Thursday, April 30, 2015

Missing You by Harlan Coben

Missing You by Harlan Coben

Yet another hit standalone from Coben.  NYPD Detective Kat Donovan is not amused when her best friend signs her up on a dating website.  Imagine her surprise when she sees her ex-fiancé’s picture while scrolling through potential dates.  It’s been almost twenty years since they have spoken but Kat reaches out: and is rebuffed.  Still reeling from being rejected again she is surprised by a teenager asking for her by name to look into his mom’s disappearance.  Why her?  He and his mom are from Connecticut.  Eventually she gets the truth from him – he hacked the dating site his mom used to meet the new boyfriend she went away with for a romantic vacation.  His mom is dating the man Kat was chatting with, her former fiancé.  Is this woman really missing?  Or is she enjoying time with her new lover?  Is something extremely sinister going on?

Of course something extremely sinister is going on.  I liked the way the case built since we had inside information; the story of the missing woman ran concurrently through the narrative.  Knowing what was actually happening to her was for once scarier than not knowing. 

I listened to this book on a Playaway.  I’ll admit when we began to actively collect these again late last year I knew some people really liked them but personally I didn’t quite see the point.  Now I am a complete convert.  If you aren’t familiar with them a Playaway is an audiobook in its own little case which is about 2” x 3.5” and runs off one AAA battery.  You can listen to it with your own headphones or you can hook it into your car with an AUX cable.  I went walking with it and then went into my older car with it and then my new car and it was perfect for all three environments and never lost my place in the story.  My old car doesn’t have Bluetooth or a USB connection so I can’t use eAudiobooks and my new car has those but no CD player.  Both cars have AUX input so I’m golden with Playaway – and if I go to the park for a walk I just unhook it from the car, plug in some headphones and I’m exercising and listening.  Only the most popular audiobooks are available in this format, but that’s okay with me.  I’ll just have to listen to some popular books more often.  Looks like I’ll have to put the new Coben on hold!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seeders by A. J. Colucci

Seeders by A. J. Colucci

Thrilled to see the grass get greener, flowers blooming and buds on the trees?  This book may make you think twice about your love of flora.  The plants have been abused enough by us and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

George Brookes, a once prominent and promising botanist, dies on his remote island off the coast of Nova Scotia.  Brookes’ daughter Isabelle, his girlfriend Ginny and former protégé Jules are named in his will and return to the island for the reading.  Isabelle brings her two sons and foster daughter with her to enjoy two relaxing weeks in the wilderness, the place of her fondest childhood memories.  The island has changed.  It is evident that her father went mad in the years since she was in contact.  He was involved in strange experiments and a black fungus is growing on every type of vegetation around.  The house is in disrepair and it looked like he burned his life’s work in a gigantic bonfire just before his death.  One by one the new residents of the island start seeing things and acting strangely.  Could Brookes’ theories that plants can communicate with each other and with humans be true?  If plants could talk to us, what would they say?  How would they say it? 

The science is weird but not knowing too much about plants I was willing to go along with the new takes on plant biology.  The gore does get over the top at times; I could see this being made into a great SyFy horror flick.  If you love spending time in your yard and garden this book could make you think twice before pruning that hedge, or picking that ripe and juicy tomato.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

Louise Rick recently became the new Commander of the Missing Persons Department, transferring from Copenhagen Homicide.  On her first day on the job a body of a young woman is found in the woods near Louise’s childhood home.  It appears that the woman slipped from a rise overlooking the lake and fell to her death.  But it’s been days and no one has come forward to identify the body.  The woman should be easily recognizable since she has burn scars covering half of her face.  Finally a woman calls in a tip.  She recognized the burns as belonging to a girl she cared for in a facility for the mentally handicapped many years before.  The body belongs to a “forgotten girl,” one of the twins left at the facility and abandoned by her family.  When Louise follows up on the tip she discovers that the twins died thirty years before.   Is the body truly that of one of the twins?  If so, where is the other?  Before Louise can wrap her head around this case another woman is found dead in the woods, brutally raped and murdered.  Are the cases connected?  What is going on?!

