Friday, May 18, 2018

May 2.0

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Admittedly, I am a big fan of Ruth Ware; she writes very quintessential British mysteries, full of interesting characters, always uses a female lead, and is darn good with the ending 'twist.' I loved In a Dark, Dark Wood, really liked Woman in Cabin 10, and thought The Lying Game was okay. In Mrs. Westaway, Ware has her mojo back. Hal, a lonely young woman, deals tarot cards on the Brighton pier, has some serious money issues and a nasty loan shark, and has recently received a letter telling her that as Mrs. Westaway's granddaughter, she has an inheritance coming. All good, right? Yeah, nope. All of Hal's paperwork shows her grandparents' names and none of them are Westaway, she's never heard of this family, and it would literally take her last dime to get a train out to Penzance. Yet...how can she not go? Who better to pull off a con than a fortune teller? As Ware spools out the threads (three uncles she's never met, a forbidding and creepy housekeeper, a diary from a teenage girl, a creaky cold Cornwall mansion, and some prophetic magpies), I followed quite a few hints down wrong roads. This book kept me turning pages long past when I should have - great vacation read, or for a rainy day, or just for anyone that loves a solid mystery.

Furyborn (The Empirium Trilogy #1) by Claire Legrand
Take all the most incredibly creative ingredients from other fantasy novels: shades of HP (tournament, dementors, trio of friends, prophecies), Hunger Games trilogy (tournament costumes), Game of Thrones series (army of the dead, flying creatures), Shadow and Bone trilogy (different magical skills for cliques of people), Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (angels for antagonists). And now mix it all together with Claire Legrand's natural affinity for gorgeous writing, a creative and beautifully drawn fantasy world, a gripping plot, and complex and deeply developed characters, and here is a new hit fantasy series. This book is wicked good; its characters invaded my nighttime dreams, made me stay up waaaay too late at night, and made me voraciously hungry for the second book.

A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin  Powers
In 2012, Kevin Powers wrote his award winning debut novel called Yellow Birds, an evocative and unforgettable story of the Iraq war. Six years later he is back with another powerful and confronting story, this time set in the South. The story spins throughout time periods: the Beauvais plantation as its inhabitants face the cruelty of enslavement and the brutality of Civil War; Virginia in the 1950's as an old man searches for his identity; and the 1980's as a woman reflects back on her life. Through these brief snapshots of life, Powers forces us to see what our American history of racism, enslavement, and lack of opportunity has done to all of us, whatever race we may be. The power of hate and how it entraps all humanity is shown to be insidious and powerful. This is not a book to be read when falling asleep; one needs all their emotions right on the surface, all their wits about them as the setting changes, and all their own cultural biases at the forefront to see the beauty in this book. This would be a phenomenal book club choice, and also a powerful read for a high school or college classroom, particularly in today's world as we continue to see the consequences of terrible decisions made hundreds of years ago.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
This is a delightful, witty, very British romp through time as we meet Tom Hazard, a man who happens to be over 400 years old, living in today's world. You see, he has a physical anomaly - for every decade of life, he only ages one year. Sounds great, right? Yet it has caused Tom a plethora of stress and tragedy throughout the ages as it requires him to move constantly (it gets a little noticeable when you don't get any older than your neighbors!) and lessens the ability for long term relationships when you outlive a spouse by a few hundred years. We meet Tom as he has taken a new job teaching history in a London school, creating many opportunities to go on past reminisces on the people he has met (Shakespeare, Captain Cook, F. Scott Fitzgerald), the adventures he has experienced (wild west America, Tahiti during the height of colonialism, the roaring twenties), and the family for which he yearns. I was thoroughly entertained by Matt Haig's dry humor and thoughtful explorations of love, friendship, and the passage of time.

