Wednesday, August 14, 2019

August 2.0

Thirteen (Eddie Flyn #4) by Steve Cavanaugh
Mystery. Legal Thriller. Police Procudural. Page Turner. Yup, my new favorite series! How has America not thoroughly discovered and embraced Irish writer Steve Cavanaugh?? His Eddie Flynn series (quite popular in the UK) is highly entertaining. Flynn is a conman turned lawyer, whose personal life is a hot mess, who has an intriguing collection of friends, who only defends the innocent, and who will literally do anything, legal and otherwise, to get his client free (in this case, a famous movie star entangled with a serial killer). Cavanaugh wraps his story in intelligent, thoughtful prose with a snappy sense of humor thrown in just when it is needed. Both my husband and I are obsessed with Eddie Flynn and are waiting breathlessly for Book #5. Seriously, get this entire series.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Okay, so I never read the hugely popular Eat, Pray, Love by Gilbert - it's that whole lemmings thing, and not wanting to follow the crowd + it just sounded too "New Age-y" for me:) I was talked into reading this one and wow, wow, wow, I am glad I picked it up and did not put it down (I was tempted). The story begins with young Vivian Morris, a Vassar drop out, who goes to live with her aunt in NYC. Aunt runs a theater company with the most wonderfully eclectic group of characters, and the aunt herself is a hoot (I think I'd like to be her - living life on my own terms, never giving two sh#$s about what others think). Now Vivian, well, she drove me insane for the first 100 pages. Selfish, self-absorbed, vain, shallow...yet midway through the book, my brain clicked in and said "yep, that's the point." This book is really about what society tells us, women, to be and what life can be like when we turn off those voices and just LIVE. Loved this one!

Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short by William D. Cohan
Admittedly, this was like reading a really good, really well-researched People magazine article -but there's a reason that mag is so popular:) The author attended the very privileged, very old, very WASPy east coast boarding school of Andover. Four of his classmates died freaky, tragic, early deaths so Cohan researches and writes about these four friends: one is the child of Holocaust survivors, one is Harry Truman's grandson, one is the scion of a hugely wealthy Chicago family, and one is President Kennedy's youngest child. Their lives both at the boarding school and afterward are strangely fascinating, and yes, their deaths came at young ages and were varied in their causes. As I listened to this one, I had quite a few "you've got to be kidding me" moments. It is an entertaining book.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
Chosen by Today host Jenna Hager for a book club read, I found this story to be a fascinating look into the expectations placed on children, and the fallout of these parental dreams. The focus is on two sisters: Amy, the shy and retiring youngest child of Chinese immigrants, born and raised in Brooklyn, now terribly worried about her older sister Sylvie; and Sylvie herself, the child left behind in the Netherlands when her parents left for America, not returned to the family home until age nine, married, Ivy league education, successful...or is she? Sylvie has disappeared and Amy flies to the Netherlands to try and track down what happened to her beloved sister. I found this story to be quite intriguing, perhaps because I have been in Amsterdam and this author really nails the directness of the Dutch, the beauty of this bike-riding community, as well as the push and tug of immigrants and expectations.

Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah
Named one of Canada's top books last year, this one has been on my radar for awhile. Haunted by images from Syria over the last six years, I realized I knew very little about this tragic war. Rabeeah is a young boy who comes to Canada as a refugee and tells his story to his ELL teacher; that story becomes this book. He tells of how the war begins, the bombings, the soldiers, the massacres, the family moving from city to city trying to find a safe place, the process for becoming a refugee, how they search for a country to take them in, and provide them REFUGE. He makes the most horrifying images normal, as seen through a boy's eyes when the life of war is normalized. This book would be a fantastic memoir to use in a school setting, either middle school or high school, as it is such an authentic voice of a young boy just trying to find a home.

The Binding by Bridget Collins
If you like fantasy and magic intertwined with history, you might like this book. In this conception of old English history though, a new type of person is present, a bookbinder. As in a person who can bind one's painful memories into a book, and removing them from a person's mind. Hmmm...not bad if it is a tragic event. But don't those tragedies make us who we are? And what if a parent wants to stop their child from loving a particular person? Just have them bound and it takes care of all the problems...or does it? This is a surreal story, wrapped up with friendship and forbidden love. A bit too long, quite honestly, but a unique and intriguing concept.

