Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February - Post Vacation reading:)

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough. Not since The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls has a true story gripped me, challenged my thinking, and changed my perspective like Tara Westover's first book. Raised in a strict Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, Tara and most of her siblings were kept out of school, not to be educated at home, but to work in their father's scrap yard and their mother's homeopathic and unlicensed midwifery business. Luckily for all of us readers, Tara kept untold number of journals that detail her life: the abuse by her brother, the unending brainwashing of what world history entailed, the attempts by other brothers to break free, the utter lack of safety in her life, the horrific accidents that devastated her family, the total reliance on naturopathic curatives by her mother, and the impact on her family of her father's mental illness. And just when you think life cannot get crazier, Tara's college and graduate work takes us down another insane rabbit hole. It is a profound look at what happens when one doesn't educate a child on things we think are basic. What if a child has never heard of the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King? How does this skew their view of the world? How does the world look on this child, when as an adult their questions and comments show not only ignorance, but whiffs of racism and hatred? Whose fault is it? Parent, society, the  individual herself? Can a lack of education, or conversely a formal education, fundamentally change society? This is a powerful book that will completely engross you, fascinate you, and in the end, Educate you. Do not miss this book!

Kill the Angel: A Novel by Sandrone Dazieri
Having read Kill the Father last year, I was excited to get my hands on the second book of this Italian author who writes crime novels quite reminiscent of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. While this second one did not knock my socks off as the first one did, it is still a solid detective novel with two quirky and compelling characters and an extremely topical plot line. The story begins with a deadly poison attack on a train entering Rome; seen as a terrorism by Muslim extremists, the police stir up a hornet's nest with their investigation. Columba Caselli, a female police detective with some serious baggage in her past involving death, bombings, and guilt once again turns to layman Dante Torres to help her solve this crime. Dante, a previous kidnap victim with personality quirks that could fill a psychiatrist's schedule for decades, believes the crime to be committed not by terrorists, but by a serial killer who has avoided detection for years. As we follow these two investigators down numerous rat holes, it occasionally gets a bit confusing and the book is longer than I felt it needed to be, yet I could not put it down. If you like complex detective crime novels, this one is for you.

The Liar's Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard
Ireland, college kids, + a murder = great vacation read! The story moves between the world of today, where Allison is living in a town in the Netherlands, has a good job and caring friends, and has not returned to her homeland in almost a decade and her college world of the past. When Irish police come to call at her home in Breda, Allison is compelled to finally return to Ireland and confront the horrors of the past where her freshman year boyfriend was not only arrested for a series of horrific murders, but confessed and has spent the last ten years in a psychiatric hospital. Now that a copycat murderer is once again busy at their Dublin university, the police need Allison to confront Will, eliciting details and information about the crime so they can catch the killer. However, Will now says he is not the Canal murderer so who does Allison believe? The twists and turns are compelling, the writing is solid, and the characters are well developed; it is a solid first mystery outing for this author.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Published two years ago, this is a particularly relevant book to read, considering the school massacre on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. This account of the Columbine shooting and its aftermath is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters who walked into Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and murdered 13 people and injured 24 others. Told in an incredibly honest and authentic voice, Sue Klebold pulls no punches and relays to us every detail of every moment both before, during, and after this tragedy. She tells of Dylan's life - his childhood, their family life, his school history - all seen through his mother's eyes, not the media's. Sue Klebold also does a tremendous amount of research surrounding not only school violence, but around teenage depression and suicide, and comes to some painfully honest observations about her own son whom she ultimately had to see as a murderer. Not an easy read due to the painful content, but incredibly compelling and eye-opening. It reminds us not to judge, to open our eyes to the needs of those kids who don't 'fit,' to all the victims in this type of tragedy including the perpetrators, and the vast need for more research and more support for brain health in this country.


Court of Thorn and Roses/Court of Mist and Fury/Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Can you say 'brain candy' for vacation reading?! If you like YA fantasy and you have yet to discover Sarah J. Maas, who is the queen of the genre, I would strongly suggest you pick up this series. But be prepared - you will not be able to put it down until you have indulged yourself in all three books, well over a thousand pages. The main character is Feyre, a human girl who lives next to the Wall, the boundary between fairyland and the mortals they once enslaved. Feyre is one of the most compelling characters I have found in YA fantasy; she is life-smart, tenacious, loyal, shockingly stupidly brave, passionate, honest, and just overall a badass. Her foils and companions are a variety of fairy folk who are deep and complex, with backgrounds filled with tragedy, war, and murder, as well as two human sisters who are as different from Feyre as they could be. Throughout the three books, we see Feyre fall in and out of love, fight some seriously wicked beings, go to war, save a variety of creatures, and prove herself to be one of the most well-rounded heroes of today's YA novels. Trust me - this series is un-put-downable. (Warning: the YA classification is  questionable - there's more sex scenes than in the Outlander series!)

