Friday, July 14, 2017

July 2.0

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
You know when you read that kind of book where you want the world to melt away and not bother you until the final page is on the horizon?  That is Dark Matter, the hot book from 2016 finally out in paperback.  All the reviews are correct; it is THAT good. Think science-fiction meets The Time Traveler's Wife, and then put it on steroids and you have the gist of this book.  Jason Dessen is an physics professor at a small college in Chicago, married to a previously aspiring artist, raising their fifteen year old son.  Both adults are aware of opportunities missed career-wise, but have chosen a happy family life over professional accolades.  However, after attending a friend's celebration over a big international science award, Jason is kidnapped into an alternative universe.  Yes, you heard that correctly...and here's where the story gets creative and amazing. In another life, Jason didn't marry Daniela, didn't have a son, and invented a lil box where one could travel to parallel universes.  Mind blowing to say the least! The rest of the book is a rock-n-roll ride through a variety of life choices, as Jason tries to find his way back to Daniela and his own life.  This is a five-star, can't-miss, don't-you-dare-not-read-this-one kind of book:)

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The best way to describe this book...Agatha Christie meets Arthur Conan Doyle.  Shades of Hamlet exist as well, as we have a book within a book.  Or perhaps it is just the biggest nerd book ever, as scores of anagrams, puzzles, and codes inhabit these pages as well.  In other words, this is a very clever, delicious, well-written mystery.  The book begins with Susan, a literary agent who receives the latest manuscript of famed who-dunnit writer Alan Conway, a nasty, bitter author who makes her small publishing company quite bit of money, but is generally a pain in the ass.  As we the reader get caught up in Conway's latest book, we almost forget that it is a 'book within a book.' Thus, when Conway unexpectedly dies, mysteries abound both in real life, as well as the manuscript.  I understand all the rave reviews and accolades for this book; it is an extremely well-constructed puzzle with so many red herrings, you'll be chasing them for days! Author Anthony Horowitz, the only author given permission to write new Sherlock Holmes novels by the official Sherlock Holmes society, is one talented writer - do not miss this one if you are a fan of a jolly good mystery.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
From the author of In a Dark Dark Wood (fabulous) and The Woman In Cabin 10 (very good), Ruth Ware's new thriller hits the bookstores on July 25th.  This latest endeavor hurls between two time periods, today's world where four women hide their past and the boarding school life of seventeen years ago where the Lying Game directed their every move.  Isa (new mother, lawyer vs. new student to Salten school), Fatima (GP doc, faithful Muslim mother of two vs. Isa's roommate at Salten), Thea (alcoholic, anorexic casino worker vs. transfer student to Salten after being expelled from every other school), and Kate (current resident of the Mill, just down the road from Salten school vs. daughter of the art teacher at Salten, instigator of the Lying Game).  Bones are found by a beach-combing dog near Kate's house, and the four women are inexorably drawn together once again, hiding their secrets from spouses, running into people whose lives were hurt due to the lies the girls told long ago, and coming face to face with the younger step-brother of Kate whose tragic life left behind deep trauma. Is this a page turner?  Absolutely.  Is it as good as her previous two books?  Nope.  I found the characters to be less appealing; it was hard to root for any of these self-absorbed women who seemed to have little depth, and the 'bad' guys just were not that complex either.  The book is good, but not great.

