Book Reviews

Review: I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball

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I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball
I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball by Lee Tannen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Lee Tannen‘s I Loved Lucy: My Friendship with Lucille Ball. After reading mostly fiction for the last few months, I took a right turn towards memoirville and settled on reading about a star whose many TV series are among my favorites. Who hasn’t watched an episode that’s nearly 65 years old and not fallen in comedic love? It was power of Lucy that healed me when I stayed home sick from school as a child. Tannen helps give readers and fans alike insight into a woman who was known by all but perhaps really known by little.


Summary

Tannen’s memoir explains his interactions with Lucille Ball over a 30 year period. As a child, he met her a few times when post-Desi Arnaz, she married into Tannen’s extended family; however, it was when he was older, and Lucy was in her 60s, that they rekindled their relationship. Tannen describes how they spent time in LA, NY and Palm Springs over holidays and vacations. He provides good examples of how a star held her private life close while still staying popular in the headlines. And he reveals why Lucy stopped talking to him for a few years over what he thought was just a small little tiff.


Strengths

Tannen digs deep and talks about many of the people (stars and regular folk!) who passed through his time with Lucy. Some of it makes you laugh, some of it makes you cry. I never realized how many other stars Lucy socialized with or acted with in her later years — ranging from Shirley Maclaine to Roseanne Barr to Sigourney Weaver! And when Lee talks about Lucy’s friendship with Tommy Tune, I couldn’t help but smile. Tommy Tune lives on my block in NYC and I often see him walking about!


Weaknesses

While I wouldn’t call it a weakness (perhaps just a suggestion), I think the book could use a better timeline. From the start, you know Lee met Lucy when he was a young child where he became fascinated with her life and career. And you know he grew up while Lucy became a big star; however, the years when they weren’t friends are left too blank. It may have been helpful to add in a little background — even though it wouldn’t actually be a memoir during that chapter — as it would round out the experiences they each had throughout the 50 years of life they shared the planet together, especially while they were apart. It isn’t necessary but might give the reader a little more sense of Lucille Ball’s full life as opposed to just the later years.


Final Thoughts

For anyone who wants to see a different side of a star, discover a few bizarre habits or read about someone they admired on TV for years, this is a definite read. You’ll hear names of stars you never knew or hadn’t realized lived so closely to Lucy. It’ll make you smile and reach for the TV remote control to find an all-day I Love Lucy marathon.

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Review: Classified as Murder

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Classified as Murder
Classified as Murder by Miranda James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Miranda James‘s Classified as Murder. I very much enjoyed this classic cozy tale. It is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie story with all the key elements from a family of potential killers, a mysterious theft, and more going on that anyone realizes!


Story

James Delacorte, a single and eccentric octogenarian, hires Charlie Harris, eccentric librarian extraordinaire, to uncover a potential book thief in his own family. James suspects his ruthless family may be stealing from him, but he doesn’t suspect they’d go as far as killing him. But it happens! And right before he dies, James amends his will adding in a codicil to have Charlie inventory the library and become the collection’s custodian for Athena College in their small Missisippi town. When a second death occurs, Charlie realizes there’s more going on that everyone realizes… Is is the secretive grand-niece, the manipulative grand-nephew, the loony in-law, the mean sister or the loyal butler?

There’s also a good sidestory introducing Charlie’s estranged son back into the fold forcing Charlie to determine how to heal old wounds from when his wife passed away and his kids felt a bit neglected.


Strengths

1. It’s a classic whodunit with all the remnants of an Agatha Christie tale.
2. Seeing more of Charlie’s relationships with his family, you learn to like him even more. I want to see what happens to him in the future.


Weaknesses

A bit of an abrupt end. I would like to hear more about what happens next with the book collection, the family who has to move on and the new houseguest. Perhaps that’s in book 3 of the series.


Final Thoughts

Charlie Harris grows on you. His herd of helpers is building. His relationships are expanding and gaining depth. I’d like to learn more about the town and how it all comes together. Book 3 will move up on my “To Read” list.

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Review: Me Before You

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Me Before You
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4+ stars to Jojo Moyes‘s Me Before You. I saw a glimpse of the movie preview and had perused a few online reviews of the book when I added it to my “To Read” list. I had to read it before I could watch it which means moving it up quickly. It seemed like a good choice yesterday morning and soon it became my Saturday read!


Story

Will was hit while crossing the street ending the extremely adventerous part of his life and leaving him a quadriplegic. His friends slowly disappeared and Will was stuck moving back home with his parents living a very minimalistic life where he basically sat in his chair staring thru the window all day long. He comes to an agreement with his family about his care for a 6 month period where he will try to be a little more positive but afterwards, they must accept his choices.

