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Posts Tagged ‘Key West’

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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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We are nearly halfway through June, and it’s finally (sometimes) sit-outside-and-read weather. Here’s what I have been reading:

Fencing with the King, Diana Abu-Jaber
To celebrate the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Gabriel Hamdan (once the King’s favorite fencing partner) and his daughter, Amani, travel back to their home country. Reeling from her divorce, Amani becomes intent on uncovering the story of her mysterious grandmother, a Palestinian refugee. Meanwhile, her smooth-talking powerful uncle is keeping other secrets. Abu-Jaber’s writing is lush and thoughtful; I was totally swept up by Amani’s story. Recommended by Anne.

The Unsinkable Greta James, Jennifer E. Smith
I love Smith’s sweet, thoughtful YA novels. This, her adult debut, follows Greta James, an indie musician who’s struggling after the death of her mother. Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dad and some family friends. She meets a guy, yes, but it’s more about her internal journey as a musician and a daughter. I liked it; didn’t love it, but it kept me reading.

The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
Seven years ago, Nell Young lost her job, her professional reputation and her relationship with her father after an argument over a cheap gas station map. When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell follows the clues – including that map – to a mysterious group of mapmakers and some long-held family secrets. I loved this twisty, literary mystery with so much depth and heart. A truly fantastic ride.

The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Anastasia Cole Plakias
Plakias is a cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, a pioneering urban rooftop farm in NYC. This book tells the story of the farm’s founding, from a (mostly) business perspective. Super interesting to see all the facets of starting – and sustaining – a green rooftop farm. Found at the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar.

Room and Board, Miriam Parker
After her PR business implodes, Gillian Brodie finds herself working as a dorm mother at the California boarding school she attended as a teenager on scholarship. Parker’s second novel follows Gillian as she confronts old wounds and deals with new scandals (and extremely privileged students). I liked the premise, but this one fell flat for me. Out Aug. 16.

A Dish to Die For, Lucy Burdette
Food critic Hayley Snow is out for a relaxing lunch with a friend when her dog finds a body in the sand. The deceased, a local real estate developer, had plenty of enemies, and soon Hayley (of course) gets drawn into investigating the case. I love this series, and this was a really fun entry, exploring marriage and family and vintage recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

The Codebreaker’s Secret, Sara Ackerman
After losing her beloved brother Walt at Pearl Harbor, codebreaker Isabel Cooper is thrilled to accept an assignment in Hawaii to help defeat the Japanese. Two decades later, a young reporter on assignment at a swank Hawaiian hotel uncovers some old secrets that may have a connection to Isabel. Enigmatic flyboy turned photographer Matteo Russi may prove to hold the key. A fast-paced, lushly described historical adventure with engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Where the Rhythm Takes You, Sarah Dass
Reyna’s whole life has been devoted to her family’s hotel in Tobago, especially since her mother died. But when her first love, Aiden, returns to the island for a vacation with the members of his band, she’s forced to confront not only her heartache over their breakup, but the other ways she’s struggling to move forward. A wonderful YA novel with so much emotion and a great setting; made me want to listen to soca music. Reyna’s anger and grief felt so authentic. Recommended by Anne.

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

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We’re halfway through July – in the thick of summer – and here are the books I’ve been devouring whenever I get a chance.

Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On, ed. Candace Walsh
My friend Kristin has an essay in this smart, moving, often hilarious kaleidoscope of essays by women about divorce, and life after divorce. I loved most of them, and found all of them genuine and wise. “The Love List” might be my favorite.

A Deadly Feast, Lucy Burdette
Food writer and amateur sleuth Hayley Snow is prepping for her wedding when a woman dies on a local food tour. Was it food poisoning or something more sinister? I like this series – fun cozy mysteries set in wacky Key West. Sent to me by the author.

The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman
As the Nazis persecute German Jews, a woman named Hanni makes a terrible bargain to save her daughter, Lea. Hoffman’s narrative follows Lea, her protector Ava, a rabbi’s daughter named Ettie and the people they love as they try to survive the war, stay alive and care for one another. Powerful, dark, moving and ultimately lovely. (I adore Hoffman’s work.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 24).

Razor’s Edge (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion), Martha Wells
The Rebel Alliance is struggling: they need supplies to build a base on Hoth, but when pirates get involved, divided loyalties make it hard to know who will survive. I love an occasional Star Wars novel, as long as it involves Princess Leia (and Han Solo). This one, set just before The Empire Strikes Back, is fast-paced, wry and a lot of fun.

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food, Ann Hood
Food can be memory, story and love, and Hood writes about – and shares recipes for – all three. I loved her evocations of her Italian-American childhood, the meals she taught her kids to make, and the dishes that have healed her heart in rough times. Short and sweet.

Now a Major Motion Picture, Cori McCarthy
Iris Thorne’s grandmother wrote a major fantasy trilogy. But Iris wants nothing to do with it, until she (reluctantly) goes to Ireland for the filming of the adaptation with her little brother. When she meets the cast and crew, including a cute Irish boy and the powerhouse female director, Iris starts to get interested in spite of herself. A sweet, fun YA novel about family, fantasy and the stories we tell ourselves. I loved Iris’ bond with her brother, and the romance is so sweet. Recommended by Anne.

