Twisted Creek (& the Harmony series) by Jodi Thomas read by Scott Sowers & Julia Gibson

Imagine a little fishing village with a general store somewhere in Texas where it rains. There is lots of kindness, and lots of very quirky individuals who don’t mesh, but aggregate. Mostly around a lake. Old maids, young maids, poor beaten women, big burly men, volunteer firefighters, sheriffs, and brutes. Mostly poor, but there is also a very wealthy ex-wife and widow of seven or eight husbands. She runs a Bed and Breakfast, and has facelifts in Dallas, collects lawyers, and establishes the pecking order. In Twisted Creek, however, everybody is poor. Especially Lucky Ali and Grandma who wake up one day to find themselves the beneficiaries of an empty General Store but not much else. They move in and clean and get to know the regulars. The mailman leaves a sack of mail for them to sort and put to rest.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy read by Rosalyn Landor

A serious Swede, heir of a prestigious Accounting firm, talks to his tour bus driver who must, like him, return to an unwanted fate, a little farm waiting for him to take it over: “I’m no good at going out looking for sheep that have got stuck on their back with their legs in the air, and turning them the right way up…” .
And somehow the Swede finds himself in a nearby village, at a wonderful old Irish House, eating supper at the same hotel table as a displaced, twice-divorced Hollywood movie star, a bitter retired schoolmistress, an anchorless, childless Dr & Dr couple and a heartbroken librarian with an occasional feel for the future. There at that table he takes out his nickle harp and plays for his fellow guests, who like him, are homeless, and suddenly at home.
The remarkable Maeve Binchy throws these oddments of people together in a place that becomes their home for a time, and from the joyful encounters of strangers comes magic and hope and the exchange of fates.

Last Days of Summer by Margaret Maron read by Kate Forbes

For those who do not like the Judge Knott series, Maron has penned this sweet perfectly turned out book about an heiress, an illustrator, granddaughter of a legendary children’s book publisher. Meek, sensitive, submissive as both wife and publishing executive, Amy Steadman finds herself alone, driving to the family house in North Carolina, to sort through her thoughts, her past, her grandmother’s things. On her first night at the house she is awakened by a loud bossy woman hauling away the dining room furniture, who turns out to be one of many southern cousins who has benefitted from her grandmother’s death. While she cleans out the house, she reflects on her mother’s suicide, the uncomfortable past that attaches itself to her comfortable life. She reads letters, then diaries, then watches some old family movies, and realizes that she remembers is not what she has been told. The house is stage the stage of old and new betrayals, lies, half-truths, false confidences, passing on from one generation to another.

Bait by Kenneth Abel read by Frank Muller

When and if you have to describe beauty don’t do it from the front. Do it against the public eye, and against the visual. This is a book not a movie, so listen:

He felt her looking at him, her eyes amused behind those little round glasses like the hippies used to wear, blond hair pulled back into a thick braid… He watched her walk back into the file stacks… her legs taut beneath the faded jeans.”

A description is born from an interested perception, inside a relationship, between people or between a person and a thing. Even a measurement is born of a relationship. The blond hair is pulled back, touched, handled by particular hands. Part of what makes this woman a woman Jack meets behind a counter. She is a counter girl, and eventually that counter is bedded down along with the girl, her thighs, her glasses.

No need to use the brand of the jeans — the jeans are not the characters in this book. The characters are cops and the girls they love or fuck, all kinds of cops, old cops, ex-cops, bent cops, divorced cops, cops behind desks and cops in cars, listening in on smart guys-turned-businessmen they are trying to put away…cops in the small towns of Massachusetts.

A description can also be a back road to the mind.

He watched her as she watched back into Electrical… across to Aisle Four … He’d seen women with shorter hair in Harvard Square, maybe Jamaica Plain, even bald, in recent years… When he was in uniform they’d give him hostile looks, waiting for him to make a comment… He’d just shrugged. No stranger than being a cop, walking the streets in a uniform all summer, 15 pounds of gunbelt dragging at your hip. Harder, maybe. All the stares. Her hair was like the crewcuts they used to give kids, but soft, so you want to run your hand over it…

Not visual, not really: a haircut. Not in a book.

Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam read by David Collacci

A delightful, witty murder mystery about a small-town gated-community studded with the usual sociopathic suspects, albeit wealthy, and gorgeous social commentary. Waldorf Pines is an exclusive ex-1920’s ex-golf-course on which marbled kitchens and bathrooms have been built, bricked over with Tudorish frontage and populated by odd, classless, moneyed characters badly acting out their reality-tv-prototypes.

She’d once thought that all that mattered to them was money, but this wasn’t true. All that mattered to them was to be seen by other people to have money. They had not learned- if they were lucky they would never learn — that money is never enough if that is all you have.

And then there is Gregor Demarkian. A retired FBI officer hired by police departments to help them with their inquiries…..

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy read by Barbara Caruso

Maeve Binchy is the grand-mistress of the domestic imaginary: that hearty, busy, pretty  space where women make themselves primal. It is late Capitalism and the lumpen proletariat of Dublin are caterers, not cooks.   Katy is prole and caterer and the figure of a Dublin that caters to others, to Europe, to America, to Money. Spunky, sassy, no-nonsense ..Katy Scarlet is a full bodied, red-blooded Irishwoman with a disinclination to bow to class structures, and a desire to cater private parties to the eating population of Dublin.

Here is just one of a series of magical books about women in between old and new worlds. Read and re-read and recognize Maeve Binchy as treasure.

The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett read by Stephen Hogan

“You know how Thais are: totally fair minded Buddhists until their personal income is threatened.”

