreates life in post-WWII America with great aplomb. Her characters’ speech, dress, and behaviors bring the reader on a trip back to the 1940s — and an engaging one at that.
Recommended October 2010

Book Cover for The Neighbor Gardner, Lisa
The Neighbor

I'd never read a Gardner book, and this will not be my last! A pretty wife and mother mysteriously disappears one evening, leaving her sleeping young daughter home alone. Her husband is suspected of foul play, but as the novel continues, other possible culprits come into focus. Different characters, including the police detective, have their own chapters to tell their points of view, which adds a dimension to the mystery. All in all, it's a wonderful, suspenseful story. I guarantee you will want to finish it for the surprise ending.
Recommended August 2010

Book Cover for Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories & Recipes to Share with Family & Friends Yearwood, Trisha
Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories & Recipes to Share with Family & Friends

In a follow-up to her 2008 bestseller, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, Yearwood delivers another crowd-pleasing collection of Southern recipes, including a short history and beautiful photo of each dish. I prepared the slow cooker macaroni and cheese and received rave reviews. Broccoli casserole was an interesting twist on a classic vegetable dish, and the three-ingredient biscuits were quick and tasty. Some of the desserts seem a little intimidating to the novice baker, but after viewing the stunning photographs, they look like a worthwhile use of time. Keep in mind, though, that these recipes concentrate on traditional Southern fare, so you know what that means: meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. Turn to Yearwood’s book for hearty, down-home cooking — perhaps best enjoyed in moderation but always delicious!
Recommended June 2010

Book Cover for U is for Undertow Grafton, Sue
U is for Undertow

Sue Grafton fans had to wait more than two years for a new Kinsey Millhone story, but it was worth the wait. This is absolutely one of the best. U is for Undertow finds the determined Millhone investigating the disappearance of a small child that happened more than twenty years ago. Many things go wrong in her investigations, including a client who has a history of false memory syndrome — he strongly believes memories that are factually incorrect. Because the series is set in the 1980s, Kinsey has to use library research, phone calls, and old fashioned legwork to track down the clues. She doggedly accomplishes this with her usual simple but effective methods. Veteran readers of the series and newcomers alike can jump right in and enjoy this thrilling mystery.
Recommended April 2010

Book Cover for High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly Spoto, Donald
High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly

High Society has always been one of my favorite movies, because it stars one of my most admired actresses, Grace Kelly. In all her films, Kelly’s ethereal beauty shone through, and she seemed like the perfect movie star. This new biography does little to dispel that view. It tells the story of a beautiful, wealthy girl from Philadelphia who somehow didn’t fit in with her athletic and competitive family. Clearly not her parents’ favorite, she spent most of her time reading and dreaming. After moving to New York to attend acting classes, she began modeling, which quickly spun into a high-paying profession. She briefly appeared on Broadway and then landed her first movie role at the age of 22. A dizzying number of movie roles followed, including her widely acclaimed collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock and her Academy Award-winning role in Country Girl. High Society doesn’t skimp on her romantic entanglements during this time, but it manages to do so in a respectful manner. Her years spent in Monaco as princess, wife and mother until her untimely death at age 52 are also extensively covered. Personal letters and notes written by Kelly herself round out this well-researched biography.
Recommended March 2010

Book Cover for Noah’s Compass Tyler, Anne
Noah’s Compass

I have read all of Anne Tyler’s novels and have never been disappointed. Her latest, Noah’s Compass, is no exception. The protagonist, Liam, is the sort of person who doesn’t open up to others. He passively accepts what is given to him and keeps everyone at arm’s length. However, when he loses his teaching job and moves to a new apartment, his life begins to change directions. Along with Liam, the book is full of wonderful characters, ordinary yet complex people who come alive on the page. With her trademark quirky families and Baltimore setting firmly in place, Tyler has created another winning story.
Recommended February 2010

Book Cover for The Professional Parker, Robert
The Professional

Robert Parker’s The Professional certainly isn’t the best Spenser novel I've read (Early Autumn wins that vote). However, it is definitely an improvement over many of the recent offerings from Parker. In The Professional, Spenser is asked to take on an unusual case: four young women married to wealthy older men are being blackmailed because of their extramarital relations. As an added twist, the blackmailer is actually the charming man with whom all four were romantically involved. As Spenser begins to investigate this crime, a more serious matter — murder — soon unfolds as part of the drama. Supported by series regulars Hawk and Susan, Spenser uncovers the truth while maintaining his signature moral code and conduct. While a quick read — the book has big print and extraneous blank spaces on the pages — The Professional is an exciting and intelligent 38th addition to Parker’s popular series.
Recommended November 2009

