Cathy Austin March’21

March Break Book Review

By Cathy Austin

It’s April and time for March Break. Wait, what? We all know it’s been pushed ahead because of the pandemic. For a change of pace, check out these fun, fast, awesome books the whole family will enjoy!

Truly Scary Stories for Fearless Kids published by Key Porter, 1998

An exceptionally good book! Maybe not for kids under 8, unless they are a bit precocious, but kids 10 and up will definitely enjoy this with their parents, aunts, caregivers, and grands. Any adult will love this book, too. It is that good. Reads as older teen at times. A fine mix of horror, lots of old writers circa 1800’s and newcomers circa 1989. A few are poetic stories and there’s the odd single-paged story, but most are narratives to keep you on the edge of your seat no matter how old you are. Thumps in the night, oars splashing in the starless Pacific, growing grey fungus, lizards who are spawned from the devil, good kids and bad aunties, things in the night, things in the daytime, haunted houses, and more. Included are The Hand by Guy de Maupassant, Huw by Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd, The Pocket by Sean O’Huigin and Buggam Grange: A Good Old Ghost Story by Stephen Leacock (our good old late Canadian known for his humour doesn’t fail us here with a witty scary tale).

Top-notch tales. Pop some corn, make up some cocoa and settle in. Enjoy!

Camino Winds by John Grisham. Just as smooth a read as Camino Island with a plot that will knock your socks off. If you’ve read book one, you’ll know that Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books, mentors a group of writers living on this idyllic patch of Florida. In book two, “Leo”, a hurricane begins to bear down on Santa Rosa, the heart of the Island. Residents are sent into a packing frenzy, securing their places, getting out of town across the one bridge linking the island to the mainland. Recurring characters feature, and after a dinner party Bruce hosts heralding Mercer Mann’s newest book “Tessa”, the storm hits with a punch. Most of the writer friends have left, but Bruce, Nick, and Bob remain along with Nelson. Tragedy hits, Nelson is found dead, hit by a flying tree branch…or not. Could it have been murder? The trio sets out to investigate in the horrific aftermath of the hurricane as local police have enough on their hands. One thing leads to the next, and a scam as long as your arm unfolds; with nursing home/s becoming the target across umpteen American states along with hit-men connecting Nelson and his latest unpublished manuscript, the whole outrageous scam is revealed. Another page turner, completely satisfying. Grisham uses no unnecessary words, the dialogue is real and snappy, and the settings from Florida to California set the tone just right.

Lethal Agent by Mitch Rapp/Kyle Mills. What a thriller! Jack Reacher has nothing on Mitch Rapp, and to quote from the back cover blurb, “Mitch Rapp remains the gold standard.” Indeed.

The book begins in Yemen, moves to the U.S., then hops between Yemen, Mexico, Washington, and Virginia. A frenzy of page turning action, dialogue, political intrigue, and standout characters. To read this in the second year of a global pandemic is wild, really, as the narrative begins in a miniscule village in Yemen where a Doctors Without Borders team has encountered a deadly virus (think SARS). It comes to the attention of Halabi, the top ISIS terrorist trying to take out America, who plans to infiltrate the U.S. with this deadly fast-spreading virus (using eager followers who will die for the cause) and shut down the Western world. Mitch Rapp, ex military, ex CIA, undercover agent, and now a contract worker for the head of the Central CIA Intelligence Irene Kennedy, goes where no one else dares along with his top-notch team. He does the impossible with a wry sense of humour. This book is vastly entertaining, and with the descriptive virus terror, scary plus.

Insightful bits about an upcoming presidential election make it easy to find parallels to 2020.

The last Garden in England by Julia Kelly. Did I want this to end? No. I so wanted to read more about Venetia, Diana, and Emma. This is a really fine historical fiction book. The prose sings, the narrative engages, the story is fascinating and captivating, and the characters hit the mark. This is a beautiful book about women, gardens, eras, loss, hope, joy, love, and the future.

We begin in 1907 when rogue gardener Venetia Smith comes to Highbury House owned by the Melcourts. She is hired to fashion a stunning garden and the result is a wonderful sensory series of garden ‘rooms’ interconnected and simply beautiful in all seasons. Venetia has a special feeling for the winter garden. In 1944 war is on and Highbury House is commissioned for rooms dedicated to recovering soldiers, the garden has fallen on hard times and owner Diana Symonds is mourning the loss of her husband Dr. Murray, killed in service. She has only her adored 5 year old son Robin and her tart-tongued sister-in-law Cynthia to contend with. Her solace is the garden, and like Venetia before her, loves the winter garden until tragedy strikes. In 2021, Emma is hired by Sydney and Andrew to sort out and hopefully restore the gardens of Highbury House to their former glory. Sydney’s granddad and dad passed the house to her. The discovery of Venetia’s original plans astound and delight everyone sending Emma and Charlie, her right hand man, into a frenzy of restoration. To their delight, they unearth long held secrets hidden in the winter garden, and the real heart of Highbury House. There are soldiers we come to know and a kindly priest convalescing at the House who lends Diana a guiding hand, for which she is forever grateful. There’s Charlie and Henry, Matthew and Mr. Hillock, all key male characters we can cheer for.

You can’t read this and not long for spring, to touch the dirt again, dig, sow seeds, and see the end result weeks or months down the road. You cannot read this and not get caught up in this tale spanning decades, lives intertwined by a large house garden in a rural English setting and generations of a family home.

Find your favourite book, dig in, and enjoy!