Legendary (Caraval, #2) by Stephanie Garber
In the first visit to Caraval, we met the two fearless sisters, Tessa and Donatello, as they escaped their nasty father and won the golden ticket to play the game of Caraval, a magical romp put on by the mysterious magician called Legend. This second trip is mind-blowing, wickedly delicious, and contains an unstoppable train of events. Tella is the player now, and a dark, foreboding pall hangs over this game as the elderly empress has demanded a special playing for her birthday celebration. Unbeknownst to Tella, the Fates (a super creepy batch of creatures) have been trapped in a deck of cards for quite some time and want out. Her 'pretend' fiance for the game happens to be the Prince of Hearts who is looking to free his buddies from their flattening confinement, as well as dangling the possibility of saving Tella's long-lost mother as part of a deadly bargain. The sisters have some impossible choices in front of them, which forced me to stay up waaay too late to voraciously read to the very end, where of course I got a bit of a cliffhanger as I wait impatiently for Book Three. She does, however, wrap up this storyline which is much appreciated:) Stephanie Garber is a magician herself as she is able to create a gorgeous yet forbidding fantasy world, write complex characters that act in oh so human ways, and design a twisty turning plot that demands to be read. While I loved Caraval, I do believe Legendary is even better.




Thursday, May 3, 2018

May

Trouble the Water by Jacqueline Friedland
An antebellum story, set in Charleston, with whiffs of The Kitchen House in its character development, this is a solid first outing by a debut author. When young Abby Milton comes to live in Charleston, all we know is the life of poverty she left behind. Yet Friedland slowly spools out the details of Abby's past, and we see how this past impacts her introduction into Charleston society and her life with her benefactor,  The author does a solid job of creating a strong female character that still fits into the time period, not always an easy thing to do. Abby is no wilting violet. Douglas Elling, an Englishman and shipping magnate, has a troubled past of his own, as his abolitionist work has brought him great sorrow. Slavery is white-washed a bit, but there are some incidences that show the degradation, the violence, the humiliation of the institution that are powerful parts of the book. The minor characters in this story are well developed, particularly Miss Larissa, the governess and Grace, the newly found best friend. As passions collide, the story builds to a somewhat predictable ending, and yet an explosive epilogue. If you are a fan of love stories and historical fiction, this book will suit you well.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
The author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun is back, delving once again into a strong woman engulfed in a relationship with America's iconic writer, Ernest Hemingway. This time she focuses on Martha Gelhorn, a young woman from St. Louis, a travel addict and aspiring writer. Her elite circle pulls her into contact with a variety of famous people, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Lillian Hellman, and yes, the great Hemingway. This book focuses solely on the years of their relationship: their meeting in Key West, the affair begun in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, a life in Cuba, their struggles with his literary success and her literary frustrations, and the time apart as Martha pursues her own career as a war correspondent. This book is aptly named, as their love for one another shines through, but it is apparent that neither are great candidates for marital bliss. As always, the book is well-written, well-researched, and has well-developed characters. However, my huuuuge complaint is that McLain has done to Martha Gelhorn exactly what the press did to her decades ago; she minimizes Gelhorn's own career (read the Author's Note at the end - Gelhorn is an icon in the journalistic world, one of the all-time great war reporters this country has ever known, and she did it by breaking every gender stereotype) and puts Gelhorn's life into context only as a wife to Ernest. Aargh...I can hear Marty Gelhorn turning over in her grave. Gelhorn is a fabulous choice for a novel, but I wish McLain had used her as she did Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun, as an incredible portrait of what a woman must do to survive in a man's world, the resilience and grit it takes to never give up, and the incredible courage it requires to turn one's back on marriage and motherhood and pursue one's career. Ah, that's where the story of Martha Gelhorn belongs and McLain misses it, at least she did for me.

Silent Companions: A Ghost Story by Laura Purcell
Do not - I repeat do not - read this book late at night. This is a throwback to the old Victorian Gothic books I was addicted to year's ago, full of mystery, ghostly companions, mysterious family members, and creepy servants. In other words, I could not put this book down. Set at the end of the 19th century,  the story begins with Elsie talking to a doctor in the asylum, a hint of the hot mess found in the past. As Elsie relates her story as part of her 'therapy,' she tells of the dark, overgrown estate of her late husband and the village who won't work for her (you know, the ghost and witch rumors will kill a good employment opportunity). Her only companion is her husband's cousin, Sarah. Oh, and the creepy wooden 'silent companions' carved a few hundred years ago for the previous family members to keep them company and show off to King Charles the First. Those pesky wooden cut outs just will not go away and survive being locked away and even burned. The hair on the back of your neck will be permanently raised, and the ending will make your jaw fall on the floor. If you like a little bit of fright (no blood or serial killers, just gothic creep), you may love this book as much as I did. And the cover is just stunning - well worth the paper copy.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman
This is a gorgeous little book that is so hard to describe. The characters drive all the action, yet not a lot of action exists. Feelings exist, as does history, disease, paintings, words. Two young boys, Michael and Ellis, become friends, fall in love, then fall in friendship. Annie comes along, loves Ellis and forms a triumvirate with the two young men. Ellis is left alone in the world, with only his memories and Michael's diaries to keep him company. It all sounds so simple, yet Sarah Winman takes these intense feelings of youth, of hope, of confusion, of death, of tragedy, of grief, and of renewal, and she melds them into a stunning book that I just could not put down. A bit reminiscent of A Little Life, this is a gorgeous story.

