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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MORTAL FRIENDS a seductive mystery

Jane Stanton Hitchcock's newest novel Mortal Friends is a seductive mystery set in Georgetown, where the real Washington DC power lies.

When the Beltway Basher's latest victim is found in a nearby park, best friends society matron Violet and antique shop owner Reven get involved in the crime. Violet is obsessed with true life crime stories, and Reven becomes entangled when a police detective asks her for help in solving the case.

Hitchcock expertly draws the reader into this story and the world of political high society in Washington DC. She gives enough clues for readers to think themselves very clever when they figure out a few of mysteries, then throws in some twists that will send the reader reeling with surprise.

Her descriptions of characters place them firmly in the mind of the reader.
"Grant was Mr. Straight Arrow. No, actually he was more like a totem pole: tall, wooden, and joyless."
You get Grant right away from that. She describes an obscenely wealthy woman as wearing jewelry
"clearly designed to illuminate her bank account as much as her face".

Grant's statement about his overbearing mother
"Mother can't admit she's wrong, therefore she never is"
explains a lot about Grant's relationship with her. But my favorite line is Reven's about her boarding school reunion
"Nobody looks great after forty. We just look better or worse than other people our age".
That gives one pause to think.

The story moves along at a brisk pace, and Hitchcock spikes her novel with references to real events, like the Chandra Levy murder and the Washington DC sniper attacks, that add to its authenticity. Hitchcock clearly knows Washington DC society, and gives the reader the inside scoop on the intrigue of it.

Those who like mysteries that challenge the reader to pay close attention in an attempt to figure it out will appreciate this clever, seductive society story.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Monday, August 3, 2009


Stephanie of thewrittenword.wordpress.com has a great giveaway of THE PLIGHT OF THE DARCY BROTHERS as part of her The Everything Austen Challenge.
Read her review and enter the giveaway here:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jane Austen's EMMA a delight

When Stephanie from thewrittenword.wordpress.com put up her Everything's Austen Challenge (Link here: http://thewrittenword.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/introducing-the-everything-austen-challenge-with-prizes/), I was excited because I had just bought a hardbound collection of Jane Austen's novels at the new Barnes & Noble on Lexington & 86th St. in NYC, and now I had the perfect excuse to crack open the book and read.

Stephanie has challenged us to do six Austen-related things (read her novels, watch movies based on her novels, read novels somehow related to Austen), and I resolved to meet the challenge. I had never read any Jane Austen novels (mea culpa!), but I had always wanted to; now I had someone who was willing to hold me to it.

I started by reading Emma, the novel considered by many to be Austen's best. From the very beginning, I was under Austen's spell. "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." The opening sentence entices the reader with the enchanting Miss Woodhouse.

Austen's characters are memorable, from the worry-wart widowed father of Emma, who is constantly in a state of concern for other's health and well being (I think the stereotypical Jewish or Italian mother from sitcoms were based in part on him), to the insufferably egomanical Mrs. Elton, who believes herself to be the sun upon whom all of the other planets (people) revolved around. She is a hoot!

We see everyone who lives near Emma's home of Highbury through her eyes, and she has is a keen observer when describing her family, friends and neighbors. We know that Miss Bates is "full of trivial communications and harmless gossip", and that Mr. Knightley is a "sensible man", who "has a cheerful manner which always did him good". Each character is easily distinguishable from the others, not an easy task when the book is populated by so many characters.

One can see the origins of today's chick-lit in Emma. The people in the novel are most concerned with matters of the heart, and who was dating whom, with Emma as matchmaker extraordinaire, at least in her own mind. When more than a few of her machinations go awry, she is dumbstruck, and vows to mend her ways.

Reading the novel was like being dropped into Highbury for a long visit. I became invested in these characters' lives, and felt as if I had attended their gatherings, right along with them. Austen does telegraph where she is going with this story, and readers should be able to predict the conclusion, which will bring a smile to the reader's face.

Up next in the Everything's Austen Challenge for me: Watching two versions of Pride & Prejudice. I also hope to get to the other six novels in my Jane Austen Collection. Thanks to Stephanie at the Written Word for providing this enjoyable summer entertainment.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

BENNY & SHRIMP an adult love story (no, not that kind!)

If you are tired of reading books that have gorgeous heroines with fantastic jobs and great bodies who find love with a handsome, rich guy, and are looking for something a little more realistic, Benny & Shrimp by Swedish author Katerina Mazetti is out there for you just waiting to be read.

Shrimp is a young, sad widow visiting the grave of her husband, who died several months ago. On the bench next to her is Benny, visiting his parents' gravesite. Whereas Shrimp's husband's grave is spare, just a natural stone chunk with plain lettering, Benny's parents' gravesite is garish, overly decorated with white marble, gold lettering, lots of plantings and statues.

Benny is a thirty-something milk farmer, living alone on the family farm, trying desperately to make it work. Shrimp works at the town library, lonely except for a single friend Marta. Benny wants to date, and his mum used to nag at him to find a girl.
As if they existed somewhere, a flock of willing girls, and all you had to do was go out and select one. Like taking your rifle out in hunting season to bag yourself a hare.

Benny decides to take a chance, and he follows Shrimp back to the library and taps her on the shoulder. Although she is at first rude to him, they go to lunch and when Shrimp tells Benny it is her birthday, he takes to her a department store and starts picking out gifts for her. (Aww- so sweet!)

So begins their intense love affair. Shrimp is not a woman many people would notice. She is thin, mousy and people were surprised when she married her much better looking husband. Benny is overweight, has three fingers on one hand, and smells like manure. But their physical relationship is hot. Shrimp says
He hadn't just turned my head, he rotated it so many times that it came off and I had to hold it on a string like a balloon, while my body twisted and wallowed.

Mazetti's way with words is delightful. She crafts her sentences so thoughtfully, it is a joy to read them. Benny describes Shrimp's all white and metal decor in her apartment by saying that
(B)efore I know it, somebody will stick their head around the door and say, "Do come in. The doctor will see you now!"

Benny and Shrimp are really opposites in many ways. He spends twelve hours a day farming, in muck and mud. He is looking for a wife, a partner to help him and live his lifestyle. Shrimp likes her lifestyle- she enjoys her job, books and opera. The life of a farmer's wife does not suit her. Can their love overcome these differences?

The author has written an adult novel, one in which two people who love each other have to decide if they can make a big sacrifice for the other. She puts her characters in situations that people can relate to, and just when you think you have this story figured out, she throws in a big curveball at the end of the story that you don't see coming.

I read Benny & Shrimp in one evening. I fell in love with Benny and Shrimp, (more Benny than Shrimp) and rooted for their unlikely love affair to last, even though a voice in my head said the obstacles were likely insurmountable. (Be quiet, voice in my head!)

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Look at this cute book handbag!

I just bought the most darling handbag from Michelle at spoonfulofchocolate.etsy.com. She takes books and turns them into custom-made handbags. I asked her to find a copy of Gone With the Wind, my favorite book (and movie), and she took this 60th Anniversary edition of the book and created this beautiful handbag.

I can't wait to take it to the next book signing I attend, and I think it would make a great gift for book lovers. She makes new covers for the books and donates them to a charity, or you can have her make a matching cover for the and get the book too. (That's what I did.)

Thanks to Stephanie at thewrittenword.wordpress.com for tweeting about Michelle. Check out Michelle's website and see all of the stuff she has for sale- lots of great classic children's books, and cookbooks too.