Stone Cold Heart (Cat Kinsella, #2) by Caz Frear
I loved Frear's first book Sweet Little Lies; her London-based detective Cat Kinsella is an intriguing woman with lots of skeletons in her closet. In the latest installment in this series, she and her partner are investigating a murder of a young Australian woman, with all the evidence pointing to the guy that runs the coffee shop she frequented. More of Cat's own issues with her family's past rears its ugly head as well as she tries to track down the murderer. It's a fine mystery, but I did not find it as tense as the first one so it's a 'meh' for me.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

August

Many Hands Make Light Work by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy
The first book by Chicago Tribune writer Cheryl McCarthy is a rollicking good tale about growing up in a large family in Ames, Iowa. Told in the fashion of one of my favorite childhood books, Cheaper by the Dozen, in Cheryl's family they had a baseball team where all nine children were expected to be part of the family work crew. As each chapter spins out, displaying the life of this busy family, I was drawn in by the eye-popping organization of her two parents: the morning duty list for the many rental homes the kids were expected to work on each summer, the ingenious milk delivery system installed in the kitchen, the never-ending line of college students renting rooms in their already over-full house, and the ability to shovel snow from the front of all those rental homes, before breakfast each winter morning. Having grown up in a fairly dysfunctional family myself, I was in awe of how this family functioned, with love, humor, and song. If you need a chuckle, a pick-me-up, a reminder that hard work leads to success, that togetherness still exists, this book is a wonderful choice.

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson
Mystery, Swedish, dysfunctional family...this book ticked all the boxes for me. On the surface, Stella's family is a picture of 'Normal' - her father is the town pastor, her mom is a successful lawyer, and Stella is a healthy, active eighteen year old. Yet, Stella has now been arrested for the violent murder of a thirty something year old man, the son of a prominent attorney. Each family members gets to tell their side of the story and it is all quite enlightening. Who is this paster? Overprotective father or a complete nut job? Does mom care about her family or just about her reputation? Is daughter mentally ill, abused, innocent, guilty? 'Nuff said...read it and see where this mystery takes you. It is a fabulous ride.

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood
Due to the compelling nature of this story, I started it in the morning and finished it that evening. After the hit last year Rust & Stardust (based on events that inspired Lolita), this time around Greenwood uses another inspiring true-life story to show a mother's devotion and love. A baby girl with Down's Syndrome is born to Ginny and Ab in 1969, a time when little was known about children with special needs and prejudice was rife. Lucy is thus taken away at birth and put into a 'school' for handicapped children. Two years hence, a news article about abuse at the school sets Ginny, her son, and her best friend off on a life-changing road trip. While I rooted for Ginny and wanted to slap her husband silly, I was also searching for more complete character development. I needed more explanation and depth as to why Ginny breaks away from the stereotypical, very protected, meek and mealy-mouthed wife of decades past and seemingly becomes Mama Bear when it is most needed. Don't get me wrong - I loved the change - but I felt as if it needed to be flushed out more. Ditto for her husband, mother-in-law, and best friend. I appreciated the happy ending, but needed to more fully see and comprehend the direction markers along the road before getting to the destination.

The Current by Tim Johnston
Johnston's first book, The Descent, was a runaway hit and he has followed it up with another incredible story. Told in two different time periods, this tale is really about the people of a town and how secrets and lies work insidiously to destroy them. Ten years ago, a teenage girl was found dead in the river. This death destroyed more than just one life; the teenage boy painted with suspicion, the mother whose family life is torn apart, the sheriff who never got over the unsolved murder, and the father who lost his only child. Yet years later, the river takes another life of a young woman, but one survives - the sheriff's daughter. As Audrey pulls together clues from years ago, we see the many pieces of this puzzle slowly build into a bigger picture as the lives of all the characters collide once more. It is a fabulous narrator on Librofm - highly recommend listening to this one.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
British, Gothic, Nanny, Mystery...this book is speaking my language. I love Ruth Ware's directional change from just a basic thriller (In a Dark Dark Wood/Woman in Cabin 10) to a creepier gothic mystery such as The Death of Mrs. Westaway and now her latest, The Turn of the Key. A ghost story that gave me shivers up my spine, I stayed up waaaay too late reading this book. The entire book is supposedly a letter from a young woman in prison, seeking legal help for a murder she says she did not commit. It is classic British, as this young woman applies and gets job as a nanny at a mysterious house in remote Scotland. As the letter unspools the story, we see unruly children, a poisonous garden, creepy ancestors, predator husband, distracted wife, cranky housekeeper, and a hot but mysterious handyman. I told you, classic British Gothic. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not turn pages fast enough. Will it take the publishing world by storm? Doubtful. Will it entertain you and keep you guessing? Absolutely. Thanks to Net Galley for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
The premise of this story is intriguing: two girls meet in college, become friends, one is pulled toward the radical counter-culture, and then the story covers three decades of social upheaval and change in America. However, the potential was lost for me by weak character growth and shallow thematic development. Daniella, who does what society expects, and Eve who blows the doors off her southern familial expectations, are never fully flushed out, at least not for me. Why does Eve go off the rails? What inspired her? What keeps these two friends together when they seemingly have nothing in common - distinct family backgrounds, lack of mutual life goals, different taste in life partners, vastly disparate maturity levels? This story skimmed over the surface for me, water-skiing across obstacles that deserved depth, and simplistic answers given to complex questions. It does keep you turning pages, but unfortunately did not go the direction I was hoping. Thanks to Net Galley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer
Ah, a Young Adult fantasy book that is actually YA - yes, you can put this in the hands of a middle schooler who loves magic and romance and suspense. This one is a gorgeously written retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, using some complex and flawed characters to update the story into the modern world. Harper is a young woman in NYC who was born with cerebral palsy, has a dying mother and a brother entangled in the drug mob, and surprisingly finds herself in the magical world of Emberfell. The triangle of Rhen, the cursed prince trying to save his country, Grey, his captain of the guard and a fairly scary man, and Harper, who must learn how to not only defend herself but how to fight for the people, kept me turning page after page. If you life YA fantasy, this is a gorgeously written and inspiring story.