For we farang,  the improbability of Thailand is as good as fiction. Where else would one find a dejected pot-smoking homicide detective and his long-haired assistant, a “Kathoey transsexual who has not yet scraped together the courage or the funds for the final op” ? How else could one be brought to believe in the existence of  sect of nuns who meditate on dead bodies —

 “four hours sleep per night, near starvation rations, no electricity, …they were not allowed real bodies anymore but the local hospitals provided them with photographs of cadavers … ” ?

Unless they were located in a wat in the far east of Thailand, near the border with Laos? What is more tragic than a spoiled, mantic, beautiful Chinese witch, whose  pharmaceutical grade cocoa, once tasted, is forever craved? Or  the story of Rosie, the Australian hairdresser, who only wanted enough money to buy a condo in Sydney and live a real life,

it was a one-off I was going to open a beauty salon, there’s a new development of Rose Bay, I wanted south-facing, I was going to be “Rosie of Rose Bay,”….

…and who is now the unfortunate guest of the woman’s prison at Thonburi, having failed to smuggle the condom nestling 100% pure heroin inside her vagina through customs.  A story is always many stories: and the best stories are localizable.

 

 

A Storm at Fairacre, Village Diary, Changes at Fairacre by Miss Read read by Gwen Watford

A pleasant lyrical description of the minute details of English country life presents the full world of a small town’s folk, in all their deep old  habits, their social quirks and irritabilities, and their precious sense of the finite order of inherited obligations.

Mrs Willett can tackle a hundred jobs without having been taught any of them. She can salt pork or beef, make jams, jellies, wines, chutnies and pickles, she can bake pies with all manner of pastries, cakes, tarts, and her own bread, which is particularly delicious, she can make rugs, curtains and her own clothes, she can help a neighbor in childbirth, and at the other end of  life’s span compose a corpse’s limbs for decent burial. She is as good a gardener as her husband, can distemper a room, mend a fuse, and sings in the choir. …. There are so many different activities to engage her that when she tires of one there is another to which she can turn and get refreshment. From turning her heavy old mangle in the washhouse she will come in and sit down to stitch a new skirt. She will prepare a stew and while it simmers on the hob filling the little house with its fragrance, she will practice her part in Mr Annets new anthem, ready for the next Church festival. And… she sees a satsifying result from her labours. The clothes blow on the line. The skirt is  folded and put away in the drawer ready for next Sunday. Mr  Willett will come in and praise her bubbling stew…

In this little English village is a little English school with children who are kept busy snipping gum nosed paper in all the colors of the rainbow.

“Make just what you like: flowers, leaves, lambs, birds, butterflies…anything that makes you think of Spring.
Most of the class had flung themselves with abandon into this glorious snipping session but there were as always one or two stolid and adenoidal babies who were completely without imagination and awaited direction apathetically. “Make grass then”…had said Miss Jackson…

 

From Fairacre to Thrush Green, a  village inferior in coziness and character, whereof spring faithless wives, drunken gravediggers,  vain architects and  stingy spinsters.. With this inferiority comes humor: imagine a fat food-loving Nellie housecleaning for three aged sisters, who spoon out a teaspoon of silver polish each time she comes to clean the house.

 

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A Table by the Window by Lawana Blackwell read by Andrea Gallo

When she catches some of her wealthy highschool students plagiarizing their English papers, Carly wants to fail them. Instead, the School Headmistress tells her that she is being vindictive, and that Carly must overlook the “childish lapse in judgement” and give them another chance. It is on that very same morning that Carly is told that her grandmother has died, that she has inherited a house in Tulula, Mississippi.

It is not obvious that an educated single woman would want to leave San Francisco for a tiny little Southern town where little old ladies go to buy antiques and collectibles. And yet, Carly is charmed. She is also willful, pragmatic, resourceful, and a good cook. She does not look in a mirror in order to describe herself to us. She does not go shopping for shoes. She does not think about clothes, or boys. She buys books. She thinks about her white trash mother and her insecure childhood. She longs for a family she does not have. She wants to be useful, helpful, economic.

Perhaps the will to be economic is taking the place of the will to be free, for this type of woman, this type of American, in this type of century.

Nosy Neighbor by Fern Michaels read by Andrea Gallo

As tempting and tasty as yellow cake are these novels about single but not terribly singular women, suddenly alone or suddenly in trouble or suddenly displaced. If they had worked they become domestic, if they had had money they no longer do, if they had been married, they are divorced, if they had been transient and urban they inherit old houses, if they had been housekeepers, they lose their house. Now, after all, is not the age of keeping, houses or wives or economic models or anything else.

Something is lost and these women are forced to find it — some Lacanian objet a — again… Like all lost objects their identities must be refound, rebuilt or redecorated. And so must Lucy’s.

Lucy is, or was, a successful criminal lawyer until the day she discovers that one of her clients is, or was, guilty. She quits, moves to the suburbs, and makes popcorn balls. Yep. She does not however quit her more or less absentee boyfriend, whom she plans to marry sometime soon. Then the Feds pay her a visit, and she is told that the man who she thinks is her boyfriend is really someone else, a very bad someone else… (Amazing how often this kind of thing happens. See: Taken by Barbara Freethy; Pacific Heights, Paul Harper)

To add to her woes, she is hit by a power line which has fallen during a storm, and is now able to tell what the people around her are thinking. This is disconcerting, but useful in dealing with FBI agents.

Lucy also has a dog and a neighbor with a dog who are fond and protective of her throughout her ordeal.