I, Toto: the autobiography of Terry, the dog who was Toto by Willard Carroll (2001)

Did you know that the cute cairn terrier that played Dorothy’s dog, Toto, in The Wizard of Oz performed in fourteen major motion pictures? This is a timely book to read since August 2014 is the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz movie (and check Bill’s review last month on other films of 1939). I, Toto, a charming book, is written from Terry’s point of view and is filled with photographs and newspaper clippings. Her first film was with Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes.

Other books about animal performers are Rin Tin Tin: the life and the legend by Susan Orleans and Zamba: the true story of the greatest lion that ever lived by Ralph Helfer.

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)

The book opens with its unnamed narrator returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England for a funeral. He finds his way to the farm down the road from his old house and remembers Lettie Hempstock, the girl who used to live there. As he sits in front of Lettie’s “ocean” (a pond on the property), the narrator remembers a fantastical adventure with Lettie where the two fight a dangerous monster taking the shape of the narrator’s family’s new tenant.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very fast, light read, which holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. There are many strong female characters to be found in this novel, with most of them staying with the reader long after the book has been closed. Neil Gaiman’s brilliant writing shines through, providing both unease when dealing with the monster and comfortable nostalgia when describing the narrator’s childhood home and the Hempstock farm, both of which provide evocative images of the English countryside.

This is a fantasy book I would suggest for those who do not often read fantasy. The magic is minimal and the adventure important, yet contained, feeling like a story straight from a child’s imagination. This book is wonderful in that it encapsulates all the wonder (and fear) of childhood without losing anything of adulthood, or alternately, takes adulthood without losing any of the wonder of childhood. Overall, Gaiman has managed to write a children’s book for adults, leaving the reader feeling nostalgic for childhood bedtime stories, but without feeling patronized.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

This was a moving story of young love facing insurmountable obstacles. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes place in Seattle at the start of World War II chronicling the friendship between Henry, a Chinese-American boy and Keiko, a Japanese-American girl. As the war progresses and the Japanese are forced into internment camps, Henry struggles to make sense of the world around him. Jamie Ford accurately captures life on the home front during this troubled time (find more books that take place on the home front during WWII). The audiobook is a great experience as narrator Feodor Chin effectively distinguishes between each of the many characters.

This book is one of the titles we will be giving away during World Book Night on April 23 at local businesses in the community. Visit ippl.info for information on our participation in this international event.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

After the death of her husband, Kate Pheris awakens from her grief just in time to avoid moving in with her domineering mother-in-law Cricket. Kate takes her free-spirited eight year old daughter Devlin on an unexpected road trip to Lost Lake, Georgia, a resort owned by her great-aunt Eby. Kate has fond memories of a magical month spent at the lake. When she arrives, however, Kate finds the resort in disrepair with Eby reluctantly planning to sell it to a developer. A cast of charming characters, a dash of magical realism, and the serenity of Lost Lake provide an enjoyable read that’s all about finding second chances.

Check out Sarah Addison Allen’s latest novel Lost Lake today.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (2011)

From flowers to foster care, from motherhood to mental illness, Vanessa Diffenbaugh takes them all on and creates a very special character by the name of Victoria. She creates the perfect setting for a book about the meaning of flowers – San Francisco! The reader cries for Victoria and roots for her to succeed. She is her own worst enemy. In The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh keeps us in suspense until the last minute as to what Victoria’s fate will be.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger (2014)

I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading Susan Rieger’s debut The Divorce Papers – except when I was tearing up over those poignant moments. This epistolary novel quickly became a favorite read.

29 year-old Sophie is a loveable lawyer who prefers criminal work because then her clients can’t get to her…she goes to them. When she gets roped into working on a divorce case, her life takes an unexpected turn that gives her a new perspective and forces her to confront unresolved childhood issues (and all revealed in an entirely engaging and largely humorous manner).

Set in 1999, the story unfolds through a series of letters, memos, emails, transcripts, and legal documents. Because of the format, it’s a book that allows you to read a bit and put it down, but you’ll get so hooked on the story that you won’t want to stop.

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante (2014)

Palo Alto police detective Samantha Adams is assigned to investigate the suspicious death of plastic surgeon John Taylor. Even though Taylor had a heart attack, he has a puncture wound on his shoulder. The police are also tipped off that Taylor had not just one wife, but three. He had been married to wife number one, Deborah, for over thirty years and they had three children. Wife number two, MJ, is an accountant, with whom he lived in Los Gatos. Helen, a pediatric oncologist, was much younger than John–they met when she asked him to consult on one of her patients.

In Alice LaPlante’s A Circle of Wives, the reader observes the unfolding murder investigation and has a front row seat as all the secrets of each of the four women’s lives are laid bare. An engrossing novel that keeps you guessing right up to the end. A great readalike for Tana French’s Broken Harbor and A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife.

 

Refusal by Felix Francis (2013)

Although Dick Francis died in 2010, his legacy of English horseracing mysteries continues under the very capable pen of his son Felix Francis. Refusal, his third novel without his father as coauthor, fits nicely into the genre. The principal is an ex-jockey who reluctantly takes up his prior vocation as a private eye to sort out blatant corruption that clearly would give a bad name to the racing sport. The novel keeps the reader in suspense wondering how the principal will keep himself and his family safe as he confronts the bad bullies attempting to fix racing results.

 

 

Majestic Hollywood: the greatest films of 1939 by Mark A. Vieira (2013)

A few years ago on Shows ’n Tunes, I wrote about movies released in 1939. Majestic Hollywood provides short articles on fifty great movies that were released that year. Each article provides small bits of information about each film, such as stories about the stars in the picture; stories about the directors, producers, and writers; short movie reviews written by some of the critics at the time the film was released; and other miscellaneous information. There are also beautiful black and white photographs for each film of either the stars or scenes from the movies.

I recommend this book by Mark Vieira for anyone who enjoys movies from the golden era, students of cinema, and anyone who loves well made movies. Also, there are some movies discussed in the book that I have never scene and I plan to see them soon.

 

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

After hearing rave reviews of Louise Penny’s mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, I decided to try her latest one, How the Light Gets In. The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Ralph Cosham, who captures the quaint essence of the village of Three Pines perfectly. This is the ninth book in the series and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is investigating the murder of the last remaining Ouellet quintuplet, Constance Pinot. Gamache is surrounded by a rich cast of characters from the little village that includes an eccentric poet with a duck for a pet.

Despite not having read any of the previous books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I would like to go back and start at the beginning. A great novel with a cozy winter setting that draws you in.