Category Archives: Joan

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (2013)

astronautAnyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (2013)

transatlanticI appreciate good historical fiction, especially those stories that connect people and events across time. Colum McCann has done his research and given us some great historical framework before the reader figures out that Transatlantic is really about three generations of women who have left their mark on history, in particular that of Ireland. Great insights into women who carry many personal burdens, yet persevere. Great insights into human nature in general.

The Seafront Tearoom by Vanessa Greene (2015)

seafrontReaders can relax and forget all their troubles with The Seafront Tearoom – the perfect vacation read any time of year. Make no mistake, the three female protagonists’ lives are not trouble free. Charlie (Charlotte), Kat, and Seraphine are all working through major changes in their personal and professional lives. Luckily, their lives converge in a tea room in Scarborough and are never quite the same. Even Letty, the charming owner of The Seafront Tearoom, has secrets from her past that surface during the course of the story.

Vanessa Greene allows readers to meander through the English countryside sipping tea and nibbling on sweet cakes as the characters resolve their conflicts and live happily ever after. Please don’t allow that last statement to be a spoiler. The Seafront Tearoom is a relaxing journey complete with the characters’ favorite recipes to try with a cup of tea at the end of the book.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015)

circlingsunAfter her acclaimed novel The Paris Wife, Paula McLain tackles yet another adventurous woman of the early twentieth century: Beryl Markham. Markham had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya after her mother’s return to England. Her father loved her, but was caught up in his own business and personal concerns. She learned to survive on her own with the help of friends in the local Kipsigis tribe. Markham struggled to maintain her personal relationships and marriages. She was most comfortable around horses and wide open spaces. She finally realized her true calling flying above her beloved African landscapes.

Check out Circling the Sun today.

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (2015)

ashleybellOddly enough, Ashley Bell is not the main character of this psychological suspense novel. She is the focal point of Bibi Blair’s quest after her fatal diagnosis of brain cancer at age 22. Bibi has always been an independent, intelligent, and creative person. She began her writing career as a child. She is much loved by her parents and fiancé, who is fighting terrorism in a secret location as a Navy SEAL when Bibi is diagnosed. In Ashley Bell, the three are powerless to help Bibi in her battle as Dean Koontz weaves an intricate adventure the reader will not soon forget.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (2013)

husbandssecretThe title intrigued me and I was not disappointed. Although Liane Moriarty cleverly interweaves the stories of three women, the husband’s secret is the thread that ties them all together. Cecilia accidentally found the letter her husband wrote to be read after his death. John-Paul didn’t die, but Cecilia’s decision to open it anyway set into motion a series of events that profoundly affect the lives of three families in the St. Angela’s School community in Sydney.

In The Husband’s Secret, twists and turns in the plot and characters’ reactions leave the reader questioning the outcome until the very end.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

godinruinsAfter reading – and very much enjoying – Life After Life, the idea of more Todd family adventures was appealing. Kate Atkinson calls A God in Ruins a companion novel to Life After Life, not a sequel. She takes one of the alternate realities of Ursula’s adored younger brother Ted, and develops the storyline after his miraculous recovery from a plane crash as a bomber pilot in World War II. The novel alternates between Ted’s wartime experiences and his civilian life as father and grandfather. Curious readers of Life After Life will also be treated to an excerpt from Aunt Izzie’s The Adventures of Augustus, the character she modeled after Teddy. Atkinson continues to test the reader’s concepts of time and fiction with this engaging novel.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (2003)

devilwhitecityErik Larson takes an unusual approach in The Devil in the White City and ends up telling a tale of two men who played a role in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago in this classic true crime book. Architect Daniel H. Burnham’s story focuses on the building of the impossible, creating an extravaganza in spite of time, budget, personnel, and weather constraints. It was the showcase of technology that ushered in the 20th century and still has remnants in Chicago to this day. On the other hand, serial killer Herman Mudgett’s story is filled with terror and gruesome details of the killings that went on in the background of the wonder of the World’s Fair.

Larson masterfully balances the sick cruelty of Mudgett with the financial and architectural details of the creation of the fair along with interesting tidbits of Chicago history to tell the story. Just when the reader cannot take the unspeakable horrors any longer, he changes gears to the most minuscule detail of the fair planning or statistics of attendance. It doesn’t create confusion, but rather makes the reading bearable. And it is a story that needs to be read.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (2012)

bernadetteSomething snapped in Bernadette a long time ago. No one knows for sure. She quit her job at the peak of her architectural career. She had several miscarriages. Now she is a recluse who tries to hold it together for the sake of her brilliant daughter Bee. She thinks she has found the answer with the help of a virtual assistant, but everything goes wrong when the family is about to embark on a trip to Antarctica.

Check out Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette along with other stories told through letters, emails, diaries, etc. in our list of Epistolary Novels.

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman (2015)

curiousmindThe great title and eye catching cover do not disappoint. Brian Grazer describes the concept of his curiosity conversations and how they have shaped his life. For almost 40 years, Grazer has sought out important people from all walks of life to learn about what makes them tick. He lists all interviewees and details many engaging encounters with well-known figures. The work confirms curiosity as a virtue in a hectic world. It became a tool to overcome his dyslexia and research his award-winning films, as well as satisfy his curious mind. Hollywood memoir and promotion of creativity rolled into an enjoyable journey in A Curious Mind.