Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

If you are like me these have been trying times, politically speaking. That is why I jumped on this book as soon as I heard about it! (Thanks, Marian!)

A mystery novel starring Vice President Biden and President Obama? Just what my weary political soul needed after too many “Breaking News” stories touting the next scandal and outrage of 45.  Most of all this book did not disappoint! Funny, touching, suspenseful, with great snarky dialogue, and most of all a President and Vice President who speak in complete coherent sentences with words that are more than one syllable long! (Oops, that was probably too critical, but fortunately I am not part of that rarefied group who have signed an NDA that prevents them from criticizing the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!)

One evening Joe Biden was again at his computer plowing through all the videos of Obama having the time of his life after leaving office. Parasailing with Richard Branson, kayaking with Justin Trudeau and BASE jumping with Bradley Cooper, for goodness sakes!  Since they had left office, Biden had not heard from Obama-not a phone call or even a post card and he has been feeling a bit resentful and unappreciated. Finally pulling himself away from his computer and heading to bed, Biden sees a strange light out in the garden. Grabbing his gun from the safe, Joe and his faithful dog, Champ, head out to investigate. As he gets closer, he smells the unmistakable smell of Marlboro Reds and there under the big oak was Obama scratching the ears of that traitor, Champ.

Biden hopes that maybe this visit means he and Obama can rekindle their friendship, but Obama has something else in mind. He tells Biden that an Amtrak conductor, Finn Donnelly, had been hit by a train that morning.  Biden knew Donnelly and his family from his days as a Senator riding Amtrak back and forth between Delaware and Washington.  It seemed preposterous for someone like Donnelly to be killed by a train. But that wasn’t all that was strange about this death. Obama showed Joe a printout of a Google map with his home highlighted by a small dot that had been found among Donnelly’s affects.  Strangely, neither the FBI or the Secret Service seem interested in the case, but both Biden and Obama are uneasy, and thus begins the story of the most unlikely crime solving duo ever!

I laughed and chortled (I don’t think I knew exactly what that word meant until I read this book!) the whole time I read this book. Shaffer has captured both Biden and Obama so well, and Joe’s obvious jealousy and sense of loss is palpable. Solving the mystery of Donnelly’s death sometimes seems overshadowed by the interactions of these two giant characters, but Shaffer manages to keep us in suspense and brings in some great plot twists that add to the excitement of this book.  The only thing bad about it was finishing it and coming back to reality! Luckily, I think there might be another in the works!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Book Study Worthy? Only if they are all Democrats!

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Age of Myth, Age of Swords and Age of War by Michael Sullivan

I was introduced to Michael Sullivan when I read the Riyria Revelations and met his characters Hadrian and Royce, two unlikely anti-heros. Needless to say, Sullivan got my attention with his skillful world making, great character development and inventive plots.  After finishing those books I planned to read his next series the Riyria Chronicles but when I realized he was writing a prequel series called The Legends of the First Empire, I decided to read those first. The Legends series begins with the Age of Myth, Age of Swords, and Age of War with at least three more books to be published in the future.

The Age of Myth begins with an encounter that shatters all the norms, traditions and beliefs of this age. From time immemorial the Fhrey, a godlike race, invincible in battle and masters of magic have always been set apart and worshiped. But when a human blade kills one of the Fhrey in a surprising encounter, suddenly the world changes.

Knowing that the Fhrey will not let this affront to their power stand, a few leaders emerge to save human kind from annihilation. Raithe, the reluctant hero whose sword kills the Frehy, struggles with his new identity as the God-Killer. Suri, a young seer, who does not know the extent of her own power must face her fears and reluctantly extend herself to save humanity. Persephone, must sacrifice her own happiness in order to become the leader her people need. Together they must birth a new world into being.

