The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith (2012)

cloudsA short novel with a good ending but one that makes the reader wonder who actually stole the valuable painting from the wall of the Scottish country gentleman. Isabel is a philosopher and maybe an amateur detective with almost a compulsion to help others with their ethical and love life problems. She has lots of ideas and is always ready to listen attentively but with great care not to offend those seeking her help. At home she has little Charley, husband Jamie, and a sometimes troublesome housekeeper. With all this, it’s hard to see how she has time to edit the philosophy journal she owns or to help out at her niece’s restaurant. Isabel is a good friend to have as she seems to relish clouds passing by. If you enjoy The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, there is a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith featuring Isabel Dalhousie.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (2013)

astronautAnyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly (2016)

wrongsideAs a private investigator, Harry Bosch has been secretly hired by wealthy Whitney Vance to find out before he dies if he has an heir. While in college in 1950, Vance was told by his girlfriend that she was pregnant, but after telling his father about the situation, the girlfriend disappeared and Vance never saw her again. Vance would like his vast fortune to go to his descendants rather than have it in the hands of his company’s board of directors. Bosch is also part of the San Fernando Police Department reserve unit and is partnered with Bella Lourdes to try and discover a serial rapist in the area that they have nicknamed “Screen Cutter.” With these two cases, the reader accompanies Bosch as he uses his investigative techniques to find the answers he needs. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a very satisfying entry in Michael Connelly’s long-running series.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (2016)

dollhouseThe Barbizon Hotel was the home to women who moved to New York City to start modeling or secretarial careers, aspiring actresses and poets, or those just waiting to meet the man of their dreams. The Dollhouse opens in 1952 with Darby McLaughlin leaving the Midwest to begin Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and moving into the Barbizon. She is immediately intimidated by other women especially the Eileen Ford girls (aspiring models). Darby is lonely and homesick, but is befriended by a maid working in the hotel. Esme introduces her to jazz clubs, nightlife, and romance.

In the present day Barbizon, Rose Lewis a journalist now living in the condo Barbizon with her boyfriend. She hears a story about Darby and Esme and wants to explore it further. So she introduces herself to the older residents, hoping to interview them about the history of living in the Barbizon.

Both storylines are easy to follow even as the stories get more and more interwoven. Fiona Davis’ characters are likable and well defined. What was especially interesting was a glimpse into the fashions, morals, and expectations of young women in the 1950s.

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (2016)

wonderwomenWomen can do anything, and the newest book by Sam Maggs, Wonder Women, proves it. This little book is packed with 60 women who changed history through innovation, invention, and good ole gumption. Amongst these trailblazers are names you might recognize like Ada Lovelace, Bessie Coleman, and Madame C. J. Walker, but the majority will be new to most readers.

Some of my favorite stories are Anandi Joshi, who was both one of the first female Indian doctors and the first Hindu women to come to America; Mary Bowser, a former slave acting as a spy during the Civil War; and Marie Equi who horsewhipped a universally hated swindler/ reverend halfway across the town.

Nestled between the engaging stories are interviews with today’s top women scientists, doctors, and former spies. Maggs guides readers easily through past and present with her conversational style and humorous wit.

Cold Wind by C. J. Box (2011)

coldwindC. J. Box does allegories as well as any author; in Cold Wind, we have consistent characters portraying Vengeance, justice, evil conniving, integrity, family loyalty, weakness, and corruption. See if you can tell who they are as you read this gripping tale of game warden Joe Pickett’s family living through troubling times of murder, accusation, and the temptations of wealth. His mother-in-law is accused and often appears pitiful in the proceedings, but Joe is not misled as he tries to do the right thing. Also, you’ll get a view of how government support may make wind energy a principal source in our environmentally focused economy and whether this is the right path.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

doomsdaybookThis book hit all the right notes: likable, interesting characters; gripping story told from multiple perspectives; and historical fiction blended with believable time travel. In 2048 England, students and professors at Oxford have mastered the art of time travel as a means to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Budding historian Kivrin plans to visit 1320 Oxford to learn more about everyday life in the Middle Ages; instead, she ends up in 1348 at the height of the Black Death. A mysterious epidemic in 2048 also creates chaos, preventing Dunworthy (Kivrin’s mentor) from bringing her home.

A compelling narrative, Doomsday Book will propel you forward, frantically turning to pages to discover the fate of those in past and future. My first foray into Connie Willis’ novels—but it won’t be my last!

Home by Harlan Coben (2016)

homeTen years ago, two boys—Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin—both from wealthy families, are kidnapped. Ransom was demanded and dropped off but not retrieved. Rhys’ mother’s cousin, Win Lockwood, has been determined to bring both boys home ever since. When Win receives a strange message that the boys have been spotted in London, Win enlists the help of his best friend, Myron, to help him in his search. Home is a quick, exciting thriller from Harlan Coben!

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (2013)

transatlanticI appreciate good historical fiction, especially those stories that connect people and events across time. Colum McCann has done his research and given us some great historical framework before the reader figures out that Transatlantic is really about three generations of women who have left their mark on history, in particular that of Ireland. Great insights into women who carry many personal burdens, yet persevere. Great insights into human nature in general.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (2016)

scrappyScrappy Little Nobody is everything I wanted out of Anna Kendrick’s first memoir: childhood stories, breaking into show business (on stage and on screen), behind-the-scenes memories, and funny anecdotes and asides. The stories range from unique and humorous—such as the time she and her brother went to NYC as young teens for an audition and her parents faxed over their credit card number to the hotel, promising that their children definitely weren’t unattended minors—to personal, as was the case with remembering her grandmother’s funeral.

Kendrick toes the line of “stars: they’re just like us!” presenting scenes from the Oscars, as well as a chapter on why she’ll never call herself a real adult. The author herself reads the audiobook and does so splendidly. This is a perfect read for fans of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? or Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet.