Monday, January 18, 2016

Winter Reading 2.0

In the Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
This dark, psychological mystery takes the reader to a remote house in the English countryside, to a 'hen' party for Clare, the bride-to-be, and a who-dunnit that is difficult to put down.  Told through the eyes of Nora, who has been invited to Clare's hen after not seeing her for ten years, we travel to the past as well as the present, as Nora tries to remember the incidences of the weekend, from the hospital bed where she currently resides.  The cast of characters is quirky and interesting:  Nora, an introverted twenty-six year old crime writer, with a difficult past; Nina, the brash and bold surgeon, old friend to Nora; Tom, the only male at the 'hen,' actor friend of the groom; Flo, current best friend of the bride, mentally unstable; and Clare, the bride and Nora's childhood best friend.  As the story unfolds, we see Nora and Clare's friendship from its inception, as well as the different characters as they walk into the girls' lives. The pieces of the puzzle slowly come together, and we, along with Nora, continuously wonder who is behind the Machiavellian plot unfolding at what should have been a wild girls' weekend.  On many of the 2015 'best of' lists, this mystery was a page turner.

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo
This Norwegian mystery writer has been one of my favorites, since first picking up one of his Harry Hole series.  The man knows how to create a taut mystery with dark, intriguing characters.  His latest is a stand-alone book, and shorter than most of his crime mysteries.  It does, however, focus on another complex character, who names himself Ulf.  Ulf has landed in a small, northern Norwegian town where the sun never sets and an obscure Christian sect shares the town with some lawless pagans.  Ulf is running from his past as a drug dealer and would-be assassin.  As he begins to share the townspeoples' lives, Ulf begins to dream of a future. However, the question throughout the book is whether his past will allow him to live another day.  While it is not as good as Harry (what is?), it is a solid mystery with some good twists and turns.

When Books Went To War:  The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning
Have you ever heard of the Victory Drive for Books?  Or how about ASE's? Or true 'pocket' magazines? neither.  This non-fiction book opens the window on a little-known book drive during WWII, that explains why so many people of the Greatest Generation were, and are, obsessive readers.  In a very well-researched book, Manning shows us the beginning of the 20th century, with a small program for WWI books that did not make it past Armistice Day.  However, when the boys began to be drafted for the European theater in 1941, the powers that be realized that sitting in camps was not only boring, but was debilitating to the fighting morale.  Thus was born a new movement for books.  Prior to this drive, paperbacks were fairly rare, but a small 3x5 book could fit in a soldier's pocket.  These books were read in foxholes, waiting for the enemy to arrive; they were passed from hand to hand, popular titles having the most value; and men most dearly loved the books, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that reminded them of the simple lives they left at home.  If you have a relative of this generation, or a librarian in your family, or you just love American history, this is the book for you.

After the Wind:  1996 Everest Tragedy - One Survivor's Story by Lou Kasischke
Into Thin Air is the one Jon Krakauer book I never read, the tale of the tragic loss of twelve lives on Mt. Everest in 1996.  Therefore, when a fellow book seller asked me to read this book to see what I thought, I figured it would be 'meh' in comparison to Krakauer's award winner.  Yep, I was wrong.  I spent an entire day on the couch, voraciously reading this gripping tale.  Kasischke (called Louk by team members) is a fifty-something year old man, addicted to mountaineering his entire life.  He joins what he thinks is the perfect team to summit Everest, but as the time draws near, personnel changes and a young reporter from Outside magazine is added (that would be Krakauer).  Despite Louk's apprehensions, he forges ahead to Nepal and the climb of a lifetime.  Embedded in the gripping tale of life and death, however, is also the story of Louk's relationship with his wife, Sandy and his deep faith.  Their love transcends continents and provides the support Louk needs to return home; it is the perfect balance to an otherwise tragic tale.  Told in first person, from journal accounts written right after the disaster, Louk is not a professional writer - he's just a normal guy who had an extraordinary experience.  I loved this book and will not readily forget this real-life adventure.

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Many of us have read stories of young developmentally challenged children and their struggles in life and school, such as Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Story of Beautiful Girl, and Be Frank With Me.  Gottlieb's story is a different take, showcasing what happens when a parent tries, and fails, to help their child and this small boy lives the last forty years of his life in a residential home for delayed adults.  Todd is a heartbreakingly lovely man, who so desperately misses his long-dead mother and just wants to return to his childhood home.  He is complacent and settled in his decades-long residence, until Martine, a new woman moves in and disrupts his idea of what is 'normal.' Running away, foregoing his meds, picking fights becomes Todd's new normal.  We visit his past and see the abusive father, his bullying brother, and the deep love of his mother in a time period that understood little of autism, anxiety, and developmental delays.  This is a story I will not soon forget.

 by Rachel Hartman
Yep, another YA book.  If you like fantasy, dragons (both magical and wicked), strong female leads, and a mystery thrown in, you will love Seraphina.  She is a musical prodigy living in the capital city of a fantasy world inhabited by both humans and dragons.  However, when the dragons are in the human city, they have to take their human form, thanks to a forty-year old treaty that ended the human vs. dragon war.  These dragon/humans are known for their analytical, unemotional minds, not allowed by their own kind to feel love for another.  However, Seraphina has a deep dark secret to hide, one that is not just frowned upon by both humans and dragons, but would cause her to be ostracized by society.  Trapped in her mother's secret past, which was embedded in her brain at birth, and pulled into the mystery surrounding the death of the heir to the throne, Seraphina is a spectacular new heroine.  If my girls were a bit younger, I would be shoving this book at them to see what a strong, smart, courageous young woman is capable of accomplishing.  This is a exciting read!

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