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Because I loved the first book to be approved by the Sherlock Holmes society, House of Silk, I figured this second one would be a hit as well. The answer is...nope. The story line is confusing at times, lots of good bad guys but not very well developed good guys, and an extremely disappointing ending. And where the heck was my buddy Sherlock Holmes??? He never appeared so no, this was a mystery that all I could say was "blech" when I was finished.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

February

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) by Jane Harper
This looks to be another hit by new Australian writer, Jane Harper, author of last year's break out hit, on everyone's Best-of-2017 list, un-put-downable mystery The Dry. I was a huge fan of her first, and Force of Nature proves once again that Harper can write. This is a solid police mystery, returning her main character, Aaron Falk, who she fleshes out even more in his attempt to discover a missing executive off on a corporate team-building adventure in the Australian mountains, an area shadowed by tales of a past serial killer. Harper slowly builds the tension, as Falk and his female partner interview each woman who hiked with Alice: the sister of the company president, the co-worker who knew Alice as teenagers, and the twins, one with a dark past and the other with a self-protective need to separate herself from her twin. Wrapped up in this mystery is also the reason why Falk must find Alice; she is his main witness to the financial crime hidden within her company - no Alice, no convictions. In any one else's hands, this would be a basic detective story. Yet in Harper's hands, it is extraordinarily well-written, with an ability to fully develop not only a creative plot line, but the characters as well. Falk is complex, puzzling, endearing, thoughtful, and ceaselessly curious; he has become one of my favorite leads in a mystery series. Sadly, sometimes the number two book after a huge hit can be disappointing; luckily, this is not the case with Force of Nature. Happy reading:)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
For those of you who follow my book blog Laurie's Lit Picks, you know I have spent a bit of time over the last couple years reading non-fiction about prison reform (ie Just Mercy and The New Jim Crow) and the need for true justice in America. In a powerful new novel, acclaimed author Tayari Jones brings us a fiction book that explores what happens to a young marriage when it is ripped apart by injustice. Roy and Celestial, a young married couple who are living the American Dream in Atlanta, journey home to Louisiana to visit Roy's parents; a night at a motel leads to a false accusation of rape against Roy and the subsequent conviction and incarceration in a state prison. Told through the voices of Roy and Celestial, and eventually Andre, Celestial's childhood friend and third cog in the romantic triangle of tragedy, this book blew me away. It is a deep character study of how mass incarceration impacts individuals; we see the toll it takes on a young marriage, on Roy's parents, on Celestial's relationship with her friends, family, and her young husband, and most importantly, on Roy's own life as he watches his career, his home, his reputation, his very essence slip away. Told through three powerful voices, this is a compelling profound read on today's justice system and the impact mass incarceration has on black America. I highly recommend this book for book clubs and individuals; it will provide a great deal of provocative material to digest.

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller, Ken Armstrong
This is a powerful book that chronicles an incredible travesty of justice: a young girl reports a rape, police charge her with false reporting, and years later the rapist is caught in a different state. It sounds like a bad made-for-television movie, yet it is a true story. Well-researched and written by two outstanding journalists, Miller and Armstrong begin their story in Lynnwood, WA where a young girl, just aged out of foster care, experiences a horrifying rape, made more tragic by the investigation into the belief that she is lying. This timeline follows the victim's struggles, the aftermath and public humiliation of being accused of a false report, and the consequences of her 'crime.' Juxtaposed with this story is the opposite tale of the Colorado investigation where police work with other detectives in neighboring jurisdictions, follow leads, and never give up to find justice for the victims. A False Report is an important book to add to the library of 'must-reads' when it comes to justice, sexism, and crimes against women, and most importantly, how our justice system can do better.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
This is a unique book, set in the beauty of pre-revolutionary Iran, that explores the life of famous poet and movie director, Forugh Farrokhzhad. Always the rebellious daughter, the story begins with Forugh's forbidden teenage crush, giving the reader the first insight into the role of women in mid 20th century Iran, before the advent of Sharia law, during the time of the Shahs, the outpouring of literature and film, yet still a time when women were subjugated and forced into a box created by society's sexist rules. This book takes us back to a time when a young girl, found with her crush, is forced to marry him, a time when wearing modern clothes is a statement on your sexual proclivities, and a time when a woman choosing a career outside motherhood will get her talked about in the press. Forugh chooses a life few women would in Iran in the 1950's and 60's, leading to abandonment of her child, time in a mental institution, and torrid love affairs with questionable men. The description of Iran is breathtakingly, achingly beautiful, describing a country that has since been stolen by religious zealots and hidden behind a government-run press. My one complain was the shallowness of Forugh's character; I never quite got the true sense of who she was and what drove her, but perhaps that was the author's point. This was a woman who stepped out from the metaphorical harem walls, to live a life without boundaries.






Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January 3.0

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Fantastical, mesmerizing, gorgeous...that is the only way to describe this beautiful new book by debut author, Melissa Albert. A brilliant mix of fairy tales and fantasy, it brings to mind the darkness of the real Grimm's tales, painting forests of reaching arms, villains with black cold eyes, and a spinner who holds characters captive in their own story. The main character is Alice, always a good choice for a fantasy tale, whose mother yanks them throughout the country, always trying to escape the bad luck that seems to follow them. However, after receiving a letter that Alice's grandmother, a famous recluse who wrote a book which has a serious cult following, has died means the darkness that follows them has receded into the past. So Alice goes to school, lives in New York with her mother and a new husband, and is a normal teenage girl. Until that is, the stories return to invade Alice's life once again. This author shows her chops the first time out with compelling characters, a complex plot line, and stunning writing. Fingers crossed for a sequel! (and seriously, look at the cover - it is stunning!)