Louisa was content with a simple life supporting her parents and sister but suddenly lost her job and had to find something to be able to help survive. She had very little hopes and dreams mostly because she just addressed each day as it came never really focusing on her own future. She accepts a job as a caretaker for Will where she’s supposed to just try to keep him a little cheerful but fights with the decision to take on this type of role for a 6 month duration.

They of course mix like oil and water at first but in time find a way to tolerate one another. Their relationship eventually gains depth and learn they need one another to keep going forward. But Will’s ultimate plans are not what Louisa expected, and she struggles with how to accept his choices. The story takes you on a path of romance, anger, hope and despair ending in a very emotional place but opening the door for a sequel to see what happens after this experience.


Strengths

For most readers, this book will take you away from your own life’s troubles giving you something much more intense in which to immerse yourself. The pacing, timing, setting, character development and imagery will capture your attention and make you realize you likely have it pretty good in your own life. While you’ll understand enough of the pain and barriers people with physical disabilities experience, you will also learn what it’s like emotionally to handle such a huge change to your lifestyle and relationships. By the end, your problems will seem far less dramatic and you may even walk away from the book feeling energized to be more positive. (And yes, you’ll spend most of the book crying and sad!)


Weaknesses

With full caution, I may not be aware of what life is like in towns like the one in this book and thus this may not actually be a weakness… however, Louisa’s family and hometown seems a bit unrealistic. I get that she has two parents, a grandparent, a sister and a nephew living with her and times are tough financially. I get that parents sometimes tease their kids about life choices. But there’s a clear love between the family at the same time as a clear favoritism for Louisa’s sister over Louisa. Many pages are devoted to how intelligent and beautiful her sister is and why the family needs to spend more money and love on her. Louisa may act a bit plain and simple, but she’s the one supporting the family. And then when the mother reacts to Louisa’s choices at the end of the book, I was confused as to why she would be so divergent. Yet the scene where Will comes to Louisa’s birthday party were incredibly touching to a point where I really liked her family. It felt a little bit yo-yo-ish for me.


Final Thoughts

To love this book, you have to love emotion. You have to be OK with crying and getting angry. You have to be OK with accepting how other people have a right to make their own choices. You have to realize people are different. You have to understand that yes, there are people in the world like this and just because you haven’t met them or interacted with them much doesn’t mean they aren’t there. What I loved most about this book was the beauty and pain from which I am often sheltered. And when a book makes you get out of your own skin, you have to acknowledge its strengths.

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Review: The Good Girls

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The Good Girls
The Good Girls by Sara Shepard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Sara Shepard‘s The Good Girls, the potentially conclusive second novel in her Perfectionist’s series. After reading the debut of the series last month, I was quickly intrigued and needed to read the second novel to learn what happens to the 5 girls who seemed to be hiding something. I picked it up yesterday morning and finished it within a few hours as my Sunday read. It’s a fascinating ending and floats a potential opening for a third installment down the line, but it is also good should it just end here at book 2.


Story

Book 1 leaves the 5 girls recognizing that the teacher they thought was the killer (who actually enacted the murder plot the girls has dreamed up as a joke) was then murdered himself. Yikes, the teacher can’t be the murdered, so now what? Book 2 picks up with the girls each being interviewed by the police to try and piece together what’s going on. The girls hold strong and don’t reveal all they know hoping to figure out who is doing the killing and making it look like it’s actually the girls behind it all. The sub-stories grow more intense and one by one each of the proposed murder victims from the original plot start to show up dead. A huge twist comes into play about 2/3 of the way through this book leaving the reader utterly confused and shocked but in the last 100 pages, it unravels and you realize all that you missed along the way.


Strengths

It’s a well-orchestrated plot with so many stories having to collide and so many potential suspects having to be present and concerning. It takes a strong writer to pull off this type of complexity; however, Shepard takes it a whole leap forward with the twist reveal 2/3 of the way through that I kept stopping to think back to the first book and the beginning part of book 2. I swore there were mistakes and it didn’t jive, but it actually does… you get so drawn into the story that you may miss the hidden clues along the way.


Weaknesses

Due to the style and the actual plot/killer, a few things had to be left out along the way. Some readers may be annoyed because they think they know someone but they really do not know them. It’s also a bit of a jump to go from what we know to what we actually find out and see it as fully believable. (Trying not to reveal any spoilers here!) In the end, with a bit of disbelief and blinking one eye a lot, I see how it happened. But it went pretty far before someone figure out what was actually going on… I think that’s where it gets a bit off track.