The Reckless Oath We Made, Bryn Greenwood
Zee Trego is struggling: she’s dealing with a hip injury, barely scraping by waiting tables, and then her sister gets kidnapped by a couple of the inmates at the prison where she volunteers. Against her better judgment, Zee sets out to rescue her sister with the help of Gentry Frank, an acquaintance of hers who believes himself to be her champion (and is handy with a sword). This novel was nothing like I expected, and I couldn’t put it down. Zee’s dry, straight-talking narrative voice makes the book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 20).

Far From the Tree, Robin Benway
Grace has always known she was adopted, but never tried to find her biological mother. But when Grace gets pregnant and decides to give her baby girl up for adoption, she decides to look for her birth mom – and meets her bio siblings, Joaquin and Maya. Each of them are dealing with serious life changes, and I loved the way they bond and look out for one another. Sweet, funny and snarky – especially Maya’s voice – and the ending made me cry.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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My reading has slowed down a little as I adjust to a new rhythm (and fewer commutes). But I’ve still read some great books recently. Here’s the latest roundup:

Invisible Ghosts, Robyn Schneider
Rose Asher has gotten used to being invisible, spending most of her time watching Netflix with the ghost of her dead brother, Logan. But when her former neighbor Jamie moves back to town – and it turns out he can see Logan too – lots of things begin to change. A sweet, funny, moving YA novel about grief, love and moving on. A serendipitous find at the Harvard Book Store.

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger
I won an ARC of Enger’s new novel (out in October) from the publisher. (I loved his first novel, Peace Like a River.) This is a quiet story of some odd, likable, utterly human people living in a forgotten Minnesota town. The narrator/title character runs the nearly-defunct movie house. Full of lovely sentences and vivid details, like the intricate kites one character makes by hand. I didn’t love the ending but the rest of it was wonderful.

Death on the Menu, Lucy Burdette
I like Burdette’s cozy Key West mystery series, narrated by quirky, nosy food critic narrator Hayley Snow. This eighth entry involves a big catering event gone awry, Hemingway’s Nobel Prize medal, and (of course) murder. Fun and a bit zany, though some of the recurring plot threads are getting a little tired. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Love & Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch
Reeling from her mother’s death, Lina goes to Tuscany to spend the summer with the father she’s never met. Once there, she finds a journal her mother kept during her art-student days in Florence, which may hold clues to Lina’s own story. Sweet and romantic, if a little predictable. Made me crave gelato, of course. Recommended by my girl Allison.

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
I love Macfarlane’s keen-eyed, lyrical nonfiction about walking and wildness. This book traces his journeys through various wild places – forests, mountains, islands – in the British Isles. Luminous, thoughtful, keenly observed, like all his work.

My Years at the Gotham Book Mart, Matthew Tannenbaum
Matt owns and runs the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox, MA, which I recently (re)visited. This is his slim, rambling self-published memoir of working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. I picked it up mostly because I love talking to him (and I got him to sign it). So fun.

Save the Date, Morgan Matson
Charlotte “Charlie” Grant’s big sister is getting married, which means Charlie’s whole family will be back together at their house for the first time in a while. But once the wedding weekend gets underway, everything starts to go wrong. A hilarious story of wedding disasters, and an insightful look at how even the people we love are more messy and complicated than we might expect. Matson’s YA novels are so much fun, and this one was no exception.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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My brain has been awfully full this month of non-book things (switching jobs and offices will do that to you). But I’ve still squeezed in a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading:

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Cassie Danvers loses her beloved grandmother June, she also inherits June’s crumbling mansion in a small Ohio town. The house has a few secrets it wants to tell – and an unexpected inheritance forces Cassie to ask some potentially explosive questions about her family. This absorbing novel shifts back and forth between 1955 and 2015. Full of rich detail, engaging characters and a twisty, satisfying plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Killer Takeout, Lucy Burdette
Key West is ready to party during its annual Fantasy Fest – a week of increasingly raucous, boozy events. But food critic Hayley Snow (naturally) stumbles across a murder during the festivities. When Hayley’s co-worker Danielle is named the chief suspect, Hayley deploys her amateur sleuthing skills to prove Danielle’s innocence. I like Hayley and her supporting cast, and this was a fun installment in the series. (The author sent me an early copy; it comes out April 5.)

The Secrets of Flight, Maggie Leffler
Elderly widow (and former WWII fly girl) Mary Browning has kept her past hidden for years. But when she meets Elyse, a budding novelist, through her writers’ group, Mary hires the teenager to type her memoir, deciding it’s time to tell some of her stories at last. A captivating story of flight, family, conflicting loyalties and the sometimes painfully high price of following one’s dreams. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
American witch Diana Bishop has avoided using magic since her parents were murdered, years ago. But while she’s doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a mysterious (spellbound) manuscript and the appearance of a handsome vampire upend her carefully constructed life. I do not like vampires, but Leigh finally convinced me to pick up this book. Some great characters and an interesting storyline – though I found Diana irritatingly passive. (I loved the Oxford bits, obviously.) I will still probably read the sequel.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This is the perfect book for early spring: the story of Jane Stuart – practical, capable, kind – discovering that her father is alive and spending a glorious summer with him on Prince Edward Island. I adore Jane and the Island, and I love watching both of them blossom in this book.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and also enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. So I was curious about this, her memoir of learning to write (and then immersing herself totally in) Italian. Lahiri is an American, the child of Bengali parents, who has struggled to feel at home in a language and culture her whole life. As she studies Italian – even moving to Rome – she experiences a different kind of alienation and also joy. This is a very interior book – I suppose because it documents an interior journey. Odd, often somber, but compelling.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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