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Whew – September has been a ride. I turned 39, hosted my parents for a few days, drove to Amherst with a girlfriend and had a few other adventures. In the midst of all that, here’s what I have been reading:

The Midnight Orchestra, Jessica Khoury
Amelia Jones is finally settling in at Mystwick School for Magic. But then her school enters a high-stakes competition, and the pressure’s on Amelia to compose a fabulous spell. This second Mystwick novel goes much deeper into the world-building, Amelia’s complicated family history and her friendships with other students. Twisty, musical and lots of fun.

Marmee, Sarah Miller
I loved Miller’s previous novel, Caroline, which focuses on Ma from the Little House books. This one is a first-person narrative of Marmee March from my beloved Little Women. We follow the March family through war, illness, Mr. March’s absence, a couple of weddings and lots of everyday life. Margaret (Marmee) is a wonderful narrator, and I loved how Miller hits these familiar beats from a new angle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 25).

Nora Goes Off Script, Annabel Monaghan
Screenwriter Nora Hamilton has just sold a movie that could be her big break – though it’s about her husband leaving. When movie star Leo Vance, who plays Nora’s ex in the movie, begs her to let him stay on after filming, she reluctantly relents, and falls in love. But then Leo disappears, and Nora (plus her kids) must deal with the fallout. A witty, warmhearted, fun novel about love, family and second chances.

The Perfumist of Paris, Alka Joshi
Radha spent her childhood following her older sister Lakshmi around Jaipur, mixing henna for Lakshmi’s clients and – eventually – getting tangled up with a rich, careless boy. Now, she’s a grown woman and a budding perfumer in Paris, married with two children. A big assignment at work coincides with some long-held family secrets bubbling up. I loved this third installment in Joshi’s series that began with The Henna Artist: lushly described, with compelling characters (I loved the aging courtesans!) and lots of questions about work and womanhood. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Last Call at the Nightingale, Katharine Schellman
Vivian Kelly spends her days stitching dresses for the rich, and her nights dancing and drinking at the Nightingale. But when a man ends up dead in the alley out back, the club’s owner asks Vivian to sniff around for information. I like Schellman’s Regency-era Lily Adler series, and really enjoyed this start to a new series – Jazz Age NYC, complicated sisterly bonds, interracial friendships, an interesting love triangle.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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September is flying by so far – amid work and daily adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

The Lost Summers of Newport, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoy Team W’s richly detailed historical novels (and I’ve devoured nearly all of Williams’ books). This one follows the intertwined stories of three women connected to the same Newport, R.I., mansion during different eras: architectural preservationist Andie, music teacher Ellen, and Italian-American socialite Lucia. Rife with family secrets and dripping with diamonds – great escapist reading.

The House of Eve, Sadeqa Johnson
Ruby Pearsall is on track to be her family’s first college student – but a forbidden love may derail her plans to escape her rough neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles, a brilliant young woman from small-town Ohio, struggles to find her place at Howard University and with her rich boyfriend’s family. Their lives collide in an unexpected way. A powerful, sometimes wrenching novel about the struggles of Black women in the mid-1950s. So much here around shame and womanhood and making choices. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Love, Lies & Spies, Cindy Anstey
Miss Juliana Telford is more interested in publishing her research on ladybugs than diving into the London Season. Mr. Spencer Northam is far more preoccupied with espionage than with matrimony. But all this might change when they encounter one another by chance. A witty, hilarious, romantic tribute to Jane Austen and a really fun love story. Recommended by Anne.

Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead, Adam McHugh
After years as a hospice chaplain, McHugh found himself burned out, and needing not just an escape but a whole life change. His love of wine led him – several times – to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, where he began a career working in wine. An honest, sometimes snarky, well-researched, thoughtful memoir about wine and transformation. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man, Emily J. Edwards
Our titular heroine loves her job as secretary/girl Friday to NYC private eye Tommy Fortuna. But when she finds an unconscious man in the office and Tommy disappears – right after taking on a case for a wealthy client – Viv must marshal all her wits to solve the case and stay alive. A fun romp with an engaging heroine, though the dialogue read almost like a send-up of 1950s phrases. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 8).

