Blog Posts by Auntie Anne

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Anne is a cheese-fed daughter of Wisconsin, but don’t hold it against her. She wishes that the band Led Zeppelin never broke up. And she enjoys fitness and exercise so that she can play with her two awesome granddaughters.


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Will was a wealthy and successful businessman who climbed mountains and parachuted out of airplanes in his spare time, that is until he was struck by a motorcycle which left him paraplegic.  Lou was a quirky British lass who had just lost her job at the local coffee shop, but had no plans for herself other than to live at home and watch TV with her parents, that is until Will's mother hired her to be his caregiver and companion.  In spite of Will's acerbic tongue and mood swings, Lou refused to treat him with kid gloves.  Upon the realization that he had attempted to take his own life, Lou sets about a plan to show Will that life is worth living.  The result is an unexpected love affair with a heartbreaking ending.  An ending that is hopeful and thought-provoking, not at all schmaltzy or predictable.
I can't remember the last book I read that had me laughing out loud on one page and crying on the next.  Me Before You is that rare book that takes you through so many emotions, but effortlessly and flawlessly.   It's a book that teaches you that it's never too late to start living.
by Jojo Moyes

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Tom Sherbourne is a man of high moral standards after having been awarded the Medal of Honor after surviving 4 horrific years in combat during World War I.  After the war, Tom returned to Australia, takes a wife and becomes the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a square mile piece of green set off the coast of Western Australia between two oceans - one peaceful and calm, one violent.  It was there that he and his wife, after having suffered three miscarriages, discover a boat washed up on the shore.  Inside the boat they find the body of a dead man, a woman's sweater, and a baby - alive.
I'm amazed at the number of excellent books that I've read this year that are debut novels.  The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman's first literary effort, is the story of a heartbreaking moral dilemma.  It's been a very long time since I read a book that moved me to tears.  This book is that moving, as well as beautifully descriptive with well-developed characters.
by M. L. Stedman

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Laurel Nicholson was sixteen when she witnessed a shocking event during a family birthday party.  Until that time, her world had been the comfortable life of an impressionable, naive teenager living in the English countryside. This event understandably rocked her world and also her belief in what is right and wrong, particularly where her vivacious and loving mother, Dorothy, was concerned.  

Fast forward to 2011. Laurel, now a successful actress, and her sisters are gathered at Greenacres Farm, their childhood home, to celebrate their mother's 90th birthday. Dorothy's health is failing so this may be Laurel's last opportunity to get answers from her mother about that horrible incident that has plagued her memories from fifty years ago - answers that can only be found in Dorothy's past.

The story is expertly told in three time frames.  The author hooks you immediately with the shocking event that takes place in the 60s, then goes back to World War II England during the blitz, and forward to the present.  The gradual layering of the narrative seamlessly assembles all the missing pieces of the mystery, enhanced with a passionate love affair, betrayal, and exploitation amidst the ravages of war.  Just when you think you have it all neatly figured out you're hit with a zinger of an ending! 

The Secret Keeper was the first of Kate Morton's books that I've read. Her characters are very well developed as is the story rich with vivid detail.  I will definitely watch for future novels from her.

by Kate Morton

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"Spies, poison, and curses surround her . . . Is there anyone she can trust?"

The Kingmaker's Daughter is the fourth installment, and possibly the best so far, in Philippa Gregory's popular Cousins' War series.  Set in 15th century England, it is the compelling story of the daughters of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick - particularly Anne, his youngest. Warwick was an English nobleman, administrator, and military commander who was the wealthiest and most powerful aristocrat of his age, with political connections that went far beyond the country's borders. He was one of the main powerbrokers in the War of the Roses, and was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, which  earned him his nickname of "Kingmaker".  Since Warwick had no sons and heirs, he of course used his daughters as pawns in his political games of kingmaking.

One of Warwick's grand schemes was to win over the York King Edward's brother George, Duke of Clarence, possibly with the prospect of installing him on the throne.  George was secretly married to Warwick's oldest daughter, Isabel, and joined Warwick in a rebellion against his brother, the king. Eventually he defected back to the York side and realigned with his brother, King Edward.  So at the age of fourteen, Anne Neville's father married her off to Edward of Westminster, the son of deposed king Henry VI, in an effort to align himself with the Lancaster cause.  Long story short, Warwick and Edward of Westminster were killed in battle against King Edward, thus leaving Anne Neville a widow and without the protection of the wealth and power of her father, the aftermath of which was the struggle of King Edward and George of Clarence to gain control of Warwick's enormous wealth.  Enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest brother of King Edward.  Very conveniently madly in love with Anne, they were married, thus taking care of half that fortune.  Richard had ever been loyal to his brother the King.  But George was put on trial for treason against his brother, and executed in 1478.  Five years later, Edward IV died, and his youngest brother became King Richard III, making Anne Queen of England.