Into the Black Nowhere (Unsub #2by Meg Gardiner

Quite rarely do I give 5 stars to a police/murder mystery; it has to be incredibly well-written with complex and well-developed characters, as well as a thoughtful, realistic yet filled-with-shockers plot line. Meg Gardiner's second book in her Unsub series hits all these criteria - it is just outstanding! Question is...do you have to read the first book, titled Unsub? Nope - Into the Black Nowhere can absolutely stand alone (but the first book is awfully good so why not?!) This second book reintroduces the reader to Caitlin Hendrix, recently trained at the BAU at Quantico after leaving the SFPD and her ATF boyfriend. Loosely based on Ted Bundy, Caitlin and her team encounter a slick, intelligent, well-to-do serial killer who holds the Austin area of Texas in fear. As the team uncovers more victims and the murderer unravels, it becomes apparent that the psychological genius of the killer is going to lead both the team, the community, and we, the reader, on the chase of a lifetime. I ferociously turned pages, with twists upon turns upon surprises, all the way until the end. This is what I call a "humdinger" of a book. If you like Mind Hunters on Netflix, the Jo Nesbo series with Harry Hole, Criminal Minds on CBS, this book is definitely for you.

The Night Child by Anna Quinn
Not for the fainthearted reader, but what a powerful, tragic, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful story written by a Pacific Northwest writer. Anna Quinn knows Seattle and places her story in a realistic time back in the 1990's, when the trauma of sexual abuse was starting to make it more and more into the public eye. As a former public school teacher myself, I was impressed with her depth of knowledge of both setting and career. Quinn's main character, Nora, is fully developed as a high school teacher who sees for herself the outcome of students' home lives and the impact on their school lives. Nora, however, also has demons of her own as her young daughter is soon to turn six. As the author slowly and insidiously pulls secrets out of Nora, through visits with her therapists, moments with students, and an unhappy marital life, the true tragedy unfolds. This is a powerful tale of mental illness, childhood trauma, and abusive parenting that will rivet you, make you turn pages, cry a few tears, and cheer for the heroes found in the end. I look forward to Quinn's next book after this powerful debut.

Tarnished City by Vic James
This is the second book of James' powerful new YA fantasy series that began with the Gilded Cage back in the winter of 2017. The premise is unique and different. Yes, it has magic but it also has some alternative history, such as the Confederate United States is separate from the Union United States. Slavery of a different nature, that of the commoner who has no 'Skill' (ie magic) vs. the Equals who are the rich elite class with some fairly serious magical talents, most of them used for evil. Each commoner in the UK must donate a decade of their life and do their time as a slave in service of the Equals; this period can be done at any time after reaching the age of ten, thus many families try and do their time together. The Hadley family attempted this in the first book, with obvious negative consequences. Now split up and trying to rescue brother Luke from a diabolical Scottish Equal with some dark and nasty punishment routines, sister Abi joins the resistance and the political fight for the heart of England begins. If you missed the first book, I highly recommend picking it up as you will want to head straight into this second adventure. Need escapism, some magic, some heroes? This book will satisfy your every wish.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Need a page-turner of a mystery for your next vacation read? Here it is. At first, the plot line might seem a bit ordinary: young mom, whose life choices are not always wise, parks her car at K-Mart to grab a birthday party present, leaves her two young daughters in the car, and yes, upon returning, the girls have vanished. However, thanks to the two main characters, this is not your ordinary thriller. Alice Vega, a bounty hunter and all-around bad-ass, is hired by the wealthy aunt to find the two girls. Vega has a golden reputation, made famous by media attention, in bringing home missing kids. Once she arrives in the small Pennsylvania town, Vega needs a partner and a way in to the police department information. Enter Max Caplan (aka Cap), a former policeman who resigned in disgrace, a single father of a unique teenager, and a private detective currently involved in spying on cheating spouses. Cap sees Vega's wily tricks that get her through impossible situationsand understands the demons that drives her; Vega sees the heart of gold under Cap's gruff exterior and his keen instinct for bad guys. It is an entertaining race with these two to find these girls as they meet some unique characters both inside and outside the law.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Having read numerous stories of the Holocaust over my lifetime, I had taken a break for the past year or so; however, with Holocaust Remembrance Day and the description of this book, I decided it was time to explore once more a devastating and eternally shocking time in our recent history. Based on a true story, Heather Morris takes the story of Lale and Gita and turns it in an inspiring and hopeful story in the midst of unimaginable human suffering. The story begins with Lale, a young Slovakian man who has chosen to be the healthy Jewish male to be sent to from his family to 'work' for the Germans, arriving at Auschwitz in 1942. Quickly, Lale is trained to be the tattooist, earning extra rations and a room of his own. Torn by his seeming complicity with the SS, Lale becomes a savior to many other prisoners, displaying the Talmudic proverb that he who saves one, saves the world. In the midst of this horrible time, he meets Gita and falls in love. This is a remarkable tale of young love in the most deadly time. The beauty of this book is the ability to provide hope and inspiration through these two characters, as well as the friends they make in the camp. After reading voraciously for two days, I closed the final page not with tears, but with great hope for humanity and our ability to care for others through the darkest time.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Written by a local author who grew up in my small, college PNW town, this is an exciting new entry in the world of dystopic novels. Set somewhere in a future that seems shockingly too real for me after all the posturing with nuclear weapons and North Korea in 2017, a family lives off the grid that no longer exists out in the cold of the Canadian Yukon. The family unit consists of mom, brother, uncle, foster son, and Lynn, a young girl who is intriguing, complicated, smart, courageous, and all-together human. When Jax, a young man from the 'real world' becomes a temporary tribe member, he brings reality back to this family unit in a forceful and frightening way. This book does a solid job of creating a new and scary world, peopling it with intriguing characters and heart-thumping plot twists that will leave one turning pages frantically. While the end is satisfying, it leaves the obvious door open to the rest of the series that is sure to come. My one hope is that in future books Lynn won't be needing the male characters to save her, that she will have learned to look into her own interior and save herself; then we will have a fully developed and evolved hero to cheer. (Author Tyrell Johnson will be at our local Village Books sometime in March so check the calendar)





Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January 2.0

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
If you liked Benjamin's previous books (The Aviator's Wife, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Alice I Have Been), you like historical fiction, you like learning behind-the-scenes historical trivia, this book is for you. And yes, I have loved all of Benjamin's books; she does in-depth research, develops her characters deeply, and reveals interesting history previously unknown to me. In her newest novel, she explores the beginning of the film industry, focusing on two characters: Mary Pickford, the silent film star and her best friend, screenwriter Frances Marion. It begins in 1914 as we see these two young women, who come from opposite walks of life, be drawn into the world of the cinema. Pickford, a stage star from a young age in order to support a poverty-stricken family, stumbles into work for nickelodeon films, looked down upon by theater people but paying well, ultimately leading her to Hollywood Land. Frances, a socialite from San Francisco, twice-divorced, finds herself in Los Angeles, and completely entranced by this new media. Benjamin explores the rise of Hollywood, the moguls who own the stars, and the American obsession with these film giants as she weaves the story of these two women throughout the history of the 20th century. If you are like me, you will not be able to put this one down.

The Night Market by Jonathan Moore
The question with this book is...is this a police detective/murder mystery or is it a sci-fi futuristic thriller? Once I stopped trying to pigeon-hole it into a specific genre and just went with the flow, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The San Francisco homicide detectives, Carver and Jenner, are just classic: smart, curmudgeonly, loyal, and wily. Their sidekick in uncovering a vast plot of mind control is a complex young woman who lives across the hall from Carver, who nurses him back to health after a fairly creepy crime scene that he is incapable of remembering. As the two detectives race down a rabbit hole of weirdness, the other characters that get involved to try and solve this crime are intriguing and compelling. Yes, one does have to suspend a bit of disbelief, but when you cannot stop turning pages, who cares? I loved this roller coaster ride of a book.

