Devotees of Crusie often say this is their favorite book. I must confess I'd have a tough time singling any one of these hilarious tales as my favorite; I like them all. Sophie Dempsey and her film-making sister Amy come to the town of Temptation, Ohio (Phineas Tucker, Mayor) to do a promotion video for the town's most famous native, has-been movie star Clea Whipple. Still head-turning gorgeous, Clea has the same effect on the hometown boys as she did years before. The boys, sadly, have not aged well. Enter the mayor, and the city council led by a grandstanding mayor-wannabe, which decides, over Phin's objections, to pass an anti-porn law designed to thwart Sophie and Amy's filming. But they're not shooting porn...or are they? As the disagreements escalate, so does the attraction between Sophie and the pool-playing, book-loving mayor. Read Welcome to Temptation and laugh yourself silly. It's a 4.5. As always with Crusie's novels, there's a delicious amount on agreeable vanilla sex: it's max a 3 on the scale.


THE ANDALUCIAN FRIEND, by Alexander Soderberg

Wow! What a fabulous novel!  Don't start this if you have to go to work in the morning because you won't be able to put it down. Translated from the Swedish, read this before it's made into a movie. From the opening car chase to the final scenes, this debut novel sizzles with action, greed, treachery and betrayal. Click to read more...

CROSSROADS COOKING, by Elizabeth Rozin

For those of us who love to cook, I can recommend a select few authors, among them long-time ethnic food guru Elizabeth Rozin.  This book is subtitled The Meeting and Mating of Ethnic Cuisines - from Burma to Texas. She offers an eclectic mix of international cuisines, 200 recipes in all. Click for more delicious details...

SAVING ITALY, by Robert M. Edsel

Non fiction, I think, should teach you something. But it also has to be a good read. You'll get both with this marvelous book, the perfect gift for the World War II enthusiast, the arts major, the lover of art, or the reader who just wants a cracking good true story. Highlighting the Monuments Men, Allied soldiers who in civilian life mostly were art teachers or art scholars, and were sent to the front to oversee protection and rescue of priceless art works. Art-rich Italy was their first theater, and the tale is at time hair-raising. The author not only tells of the magnificent work done by these dedicated men, but gives the war and personality background of the major players, including the players in the Nazi art-theft machine. Truly a book that you can't put down. It's a 5+. In the same vein by the same author: Saving DaVinci.


Yes! An homage to P. G. Wodehouse, England's funniest writer! I hope this is the start of a new series starring the imperturbable butler and his hapless charge, Wooster, B as they rollick through Between the Wars London. If you have never enjoyed the originals, don't read this: go directly to your book source and buy some of the original Wodehouse. The Inimitable Jeeves is the first, with 13 more hilarious and wildly improbable romps to follow. Then, when you've wallowed in them, read this one. It's got the mark of the master...click to read more


CRIME FRAICHE, by Alexander Campion

2/series. Paris flic Capucine le Tellier and her gourmet restaurant-reviewer husband Alexandre are invited to a family weekend at Oncle Aymerie's Normandy chateau. What is supposed to be an idyllic time of picnics, sumptuous meals by oncle's fabulous cook, and a spot of mushroom-hunting turns out to be a hunt for a murderer the local police don't believe exists. To complicate matters, Capucine's Paris office is embroiled with a mysterious young woman who faints in public places, then fleeces her would-be saviors of valuable art works. With is usual mix of mystery and food, wine and skulduggery, this sprightly series will keep any foodie on the edge of her seat. It's a 4.



A rewarding tale, set in England just prior to the start of The Great War, showcases three sisters who couldn't be more different. Rowena and Victoria Buxton are acknowledged daughters of the family; Prudence Tate is the illegitimate daughter of the family governess.  While they may share a father, they do not share the same destiny. Pru makes a hasty marriage to a handsome, ambitious footman; they flee to London to make their fortune. Rowena finds herself in a daredevil sport completely unsuitable for women, at the same time embarking upon a daredevil romance. Victoria, the family invalid, manages to regain her health and attempts to become a scientist. With predictable disastrous results, she is excoriated as a pretentious fraud. The story follows all three young women - and their men - as the world lurches toward war. Very well written with enticing characters. It's a 4.



5/series. Despite what I regard as somewhat sappy titles, these are marvelously-constructed, beautifully-written books starring a feisty married woman with a slightly roving eye and a penchant for getting involved in really dicey situations. This one starts with her Range Rover falling off a cliff and goes onward and upward from there. But the best part is...Aunt Dimity is dead and communicates through a blue book in which her handwriting appears when our heroine, Lori Shepherd, "talks" to her. What a fabulous character! What marvelous settings! I love English country house situations, and this one's perfect, ranging from present day to World War I when the cream of British youth was slaughtered on the fields of France. For me, these are the perfect melding of plot, character, setting, history, and humor. They are, of course, a 5+.


FADE AWAY, by Harlan Coben

3/series. Mryon Bolitar's back in the world he knows best: basketball. A long-ago rival has vanished, and Myron's asked to find him. But memories come along with the investigation, and Bolitar relives the long-ago harrowing night he was injured, ending his new pro-basketball career. He soon learns that his old rival's life wasn't the above-board lifestyle advertised. But he does get to revisit an old flame: is it cinders or is it still love? As deadlines hover, he races to find answers he might jsut as soon not know. Another 5. Myron is such a mensch. Boy, I love this series!



Swedish author Mankell writes a great contemporary crime novel series starring Kurt Wallender, but this epic is not one of them. This stand-alone book about Hanna Renstrom, sent away from her marginal existence on the edge of a Swedish forest by her own mother, takes the reader on a journey to East Africa. In 1904, the country was brutally controlled by the Portuguese, its tiny white minority living atop a cauldron of hate and resentment, hating the natives as they silently, almost subconsciously, fear them. How does Hanna get there? What happens when she regains consciousness, bleeding, in a brothel? No spoilers, you know how I hate them. If you have a friend who enjoys fascinating fiction with a literary-style twist, this could be the perfect present. It's a 4.5. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson.



Years ago, a girl vanished in Cabot, a small town in rural Mississippi, and Larry Ott was accused of killing her. The body was never found. He admitted to being the last person to see her. Now, ostracized and nearing middle age, Ott lives alone, friendless, in the cabin he inherited form his parents. Known locally as Scary Larry, he is periodically visited by the sheriff simply because of his history. Silas Jones, town constable, is known as 32 Jones, his baseball number back when he was a star high school player. A young girl, daughter of the town's leading family, goes missing. Tempers run high and Larry is targeted. Silas knows Larry is innocent of both disappearances. Then someone tries to kill Larry. This tightly-plotted mystery will keep you guessing and, even if you figure it out, you'll stay glued to the pages until the last words. A 4.5.



Set in Baltimore, where a childhood friendship between three brothers and two neighbors ends in tragedy the night of a hurricane, and the unresolved issues stirred up are never directly addressed. Years later, one of the brothers, Gordon (Go Go) Halloran, dies, and a chain of events is set in motion that will bring long-shrouded secrets and lies into the open. Lippman's meticulous exploration of the personalities of the main characters covers three generations, from childhood to old age, in a carefully-plotted tale that will keep you mesmerized. A terrific read for chill winter nights. Could be good for a book group. A 4.5.


HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, by Louise Penny

9/series. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete de Quebec, isolated and threatened by Chief Superintendent Francoeur, is now surrounded by inept subordinates who daily veer close to outright mutiny. His assistant Inspector Isabelle Lacoste, the lone holdout from an office once filled with loyal people, watches his back. Unlike the grayed slush of Quebec City, in the tiny, isolated town of Three Pines, the snow is deep and clean. Myrna Landers, bookstore owner, expects a friend to visit. click to read more...


CROSS AND BURN, by Val McDermid

8/series in the Dr. Tony Hill/Carol Jordan epic. This is one of those books that's better if you've read the ones before. Characters arrive, die, are disgraced or have life-shattering events, but as it's in a previous book you're fumbling around in the dark thinking, "Shoulda read the ones before." So, if you're new to this stellar series, start with #1, Mermaids Singing. McDermid is prolific, click to read more...

