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I don’t know what I had expected when picking up MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, but what I found was a comforting read, similar to going back to my parent’s house – it’s welcoming and warm; almost from a different time – and you feel right at home with Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali.

The characters are discreetly clever – I found myself chuckling (I feel like that’s an appropriately old fashioned word) at their antics and the Major’s thoughts and actions.  An upstanding and opinionated gentleman, the Major was of a different world and I had a hard time remembering that this book was taking place in present day.  When text messaging was mentioned in passing I’d get a little jolt as the story was often so quaint and the opposite of modern (until Pettigrew’s son, more tk).

Unlike NYC apartment searches when “quaint and cozy” mean good luck trying to fit a twin bed in the bedroom, “quaint and cozy” are compliments as this is no small novel. It looks at the influences of social class and race and society’s expectations.

At its heart, it’s a love story – one of different values and characters than we typically find in society these days.  Major Pettigrew and Jasmina are both widowed and definitely “over the hill” – but by no means dried up and stagnant in intelligence, wit, and heck – sexuality!  This is a book I’d love for my grandmother to read, as I feel these love stories are often overlooked for the wrinkle-free versions.

Major Pettigrew’s son was just terrible, but also only too believable.  I’ve seen his type – the young, slick guys in finance whose sole ambition in life is to be as rich as possible and have that be known, at the expense of others.  This was epitomized by his BLACK Christmas tree, to match his modern house – absolutely no warmth or sense of tradition.  I was horrified at the way he treated his father and cringed at the lack of respect.  I like to think he did defrost a little towards the end… No spoilers though – you have to read it yourself!

My favorite passage in the book was when Pettigrew was hoping to help Jasmina make friends and fit in with the social crowd, but his (understated) humor went –

“He could not, in good conscience, promote any association with Daisy Green and her band of ladies. He could more easily recommend gang membership or fencehopping into the polar bear enclosure at the Regents Park zoo.” -pg 113

This was Helen Simonson’s debut novel, and I look forward to whatever comes next. Helen is a true Brit who I wager takes milk in her tea, but she now lives on the East Coast.  You can connect with Helen on her website or via her Facebook page.

I suggest MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND to anyone looking for a charming read that will take their mind off their own pressing matters.  I am so thankful TLC Tours introduced me to this fabulous story and talented writer & I suggest you visit the rest of the tour stops, listed here.

And, just because I think it’s fascinating, here’s the UK cover – what do you think? I like the tea cups, but don’t think the style and colors correctly portray the story. This looks more like the hipster’s version of MAJOR PETTIGREW to me!

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Well I guess it’s not technically a genre, and I’m on the tailend of this book buzz, but I’ve only recently read ROOM and STILL MISSING and am all kidnapped-out.

Getting kidnapped has always been an irrational fear of mine – I shudder at the sight of vans without windows (STILL MISSING really reminded me of this issue) and I used to practice lying very still in my childhood bed, hoping the burglar creeping through my window wouldn’t notice my form.  Obviously my fears haven’t happened yet (knocked on wood) though these two novels brought them back to the surface!

Both books were told from unique perspectives:  As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the many reviews of ROOM, the entire book is told from the perspective of one very intelligent but very sheltered five-year old boy, who has spent his whole life trapped in a single room with his abducted mother.  It really is a story pulled from the headlines – and the fact that it’s fiction doesn’t make it less traumatizing. This was a book I hesitate to say I enjoyed reading because Emma Donoghue is such a talented writer that you actually were inside the head of Jack yet still aware of Ma’s world and knowledge and experience, and it was a tough place to be.  But this was an impactful read that I will definitely continue to recommend.  In fact, I read this on my Kindle and really missed the physical book when all I wanted to do was send it to a friend for a mini-bookclub discussion.

STILL MISSING was the much-buzzed about debut this spring that I found languishing on my boyfriend’s bookshelf where I had left it.  The unique point of view in this story was how it was told mainly through the victim’s (Annie) meeting with her therapist.  I really wanted to like this book, and didn’t hate it… but can’t say I would recommend it.  The language and violence and character’s turned me off, and I found the twist at the end appalling and rather unbelievable. I like flawed characters, but this was a little too much.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I did call my mom just to hear her exclaim “I can’t believe she did that! That’s terrible! This wasn’t a true story right?” which made it all right in the world.   Though I do commend this young author – she made the NYT bestseller list and I’m proud of her even if this effort wasn’t my favorite – I’ll pick up her next and hope the people are nicer!