Friday, July 12, 2019

July 2.0

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The author of The Underground Railroad, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, has written another stunner of a book; Nickel Boys is my prediction for many awards in 2020. Based on the true life discovery of a Florida reform school found to be the burial group for dozens of young black boys, Whitehead uses this setting as a launching pad to develop the story of a young black boy in the early 1960's. Elwood Curtis is a good boy, a good student, a good grandson. He's never been in trouble...until the night he gets into the wrong car. His time at the Nickel Academy scars him for life, as he sees torture, unhinged racism, unspeakable acts of violence and degradation. Yet Whitehead does not stay only in this place of horrors; we see Elwood post-Nickel boy status, as he tries to build his life and forget the trauma of his youth. Whitehead moves the decades along, as we see the country change and issues of race morph with it. Whitehead asks the questions, "Can we escape the violence of years past? Must society make amends, and if so, how? What is society doing today to young black boys? Have we truly changed, or have we just changed our methods of killing?" This is a powerful, unforgettable book that should be read by everyone in this country.

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger
Having read all four of Alger's previous books, I am in awe of her ability to move amongst genres. The Darlings takes place in the world of family privilege and high finance in NYC, This Was Not the Plan tells the story of a widowed father figuring out how to raise his child in a world turned upside down, The Banker's Wife is a thriller in the world of international money laundering, and now Girls Like Us, a page-turning novel that encompasses police corruption, family drama, and a serial killer on Long Island. I will continue to be first in line when Alger writes a book; she has yet to disappoint me, and always always entertains me and makes me think. This book will keep you up late, trying to figure out whodunnit.

Turbulence by David Szalay
This is an odd, quirky book. Short, but provocative, I am still thinking about it days later. Yet, some might see it as forgettable. I think it depends on your mood, and your purpose in reading it. Here's the premise: twelve vignettes of twelve plane rides with twelve characters telling twelve stories of interaction. That's it. No great whodunnit, no great passion, no great over-arching thematic message; it just contains the world as we pass by each other and make those small connections that make us a global society. I do think it would be an intriguing book club choices, but yes, odd and quirky.


Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
America is at war; we have been in Afghanistan for 18 years. We forget this pretty much every day, every year, but Ashley White's parents do not and that is the greatest impact of this powerful book. It tells the story of a group of young women - strong soldiers who can do 100 sit ups in one minute, rappel in and out of helicopters in the dead of night, and who aided Ranger troops in Afghanistan in a myriad of life-saving ways. I was fascinated with the women's motivations, their ties to both family and country, their tenacity in being the first women involved in combat with special ops teams years before women were 'allowed' to be in combat. Each time I find myself whining about some stupid moment in my privileged life, I remember Ashley White - a 24 year old spitfire, who never gave up, who loved to bake for her fellow soldiers, who could outwork, outrun, outclimb any of the men she trained with, who treated her Afghanistan-American translator with dignity and respect, who left her marriage of six months to serve her country, and who gave her life for it as well. Ashley White is a name we should all know. Read this book and you will understand my passion for this American hero.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
A Book of the Month club pick, this has been a book that has received a lot of buzz. For me, it was good but not great, slow to get into, easy to put down, not as compelling as I thought when I first picked it up. The story focuses on two families who live next door to one another in a New York suburb. Both men are policemen in NYPD, but their families are diametrically opposite. Peter's family is in constant chaos, with mental illness and alcoholism. Kate's family is more stable, with involved parents and two sisters. When a tragedy erupts between these two neighbors, the fall-out lasts for years as the two children, Kate and Peter, find their way back to one another. It  is a solid story, but a bit forgettable for me. Admittedly, I'm an outlier on this one as many others have loved it, but I think I am just not a fan of her writing voice, as I did not love her previous book called Fever.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
From the very first page, I could see that Vuong is at his heart a poet; this is a stunningly written book. Yet it can also occasionally get tripped up by the verbosity of the author. It is a story of a young gay Vietnamese man, son of an immigrant mother, grandson of a woman who fled the violence and war of Vietnam as it collapsed. The issues run deep in this book, and they are slowly examined as Vuong tells his story in short, poetic vignettes, showing us the life of an immigrant, of how the cultural traditions impact his family, how 'Americans' treat his mother with her strong accent during work in a nail salon, how his love affair is twisted through racism and addiction. It is a painful, raw book that turns the idea of what is a novel completely on its head. Did I love this book? No. Did this book impact me? Definitely. It is short, but not a quick read; it will provide you with some provocative ideas to mull over, that's for sure.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Having read ALL of Benjamin's other books, I had to complete the set and read her very first novel. As always, Benjamin uses people in history to become her fictional characters, trying to get 'behind the scenes' of the real story. This time around she focuses on Alice Liddel (aka Alice in Wonderland) and the writer of the story, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). As a mathematics professor at Oxford, Dodgson befriends the young daughters of Dean Liddell, and yes, during a famous canoe ride, the story of Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole is born. However, there are dark and ugly secrets during this time period - rumors of pedophilia, obsessions with young girls, questionable photo sessions, and a lifetime of dark and ugly secrets waiting to ruin Alice's life. This was my least favorite of Benjamin's books; frankly, I wanted to take a shower after finishing it. A dark and ugly tale, full of sadness not only in Alice's childhood but her adulthood as well, it was well-researched but did not leave me satisfied.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks Sarah Pekkanen
You know it is an average book when you search your brain for what it was about just days after finishing it. Having thoroughly enjoyed their latest book, An Anonymous Girl, I was looking forward to reading the authors' first big hit. I find it intriguing that this due writes a story together, trading off chapters or points of view - it's a cool idea. However, this book was just fine, not great. It is about an abusive man, and his variety of wives. Some intriguing twists occur when it comes to which wife and what is the real story, yet I found it quite predictable. Perhaps I am reading too many thrillers, or my expectations are too high?

Monday, July 1, 2019

July

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
Put four women together with an arrogant sexist boss, add in a new employee, some past history, the Me Too movement, and a lot of dark humor and you've got one helluva book. Three corporate lawyers, Grace, Ardie, and Sloane have their hands full at a large Nike-like company, juggling a new baby, a recent divorce, and issues with an eleven year old daughter. Rosalita, a corporate office cleaner, has her own issues with supporting her young son as a single mother and trying to get him into a better school. When the CEO suddenly dies and the General Council, their boss, looks to be tapped for the big shoes, the whispers of harassment get louder and louder, and the plot becomes a rolling boulder down a steep, unstoppable mountain of doubt, innuendo, and bitterness. I laughed out loud at some of the snarky comments, and at times I wanted to wring the necks of these privileged snobby women, but I also cheered them in their ancient battle for equitable treatment in a white man's world. Far too many instances of "Yep, me too" that gave this book authenticity and a strong voice. This book will get people talking with its provocative message. Thanks to Flatiron Press for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin
Set in Paris at the beginning of the war years, under Hitler's rule, I wondered if this book could tell me anything I had not already read about this time period? The answer is unequivocally 'Yes' as author Jeanne Mackin is the master of research and character development. Following the couture designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, Mackin divulges the inner workings, secret, and machinations of the fashion world of yesterday as well as the ties this industry had to the Vichy government and the Resistance. To be honest, I rarely think about high fashion and its place in society as it always seems rather shallow. However, in this tale one can see the cultural influences these fashion mavens had on history, as well as their own personalities, spirit, and beliefs. I thoroughly enjoyed this story of the competition and lives of these two bigger-than-life women.

