punctuation matters!

Mikki Lincoln knows words. As a freelance editor, she helps writers get their pieces ready for publication. It’s only in her spare time that she snoops around, asking people about murder. But with her town, Lenape Hollow, having its 225th anniversary, there’s not as much time for playing Miss Marple. Especially since they want to put on a play that the town did for their 200th celebration, and it needs a lot of editing help. As someone who grew up in Lenape Hollow, Mikki wants the celebration to be a success, so she reluctantly agrees to volunteer her time to polish the script.

But when some renovations at the historical society reveal a body that had been concealed behind a wall for decades, Mikki finds herself back in the midst of a mystery.

Her work with the play has her studying a lot of town history, so she finds herself uncovering long-held secrets, some of which heal relationships rifts, and others just cause more problems. Mikki tries as hard as she can to write a happy ending to the story, but there is someone else working against her, someone trying to keep their identity as a killer from being exposed.

Clause and Effect is the second book in Kaitlyn Dunnett’s Deadly Edits series. A long-time writer of mysteries (I love her Liss MacCrimmon series, about a Scottish shop owner in Maine), this is actually her sixtieth book in print (congratulations to her!) as well as a genuinely fun read.

Mikki is an independent older woman (in her 70s), but still working and renovating her childhood home and hanging out with her friends. Clause and Effect is a smart, well-written mystery with plenty of shady suspects and red herrings. It’s a cozy for word lovers, and a very enjoyable way to pass the time.

Galleys for Clause and Effect were provided by Kensington Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.

grab your tissues!

Jan Karon is back, but not with a new book about everyone’s favorite small mountain town Mitford. Bathed in Prayer is a compilation of 30 years of laughter, tears, sermons, prayers, stories, Barnabas, Dooley, Cynthia, Father Tim, and everyone else who has come to make Mitford a town as real as most of the places we readers live.

Anyone who is a fan of Jan Karon’s books will appreciate this walk down the lane of memories, as she starts with At Home in Mitford and goes through the original Mitford series, on to the two novels that focus on Father Tim (Home to Holly Springs and In the Company of Others, not originally considered part of the series but they have since been folded in), and finishing with the last three Mitford novels that see a wedding for some of the most-loved characters in the series.

Anyone wanting an overview before committing to reading a series of 14 books can use this as a gauge of whether they’ll like Mitford or not. But if this is you, know that the shorter format leaves our a lot of the humor, love, and spirit of the town and its denizens. There is so much more to these novels than the handful of stories that you get here.

Bathed in Prayer takes us back through each story from the perspective of Father Tim’s prayers and sermons. These moments focus on many of the most emotional points in these novels, so you get a chance to revisit all the celebrations. The down side to this is that you also revisit the funerals, so if you listen to audiobooks in your car like I do, be prepare to find yourself crying as you drive home from work. Losing Miss Sadie all over again is heart-breaking, and then it’s Uncle Billy’s time. For this reason, there are times this book is painful. But even then, it’s so worth it to get a chance to head back to Mitford for a while.

I listened to this on audio, and not only do you get the iconic voice of John McDonough as Father Tim, you get to hear Jan Karon herself as she introduces each novel and reads an essay she wrote about her decision to start this series in the first place. The two voices together make this a truly beautiful experience, richer and more life-affirming than simply reading the words on the page. For me, it’s become the only way to experience a new Jan Karon book.

with friends like these

Gen and Ava are the best of friends; they have been since high school. Anyone who reads their emails and texts can see that. They share their confusion and their heartbreaks, their jokes and their insecurities. They spill all about their hookups and their bosses, and even about hookups with their bosses. And they do it all with spirit, humor, and intelligence.

Ava is in New York City, rooming with a wannabe comic and working as an intern for a female talk show host who is not known for her emotional stability. Gen is in Florida, working at a small newspaper and trying to make inroads in getting recognition for her fellow LGBTQ individuals in the small Southern town. But despite their distance, they keep in touch daily.

Their emails and texts include lots of snark and emojis, a homeless man, a possible mentorship, a feral cat, an unpaid intern, a barre class, psychotherapy, catfishing, and a sexually transmitted disease. As Ava and Gen try to navigate their first real jobs, apartments and roommates, and relationships after college, will their friendship be able to last? Or is the distance just too far between New York and Florida?

