Five picks for November
Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently or soon-to-be released titles.
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord by Celeste Connally (historical mystery) – Houstonian Celeste Connally (writing under a new name) is back with a Regency-era mystery. Following the death of her fiancé, Lady Petra has declared herself a spinster, a status she has the ability to maintain as a woman of independent means. After she learns that her friend Gwen has passed away after a short illness and there will be no funeral, her suspicions are aroused when someone reports seeing Gwen after she allegedly died. She sets out to determine what really happened to Gwen. While this is set during the Regency period, Petra is a strong female protagonist unwilling to allow the strict rules of the time period to govern her life. This is a strong start to a series, and I look forward to following Petra’s future adventures.
Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond by Henry Winkler (memoir) – Henry Winkler’s first big role in Hollywood, as The Fonz in Happy Days, defined him for decades after the show went off the air. His incredible story starts earlier with a troubled home life and undiagnosed dyslexia and follows him through his role as The Fonz and into the acting roles he has subsequently played and children’s books he has written. Fans of Happy Days will enjoy the details he divulges about the show, including the origin of the term “jumping the shark” and how he was treated significantly better than the rest of the cast and the tension that created. I listened to this one; Winkler and his wife Stacey narrate, and I felt that they were personally telling me their tales. This would make a great holiday gift.
The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters (historical fiction) – A Mi’kmaq family travels every summer from Nova Scotia to Maine to pick blueberries, and one summer their 4-year-old daughter Ruthie goes missing while in Maine, last seen by her 6-year-old brother Joe. Interspersed with their story is Norma’s tale of growing up in a wealthy Maine household, overly protected by her parents with dreams of an earlier life that feel more like memories. The story is not what happened to Ruthie, because we know that she is Norma; instead it is a tale of trauma and how two families cope with the aftermath of Ruthie’s abduction as well as how secrets can destroy families. While The Berry Pickers is not a happy story, it is a beautiful and powerful one about grief and tragedy and the lifelong repercussions. I loved learning about blueberry picking in Maine as well as the Mi’kmaq culture, and the sense of place is incredibly strong for both Maine and Nova Scotia. This book will appeal to readers who like character-driven stories, family sagas, and/or tales steeped in other cultures or locales. I highly recommend it.
The Madstone by Elizabeth Crook (historical fiction) – This beautifully crafted story set in 1868 Reconstruction-Era Texas is narrated by 19-year-old Benjamin Shreve to a young child, Tot, that he meets on the Texas frontier, recounting the journey the pair embark on with the child’s mom Nell across the state to a distant port. Nell and Tot are on the run from Nell’s husband, a dangerous man affiliated with a gang that harasses newly freed Black citizens. The trio, joined by a treasure hunter and a Black Seminole who is a veteran of several wars, make the dangerous journey across the Texas plains encountering all manner of hardships and peril. Benjamin’s smart, heartfelt, and witty narration makes the story as well as the manner in which Crook brings 1860s Texas vividly to life. Her writing and sense of place are stunning. This will be one of my favorite reads of the year. Have tissues handy when you read it.
The Spy Coast by Tess Gerritsen (mystery) – Purity, a small seaside village in Maine, is home to a group of retired CIA agents including Maggie Bird, who has been enjoying a quiet life with her chickens following a long career that ended with a mission gone wrong. She, as well as several other former agents, are thrust back into an old operation when a dead body turns up on Maggie’s driveway. Complicating matters is Jo Thibodeau, Purity’s acting police chief, who is unused to homicide investigations and cannot understand why the group won’t answer her questions but seems to know more than she does about the murder. The maturity of the well-developed characters as well as the spy aspects of the tale combine to make The Spy Coast a standout. This is the start of a series, and I am eagerly awaiting book 2.
Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column. She hosts the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.
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