Monday, August 29, 2016

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

Is there anything better than a debut novel that's even better than you expected? Louise Miller's The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, looked interesting. But, Miller managed to bring her characters, Vermont, and music to life in this captivating novel.

Miller's opening sentence invites the reader into Olivia Rawlings' story. "The night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue." Following the pastry chef's eye-opening disaster, her natural reaction is to flee. She ends up at her best friend's house in Guthrie, Vermont, and before Livvy can even recover from her hangover, she's offered a trial as the new baker at Margaret Hurley's Sugar Maple Inn. First, she has to pass a test by making an apple pie. Then, she's asked to make a one-year commitment because Margaret wants to win back her spot as the blue ribbon apple pie winner at the county fair.

Vermont may seem like a strange departure for a woman who had been working in Boston. But, something in the landscape calls to Livvy. And, then there's the music. She plays banjo, and is invited to sit in with a local group. And, once she meets fiddler Martin McCracken and his large family, Livvy dreams of what she's never had, a family. Martin's father, Henry, teaches her to play the dulcimer. The McCrackens, the baking at the Sugar Maple Inn, the music, everything leads to a contentment Livvy has never felt before. But, contentment doesn't always last in the face of memories from the past. And, once again, Livvy's natural reaction is to flee.

Olivia Rawlings narrates The City Baker's Guide to Country Living. At thirty-two, she's still a little reckless, a woman who grew up without a mother in her life. She lost her father as a teenager. It's made her a little edgy, aware of her own flaws. She's an outsider who moves to Guthrie, and can see the problems with the closeness of the community. Everyone knows everyone's business, and, if they don't, they make up rumors. But, she's also envious of the closeness of community and family.

Miller's debut novel is a character-driven story involving secrets and the long memories of small town residents. It's an atmospheric story that depicts Vermont in all its beauty. And, the music is such an essential element in creating the atmosphere. Most of all, it's a satisfying account of a woman's homecoming to a home she never had, and the acceptance she always wanted.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. 2016. ISBN 9781101981207 (hardcover), 340p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Chat featuring September Cozies from Berkley Prime Crime




If you want to see Jinx, you'll have to go to the end. I had to track him down. He was on the table while I wrote the script, and then disappeared when I filmed.

Here are the September titles from Berkley Prime Crime.

Cheddar Off Dead - Julia Buckley - 2nd Undercover Dish Mystery
No Farm, No Foul - Peg Cochran - 1st Farmer's Daughter Mystery
Dead to the Last Drop - Cleo Coyle - 15th Coffeehouse Mystery, 1st time in paperback
The Ghost and Mrs. Fletcher - Jessica Fletcher, Donald Bain & Renee Paley-Bain - 44th Murder, She
     Wrote Mystery, 1st time in paperback
Cancelled by Murder - Jean Flowers - 2nd Postmistress Mystery
Paint the Town Dead - Nancy Haddock - 2nd Silver Six Crafting Mystery
Digging Up the Dirt - Miranda James - 3rd Southern Ladies Mystery
Murder of a Cranky Catnapper - Denise Swanson - 19th Scrumble River Mystery

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Blah

Blah. The cats and I have had a blah week. I could blame Louise Penny and say I just can't get anything after reading A Great Reckoning. Well, that part's true about books. I actually read a Christmas book on Wednesday night, but I certainly am not reviewing it in April. I scheduled that review to run in November. I just can't get into anything.

It's just been that sort of week all around. Nothing to feel sorry for us about, just little irritations such as the problem with a haircut. I wanted to get that done Friday after work instead of Saturday morning. Sure, if I wanted to wait an hour and a half for an appointment. No, I'll get it cut on Saturday. It's just little things that all add up, and I don't feel like reading a thing.

Don't worry. I'm going to work on my book chat today. I'll reread Louise's book, and I have another review already scheduled for this coming week. And, it's almost time for October Treasures in My Closet. Lots of things coming up. Just nothing worth talking about from the end of the week.

Enjoy your weekend. Find a good book to read or listen to. The cats and I will get past the blahs.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Winners and Librarians, Cats, and Murder

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Patricia P. from Boynton Beach, FL won Ripped From the Pages. Books of a Feather will go to Robin C. of Ashtabula, OH. The books will go out in the mail today.

Why do librarians, cats, and murder go together in the mystery world? This week, I'm giving away  two books that feature those three elements. If you haven't yet read Miranda James'Arsenic and Old Books, you'll want to read it, and the short story included in the book. When the mayor of Athena, Mississippi donates a set of Civil War-era diaries to the Athena College archives, she wants librarian Charlie Harris to preserve them. There are people determined to get their hands on those diaries, and that demand leads to murder. Now, Charlie and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, have to discover why the diaries are worth killing for.


