Monthly Archives: October 2016

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different

The long awaited third novel by Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go Bernadette and writer for TV’s Arrested Development and Mad About You, is out!  Today Will Be Different is about Eleanor Flood, anxious writer, mother and wife, getting a grip.  It is hysterical and a little sad and very much on point, all at the same time.

Eleanor is way over due turning in her graphic novel memoir to her editor, her son attends an elite private school and often has to come home sick to spend time with Eleanor, her husband is a famous plastic surgeon who is on vacation unbeknownst to his wife, and her sister Ivy is married to an idiot and at odds with Eleanor.  Actually, Eleanor is at odds with everyone.  If she was at a bookstore, she would be the person with 10 self help books in her arms.  At a coffee shop, she would be in exercise clothes eating a cinnamon bun.  At school, the mom who signed up for homemade treats and brings granola bars from the back of the pantry. She means to change and get a grip on her life, but it just seems to elude her.  I would find her annoying if there wasn’t just a little bit of most working mom’s realities in her character.  And if she wasn’t so funny…I laughed out loud, snickered, nodded…all through this novel.  Two thumbs up!



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The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal

The Queen's Accomplice

Maggie Hope is back on the pages with another mystery to solve during World War II.  I am so glad I discovered this mystery series a few years ago with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.  I recommend them to all the historical fiction and mystery lovers in my life (which has come back to me-my aunt pre-orders a kindle version and has read it by the time I have a copy in my hot little hands!)

It is 1942 and Maggie is helping the police and MI5 search for a killer who is imitating Jack the Ripper.  Nicknamed the “Blackout Beast,” the killer seems to be targeting women who are beginning work for Winston Churchill’s Spies and Saboteurs Abroad.  If you’ve read a Maggie Hope Mystery, you know she will eventually become bait, and you will hold your breath and turn pages until you find out if she survives.

If you like books by Jacqueline Winspear or Charles Finch, or enjoyed watching Foyles’s War, MacNeal’s books will be a safe bet.  If you are up to date and wondering if The Queen’s Accomplice will be good, wonder no more.  It is great.  Grab a copy!


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The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

Historical fiction lovers, meet Marthe de Florian, a poor girl who leaves home to become a seamstress during the Belle Epoch.  She takes a wealthy lover and becomes a Parisian courtesan, provided with a beautiful apartment and a monthly stipend which Marthe spends on beautiful clothing, art, and ceramics.  Later in their relationship, her lover Charles commissions a portrait of Marthe by the great painter Giovanni Bellini.

Marthe has a granddaughter, Solange, who also tells her story in this novel.  She is coming of age at the start of the Second World War, and when her father, a pharmacist, is called up, he reconnects with Marthe and sends Solange to live with her.  Just before World War II, Marthe dies.  Paris is no longer safe for Solange, so she locks up the apartment and flees to the South of France, never to return.  The estate pays the rent on the apartment until Solange’s death some seventy years later.  The apartment is opened in this century by her heirs, an untouched museum.

What I like:  I love historical fiction around the turn of the century as well as during the World Wars. Two stones with one bird in this novel.  I love stories that come from the truth:  you can’t make this stuff up!  I love a little romance-though not graphic-and  The Velvet Hours is a good love story.  I appreciate the familial love depicted as well.  Finally, I love it when writing makes me feel an era; Richman’s writing is like a time machine.

My plot summary leaves out a few important points.  I do because those twists, even if you can see them coming, were page turning “ooohhhh…” moments that you want to discover yourself.

For more information about the real Marthe de Florian and her apartment, check out this utube video:


or read more at:


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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is no stranger to the New York Times Bestseller List, or our library’s hold shelf.  Debuting at #4 is her latest novel, Commonwealth.  Commonwealth is the story of a blended family, opening at one of the children’s christening parties with the start of an affair.  That affair combines 6 kids and shuttles them back and forth between Virginia and California.  We get to know the children as adults as well, and Franny, the child who was christened in the beginning of the book,  becomes an adult who dropped out of law school, became a cocktail waitress, and has a years long affair with a writer she admired who was drinking in her bar.  She figures more prominently that the others because as the writer gets to know Franny and pieces of her family story, he decides it would make a good book. His comeback and final novel of Franny and her family life becomes a hit, and eventually a posthumous movie.  In interviews, Ann Patchett said that she used her family in Commonwealth, and I guess I am a fool for anything that might be autobiographical or memoir-ish.

Here is what I loved about Commonwealth:  the feeling of it.    I wanted to know the characters, with their flaws, their choices, their fights… even if I could only meet them through each other’s eyes.  I particularly connected to the stories of the children on their own finding adventure in the summer, not because that was my case, but because I did experience that camaraderie and that unwritten, unspoken but always practiced code of ethics.  I look at these kids and think how did they get away with that?  How did their parents let that happen?  The same way my kids look at my “childhood legends.”  Patchett gave me the sense that though no family was perfect, they are loveable, endearing, and imperfectly charming in some small way.

It makes me think that the truth of family stories is not necessarily what happened, but what people perceive happened, how it made them feel, the choices they then made, and how they retell it.  I come from an extended family of story tellers, and when we are together, we often retell our stories for ourselves, and for our children.  A different narrator provides a slightly different slant, and our children have learned to get a different cousin or aunt or uncle going to get another side.  Every so often, someone is surprised.  Ann Patchett herself sums it all up rather eloquently:

Most of the things in this book didn’t actually happen, but the feelings are very close to home. Or, as my mother said, “None of it happened and all of it’s true.”

Commonwealth is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  It is engrossing and entertaining, but it is a book that changes the reader.  It may force you to reminisce and it may prompt you to think about how to tell your story.  It would make a great book group discussion, and will be the novel I put my “staff favorites” recommendation slip in if it is ever in the library long enough to display on a shelf.  Thank you Ann Patchett for a most wonderful book!

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