Cold River by Liz Adair

I don’t normally read romantic suspense. I’m more of a cozy-type gal. However, when I heard the premise for Cold River I was intrigued. Here’s what the back cover says:

Mandy Steenburg thinks her doctorate in education has prepared her to run any school district–until she tangles with the moonshine-making, coon-dog-owning denizens of a tiny district in Pacific Northwest timber country. She’s determined to make a difference, but the local populace still looks to the former superintendent for leadership. When Mandy lands in the middle of an old feud and someone keeps trying to kill her, instinct tells her to run. And though she has to literally swim through perilous waters, she finds a reason to stay and chance the odds.

Hmm. A lady superintendent? A small school district in the Pacific Northwest? I’m so there.

I bought the book and read for an hour one afternoon while my daughters were at piano lessons. When I got home, I couldn’t find the book anywhere. It was incredibly annoying. I looked in all the usual places, but it did not reveal itself. I read two other books over the next few days, but in the back of my mind I was gnashing my teeth. “What happens to Mandy? Does she fall in love with Vince? Does Grange get over his grudge?”

I found it that weekend (on the bookshelf, of all places!) and happily plowed through the rest of the book to reach the satisfying conclusion. And then I had to go back and read it slower so I could savor the good parts.

Adair has drawn a large cast of likable, quirky characters. She captured the feel of the Pacific Northwest perfectly (I should know–I live here. So does she!) and kept the mystery going right up until the end.

Cold River is a great read, with wonderful characters and several unique twists (steel drums, for one) in the plot. I enjoyed it very much.

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This isn’t a new book; on the contrary, it’s an old classic. I skipped class in high school to go and see the drama department’s matinee of Flowers for Algernon that they were putting on for the elementary school kids. (Why I couldn’t have paid the five bucks and seen it at night is still a mystery.)

My perspective now is surely different than it was then. Not only am I now an adult myself and better understand some of the nuances of adult relationships, I also have a child with a disability. While autism (which is what my son has) and mental retardation (which is what the hero of this book, Charlie Gordon, has) are two different animals, I still easily related some of the struggles between the two. The book, written in the late 50s, shows how society has changed in the way disabilities are looked at and also the way those who have disabilities are treated. Beyond that, though, is a great, tear-jerking story. It’s beautifully written, and one that, though I picked it off the library shelf on a whim, I will be culling Goodwill for to put on my own library shelf.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is one of the best books I have read in a really, really long time.

It’s the story of Guernsey (which is not only a type of cow), an island in the English Channel, during the time of rebuilding right after World War II.

I had no idea the Germans had invaded the Channel Islands during World War II. (Come to think of it, I don’t even know that I was aware of the Channel Islands at all, my English Channel knowledge being heretofore limited to the Chunnel and people swimming and/or flying across it.)

Not only did this book open up the heartbreaking circumstances that occurred during the war, it also had a great story. It’s a gentle story, with normal people and how they reacted to all that was going on, with a charming, lovable heroine and a mysterious co-heroine.

It’s told exclusively through letters, and the authors did an absolutely amazing job. Letters are a hard way to tell a story, and it’s difficult to get each letter to sound like it’s from the character it’s supposed to.