My only complaint is that I didn’t discover this author sooner!  A tight, well-crafted thriller that keeps you guessing yet ties everything together really well.  All the characters are three-dimensional, something rare in most thrillers.  At one point, very late in the book, you have an inkling what is going on, but if you’re like me you try to convince yourself that it can’t be right.  One of the most disturbing motives I’ve read in a long time.  This one will stay with you long after you put it down.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

I used to love short stories, but over time I simply stopped looking for them.  Short story collections are typically not popular but there are still fans of this rewarding art form out there.   Fan of the form or no, you’ll enjoy reading short fictions by the master of all strange and weird.

There is a lot in this collection.  There are well-crafted poems, tales reminiscent of Poe, even a Sherlock Holmes tale.  My favorites are the last in the collection, a tale about one of the characters from American Gods trekking across the British countryside and drawn into the secrets of a village, and an interview.  The interview is especially unique since it tells the tale only through the answers from a police interrogation.  We don’t know the exact questions, but we get the idea.  And we get the story and it’s a whopper.

The best thing about this collection is the forward.  In it Gaiman tells us why he wrote the story and about his inspiration.  It was neat to get that insight into each work and I checked this part prior to reading each piece.

If you need something short, something different, something fun – try a short story collection, even try this one.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Girl in the Dark: A Memoir by Anna Lyndsey

You know the saying “misery loves company?”  I hate to admit it but it’s oh so true.  As I was getting ready to have surgery I started this book and finished it the day after I left the hospital.  Yes, I was in a lot of pain and extremely weak, but I can go to the hospital if I need to, something the author of this book is unable to do.

Anna was working as a civil servant in London when she started to get a burning sensation on her face.  After some time away from work the feeling faded.  For some strange reason her face seemed to have become allergic to the light coming from computer screens and the florescent bulbs in her office.  Shortly after this discovery she leaves her life in London to move in with her boyfriend in a much more rural area.  Things slowly get worse.  The burning moves from her face to her entire body.  On the days she can go out at dusk or dawn she wears multiple layers of clothing to keep the light out.  And it isn’t only florescent light that irritates her skin, over time any type of light causes her to burn. 

Yes, Anna sometimes breaks down in despair of all the life she is missing.  She spends months in almost complete darkness listening to audiobooks to pass the time.  But occasionally things get better and she can stroll at twilight.  She sets up a mirror in the living room so she can watch the reflection of the television and watch The Apprentice with her boyfriend.  She manages to make it through her own wedding.

Anna also addresses the frustration and idiocy surrounding her quest to find help.  There is a clinic that studies light sensitivity in London and they would love to see her when she’s feeling better.  She hasn’t been able to go out in daylight for the five years she records in the writing of this book.  No one from the clinic or anywhere else will come to visit her.  She lives in fear of injury and illness since a doctor’s office or hospital would be toxic to her skin.

If you are in a time of your life where things seem to be going badly this is the book you need for a reality check.  Your life is amazing.  Look out the window and watch the world go by before your eyes.  Read a book.  Walk outside and feel the sun on your face.  All these are little wonderful things this author rarely gets to experience.  Read this book and find out how someone with such a hampered existence finds joy and also how great your life is right now.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Rewrite (Film – Starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei)

The Rewrite (Film – Starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei)

Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) won a major screenwriting award a couple of decades ago and has had trouble pitching a new script; Hollywood just doesn’t like his new ideas.  He is desperate for a paying job so unwillingly, but necessarily, he takes a job teaching screenwriting at a small college in Binghamton, New York.  He figures he can breeze though this whole teaching thing, but something strange happens.  With help from his one non-traditional student (Marisa Tomei) he begins to realize that screenwriting isn’t just something you are born either being able to do or not do as he supposed.  It can be taught.  And he may be the guy to teach it.

This is Hugh Grant as you remember him in his hit rom-coms: his self-deprecating humor, playing off awkward situations charmingly and being a jerk but still getting you to like him.  The best way to describe the film is a coming-of-age story at age fifty.  Keith is a man who needs to grow into the next phase of his life and his students help him as he helps them. 

Pop some popcorn and enjoy!

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel by Lauren Willig

Sally Fitzhugh is enjoying the Little Season in London in the early nineteenth century, attending balls and visiting parlours and generally being disappointed in the whole thing.  That is until she meets the Duke of Belliston, a reputed vampire, who seems to be disturbingly only human as well as disturbingly handsome.  Someone is trying to set the Duke up for murder and Sally comes to the rescue, poking her nose where it doesn’t belong and generally bossing everyone around.  Good thing she does or the Duke may be in jail.  Misunderstandings, true love, madmen and murderous plots ensue.