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration, Sara Dykman
I picked up this memoir last fall at the Harvard Book Store and have been reading it sloooowly. Dykman takes a months-long solo journey starting and ending in Mexico at the monarchs’ overwintering grounds, following their trail and giving presentations about the importance of these beautiful creatures. She’s a lovely writer, though the trip logistics dragged sometimes (as I’m sure they did in real life!). Fun bonus: she went through my dad’s tiny hometown in southwestern MO.

What Comes from Spirit, Richard Wagamese
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I., in June. Wagamese was an Indigenous Canadian writer who wrote extensively about his journey away from and back to his Native identity, as well as noticing the natural world, building community and paying attention. Short, lovely meditations – exactly my kind of thing for slow morning reading.

The Star That Always Stays, Anna Rose Johnson
When Norvia’s parents divorce, she and her siblings move from rural Beaver Island to a small Michigan city with their mother. Norvia must navigate a new school, a tricky blended family and her own shyness and anxiety, while striving to be a heroine. A sweet middle-grade story (though the middle dragged a bit); I loved Norvia’s family, especially her spunky younger sister, Dicta. Reminded me of Emily of Deep Valley.

Saving Main Street: Small Business in the Time of COVID-19, Gary Rivlin
Americans idolize small business – though we give a lot of our money to the colossal chains. It’s common knowledge now that small shops were hit hard by COVID-19. Veteran reporter Rivlin follows several business owners, including a restaurateur, a pharmacist, a Latina hairstylist and three Black brothers making chocolate, through the first 18 months or so of the pandemic. Full of fascinating anecdotes and a thorough explanation of the government’s confusing (but ultimately sort-of-effective) struggle to help small businesses. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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If you know me, you probably know that I usually have several books going at once: at least one for review at Shelf Awareness, a fun or meaty novel, some thoughtful nonfiction, a middle-grade or YA novel, maybe a memoir or some poetry. (These categories often overlap.)

I love reading this way: I have maintained for years that different books feed different parts of my brain. I’m a fast reader, and can blow through a medium-sized novel in a day or two if I want to. But I’ve been thinking lately about another kind of reading: the slow kind that creates space.

Earlier this summer, I picked up What Comes From Spirit, a collection of short selected pieces by Canadian Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. I’ve been lingering over it, reading a piece or two in the mornings, trying to let the words sink in before I dash off (sometimes literally) to start the day. It isn’t always Wagamese, of course: sometimes it’s Mary Oliver, or a piece from an essay collection, or flipping through a beloved book on writing.

I like taking my time with writing like this: slower and contemplative, with more spaces between the words. I am (generally) in no rush to finish these books and check them off a list; I find the slower pace helps them sink in more deeply. And it’s a nice contrast, sometimes, to racing through a fast-paced spy novel or YA romance.

Do you read books at different speeds? I’m curious to hear!

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I love a good spy story – even better if it involves a canny female protagonist racing against the clock and a formidable enemy. So I jumped at the chance to review Ava Glass’ debut thriller, Alias Emma, which introduces intelligence officer Emma Makepeace. This interview originally ran in Shelf Awareness.

Tell us about the inspiration for Alias Emma.

It’s fair to say Alias Emma was inspired by real life. Britain has always been a hotbed of espionage. Perched at the edge of Europe but a strong ally of the U.S., it’s a magnet for spies from around the world. People are murdered here with poison-tipped umbrellas, radiation in tea cups, nerve agents on door knobs–these are the headlines I’m reading. How could I not want to write about this? It’s crying out to be explored.

Besides the headlines, how did you originally become interested in spies and espionage?

Before I started writing books, I worked for the British government in the department that’s sort of the equivalent of the U.S. Homeland Security agency. My job brought me into glancing contact with spies, and that gave me just the merest glimpse of their world. Before then I’d been a journalist and an editor, so I knew nothing at all about espionage or intelligence work. I was a complete innocent in that way. During that time, I met a young female intelligence officer. She was in her 20s and so smart and fearless; she seemed decades older than her age, and incredibly capable. Alias Emma is my opportunity to imagine what her life might be like.

