New Books from Phillips and Flagg

Two authors I can always depend upon for a thoroughly enjoyable read are Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Fannie Flagg, both of whom released new books in the past few months.

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ latest entry in her Chicago Stars series (#8) is First Star I See Tonight, the story of first-star-i-see-tonightCooper Graham, retired Stars quarterback now running his own night club and thinking about expanding to run clubs for other players, and Piper Dove, who has bought her late father’s detective agency back from her wicked stepmother and landed a job trailing Cooper for the investor thinking about financing his expansion.

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Piper annoys (and impresses) Cooper so much that he hires her to analyze the security at his club, while both of them, in true romance fashion, find reasons to resist their attraction to each other. Not content with one job, Piper finds herself driving for truly annoying Middle Eastern princesses and looking for her elderly neighbor’s dead husband. Along the way she manages to drag Coop into her adventures, and into her heart.

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I’ve read several of Phillips’ previous books (what romance lover hasn’t?) but this was my first Chicago Stars novel. I immediately went out and found the previous entry in the series, Match Me If You Can, to find out how two of the supporting characters in First Star got together.

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Fannie Flagg’s latet novel is The Whole Town’s Talking, an oddly structured novel about the town of Elmwood Spring, Missouri, from the establishment of a hilltop cemetery in 1889 through its last interment in 2016. A the-whole-towns-talkingfour-hundred-page collection of vignettes about the people who established, built, and lived in the town, the novel centers around the strange goings-on in the cemetery (not, I assure you, the least bit frightening).

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I’ve read several of Flagg’s books, too, most recently I Still Dream About You and The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (which I loved to the point of forcing it on several friends), but I did not know that she wrote three previous books set in Elmwood Springs. Now that I’ve met the folks there, I want to read more about them. I’ve rounded up Standing in the Rainbow and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, but I still have to find Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.

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Sigh. So many good books, so many authors with back lists, so little time to read. I’ll keep you posted. (Join me on GoodReads, if you like.)

Random Reviews

The cover of Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun caught my eye, so I took it home, stuck it on my TBR-soon shelf (alas, some books only stay there until they get demoted to the TBR-eventually shelves—I can’t keep Girl Waits With Gunup), but didn’t read it until a friend raved about it on Facebook. I had picked it up expecting a mystery, but this is actually a rather slow-paced novel about the three Kopp sisters (who were real people, as were many of the supporting characters and the situation), told in first person by the eldest, Constance. The three sisters are delightfully distinct, and rather eccentric, characters, whose adventures over a year or so in 1914 New Jersey swing from terrifying to exhilarating. A well-written, imaginative, and thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of three unusual women a century ago.

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Ria Parkar, the heroine of Sonali Dev’s second book, The Bollywood Bride, is a woman with one foot in Bollywood–and one in Chicago. In India she’s a movie star; in Chicago she’s one member of a large, loving Indian-American family, gathering to celebrate a wedding. But Ria has secrets she has guarded since she was a little girl, secrets that tore her away from the man she still loves, Vikram Jathar.

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By the middle of the book I was growing a little impatient with Ria’s insistence on keeping her secrets to The Bollywood Brideprotect other people, never giving them, and Vikram in particular, a chance to make their own decisions, but then I got caught up in her past and sat up way too late reading the second half of the book straight through.

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Aside from the rekindling romance between Ria and Vikram, Dev paints a fascinating picture of Indian culture joyously preserved in the suburbs of Chicago. I want to go eat in Uma’s kitchen!

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I really loved Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You, the story of Maggie I Still Dream About YouFortenberry, former Miss Alabama (forty years or so ago), one-time model, never married, now a real estate agent in an office that seems to be sliding down hill. Maggie has decided that it’s time to leave this life on her own terms (but this is NOT a depressing book, far from it) and has devised a detailed (complete with to-do lists) suicide plan. But Maggie is so responsible and conscientious, socially and financially, that her obligations keep getting in the way. She can’t bear to leave a bill unpaid, an account unsettled, or a friend in need.

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This is a delightful book about a woman of a certain age finding unexpected meaning in life and in the future, and coming to terms with the past. It’s full of quirky characters, the history and culture of Birmingham, Alabama, and even an entertaining historical mystery involving a steamer trunk and a skeleton. Alternately hilarious and touching, this is a wonderful novel. Highly recommended.

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Fair Play, Deeanne Gist’s second book set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (following It Happened at the Fair) follows Dr. Billy Jack Tate, a female physician who finds herself working at the Women’s Building atFair Play the Fair, where she meets (and treats) Hunter Scott, a Texas Ranger spending six months as a Columbian Guard. When Hunter finds an abandoned baby on the Fair grounds, the two of them team up to find the baby a refuge at Hull House, where they learn of the terrible conditions of tenement living and the sad fate of so many children. Their desire to help the children brings them together, but will Billy’s career drive them apart? Another sweet romance from Gist, tempered with heartbreaking descriptions of life in the late 19th century slums of Chicago.

Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

I seldom cry over books, but the last fifty pages or so of Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion had me tearing up repeatedly. Don’t let that discourage you—this is a wonderful book.  I bought it more or less by accident, looking for one more book to satisfy a free shipping or a “buy two get one free” offer from a book club. I had read two of Flagg’s earlier novels, years ago, and this one looked interesting, so I added it to my order—I’m so glad I did.

All-Girl Filling StationThe All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion tells the stories of two very different women, in two very different time periods. I won’t tell you just how they are connected—that’s one of many surprises in the book—but they are. Sookie Poole (the former Sarah Jane Krackenberry, better known as Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr.) is a sixtyish wife and mother living in Clear Point, Alabama, blessed with a happy marriage and four grown children, and perhaps not so blessed with a totally self-centered eighty-eight-year-old mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, also known (especially to Sookie and her brother Buck) as Winged Victory.

Sookie’s biggest worry, now that her last daughter’s wedding is over, is feeding the small songbirds in her yard in the face of an invasion of voracious blue jays. That is, until she receives some unexpected information that makes her question everything about her life.

The surprising news about her family’s history leads Sookie to the story of Fritzi Jurdabralinski of Pulaski, Wisconsin, a restless young woman who becomes first an auto mechanic and then a pilot, eventually joining the WASPs and ferrying war planes from factories to bases during WWII.

Flagg’s portrait of Sookie, her family, and her community is both hilarious and touching, and Fritzi’s journey from a filling station in a small Wisconsin town through Billy Bevins’ Flying Circus to WASP duty in Texas and California is fascinating. The book is filled with wonderful characters dealing with joys, sorrows and dilemmas that readers will recognize and share.

I loved this book. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Fannie Flagg’s writing. I may have to pull Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café off my bookshelf, and track down the ones I’ve missed.