Book Cover for Happens Every Day Gillies, Isabel
Happens Every Day

Nonfiction Memoir
A man leaves his wife and children to be with another woman. As the author of this memoir reminds us, it “happens every day.” However, Gillies bypasses tired clichés with a rich retelling of her failed marriage. Skillfully weaving stories of her childhood with present day happenings, she gives the reader a real sense of what she felt and experienced during her husband’s infidelity. This candid look at the end of a marriage manages to be both heartbreaking and humorous.
Recommended September 2009

Book Cover for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Thank you Joey, Koula and Gwen for recommending this book -- I loved it! It’s a story told entirely in letters, which at first was a little off-putting for me. However, because of all the positive comments, I plunged forward. The story is set in post-WWII England and focuses on the correspondence between a young London writer and a group of people who live on the formerly German-occupied Guernsey Island. Through the entertaining and enlightening letters, the characters truly come to life. I enjoyed learning about what life was like for the residents of the island during this difficult time in history.
Recommended July 2009

Book Cover for Life Sentences Lippman, Laura
Life Sentences

After reading three great reviews for Life Sentences by Laura Lippman, I decided to give it a try. The novel centers on Cassandra Fallows, a Baltimore writer whose memoirs have been wildly popular. After an unsuccessful foray into fiction, she searches her past for more writing material, ultimately deciding on the story of a former classmate who was imprisoned for refusing to tell the whereabouts of her child. As Cassandra interviews other classmates, she learns that her perception of events might not be quite accurate. Be forewarned: If you like all the loose ends tied up neatly by the conclusion of the book, you may be disappointed. After finishing the book, I searched through it to see if I missed something. Despite this, the book features vivid characters, and the story is unique and compelling. I would definitely read another book by this author.
Recommended June 2009

Book Cover for Look Again Scottoline, Lisa
Look Again

Journalist Ellen Gleeson happens to glance at a “Have you seen this child?” postcard as she gathers her mail — and notices the striking resemblance to her adopted 3-year-old son. So begins this rollercoaster suspense story that had me hooked from the start. Ellen grapples with issues of personal responsibility and the true meaning of motherhood while she struggles to do the right thing for her son. Kirkus Review, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal all gave this book a starred review, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Recommended May 2009

Book Cover for Lady Killer Scottoline, Lisa
Lady Killer

A co-worker suggested that I try a Lisa Scottoline book, and I’m sure glad I did! Scottoline writes stand alone novels as well as a series about a group of female lawyers in Philadelphia. I have read four of the latter, of which my favorite is Lady Killer. This story focuses on Mary DiNunzio, one of the associates in the law firm. She gets an urgent visit from her high school nemesis, Trish, who pleads for protection from an abusive boyfriend. When the boyfriend is murdered, Mary’s investigations lead her back to her past, and the memories and people who remain there. Mary’s traditional Italian Catholic family lends some lighter moments to this legal mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the end.
Recommended January 2009

Book Cover for Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen Yearwood, Trisha with Gwen Yearwood and Beth Yearwood Bernard; foreword by Garth Brooks.
Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen: Recipes From My Family To Yours

Trisha Yearwood has had over 17 years of success in the country music world and has sold millions of country singles and albums. Now, she turns her attention to writing a cookbook along with her mother and sister that features old-fashioned Southern recipes. I tried six different recipes from the book and am happy to report that they were all delicious. I haven’t had pineapple upside down cake in years, and it was just as good as I remembered. The vegetable dishes as well as the blueberry muffins were quick and tasty. The chicken pie was pure comfort food and the stuffed pork chops were a big hit. I would warn others to stock up on plenty of cream and buttermilk; you will need these items to complete many of the recipes. Also, it may be important to note: most of these calorie-laden Southern treats are not for those watching their weight!
Recommended November 2008