BACK SPIN, by Harlan Coben

4/series. There are at least 15 novels starring Myron Bolitar, this one published in 1997. What does this mean to you? You've got a lot of great reading in store! Coben has created one of those enduring human characters, a mensch in Bolitar's parlance. Myron's a good man often placed in impossible circumstances. Fortunately, his darker side is easily taken care of by his ice-in-the-blood best friend Win, a Main Line Philadelphia aristocrat with sociopathic tendencies. This novel takes place in the rarified world of pro golf, during a finals match between a rising young star and a has-been who's showing the world his rejuvenated stuff. Bolitar, called in to find the older golfer's missing son, is soon sucked into a multi-generational slugfest. No spolers. Read. You'll thank me. And please do. A 5.


DROP SHOT, by Harlan Coben

3/series. Myron Bolitar, sports agent, is in one of his lesser favorite worlds, that of tennis. He's here to see Duane Richwood, his newly-signed client, beat the pants off his opponent in the U. S. Open. As the match ends, outside in the Food Court, Valerie Simpson, once headed towards tennis super-stardom, is shot. Myron had not returned Valerie's calls. Now, consumed with guilt and a need to do something, Bolitar will - against his sidekick Win's advice, plus the blunt counsel of his gorgeous, petite assistant, Esperanza (AKA Little Pocahontas, a female wrestler) - find out who and why Valerie was killed. Well, do you want spoilers? I thought not. With Coben's usual flair, Myron's endless wisecracking, and an intricate plot that will keep you guessing right to the end...this is your series. A 5.


THE GOLDEN EGG, by Donna Leon

19/series. The real treasure in a series this long and complex is getting to know the flow of the lives of the characters, whether major or minor. Getting to know Venice better is a plus. Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the life of a deaf mute who has died of what appears to be an overdose. As he slowly peels away the layers surrounding the past of this often overlooked man, he discovers increasingly distressing details. More subtle than the usual tales in this series, but as always a fine read with interesting characters. It's a 3.5; not one I've liked best, but a must-read if you enjoy Brunetti and his world.

THE DOCTOR DIGS A GRAVE, by Robin Hathaway

1/series. Dr. Andrew Fenimore, cardiologist and sleuth, a traditional doctor with an individual practice and a keen dislike for "modern" American medicine. He discovers a boy trying to bury something and rescues him from a security guard. It's a cat in that young kid's sack, and Fenimore knows just where to inter the poor beast. BUT...


EMPIRE FALLS, by Richard Russo

This is one of those books you pick up intending to browse (it's and inch and a half thick, and the print is not oversize) and then, wham, you're hooked, you're reading about people you know, who are familiar to you. At first it seems meandering, a tale told by a slow-talking old man by a campfire, a recounting of the long and slow but inevitable slide into poverty of a mill town in central Maine, and of Miles Roby, who once thought he'd broken free. But the future rarely hold what we had planned...


THE ART DETECTIVE, by Phillip Mould

Anyone with any interest in historic art works - Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell - will devour this non-fiction book like a chocoholic would a truffle (I speak of myself in both instances). This highly-entertaining book, written by a world authority on old master paintings, will keep you amused and mesmerized as you take a wide-ranging journey deep into the exotic realms of the high-end art business. With wit and humility, Mould details the chase of unknown art treasures, the workings of auction houses and restoration studios, and what happens to anonymous works destined to become superstars. If only this could be made required reading for all art students! It's a 5.


ONE FALSE MOVE, by Harlan Coben

5/series. This is one of the best-plotted books I've read this year, a tense and in places very funny page-turner. Featuring Myron Bolitar, sports agent, stand-up guy, good son, mensch and a man you'd seek out as a friend. But Myron's got problems, not least of which is his let's-keep-it-light girlfriend. Then there's FJ who wants to kill him, a sexy basketball player who wants to jump his bones, an old friend who's vanished, a sincere politician (yeah, right)...it just keeps getting more and more tense as the tale barrels to a really outstanding, unexpected finish. Read the whole series in order, beginning with Deal Breaker, if you can. Like the Jack Reacher tales, out of order isn't so good (but I like Mryon a helluva lot more than Jack). A 4.5

MASTER AND GOD, by Lindsey Davis

Rome, 80AD. The Flavian dynasty is still in power, the popular Emperor Titus away on one of Imperial Rome's endless campaigns. In the vigili's office, where the safety of the city is their prime task, it's a drowsy afternoon. And then the fire starts. Three days later, much of ancient central Rome has been destroyed, and a young, fire-exhausted vigile meets future Emperor Domitian. And this is just the first few pages of this massive, entertaining, completely compelling book. Read more...