Final Thoughts

Shepard is highly imaginative and really knows how to create different characters and plot lines. For that alone, one should read this book. But given this is her 25+ book, it will eventually start to feel all too similar. I watched Pretty Little Liars so I don’t feel the need to go back and read all ~15 books in that collection, but I will probably give another one of her series a chance next year.

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Review: Dead & Buried

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Dead & Buried
Dead & Buried by Leighann Dobbs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars to Leighann Dobbs‘s Dead & Buried, the second in the Blackmoore Sisters Mystery series. Another short and quick read with bits of humor, romance, “magic” and fun!

This was the third short mystery I’ve read by the author and am noticing the trend… as she publishes multiple stories each year, her books tend to be shorter than a full length novel. They also tend to have less complex plots with very few suspects. It’s almost as if you’re setup from the beginning to know who the killer is but your goal is to figure out why.


Story

A dead man shows up on the Blackmoore sisters property. The sheriff who has it out for the sisters picks one of them to arrest based off a potential clue. The sisters band together to determine if it’s truly a case of pirates seeking ancient treasure buried on their property. With the help of some new and old friends, they solve the puzzle and find some of the treasure once again obtaining a way to pay the taxes on the land they inherited from their deceased parents.


Strengths

The sisters are a quirky bunch that will make you smile. The cast of supporting characters provides humor and a fun backdrop to the story. The mystery behind the Blackmoore family gets more puzzling with each book in the series.


Weaknesses

The plot is very simple. The murderer isn’t really ever called out behind the “team” they worked for. It’s not like a traditional cozy where you have varied suspects who live in or around the town and interact with the village folk. If you’re looking to cut your teeth on a bone of a mystery, this isn’t ideal for you.


Final Thoughts

Given the length and frequency of the novels, they deliver a charming environment you’d love to be part of, but with the mystery lacking any real depth or complexity, you won’t find yourself embroiled in a challenging plot.

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Review: The Skeleton Haunts a House

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The Skeleton Haunts a House
The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Leigh Perry‘s The Skeleton Haunts a House, her third release in the Family Skeleton Mystery series. Fans of the author and this cozy mystery series will not be disappointed with the expansion of the cast of characters, college setting and multiple sub-plots.


Story

It’s Halloween on the McQuaid College campus in this small Massachusetts town and the Thackeray family is managing this year’s Haunted House. Unfortunately, someone is murdered during one of the exhibitions and at first look, there are very few obvious clues. As Georgia and Sid, the not-so-dead skeleton that’s been a member of her family for the last 30 years, investigate, they stumble upon a McQuaid family secret that could return ownership of a large piece of the college’s campus back to the McQuaid family. When a missing heir is discovered, Georgia and Sid suddenly find too many plausible suspects but soon realize nothing is what it seems. Georgia’s parents return early from their sabbatical and assume responsibility for a wayward student whose been trying to close on her dissertaton to earn a PhD. Then Georgia begins dating a fellow adjunct who turns out to be part of a carnie family who has been losing business due to the college’s Haunted House. Her life just gets more and more confusing but in the end, Georgia trusts her instincts, includes her entire family in the sleuthing and determines the killer narrowly missing being murdered herself.


Strengths

1. Family is at the core of this novel. We meet Georgia’s parents, see the bond developing between sisters and learn what happens when they’re all forced to live under one roof. But it doesn’t end there as a new carnie family is introduced showing a completely different style of life but one where the love and trust among members is strong. It’s a big theme in this novel and really holds the story together.

2. This was a true mystery. There were tons of suspects and just when you narrowed it down to the 2 or 3 top suspects, a new logical one emerges. Right from the beginning, you think you know where it’s going but you’re quickly re-routed to several other complex potential options. When the story finally comes out in the last two chapters, you want to kick yourself for not realizing it.


Weaknesses

I honestly found very little to want to change or that I didn’t fully enjoy in this one. Humor and writing are in good shape. Characters are well defined. Multiple plots and sub-plots. Perhaps there wasn’t enough Sid given the addition of several new characters who will likely appear in future books. I think it’s time Sid had an online love affair as he needs his own story too.


Final Thoughts

Each book in this series has gotten better along the way. After three, the author has really found her groove. As she’s changing publishers due to the shifts in the industry, I’m sad it may take a bit longer for the fourth to be released, but when it does, I’ll grab it once it hits the shelf rather than throw it on my online “To Read” shelf and get to it in the future. Great series!

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