Joan

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Harriett (Hal) Westaway is at the end of her rope, emotionally and financially. At 21, she is mourning the sudden and violent death of her mother and trying to make ends meet as a tarot card reader. She borrowed money from the wrong person and is now receiving threats. She is skeptical when she opens a letter from a law office, but it turns out to be a request for her presence at the reading of the will of her grandmother, Hester Westaway. There is a slight problem: Hal's grandmother was Marion and she died before Hal was even born. She couldn't help speculating. This could be the ticket out of her current mess, if she could get away with it and IF her conscience would let her get away with it. A few thousand pounds could get her back on her feet and the loan sharks off her back. Surely, a wealthy family wouldn't miss that amount of money.

When she arrives at the rundown estate and meets her "family," she begins to wonder if the money is worth the risk. She finds herself enjoying being part of a family, but this family has a tragic history and a few secrets hidden away where no one was supposed to find them. Hal finds herself uncovering secrets that involve her more than she could have imagined. This suspenseful plot and intriguing characters will keep readers spellbound until the very last page of Ruth Ware's The Death of Mrs. Westaway (2018).



Joan

Green Book

This Oscar-winning film is based on the true story of musician Dr. Donald Shirley's tour of the south in 1962.  He hired New York bouncer, Tony Vallelonga as a chauffeur/bodyguard.   The relationship started out as an awkward business arrangement between the two men.  No men could be more different in demeanor, background, and speech, yet they set off on a two-month trip together.  Through the trials and tribulations of the journey, they see each other at their best and at their worst.  They quickly develop mutual respect for the other's talents.  The mutual respect evolves into a lifelong friendship.

The title of the movie refers to The Negro Motorist Green Book which was an indispensable companion for African Americans on road trips through southern states during the 1950s and 60s.  Green Book won Best Picture, Original Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) at the 2019 Academy Awards. The film is not without controversy.  Read the Time article to learn more.


Released as a motion picture in 2018, rated PG-13


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Joan

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (2010)

In this intriguing page-turner, Elly Griffiths introduces forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. A professor at the local university, she finds herself called into a murder investigation by the police when a child goes missing and bones are uncovered in the remote marshy area where Ruth lives. During the course of the investigation, Ruth grows closer to Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson.

The edition of The Crossing Places I read previewed the first two chapters of the second book in the series, The Janus Stone. Griffiths managed to hook me into that story too. I’m longing to learn more about forensic archaeology, curious to discover what lies beneath the reclusive Ruth, and of course, anxious to see how the relationship between Ruth and Harry will evolve.
Joan

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)

Short chapters alternate among three young evacuees in East Prussia during the winter of 1945. A fourth voice also fits into the storyline. Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred are aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff when it is hit by a Russian torpedo and quickly sinks. The story leads up to this moment when life-changing decisions are made. We get to know, love, and understand the differing life circumstances that have brought these characters together from all over Eastern Europe at a crucial time in the war.

Ruta Sepetys has a talent for drawing tears from her readers and little known stories from history. Between Shades of Gray exposed the tragic story of the Lithuanian prisoners in Siberia with the same drama and sensitivity that she tells this story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The epilogue in Salt to the Sea adds another poignant note to this moment in historical fiction.
Joan

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (2013)

In William Kent Krueger’s novel, narrator Frank remembers the summer of 1961 when his perspective on life changed forever. A smart aleck thirteen year old, Frank thought he knew it all. He and his younger brother Jake are faced with multiple killings in their small Minnesota town and figure out the awful truth behind the hardest death of all.

Part mystery, part poignant family drama, Ordinary Grace shows how bad things happen to good people and what you see is not always the whole story. It took the innocence of childhood to see beyond the surface. A tender epilogue set forty years later ties up loose ends and shows how the summer of 1961 truly shaped the lives of the Drum family.
Joan

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (2011)

Private eye Kinsey Millhone accidentally uncovers a shoplifting ring with roots in organized crime as she goes on a rare shopping spree. In V is for Vengeance, author Sue Grafton presents points of view from multiple characters, allowing seemingly unrelated stories to converge and play into the crime Kinsey is obsessed with solving. The mystery and a struggle for her life almost keep her from remembering her long dreaded 38th birthday. Her gentle and wise octogenarian landlord/neighbor and his quirky brother add levity to the story and to Kinsey's perilous lifestyle.

