The Garden of Small Beginnings

January 18

This delightful paperback was published May 2, 2017.

An uplifting story about a garden; planted, nourished and enjoyed by a broad cast of varied, likeable, realistic and quirky characters. 

Young widow Lilian, an illustrator, has been asked to take a 6 week gardening class at The Los Angeles Botanic Garden in preparation for illustrating a series of boutique vegetable guides for the venerable Bloem Garden Company.  Not a gardener, Lilian reluctantly arrives at the first Saturday morning class with her two daughters  and her very supportive sister Rachel in tow.  Also in the class are some of the most enjoyable characters I've read about in a long time.  At the lead of the garden project is attractive in every way Edward Bloem, head of his family garden supply company, and commissioner of Lilian's illustrations.

At the heart of the book is the theme of change, and each of the gardeners experiences change in their own way.  The beginnings of the title refer not only to newly planted and growing vegetables, but change that comes over everyone in the group, and new directions that their lives will take.  

Each chapter begins with a short and interesting little tutorial on how to plant the fruits or vegetables for the week's project. (disclaimer:  Iam not a gardener, and enjoyed these lessons!)  The author writes with such quirky dry humor that I really did laugh out loud reading this book.

I recommend The Garden of Small Beginnings to anyone who wants a great lighter read, a book to take on vacation, or a book that will make you feel like you have been on vacation.

Sometime you can judge a book by a cover - I think in this case, it's true. This is Abbi Waxman's first work of fiction, hopefully there is more to come. 


The Trust

December 17

This is the latest from Wilmette attorney Ronald Balson, who authored Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, and Karolina's Twins. Again, lawyer/detective/investigator Liam Taggart is the hero.

Liam receives a phone call from his cousin Annie in Ireland: Uncle Fergus is dead, and Liam needs to be in Ireland for the funeral in three days time. This is strange, as Liam had been estranged from his Irish family for 16 years, (after they discovered that he was a CIA spy.) Stranger still is that when Uncle Fergus's will was read, Liam was named executor and trustee, chosen over Fergus's children and common law wife. Furthermore, the trust specifies that if there is any suspicion about Uncle Fergus's cause of death (and a fatal gunshot wound to the head sounds suspicious) none of Fergus's assets, and they are considerable, can be distributed to any heirs until the cause of death is resolved and the people responsible for it have been identified and brought to justice.  The Taggart family does have its enemies, though who would kill Uncle Fergus? And why would Fergus write these instructions into the will - did he know he was at risk for murder?

Understandably, the heirs are anxious to get their hands on their share of Fergus's money, and they resent that Liam is in charge.  Liam, a new father, is not too happy with the responsibility either, and would really rather be home in Chicago.  Liam's wife Catherine, also an attorney and usually his co-investigator, is off stage in this book, at home with a new baby and unavailable to race around Ireland with him. The author brings in Catherine's expertise via phone calls between husband and wife.

This is a good, fast-paced read in which suspense and plot twists abound.  Layers of bad guys are suspected, threatening phone calls received, and family members die one by one.



The Story of Arthur Truluv

December 17

This is a lovely story from Elizabeth Berg, author of Tapestry of Fortunes and The Last Time I Saw You. 

Main character Arthur has lost his wife Nola, the love of his life.  Each day, he faithfully visits her grave, bringing his chair and lunch so he can eat his midday meal with her.  He talks to her about this and that, tidies her grave site, and promises to come back the next day.

One day he noticed a teenage girl wandering among the graves, occasionally sitting down.  Why, he wondered, would she be there during the school day, and why on earth would she be wearing all black clothes, with rips in her jeans, and a ring through her nose like a cow?

He introduced himself, her name is Maddy. She likes to come to the cemetery during her school lunch to take photographs, and compose poems,  She likes the peace and quiet, away from the students who tease her. Arthur and Maddy form a deep friendship, talking often and deeply.  She nicknames him "Truluv" for his everlasting love for his late wife.

Later, Maddy gets herself into quite a predicament, and runs away from home.  Her kindly teacher and wife offer to take her in, she knows it won't work out.  She and her dear friend Arthur come to an arrangement that works out beautifully for both of them.  I won't ruin the book by telling you how it turns out, though rest assured that neither Arthur nor Maddy are lonely again.

I don't often cry while reading, for this book, I advise having a few kleenex at hand.


Seven Days of Us

November 17

Can you imagine being with your family for an entire seven-day week?  Mom, Dad, adult siblings? What if you all were confined to an isolated, crumbling, family house in rural England, a home which no one could leave or enter for a full week? Why? Because the family is in quarantine! Groceries have to be dropped at the gate, letters pushed into the letter slot....

The Birch family is at the center of this Brit-authored novel.  Daughter Olivia, a medical doctor, has been in Liberia, tending to the country's underserved population under primitive circumstances. She and her work partner, Sean, were campaigning for basic sanitation standards when a deadly disease, the Haag Virus, broke out among the native people. Aid workers were send home as quickly as possible, with the admonition to stay away from everyone for an entire week in case they had been exposed to the virus.  It's Christmas, and the Birches, so happy that Olivia is home for a change, agree to suffer Olivia's quarantine together as a family. 

Inevitable sibling disagreements erupt, and it turns out that everyone has a secret they are trying to hide.  Sister Phoebe is engaged to George, but he does not seem too eager to plan the wedding. Mom Emma has a medical diagnosis that she had not planned to reveal till after the holidays. Dad Andrew, a former war correspondant turned restaurant reviewer, has received and discarded an email from a young American man named Jesse. Jesse claims to be Andrew's secret son, the result of a one night stand.  Each story is well told from a family member's distinct point of view, in a kaleidoscopic fashion.  Tension further is developed as there are secret rooms in the old house where people can hide, and hide things.  Olivia takes her temperature twice a day, and seems to be fine, although so much family all at once is a bit of a culture shock. Everything is turned upside down when she sees on the news that Sean, her fellow doctor and "partner" in more ways than one, has become dangerously ill with the Haag Virus. 

Just in time for holiday or anytime reading, this debut explores, in a warm and bittersweet way, the dynamics of a family when close is too close! 


Little Fires Everywhere

September 17

You may remember this author from her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, which was a huge success a few years ago. Her new book is equally well written, compelling and suspenseful. It's a great story, and I know will be wonderful for book club discussions.

Little Fires is set in wealthy (mostly white) Shaker Heights Ohio where author Celese Ng grew up.  Suspense begins from the first sentence " Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."  

Isabelle, or Izzy, was not like the other Richardson kids. She wasn't athletic, or academic, or popular. Izzy was artistic, dramatic, and preferred  to stay in her room.  Izzy said whatever was on her mind, even when it was rude.   She related best to the Richardson's part time domestic help, Mia, and her daughter, Pearl.  Mia,  a photographer, invites Izzy to visit her (at the duplex that she rents from the Richardsons) to learn how to shoot and develop pictures. Mia and Pearl have moved 46 times since teenage Pearl was born, so there is an interesting back story there! 

Mr. Richardson, a prominent lawyer, is working on a case for his prominent friends the McCulloughs, who are fostering with intent to  adopt an Asian baby who was abandoned outside a firehouse on a snowy winter day.  The birth mother has surfaced, trying to argue that the baby would be best with her own blood, and asserting that she had made a mistake.  Of course, the birth mother is a friend of Mia and Pearl's. 

Izzy burned down her own house.  And you will want to read this new novel and find out why! Lots of layers to talk about.