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
A topical and powerful setting for a debut novel, this book moves between two unique times: medieval Syria where a famous Muslim mapmaker and his legendary female apprentice fight mythical creatures, Crusaders, and the elements to map the world as it is known; and Syria in 2011, where a widowed mapmaker returns with her three teenage girls, after years in NYC, to find family and cultural connections, but runs straight into the Arab spring and a civil war. I struggled with the first half of this book, finding it hard to connect to either story. The 12th century story is rife with Arabic names of ancient places no longer heard of, as I found myself skipping the long descriptions. Once the story settled more on the characters and their quest to map the world, it was far more interesting. The modern tale is told through the eyes of 12 year old Nour, a daughter who grieves her father and suffers through unimaginable horror as her world is literally blown up around her. Yet it took until the second half to care deeply about this family. I wanted the author to dive deeper in their hearts, to flesh out more of the story through the characters rather than the plot.  I do hope this author writes another book on Syria as I believe she has great potential for educating many of us on the need for more compassion, not a law banning refugees getting a hand up from America.

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
This book reminds me of a combo of Gone Girl + Girl on the Train + Fifty Shades of Grey. Take an unreliable, batsh*t crazy narrator, toss him into a sexually charged relationship with some twisted beliefs, mix it in with a death and plenty of bias against women, and Our Kind of Cruelty is what comes out of the oven. Don't get me wrong; the story is unique and quite compelling. I just feel like I want to take a shower after spending a couple days in the world of Mike and Verity. If you like dark, nasty twisted tales, where the courtroom scenes put on full display the hypocrisy of what the world thinks of sex and women, then this book is for you. It would definitely be a provocative choice for a book club. Thanks to Net Galley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 20, 2018

April 2.0

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
This is a gorgeous book, both inside and out, that perfectly encapsulates my personal beliefs about why I am a proud bookworm. In a witty, sassy, irreverent voice, London writer Lucy Mangan takes us on a nostalgic trip through her childhood reading. We journey through picture books, first readers, obsessively read book series, and the power of young adult books that made her see the world in a new light. Sprinkled throughout is some wonderful trivia on the varied famous children's authors of yesteryear, as well as the different movements throughout the rise of children's literature. While many of the books were unknown to me (born and raised in the U.K., Lucy was enamored with different books than an American child of the 1960's and 70's), yet I was interested in what these books meant to Lucy, and ultimately they reminded me of my own childhood obsessions. Much of my current book tastes were born from my childhood: the Oz books gave me my love of magic and fantasy; the Little House series brought me into the world of historical fiction; Anne Frank introduced me to the power and learning of non-fiction; and Anne of Green Gables showed me the world of a strong young girl who fights for her place in the world. This book felt like a warm hug as I traveled back in time, when books opened my world in stunning and unforgettable ways.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
The latest new hot Broadway hit, Come From Away, is based on this 2006 book; considering the musical is coming here to the PNW in October it made sense to give this book a read. And wow, it blew me away - finished in just a day and a half, it is near impossible to stop turning pages. If you are like me and vividly recall every moment, for weeks on end, of 9/11 and its aftermath, this book will grip you as well. On that day, over thirty airplanes were directed to land in Gander, a small town on the island section of Newfoundland. And in this remote land, passengers from over 40 countries, varied religious beliefs, ages, and economic levels, a total numbering over 6,000 came together to be hosted by "Newfies." I was amazed at some of the famous folk involved, and moved by the stories of ordinary Americans as they dealt with the griefs and worries over family left behind, where to turn next, and the horror occurring in their own country. The Newfies themselves are heroic, almost unreal in their hospitality, compassion, and kindness. As I see a level of hostility towards the 'Other' in America today that breaks my heart, as I long to see more human kindness and compassion towards those in need, from wherever they may come, this book renewed my belief in humanity.