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict
Considering the politics of today in America as wealth distribution and economic inequity is forefront in many people's minds, this is a very topical book. Andrew Carnegie was once the world's wealthiest man, accruing his millions from the Civil War era through the early part of the 20th century. Carnegie also became one of the world's foremost philanthropists, giving away 90% of his fortune and endowing universities and libraries worldwide. Marie Benedict (The Other Einstein) has created a fictitious story of the reasons behind how he journeyed from his role as a 'robber baron' to one of the great charitable givers of all time. This story involves a young Irish maid, an impossible love story, the hardship of an immigrant life, the corrupted ties of family, and the inevitable ending that brought the world Carnegie's philanthropy. I found the first half to be the most compelling, with the ending a bit thin; I would have liked further development of the epilogue and both main character's life changes. Yet, it was an interesting read and definitely makes me more curious about this generous 
man.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Getting lots of pre-pub buzz, the book world is highly anticipating this new dystopic novel that shreds women's rights all over America. It takes place in a world of 'today,' no spaceships, no Big Brother computers, just normal Pacific Northwest setting. However, the federal government has recently outlawed all abortions, as well as invitro treatments, making them crimes for which young unwed teens and grown married women can be imprisoned. And just for an encore, the latest law is due to be rolled out in just a few weeks... the "two parent family, only mom and dad" rule, stopping all single people, much less (gasp!) gay people, from adopting the unwanted babies. The story follows four unnamed women: the biographer, desperately seeking a baby while writing a very weird history of a long ago female marine biologist; the mender, a quirky, off-the-grid woman who uses herbs to help women with their 'problem'; the wife, desperately unhappy in her marriage; and the daughter, a young teen with an unwanted pregnancy. The premise is creative and oh so topical. However, the end result left me wanting me. By choosing not to name the main characters around which the story revolves, it creates a distance that stopped me from empathizing, relating, truly connecting with the characters. Perhaps that was the author's point, that these are 'everywoman,' that the government making decisions about their bodies makes them all 'us.' I appreciate the concept, but as a character-driven reader, I did not become as engrossed within their story as I might have otherwise.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
My problem with this book is varied. I began with high hopes, liking the premise of the book (CIA agent learns incriminating news about her much loved husband and father of her four children - what should she do?) I love spy novels so figured this one was in my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, I tend to be fairly critical, as I have read many government-type thrillers (ie. Child 44 if you want a seriously good Russian spy novel) and I also tend to be fairly feminist in my desire for more timely portrayals of women in today's world. The female lead, Vivian, has been with the CIA for years and we are supposed to believe that she is an important and valued member of the spy team vs. Russia. Yet she consistently behaves in an outrageously naive, might I even call it 'stupid,' manner. I found her behavior to be completely unbelievable in the context of the story. Why is it necessary to have the men be wily, manipulative, and brilliant spymasters, and yet leave the female to be shown as gullible and unintelligent, allowing her emotions to rule the day? Aargh, very frustrating and not at all what I want in my lead female roles in a spy novel. I understand the author was likely playing to her audience; I think I am just not part of that crowd. It is a page turner, but in the end I don't want a man to 'save' the woman from herself; I want Cinderella to kick some serious ass and show that brains and wile can outsmart anyone. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Four young siblings learn of a special 'seer' in their neighborhood, an old woman who can tell them their future, specifically to impart to them the day they will die. Each child hears this date alone, and must live with the consequences of knowing their future and thus the story begins. As the tale unfolds, we follow each of the four children in singularity: Simon, a young gay man, as he heads to San Francisco in the early 1980's; Klara, a free spirit who dreams of becoming a magician; Daniel, the oldest boy in their Jewish family, working towards 'normalcy;' and Varya, the eldest child, career biologist, with deeper secrets than anyone ever knew. This is a strange yet extraordinarily compelling book. Often, I did not care for the characters - their habits, their life choices, their relationships. Yet I could not put this book down. It brings up provocative themes and ideas: how would one live their life if their day of death was foretold? Do we owe it to ourselves to fulfill our life's dream? Or do we owe loyalty to our families? Is being selfish wrong or is it fulfilling our passion? The Immortalists would be an incredibly provocative choice for a book club, eliciting some fascinating and powerful conversation.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman
YA fantasy is my go-to escapist trick; if written well, it takes me far far away, usually has some serious evil doers that get vanquished, some heroic young people, and stays away from the sexist stereotypes much better than many adult novels, and really, the only difference being 'YA,' is that the main characters are usually upper teens. With that said, if you missed Shusterman's first novel in this series, Scythe, go back and read it. And in the day or two that takes you because it is SO good, come back and read this one. Here's the basic premise: the Cloud has morphed into the Thunderhead (a benevolent Big Brother type of character who has done away with death, disease, pain, hunger, all the bad stuff in life), but to deal with over-population, the 'scythedom' is created, with scythes especially trained in the art of death, given the power to 'glean' humanity. In the first book, we meet the two main characters, Rowan and Citra who are training to become scythes (note to self: lots and lots and lots of death in the first book, although if one hasn't been officially 'gleaned,' the revival center just brings people back to life). In the second book, Rowan is a rogue scythe while Citra works within the system, both trying to rid their organization of bad seeds. The Thunderhead becomes more of a developed character, as he talks with humanity and we see his thinking as we watch his world end up on shaky ground. I could not put this book down; Shusterman has an amazing talent to draw us into his stories and his characters, not letting go until the very last page. Highly recommend!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The 2017 Newberry Award winner, this book is magical for any age, especially for those of us looking for an escape into another world. In this fairytale world, a witch comes every year to a town veiled in sadness where she picks up a baby left for her at the edge of the wood. The town believes it to a sacrifice to an evil crone; the witch believes the town does not want the children, and takes them across the wood to be loved by another family. However, the latest babe the witch picks up is hungry on the journey across the wood, and instead of starlight (normal food for the babies), Luna is fed with moonlight, giving her some serious magical skills. The story encompasses the years of Luna and her adopted witch-mother, and the magic that will ensnare so many characters. This is a lyrical book, written with so much beauty I wanted to devour each sentence slowly and savor every word. What a gift to the world!

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
This isa solid new mystery that is getting some very well-deserved praise. Set in the forests of Oregon, we are introduced to an intriguing new detective (this looks like it is going to be a series). Naomi is the 'child finder,' an instinctive, clever, smart, and rather tortured young woman with a mysterious past that pushes her to save other children. A young couple come to Naomi and ask her to look for their daughter who went missing in the snowy woods during a tree-cutting expedition three Decembers ago. Convinced Madison is still alive, the parents beg Naomi to find any clues. The story is told through two narrators, Naomi and the 'snow girl' who is trapped by a mysterious man in the woods. Author Denfeld peoples the book with some quirky, intriguing characters: the taciturn forest ranger, the creepy yet friendly store own who buys pelts; and Naomi's foster mom and brother who save her from tragedy. So many pieces are tied together in the end, yet some are still mysteries that totally make sense to remain hidden. I have high hopes for a sequel to this engrossing new series.

