Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

Almost twenty years ago Jess Winters disappeared from Sycamore, Arizona. A woman recently relocated to the area is on a walk when she discovers skeletal remains. Everyone assumes that Jess has finally been found but the discovery of the body brings memories of events happening around the time of her disappearance to the forefront of everyone’s minds. 

This isn’t a mystery or a thriller. This is a character study of a small town dealing with events, including the disappearance of a teenager, and how these events have a ripple effect across the entire town. I especially liked the construction of the novel; short chapters which could each be a short story telling the underlying story of the town. It was interesting to see how an event that doesn’t even really touch certain people changes their lives in such dramatic ways.

A good choice on audio and in print -- I found myself going between both formats to know what was going to happen next.

The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis

The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis

What a great thriller! I pick on Jimmy (what I fondly call James Patterson) because he is so darn prolific but I’ll admit I enjoy his thrillers and sometimes he comes up with a GREAT one. 

Billy Harney is a homicide detective with Chicago PD. He loves his job and believes in justice. That’s why he’s been working for IA on the sly for a couple of years trying to break a protection racket. When Billy busts a house of ill repute with a LOT of VIPs in attendance he upsets a lot of people and it’s starting to look like he’ll be framed for murder. Then Billy is shot in the head...and lives. With his memory of the week leading up to his shooting gone from his head he’s trying desperately to remember before it’s too late.

I loved this one on audio, so far this is the best audiobook I’ve listened to all year. I loved how the story alternated between the present and the past and with Billy’s memory gaps we’re as in the dark as he is as he puzzles things out. If you need a fun quick read you can’t beat this one.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Lydia Smith is content with her life as a bookseller at the eclectic Bright Ideas Bookstore in downtown Denver, until the night she finds one of her favorite patrons, Joey, dead by suicide in a secluded corner of the store. Joey’s death, and his possessions he willed to her, send Lydia on a search for Joey’s family and at the same time Lydia is forced to confront events in her past that she has been running from for the past two decades.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but this book wasn’t it. I’m very glad about that though because this was a really good read. It turns into two mysteries in one and one of the mysteries...I’m not going to clue you in about that one. You need to read it, and gasp like I did, to find out.

Another great choice on audiobook!

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

Elvira’s mother isn’t coming home and Elvira doesn’t know what to do. Mother always told her what to do and when to do it and took care of all the planning since Elvira is useless in society. But now that mother has had a stroke Elvira needs to care for both of them. So she creates the seven social rules to live by since people are the hardest thing for Elvira to understand.

If Don Tillman (The Rosie Project) was a young woman with an overwhelming overbearing mother you can begin to picture Elvira. She believes what people tell her: like all the stories her mother told about her father, that Elvira can’t take care of herself, that she will never be able to learn anything. But Elvira is beginning to think her mother may have been lying. Ellie (she likes her new nickname so much better) can learn computers and through the internet she learns that there are many people like her in the world. And since there are so many of them why do the Normal Typicals (there is actually a name for these people that seem to rule the world) not have to figure out how to interact with her? Why does she have to come up with so many rules to deal with them? Why oh why can’t people not use figures of speech?!

What starts as a story of a woman living a limited and sheltered life becomes a full blown coming of age story for 27-year old Ellie who is finally getting to take charge of who she wants to become. Told from her perspective her frustrations are ours as she shares her reasonings and confusions navigating the everyday which to her is a new adventure. While there is a lot of humor and the overall tone is light there are some serious and not so pleasant parts as well.  I would recommend this book to fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time since Elvira is also trying to solve a mystery: the mystery surrounding her father.

Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Single father Odinn is working for the government agency investigating misconduct and abuse at care homes in the past. He is assigned to investigate the Krókur care home for delinquent boys from the 1970s; no abuse has been reported, but it is his job to investigate the home anyway. The case is particularly unnerving because his colleague who originally was looking into the home died suddenly at her desk and he inherited the project. Of particular interest are the deaths of two boys who were residents of the home who passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning. Flashback to the alternating storyline in the past of Aldis, a young woman working at the home, remembering her time there and the events that led up to her wanting very badly to leave.

Of course these two storylines converge, and I’m pretty sure you won’t see how until the author puts it on the page -- at least I didn’t. The whole feeling of the book is creepy and you feel off balance, similarly to Odinn who is not only puzzling out the past of his case but is also trying to do right by his daughter who is now living with him after her mother’s sudden death. The tales of the past and present both feel like ghost stories with nary a ghost in sight; a really interesting trick the author is great at achieving in all the standalones I’ve read by her.

I’ve been to the area of Iceland this fictitious care home is placed, you can’t ask for a more desolate and unforgiving landscape. Even if you haven’t experienced the Reykjanes Peninsula the author does a wonderful job describing the atmosphere and geography. Best of all this is a cold read; very welcome in this sweltering weather!

Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman

The Danes are a band composed of WWII veterans and their sound is becoming really popular in Detroit and the Midwest. All seems on the upswing for the band until the army walks back through their door. An army man will pay each band member $100,000 to find the source of a sound in the Namib desert capable of rendering weapons, including nuclear warheads, impotent. The Danes don’t really have a choice, and it seems like easy money, but what kind of sound is capable of that sort of power?

The one storyline tells the story of the band’s recruitment and journey to find the sound in Africa. The other is the recovery of Philip Tonka, pianist of the band, who is in a military hospital in Iowa waking up after a six month coma. Philip had every bone in his body broken. Every. Single. Bone. Yet soon after waking he’s wiggling his fingers and moving his head. How is that possible? And how was he injured in the first place?

This is a horror book that leaves you with more questions than answers, for example where did the title come from? I never did figure that out, I’m guessing I missed it somewhere. But you really get to know Philip and feel for him and want him to get out of the hospital and away from the army. His story is what keeps you reading (or listening) and the source of the sound, and how is works, is secondary. The end is satisfying despite the unanswered questions, but I like not knowing everything at the end of a book. I know just as much as Philip at the end and that was enough for me.

I was a huge fan of Bird Box and still recommend that book immediately for anyone looking for a scary audiobook. This one was scary, but just wasn’t up to the fright of his first book. 

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

What happened in the Borden house back in 1892? Who killed her father and Mrs. Borden? How did the killer get into a locked house? I don’t think many people are aware but Lizzie was acquitted of murder and lived out her life with her sister in a house called Maplecroft after the trial. But did Lizzie actually commit the murders? This book tells the story of what occurred inside the Borden house leading up to and after the murders.

I ran a program years back where all attendees read different accounts of the murders and basically re-tried Lizzie Borden. Based on the evidence we were pretty sure she did it, but weren’t sure we could have convicted her of murder; as happened in history. I was all set to read a great book about what “really” happened and all the rave reviews made me particularly excited to read this novel. I can’t help but be disappointed. Yes, you get insight (some fictionalized of course) of what life was like living with such a strict patriarch. Yes, you get insight into the personalities of the people living in the house (and Lizzie is not even slightly sympathetic, which seems true to life from accounts I have read) but the author never comes right out and says what happened that day. You can make assumptions, but it just seemed odd to me that the author left that key part of the narrative out. I wanted a description of how it all happened! I didn’t need ALL the gory details, but a timeline would have been appreciated.