Lisa Wingate is not only a delightful person, she knows how to tell believable and charming stories. Firefly Island is third novel she’s located in the fictional community of Moses Lake, in central Texas. Taking two very definite non-Texans and throwing them into the mix of local characters (familiar from previous books) and adding a Washington-level political/Texas-sized legal conflict to make it interesting creates yet another satisfying story. So much of Lisa’s common sense, gentle faith and “get it done” work ethic are woven into the characters and give that sense that the reader could be the one sitting in the Waterbird cafe watching the goings on unfold. I find Lisa’s stories to be relevant and entertaining, an exact mix for modern women’s fiction.
Oh, the many pleasures of reading a Peter Mayle novel. If a book could be a mental vacation, this author has it down to first class. The Marseille Caper is second in what may become a series about a LA investigator and his adventures connecting him to France. The first, The Vintage Caper, was about a wine heist, this one is about a potential development deal on the coast of France. Some of the plot developments are a bit skimpy, but that doesn’t lessen the fun of reading Sam sail through the skies on a private jet with topnotch wine and food at his elbow and a beautiful, if sarcastic, sidekick to keep him humble. The tension is ideal for a light read and with the evident sensory delights described of Marseielle, Cassis, and the coast of Provence made this the cheapest European trip I’ve ever enjoyed.
This novel was one I picked up while walking New Orleans’ Garden District one gorgeous autumn afternoon and after having wandered charming streets and oogling stranger’s homes, and ended up in a upstairs bookstore. This is a familiar pattern to anyone who’s known me for a while. And while in such a bookstore, I always hunt through the local books. These are my favorite souvenirs. After having filled my arms with architecture books, I found a novel. I piled it on top as the back cover hinted at all my go-to story elements: old houses, food, family and romance. Turns out, of all the books I bought that day, this one is my hands down favorite. Julia Reed, a fixture in Garden and Gun magazine essays (that magazine has the best essays, articles and photos!) is one of the cleverest writers of our generation. She painted a picture of her life and times, and those of New Orleans in the pre-during-post days of Katrina, that is much like a Monet. (best viewed at various times, from various angles, and it will be determined to be first class.) Though I wouldn’t want her life, Ms. Reed did reel me in with every high and low she survived in the highs of buying a house to the pits of despair in renovating it. She also gave me a glimpse into a bayou lifestyle that I’ve often found decadent, and as it turns out, I was right. I read House on First Street like it was a juicy cinnamon roll and highly recommend you savor it too. Can’t wait to read more of Julia Reed’s reminisces.
Tumbleweeds, the second novel by Leila Meacham, closely follows the same format as her first novel (and one I thoroughly enjoyed!) the Roses. I guess the lesson here is if you’ve got a bang up recipe, don’t mess with it. And she doesn’t. This novel, though set in west Texas as opposed to east, is the roller coaster story of the 3 childhood friends who’s choices take them in wildly divergent directions. Mrs. Meacham certainly understands pathos and she’s created another success with this story. I do wish I’d not read it as fast as I had, because now with hindsight, I can see story elements I’d probably have enjoyed or understood if I’d not glossed over parts. But that’s a natural hazard when one is riding with one’s husband through the backroads of Louisiana and the role of navigator is forced upon one. It will be interesting to see what Mrs. Meacham creates for her third attempt, but in the meantime I highly recommend Tumbleweeds.
Oh, Jacqueline Winspear, how do I love thee . . .let me count the ways. . . with the 8th Maisie Dobbs novel in my hands I can say that you have created one of my favorite female characters to have ever walked through London ( and I’ve read a LOT of books with British women as lead characters.) Even as I poured over the pages of Elegy for Eddie (a compelling novel about a mysterious death and the series of events linking the simpliest of people to an approaching World War) I felt poignant tugs remembering that the Maisie of this story has earned her stripes in the various emotional tragedies in her short, but unusual life. For someone who tries to live a bit aloof, Maisie cares deeply and has been romantically involved with no less than three very different men (and some others that were nuanced flirtations) in the course of these 8 novels–although my fingers are crossed that James Compton has sticking power. Ms. Winspear, I do not know if you intended to create such a deep and diverse character when you wrote the first Maisie Dobbs novel, but your skill in painting layers has grown to a level that must be envied by the best writers of this day. Call me an ardent fan, but please tell me you’ll let me down easy when Maisie Dobbs chooses to solve her final case.