The House of Silk (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Anthony Horowitz
The author of the Alex Rider series and The Magpie Murders, and picked by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle as the only person EVER allowed to write another Sherlock Holmes book, one cannot go wrong picking up this book. Horowitz lives up to and beyond the challenge with this clever, smart, twisty-turning mystery book. Dr. Watson as narrator and handy sidekick of Holmes, the mystery begins straight away with a Mr. Carstairs seeking help from these two beloved literary icons. The story moves from gangsters in Boston, to opium dens in London, and even a dreary prison where Holmes is up to his neck in trouble. The master of the 'red herring,' Horowitz and Holmes does not let us know. At times I wondered where this story was taking us and how many side alleys were necessary but in the end I was wholly satisfied and impressed with the skills of not only our two detectives, but the author himself. If you like the quintessential British mystery, this book is definitely for you.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
How many of us wish we had written down all the outrageous, hilarious, inappropriate things a loved one has said? Both my husband and I still tell uproarious stories about our own parents, but I know I have missed so much that should be famous in family lore. Justin Halpern, however, is just much smarter than the rest of us; he actually wrote his father's sh*t down! And trust me, it is well worth the read. I laughed out loud throughout this lovely little book and saw my own self, my own parents, and most anyone's life in many of the stories. However, this book is so much more than just 'funny' for the sake of humor. It also tells a story of a father and son; all the expectations on both sides, the misunderstandings, the generational divide, and ultimately the deep and abiding love, no matter what. This is a fabulous book to gift to another person, or also just to gift to yourself; you won't be disappointed.

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
A bit reminiscent of A Secret History yet not as well written as a Donna Tartt book, this one involves a trio of 'friends,' a word one could use quite lightly in this story. Three young teens are drawn together in a small upstate New York town: Patrick (ie. Patch), good boy in town with aspiring political father, husband and failed financier and current obsessive chef, witness, participant, and savior to a horrible crime; Matthew, new boy to town, messed up family life, perpetrator of horrible crime; and Hannah, wife to Patrick, crime reporter, and victim of horrible crime. As the strings of this story slowly come together, one can see how the past has impacted the character's today with each one struggling to find who they are. My problem with this book is that the two males were both unlikable, and thinly developed; I don't mind crappy humans, but give them a bit more depth. I just didn't care about Matthew's past issues, or Patrick's cooking blog. Now Hannah, on the other hand, was a compelling character as she searches for answers to her past with her NYC police officer friend as well as her job that drags her into the dark corners of city crime. The ending was anti-climatic for me, having gotten to a point of apathy for Patch. At times a page turner, and at times just 'meh' for me.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Best Books of 2017

WINNER: The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
John Boyne explores the full life of Cyril Avery, a boy born to a poor unwed Irish mother in the 1940's, raised by emotionally negligent (though hilariously funny) adoptive parents, who experiences the entire 20th century as a gay man, who enters the 21st century in awe at how his world has grown.
This book will make you laugh, cry, and learn about the complex times in which we live. This is Boyne's masterpiece in his writing history; you will not forget the experience of his words.





General FictionBeartown by Fredrik Backman and This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Beartown is a departure from Backman's Ove bestseller, but this powerful story of hockey and rape culture in a small town is not to be missed / Frankel's book is a heartwarming and heart-wrenching novel of how a family adjusts and morphs to fit the world of their transgender child into their changing expectations of the definition of family

Honorable Mention: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout*,  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti




YADreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
In our time of racial divide, it is powerful to look back into history, at Tulsa in the 1920's, and remember a time of great racial strife that led to murder and mayhem, as well as to changes in outlook and belief systems.

Honorable Mention: Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Mr. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith








Historical FictionLove and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford / Lightning Men (Darktown#2) by Thomas Mullen
Love encompasses the lives of three amazing children, as they grow through the early days of Seattle and find their stories again at the 1963 World's Fair. No one delves into the hearts of children like Jamie Ford, and his ability to teach us and make us feel for his characters is unparalleled / Lightening Men examines the early days of the first black policemen in post-WWII Atlanta. Powerful characterization set in a fascinating age - this setting will embed itself into your dreams and your thoughts for days.

Honorable Mention: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter,  A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake, Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

MysteryThe Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz and The Dry by Jane Harper
Magpie will take you back to the days of Agatha Christie, with intelligent twists, turns, and red herrings. Intricate and incredibly well-written, this mystery will keep you turning pages / Jane Harper is the hot new mystery writer of 2017, and The Dry is well deserving of all the praise. Australia, a cynical policeman with a history, a dead boy and a false accusation will keep you reading well past your bedtime.
Honorable Mention: Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri, Midnight at the Bright Idea Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan, Unsub by Meg Gardiner, Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent, Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan, If We Were Villians by M.L. Rio


Science Fiction: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
What if there was a box that could take you to an alternative universe where you could see what your life would have been like if you had made different choices? What if there were thousands of these life choices? How does one get home, how does one appreciate the life they chose, and what makes life worth value? Trust me, you will read this book in a day, demanding that everyone leave you alone.
Honorable Mention: All Our Wrongs Today by Elan Mastai, Artemis by Andy Weir