The Liar's Candle by August Thomas
This book surprised me. When I first got into it, I thought it was going to be a shallowly written, stereotypical "girl is stupid, man saves her' kind of spy thriller. Yet August Thomas pleasantly surprised me in her debut outing with truly authentic characters and exciting plot twists. Penny Kessler is a 21 year old American intern at the Turkish embassy when a bomb goes off and kills hundreds of innocent people. As Penny gets wrapped up in the search for the perpetrator, she meets an intriguing group of people: the daughter of the Turkish president, the female section lead of the CIA, the agricultural desk jockey who is actually an intelligence officer, and an assortment of folks just trying to kill her. Author Thomas does not denigrate Muslims or Turks, does not play to racist hatred, puts strong females in important roles - impressive. Penny acts perfectly her age - impulsive, sassy, smart, and thoroughly twenty-one. I loved that the author didn't make her out to be a stupid girl, but a young one who has much to learn about trust and truth. My favorite though was her sidekick, Connor, who totally runs against the typical male hero - former Naval officer, current CIA agent, is openly gay, questions his actions in following immoral orders, is not superhuman but wholly human. I turned pages quickly and was thoroughly entertained by this story.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Gilbert
The title itself is a bit of a downer, and I'm not usually a science-genre kind of reader, so this is a surprising choice for me. I chose to listen to it, figuring the science-y talk would not put me to sleep that way; for the record, I was correct. Gilbert spends this book looking at the vast extinction going on literally right under our noses - think frogs, reefs, and lots and lots of bugs. Yep, they're all dying off, which may seem inconsequential, but Gilbert makes us see the overarching big picture of what this means for Earth. It did not make me feel as if the sky is falling, spinning me into a grand depression, but it is eye-opening, shocking, and ultimately very enlightening. Granted, I do not care all that much for bugs; most of us don't. However, the author makes a good point that we all are much more drawn to the 'sexy' possible extinctions, such as rhinos and gorillas, but it's the small stuff that is going to be the ultimate problem. We humans have not been good for this earth and this book, while a tad boring at the beginning, is quite interesting in the end.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatche from the Border by Francisco Cantu
Topical and multi-faceted, this is an interesting memoir. Cantu focuses on his life as a  Latino-American - fluent in Spanish, a college graduate who wants more than a cubicle in an office, and who is able to see both sides of the big picture of immigration in America as he spends a few years as a border patrol agent. The problem with the book for me is the writing style: it jumps abruptly amongst an olio of topics, none of which become deeply developed; I found the writing to be a bit clunky at times when discussing the people involved in the story, yet poetically descriptive about the scenery of the Southwest; and the narrator's voice is quite calm and cool on a very emotional topic, which I find a bit perplexing. This book takes a very controversial subject - how do we deal with illegal immigration in this country - and actually creates no controversy in his story? Odd. Cantu witnesses some pretty heavy stuff, yet maintains such emotional distance that I ultimately was disappointed with his effort.

Friday, April 6, 2018

April Reading

Circe by Madeline Miller
Remember way back in 2011, a gorgeous book called Song of Achilles? I have been waiting patiently for her next book...and it is finally here on April 10. Once again, as is obvious by the title, Miller returns to her Greek mythology roots. As a retired teacher who taught the Odyssey relentlessly, year after year, Miller picked one of my favorite characters on which to focus her incredible story-telling skills. Circe, the witch who 'imprisons' Odysseus and his men for over a year, sends them to the House of the Dead, tells them how to avoid Scylla and the Sirens, this gorgeous, frightening, intriguing, complicated woman finally gets her own story and it's a doozy. We see her youth in her father Helios' palace (yep, that Helios, the Sun God), her interplay with some creepy siblings and cousins, her first foray into witchery, the banishment to her island, and her dealings with a wide variety of characters from Greek mythology; don't forget - she's immortal so time just whizzes by. While it was a bit of a slow start for me, by about page 40 I was ensnared in Circe's world. This is a gorgeously written book of a historically misunderstood woman, imperfect yet capable of growth, weak yet learns strength, unlikable at times yet wholly admirable. I highly recommend:)

