The only positive thing in Penepole's life is her best friend Jenny, who from Penelope's viewpoint is living a perfect life. Jenny has a model husband, she lives in a beautiful house, and has a wonderful daughter with great manners. Jenny is always there for Penelope, is filled with good advice, and is constantly telling her friend to make changes in her life and marriage. Then Penelope finds Jenny alone and dead in her perfect house. Her best friend's tragic passing reveals a multitude of cracks in what Penelope thought was a perfect life.
The tragedy prompts Penelope to make her marriage better and insists she and Sanjay must be honest with each other if they are going to improve their relationship. They commit to writing down changes they would like to see in their spouses and discussing them honestly. The wisdom of the proposal comes into question with the first desired change each reveals to the other. And Penelope begins to have serious doubts as to whether honesty will really save their marriage.
This is a wise and compassionate examination of a modern marriage that is often as funny as it is thoughtful. The author is a natural-born storyteller with what seems like a natural instinct for creating believable characters and mirroring the universal desire to achieve a good and meaningful life. Memorable.
I'm Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan. Lake Union Publishing, 2019, $24.95.
Adie Lou, who is at the center of this novel, has always loved her parent's cottage on Lake Michigan, in the village of Saugatuck. It is and was a place where life was good, love of family abounded, and cares could be forgotten. In fact, the forgetting of cares was only one of a dozen rules strictly enforced at the cottage which also included Be Grateful for Each Day, Build a Sandcastle, and Go Jump in the Lake among others. As the book opens Adie Lou's life is near melt-down due to a broken marriage, the creep of middle-age, the on-set of the empty nest syndrome, and a job that pays well but sucks the life out of her. On her parent's death, she inherits the cottage and while her ex urges her to sell it for a small fortune, Adie Lou decides to make it the vehicle that will turn her life around. She quits her job, takes her savings, moves to Saugatuck and sets out to transform the cottage into a bed-and-breakfast inn.
The novel follows Adie Lou's transformation and remodeling of the cottage into a bed-and-breakfast and chronicles the host of problems and long hours of work that it entails. The book captures the charm and the importance of the cottage that was a beloved summer family retreat. The challenge is turning it into bed-and-breakfast that has its own unique, warm and welcoming ambiance. The author has come close to weaving a complete how-to manual for creating a bed-and-breakfast within the story of Adie Lou's struggle to become an empowered and confident woman who runs her own business. Except for the fact that the book never mentions that Saugatuck is one of the most popular Gay and Lesban travel destinations in the country, Shipman does a fine job of describing the beauty, atmosphere, and charm of the village.
This is an involving, honest, well-told story of a woman who wants to honor her family while making a new life for herself. The Summer Cottage is a good choice for a women's book club and conveniently comes with a Reader's Guide and questions for group discussion.
The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman. Graydon House, 2019, $16.99.
Fee has used his literary license to reimagine Beaver Island as Michigan's smallest and most remote county and Matt Calahan, a former Chicago homicide detective, as Sheriff of Nicolet County. For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading the first in the series, Calahan suffered a horrible disfigurement when acid was thrown in his face in Chicago and like the Phantom of the Opera he wears a mask to hide the worst of the scars from the acid attack. Callahan took the job of sheriff in Nicolet County as a way to withdraw from the world and hide his disfigurement. But Beaver Island, sorry, Nicolet County is not as peaceful, quiet, and free from crime as I remember.
Callahan is called to the scene where the nude body of a young woman has washed ashore. The body is covered with deep circular cuts like a spiral-sliced ham and the woman has been decapitated, but her head lies nearby. The dead woman had no identification, no one on the island recognizes the deceased, and it is unclear to Sheriff Callahan whether this was a murder victim or the result of a terrible accident. Little does Matt know that his investigation into identifying the body and what he has come to believe is a murder case will almost get him killed, threaten the lives of the woman and her young son Matt has fallen in love with. Political bribery, oil pollution, the infamous oil pipeline that runs under the Straits, exploratory drilling on the island, and a second murder are all central to the plot.
Russell Fee is an under-appreciated and sorely overlooked mystery writer. His two mysteries set on Beaver Island are well-plotted, rich in character, and Beaver Island ambiance. A check of MelCat, which lists the holdings of 400 Michigan libraries revealed that not one of them owned A Dangerous Remedy, the first book in the series, or A Dangerous Identity, and that is a downright shame. The book and its Beaver Island setting deserve consideration for inclusion in every mid-sized and larger library in Michigan. Readers who like a good mystery set in Michigan can either buy the book or ask their local library to add it to their collection.
A Dangerous Identity: A Sheriff Matt Callahan Mystery by Russell Fee. Borias Books, 2019, $12.99
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