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
I was thrilled to get this book from Net Galley after reading the premise:  An adult-style The Giver meets The Handmaid's Tale in this futuristic, creepy debut novel by Jennie Melamed, a psychiatric nurse who worked at my alma mater, the University of Washington.  I read voraciously, finishing this book in just one day.  The story is set on an island somewhere, occupied by descendants of the ten original founders.  Each family is only allowed to have two children; the birth of a son is celebrated, while the birth of a daughter is cried over and mourned (you will find out why as the story builds into a creepy, societally approved father/daughter incest). The summertime brings a wild rumpus, as the youngsters are freed from home, work, and school and live wild for those months, only to be brought back into the fold as the first frost hits.  This tale follows a few of the young girls, as we see the story through their eyes; a rebellious older teen who starves herself in order to not come to 'fruition,' a new wife who loves her husband but is terrified over her pregnancy; and a young teen who sees a horrific truth on the beach and thus instigates some deep questioning of how young mothers have died.  I was all in on this book, until the ending, which in my opinion was a complete cop-out.  I won't give it away, but geez, it was frustrating.  Instead of taking the easy way out, I really wanted to see the author grapple with some deep issues and even be courageous enough to leave some questions.  (Think Handmaid's Tale ending!).  I don't want a pretty package at the end, but I do not want to feel like the author just got tired of writing or was not sure where to go for the finish.  However, I would try another book by Melamed as her first effort was original and well-developed for the first 99%. This would also be a provocative book club choice, as it would definitely induce great conversation.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Okay, so I'm a little late to the dance on this book; literally everyone was reading it last year, but heck, I hate following the crowd. Plus to be honest, I did try it, but was uninterested by page 40 and tossed it. Thankfully, my millennial-generation daughter said it was required reading, so once again I dove into the printed page of Americanah. I practiced patience, and was well rewarded by page 75 as I could not put this book down until I had read every page of this 588-page book. It is profound, provocative, thoughtful, and exceptionally well-written, required reading indeed. It follows the lives of two young Nigerian teens, in love but separated over the years. Ifemelu goes to America, where she experiences the life of an immigrant, attends university, and blogs about race and 'discovering' that she is black in America. Her blogs on race are courageous and sometimes uncomfortable, providing me with much to think about in my own life. Obinze, on the other hand, stays in Nigeria, eventually emigrating to London as he tries to find his way to success. Eventually, life leads both back to Nigeria. The premise sounds simple, and Adichie rolls out the narrative in a straightforward manner, yet so much depth exists in this book that one continues to think about certain conversations between characters long after the book has been put down. When you are in the mood for some legit literature, please pick up this book and be patient; you will not be disappointed.

The Address by Fiona Davis
The author of The Dollhouse (fictional tale of the Barbizon Hotel for Women in NYC) is back with her second book, this one focusing on the famous Dakota apartment building across the street from Central Park. Traveling between two time periods, Davis tells the story of the original architect of 1895 as he tries to convince people to move to the 'boonies' of the city and try out communal living in style, and a modern-day tale of a recovering alcoholic interior designer whose family ties have been embedded with the architectural family for generations. The character of Sara, the British woman who becomes the Dakota's first housekeeper is especially intriguing; dealing with the day-to-day business of the New York elite families who reside at the Dakota is some great historical trivia. As the tale unwinds into forbidden love, betrayal, and criminal behavior at the turn-of-the-century, Davis pulls in the characters of the 1980's to show the intriguing connections. At times, I found this book a bit formulaic, with few surprises and in need of some further character development, particularly of the architect and the reasons for his behavior. Yet, I would ultimately recommend this to anyone who is interested in the history of NYC; this book is definitely excellent brain candy and a compelling read.

The Breakdown by B. A Paris
I really loved Paris' first book, Behind Closed Doors; it was a tense, powerful thriller about an abusive husband and a wife who eventually fights back.  This second book is good, yet I found it to be a bit reminiscent of the first.  The premise of the plot is new and different, however. On her way home from a pub gathering, Cass takes a shortcut through the woods and sees a car pulled over; due to the terrible storm that night, Cass continues on her way home and hears the next day of the woman's murder.  As the guilt roils her emotions, we also see the ongoing memory issues with which Cass struggles, the impact it has on her young marriage, the slow deterioration of her mind as well as her life, and the help/hindrance of many supporting characters.  I read voraciously, with guesses in mind of 'whodunnit' (yes, I was correct from my original guess but perhaps it's because I read a ton of mysteries and not that it was obvious? Hmmm), yet I did wish that Cass did not take so terribly long to grow a backbone and act like a strong capable woman.  I would like to see Paris develop that strength sooner, or at least in her next book, have a woman who is a bad-ass and not such a pushover. With that said, if you're looking for a page-turning thriller, this one is pretty solid.

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