The Liar's House (Detective Gina Harte #4) by Carla Kovach
Having discovered this detective series just a few months ago, I have raced through all four of the books in record time. Here's why: 1) the head detective is a woman, a very human, hot mess at times, kind of woman, who is smart, strong, anxious, guilt-ridden, just so authentic. Gina reminds me a bit of Olivia Colman's character in BBC series, Broadchurch. 2) the wingmen/women in the country police station are flushed out and interesting 3) the plot is constructed well, with appropriate red herrings, and plausible complexities 4) the mystery keeps me guessing until the very end, which is saying a lot considering how many mysteries I read. The first book in the series involves an abandoned baby with DNA from a woman missing for four years. The next deals with women found dead and the ring of violence that surrounds the town. The third book takes on the idea of domestic slavery, and this book, #4, draws Gina back into her past amidst the disappearance and murder of multiple women. If you're looking for a cracking good British mystery series to dive into, you won't go wrong with this one. Thanks to Net Galley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
I have been a big fan of Sager since her first big hit, Final Girls, as well as her second book, The Last Time I Lied. However, I was rather underwhelmed by her latest. Set in a snooty but mysterious old condo building called The Bartholomew (think The Dakota but with gargoyles), the young, penniless orphan named Jules moves in to apartment-sit for a lucrative pay-out, but finds it less than inviting. Girls disappear, crotchety old author befriends Jules, hot doctor flirts and pursues her - too many implausible happenings, too many predictable 'coincidences,' weak main character whose back story did not completely add up to me, and a 'twist' that seemed made for a 80's era slasher film. I just felt as if this book was forced, and not Sager's previous solid plotting and character development. Bit of a miss for me. Thanks to Net Galley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
This book title had me at 'Harper Lee,' author of my favorite book in the world, if you forced me to choose. I mean really, if you love To Kill a Mockingbird, didn't you always wonder why Lee never wrote another book? Was it because she was not that talented and it was a one-hit-wonder? Was it because of mental illness, or addiction, or writer's block? Or was it because of her close friendship with Truman Capote? This book has the answers for you and it is a compelling listen with a great narrator. One third of the book focuses on the murder victim, though he's not much of a 'victim' as he's credibly accused of killing or orchestrating the murder of six people. The middle of the book covers the actual trial, and the final third delves into Harper's Lees interest in the case, as well as her own past history and the relationship with Capote. I voraciously listened to this one, grabbing every minute I could get. Highly recommend if you're a TKAM fan as I am.

The Scholar (Cormac Reilly, #2) by Dervla McTiernan
If you have been looking for a shorter version of Tana French, this is your writer: McTiernan is Irish, sets her series in Galway, has built an intriguing police unit with compelling characters, and always has a twisty, turny well-developed mystery that satisfies. This time around the book begins with a murder involving the mistaken identity of a wealthy research scientist's granddaughter. As head detective Cormac Reilly stumbles upon the case thanks to his girlfriend, a researcher in the grandfather's lab on a college campus, Reilly slides down a rabbit hole of corporate greed, the search for 'cures' and the profit surrounding them, and the hierarchy of a tight-knit police department. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, McTiernan yanks me another direction. Solid police procedural mystery with good writing and intriguing characters. 

The Absolutist by John Boyne
I have always said John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Heart's Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky) could write a grocery list and I would plunk my money down on the counter for it. Therefore, I felt compelled to go back aways into his writing life and pull out this WWI-set book published seven years ago. Was I right? Yep, this man can write. His main characters, Tristan, is a young WWI veteran, on a train ride to find the family of his friend killed in France as they served together. Through flashback of the war years during his search for the family, Tristan relates a tragic tale of war, love, honor, and deception. This is not a light and hopeful beach read, but it is a compelling tale of what war does to a human, how marginalization warps a person, and how death is the ultimate finality, a place where forgiveness and redemption cannot reside. This is a story I will not forget easily.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
After falling madly in love with A Gentleman in Moscow last year, I thought it would behoove me to go back to Towles' first book as this man is a true magician with words. And to be honest, I was underwhelmed. Not by the writing - it is spectacular, with so many lines and sentences I had to read aloud to my ever-patient husband. Yet the characters fell flat for me.  I could not connect with any of the threesome: Kate, daughter of a Russian immigrant, trying to make her way into high society and enough money to cover rent; Eve, beautiful transplant from Indiana, free spirit, victim of an accident; and Tinker, wealthy scion of NYC, or so he seems. As these three dance with one another through 1937-38, I felt no compulsion to keep reading. Their shallow goals and dreams were just that to me...shallow, which I suspect was the point? But it felt a little plot-less to me, which can be fine if I am intrigued by the characters. I am an outlier on this one as many many people loved Towles debut - I do think it would make an intriguing book club choice. However, I still adore Count Rostov of the Metropol Hotel a thousands times over:)