Librarian Minnie Hamilton and her rescue cat, Eddie, have to catch a killer in Laurie Cass' Cat with a Clue. While shelving books one morning, Minnie stumbles across a dead body. The woman was from out of town, visiting for a funeral. But, what was she doing in the library after hours? As Minnie and Eddie travel the county in the bookmobile, they're asking questions, and looking for a killer.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com.  Your subject heading should read either "Win Arsenic and Old Books" or "Win Cat with a Clue." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Are You Reading?

It's that time of week! Time to discover what you're reading. I've just started Mary Robinette Kowal's novel, Ghost Talkers. It's about mediums who talk to the ghosts of dead World War I soldiers in order to find out enemy troop movements. Then one of the mediums finds evidence of a traitor. I'm not sure if it's for me or not, but the premise is fascinating.

What are you reading today? You do know I use what you tell me for readers' advisory, don't you? On Thursdays I participate in an online Twitter chat, #AskaLibrarian. And, I use my blog as one of my resources. It's an hour-long chat in which readers can ask librarians for book suggestions. My favorite hour of the week. I learn as much as I share.

And, that's what I do when I ask you what you're reading. It's always interesting to see what's trending and what you're reading. Thank you for sharing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Katherine Bolger Hyde's debut mystery makes me regret that I don't know Austen better. Each chapter of Arsenic with Austen begins with a quote from one of the novels. If I was more knowledgeable, I'd probably have been more familiar with the direction the story took. I was impressed with some aspects, surprised by the ending, and not surprised by the culprits. I also have the feeling I missed some major points by only knowing a couple of Austen's books.

Emily Cavanaugh hadn't been back to Stony Beach, Oregon in thirty-five years. As a teenager she spent summers there, met and lost the love of her life. Now, at fifty-one, she's a widowed professor, and the heir to her great-aunt Beatrice's estate. In other words, Emily inherited the house called Windy Corner, $6 million in cash and assets, and most of the property in the small community. Her uncle's nephew, Brock, inherited a small portion of the estate. And, it seems, even at Beatrice's funeral that a quarter of the town was united behind the mayor and Brock in wanting Emily to sell out to developers.

But, Emily still loves Stony Beach, the town she saw as a refuge. She loves the library in Windy Corner. As she questions Beatrice's housekeeper and some of the shopkeepers, she starts to grow suspicious. Aunt Beatrice's death seems a little too fortunate and a few people seem a little too eager to get on Emily's good side. When Emily joins forces with Sheriff Luke Richards, the man she once loved, the two start poking at suspects who are a little too slick for comfort. And, one more death convinces Emily and Luke that Beatrice was somehow murdered.

It's refreshing to have an amateur sleuth in her fifties instead of a young woman. Emily is a mature woman with a history, and a kind heart. That kind heart leads to a couple surprises in the book, including the ending. It is surprising that she's an English professor who is a Luddite, unfamiliar with computers or Netflix. Most cozy mysteries have victims that are not well-liked, and the amateur sleuth has a host of suspects to sift through. The victims in this book are likable characters, and the reader regrets their deaths as much as the sleuth does. It makes sense that Emily would want to find the killer.

If you're looking for a mature sleuth with an adult relationship with an old boyfriend, a kind and not eccentric character, try Arsenic with Austen. And, if you are a lover of Jane Austen's writing, tell me what I missed.

Katherine Bolger Hyde's website is www.kbhyde.com

Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde. Minotaur Books. 2016. ISBN 9781250065476 (hardcover), 312p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two - J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

By now, everyone knows that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play written by Jack Thorne, based on a new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Tiffany and Thorne. And, people are seeing it in London, the book has been out several weeks now, and no one can really be surprised. But, I'm not going to give anything away, if I can help it. I may not have grown up reading the Harry Potter books, but I loved Harry and the world Rowling created. I never wanted to know what happened until I had the chance to read the book.

Everyone knows Harry Potter survived the first seven books, or there wouldn't be an eighth story, nineteen years after the events in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling has written that Harry married Ginny Weasley and had three children. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the story of the middle child, Albus. And, oh, he's a middle child, thinking his father doesn't love or understand him the way he loves and understands the oldest boy or the only girl. Before Albus even gets to Hogwarts, he's scared of the expectations that will come from being the son of Harry Potter, who is now the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. But, at Hogwarts, Harry was famous. And, as a middle child, Albus feels the weight of the expectations. Who will his friends be? What house will he be in? What will Harry's son become?

The latest Harry Potter is a story of fathers and sons, the past and the present, and how they influence each other. It's a play that collects the legendary stories of Harry Potter, and twists them around, showing them from another viewpoint. If the characters and world don't seem quite as developed as in Rowling's books, it's because it's a rehearsal script with brief descriptions to set the scene. And, as in any play, the actors who play those parts will bring the characters to life.

But, we all know Harry Potter, don't we? Or, do we? Let's see him through the eyes of a middle child, challenging his father, as young men do, challenging his father's legend. But, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is still a Harry Potter story. Those of us who remember the lessons of the books will remember lessons of love and friendship. Those qualities created the legend of Harry Potter. And, the legend lives.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic, Inc.), 2016. ISBN 9781338099133 (hardcover), 325p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book