The Chalk Man b C.J. Tudor
This is a deliciously British mystery, dark and chilling, with some strangely compelling characters. The plot line trades places between the childhood of a small gang of children and thirty years later, as the boys have grown into men, the girl into a woman with secrets, and adults who are ill, dead, or have lots of skeletons in their own closets. Eddie Adams is the core of the story that everything swirls around; he has a wild crush on Nicki, the one girl in their crowd, he befriends the school teacher who helps him save a young girl's life after a horrifying carnival accident, and Eddie is also the one who creates the game of chalk. Their gang uses chalk messages and stick figures to communicate with one another, but when a dead body is found and chalk messages litter the forest, a mystery is born. This book will take a reader down a lot of dark alleys, through mazes of dead ends, give hints along the way, and leave one reeling all the way until the final chapter. I highly recommend listening to this one; the narrator has a marvelously clipped British accent, perfect for this creepy tale.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
This book is definitely a page-turner of a thriller. Laurel's daughter Ellie went missing ten years ago, yet Laurel's new love interest has a young daughter who looks strikingly like Ellie. As Floyd becomes incorporated into Laurel's life, author Lisa Jewell creates a cast of quirky characters: Hanna, the daughter Laurel has a complicated and negative relationship with; Noelle, the weird math tutor; Paul, the ex-husband who Floyd seems freakishly copy; and Poppy, Floyd's young daughter, brilliant, socially over-mature, homeschooled, and a dead ringer for Ellie. Yet with all this mystery, the book ultimately was a bit predictable for me, with too pat of an ending. Read in one day, this is a vacation read that won't let you down, but not one that will linger long in my mind. Thanks to Net Galley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers by Alex Grecian
The author of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad books (The Yard, etc.) has turned his attention to a new cast of characters in a new setting. Investigator Travis Roan has made his way to Kansas where he is in search of a Nazi who has hidden for decades. On his first day, he meets both Skottie Foster, a state patrol woman and Sheriff Goodman, a stereotypical small town lawman who does not want strangers in his territory. My favorite character, however, is Bear, Travis' humongous Tibetan mastiff, whose personality, bravery, and intelligence steals every scene. The hidden Nazi, Rudy Bormann, has gathered a creepy collection of acolytes around him while Travis' family organization supports his investigation. The plot line is unique and definitely gripping; in other words, I was compelled to keep turning pages. My one complaint would be the characters. At times, I felt that Skottie, a newly single mom who happens to be one of the rare African-American staters, was thinly drawn; so many deeper issues seemed to be plausible with her that I felt the author ignored. Ditto for Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing but also makes me want a second book in order to delve deeper into how Travis came to be this human who fights those who lack humanity and honor. Well worth the read, but also worth a round two by the author to flush out these characters.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March 2.0

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
It's hard to know where to start with this profoundly gorgeous book. Evocative, lyrical, powerful...this book grabs the reader by the throat and forces one to look at the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and it doesn't let go easily as I found myself continuously thinking of this story well after turning the final page. First, the characters - oh my, the deeply complex, beautifully flushed out people who inhabit these pages: Lillian, a young girl involved in the beginnings of the civil rights movement in America, who eventually moves to Rwanda and starts an orphanage; Henry, the white man Lillian loves during a time it wasn't allowed, a photographer, a father, a wanderer, a lost man; Tucker, a young medical student who comes to Rwanda seeking meaning in his life; Rachel, Henry's daughter and grieving mother, who seeks answers about her father to fill the empty spaces in her heart; Chloe and Nadine, survivors of the genocide, living victims whose life will never be the same; and most importantly, the country of Rwanda, the land of 10,000 hills, whose land is rich with both tradition and hate, the land that needs to heal and regrow. Author Jennifer Haupt, a journalist who gathered the stories of the Rwandan survivors and wove it into a breathtakingly beautiful book, shows great talent in her debut novel. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Oh my, what an utterly delightful and unique book from an author I should have discovered long ago. Set in 1921, Bombay, Perveen Mistry is a young woman who works in her father's law firm as the first female solicitor in Bombay, awaiting entrance to the bar. Intensely curious as well as intelligent, Perveen's unique ability to enter purdah (the strictly secluded women's quarters of Muslim women) allows her access to a fascinating world. The three widows who live in a bungalow on Malabar Hill need help with the will of their recently deceased husband; as Perveen gets to know these intriguing women, secrecy and even murder invade the legal machinations. Woven throughout the novel is Perveen's own past history, one that involves a deeply held love, abuse, and her own experience in an orthodox Muslim household which gives her a depth of understanding far beyond the ordinary Farsi attorneys. This is a beautifully written book that showcases a strong woman, an fascinating culture, and a time period of long ago that has echoes of today. It is also a beautiful book to listen to as the narrator is quite gifted - I highly recommend it for your next long car ride:)