Saturday, June 15, 2019

June 2.0

Recursion by Blake Crouch
Was your mind blown by Dark Matter back in 2016? I remember reading that book in just one day, trying to figure out where in the world this story would end? The big question with his latest book is...can Crouch hit it out of the park again? The answer is YES, he can and he did. This time around the plot focuses on the idea of memory - how are memories made, can they be copied and replanted, and what happens if there's a massive F-up as these people experiment with our memories? The plot begins as Helena is a Stanford scientist, trying desperately to create a chair that when all hooked up, will be able to help her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, recover her life memories. A stranger enters her lab and offers to fund her project but yes, there is a price. The parallel story line involves Barry, a NYC police detective, grieving the death of his daughter after all these years and trying to talk a jumper off a high rise building. How are these two connected? Just jump on this roller coaster of a book and enjoy the screaming, thrilling, hold-onto-the-safety-bar ride.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
I am not sure why it took me so long to read this highly acclaimed novel that uses the AIDS epidemic as the wheel its characters turn around and the interplay amongst them. Set in two time periods, Chicago in the mid-1980's and Paris in 2015, the characters of Yale and Fiona resonate with all of us who have loved, who have felt marginalized, who have grieved loss, and who have watched a country turn its back on its own people. Yale is the focal point of the 1980's. As a young gay man in Chicago, he is surrounded by an eclectic social group: the intellectual magazine editor who is his live-in partner, the wild partier who dares AIDS to get him, the shy and quiet artist who dies young and is the pivot on which the entire group turns; the older artist who provides the home, the philosophy, and the model for the youngsters; the lawyer who fights for their legal rights; and the little sister, who nurses, protects, and watches these beautiful young men slowly die off. As Fiona looks back on these years in 2015, as she searches for her estranged daughter in Paris, we the reader also begin to discover the depth of her pain and the consequences of her sacrifice decades ago. This is a heart-wrenching, tragic, hopeful, and ultimately beautiful book about who our family is, how history impacts our entire life, and how we redeem ourselves. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson
Wow, a 490-page book read in just two days...yep, this one is good and here's why. First, Gibson has done her research. After interviewing dozens of current and previous West Point cadets, she has written an extremely authentic book; the details of student life, experiences of active duty assignments post-graduation, deployment, and non-military life for a former cadet all ring true. The three main characters are basketball players brought together at West Point. In the beginning, I was fascinated with the details of cadet life - I mean wow, who can withstand that first year???? Each woman is uniquely herself: Dani, who is bi-racial, a perfectionist, a natural leader; Hannah, the soft-spoken Texan, who has her faith and her family West Point lineage; and Avery, the rebellious one who is whip smart but has demons in her past. Did the writing knock my socks off? No - too many metaphors that did not work and sentence structure that was choppy at times, yet...this is just a crackin' good story of faith, honor, duty, friendship, and ties that go as deep as I have ever seen.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Ostensibly a YA thriller, I found it to be much more compelling than I would have thought going into it. It reminded me of an adult-version of Encylopedia Brown...five students go into detention, one ends of dead, whodunnit? The story trades voices amongst the young people accused of murder: the stereotypical bad kid who deals drugs, the goody-two shoes who gets straight A's and wants to go to Yale, the baseball star who is beloved by all, and the quirky girl who is part of the IN crowd due to her jock boyfriend. It is definitely a page-turner with lots of twists and turns and the cover is pretty awesome:)

The Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future by Pete Buttigieg
If you follow the news, if you are nauseous over the current Oval Office occupant, if you are looking for someone new to give you hope in America again, then I highly recommend picking up Mayor Pete's life story and seeing what he has to offer this country; you won't be disappointed by him. Pete is the current mayor of South Bend, Indianan, and yes, he is running for President. Do his experiences qualify him for the job? How did his childhood in this college town shape him? What are the ideas that push him to do more? Why did he join the military? How has his marriage to Chasten and going public with being gay directed his future? And most importantly, can he lead America back to a place of respect? If we want to be a functioning democracy, I believe in our fundamental duty to gather information and become an informed voter; this book will help you do just that. And yes, I'm a huuuuuge Mayor Pete fan:)