Sullivan’s ability to create a believable world rivals that of Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb or Joe Abercrombie. His characters are complicated and are continually developing in the face of enormous challenges. His themes of change and challenging entrenched beliefs systems are vital and prescient. If you enjoy fantasy then, like me you have found an author that will give you characters you can identify with, and storylines that will stretch your mind and imagination!

Brenda’s Rating ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend This book to: Lauren and Marian

Book Study Worthy: Sure with fellow fantasy enthusiasts!

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That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Ren Sawyer is running away. At his last concert he just couldn’t wait to get off stage and away from his adoring fans. He is not sure what is going on but he knows he needs to get away from it all or he will almost certainly lose it.  This vacation to Tuscany that his agent set up will be perfect. No more adoring fans and groupies, no more interaction with the band, just some time to figure out why he is feeling so claustrophobic about being on stage and so unsettled about his career.

Lizzy Harper is being more daring than she has ever been in her life. She and her husband had planned a vacation in Tuscany to celebrate their twentieth anniversary but at the last minute, he canceled saying he had just gotten involved in a new case headed for trial and couldn’t go. He expected that she wouldn’t go either, since that is what she would have done in the past. But their daughter is on her own now and nothing is keeping Lizzy at home, so in a small fit of rebellion, she decides that she will go anyway. Siting on the plane, she can hardly believe she did it but it sure feels good to do something for herself, for once.

After a mostly uneventful flight, except for inadvertently ending up on the lap of a fellow passenger after several glasses of wine and a bit of turbulence, Lizzy emerges from the airport and sees a large group of screaming fans surrounding that very man whose lap she sat on and realizes with some shock that he is a rock star. embarrassed and relived that she will never have to see him again, Lizzy grabs a taxi and heads to Florence, never realizing that fate has different plans for her.

This was a fun modern romance with great pacing, well defined characters and an interesting premise. Great for reading at the beach, or just to escape the incessant news cycle, this book will keep you interested and engaged.

Brenda’s Rating: ***( 3 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Lauren, Marian and Sharon

Book Study Worthy: No just enjoy

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young had been dating for two years in New York City, when Nicholas invited her to come with him to Singapore to attend the summer wedding of his best friend, meet his family and spend some time in Asia traveling. Excited and nervous about meeting Nicholas’ family and friends, Rachel agrees. What she doesn’t know and what Nicholas has failed to mention is that although wealthy in his own right, he is also the heir to one of the largest fortunes in all of Singapore (as in billions!) and that his family and friends are some of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential people in all of Asia!

Before Nicholas and Rachel even arrive in Singapore the rumor mill has been churning out the news that Nicholas is bringing a girl back to Singapore and all the young women who had their sights on Nicholas and their mother’s are ready to begin directing all their animosity towards Rachel, including his mother Eleanor who is dead set against having some young women without the right credentials, i.e. money wealth and power, marry her son.

Soon Rachel finds that she is negotiating a complicated obstacle course where the rules keep changing and where old money, and tight social snobbery keep her at arms length, while new money and social climbers try to use her for their own purposes. Rachel and Nicholas manage to hold their own against the onslaught until a devastating revelation threatens to destroy all Rachel thought she knew about herself and bares the ugly side of wealth and power that Nicholas had been oblivious to.

Kwan writes with such incorrigible tongue-in-cheek verve that you can hardly put this book down. Kwan avoids falling into the trap of caricaturization, but rather fully develops all of his characters, giving them a humanity that is almost palpable. Although this feels like a light read with frothy commentary about couture brands and non stop descriptions of mouth watering things to eat, Kwan manages to engage us more deeply as well, as he lays bare the hollowness of money and power. I am downloading the next two books right away, and plan to see the movie as soon as possible! You should too!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes, and include food mentioned in the book!

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Born in the US but living in Nigeria, Sunny struggles with feeling like she doesn’t belong. Not only does she speak differently and have a much different set of experiences than her classmates in Nigeria, she is also albino which makes her stand out even more among her classmates. With her yellow hair and creamy skin that burns at the smallest exposure to the sun, she cannot play soccer with the other kids when they play after school even though she is really quite a good athelete.