Adult FantasyAn Unkindess of Magicians by Kat Howard
For those of you missing Harry Potter, this grown up version of magicians and their lives amongst unmagical humans is very compelling. Dark without being too disturbing, contests to the death, an evil entity, and a powerful female lead - one of the best adult fantasies I have read in years.
Honorable Mention: Beasts of Unusual Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang, Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman








YA Fantasy:  Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
A magical city far far away, an entity that can enter your dreams, and a young man destined for greatness...this is an incredible, lyrical journey into a brand new world.
Honorable MentionCaraval by Stephanie Garber, Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor, Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo, The Gilded Cage by Vic James, Invictus by Ryan Gaudin

MemoirThe Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
The story Nina Riggs tells, of her battle and death from fast-moving breast cancer is gorgeous and sad, yet also funny use of gallows humor, and ultimately a very profound look at life, family, and the end we all face.
Honorable Mention: What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Reading With Patrick by Michelle Kuo, What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken







Non-Fiction, HistoryKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Osage tribe, richest cultural group of the 20th century oil boom, was hunted and murdered for their head rights; this story tells of the heroic FBI agents who found the trail of the killers and brought them to justice. Un-put-downable!
Honorable Mention: The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman, Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo,  The Immortal Irishman by  Timothy Egan


Non-Fiction, Social JusticeA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Looking back through history, MSNBC host Chris Hayes explores American history that led to the racial issues of today - fascinating and eye-opening book.
Honorable Mention: White Like Me by Tim Wise, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, White Trash by Nancy Isenberg






Non-Fiction, ScienceBellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem by David M. Oshinsky
Every medical disease, plague, vaccine, cutting edge discovery in medicine walked through the door of this stories hospital; this is a fascinating look at our history.
Honorable MentionDreamland by Sam Quinones, The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Non-Fiction, Self-HelpThe Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight
Okay, I hate self-help books but honestly this one is hilarious and seriously spot-on! I still use my 'F*ck' list I created to bring a semblance of peace to my life:)















Thursday, November 30, 2017

December books

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
Debut author, brand new YA fantasy series, badass female characters, creative plot line - yep, I was hooked. In the Raverran Empire, children who are 'mage-marked' (ie. they can do magic, insane magic like out of control fire, melting peoples' bones, building mirrors to trap intruders) are taken by the government at a young age and 'tethered.' Think falconry, as these young magicians, now known as Falcons, are imprisoned by a magical bracelet and a couple words that when spoken by their Falconer, release their devastating magic. Problems are inherent in this system, with underlying themes of enslavement, devotion to war, and political machinations to gain the upper hand with the empires that surround Raverra. Enter two incredibly powerful female characters: Amalia, daughter of a powerful council member and the Falcon she ensnares, Zaira, who has been able to avoid capture for all of her seventeen years and definitely does not want to be anyone's Falcon. This is an exciting first installment to a new series that has great potential. I do feel like it would have benefitted from further editing (definitely too long), and some stronger character development for some of the males. However, I did appreciate the way in which Caruso dealt with the cultural mores of Raverra, noting that many of their leaders are women, that Falcons and Falconers could be in a same sex marriage, that skin colors were different. All these ideas were just part of Raverra society, acceptable and nothing that really raised eyebrows; it's just the way their society works. That is powerful.

The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson
Looking for a complex, well-developed, page-turner of a police/murder mystery? Check out Kristina Ohlsson's series of which The Chosen is #5. Considering I remembered very little of the previous books, one does not have to worry about reading them in order as each stands alone. Two main characters drive the action, Alex Recht, head of the violent crimes unit in Stockholm, a quiet intense man who is all business, and Fredrika Bergman, a brilliant detective with a busy home life that never gets in the way of solving the crime. Throw in some intense peripheral characters such as Petyr, a detective that was removed from his job due to murdering his brother's killer (that's a whole 'nother novel!) and Eden, who works for SAPO, the Swedish equivalent of the FBI/CIA, has a past with a Mossad agent, and is a stone-cold spy, and a fabulous cast of characters will make it difficult to put this book down. The plot begins with a dead preschool teacher and two missing school boys from a Jewish community school; so many twists and turns line the road that I was flummoxed until the last twenty-five pages. If you like those dark, Nordic mysteries, don't miss this author; she's a winner every time out.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
One of my very favorite YA fantasy writers (Shadow and Bone trilogy, Six of Crows duology) has written a new book full of six short stories, gorgeous illustrations on the interior pages, and a different view of some well-known old favorites.  A lover of magic and fairytales, I knew this book was for me as soon as I turned the first page.  Bardugo wears a different set of spectacles to retell some old tales, and to give us the dark and twisted endings that they always deserved. Think Hansel and Gretyl, but what if the witch was not actually evil?  What about the Little Mermaid and Ursula?  Two sides exist to every story, as does some background intel.  And sweet little Clara and the Nutcracker?  Oh my, that is a much creepier tale in the hands of this author. This would be a fabulous gift for any child age 11 and up, as well as any adult who loves fantasy, magic, and a different viewpoint.

