Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fjällbacka Murders: Set 1 (Foreign Television Series – Sweden)

Fjällbacka Murders: Set 1 (Foreign Television Series – Sweden)

Based on Camilla Läckberg’s bestselling Swedish mystery series set in, you guessed it, Fjällbacka, a beautiful seaside village that naturally hides murder and mayhem behind its picture perfect façade.  Erica, a crime writer married to a local policeman, manages to find herself involved in various crimes and their solutions.

Three short movies of about 90 minutes in length make up the first set.  In The Hidden Child a man arrives on Erica’s doorstep claiming to be an unknown half-brother and she sends him away.  After digging through her deceased mother’s effects she begins to wonder if the man could really be her brother only to find him murdered in his room.  An Antiques Roadshow type of program comes to Fjällbacka in The Eye of the Beholder bringing murder along with the cast and crew.  Finally, in Friends for Life, Erica is reminded of her best friend from childhood who disappeared when they were teenagers.  She starts to dig around trying to find out what happened to Peter years ago but someone keeps silencing anyone that may have information.

These aren’t cozy "mystery writer solves mysteries" stories like Murder She Wrote, yet they have that small town feel.  I didn’t get the feeling that if I happened to show up in Fjällbacka I would end up either dead or accused of murder like often seemed the case with visitors to Cabot Cove.  (I never understood why people kept going there or befriending Jessica Fletcher, just seemed dangerous!)  Like Läckberg’s books these are well-constructed mysteries that give you the clues, but still keep you guessing.  I liked them so I’m going to watch Set 2.

The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis

The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis

Detective Jenna Murphy returns to the Hamptons after years away to join the police force where her beloved uncle is chief of police.  Two horrific murders take place at 7 Ocean Drive, known as the murder house because of its sordid past, and a suspect is swiftly taken into custody after incriminating evidence is found at his home.  Days later Jenna is working on another murder case which the department treats as unrelated, yet she can’t shake the feeling that the same person killed all three victims.  Could the wrong man be in jail?  Could Jenna be in danger?  What is it about Jenna’s past in the Hamptons that she can’t remember?

I listened to this book on a Playaway and loved it.  I bounced between listening in my car and popping in headphones and walking in the park; walking more than normal just to hear what would happen next.  I liked having two narrators, male and female, who were both very good.  And like most Patterson books it moves very fast.  

I have to admit I figured out who did it earlier than I should have because I am a big mystery reader and apparently have a suspicious mind.  It took me a while to puzzle out some of the secrets of the past, so that kept me in some suspense.  A fun, quick, murderous beach read.  Hey!  It takes place in the Hamptons after all!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel by David Lagercrantz

The girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is back!  Yes, the author of the amazingly popular Millennium trilogy is deceased and this is not a posthumously published novel.   None of Larsson’s notes that were the subject of great debate in the media after his death were used by Lagercrantz to write this novel.   Lagercrantz took up the series and crafted a story using threads from the original trilogy and I don’t think fans will be disappointed.  In fact I think they will be pleasantly surprised.

A professor of computer science, seemingly close to creating an intelligent artificial life form, is murdered and his autistic son is the only witness.  Mikael Blomkvist was on his way to interview the professor and is swept into investigating a story involving corporate espionage, gangsters, shady dealings and of course hacking.  Needless to say our favorite hacker, Lisbeth Salander, is also connected to the story and gets involved in a major way.

Lagercrantz is able to mimic Larsson’s style, there is a convoluted plot with all these threads that eventually come together and have Lisbeth at the core like two of the previous books, but he doesn’t have the wordiness of Lisbeth’s creator.  A lot goes on, and there is a lot of detail, but I didn’t feel bogged down in the details like I did in the last entry of the series.  The book can be read as a standalone mystery, but knowing the backstory brings a lot and it is a sure bet that there will be another.  Great choice on audio -- love hearing all the Swedish names!

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

This is by far the scariest book I’ve read in years!  Kolbert details what many scientists are calling the Anthropocene, an epoch that begins when human activities started to significantly impact ecosystems of the Earth.  This is not a universally accepted time period, but after reading the various studies in this book it’s hard to argue that humans have not affected all life on Earth sometimes in drastic ways.  And we have probably been making huge changes in our environment since we’ve existed.  It’s for better or worse, what we do.

