Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Layla Beck is living well in Washington DC in the midst of the Great Depression when she has an extreme falling out with her father the Senator.  He declares that she has to get a job and finds one through her uncle who works with the Federal Writers Project.  Layla is sent to the town of Macedonia in rural West Virginia which is celebrating its sesquicentennial and wants a book to commemorate all the wonderful things that have happened in their town.  Needless to say Layla is underwhelmed with the town after her metropolitan life, but she finds the family she boards with extremely interesting: especially single father Felix.  As Layla spends time in Macedonia the people and the place grow on her.  Unfortunately Layla doesn’t grow on young Willa, Felix’s oldest daughter.  Willa plots and schemes on how to keep her father to herself, well, she’s willing to share him with her sister Bird, but not Layla.  Secrets hide at the core of the family, and those secrets spill over into the very being of the town, and all will come out with the writing of the book.

This is a book you want to read in a rocking chair on your front porch sipping a cold glass of sweet tea.  It’s leisurely paced, much like time seems to flow in Macedonia, and you want to mosey along with the characters to get their story.  The part of Unions in small towns and the stark reality of the Great Depression comes through in small and big ways throughout the story.  Was it a simpler time?  Maybe.  But the author shows how even simpler times could be complex when you are living them.

Told from different points of view with glimpses into the past as well as letters (naturally since the author is the co-author of the very successful epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) it evokes small town life and the past on every page.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora

A picture-perfect suburb in Connecticut with mayhem, misunderstandings and a little madness at its core is the setting for these linked short stories.  You’ll be fascinated about what is found behind each of these stately front doors.

I was doubtful when I picked this one up.  Stories about families in suburbia in crisis don’t really appeal to me, but this book, while it did touch on that, was so much more.  The thing I enjoyed most?  There were many, many characters, but I never forgot who was who.  When a person I hadn’t read about in five or six stories showed up again the author gave enough vivid clues that you remembered who the character was.  After some books I have attempted to read, and put down after about thirty pages because I couldn’t tell the difference between characters anymore, this was a truly refreshing thing.

Fans of the style of Olive Kitteridge will really enjoy her similar storytelling style. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Axeman by Ray Celestin

The Axeman by Ray Celestin
Reviewed by Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System
Originally Submitted to Library Journal

A rainy stretch in New Orleans right after the Great War, and a serial killer stalks the city.  The method is an axe, and the conceit is a tarot card left behind.  A shunned police detective gets saddled with the case, while an ambitious young black girl with a fondness for Sherlock Holmes pursues him on her own, in hopes of starting her detecting career.  The Mafia has its own interest in finding the Axeman, too.  Celestin’s first novel has loads of noir atmosphere, and the characters are engaging enough.  But the mystery is slow to build, especially with three detectives and three viewpoints, and a teenage Louis Armstrong is only a tagalong to the female PI.  It’s based on an actual unsolved case which covered seventeen months rather than the two months written about here.  The ending comes at the reader from all directions, like a Gulf storm.

Verdict:  A must for fans and denizens of the Big Easy, and perhaps for those who like true crime from the past retold as fiction.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Plum, real name Alicia, has always been large.  She had tried numerous diets, including ones that require the buying of cardboard tasting food and paste flavored shakes, but none seem to work.  She buys clothes in a much smaller size knowing that one day, after her soon to be performed weight loss surgery, she will be able to wear.  It seems her whole life is on hold waiting for the day she is skinny.  Then she meets the ladies of Calliope House and her life, everything she thought she knew about herself, will be turned upside down.

This book was classified as “humorous fiction” in almost every source I looked at.  It is not.  Or at least I didn’t think it was.  A book with a hand grenade/cupcake hybrid on the cover should be laugh out loud funny but while light in tone it is quite serious.  It is more than a book encouraging women to be happy with their bodies and forgo painful dieting and surgeries.  Serious issues like the objectification of the female body and the inequality between the sexes are addressed.  People die, women become terrorists, this is not a light chick lit book, but a cynical look at one way, one very violent way, the battle of the sexes could even out a bit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kill Me Three Times (Action/Dark Comedy Film from Australia– Starring Simon Pegg)

Kill Me Three Times (Action/Dark Comedy Film from Australia– Starring Simon Pegg)

This is the story of an assassin hired to kill someone.  Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem to be the only one with the target in his sights.

Many review sites have hated this movie, and I’m pretty glad I didn’t consult them prior to choosing to see it.  I loved the way this film was constructed.  It starts at the middle, goes to the beginning and ends with, well, the end.  I didn’t think this sort of storytelling would work in a visual medium but it works remarkably well.  A friend described it as Australian Tarantino, which gives you a clue to the dark humor and that you'll see plenty of interesting shots of arcs of blood as well.  Not as gory as a typical Tarantino, but the main character is an assassin, so you have to expect some violence.  Because of the construction, and how the story is revealed, I can’t say too much more without giving away more of the plot than I should. 

BTW: The last shot in the movie is absolutely priceless.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Bill Hodges is a retired detective and retirement is not treating him well.  He’s gained a lot of weight, he’s become an expert on daytime television and he is contemplating suicide more often than he would like to admit.  Of course there are the bad guys that got away that fill his drifting mind, but none plagues his thoughts more than the Mercedes Killer: a sociopath that plowed a stolen Mercedes into a group of people waiting at a crowded job fair killing eight and wounding and maiming many more.  Imagine Hodges’s surprise when he receives a letter in the mail from a man claiming to be the Mercedes Killer.  Is it really him?  Can Hodges catch him himself (with some help from unlikely assistants)?  It’ll be hard, there will be bumps in the road, but Bill Hodges now has a reason to live – to catch this guy and make sure no one else dies.

My only complaint about listening to this book was the need to leave my car to join family and friends at an event, or go to work, and therefore having to stop listening.  Uncle Stevie can really write a mystery.  Yes, there is the expected King gore, how could there not be?  But it is gore-light compared to his usual fare.  The mystery is tight, the characters are great, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel Finders Keepers.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Nouf, a sixteen year old bride to be, is found dead in a wadi in the Arabian Desert.  It was assumed that she ran away to the desert, but the autopsy determines that she was hit on the head and then drowned.  How did she drown in the desert?  Did she run away from her marriage?  Or was she kidnapped?  Nafir, a family friend and desert guide, is asked to investigate Nouf’s death and look for the murderer, if she was murdered.  Nouf’s brother Othman also asks his fiancĂ©e, Katya Hijazi, an assistant at the coroner’s office to look into the death as well.  Nafir and Katya need to work together to solve the crime, but can the strict rules of society be bent enough to allow the pair to succeed?

I haven’t read anything set in Saudi Arabia before so I thought this would be an interesting read.  I enjoy mysteries in foreign settings so that was another factor in its favor.  However I found this book very difficult to get through.  Once I was about a third into it the mystery really starting to take center stage and I read eagerly.  Before that point it was really difficult going.  It started as a detailed and slow paced introduction to the characters and society, well written, but difficult because of the subject matter.  I am allowed to drive, ride a bike, go outside in any weather (nevermind over a hundred degrees) without my body and face completely covered and interact with men and women at work, at home or on the street.  All things Katya was not allowed to do, and when she did she had to fear the religious police.  I couldn’t imagine living day to day in this city; forget trying to solve a crime.  I’m glad I read it, it was a great mystery, but I don’t think I could take reading any others in the series.