Please Send Help is the latest novel from authors Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin, whose previous I Hate Everyone But You introduced these characters in their first year of college. Do you have to read the first novel before this one? Nope. I know this for sure because I have no yet read I Hate Everyone But You. But now I have to, because I have fallen in love with these characters.

Almost immediately, I felt a kinship with these fun, wacky, clueless woman who are just trying to live their best lives by sharing everything with their best friends. The epistolary format makes Please Send Help so easy to read, and the honesty between these friends make it a joy to experience. As their stories unfolded and they found themselves getting into and out of sticky situations, I just found myself more and more drawn to these women. These are the best kind of friends to have.

So while this book ended way too soon for my liking, I am happy to know that I can catch up with the first one, and I will be keeping my fingers crossed for a third one coming my way in the near future!

Galleys for Please Send Help were provided by Wednesday Books and St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley, with many thanks.

it takes a village

Paul Stuart writes books about food. After his successful book on Italian food, he decides to write a weightier tome, about the philosophy of food. And as he gets his ideas together, his life falls apart. His girlfriend moves in her two cats, who Paul thinks dislike him greatly and make it difficult for him to work. So when his cousin graciously offers him the use of an empty apartment to write in (she usually has a renter, but it’s currently open), he finds himself in an awkward situation that his girlfriend completely misconstrues.

After all that drama and the ensuing breakup, Paul needs a change of scenery, and a peaceful place to concentrate on writing his new book. Cousin Chloe steps in again to save the day. She is about to head to a small town in France and she invites Paul to come along. It’s a quiet town, and he will have plenty of time to write away from home and all its distractions. He agrees, and before he knows it he’s on his way to a small town in France with what is known as the second worst restaurant in the whole country.

As time goes by, Paul makes some progress on his book. However, he also makes friends with the residents of the small town and inevitably gets pulled in to help them out with their drama. And of course he’s asked to assist at the restaurant. And as he pitches in to help others find their best lives, he finds his own way as well.

Alexander McCall Smith’s new novel The Second Worst Restaurant in France is a follow-up to last year’s My Italian Bulldozer, and it’s yet another lovely character-oriented story that reminds you of the good in the world. His graceful, gracious writing style never fails to bring me a sense of peace and calm in a stressful world. While his characters are far from perfect, they are honest and hopeful and try to leave the world a little better off.

I loved The Second Worst Restaurant in France, and I recommend this for the next time you’re struggling to remember that there is good in the world.

Galleys for The Second Worst Restaurant in France were provided by Random House through their First To Read program, with many thanks.

snapshot 7.14

recently finished: Nothing. It was one of those weeks where I stayed knee deep in all the things.

currently reading: Famous People by Justin Kuritzkes, a satire memoir of a kid star whose first album took off, making him a huge star. It is wild and crazy, told in a stream of consciousness and giving insight to how fame changes things for a person, especially a teenager. It’s insane fun. And I just started Please Send Help, by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin. A couple of friends just out of college and starting their first “real” jobs stay in touch through emails and texts, with lots of humor and love. I need more time with this one. It’s a keeper!

up next: I won a copy of J. Ryan Stradal’s new The Lager Queen of Minnesota, and I can’t wait to get started! And very soon? The newest Louise Penny! You know I can’t wait for that one!

stranger things

Strange things are happening in Clare Cassidy’s life. A teacher of English to British teenagers and of creative writing to adults, Clare knows a good story when she hears one. And she’s been a fan of one particular story, R. M. Holland’s “The Stranger,” for a long time. In fact, she followed him to Talgarth High. Although Holland’s long been dead, the school was previously his home, and his office is still intact. Clare wanted to write a book about him and the mystery surrounding the death of his wife and the possible disappearance of a daughter.

But when Clare’s friend and fellow teacher is killed, some of the oddities of Holland’s story are a little to close to home. And then Clare finds that someone else has written to her in her diary. Is it possible that Clare or her teenaged daughter Georgia are in danger, or could Clare have engineered this to take the blame off herself?

Sargeant Harbinder Kaur is no stranger to Talgarth High and R. M. Holland. As a teenager, she went to to the high school. Now she’s a sergeant in the police force and trying to figure out if Clare is a killer or a potential victim, and to find the answers before others have to die.

Elly Grifiths is known for her mystery novels, and The Stranger Diaries is definitely that. But it’s so much more. Told through the voices of several different characters, this thriller is half murder mystery, half creepy ghost story. With excerpts from Holland’s story mixed in, The Stranger Diaries becomes a spine-tingling, teeth-gnashing, white knuckle story that would be perfect for a stormy night at home alone.