Book Cover for Hold Tight Coben, Harlan
Hold Tight

Don’t open this book unless you have a few hours to spare­­. Once you start reading this action-packed thriller, you won’t be able to stop! A murder kicks off the action, but then a swift turn of events leads to a seemingly unrelated story about parents of a troubled teenager. Other characters and plots are introduced until the reader is left slightly dizzy, wondering how they can all possibly fit together. But rest assured—they all do, in a very satisfying conclusion.
Recommended September 2008

Book Cover for Certain Girls Weiner, Jennifer
Certain Girls

Currently, there are 174 people in the Allegheny County library system waiting for Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner. I would certainly suggest getting on that list! This is a great book—the kind you never want to put down. A sequel to Weiner’s earlier Good in Bed, the story centers on Cannie Shapiro, a 42-year-old married writer and her now 12-year-old daughter Joy. While planning Joy’s bat mitzvah, Cannie tackles some common mother-daughter squabbles over the dress and the after-party. With Joy’s perspective in alternating chapters, though, the story takes on a more complex tone dealing with family secrets. Finally, a heartbreaking turn of events turns Certain Girls into an uplifting tale of motherhood, love, and growing up.
Recommended August 2008

Book Cover for At Bertram’s Hotel Christie, Agatha
At Bertram’s Hotel

In the past few years, many of the Agatha Christie classics have been rebound in sturdy hardcover. This makes it a perfect time to revisit the best selling fiction writer of all time, whose mystery novels have sold over two billion copies. One of the best selections is At Bertram’s Hotel, featuring Miss Jane Marple. While vacationing at a classic hotel, she notices that the staff is perhaps a little too perfect and accommodating. When a man is murdered, Miss Marple, utilizing her acute listening skills and ability to disappear in the background, helps the police uncover the truth. I read this book for the first time many years ago, but still thoroughly enjoyed it the second time through.
Recommended May 2008

Book Cover for Conservatize Me Moe, John
Conservatize Me : How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith & Beef Jerky

If your political leanings are to the left, and you enjoy a good laugh, give Conservatize Me : How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith & Beef Jerky a try. The author, an NPR contributor from Seattle, develops a plan to spend thirty days immersing himself in the conservative culture. He adds some Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood to his iPod and boycotts NPR. He forgoes The New York Times and instead gets all of his information from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. He dons a new wardrobe which includes NASCAR gear and a very expensive suit. On a more serious note, he travels around the country meeting a variety of people whom he hopes will give him the conservative perspective. One memorable visit is with the mayor of Rexberg, Idaho, the legendary city that had the highest percentage of votes for George W. Bush in 2004 (92%). Moe tours the Reagan and Nixon visitor centers and attends an evangelical Christian church service. While the conclusions of the book are somewhat weak, his experiences are completely entertaining.
Recommended January 2008
Book Cover for Getting Rid of Matthew Fallon, Jane
Getting Rid of Matthew

Getting Rid of Matthew has all the ingredients for a perfect romantic comedy film. Helen is tired of the limited time she has with her older married lover and demands that he make a choice between his wife and her. When he surprisingly chooses her, Helen soon comes to realize that a terrible mistake was made and tries to "get rid of Matthew." After turning herself into a very unattractive roommate doesn't motivate Matthew to leave, she resorts to more outlandish and comical attempts. Helen invents a second identity as Eleanor and then befriends Matthew's wife for the purpose of bringing the married couple back together. And of course she meets a wonderful guy while under her Eleanor guise, which throws even more complications into her plan. A great ending tops off this funny and touching novel.
Recommended January 2008
Book Cover for Listerdale Mystery Christie, Agatha
Listerdale Mystery and Eleven Other Stories

Mystery Audio Book
Listerdale Mystery and Eleven Other Stories, read by Hugh Fraser of the PBS series "Agatha Christie's Poirot", includes 12 unabridged stories that are each about a half hour long: perfect for the daily commute. Fraser, who has read numerous other Christie novels, has a relaxing voice and makes the stories easy to understand and enjoy. One highlight of the collection is, "Jane in Search of a Job". In the story, a young English woman applies for a job and gets mixed up in international intrigue. "Philomel Cottage" is another interesting tale, in which a new wife discovers some suspicious secrets about her husband and questions if he can be trusted. In "Listerdale Mystery," a widow wonders why she is able to rent a charming cottage at such a low price. A downfall of Fraser's reading is his tendency to use the same voice for all of the non-English characters. This does not detract from the quality of the short stories which are well worth the listen.
Recommended by Karen G., November 2007
Book Cover for The Remorseful Day Dexter, Colin
The Remorseful Day

