Thursday, September 16, 2010

September Reads I

Another successful two weeks of good reads beginning with a new Rhys Bowen, "Molly Murphy" mystery, The Last Illusion.
Molly has been hired by Harry Houdini's wife as part investigator/part bodyguard. When Houdini disappears, it is up to Molly to find him or his body.
Bowen is an award winning mystery writer. I have enjoyed her "Constable Evans" mysteries and really like the Molly Murphy character and the historical details of early twentieth century New York.

The last of my reads, Sweetgrass, finished before 'lights out' last night, was another Mary Alice Monroe novel set in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Monroe obviously knows and loves her locale.
Sweetgrass has been home to the Blakely family for eight generations. As the current owners struggle to hang on to their historical tract, the patriarch, Preston, is felled by a stroke. This brings home prodigal son, Morgan to try to help keep their land from being sold to the developers.
The loss of habitat has depleted the supply of native sweetgrasses needed by the traditional Gullah basket makers of the area. Can the discovery of an old slave cemetery amid a large area of sweetgrass on the family land help Morgan save his family's heritage?

I love the smell of sweetgrass; wish I had a sweetgrass basket instead of just a braid. I'm investigating whether or not sweetgrass will grow in Iowa. I would love to have a small patch of it in my flower beds.

I enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen's "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" so much last month that I got The Sugar Queen from the library. Twenty-seven year old Josey Cirrini hides a stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances in her closet - her only consolations for the uneventful life she lives as her mother's personal chauffeur and attendant.
She awakens one frosty morning to find a ladder leaning against the house next to her window. When she goes to her closet she finds rough and flashy Della Lee Baker hiding there. Josey tells her to get out, but Della Lee threatens to expose the stash of sweets - blackmailing Josey into letting her hide from an abusive boyfriend.
How Della changes Josey's life is a tale of friendship, love and a sprinkling of magic. A sweet read.

I'm beginning to appreciate Ruth Rendell, the author my current favourite author, Minette Walters, has been compared to. The Rottweiler is the name given to a serial garroter in the ethnically diverse London neighborhood near Lisson Grove.
Inez Ferry, widow of charismatic actor, Martin Ferry, has turned their home into an antiques shoppe on the ground flour, kept two rooms for herself on the first floor and rents out the other two floors after making them into flats - the only way she can earn a living and hold on to the home she shared with her beloved Martin.
Her shoppe assistant and renters figure into the mysterious deaths of young women in the area. The 'signature' of the murderer is the taking of some small item from each victim. When some of those items show up in the antiques shoppe, the police come calling, focusing their suspicions on Inez and the odd assortment of characters who work in and pass through the shop.

I'm having trouble deciding if I've read Isabel Wolff before. It seems I may have, but cannot remember which of her books, so she may be a new author for me. I absolutely adored her A Vintage Affair. It took me into a world I have never thought of - vintage clothing.
Phoebe Swift stuns her friends when she decides to leave a plum job at prestigious Sotheby's auction house to open her own vintage clothing shop.
Phoebe enjoys the history of each vintage garment. When she is invited to purchase some pieces from Therese Bell, an elderly Frenchwoman, she is intrigued by a child's sky-blue coat - an item Mrs. Bell refuses to part with, talk about, or even let Phoebe touch.
As the two women become friends, Phoebe learns the tale of the little blue coat. She discovers an astonishing connection between herself and Therese Bell - one that will help her heal the pain of her own past.
I completely enjoyed learning about vintage clothes and some history behind them. A Vintage Affair is a touching book about friendship, love and family.

Mary McGarry Morris is another author I'm trying to remember if I've read. She has been a National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner finalist. Her novel, "Songs in Ordinary Time" was an Oprah Book Club selection in 1997.
The Last Secret is "a tautly told tale of psychological tension and chilling moral complexity". It was almost a little too psycho for me. I must be getting squeamish in my old age. Fortunately, the blood and mayhem was confined to the first and last pages of the book. In between there is the story of the perfect life of Nora Hammond: charming husband, two bright teenage children, successful newspaper career and esteemed role in charity work for a woman's shelter.
It is when she learns of her husband's longtime affair and the specter of a sordid incident from her youth returns with terrifying force that she feels dangerously alone - confronted by shame and betrayal and easy prey to a ghost from her past. Hint: is has to do with the opening pages of blood and mayhem.
I will most likely read more of Mary McGarry Morris' books. At least one more in order to decide how I feel about her psychological writings.

I have come to love Rita Mae Brown's, "Sister Jane Arnold" fox hunting series. I read #2, Hotspur, this time - reading them slightly out of order, but still enjoying the characters and learning the traditions of the Virginia hunts. The books are well written enough that I don't always figure out "whodunit", though I'm usually close.
I may try some of her "Sneaky Pie Brown" books after I've finished the fox hunting ones. I enjoy the way her animal characters "talk".

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