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Janesville is the quintessential Rust Belt town: majority white, suburban/rural, dependent upon manufacturing, strong traditions, can-do spirit, and yes, the home of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Yet in the Great Recession of 2007-2008, Janesville has the rug ripped from under thousands of feet as the major employers in town (General Motors, Parker Pens, Lear Corp who made the car upholstery) all shut down. The fallout is what Washington Post journalist Amy Goldstein explores, and it is a strangely gripping read. Strange because at times I felt I was invading peoples' lives, as Goldstein follows a variety of people for years as they struggle through these hard times. Yet she also shows the other 'side' of Janesville as the bank president and other leaders of the community experience and see the destruction of jobs in a completely different light. I came to better understand the frustration with both political parties as Janesville was promised, lied to, and deceived as the people tried to recapture their jobs of yesteryear, a time of high salaries, good health insurance, and dependable pensions, a time that was never to come again. This was a fantastic listen with a great narrator and an inside look at how the recession almost destroyed a community.

White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl
The premise of this book is unfortunately quite topical: a respected doctor in a Welsh community preys on young boys, yet the police, child protective services, and parents have a hard time believing such an upstanding citizen could be a monster. The author uses a variety of story strands to tell the story: police detectives investigating a pedophile ring in the area; a family in crisis with a young son who needs counseling; a social worker that knows what is going on yet cannot inform a friend to remove his son from the doctor's care; and the creepy, insane, evil doctor. The problem I had with this book is what I would call "unrealistic predictability.' Instead of focusing on how deft and insidious many pedophiles are at grooming their young victims, the main focus is more on the unraveling of this doctor, as we watch the wheels go spinning off in remarkable fashion as the police close in. The psychiatrist does insanely ridiculous things, yet it seems almost how it goes in this book. The family story is the most compelling, as the parents try to get past an affair and mend their family. The creepy doctor is such a flat character, who shows only his evil side in the telling of this book, that it is impossible to believe anyone in this town would have liked and respected him. And as far as the doctor's own family...so damaged that the ending is completely unrealistic. Potential here, but a miss for me.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Marching Into Spring Reading

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, Bryan Stevenson, and Lara Love Hardin
Powerful. Heart-wrenching. Inspirational. Anger-inducing. Hopeful. In other words, this is a "do not miss" book to read. Told by an innocent man who spent thirty years on death row in an Alabama state prison, this book will do what Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson did; it will shake you to the core, make you question the idea of 'justice' in America, and give you hope that regardless of what society does to a person, it is still possible to be human. Ray Hinton was a 29 year old man who was just cutting his mom's lawn one day when he was arrested; subsequently convicted by a white prosecutor, white judge, and all white jury, through his words Ray shows us life on death row, the choices he makes to turn from bitterness to compassion, and the incredible help he gets from Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative to fight for his release. It is a rare book that can make one rage one moment, cry the next, and then squeeze one's heart to produce an incredible admiration for one human; The Sun Does Shine is that rarity. It is a perfect choice for a book club, a person interested in social justice, but more importantly, it is the must-read book for someone who thinks they know everything about how justice works in America and is willing to let the blinders be ripped off their eyes.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Hold onto your black, twisted, psychological thriller hat - this book is a DOOZY! Heck, just look at the title. The main character, Amber, is in a coma, she believes her husband has fallen out of love with her, and yes, sometimes she lies.  And that is just the beginning. Told in three different time periods, debut author Feeney does a masterful job of stringing the audience along: Amber's story of "Now," as she experiences her present coma and all the visitors to her hospital room; Amber's story of the previous week prior to her car accident that precipitates the coma; and diaries from a long-ago childhood that tell of a poverty-stricken, loveless, abusive childhood and her best friend. An ex-boyfriend makes an appearance, while the husband and sister play pivotal parts, making one wonder what happened in this 'idyllic' adult life. The red herrings along the roadside are thick and plentiful, and you will find yourself crashing against them throughout the pages of this short, crisp, well-told thriller. I began this book on a Saturday morning, and closed the cover that same night while my husband wondered if my nose was ever going to rise from the pages. It is that kind of book. It will make a reader question the narrator (is she reliable or is she stringing us along?), question the ending (did this really just happen or did I miss something earlier?), and question when the next book by this author is coming out. In other words, this book is a HIT.