Modern-day intelligence work often relies on technology: mobile phones, tracking devices, surveillance systems. Tell us how you explore those technologies–either using them or eliminating them–as part of this story.

This is always somewhat tricky. In Alias Emma, the job Emma’s assigned is extracting Michael, the son of a Russian spy who has defected to the U.K. The Russians want their asset back, so she and her husband are taken into protective custody [by British officials], but their adult son refuses to go with them. If Emma can’t get him to safety, he’ll be killed. He doesn’t understand the danger he’s in. During this rescue, Emma is ordered to use no technology that can be tracked. So, she can use no phones, bank cards, computers or tablets. At the same time, London’s extensive CCTV system has been hacked by the Russians who are using the cameras to hunt for Emma and Michael. Technology is everywhere (including the CCTV cameras), but Emma can’t access any of it.

Britain and Russia are old enemies (the Great Game and the Cold War both come to mind), but this story is set in the 21st century and feels very fresh. Why a British/Russian conflict?

I believe the Great Game never ended. We all thought it stopped when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, but we were wrong. It went on. That became quite clear when a former Russian FSB agent named Alexander Litvenenko was murdered by his ex-colleagues with polonium placed in a teapot in an expensive London hotel in 2006. That was followed by a spate of mysterious deaths of Russian exiles and former spies and government officials in the U.K. until, finally, a Russian exile named Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked with nerve gas in a leafy town (near where I live) in 2018. That was when it occurred to me that this secret war might make an interesting subject for a series of novels.

Much of this story is about identity. There are false identities, conflicting identities, Michael’s reluctance to leave the life he’s built for himself behind. Can you speak to that?

To an extent. In my time, I’ve changed careers, towns, even nations. Each move always feels like an opportunity to reinvent yourself. And yet, in my experience, no matter how far you travel, you can’t escape yourself. The past tags along. No matter how hard you try to leave it behind, it always packs itself in your luggage. And this is one lesson that Emma Makepeace is learning in Alias Emma. She can change her appearance, her name, even her eye color–but she will always be shaped by her past.

Will we see Emma in future adventures? Can you give us a teaser?

I’m actually writing the last chapters of book two now! The second book takes Emma out of London and into an undercover operation on an oligarch’s yacht in the Mediterranean. An MI6 analyst has been murdered in a bizarre way that looks like a hallmark of the Russian spy agency GRU. The Agency believes the analyst got too close to revealing a conspiracy by Russian businessmen in London to sell chemical weapons to rogue nations. But the conspiracy may run much deeper than Emma thinks. And it will take her to very dangerous places.

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Another month has flown by! As we wrap up August, here’s what I have been reading:

Just Another Love Song, Kerry Winfrey
Sandy Macintosh has built a life for herself in her Ohio hometown – she’s even happy, most of the time. But when her first love Hank Tillman (now a successful musician) comes back to town with his son in tow, Sandy’s emotions go haywire. I love Winfrey’s warmhearted feel-good romances, and this one was sweet – full of fun summer vibes and serious questions about figuring out what you truly want.

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys and Struggles of Being Alone, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
Solitude and loneliness are, of course, not the same – but they often go hand in hand, and they’re both nearly universal experiences. This anthology explores loneliness in many forms – it is sad and lovely and extremely validating. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Argyles and Arsenic, Molly MacRae
The women of Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to helping host the local knitting competition in tiny Inversgail, Scotland. But when the director of the local museum is poisoned at a party, they can’t help but investigate (of course). I like the setting of this series, but the plot of this one didn’t do it for me – plus a super irritating plot device didn’t help.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, Clare Pooley
I loved Pooley’s first novel, The Authenticity Project, and also loved this one – about a group of strangers on a London commuter train (led by the titular Iona) who enter each other’s lives and become good friends. Sweet, heartwarming and so beautifully human. I loved vibrant Iona, shy Sanjay, gawky Martha and the kindness in all of them.

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, Jamie K. McCallum
We all spent the first part of the pandemic applauding essential workers (sometimes literally). But despite arguing and agitating for better wages and conditions, a lot of essential jobs are truly terrible. McCallum dives into the labor strikes, walkouts and other campaigns of the pandemic, connecting them to the long history of labor organizing in the U.S., and urgently calling for higher wages, government support and better working conditions for nurses, food service workers and others. Insightful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Death at the Manor, Katharine Schellman
Lily Adler is delighted to be visiting her aunts in Hampshire, with friends. But their visit takes a turn when a local elderly woman is murdered – ostensibly by a ghost. This third mystery featuring Lily had a bit of gothic flair; I thought the plot dragged for a while, though the conclusion was interesting.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Hello, friends. It has been hot here in Boston (though I hear some relief might be on the horizon), and my workplace is still operating on a hybrid model. I like the flexibility of having a work-from-home day each week, but I can’t spend all day in my studio apartment without going a bit mad – especially when the temps are in the 90s. So I’ve been heading to (where else?) the local library on Tuesday afternoons to work.

I love the Eastie branch library: it’s airy, open and welcoming, with a cadre of friendly librarians whose faces I know now. It has air-conditioning, free wi-fi, and (of course) lots of books nearby. I bring my laptop and settle in at one of the tables, getting up occasionally to stretch or refill my water bottle. The people-watching, when I need a break from work emails, is always excellent: Eastie is truly multicultural, and the folks who use the library are multigenerational, too. There are worker bees with laptops, like me; folks who come in to use the public computers and printers; children coming in and out for summer reading programs; and lots of teenagers, who drift in and out during the afternoon.

I love both the idea and the reality of third places – those locales, neither work/school nor home, that bring people together and foster connection, as well as serving other purposes. My beloved Darwin’s in Cambridge was my third place for a long time; ZUMIX, my workplace, is a vital third place for the young people we serve. I love watching and participating in the library as a third place, too, and seeing my community thrive here.

Yes, it gets a little loud sometimes – but the presence of other people is often the whole point. I’m grateful the library is just a short bike ride away.

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August is flying by – between work and yoga and other adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

Rivals, Katharine McGee
Queen Beatrice is hosting her first international diplomatic conference, and alliances will be formed and shattered – but by whom? Meanwhile, Princess Samantha might be falling in love – for real this time – and Prince Jeff’s girlfriend, Daphne, is reconsidering her usual scheming ways. A fun third installment in McGee’s alternate-reality YA series where America is a monarchy.

The Matchmaker’s Gift, Lynda Cohen Loigman
Sara Glikman makes her first match at age 10, as her family immigrates to the U.S. When Sara keeps using her unusual gift to make love matches, the local matchmakers – all male – join forces against her. Decades later, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, uncovers some of her grandmother’s stories and begins to suspect she might have the gift, too. A highly enjoyable historical novel with a touch of magic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 20).

The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston
Romance ghostwriter Florence Day is in trouble: she doesn’t believe in love anymore, but her handsome new editor is pushing her to submit a manuscript on deadline. Then Florence’s father dies, and she flies home to South Carolina (where her family runs the funeral home) – and a very handsome ghost shows up unexpectedly. Quirky and fun and really sweet; the premise is bonkers, but I loved it. Found at the delightful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT, and recommended by Anne.

Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem, April Ryan
Black women are the often unsung “sheroes” who make immeasurable contributions to America’s democracy, institutions, families and communities, while facing the double bind of sexism and racism. Veteran White House reporter Ryan – herself a trailblazing Black woman – champions the accomplishments of leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris and the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. Thoughtful and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, Jessica Khoury
All her life, Amelia Jones has dreamed of studying at Mystwick, the school where her mother learned Musicraft. After a botched audition, Amelia still gets in due to a mix-up, but she gets a chance to prove she belongs there. A fun middle-grade novel with adventures, music, magic and complicated friend/frenemy dynamics. First in a series.