There are several fascinating aspects of this story, one of which is to see her grow from a weak and powerless teenager to a strong and intelligent woman, in spite of her constant vulnerability.  Her rise to the pinnacle that her father had envisioned for her was marked by the tragic loss of everyone she loved, including her precious only son, Prince Edward.  It seemed as though her father's political ambition had rubbed off on her, however, which enabled her to stand up to the overwhelming power of the royal family and become a player in her own right in the kingmaking game.  As always, Philippa Gregory is spot-on with the historical details, creating a vivid picture of these important and turbulent events in British history. 

by Philippa Gregory

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This timely new novel by bestselling author Sandra Dallas is the very moving and unbelievable story of four British women in the Martin Handcart Company who made the 1,300 mile journey on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City in 1856 in search of the promised land.  Based on true events, this ragtag group of Mormon converts was the last group to make this harrowing trip.  Upon the urging of Brigham Young himself, two other handcart groups had successfully preceded them.  But by the time the Martin company left Iowa City, Winter was fast approaching and the hand-made two-wheeled handcarts stood little chance of surviving the treacherous, snow-bound trip.  Nor did the people who attempted the trip, facing -20 degree temperatures, starvation, amputations and death.  It's a miracle anyone survived!

True Sisters is an inspiring, yet depressing story.  The sheer strength, spirit and determination of the four women - Nannie, Louisa, Jessie and Anne - was the only thing that got them through this ordeal.  The caring, love and unselfish support they showed each other was truly inspiring.  There was little to smile about in the book, however.  It was difficult reading about the way these pilgrims blindly followed their leaders, resulting in tragic loss of life.  The children that died was particularly painful to read about. But the historical aspects of this book, particularly the foundations of the Mormon faith, is very interesting, shedding some light on the faith of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.     

by Sandra Dallas

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The setting is New York city in 1987.  The AIDS epidemic is rampant, and has personally touched the quiet suburban lives of 14-year-old June Elbus and her family.  June's beloved Uncle Finn, a famous but reclusive artist, has died of AIDS.  June's mother, who was Finn's sister, has forbidden Finn's longtime partner to attend the funeral.  Mrs. Elbus refuses to speak of this horrible illness that her brother has died of far too young, leaving June grief-stricken and desolate.  June was a very unusual teenager who fantasized about living in the Middle Ages. Typically dressing in long skirts and lace-up boots, she lugged around a copy of The Medieval Reader, and planned to be a falconer when she grows up.  She felt that her Uncle Finn was the only person alive that understood her and made her feel special. They shared many secrets and special places that they would visit together in New York City.  But when Finn died, June discovers an even bigger secret that her Uncle never shared with her - his partner, Toby.
Several days after the funeral, June receives a package in the mail - a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby asking to meet her.  After seeing Toby several times, June realizes that he is not the monster that killed her Uncle that her mother has made him out to be. He misses Finn as much as she does, and they form a powerful bond based on their mutual loss and unlikely friendship. From start to finish, with Toby's help, June emerges from a self-absorbed awkward teenager to a mature young adult who has come to understand much about the upside down world she lives in.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a beautifully written, very tender coming-of-age story, which is a first novel for Carol Rifka Brunt.  The author does a good job of conveying the mood of the 80s and the frightening specter of AIDS.  This is a  moving story of love, grief and renewal which will leave you thinking about it long after you've finished it.
by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Here's a fun read from local author John McEvoy.  Photo Finish is the fourth installment in McEvoy's Jack Doyle Mystery series where the protagonist is a former advertising man, amateur boxer, and race track publicist now turned thoroughbred jockey agent.  His new client is a 17-year-old Irish riding phenom Mickey Sheehan.  Much to Doyle's surprise, Sheehan turns out to be a girl.  Her brother, Keiran, is Ireland's top jockey turned jet-setting bad boy, so Mickey comes to the States to escape her brother's negative influence and try her luck on her own.  Doyle and Sheehan are a winning combination until a malicious culprit starts injecting their horses with a dangerous illegal doping medication.   Jack Doyle sets out to find the culprit while maneuvering plot twits like a thoroughbred on the racetrack.
Set in a fictitious racetrack located in the Northwestern suburbs of Chicago (sound familiar?), Photo Finish is chock full of fun thoroughbred racing details, descriptions and history.  Author and Evanston resident Jon McEvoy is former editor and senior correspondent for Daily Racing Form, so he knows of what he writes. This book is labeled a mystery as the genre, but there is really no mystery to the story since we know who the protagonist is and what his motives are. McEvoy's previous installments to this series have received 5 star reviews, but this one falls a bit short of the mark. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable and quick read.  
by John McEvoy

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"Let me tell you something, son. When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.”  This is the advice given to 5-year-old Sam Haislett, the speaker of which should have heeded his own advice.

