Friday, February 7, 2014

January Books

The Enchanting Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley
This book is a tough one to categorize - part love story, part historical-fiction, part fantasy, or maybe science fiction?  It is an intriguing book, to say the least.  In the first three pages, we meet Evelyn Hope, who has received a picture from her red-headed, freckled, green-eyed daughter who has moved to China with her husband and child, and now appears quite Asian in looks.  Evelyn remarks that she is 'much like her father'...and the story begins.  We share the life story of this remarkable woman, and her even more remarkable love.  As a reader, we experience the love between two women, and between a man and a woman; we see a family made and a family torn apart - and we are left wondering, just who is Adam Hope?  I am still not sure, and I'm okay with that.  I admit - I'm not a fan of picture-perfect endings and rather enjoy the ambiguous finales, ones that leave me questioning and seeking to find answers within the previous pages, or by talking with other friends who have read the same book.  Riley's first novel is sumptuously written, placing us deep into North Caroline farm country, as well as the countryside of northern Florida.  Not a plot-driven book, but one peopled with the most fascinating characters, this would be a book that would incite some interesting conversation at a book club, or just in a coffee date with a fellow book lover.

One Summer by Bill Bryson
Admittedly, I love non-fiction that is filled with fascinating trivia.  With that said, this book is a humdinger.  The premise is to look at the year of 1927 here in America; this sounds simple enough, until you realize all the life-changing things that happened that year.  Some historical events we know of, such as Charles Lindbergh, the handsome young Minnesotan who enchanted the world by flying across an ocean.  Or maybe the 1927 New York Yankees, the most statistically winning team in all of baseball.  Or how about Henry Ford?  Yep, we've all heard of him, but did you know he shut down his entire Model-T car-building line for six months, just to retool it for the Model-A.  Who does this?  We live in a time period of what we see as rampant gun violence, terrorism, obsession with celebrities and their private lives, and we wonder "where are the good old days?"  Well, Bill Bryson reminds us that the 'roaring twenties' are infamous for a reason; they make the 21st century look tame.  I cannot tell you how many times, as I read this book, I said "No way!" out loud.  This is a truly fascinating look at a stage in our rather 'young' country.  I would recommend this to young and old, as a wonderful way to put our own history in context and to just gather some great party trivia:)

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
As you can see by the cover, this book is not for the faint-hearted.  It is packed full of good old-fashioned gothic mystery during the days of Jack the Ripper.  If you're like me, we have all read scads of Ripper books and seen countless made-for-television movies as well.  However, did you know that another serial murderer was actually at work at the same time as Jack?  The Torso Killer, as the lovely dear was known, left a few dead bodies hanging out in the Thames River, confounding both the police and Dr. Thomas Bond, the real-life coroner who dealt with Jack's victims.  Pinborough is a very decorated short-story writer, who has turned out her first novel, soon to be a television series on the BBC.  In Mayhem, the story is told through a few different viewpoints: Bond's first person point of view, a bit addled by opium but driven to solve the mystery; the main detective who shows us the confusion of the London detectives; and finally, a Russian immigrant whose strange visions bring him hauntingly close to the murderer.  Within Pinborough's book are the normal mystery components - addiction, love, insanity, gore, creepy venues - but also cultural folklore, horror, and fantasy.  Read in just two days, this book was addictive.  However, I would not recommend reading it late at night, in a deserted home - I spent some time looking over my shoulder while my neck hairs stood on end. If you like a good, creepy mystery, though, this is it.

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