I am a huge fan of the Pink Carnation series and I still love them even eleven books into the series which is no small feat.  It seems that the next book may be the last which I find exceedingly upsetting, but it has to end sometime.  There are only so many spies, friends of spies, and friends of friends of spies to wed off after all!

As per usual I listened to this one and thoroughly enjoyed it.  If you are looking for romantic suspense heavy on the witty repartee and the suspense check out this series.  You don’t need to start with the first book, but it’s a fun series so why not?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

It is 1962.  Kitty is a single businesswoman.  She co-owns a faltering bookstore in downtown Denver with her best friend Frieda.  She has a cat and a small apartment within walking distance of work.  She has two wonderful and adoring parents.  She is happy.  She goes to sleep one night and dreams of another life.  In this life she is a happily married woman, going by her given name Katharyn, with an adoring husband and children.  She lives in a large house and no longer works with, or is even talking to, Frieda.  She awakens from the dream back in her life, yet finds herself pulled back to this other reality every night.  She is happy in her real life, but she is happy there too.  Both feel real, but she knows one is fake.  Flip-flopping between versions of her life, versions that each could have been except for one slight, yet major, difference, Kitty/Katharyn must decide what makes her happy and after experiencing another version of her life whether her real life is the one she wants to live.

This is a wonderfully crafted twisty turny book disguising itself as a simple domestic drama.  I found myself unable to put it down.  (And I’ve put down many a book this month as the lack of blog entries can attest!)  Any woman reading this book will firmly fit into the Kitty or Katharyn categories simply because you either have had or haven’t had children.  She makes both lives seem appealing for different reasons since quite simply the lives are just that: different.

For those overwhelmed by their own lives that need a bit of escapism – two experiences for the price of one!  This is a book that is much deeper than it seems asking the reader to evaluate what is important in their life.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Typically if everyone is gushing over a book I don’t like it.  (The Goldfinch, which I don’t mind telling anyone I hated, immediately comes to mind.)  I am also pretty much done with World War II books.  I find the time period fascinating and thrilling (and depending on the book depressing) but it seems some authors set their books in that time period just to sell the book.  This is the exception to both rules.  I truly enjoyed this book, it couldn’t have happened anywhere or anywhen else, and I didn’t want it to end.

Marie-Laure goes blind when she is six.  Her father is in charge of all the locks and keys at the museum of natural history in Paris. His daughter accompanies him to work and she learns to navigate her dark world and appreciate mollusks and other things of nature through lessons from scientists and other museum employees.  Then the German occupation forces them out of Paris and her known world.  Her father is one of four museum employees trusted with a very precious stone (one is real and three are fakes) and their journey away from Paris takes them to her Great Uncle’s house in the walled city of Saint Malo. 

As Marie-Laure is fleeing northward in France, Werner is leaving the house of orphans in a mining town in Germany for an elite school for boys of the Reich.  At his new school he hears all the propaganda coming from the teachers and the radio, but for some reason things don’t seem to be right. 

I’m hesitant to say more.  Of course these stories cross.  I can tell you that it is all because of the radio.  In a way this book is a love song to radio and all the good, and bad, things that it has brought about.  After reading this book I have found myself listening to the radio more than usual and imagining a time where that was your source of late breaking news and also of comfort.

I am sure many readers of this blog have already read this gem and are smiling in remembrance of a book well read.  For those of you who, like me, chose not to read it: think again.  Choose this one.  Enjoy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Goodnight, Darling (Foreign Film / Norwegian)

Goodnight, Darling (Foreign Film / Norwegian)

I know, I know, another movie?  Where are the books?!  I currently have four books started and lying about my house, all about halfway done.  For some reason I can’t stick with just one!  Hopefully I’ll have a couple finished this weekend to write about next week.  I did do some other reading this week though: the captions of this three hour mini-series.

Terje is a down on his luck piano tuner that spontaneously steals a video camera from the backseat of a car at a gas station after the owner of the car snubs him.  Playing with his new toy while tuning a piano at a client’s home he inadvertently captures a neighbor, Per Raglo, murdering his wife.  The wife is reported missing and then is found dead of an apparent suicide.  Discovering that Raglo is a well off businessman involved in real estate Terje decides to blackmail him and things go wrong from there.