Charlie Beale was a handsome, charismatic 39-year-old war veteran in 1948 when he wandered into sleepy Brownsville, Virginia.  He carried with him two suitcases, one full of money, the other full of knives.  Charlie liked what he saw in Brownsville and decided to stay.  He talked the local butcher into giving him a job (hence the suitcase full of knives), and soon he became well-liked by the townspeople, and adored by young Sam, the butcher's son.  The day that beautiful, young Sylvan Glass walked into his life, Charlie Beale was never the same. "She went off in his head and his heart like a firecracker on the 4th of July."

Sylvan Glass was the teenage wife of Boatie Glass, the richest, greediest, and most mean-spirited man around. Sylvan was raised in a backwoods berg to dirt-poor parents who were sadly desperate enough to sell her to Glass.  Although she had no education, Sylvan was wily enough to reinvent herself into a Hollywood starlet wannabe, fashioning her new persona from movie magazines and afternoon matinees.  So when Charlie, along with young Sam always in tow, entered her life, she saw him as a means of playing out her fantasy life.  Unfortunately, Sam was always there as an innocent witness, reading comic books at Sylvan's kitchen table, while she and Charlie were upstairs. It's obvious from the start that this flirtation can come to no good.  And the reader gets a personal accounting from adult Sam Haislett who narrates tragic events of the story.

Heading Out to Wonderful reminded me of a runaway train. It started out nice and calm, even passing some beautiful scenery along the way.  But soon enough you realize that the train is out of control as it picks up speed.  You're hoping that the crash won't be that bad because you have become invested in the book's very well-developed and interesting characters. Then comes the crash, and, wow, you never saw that one coming!

A Booklist reviewer says that Goolrick, in Heading Out to Wonderful, "creates a mesmerizing gothic tale of a good man gone wrong." It is mesmerizing indeed, a book you won't want to put down.  It is implied at the beginning of the book that Charlie Beale had somewhat of a checkered past, and I sure would like to have found out where he got all that money in his suitcase.  The author unfortunately bypasses those key bits of information.  But other than that, I give this book two thumbs up.

by Robert Goolrick

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Wow! This is one very powerful book! Set in Appalachia, it is the story of two brothers, Jess and Stump Hall.  Stump, the older brother, is autistic and has never spoken a word in his life. His younger brother, Jess is precocious, adventurous, curious, and very protective of his older brother. But it is Stump, who in spite of their mother's stern warnings, can't resist spying on someone. The consequences are horrific when he gets caught in the act. Stump's mistake unleashes unspeakable evil, and Jess is powerless to help him.

The story is told by three characters - Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral compass; and Clem Barfield, the town's sheriff, who has his own set of demons to exorcize. Their voices resonate like a ballad of Appalachia, the lyrics of which sing with love, forgiveness, tragedy and evil-doers.  Check out the interview below to watch author Wiley Cash tell of his own childhood growing up in North Carolina, the inspiration for his killer debut novel. One reviewer calls Cash "a new, strong, Southern voice in American fiction."  After you read A Land More Kind Than Home, you will anxiously await his next killer novel.

by Wiley Cash

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Betty and Joseph Weissmann had been happily married for nearly 50 years, or so Betty thought, when Joseph announced that he wanted a divorce to be with his girlfriend, Felicity.  Thus dumped and turned out of her luxurious Manhattan apartment she called home, Betty crash lands in a rundown Westport, Ct. beach cottage, relying on the smothering kindness of Uncle Lou.  To make matters worse, both Betty's daughters run into their own streak of bad luck, and move in with Betty.   Literary agent Miranda must file bankruptcy after it's leaked that some of her authors' steamy memoirs were in fact fiction. And Betty's other daughter, Annie, is so deeply in debt she can no longer afford her apartment. Once they move in with Mom, both girls promptly fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of Joseph's lover, and Miranda with a lothario actor quite a bit younger than her. In true Jane Austen style, mischief and mayhem runs regretably over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to turn their lives around.

The Three Weissmann's of Westport has been labeled a modern-day homage to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  It's a very well done read-alike, I might add.  Her characters are engaging, humorous and sad all at the same time.  This book is full of wit and wisdom that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.

by Cathleen Schine