NEXT TO LOVE by Ellen Feldman

NEXT TO LOVE starts out very strong. We meet three childhood friends in Massachusetts – Babe, Millie, and Grace – whose men are on the cusp of going off to World War II. Ms. Feldman deftly juggles their stories and breathes life into their characters. Grace is the beauty who is married to the heir of one of the town’s most illustrious citizens and has a young daughter; Millie is married to Pete, the pharmacist’s son; and Babe is the feisty wrong-side-of-the-tracks gal who is in a committed relationship with an upstanding man who wants to become a teacher.

July 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, NE & New York, Reading Guide

COLD WIND by C.J. Box

C. J. Box’s COLD WIND is set in a part of Wyoming that is beautifully scenic and, in some ways, untamed. When an enemy threatens one of Box’s characters, the prospective victim does not automatically dial 911. He is more likely to take matters into his own hands. The hero, Joe Pickett, is a game warden and devoted family man who values harmony over conflict. Much to Joe’s displeasure, he is caught up in a web of deceit and violence when his wife’s latest stepfather, “multi-millionaire developer and media mogul, Earl Alden,” is shot dead and found hanging from one of his own windmill turbines. Joe’s mother-in-law, Missy Alden is charged with the crime, and although he has no jurisdiction, Joe undertakes his own unofficial investigation out of obligation to his wife and daughters.

May 8, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Sleuths Series, Theme driven, US Northwest, Wild West, y Award Winning Author

THE COFFINS OF LITTLE HOPE by Timothy Schaffert

THE COFFINS OF LITTLE HOPE by Timothy Schaffert is a small gem. Its multi-plotted story takes place in a small Nebraska town with characters who make this novel special. The town is peopled by a lot of old folks. Essie, the protagonist, is 83 and the novel is told in first person from her point of view. “We were all of us quite old, we death merchants – the town’s undertaker (seventy-eight), his organist (sixty-seven)…the florist (her freezer overgrown with lilies, eighty-one). The cemetery’s caretaker, who procured for the goth high schoolers who partied among the tombstones, was the enfant terrible among us (at an immature fifty-six.”

May 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Reading Guide, US Midwest

THE BAYOU TRILOGY by Daniel Woodrell

WINTER’S BONE was one of the best crime films I saw in 2010. I discovered that it was based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, and I was surprised that I’d never heard that name before. But I’m apparently not the only one, and the success of WINTER’S BONE is guaranteed to bring this author new readers. Woodrell is best known as a writer of Ozark Noir, but the Bayou Trilogy is, as the title suggests, set in a different geographical region. The trilogy is composed of three novels from Woodrell’s early writing career: UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS, MUSCLE FOR THE WING and THE ONES YOU DO. The protagonist of the trilogy is Cajun cop Rene Shade. Shade hails from the fictional Louisiana city of San Bruno: “a city of many neighborhoods, Frogtown and Pan Fry being the largest and most fabled, and great numbing stretches of anonymous, bland, and nearly affluent subdivisions.”

April 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Noir, Sleuths Series, US South, y Award Winning Author

THE PAPERBARK SHOE by Goldie Goldbloom

It’s a tough world that’s inhabited by Gin Boyle Toad – an albino, a classical pianist, an unloved woman whose life has been reduced to freak show status with the indelicate stares, the gossip, the pointing. Although she was raised in Perth’s wealthy environs and showed early and sustained musical talent, she is abused and ultimately institutionalized by her cruel and loathsome stepfather.

Her unlikely rescuer is Agrippas Toad, a dwarfish and crudely mannered farmer who happens to hear her play piano and immediately marries her. By doing so, he attempts to stave off the rumors about behavior that is deemed aberrant in his small-minded farm community. It is the “strangeness” of these two that binds them together. Gin Boyle reflects, “It wasn’t happiness. It wasn’t love. But it had been tolerable, so long as there was nothing else.”

April 22, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Australia, Class - Race - Gender, Debut Novel, Reading Guide, World Lit

THE BIRD SISTERS by Rebecca Rasmussen

Milly and Twiss are known throughout Spring Green, Wisconsin as “the bird sisters” – two elderly spinsters who minister to broken birds and make them whole again. And, in many ways, the birds are a metaphor for who they are. Early on, Milly reflects, “The smartest birds built their nests high up in the trees. Some birds, namely the wood pigeon, the clumsiest architect of all, began building their nests but never finished them.”

The sisters would fall into that latter grouping. At one point in their lives, they were eager to take wing until the summer of 1947 changed everything. Since the story is told as a flashback, we, the readers, are charged with the task of finding out how – and why.

April 13, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, US Midwest