London’s Number One Dog Walking Agency, Kate MacDougall
In 2006, MacDougall quit her job at Sotheby’s – where she was safe but bored – to start a dog-walking company. This delightful memoir chronicles her trials and triumphs in setting up the business, navigating adulthood, getting her own dog and starting a family. Witty and warm, with lovely insights on work and building a life. Found at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Seven or eight years ago now, I got an email from an author, offering to send me an ARC of a cozy mystery for review. I said yes with reservations: I love a mystery, but cozies are sometimes too cutesy for me, plus the writing isn’t always very good. But I devoured (ha) Death with All the Trimmings, my introduction to Lucy Burdette’s series featuring Key West food critic Hayley Snow. The series – now 12 books strong, and counting – has continued to make me smile, and I’m always happy to get a new installment in the mail.

After following her boyfriend down to Key West and realizing he’s kind of a jerk (an understatement), Hayley has to build a new life for herself. She lives on a houseboat with Miss Gloria, the world’s spunkiest, sparkliest octogenarian, plus assorted cats, and makes her living writing foodie articles for Key Zest magazine. Of course, as Hayley zips around town on her scooter, she runs across lots of mysteries, which only multiply when her mom and stepdad move to the island and open a catering company.

Hayley’s sleuthing often puts her at cross purposes with Nathan Bransford, a handsome but grumpy detective, and his much friendlier fellow cop Steve Torrence. Gradually, Hayley builds up quite the reputation as an amateur sleuth, and quite the relationship with Bransford. I wasn’t a huge fan of his character for a long time, but I’ve gradually warmed to him, especially as Burdette has explored Nathan’s own history in the last few books.

After reading the first book Burdette sent me, I went back and read the previous four – all out of order, but it didn’t really matter. I’ve continued to enjoy Hayley’s (sometimes zany) adventures, all of which draw heavily on Key West local color and lore. The Hemingway House, the island’s mix of tourists and locals, the wacky festivals and (of course) the seafood are on full display; Burdette clearly loves the island, and it shows. Since Hayley’s job involves trying restaurants and writing about them, Burdette gets to glory in the island’s culinary offerings, and there are always a few recipes at the back of each book.

I’ve especially loved escaping to Key West a few times in the dead of winter; I’ve never been there in person, but it’s always a sun-soaked literary getaway. Hayley’s narration is keen-eyed, wryly humorous and often quite entertaining. And I love the ensemble cast, including Hayley’s levelheaded mom, her sweet stepdad, Lorenzo the tarot card reader, the local cops (including Bransford), and especially Miss Gloria, whose pluck and humor know no bounds. I love the cats and the wacky, friendly atmosphere of the island, and I love knowing everything will (mostly) turn out all right in the end.

Are you a fan of cozy mysteries? Any series I should check out?

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August has, so far, been hot and full and lovely. Between (and during) weekend adventures and heat waves, here’s what I have been reading:

Horse, Geraldine Brooks
I love Brooks’ thoughtful fiction that takes readers to unexpected places – all her novels are so different. This one deals with a discarded painting, a horse skeleton, a Civil War-era Black horse trainer and an NYC art dealer, among other things. I especially loved the sections about Jarret, the trainer. Rich and thought-provoking, like all her books.

Flying Solo, Linda Holmes
After calling off her wedding, Laurie Sassalyn returns to small-town Maine to clear out her elderly aunt’s house. She finds a carved wooden duck buried in a blanket chest, and tries to figure out how it got there. This is a sweet story with a bit of a mystery, but it’s mostly Laurie coming to terms with what she wants from her life. I loved the side characters like Laurie’s best friend June and actor brother Ryan, and I appreciated the musings on how womanhood and relationships don’t have to look the same for everyone.

By Any Other Name, Lauren Kate
Editor Lanie Bloom prides herself on handling crises at work, and snagging the perfect guy who fits her (long) list of criteria for a mate. But when Lanie gets (provisionally) promoted and finally meets her reclusive top-tier author, everything she thought she knew about life and love is thrown into question. I loved this sweet, witty publishing rom-com – shades of Nora Ephron, for sure – especially the subplot involving an elderly couple picnicking in Central Park. (Reminded me of this.)

Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, Louise Willder
Blurbs are “the outside story” of a book – and there’s more to them than most people think. Veteran copywriter Willder takes readers through the (literal) A-Z of blurbs, touching on publishing history, literary snobbery, racism, gender politics, puns (so many puns!) and other entertaining absurdities. Smart, nerdy and so much bookish fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

The Key to Deceit, Ashley Weaver
London, 1940: Ellie McDonnell, locksmith and sometime thief, has (mostly) gone straight since getting caught by British intelligence. When Major Ramsey comes asking for her help again (albeit reluctantly), Ellie gets swept up in a mystery involving a young drowned woman, espionage, and more. I love Weaver’s elegant Amory Ames series and enjoyed Ellie’s first adventure; this one was even better.

Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage, Nathalia Holt
The CIA as we know it is relatively new – it was founded after WWII, and a small cadre of sharp, accomplished women was instrumental in its founding and early years. Holt peels back the curtain on five “wise gals” who shaped the agency, fought for equity and did critical work. Insightful, compelling and so well researched – a brilliant slice of mostly unknown history. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cannonball Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As the WWII Japanese occupation of Singapore drags on, Chen Su Lin is translating propaganda articles, cooking for Japanese officials and trying to stay alive. When a relative of hers – a known blackmailer – ends up dead, Su Lin gets drawn into the case, especially when she realizes it might involve sensitive photos and info relating to the war. This mystery was still fairly grim, but a bit more hopeful as Su Lin reconnects with a few friends and the tide of the war begins (slowly) to turn.

Summer Solstice: An Essay, Nina MacLaughlin
I loved MacLaughlin’s thoughtful, lyrical memoir, Hammer Head, and picked up this slim essay at the Booksmith. She writes about summer’s fullness, its nostalgia, its mythical status as a season, its beauty and lushness and even its end. Lovely.

Vinyl Resting Place, Olivia Blacke
Juniper “Juni” Jessup has just moved back to her hometown to open Sip & Spin, a record shop she co-owns with her sisters. But when a local young woman is found dead after the opening-night party – and their uncle, suspiciously, skips town – Juni and her sisters investigate. A fun cozy mystery; first in a new series. I liked Juni and the Texas setting, though the other characters were a little thin. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 27).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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It’s no secret I love a British mystery – particularly one featuring a whip-smart female sleuth or two. Bonus points for chic fashions, romantic tensions, and lingering effects of one or both world wars. (Maisie Dobbs does this last particularly well.) During a browse at the Strand a few years ago, I discovered a (then) brand-new series that I’ve continued to enjoy: the adventures of The Right Sort Marriage Bureau and its proprietors, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge.

As London recovers from World War II, both women are also recovering: Gwen lost her husband and suffered a subsequent mental breakdown, which led to her aristocratic in-laws taking away her rights of guardianship over her young son, Ronnie. Iris is less forthcoming about her war wounds, but her top-secret job in British intelligence and her romantic entanglements have both left their scars.

The two women, who meet at a mutual friend’s wedding, join forces to launch the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. (Their motto: “The world must be peopled!”) But when one of their clients is murdered, presumably by another one, the women jump into an investigation to clear his name (and theirs). Of course, they’re not professionals, though Iris has a few clues – so they stumble about a bit, but do eventually manage to save the day (and their agency).

Montclair’s series is four books strong now, and I think it’s getting better with each book: the protagonists, while smart and compassionate to begin with, are learning (more) street savvy and also taking leaps in their personal lives. Gwen, at first completely cowed by her in-laws, begins to fight back (with the help of Iris and her therapist), determined to gain back custody of her son and build their life together on her own terms. Iris insists she doesn’t really believe in love, but she finds herself cautiously optimistic in that area, as well as opening up to friendships with Gwen and others. I recently reviewed the fourth book, The Unkept Woman, for Shelf Awareness, and I’m looking forward to the next adventures of Sparks and Bainbridge.

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