This is the final book of 13 in the Inspector Morse collection. Newcomers to the series should definitely begin with the first one, Last Bus to Woodstock, and continue reading through the series in order. While the criminal investigations are unique in each book, the characters of Inspector Morse and his sidekick Sergeant Lewis are wonderfully developed as the series progresses. The Remorseful Day showcases the unsolved murder case of Yvonne Harrison, which inexplicably leads to a more complex crime after the case is assigned to the brilliant but unwilling Morse. While the mystery has many surprising twists and is quite entertaining by itself, the book soon becomes even more of a gem. The reader is given a closer glimpse into the life of the lover of opera music, difficult crossword puzzles, and fine ale - Morse himself. I would highly recommend this to mystery fans.
Recommended by Karen G., May 2007

Book Cover for Blind Dates Can Be Murder Clark, Mindy Starns
Blind Dates Can Be Murder

This combination of chick lit, Christian fiction, and mystery makes for a story that is difficult to put down. The novel centers on Jo Tulip, a delightful 25-year-old who writes a newspaper column about housekeeping that is quite reminiscent of "Hints from Heloise." While researching a dating service for her employer, she stumbles into a kidnapping plot that puts her life into danger. Jo must cope with the aftermath of the crime while grappling with her feelings for her best friend, Danny. There is also an interesting supporting character named Lettie, who struggles between her life of crime and her blossoming friendship with Jo and her religious friends. This is volume two in the "Smart Chick Mystery" series; I will definitely be reading the others.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2007

Book Cover for Enchantment Spoto, Donald
Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was born into a wealthy family in Belgium in 1929. Her father left the family when she was six, and because of the current political climate in Europe, her mother decided to seek refuge for the family in the Netherlands with her parents. However, Hepburn's sheltered life of school and ballet lessons changed quickly when the Netherlands came under Nazi control in 1940. For the next five years, her family endured great anxiety about future military attacks, strict food and heat rations, and daily fears about their Jewish neighbors. After the war ended, Hepburn continued with her ballet lessons and began acting in small plays throughout Europe. She attracted some attention in America and was soon on Broadway playing the lead in Gigi. At the age of 22, she won the coveted role of a princess in Roman Holiday, which earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She then went on to star in such classics as Sabrina (in which she was paid a paltry $3,000, compared to co-star Humphrey Bogart's $200,000), Funny Face, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and My Fair Lady. She married twice, had two sons, and spent a great deal of her later years in Europe, only occasionally coming to America to continue her film career. Towards the very end of her life, she devoted countless hours to the UNICEF organization acting as their spokesperson and logging thousands of miles to visit children in Africa and South America. Donald Spoto, who has written many biographies including ones on Ingrid Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock and Princess Diana, does a wonderful job of portraying Hepburn's professional accomplishments while also giving the reader the chance to know the person behind the famous face. This is a highly readable biography of a fascinating woman.
Recommended by Karen G., February 2007

Book Cover Jill Watts
Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

Hattie McDaniel gained worldwide recognition in 1939 when she became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Her success however, was a two-edged sword. The Black community expected her to use her newfound notoriety to expand opportunities for African Americans, while the studio heads continued to offer her acting roles portraying maids and cooks. She made some enemies by accepting the movie offers and was famously quoted as saying, "I'd rather play a maid than be one". An entertaining and informative look at the Hollywood system.
Recommended by Karen G., January 2006

Book Cover Eyman, Scott
Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer

The MGM studio in the 1930's and 1940's was the largest and most prestigious in Hollywood. Most of the major stars of the time including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jeannette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Greta Garbo, Esther Williams, and Myrna Loy were contracted to MGM. At the head of the company from 1924-1951 was Louis B. Mayer.
Much has been written about Mayer's tyrannical ways. While not glossing over his negative attributes, this biography also shows his loyalty to relatives and long term employees, almost perfect business sense, and great love of movies. His personal life is explored here beginning with his humble upbringing in Canada and continuing through his two marriages and many affairs. Mayer's relationship with his daughters is especially emphasized.
Recommended by Karen G., August 2005