DARKEST FEAR, by Harlan Coben

7/series. Mryon Bolitar is up against unwelcome visitors from his past as he is sucked in to finding a missing bone marrow donor for a child. He soon finds that the donor doesn't exist. The search leads him to a wealthy family who will do anything to protect their privacy. Bolitar wisecracks himself through a half dozen dicey situations, pushing and pushing against not only the hyper-secretive family, but an FBI Task Force. Do I tell you more? But then I would spoil it for you and I'd never do that. Coben writes a gripping tale full of threat, but also a multi-layered tale of love and family. What a mensch. It's a 5. You should be reading the series, but this one could stand alone. But why would you do that??


MASTER OF THE DELTA, by Thomas H. Cook

Another stand-alone Southern hair-raiser by this marvelous writer, this one taking place in Louisiana, and marching to a slowly falling drumbeat. Cook is a master at mixing times, deftly sliding from past to present, carefully laying out his minefields, illuminating his characters in tiny lightning strikes of perfect words and images. This one's no exception. Jack Branch, proud and courtly heir to Great Oaks plantation and all its traditions, teaches high school English in his home town, in the same school his father taught. He is drawn in to the lives of several of his students, notably Eddie Miller, the son of the notorious Coed Killer. Jack's misplaced noblesse oblige will set in place a series of subtle events that culminate in a horrific event that nobody could have foreseen. A 4; if you are a Southern literature fan, you will sink right into this (at times molasses-slow) novel.

THE PINK CARNATION, by Lauren Willig

Series. A recent computer disaster, completely of my own making, wiped out nearly a dozen reviews of this delightful historic romance/spy series, set in Napoleonic England and France. Rather than try to replicate them - great reads though they are, I am not one to re-visit a book - I will merely give you an overview, along with the advice to read these books. The first one in the series is The Pink Carnation, all that follow have a color and a flower. It's a bit labored after a while, but the quality of the books stays high. Turn the page for more...


TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS, by Christina Dodd

When her fiance dumps attorney Brandi Michaels only days after she'd moved to Chicago to be near him, she takes her engagement ring to a pawn shop and then goes on a shopping spree. But the spree is only the beginning of her revenge: she's going to go out and find herself the hottest one-night stand in the Windy City. From CFM shoes to fresh manicure to wildly sexy underwear making her momentous bosom ever more noteworthy, Brandi attends her mentor's cocktail party and...there he is. Count Roberto Bartolini. Let your imagination run riot, and you'll have him in your mind's eye: hotter than a volcano. If there's one thing Brandi believes, it's that revenge ought to be hot, hot, hot. But, the morning after, she discovers to her horror that the Count is not at all what he seems. Sure, he still makes her head swim with desire, but what's with the court date for jewel theft? A fun, feisty heroine, a hero for the ages, a good plot with lots of thuggy types, and lots of humor from this Rita-winning author. To say nothing of the great sex. It's a 4 (sex is also 4).


WHAT'S SO FUNNY, by Donald E. Westlake

Yet another Dortmunder caper to laugh yourself silly over. This time the morose burglar has been blackmailed into swiping a long-hidden Imperial Russian chess set. Problem is, it's in the sub-sub basement of a bank. As always, Dortmunder is resourceful (although never cheerful). Westlake's cast of characters is always Oscar-worthy, and this time includes cameos from two on-the-lam teenagers, an aging heiress, and too many security guards. It's a 4. Sadly, we will get no more books from this funny guy, he passed away in 2008. But, there's about a hundred novels waiting for you to discover, all of them still funny, still topical, and still dealing with the deep and imponderable verities of life...and laughter.