May You Read and Enjoy These Books

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri—This is the story of the aftermath of war, love, grief, blindness, and healing. Nuri and his cousin Mostafa ran a successful beekeeping business before the Syrian war destroyed their life there. Afra, Nuri’s wife was blinded by the bomb that also killed their son, and they slowly make their way from Northern Syria through Greece and improbably to England. Nuri seems to take care of his wife every step of their journey, but as the story progresses, we wonder who is taking care of whom, who really can see and who is blinded by their tragedy.

In this beautifully written novel Lefteri describes the tale of not just Syrian refugees but all refugees, based on her parents escape from Cyprus in 1980. She chose to write about the plight of refugees in fictional form rather than reporting it and we are glad that she did.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt—Van Pelt draws together Tova, a grieving mother, Cameron, a young man searching for his father and Marcellus, a remarkably bright octopus who somehow helps them both. Thirty years ago, Tova’s son died mysteriously in the Puget Sound and Tova has never figured out how it happened. To fill in the time after her husband passed away, she took an evening job cleaning at a local aquarium and that’s when she meets and bonds with Marcellus the restless octopus who is always trying to escape.

Meanwhile Cameron, having just been fired from his latest job and thrown out by his latest girlfriend decides to leave California and head up to a small town outside of Seattle to try to find (and potentially profit from) a man who he thinks might be his father. His mother is long missing, and he only has some old pictures for clues.

We also hear directly from Marcellus who would like nothing more than to escape from his captivity. He is bored and perhaps decides to help Tova with information which he is privy to, to alleviate his boredom. His world-weary voice is wonderful.

 It may have a predictable ending, but I loved everyone in this captivating story…especially Marcellus. I listened to it, and it was a great way to experience this tale of love, loss and friendship.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming—Other than the fact that I can never remember the author’s name, this series has been a perennial favorite of mine since I read the this first volume of the Rev. Clare Ferguson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries probably 15 years ago. Some of it has to do with the fact that it takes place in upstate New York, where I’m from, but most of it comes from the very strongly defined characters in the small town of Millers Kill. Rev. Clare Ferguson is the first female priest assigned to this tiny parish and she arrives in the middle of winter in a convertible wearing the wrong shoes, facing a congregation not ready for her…  But Clare as a former Army never one to back away from a fight. Soon enough, a baby is left on the doorstep of her church and the mother was found murdered in a nearby park. That is when she meets Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne who has never met a woman Episcopalian priest and doesn’t even know what to call her. That’s where the story begins. 9 books later we are still learning their back stories and there are lots of them.

The crimes are often grisly, the themes dark and the sexual tension is so taut it can be cut with a knife. And the winters are so cold. And that’s why I love this mystery series.

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca—If you have never heard of Mo Rocca, here’s some background. Rocca is an American humorist, journalist and podcaster. You may have seen his work on CBS Sunday Morning as well as numerous children’s shows.  The title tells it all. It is not about their deaths, it is about their lives. He covers famous people, but aspects of their lives that you have never heard about.  Did you know that Marlene Detrich was not only a famous German film star of the 1940’s and 1950’s but was an strongly anti-Nazi activist, even though the Nazi government offered her money and fame to return to Germany?  She not only performed for the American troops but risked her life as well. 

His “Mobituaries” also cover historical figures like the names behind the rest stops on the New Jersey turnpikes (amaze your friends next time you’re on a trip!)  and the death of movements and fads like Disco and the codpiece. And he does not leave out the celebrities who died on the wrong day, i.e. Audrey Hepburn who died on the same day as Bill Clinton’s inauguration, or Farah Fawcett whose death was eclipsed by Michael Jackson’s death. Rocca has much to say about this overlooked actress.

I listened to the audio version, and it was a treat to hear him narrate this fascinating book. I have often been asked for interesting audio books while traveling. This would be a perfect choice. And if you are spurred on for more of Mo Rocca, try

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny— This is the 18th book in the Inspector Gamache series. If you haven’t read any, start from the first book, Still Life. You won’t regret it.

Three Pines is not just a sweet village outside of Quebec where all kinds of interesting and quirky characters gather, it is Inspector Gamache’s sanctuary, a place where he and his family can feel safe and try to forget all that the outside world throws upon him. But when Fiona and her brother, reminders of a crime committed by them but also on them many years ago, are invited into this sanctuary, this world starts to disintegrate.

This is a very difficult book to review, because it is not just about one crime, but several and how they intersect. It’s about women and their historical mistreatment and the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre which actually took place in 1989 where 14 women engineers were murdered. It’s about a serial killer whose only thought is revenge. It’s about the history of Three Pines and eventually about forgiveness.

I can’t explain it…you’ll just have to read it. Read them all and enjoy this beautiful spring weather!

6 thoughts on “May You Read and Enjoy These Books”

  1. Thank you Lisa. I can’t wait to jump in to the two series you review. If I like a book, I usually don’t want it to end so those mysteries should keep me busy. Margie


  2. Your recommendations point to many titles on my own TBR list. Thank you again, Lisa! I met Julia last year at Malice Domestic Mystery Conf. in Bethesda. She is delightful and I love her books. Penny’s latest won the Agatha, again. I recommend a new author: Joan Long, author of THE FINALIST. You won’t think it’s a debut.


    1. That is great that you met Julia Spencer-Fleming…always interesting to get into the head of an author. I will check out Joan Long. Thanks for the comments, Beth!


  3. I also loved The Beekeeper of Aleppo and Remarkably Bright Creatures!
    I find that I no longer read murder mysteries, a genre I enjoyed for many years after majoring in Russian literature resulted in my avoiding “serious” fiction (my favorites: P. D. James, Josephine Tey, Maigret. and the Brother Cadfael Chronicles). At 73, I am more aware that my time is limited, and I decided I didn’t want to spend it reading about murder.


    1. I think I’m the opposite…I like mysteries more now! It mostly works out in the end. And other happy endings! Great to hear from you.


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