 Now that I’ve shared my abduction genre I can fully head back to the deep South for my Southern Reading fun! All your suggestions were great and my pile is as long as the kudzu.

Although many argue that there’s a lack of women authors acknowledged in the literary world, I’m consistently surprised, impressed and intrigued by the women protagonists kicking ass in the mystery and thriller genre, written well by authors of both genders.

From the talented hand of Sue Grafton, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has had many bestselling mysteries and is starring in Grafton’s 21st, U IS FOR UNDERTOW out 12/1/09.  There’s also V.I. Warshawski written by Sara Paretsky, the Women’s Murder Club series from James Patterson, and I’ve also discovered many strong female characters on both sides of the law in John Sandford’s titles.  I’ve found the mystery genre is especially generous with women in important roles (CERTAIN PREY, my favorite Sandford title, features a hit-woman) instead of simply being the victim.

Kay Scarpetta?

One of the most iconic and recognizable female characters is Kay Scarpetta, penned by the renowned Patricia Cornwell.  Cornwell’s latest, THE SCARPETTA FACTOR, hit the NYT bestseller at #2 (behind only Dan Brown).  For those rare readers unfamiliar with the series I urge you to give them a try (and I have found they’re not necessary to read in order); not only are they tantalizing and smart mysteries but you’ll want to be ahead of the media storm when, drumroll please, Angelina Jolie appears on the big screen as Kay Scarpetta (watch Cornwell share this information on Good Morning America).

Because I enjoy Scarpetta’s character, when shopping for a new mystery I found the following quote from James Patterson:

“Karen Vail is as compelling a character as any created by Patricia Cornwell, or yours truly…”

I bit it hook, line and sinker and proudly walked away from the register clutching THE 7th VICTIM by Alan Jacobson in my hands.

Some may say my standards were set too high by the Cornwell quote, but whatever the reason my disappointment was genuine.  Karen Vail is supposedly a profiler (comparable to Benton), so I find it either too far fetched, or just doubt her skills, that she would be completely clueless as to the background of her own immediate family.  Additionally, I understand we as readers are supposed to connect with “flawed characters” – but she was too unrelatable.

Also, I enjoy mysteries with some clues to keep the pages turning and not just assumptions, hints and lucky guessing.  This book offered very little to the reader by way of the serial killings taking place and seemed to focus much more on the personal life and happenings of Karen Vail.

Bottom Line: Scarpetta gets a blackberry in her latest, and while SCARPETTA FACTOR may not be my favorite Cornwell title, it’s worth reading.  While I suggest avoiding THE 7TH VICTIM for reading purposes, I think the book is very high quality as it’s been keeping my big heavy window open for the last three weeks with hardly a divet in the board of this repurposed hardcover.

**Mark your calendars to join me this Tuesday, November 24, as I guest blog about mysteries (and working on some of the biggest names in the genre) on Meritious Mysteries! **

Cover Blurb:  “Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society BookSweet but never boring.  Intense but never overdone.  Inspiring but never preaching.  Loving but never raunchy.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a rare novel, one that comes into our life without a sound, but leaves having made an imprint on our soul.

Such an odd, cumbersome title, and one that may have never appealed to me personally except Random House professionals, Susan Kamil, SVP, Editor-in-Chief, and Jane Von Mehren, VP, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks, came to my NYU SPI class to share their experience and the road to success.  This title is globally recognized as this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since publication in 2008 (read the inside story of how it achieved such fame in my column on Beneath the Cover, “The Making of a Bestseller”).  Small in stature (the trade paperback a mere 274 pages), this book may initially be cast-off as a whimsical historical fiction novel until you try to put it down… I dare you to leave it untouched for a full 24-hours once you’ve begun.

The characters are lively, quirky, and lovable as they communicate via hand-written letters in 1946, as they rediscover themselves and their world post the trauma and impact of World War II.  You find yourself wanting novelist Juliet Ashton as your own pen pal and quiet Dawsey Adams as a neighbor.  Twists and turns are discrete and natural so that you almost don’t realize when a revelation occurs and the impact in the character’s life.

This novel celebrates people who love books and the written word.  Text, language and history are embraced within remarkable friendships.

Though the era has passed, issues of love, hope, and the kindness of the human spirit will always be timeless and this book (I wager) is destined to become a classic alongside the titles of the authors celebrated in the text, including the Brontes, Austen, Shakespeare, etc… This book  appeals to a wide audience, as it is told from multiple perspectives allowing a glimpse into different psyches.  I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, above, to give yourself the gift of this book.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A
  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Publisher: Random House

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