Eleven Pipers Piping

Eleven Pipers Piping (Father Christmas Mystery #2)Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit hefty at nearly 500 pages for a “cozy” mystery, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Burns Night. Haggis. Bagpipers. Need I say more? Like the first book of the series, I thought this was well plotted. It is complex enough that you probably won’t figure out who done it, even if the red herrings are a bit obvious. The main characters continue to grow and develop, although I still think there is too much name dropping of superfluous villagers. Yes, I had to go back to my notes of book one to help sort them out – but that isn’t entirely a bad thing. I feel like I am being immersed in a whole village. Still, there is a certain disconnect for me between the well-developed main characters and the cardboard cutouts of everyone else. This book was a lot less “work” because the extensive back story has already been laid down. And I had my notes. I love Father Tom and I’m going to expect a love interest somewhere down the line as he continues to heal from the loss of his wife. His housekeeper is a hoot, and I love the plot device of her daily letters to her mother, complete with crossed-out typos, which gives us another point of view to the goings on. I wouldn’t categorize these books as “Christian” fiction, but since Tom is a vicar, and his is the viewpoint that most of the action is filtered through, there is a certain amount of moralizing and human angst alongside his empathy and compassion. He is a man of faith despite his own tragedies.

Book Description: Father Tom Christmas, the recently widowed vicar adjusting to life in the English village of Thornford Regis, would do almost anything to avoid attending the annual Robert Burns Supper at the local hotel. But as chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, Father Tom must deliver the grace—and contend with wailing bagpipes, whiskey-laced parishioners reciting poetry, and the culinary abomination that is haggis.

As snow falls to unprecedented depths, the revelers carry on—briefly interrupted by an enigmatic stranger seeking shelter. Then Will Moir, proprietor of the hotel and a dedicated piper, inexplicably goes missing—only to be found later in the hotel’s dark tower, alone and dead from what appears to be a heart attack.

Father Tom’s own heart sinks when he learns the actual cause of Will’s demise. When word gets out, the flurry of innocent speculation descends into outlandish gossip. And, for all its tranquil charm, Thornford Regis has plenty to gossip about—illicit trysts, muted violence, private sorrows, and old, unresolved tragedies. The question is: Who would benefit most from the piper’s death? Suspicion swirls around many, including Will’s beautiful widow, their shadowy son, Will’s obnoxious brother-in-law, and even the mysterious party crasher, who knows more than she lets on about the grudges she left behind—but never forgot.

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Olive Kitteridge

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I rate this on “liking” the book or the characters, it might be 3 stars. If I rate it on how much it will stay with me and I’ll be thinking about Olive and other characters it might be 4 or 5. And if I rate it on literary merit, the use of language and how the stories intertwine to create a whole, maybe 5. So I’ll compromise with 4. Olive is not an easy person to like. Sometimes she has a heart of gold, and is almost painfully empathetic and compassionate. But she has a mean streak and at times a selfishness that will always be her undoing. She is raw, crusty, and as she describes herself, she has the “soul of a peasant.” I think of peasants as being simple in their approach to life. Olive is anything but. You’ll get to know her through her own story, her son, her students, and her neighbors. Each story is complete in itself, but taken all together has a richness that is greater than the individual parts. At the same time, each story will make you think about life, love, security, and isolation, and how we cope with things that seem to be out of our control even if they are of our own making.

Book Description: At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama – desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love. At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires. 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner in the Letters, Drama and Music category.

Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go To SleepBefore I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Caution: Review may contain spoilers.

I waffled between 2 and 3 stars for this book. It was okay, but mainly because I can tolerate more flaws in audiobooks where I would quickly lose patience reading it. It’s an okay story. The premise is intriguing and it started out very well. The author sets up the story of a woman who doesn’t know who she is, but apparently she has been keeping a journal. She is seeing a doctor who calls her on a cellphone that he gave her and tells her where she keeps the journal hidden from her supposed husband, Ben. The mystery is set up right from the beginning as she begins to read about her life and on the first page of the journal she has written “DON’T TRUST BEN.” So far so good. Then we follow Christine from day to day through the journal to see what brought her to this point. So we have an unreliable narrator, an unreliable husband, and who knows whether or not this doctor is reliable. The plot moves forward ever so slowly as memories do resurface from time to time, and she seems to be able to hold onto them as they are retriggered through the journal each day. But that gets very repetitious. The key to solving the mystery seems to be to find out what happened to her long lost best friend, Claire, who might be able to provide some answers. But the story takes far too long to get there, and we have completely lost the suspense that was set up at the beginning. To be fair, I already knew how it would end. But would I have been surprised at that point? Maybe, but it had no psychological impact for me getting there. The book needed much more in the way of creepy foreshadowing.

The setting, London, was entirely irrelevant, especially since the publishers had completely Americanized the dialog. I had to keep reminding myself this was supposed to be Britain as even the audiobook was narrated by an American, Orlagh Cassidy. Intriguing premise aside, the specifics were just not credulous. The journal reads like a novel, not a journal. Do we seriously believe she has time to write with such mind-numbing detail and keep it hidden from Ben? And Claire – what kind of best friend wouldn’t have tried to find Christine? Not to mention her son… This might have worked a lot better as a dual story perhaps with some back and forth between Christine’s and Claire’s point of view. This could be a decent movie with some of the plot points tightened up and opening it up to more points of view.

Book Description: ‘As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me …’ Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love—all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.

The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Shoemaker's WifeThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Caution: May contain spoilers!

I really loved this story. The author spent 20 years on it, and the historical detail is fascinating. Lots of description of clothing, food, and daily life, whether on the Iron Range of Minnesota or behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera with Enrico Caruso. It brings to life the lives of immigrants at the turn of the century and up through the 1930s. I really didn’t want the story to end. I wish it had been made into a trilogy. The first half of the book was complete in itself – the story of Enza and Ciro growing up and ending with their at long last engagement. The second book could have covered their marriage, leaving NYC for Minnesota, establishing a business and ending with Ciro’s much too early death. Enza’s life as a widow could have been a third book, and this section was all too short in the book. It ended with her finally agreeing to return to visit Italy with her son and his bride, but I would love to have had the story continue with that trip, her family reunion, and the rest of her life as a grandmother perhaps….

My only quibble with the audiobook was the decision to have two narrators. Annabella Sciorra had an elegant voice, and a believable Italian accent. When Adriana Trigiana took over the narration I found it distracting. Her voice almost had a New Jersey accent, and the change in pronunciation of names was disconcerting. But I got used to it. It wasn’t bad – just different – and I suppose was a reflection of the big changes in their lives at that point, and that they were now Americans, not Italian immigrants.

Book Description: The majestic beauty of the Italian Alps at the turn of the twentieth century is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy. When Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished and sent to hide in America. Soon Enza’s family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America. Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America. Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I as Enza begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House. Over time, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

Inspired by Adriana Trigiani’s own family history and the love of tradition, The Shoemaker’s Wife defines an era with operatic scope that will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.