If all that isn’t enough there is one more thing that keeps Sunny feeling like she is different. One evening while staring into the flame of a candle, Sunny had a terrifying vision of a coming apocalyptic event that would destroy all that she knew. It scared her deeply but somehow she could never tell anyone and the secret created its own special barrier between her and those around her.  As time went on however, the memory of the vision faded somewhat and she began to make friends with the Orlu, a boy in her neighborhood and Chichi, the girl who lives next door. She soon learns that Orlu has a special talent for “undoing bad things,” that Chichi and her mom seem to have an inexhaustible supply of books but almost nothing else in their small cramped home, and that both Orlu and Chichi believe in juju, or everyday magic, in ways that she and her parents do not.

Then one Saturday, Orlu and Chichi invite her to come with them to visit a man named Anatov. What happens there changes everything for Sunny and she learns that she  belongs in ways that she never knew were possible.

Okorafor has created a wonderful, magical, mysterious, suspense filled coming of age story, that although somewhat reminiscent of Harry Potter, is unique and powerful in its own right. Sunny is a charming, intelligent and irreverent teenager and her interactions with Orlu and Chichi ring with authenticity. Although this is labeled a YA novel, I found this book fascinating and strangely compelling and look forward to reading the rest of the books in this wonderful series. I highly recommend it to anyone, like me, who has younger family members who might be reading it now or will read it in the near future!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

A younger woman begins an affair with a married man.

The married man leaves his wife for the younger woman.

The betrayed wife tries desperately to break them up.

Obsession, betrayal, passion, are all a part of this story of a love triangle gone wrong. But don’t assume you know anything, because this love triangle is more complicated and dangerous than anything you can imagine!  With a fiendishly clever plot and a tautly paced narrative this book kept me enthralled the whole time I was reading it!

Brenda’s Rating: ****( 4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

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Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

Vinnie Milner is looking forward to her research trip to England. At 50 she is a professor at a prestigious university on the East Coast and a leading authority on children’s nursery rhymes, a rather esoteric subject not highly regarded by her colleagues. In spite of their disregard however, Vinnie has nonetheless achieved some small success in her career, with solid, well researched publications as well as the satisfaction of teaching and mentoring her students. That is until her most recent publication received a scathing review from a well known critic putting all her success in jeopardy.  Luckily, the review was in a journal that is only published in the United States, and Vinnie hopes it will not be noticed in England and any notoriety it might generate in her academic circles will have died down by the time she returns.

With that hope in mind she boards her plane, hoping to have a quiet and restful flight, when a large man wearing a Western-cut suit, and a raw hide tie sits next to her and begins to talk.  He is a sanitary engineer from Tulsa, Oklahoma on a group tour to England. He is a type that she would ordinarily despise but soon she finds herself helping him do some genealogical research and feels an attraction that is very unexpected.

Fred Turner, a colleague of Vinnie’s, is also going to England for research. He is reeling from the break-up of his marriage and feels lost and unmoored.  He is hoping that the time away in the calm of libraries and books might help him understand what has happened to his marriage and his life, but his plans for a calm, contemplative trip are dashed as soon as he meets the most beautiful actress in England at a party he attends as Vinnie’s guest. He is immediately under her spell and she introduces him to a glamorous upper class London social scene that he never imagined existed. Soon he has abandoned the stuffy library for the eclectic social swirl that her highborn status grants her entrée. But Fred grows increasingly concerned about his lover’s volatility and her seeming inability to understand that not everyone can live as she does.

Lurie traces the course of these two relationships with a deftness and tenderness that is truly remarkable. With gentle grace, but startling honesty Lurie teases out and lays bear the hidden fears and excuses that can keep us from finding and acknowledging the love we need most. Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer, this is a book that still resonates today.

Brenda’s Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Sharon, Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

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