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden
Listening to this new memoir in Joe Biden's voice is definitely the way to go, though be wary - I cried as I walked my dog as I listened to the last hour. Biden's story covers the last few years of his time as Vice-President of the United States, as well as the impact of his son Beau's death on not only Joe, but his family, his position, and the vast world that knew, admired, and loved Beau Biden. This is a family that has been remarkably touched by tragedy: the death of Joe's wife and daughter in a tragic car accident, the long hospitalization of his young sons, and the long battle with brain cancer that ultimately took Beau's life. I was impressed with the writing in this book; Biden is a beautiful, lyrical writer, particularly when he writes of his family, his dedication to those in need, and his connection with others marked by tragedy. I was less invested in some of the minutia surrounding his work with Ukraine and Iraq, though I did learn more about the impact of our foreign diplomacy on world relationships. I found this book to be inspiring, knowledgeable, and heart-breaking.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Disclaimer: I wrote the following review prior to the allegations that came out against Senator Franken. After thinking long and hard about whether I should still include this review, I decided to do so, without editing it. You will read in the book about his admission of sophomoric, inappropriate jokes written while he was a comedian, and his acknowledgement of his mistakes. I hope I can stand by my review as the news cycle continues to move; we shall see...

If you have lost faith in the ability of government and politicians to positively impact your life, read this book. If you want to laugh out loud, read this book. If you want to be moved to action, read this book. Heck, just read this book, or actually listen to the audio as Senator Franken reads it to you and his comedic timing is pretty perfect! I am not usually a huge fan of celebrity memoirs; not sure I've read one since Mommy Dearest came out decades ago. However, I cannot really classify this as 'celebrity' as Franken has become so much more than that in the last fifteen years. (And if you watched him eviscerate Betsy Devos in the hearing for her Secretary of Education confirmation, you know what I mean) Franken tells of a very middle-class childhood growing up in the suburbs of Minnesota, his early years as a writer and sometimes actor on SNL, his journey to being a voice for progressive politics, and his eventual run and time in the United State Senate. I found this book utterly fascinating: the behind the scenes of how legislation works, the relationships with fellow politicians, his sardonic and biting insights into how government is supposed to work and how it really does. It is not a book written to stroke his own ego, to tell us how awesome Al Franken is; it is actually a book that attempts to renew one's faith in the power of government to change lives and to support Americans in their dreams, as well as just to explain how a regular kid from middle America gets to be a 'giant.' This was my favorite 'listen' of the year, best memoir in decades.

Never CaughtThe Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Considering all the talk of past slave history and whether we should memorialize Civil War heroes, I thought this would be an interesting book to read. It follows the escape of Martha Washington's personal slave, and the 'no holds barred' pursuit of her by our leading Founding Father (be forewarned: you will never think the same about George and Martha Washington again) It was an interesting book, but it could have told the story in half the time. Too many fillers and repetitive stories for me. Therefore, this book is a 'meh.'

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer
The book caught my eye due to its intriguing plot line: 'perfect' marriage falling apart as wife suspects husband of trying to poison her. Interesting, right?! Nope. Unfortunately, the characters are incredibly unappealing: the husband, a smarmy twisted architect who weasels his way into a young widow's heart and family, little character development of why he is such a nasty human; wife who is inconceivably a hotshot journalist and professor from Columbia, who comes across as whiny, weak, and completely nuts. I understand that is part of the plot, wondering who's crazy and who's telling the truth; however, the two main characters were just so smug, or wishy-washy or unlikable that I just did not care. On top of that, as a Seattle native, I never understand why an author would set a story in a place they have so obviously never visited. Niederhoffer uses every stereotype ever written about Seattle to define it incorrectly, and on top of that says the mountains that surround a Pacific Northwest city are the Sierras! (For the record, those are in California - they're called the Cascades here in the northwest). I found myself laughing out loud at the book, and I'm pretty sure that was not the author's intention.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Having read the description on Net Galley, I was thrilled to get a copy in exchange for an honest review. I will preface this review with the idea that this is not a book for me; however, I also do not think the description of the book is accurate as to what is inside the cover. It is described as a thriller type of mystery, as a page-turner told through two different view points, one from long ago and one from today. However, the mystery seems to be secondary to the romance as well as tons of heavy Christian theology. I don't read romance, I don't want to be preached at, and I don't want to be told that faith and belief will change my life; I prefer when characters take control of their fate themselves. Thus, this was not a book for me. The mystery from a hundred years ago was by far the more interesting story and perhaps I would have liked the story better if that had been the only perspective (daughter of small town doc tries to solve mystery of murdered girl, missing baby, and creepy house). The modern story of a young widow buying the old creepy house while being stalked by her past was a bit obvious, predictable, and wrapped up in too much religion and romance. 




The Perfect Husband (Quincy & Rainie, #1) by Lisa Gardner
Anyone else obsessed with the new Netflix series Mindhunter? So, I thought I would find a good mystery about FBI profilers. Yep, don't bother with this one. Written in 2004, it is incredibly sexist and predictable; the big tough private eye has to save the poor weak female who tries soooo hard to be tough, and let's throw in some questionable 'sex' scenes that border on abuse as well. Ugh...waste of three hours. I know Gardner is a popular mystery writer; I sure hope she has moved past the sexist blech of this, her first in the series. And no, it does not even deserve a picture.