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh
This is one of the best legal thrillers I have read since I turned the first page of The Firm by John Grisham. And no, I am not exaggerating; it is seriously that good. Cavanagh, an Irish writer who nails the New York voice of his main character, Eddie Flynn, knows how to fully development all his characters so that one can root, laugh, and worry for them. Eddie is a lawyer on the seamy side of NYC, but really, he's a conman, raised by a father who knew how to run a good grift, but taught Eddie to only run a con on corrupt people who deserve to be cheated, not on good humans who are just trying to survive. Yes, Eddie is that kind of main character; he is corrupt when he needs to be, wily as a fox, loyal to the core, and has a moral center that I wish more people had. Eddie loves his wife, and she is being threatened as this book begins. He must get a young dotcom techie billionaire to plead guilty to murdering his girlfriend in order for Eddie to get his wife out of the trouble she's in. But what happens if Eddie senses that the billionaire is incapable of being a killer? And the chase begins...the chase to the truth, the chase for who the real bad guy is, and the chase for all the pieces in this puzzle to find their place. I could not put this book down; it kept me voraciously turning pages late into the night. I just need this publisher to hurry up and get the subsequent sequels into print here in America.

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
The description of this book was a bit deceptive, in my opinion. Touted to be a book about a resilient girl, faced with adversity, who heads to Las Vegas in the 1960's to be a costume-wearing, dripping with jewels and feathers, showgirl, I would say this book is far more about the sexual abuse of a child, in great detail, and her battle against a variety of demons, both exterior and interior, to find some peace. Yes, there's some intriguing scenes that beautifully describe the showgirl lifestyle, the stars of the 60's club scene, and the rampant drugs and free sex of the 60's era. With that said, it is an admirable plot idea, that fell flat for me. Lily (aka Ruby Wilde in Vegas) is fairly likable, but thinly drawn; I did not find myself rooting for her as much as I should have, as I did not have a deep sense of who Lily actually was as a young girl, or as a grown woman. Complexity in characterization all around was lacking for me. And while I understood the focus on physical beauty in the Vegas showgirl life, if I heard one more time that Ruby was devastatingly gorgeous, I was going to yack. Every plot 'twist' was pretty predictable, with very little to keep my interest. I would recommend The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker if you want to read about complex characters dealing with serious child abuse and the heroic avenues a young girl will go to in order to save herself. This one was a miss for me.




Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February - Post Vacation reading:)

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough. Not since The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls has a true story gripped me, challenged my thinking, and changed my perspective like Tara Westover's first book. Raised in a strict Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, Tara and most of her siblings were kept out of school, not to be educated at home, but to work in their father's scrap yard and their mother's homeopathic and unlicensed midwifery business. Luckily for all of us readers, Tara kept untold number of journals that detail her life: the abuse by her brother, the unending brainwashing of what world history entailed, the attempts by other brothers to break free, the utter lack of safety in her life, the horrific accidents that devastated her family, the total reliance on naturopathic curatives by her mother, and the impact on her family of her father's mental illness. And just when you think life cannot get crazier, Tara's college and graduate work takes us down another insane rabbit hole. It is a profound look at what happens when one doesn't educate a child on things we think are basic. What if a child has never heard of the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King? How does this skew their view of the world? How does the world look on this child, when as an adult their questions and comments show not only ignorance, but whiffs of racism and hatred? Whose fault is it? Parent, society, the  individual herself? Can a lack of education, or conversely a formal education, fundamentally change society? This is a powerful book that will completely engross you, fascinate you, and in the end, Educate you. Do not miss this book!