While moving the kids to college this weekend, I grabbed a book for the ride and ended up glued to the pages in between events. It had been so many years since I read the classic Little Women that I wondered if that would be a problem with a novel, The Little Women Letters, that weaves the original story into this one. Turns out, reference wasn’t a problem at all. The author, Gabrielle Donnelly, took creative license with Jo’s letters to Meg, Amy and Beth and used them to frame a modern story of 3 sisters, parents, romances, and maturity that I think Louisa May Alcott would have approved of the fabrications. Lulu, Emma and Sophies’s characters and plots were so well drawn that warmth, family and joy of daily life (surely Miss Alcott’s own themes) leaped from the page. I found this novel incredibly entertaining, and even so it helped me forgive the one flaw which, to me, was the last letter. No doubt I’ll be sharing this books with friends.
A new friend, knowing I was curious about east Texas history, suggested I read a historical fiction novel based on a true story–from the memoirs of a woman whose tumultuous life paralleled the birth of Texas. Beginning with chapter one during the evening was a mistake, as I was drawn into these pages with the kind of relentless fasciation that precludes normal chores–like meal times, laundry and an appointment. It’s been so long since I read a story this compelling (and all the more so for its truth) that I’m still reeling from the emotion and chaos of Harriet Moore Page Potter Ames’ life. Though the title is a bit incongruous, I would recommend this to anyone and everyone who needs to identify with the character, wit and resolve that define a true Texas legend. And, for those of us who need a shot of audacious bravery, a mantra of ”if Harriet could do it, I can too” isn’t a bad one. Read and be amazed.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted to this blog–okay, months–but life has interrupted my reading schedule and I haven’t lingered over a good book recently–except a coffee table book entitled, One Writer’s Garden about Eudora Welty’s Mississippi home and garden–but that treasure is unique. I just wanted to tell you that I’ve started, but not finished, (read into that what you will) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (because I’m going to Savannah soon and wanted to read the definitive book,) Dolci di Love (because I’m going to Italy later this summer and wanted to get psyched for the trip,) and The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (because my husband is a pathologist and I thought this would give me a glimpse into his world.) All in all, I’m left hungry for a good story. Thankfully, I stocked up recently at Barron’s so maybe there’s a delightful story in my future.
This week I finished two very different novels. One, by my friend, Lisa Wingate, was a delightful treasure box of quirky people, old mysteries, and new found hope–all bound by the lovely little community that lives in fictional, Moses Lake. Blue Moon Bay was yet another delicious read and one I can whole-heartedly recommend to friends who like faith mixed in with their fiction. If Blue Moon Bay was a glass of ginger ale on a warm afternoon, the other novel, When She Woke, was a shot of whisky. Straight. HIllary Jordan retold the classic Scarlet Letter in a futuristic setting that felt a lot less futuristic than you might think–it was spookily current except for the whole color chroming done to a human to identify their sin. Though faith factored heavily into this novel, it was the kind that questioned everything and came to its own conclusions based on surviving horrible circumstances. Ms. Jordan is as evocative a writer as I’ve read in a long time and I doubt I will soon forget Hannah and her journey.
Karen White’s novel, The Beach Trees, was the PERFECT book for a rainy Sunday. I read this story from cover-to-cover buried under a faux fur blanket, in front of a crackling fire, with Earl Gray tea and Bischoff cookies on the table. Yes, nirvana is possible. But you probably want to know more about Karen White’s novel. (For the record is was almost 11 pm before I’d finished this book and my husband had turned off the lights in the rest of the house and long since doused my fire as it was going to cost a fortune when the gas bill came in–his words, not mine. Apparently nirvana isn’t cheap.) This is the fourth (?) book of Ms. White’s that I’ve read, and it’s moving to the top of the list of favorites. She is a master of words, and plot/subplot, and place. I usually have to stop after the first page and go through the 12-step program of envious writers because I don’t think I can ever write as well as she does, but I’ve digressed. Karen White weaves a complex tale of fractured human emotion with a heavy dose of Southern mystique that each time I turn the last page to questions resolved, hearts healed, and houses restored, I want to rush back to my deep Georgia roots and hang on to the nearest oak tree I can find. The Beach Trees is no different, in that a house and mysteries are front and center here, but she writes this novel from the perspective of people rebuilding (and why they would) after devastating hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. And the crazy thing is, not being from the Gulf Coast, after reading her novel, I can still smell the air and feel the humidity of her settings. This story has so many elements of art, history, dysfunction, and restoration that it is a treasure trove of details and setting. Give this book as a gift to yourself. You won’t regret it nor will you have to exchange it in the after-Christmas sales.