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold
This is the 2019 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Non-Fiction and it is worth every minute you will spend in the towns of Amity and Prosperity. Deep in the Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania, reporter Eliza Griswold spends years here, documenting, research, and interviewing all the people that corporate fracking is impacting. Yes, we hear all the time about the dangers of fracking, but I never truly realized the depth of the damage until listening to Griswold's book. She focuses on two families whose homes are destroyed, as well as the health of their children and themselves, but she also looks deeply into the impact on the town's economy, the sacrifices made to attain any justice in the courts, and the truly reprehensible corruption within the EPA as they cozy up to the oil and gas companies. It is an enlightening, fascinating read and a darn good 'listen' as the narrator unveils the towns of Amity and Prosperity in a dramatic fashion.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I'm a little late to the dance on this one, as it was the 'hot' book last year, but as always, I work on opposites and was determined not to follow the lemmings. However, I can see why people loved this book - I liked it, but it was a bit forgettable for me. Very reminiscent of The Rosie Project, Eleanor is a quirky, rude, rather unlikeable worker in a London office. She is friendless, pet-less, and has lived in the same flat for many years. However, Eleanor has a past that the author slowly reveals as this quirky woman warms up to life and to a co-worker, as well as to the readers. It is a delightful book, worth the short time it took me to read. I am curious to see if it will give our book club much to discuss?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

June 2019

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
Another solid British mystery by one of the most "English" writers out there today. Once again, as in the first book of this series The Word is Murder,  author Anthony Horowitz teams up with the curmudgeonly retired London detective, Daniel Hawthorne, to solve another twisty mystery. Yes, the author puts himself in the book, as well as much of his life, as he and Hawthorne partner again to figure out who murdered the famous divorce attorney. Many suspects abound (think Agatha Christie) and Horowitz continues to be the bumbling idiot as Hawthorne steal every scene as well as every good line. I often found myself chuckling out loud as I quickly turned pages to find out 'whodunnit.' Horowitz has yet to disappoint me so if you are looking for a solid, witty, intelligent mystery, this is it.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper
In a community council office the job is to go into dead peoples' homes and figure out if they have any family or loved ones who would bury them. They have died alone, but have they lived a solitary life? This is the question that haunts Andrew as he and his new partner, Peggy, search through bed mattresses, kitchen cupboards, and boxes of old cards to find someone who cared about the deceased. Yet Andrew has his own dark secrets, one that has led to him creating a family of his own that does not truly exist, covering up his solitary life in a lonely bedsit in London amidst his model train set. What does one do when a simple white lie turns into a huge white whale that just won't go away? This lovely little book combines elements of The Rosie Project with A Man Called Ove and is utterly delightful.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
This is the new hot fantasy book that is supposed to take the place of Game of Thrones for us junkies. Quite frankly, I was underwhelmed. It has a great premise...a fantasy world that is divided between dragon haters and dragon worshippers, and now the big kahuna dragon who almost destroyed the world a thousand years ago is on his way back. Can the separates countries bond together and defeat them as one? The story follows some potentially intriguing characters like a dragon rider, a mage sent to protect the queen, a lord who becomes a spy, the young queen who must produce an heir. It is an incredibly long book at well over 800 pages, and I just did not find the characers or story that compelling. It was fine. But for that long of a book, I need gripping, on-the-edge-of-my-seat story lines and characters that I root for. My biggest problem was the lack of a serious antagonist - it would have made this book more compelling for me.

Waisted by Randy Susan Myers
I am a huge fan of two former books by Myers, The Widow of Wall Street and Accidents of Marriage. Those two books were able to engage me deeply in the characters, which is my favorite kind of story. However, this book was a miss for me. I felt like it struggled to find what it wanted to be? Was it a tale of a "fat farm" gone wrong, where dieters were abused in order to compel them to lose weight? Or was it a story of race or of women's friendships or of marriage issues or parenting problems? I just could not tell. I just never cared enough about any of the women to either cheer for them or against them. Perhaps it is written for a different audience than me. I am thankful to Net Galley for a free book in exchange for an honest review.

The Last Stone by Mark Bowden
The author of Black Hawk Down, a rave review in the New York Times, and I figured this was a great true-crime novel to download and listen to...I was mistaken. It IS a compelling story: decades ago two young sisters go to a mall and are never seen again. It was the biggest crime story in the Baltimore area back in the 1980's as a cub reporter followed up every detail. As the main suspect continuously lies to police and reporter when they interview him in prison, he constantly changes his story. This creates a LOT of repetition. While we see the clues revealed and the ending is intriguing, I was anxiously awaiting the end of the book. Not the best listen, to say the least, but excellent detective work.