For The Stranger Diaries, I got the audiobook, and hearing the tale in the voices of four distinct narrators added so much pleasure and depth to my reading experience. I loved it!

Honestly, I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters. I loved the pacing. And I especially loved the use of the story story “The Stranger” to heighten the tension. Don’t miss this one!

Galleys for The Stranger Diaries were provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through NetGalley, with many thanks, but I bought the audiobook myself through Audible.

the play's the thing

Ambtion. For actor Kira Rascher, it’s a way of life. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear “no” at an audition, you still have to go to the next one and do your best. And Kira is up for that.

And then when she gets the audition for Temper at Chicago’s famous Indifferent Honest Theater Company. A two-person play about a relationship in crisis, Temper would mean Kira alone on the stage with the talented actor and director Malcolm Mercer. The unpredictable Malcolm Mercer. The possibly dangerous Malcolm Mercer.

Mercer’s partner in Indifferent Honest, Joanna Cuyler, is not a fan of Kira. She doesn’t think the actress can fulfill the role. But she knows that no one can tell Mercer what to do. Once he’s made his mind up, that’s it.

And he’s made his mind up about Kira.

Layne Fargo’s powerful novel Temper is about what happens when ambition meets opportunity. And jealousy. And a manipulative narcissist who is willing to push his actors far beyond their breaking point to get the performance he wants.

This novel is intense! It’s good, a captivating novel that pushes the reader almost as far and as hard as it pushes the reader. The psychological warfare is difficult to read at times, but the characters are fascinating. This novel isn’t for everyone. I think it would be too much for a casual reader. But if you’re up for a crazy, fierce, astonishing ride of a thriller, then Temper is just what you need to read. And you won’t be able to put it down!

Galleys for Temper were provided by Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.

a crust by any other name

Peter Reinhart is the bread guy. No, I mean it. Peter Reinhart is THE bread guy. The one who wrote The Bread Baker’s Apprentice as well over ten other books on breads and crusts. Fans of his also know him as a pizza connoisseur. So his latest cookbook, The Perfect Pan Pizza, is natural progression of his previous work.

In this latest book, Reinhart focuses on his favorite part of the pizza: the crust. He has 3 master crust recipes—a white flour dough, a whole grain country-style dough, and a naturally leavened dough (aka sourdough). From there, he gives you recipes that take you around the world, from Sicily to Detroit.

He offers options for sauces and toppings, but he himself admits to using store-bought sauce from time to time, because his focus is the crust. The caveat for all of his homemade crusts is that they take time—to get the flavor developed, they need to be made ahead of time, preferably at least a day in advance (but they can sit in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, to add a little flexibility in scheduling).

If you’re someone who likes to stick to a tried-and-true recipe, you can choose from Reinhart’s Bacon and Egg Pizza, Reuben, Philly Cheesesteak, White Clams Casino, Motor City Hawaiian, or (as a Kansas Citian, I am drawn to this one) Beef Brisket with Burnt Ends, just to name a few. Or if you’re more of a free spirit in the kitchen, you can just make his crust and figure out the rest on your own.

And for the crust, you get step-by-step instructions with clear photos to help you through every stage of the crust making. He tells you how the dough should look and feel, how to rest it, how to knead it, and how to best spread it in the pan so you will get the best bake on it. Yes, these recipes are just for pan pizzas, but there are still many varieties to try. I strongly recommend this cookbook for anyone who considers themselves a pizza nerd, a foodie, or who just wants to make the best possible pan pizza for family and friends.

rewriting the story

Nina Hill has a tight schedule. Each week, each day, she sets out a schedule of what’s happening in her busy life. She works her schedule at the bookstore, she has her book clubs, she has her quiz team, and of course she schedules time to curl up and read. An introvert and an only child, Nina appreciates her solitude. She likes her life peaceful and without drama.

Unfortunate, life doesn’t work that way.

Instead, Nina finds herself attracted to her trivia quiz nemesis. The bookstore where she works is under threat of closing. And the father she never knew died and left her money in his will, which brings out a treasure trove of brothers, cousins, sisters, nieces, and nephews for her to deal with.

Nina finds herself at a crossroads. She can continue her small, well-planned, bookish life. Or she can open up to others and find a larger, scarier, louder, potentially more amazing life than she ever dreamed.

Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a charming novel of growing up and making choices about the type of life you want to have, about the person you want to be.

Personally, I adored this book and treasured every word. This was exactly the kind of reading experience I was looking for, a heart-warming story about a bookish woman (something I can absolutely relate to) as well as the fun and excitement of a life full of new opportunities. I really highly recommend this one for all book nerds!

Galleys for The Bookish Life of Nina Hill were provided by Penguin Random House through their First To Read program, with many thanks.

family law

In some ways, Stella Sandell is an average teenager. In other ways, she is anything but. On the one hand, she just wants to spend time with her friends, dance and drink and flirt, and save her earnings from H&M for an amazing trip through Asia.

On the other hand, Stella’s on trial for murder.

Stella’s father is a pastor, and he’s struggling with feelings of helplessness regarding the justice system. He’s blaming himself for his shortcomings as a father. He is questioning his moral compass. He pushes for answers. He pushes his daughter’s lawyer, he pushes his wife, he pushes his wife, and he pushes their friends until he can’t do anything except worry.

Stella’s mother is a well respected attorney. She understands aspects of Stella’s defense better than anyone. But as the days and weeks go by without getting to see her daughter, with Stella locked up with no visiting privileges, her mother fights within herself. Getting Stella exonerated, and keeping her family together, is going to take all of her strength. And while she and Stella have struggled through the years, she knows that this is something she has to do for her daughter, to make sure she has a future.

A Nearly Normal Family is not your average thriller. A slow burn unwinding of a family’s story, it’s powerful in a quiet way. The Swedish novel by M. T. Edvardsson is told in three parts. The first part is the story of Stella’s arrest and trial through her father’s eyes. The second part is told by Stella herself, and the third part is the perspective of her mother. Taken together, the three strands of A Nearly Normal Family weave together to show the whole picture of a family through a series of traumatic events that ends with a man losing his life and an 18-year-old girl on trial.

A Nearly Normal Family is a beautifully told story of a family in crisis, of three individuals whose lives could blow apart at any moment. It’s a story of how relationships develop and diverge, how family relationships make us who we are and threaten to tear us apart. I really loved how this novel drew me in with the emotion of the story and then walked me through to the facts of the crime. While Stella’s family isn’t perfect, it is three people who genuinely love each other, and that makes for a moving story. I recommend this one. Added bonus: an interesting look at the Swedish justice system.

Galleys for A Nearly Normal Family were provided by Celadon Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 7.7

sorry about the quiet week. It wasn’t my intention to take the week off, but it was an exceptionally bad week at work, and then there was the holiday, so things just worked out that way. But I’m back this week with some things to talk about!

recently finished: Temper. Wow! What a crazy-making book! I think it has to be read quickly. It was so intense, reading it slowly would be so painful. More about that one very soon . . . I also finished Alexander McCall Smith’s upcoming The Second-Worst Restaurant in France, which I loved, and I finally got a chance to finish A Nearly Normal Family.

currently reading: I didn’t get to listen to my audiobook much last week at work, so I’m still reading Stranger Diaries. And in my car I have taken a short break from Anthony Horowitz novels to finish listening to Jan Karon’s Bathed in Prayer.

up next: The Last Book Party, about publishing way back in the late 1980s, and I can’t wait to dive in! I’m also looking forward to Breathe In, Cash Out, which looks like a women’s work novel reminiscent of The Knockoff, The Assistants, or I Don’t Know How She Does It. Can’t wait!

snapshot 6.30

recently finished: ummm, nothing. Still in the middle of a lot of things.

currently reading: Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries. I haven’t read any of her other books yet, but I’ve heard great things. I’m actually listening to this one on audio, and the creep factor is high. I’m really enjoying it! A woman is working on a book about a writer who died many years ago, and now her friend has been murdered. This has the feel of a ghost story mixed with a mystery, and I can’t wait to see how she wraps it all up together. I’m also still reading A Nearly Normal Family, and it just keeps getting better the deeper I get into it. It’s told by 3 different narrators. First, the father; then,the daughter; last, the mother. I’m still in the middle third, and I am trying to race ahead to find out that final perspective that will pull everything together.

up next: Alexander McCall Smith’s The Second Worst Restaurant in France. I love his books, and I’m looking forward to digging into this one and letting his intelligence and peacefulness wash over me.