How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

This was just super. In both of her other books that I’ve read (I Think I Love You and I Don’t Know How She Does It) I had the same feelings as I was reading: “This book is so funny, what a romp” “hm..actually this is quite well written”  and then sometime later “wait a minute, there’s a lot going on here and I’m emotionally invested in this character and everything isn’t just hilarious” “wow, this book is really good.”

It’s been quite a while since I read the first book about Kate Reddy (a book I resisted reading because of it’s popularity, but then I read it and loved it) and I honestly didn’t really remember anything about it. That was fine, though, because she referred sufficiently enough to events of the past if you wanted to enjoy this as a sequel, but honestly it could just be a standalone book. And how refreshing to have your sequel be a long time after the first one and checking in with your character to see what they’re doing in a new phase of their life. And this phase was one I could definitely relate to, even though I am not quite yet where Kate is and not yet into perimenopause (which, after reading this, I am now not looking forward to.)

Kate now has teenage children and is ready to re-enter the workforce. In book one she was a powerhouse financial whiz success, but now she finds that nearing fifty makes her ancient and unemployable in the business world. When she does get a job (at her old fund!) she lies about her age. I don’t recall what I thought of her husband in the first book, but he’s a real drip in this one. So Kate has professional anxieties, marital woes, physical ailments galore, and so much worry about her children, one of whom is really suffering and at the mercy of mean girls and social media drama.

Stray things I liked most? Referring to Roy, her helpful imaginary memory helper to retrieve bits of info she can’t quite recall. I assumed he was Roy from the IT Crowd, especially because there is a lovely bit of her children saying “are you from the past?” just like Roy does on the show, which is something my husband and I do as well.

All in all, a really great read.

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Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) by Anthony Horowitz

I have a Lot to Say about this book. First, let’s refresh our memories with my reaction to Alex Rider #10, the conclusion to the Alex Rider series. I read that finale when it came out in June 2011 and loved it. Here’s what I had to say. Since that time almost seven years ago I’ve often mentioned that book (“The Final Mission”) as a great example of a series ending. I loved it. It had all the things we liked about the series, it had callbacks, it had drama, and it made some dramatic but very successful choices. It had closure. It went out with a bang.   Then last week I was poking around in Titlewave and saw…Alex Rider #11. What? At first I thought it was another title like the sort of spinoff he wrote about Gregorovich. But nope. It appeared that Alex Rider was back in a new mission. I had a lot of Feelings about this, but had to get my hands on it. And had to read it.  See, here’s the thing. If you finish off a series, why, years later would you say “oops, no, not over, let’s keep going.”? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did fans clamor for more? Did Horowitz try to write other stories but just couldn’t? Did his publisher say “we need money and these books are successful so please just write another?” And here’s the thing…I loved this one. It was fun, filled with adventure, it was just like a Mission Impossible movie on the page. But I feel like it’s very existence negates book #10 (which I really admired the author’s choices in that one.) It makes much of it seem insincere. It definitely doesn’t feel like this was the plan all along. It feels like a character in a season premiere saying “oh, it was all a dream!” (I’d make a “Who killed JR?” reference, but will you get it?) I feel a bit betrayed by the author. And yet, I know that I will read #12 because I think these books are a lot of fun to read, they are totally preposterous, and I enjoy them very much. (For the record, I think the Stormbreaker movie is a terrific family movie and wish they’d make another one!)

The Lake House by Kate Morton

lakehouseI’ll just paste what I wrote on Goodreads at the time of finishing this book because it was my immediate response: “What a fully satisfying book and a great way to wrap up the year. Holy cow was this great. My mind is satisfied by a neat and clever puzzle, my heart is full of warm feelings, my eyes had a couple tears, and my pocket is a little poorer because it was overdue and I couldn’t renew it but wouldn’t it bring it back until I finished it.
As with her other novels, Morton has crafted a rich complex story with many layers, and characters who have a depth not immediately recognizable to either the reader, or the other characters. I loved the Cornwall setting, the parallel stories, the mystery, and the skipping around in time.
A beautiful big story. Wonderful!”

