Friday, June 1, 2018

June

Us Against You by Frederik Backman
If you read Beartown, you will be compelled to read this one. I was not sure if I was ready to re-enter the small northern town of Beartown, to relive the heart-wrenching yet incredibly heroic tale of a culture that turned its back on a vulnerable girl and her family. Yet I also wanted to know..what next? This book picks up at the end of a tragic loss for the Beartown hockey team after a young girl's story of rape sidelines the star, and forces his friends to become heroes or villains. Once again Backman is able to take our hearts and wrap them around his characters: the new female hockey coach who says she only cares about hockey but gives chances to kids who never had them before; the head thug who loves his brother and his hockey team with a purity that defies reason; the two best friends who must re-find how friendship should be defined; the star who is outed, and must find his place in the hockey stadium and the world at large; the mother and father whose life ambitions pull them apart; the politician who is willing to sacrifice them all for power; and the crusty old bartender who holds the town together. As I turned the final page, I felt bereft, as if I had lost a town of friends, people I cheered for, yelled at, shook til their teeth rattled, and ultimately drew into my heart. Yep, I loved this book; I loved it because Backman reminds us that humans are complicated, not perfect, just complicated.

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
This is a solid thriller that kept me turning pages late into the night. Set in Seattle, the plot line veers back and forth between the story of today (high paid executive testifies in court against high school boyfriend who is serial killer, and then begins prison sentence) and the story of their high school days (trio of friends, one who is murdered, one who goes to prison as an accomplice, and one who is the policeman who investigates). Fair warning, this is not for the faint-hearted as some blood, gore, and violence accompany this telling of a psychopathic murderer who preys on young girls, and adds in small children to the crimes of today. The author throws in numerous red herrings to send you in a variety of directions; it took me awhile to figure it all out, but eventually the clues were all there. My one complaint is that the ending was too saccharine for my taste, too pat, and a bit unrealistic. And I have to say, as a Seattle-ite born and bred, it's annoying to read about a fictitious college - just use one of the colleges that are in the city as there are a plethora of them. Just my two cents.

A Reaper at the Gates (Ember Quartet #3) by Sabaa Tahir
Ember in the Ashes began this YA fantasy series. I really liked the plot construction of the first one, but was disappointed in the weak female leads - where were the badass heroines taking on the world? But when I read book number two, A Torch in the Night, I was reminded of the value of patience, of slowly building characters, of allowing learning and life to shape people. Laia and Helene, along with Elias, have turned into some of my very favorite literary characters, showing honor, integrity, heart, wisdom, and courage - all learned in response to not only their upbringing and heritage, but to what life has thrown at them. In book number three, the fight continues for the Empire, for the Scholar slaves to find freedom, for Elias to 'catch' the dead and take them to the other side, for Helene to save her family from destruction as well as her country, and for Laia to be the heart that holds them all together. Book Three in this quartet is powerful and amazing; trust me, do not miss this series if you're a fan of YA fantasy. It's one of the best in the literary world.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
Historical fiction spliced together with a ghost story in a girl's boarding school and a little murder on the side - does it get better than this? Switching between two times periods, we see the issues this small town has with the now defunct school where wayward girls were once sent decades ago, and where the main character's sister was found, dead, in the not so distant past. As Fiona Sheridan, daughter of a famous journalist, investigates the school, it brings up memories and questions surrounding the conviction of her sister's murderer, the rich son of a bigshot family. Fiona begins to learn of the four girls who once lived at Idlewild Hall, as well as the long ago death of a young girl, who perhaps continues to haunt the area all these years. This book is a classic throwback to the gothic novels of old, but with some modern twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I literally could not put this book down, and now understand all the rave reviews for it. Highly recommend for that summer read, brain candy book, especially for my teacher friends who want to be entertained during the break.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
I loved Nugent's debut novel, Unraveling Oliver, but her second book just did not live up to my expectations, mostly due to the ending. It is definitely a page turner and easy to read, and the first line is a doozy! "My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it." The story is told through two voices, wife/mother Lydia who hides a murder, and her son Laurence, who attempts to live a normal life from within a seriously messed up family. Lydia, who is just out and out batsh*t crazy, has some fairly wicked skeletons in her closet, never wants to go too far from her huge family estate, and pretty much destroys everything she touches. Poor weak, overweight, pathetic Laurence tries real hard to escape her clutches, but alas, for naught. I never really felt for either of these characters: wholly unlikable, thinly drawn, and just not that bright. The ending fell flat as well, so this book was a bit of a miss for me.

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body by Jo Marchant
At the age of 55, I experienced my first surgery, which led to a long journey down the rabbit hole of chronic pain, varying medical advice and prescriptions, and a turn to looking for other options. This book is a powerful look at the varied options out in the world that do not preclude medical care, but also includes options outside that realm as well. Using many statistics and studies, journalist Jo Marchant explores the placebo effect, the uses of behavioral conditioning, virtual reality, religious belief, and many many more as she travels through the Western world looking for "cures" to a wide variety of medical issues. This book is a formidable reminder of the power of the mind, and our ability to harness it in the service of healing ourselves. Life-changing for those of us who need another road to healing.

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