Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

This was a charming book I received as an ARC from Edelweiss and read last year.  It is about a reclusive author named Mimi  Banning who is reminiscent of Harper Lee and has decided to write a new novel decades after her bestselling first novel was published. Her publisher is thrilled and sends his assistant, Alice Whitley, to stay at her house to help oversee the writing of the novel and keep it on track.  It turns out, however, that Alice is left to look after Mimi’s smart, eccentric nine-year-old  son, Frank.  Frank is a huge old movie buff, full of movie trivia and facts who loves to dress like the stars of the old movies.  Needless to say, he has a hard time fitting in with the other fourth graders.   I loved the character of Frank, and even though it is hard to believe a child of his age could say the things and think the things he did, I have known a child like that in the past. I loved the humor and the relationship that built with Alice. As a movie lover myself, I also enjoyed all the movie trivia and references.  This heartwarming novel a delight to read.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

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If you love to read books about art and/or forgeries, then The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is a book for you to read.  The book revolves around a painting in the 1600s by Sara de Vos who is the first woman painter to be admitted to the Guild of St Luke’s in Holland.  The painting was unusual because she painted a landscape when women of that time period were usually limited to still life paintings.  It is a well-written story set in 3  different time periods.  The first time period telling Sara’s story; the second time period telling the story of how Ellie Shipley, an Australian student working on her thesis of Dutch women painters is commissioned to produce a forgery of Sara’s work;and the third time period where Marty De Groot, a wealthy art collector who owned the original that was stolen and replaced with the forgery, meets Ellie Shipley,  and both paintings come to light creating a nightmare for Ellie.  The stories are expertly intertwined to create a layered and compelling read.  Another book about forgeries that I found fascinating that you also might want to read is The Art Forger by Barbara A. Shapiro.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I received an ARC in December from Edelweiss, but I just now got around to reading it after seeing the video promoting it on Over the Radar Under the Moon.  The book was previously published in the UK, but it will be coming out in the US on April 4, 2017.  The story alternates between Tess and Gus who both “meet” at the beginning of the book.  They are both 18 and in Italy and on holiday from London  when Gus takes a picture of Tess and her friend, Doll.  Their meeting is one of those instant connections, but then their lives go on in different directions. Tess returns home from her Italy holiday expecting to go to University, but instead her mother dies leaving her to care for her much younger sister, Hope, who eventually is diagnosed with asperger syndrome.  Gus goes on to medical school as his parents wish and has to deal with the death of his brother who had bullied him and always overshadowed him in his parents’ eyes.   They both have very different lives but are dealing with losses and struggling to find their way when life has taken them in a different direction than anticipated, so their lives parallel in some ways. Their lives also continue to momentarily intersect at various points over the years. I enjoyed both of their stories and the anticipation of hoping they will meet again and make a final connection.  Both characters and their struggles were well-developed.  In my own life I have had moments when I met someone and found out I possibly could have crossed paths with them at an earlier point in my life.  I have always found that fascinating and wondered how often that happens and we don’t even realize it.

Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell

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This was my first Tawni O’Dell book and it was a page turner for me.  I don’t think she typically writes mystery/thrillers, but this was an excellent literary mystery.  The book begins when a beaten and partly burned body of a 16 year old girl is found in an abandoned coal town in rural Pennsylvania.  The girl is a member of a dysfunctional, redneck, family of criminals and lovable 50 -year-old Police Chief Dove Carnahan is thrown into solving her most difficult case. To help her with the case, she brings in her friend (with sometimes benefits) Nolan Greely of the State Police.  Her life becomes more difficult when the man who was convicted of killing her mother when she was a teenager is released from prison and returns to town proclaiming his innocence, and her brother shows up after being gone for 25 years with a nine year old son she and her protective sister knew nothing about.  The book has a engrossing story with well developed, interesting characters, witty dialog, some humorous content, well written sense of place, intricate family dynamics, and unexpected twists along the way. I’ll definitely read more of her books.

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

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This historical fiction account of the race in discovering and becoming notable for electricity and the light bulb is fascinating and compelling read.  The book chronicles the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse and begins when Thomas Edison has filed 312 lawsuits against George Westinghouse for producing his light bulb.  The story is told through George Westinghouse’s young fresh out of law school attorney, Paul Cravath.  The cast of characters include eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, singer Agnes Huntington, J.P. Morgan, and Alexander Bell to name a few.The author does an excellent job of describing a time period of much invention and the race to get ahead and profit from new discoveries.  The book has it all – interesting characters and an interesting story line full of intrigue, suspense, dirty deeds, unexpected twists, and even a little romance.

“Who had invented the light bulb? That was the question that started the whole story off. It was all of them. Only together could they have birthed the system that was now the bone and sinew of these United States. No one man could have done it. In order to produce such a wonder, Paul realized, the world required men like each of them. Visionaries like Tesla. Craftsmen like Westinghouse. Salesmen like Edison.”

I listened to the audio version of the book narrated by Johnathan McClain.  At the end of the novel there is an author’s note that details information used for his research, the fictionalized parts, details of changes in chronology and time frames and interesting additional details.

 

 

 

 

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

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Looking back over the past year and the books I read, I decided to write about one of my favorites, A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi.  The book is about an Afghani woman named Zeba who is put in jail for murder after her husband is found in their courtyard with a hatchet in his head.  She is represented by an Afghan born American lawyer who has returned to Afghanistan.  Through her story and that of the other women prisoners, a picture of the criminal system for women is revealed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The book portrays the life of Afghani women so well and the cultural challenges they face. The author has written a book with an engrossing storyline and well-developed interesting characters. This book would be a great book for a book discussion group.