What else can I say? This was a great story. Similar in style to Morton’s other novels where there is a family secret hidden and it turns out to be more than anyone realized. In this case in the glamorous (uh-oh, time period? 1930s?20s?)past, a beautiful family has a tragedy occur when their beloved little son goes missing. The case was never solved, a body never found, a murderer never charged. The family leaves their estate, which was of course completely enchanting and secluded with a lake.  Many years later (current time) a police detective is taking a break from work and comes across the abandoned estate. Her curiosity is piqued and the mystery begins.  This was a wonderfully absorbing big fat story that I just really loved.

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett

ostcardsIn my reading funk last November finding a Marcia Willett that I hadn’t read was just what I needed. Cozy and old-fashioned (even though it was contemporary), and rather predicatable. Evenly paced with a slight mystery with sinister overtones-why is this terrible step-sibling from long ago resurfacing and threatening?? I thought it all ended a bit anticlimactically, but I did enjoy this. And there’s really not much more to say about this!

The Doomsday Book By Connie Willis

doomsdayThis was a re-read for me,and one that was a long time coming. I probably first read this back in college and have been fondly remembering and referring to it ever since! I love time travel stories, and especially enjoy Willis’s version of time travel-set in Oxford, it’s for academics and historians.As usual with Willis the history in this story is impeccably researched and lavishly detailed. It’s easy to imagine her sitting in the Bodleian Library poring over prime sources and ancient original documents, to make sure that everything-village names, distances between villages, geography, speech patterns, etc.-are authentic and accurate.
Kivrin is an eager historian at the University ready to take her first trip to the Middle Ages, a trip her informal mentor thinks is ill-advised and dangerous. She’s confident that since her destination is before the plague is known to have arrived she’ll be fine. Once she goes through, though, things go wrong in both times and you find yourself quite caught up in the mysteries and race against time. The parallel plague stories are heartbreakingly similar, something I either didn’t remember or possibly didn’t even notice the first time I read this?
I was pleased to find that it had been so long since I read this that I didn’t remember the ending! There were bits and pieces that did come back to me as I read though. (One detail my mom and I never forgot is that they wanted to cauterize Kivrin’s nostrils, or inside I guess, thinking the odor of the Middle Ages would be too intense for a modern person.)This was every bit as wonderful as I remembered and I shall continue to recommend it and think well of it for another twenty years!

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

spynessThis might be one of my favorite Royal Spyness books (and it came out last year, so shame on me for not even knowing about it, but what a happy surprise to just see it on the shelf.)
It was refreshing to see America, not just its 1934 Hollywood glamour, but also through Georgie’s eyes. I also enjoyed the variety of settings. At first it seemed like it was going to be a bottle episode, but then we had not just a ship crossing, but also a train trip, stay at the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, and more. It was fabulous and I loved all the details. I also enjoyed the notable absence of Queenie for much of the book. I do find her a bit trying.

Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil

needlesAs soon as I finished The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club I went to the library to pick up the second one.   #2 did not disappoint. This time there are weddings and babies thrown into the mix and now I am led to believe that if I lived in a little seaside town in England I would see babies wearing knitted shawls (?), tiny cashmere cardigans in cream and butterscotch, wee booties, and the like.  And, in a very Maeve Binchy way, even though it’s 2015 having a baby and going to school would be as if it was 1950.
As with the other Gil McNeil books the content is extremely low-stress. There is no concern over anything particularly terrible happening, nor much will they -won’t they worries either.  There actually are a couple of dramatic events in this one, but even they are easily resolved.
Again there is a ludicrous amount of tea drinking going on and even when they are down on the beach they easily put the kettle on in their beach hut to make a nice cup.  Everyone is “brilliant” or “clever” when they do anything positive, or “silly” when they are naughty.
As I continue my own learn to knit quest, I do cast some doubt on how quickly and easily everyone seems to knit up complicated patterns in these books, but it’s all such a fairy dreamworld, why not? I’ve noticed, too, that McNeil’s books very much are into creating a life for a woman where she has kids, babies, house, business, rich friends, awesome family, all without the burden? hassle? of a husband or man in her life, other than for occasional trysts.