Verity by Colleen Hoover
What am I missing on this book? So many people are raving about it, but wow, it was a huuuuge miss for me. In other words, I will never get those three hours back. Ostensibly a thriller about a young woman hired by the husband to finish a book series while his wife is in a coma. But really, it seemed to be just a book about the different ways the ghost-writer and husband could have sex, with an extremely predictable ending. Blech is all I have to say. It just does not deserve a picture.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

May 2.0

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
I knew going into this book that I admired Melinda and Bill Gates and what they have given back to our world. However, this book taught me so much more...about their commitment to gender equality, of how their thirst for knowledge and insatiable curiosity allows them to grow their foundation into something truly world-changing, and how unbelievably heroic and dedicated Melinda Gates is to this foundation and to raising women up to their rightful and equal status. So many great chapters to explore: how Melinda's own youth led her to where she is today, how the culture of a male-centric company can be conquered without losing ones self, how NGOs need to be thoughtful about working within the known parameters of a culture, and yes, how one woman's dedication to others has changed all of our lives for the better. This is one of the most inspirational books I have read in years, and honestly, it is a great companion to books like A Woman is No Man and A Storyteller's Secret, where gender equity issues are quite disheartening. The Moment of Lift shows us a path through those obstacles.

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
I have read most of Benjamin's historically based novels and enjoyed them all; this is another winner. This time around she focuses on the manager of the Ritz, Claude Auzello, and his wife Blanche. As famous people come in and out of the hotel, as the Nazis make this iconic residence a meeting spot for SS powers, and as danger lurks around every corner as the secret workings of the French Resistance occupy the workers, we see the inner workings of the Paris Ritz. What I found most fascinating about this book was the relationship between Claude and Blanche; I realized that my initial opinions of their character slowly changed as the life of occupied France morphed the two of them into different people. If you like WWII historical fiction, this is the book for you.

Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Yep, I am still trying to find answers to the political upheaval of the 2016 American elections. This look by sociologist Arlie Hochschild was utterly fascinating, as she spends a wealth of time in small communities in Louisiana. A liberal professor from Berkeley, Hochschild dug into the whys (as in why does one vote against their own self interest?), the hows (how will America find its way back to unity after division), the what (what are the consequences of deregulation on the delicate eco-systems of Louisiana swamp land, ), and the whos (who votes conservative and what is their main motivations). The beauty of this book is she ultimately does not give us any answers, but it definitely adds knowledge and transparency to the partisan split in our country today. It was a great listen.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
This is a solid legal thriller with a couple of 'issues' for me. First the positives: unique plot line (pressurized oxygen chamber used for 'healing,' fire causes death), compelling characters (Korean immigrant family, parents of autistic children), intriguing thematic issues (ideas of what is 'normal,' how and should immigrants 'assimilate'), and it is all wrapped up in a legal thriller in a courtroom. My issues? An abusive situation involving an adult and a minor was never truly addressed, and considering the unequal division of power, it bothered me. Ditto for the one-off line about mercury in the blood possibly causing autism and how vaccines have mercury. This theory has been debunked for years, and the iteration of it is causing horrendous measles outbreaks in this country, so yeah, not necessary. Good story tho and well-written.

The Ragged Edge of Night by Oliva Hawker
This was a compelling listen, with a real-life story turned into a fictional book that encompasses WWII, Germany, and the Catholic church. Anton is a young German monk, who has lost his monastery in the chaos of WWII. As the looks for redemption, he finds a young widow with three children who needs a husband to support them. Anton is pulled into so much more than just a new family when he comes to live in their village. It is a compelling story with an even more compelling back story of how it played out in real life. Highly recommend if you have a long car ride:)

Kingsbane (Empirium #2) by Claire Legrand
I loved the first book in this series, Furyborn, and the second one did not disappoint. Her fantasy world includes creepy villains who get inside one's brains, a little romance, some various rebellions, some time travel, and badass women characters, ones that are so complex it is hard to define if they are the heroes or the antagonists. My one problem with this book is that it gave zero summary as to what happened in the last book and I was completely lost until I painstakingly looked up and read the looooong summaries online of Furyborn. Normally, that would be okay but this is one is tougher as the chapters flip back and forth between the two main females, and different time periods, so quickly that it is hard at times to keep track of things. So yes, the series is really good but honestly I would wait until all three are out and read them all at once.

The Next Girl (Detective Gina Harte, #2) by Carla Kovach
If you like a solid British police procedural mystery, then you will like the first in Kovach's new series. A young village wife disappears one night, leaving her husband to cope with two young children. As he tries to put his life back together years later, a baby is found with her wife's DNA. 'Nuff said without spoilers. Suffice it to say, it is a roller coaster of a ride to see whodunnit and how does this all end?? Wonderful British narrator - I've already downloaded the second in the series to listen to on for the summer dog walks I have planned:)