Did you know? A new Kinsey Millhone book was released recently. Check out Y is for Yesterday today. And if you enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet books, browse our list of other popular mystery and suspense series.
Joan

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016)

Liane Moriarty weaves an intricate story around three families and a barbecue they attended. The reader is kept guessing about a significant event that occurs at the party, as chapters alternate between the day of the barbecue and the present, several weeks afterward. Bit by bit, the story unravels from multiple perspectives. In the process, many layers of family history and psychological characteristics are revealed in Truly, Madly, Guilty. The barbecue seemed to bring out secrets hidden beneath the surface. Life will never be the same for these characters living in the suburbs of Sydney.
Joan

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)

Paul Stuart is a food/wine writer with a deadline. His focus is diverted when his live-in girlfriend of four years runs off with her trainer. Escaping to Tuscany sounds like a solution for both problems. The story starts like a madcap adventure in Italy, but develops into a study of humanity with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

Once his transportation issue is resolved, thus the title of the book, Paul is free to explore the beautiful countryside and research local food and wine. His route is definitely not a typical tourist package. Paul has command of the Italian language and quickly makes friends. He serves as a confidant to a few local men and even lends a helping hand in a longtime conflict. During the course of his stay, he entertains three ladies (two from his past and a new love interest). His working vacation may be just what was needed for his personal and professional dilemmas.

Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his long running series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and others, but the standalone novel My Italian Bulldozer stands out as a feel good read.
Joan

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (2017)

An interesting fictional memoir of the subject of the famous Andrew Wyeth painting: Christina's World. Christina Olson lived her whole life on her family's ancestral farm in Maine. Determined, hardworking, and stubborn, Christina never gave in to her crippling disease as it progressed throughout her lifetime. Andrew "Andy" Wyeth used the Olson house as his studio for many summers, befriending and immortalizing Christina.

In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline (who wrote Orphan Train) makes readers wonder if the real Christina Olson was as endearing as this well-developed character. For more behind the scenes information, check out the Museum of Modern Art and Mental Floss.
Joan

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Harold Fry has lived a fairly ordinary life. He has managed to avoid conflict, but there are some unresolved terrible secrets in his past. One letter from an old coworker, one conversation with a perfect stranger, and Harold is about to do something extraordinary. Powerful, emotional, showing it’s never too late to change, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey the reader will not soon forget. Check out Rachel Joyce’s debut today.
Joan

Big Eyes (2014) PG-13

Amy Adams portrays Margaret Keane, creator of the Big Eyed Waifs, whose talent was unrecognized for years, while her husband Walter (played by Christoph Waltz) took all the credit. Big Eyes follows their romance and the eventual deterioration of their marriage as Walter's drinking, mental health, and the lie they lived became more than Margaret could bear. After reading The Muse by Jessie Burton about a fictitious couple who hide behind the same type of artistic ruse, one wonders how often this has occurred throughout art history. How many great women artists have had to hide their talent with a man's signature?
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Joan

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (2013)

In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women's lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman's regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women's movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women's lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?
Joan

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
Joan

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander's own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.
Joan

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan (2013)

goldenboyHabo is an albino growing up in Tanzania. He is shunned by his community and even his own family, but the horrors do not begin until Habo and his family move from their rural village to Mwanza. He then finds he needs to stay on the run to avoid hunters who wish to kill him for a bounty because of his condition. The most unbelievable part of this story is that this barbarism exists in Tanzania today. In Golden Boy, Tara Sullivan allows readers to feel Habo's pain and go along on his quest for freedom from the superstitious cruelty of Tanzanian albino hunters.
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