Kill the Angel: A Novel by Sandrone Dazieri
Having read Kill the Father last year, I was excited to get my hands on the second book of this Italian author who writes crime novels quite reminiscent of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. While this second one did not knock my socks off as the first one did, it is still a solid detective novel with two quirky and compelling characters and an extremely topical plot line. The story begins with a deadly poison attack on a train entering Rome; seen as a terrorism by Muslim extremists, the police stir up a hornet's nest with their investigation. Columba Caselli, a female police detective with some serious baggage in her past involving death, bombings, and guilt once again turns to layman Dante Torres to help her solve this crime. Dante, a previous kidnap victim with personality quirks that could fill a psychiatrist's schedule for decades, believes the crime to be committed not by terrorists, but by a serial killer who has avoided detection for years. As we follow these two investigators down numerous rat holes, it occasionally gets a bit confusing and the book is longer than I felt it needed to be, yet I could not put it down. If you like complex detective crime novels, this one is for you.

The Liar's Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard
Ireland, college kids, + a murder = great vacation read! The story moves between the world of today, where Allison is living in a town in the Netherlands, has a good job and caring friends, and has not returned to her homeland in almost a decade and her college world of the past. When Irish police come to call at her home in Breda, Allison is compelled to finally return to Ireland and confront the horrors of the past where her freshman year boyfriend was not only arrested for a series of horrific murders, but confessed and has spent the last ten years in a psychiatric hospital. Now that a copycat murderer is once again busy at their Dublin university, the police need Allison to confront Will, eliciting details and information about the crime so they can catch the killer. However, Will now says he is not the Canal murderer so who does Allison believe? The twists and turns are compelling, the writing is solid, and the characters are well developed; it is a solid first mystery outing for this author.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Published two years ago, this is a particularly relevant book to read, considering the school massacre on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. This account of the Columbine shooting and its aftermath is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters who walked into Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and murdered 13 people and injured 24 others. Told in an incredibly honest and authentic voice, Sue Klebold pulls no punches and relays to us every detail of every moment both before, during, and after this tragedy. She tells of Dylan's life - his childhood, their family life, his school history - all seen through his mother's eyes, not the media's. Sue Klebold also does a tremendous amount of research surrounding not only school violence, but around teenage depression and suicide, and comes to some painfully honest observations about her own son whom she ultimately had to see as a murderer. Not an easy read due to the painful content, but incredibly compelling and eye-opening. It reminds us not to judge, to open our eyes to the needs of those kids who don't 'fit,' to all the victims in this type of tragedy including the perpetrators, and the vast need for more research and more support for brain health in this country.


Court of Thorn and Roses/Court of Mist and Fury/Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Can you say 'brain candy' for vacation reading?! If you like YA fantasy and you have yet to discover Sarah J. Maas, who is the queen of the genre, I would strongly suggest you pick up this series. But be prepared - you will not be able to put it down until you have indulged yourself in all three books, well over a thousand pages. The main character is Feyre, a human girl who lives next to the Wall, the boundary between fairyland and the mortals they once enslaved. Feyre is one of the most compelling characters I have found in YA fantasy; she is life-smart, tenacious, loyal, shockingly stupidly brave, passionate, honest, and just overall a badass. Her foils and companions are a variety of fairy folk who are deep and complex, with backgrounds filled with tragedy, war, and murder, as well as two human sisters who are as different from Feyre as they could be. Throughout the three books, we see Feyre fall in and out of love, fight some seriously wicked beings, go to war, save a variety of creatures, and prove herself to be one of the most well-rounded heroes of today's YA novels. Trust me - this series is un-put-downable. (Warning: the YA classification is  questionable - there's more sex scenes than in the Outlander series!)

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Because I loved the first book to be approved by the Sherlock Holmes society, House of Silk, I figured this second one would be a hit as well. The answer is...nope. The story line is confusing at times, lots of good bad guys but not very well developed good guys, and an extremely disappointing ending. And where the heck was my buddy Sherlock Holmes??? He never appeared so no, this was a mystery that all I could say was "blech" when I was finished.