I am not a fan of reading my movies, but I have discovered that I really enjoy Scandinavian television series, especially mysteries.  They twist and turn in ways that are unexpected and manage to infuse humor at odd points as well.  Even though you know Terje should just have brought his evidence to the police (but he feels he can’t do that because he stole the video camera) you want him to succeed in his money making scheme and come out okay in the end.

Art and Craft (Documentary)

Art and Craft (Documentary)

Mark Landis is a talented man.  He can copy any painting from any time period in any style.  At a glance his works all look like the real thing.   Mr. Landis has been forging art for thirty years but he cannot be charged with a crime.  He would describe his occupation as philanthropist.  He copies works of art from museum catalogs he collected as a boy in Europe and donates them to museums and libraries around the country under various aliases.  Yes, he is misrepresenting the artwork with his intricate stories of provenance and forged ownership and auction documents.  But is he doing anything wrong?

This is a fascinating look at art world and how easily curators can be duped by a talented, mentally ill man.  Why don’t these institutions scrutinize the Picasso donated by a random person who makes an appointment?  Some of these works he donated multiple times – didn’t anyone check the online catalogs of other museums?  Personally, I can see this happening in an age before computers, but now it is amazing to me how readily his donations are accepted.

I found it very hard not to like Mr. Landis even though I kept waffling on whether he knew what he was doing was wrong.  And really, did he do anything wrong?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Alec Charlesworth is having difficulty coping after his wife’s sudden death.  He leaves his job at the library where they both worked and flees with his little dog Watson to the English countryside.   Before he leaves he is given a box of papers by a former library patron and told that his wife was interested in this story and he might be as well.  While away he welcomes the opportunity for escapism.  Escape he does but not into a world he ever knew, or wanted to know, existed. 

Inside the box are drafts Wiggy has written of a screenplay as well as audio recordings and musings.  Wiggy went to his sister’s house to care for Roger, the cat, only to discover that his sister and her dog disappeared.  It is so unexpected and sudden Wiggy searches for clues regarding alien abduction.  This Alec laughs off.  He cannot laugh off starting to believe that Wiggy was speaking to Roger, and that Roger was speaking back.  Yes, the cat seems to be speaking and what he is saying is horrifying.  Cats truly are evil and those cats that pass the trials are the direct servants of Beelzebub and the cats are on the prowl.

We all know that cats are evil, sneaky little critters and in this book Truss explains the things cats do (like purr and kneed) that were originally traits that were bestowed upon them to do evil by Beelzebub.  It’s a humorous book that will make you look twice at that happy cat lazing next to you.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Helen’s father dies suddenly while on a photographic assignment in London and her life runs off the rails.  She holds a temporary position at a university that is coming to a close, is losing her place to live and just doesn’t know how to make the next step she is so consumed with grief.  Having experience as a falconer she decides to get a goshawk to train; a bird known for having a strong will and being notoriously hard to fly.  Mabel, Helen’s goshawk, does not seem to be completely typical of the breed; she is a lovely, sweet and yet a murderous bird.  As a reader you grow to care for her as Helen does and get annoyed with Helen when she makes silly mistakes and takes unnecessary risks.  Always in the background it is important to remember Helen’s grief and how her actions are a reflection of her emotional state, and also how Mabel helps her heal and begin to forget her loss.

If you have ever been fascinated by birds of prey, owned a challenging pet or suffered from debilitating grief you will be able to identify with Helen and what she experienced while training Mabel.  The book she read as a raptor obsessed child, The Goshawk by T.H. White, is her inspiration to chronicle her journey which thankfully is more of a what to do when training a goshawk than White’s tale of what not to do.  You’ll learn lots about raptors as well as White; tales of his childhood will make you empathize with him even as he fails miserably, almost unforgivably, to train Gos, his goshawk.

Local aside: Interested in raptors?  I highly suggest visiting The Raptor Trust in nearby Millington.  There you can get pretty close to all kinds of varieties of hawks and raptors.  No goshawks, but vultures, bald eagles, and ravens are among the current residents.  Hint: be nice to the turkey vultures; make eye contact and talk soothingly.  Then, crouch down next to the enclosure.  One of them really likes people and may come right up to the fence to “visit” with you.  Yes, they are not pretty, but the oddness of their heads and the gorgeous iridescence of their feathers are neat to see up close.