The book opens with a chapter on the death of the frogs.  I knew frogs were dying but I had always thought it was due to human caused pollution.  Nope.  They are dying because of a fungus which kills most species of frogs and some other amphibians as well.  But guess what?!  Humans are the ones that brought it all over the globe and inadvertently infected the rain forests and other ecosystems.  Worst part?  Can’t kill the fungus.  Why not?  To kill it you’d need to bleach the rain forest to kill the fungus, which we all know would never (and could never) happen, so all those captive frogs that have been saved from the brink of extinction can never return home.  The stories, each told in a new chapter highlighting another issue, get worse from there.

If there are any positive takeaways it would have to be the author’s reporting on the research being done about current extinctions and ways to prevent more, as well as the lengths humans are willing to go to save species in crisis.  This is an eye-opening account, conveyed in many different ways, of how humans have changed the Earth simply by living, altering the landscape and our environment.  There is a reason this book won the Pulitzer, it is extremely well-written and researched, and a book anyone with any interest in the natural world should read.     

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Louisa loses her job as a waitress at a local café and is completely at a loss.  She loved her job and her family relies on her income.  She tries her hand at a few positions arranged at the job center but with no education and limited experience her choices are limited.  Finally she has an interview that seems promising, a quadriplegic man needs a companion; she doesn’t need any medical training, she’ll just be there to keep him company and do light housework.  Lou is expecting an elderly gentleman and is surprised to meet Will, a former extreme sports enthusiast and business wizard confined to a wheelchair because of a motorcycle accident. 

Will has not acclimated to his new life and knows he never will but Lou has become the bright spot and his project.  He feels that she has a small life and deserves a big one, the life he would be living if the accident didn’t take everything away that he loved.  Lou is determined to show Will that he can love a small life; he just needs to rethink who he is and what makes him happy.  Can these two be happy in their skins and with each other?

This is a whole tissue box book but I loved it.  I loathe crying at books and movies and occasionally I do cry when I’m sad, but more so when I’m happy.  This book gets to you and gets you and then does it again but it really makes you think.  What does your life need to be like to make you happy?  Is it worth living without those things?

Normally I wouldn’t recommend a book that made me bawl quite so much, but I think this is a great book to read and think about.  If you’ve ever had someone in your life who lost an ability that most take for granted, this book will make you empathize even more.  It will also make you think differently, and maybe even act differently, towards the people you see every day.  Okay, getting a little teary-eyed again thinking about this book again and I think I’m out of tissues…

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Jo has been living under a new name after fleeing her hometown and a warrant for murder.  She met a nice enough guy and got married and life was comfortable if nothing else.  Then her husband fell down the stairs and died.  It was an accident, but she knows if she stayed around her identity would soon come to light.  Instead of only being wanted for one murder, she is now under suspicion for another.  So begins the story of Jo, a woman who simply wants to go home and be Jo again, and the many identities she takes on along the way.

Every few chapters Jo needs to change her name again and in today’s world of background checks and hard to get identification the ways she finds to survive are eye-opening.  Thankfully, or not you’re not sure as you’re reading, Jo meets Blue another woman on the run and in need of a new life.  Ally or enemy it’s hard to tell, but these formidable women cross paths a few times in the narrative.

I really liked that I had no clue why Jo had to flee her life as a teenager until very far into the book.  You get glimpses, but eventually the whole story is revealed and you kind of want to scream from the unfairness of it all.  Rest assured, things end well for her, this isn’t one of those dark depressing thrillers, this is a thriller where a woman beaten down by life gets her comeuppance in the end.  But I have to wonder, does she really?

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

Tiny Hardcastle is not enjoying her perfect life.  Her husband Frank is running for a seat as a Representative in Congress for Massachusetts and she is recuperating from another miscarriage at the “big house” on the Cape.  After some missteps at political rallies Tiny learns more about her married life, and the family she married into, and more than ever she is considering her options to leave the life she thought she wanted.  But will the Hardcastles let her leave her husband and ruin his shot at public office?

There is a LOT more to the story, but I can’t describe it here.  What I described either wouldn’t make sense, or would give too much away.  Taking place in 1966 and flashing back to the brief time before Tiny’s marriage in 1964 when she fell in love with another man, this is the story of a woman finally realizing that getting what you thought you always wanted isn’t always for the best. 

Fans of the Kennedy’s will really enjoy the behind the scenes look at politics but this isn’t a rehashing of the Kennedy story.  I had no idea that this book was part of a series but the way it ended led me to believe that there would be more to the story, and there is a sequel, this time following Tiny’s sister Pepper.  Tiny Little Thing is actually the second book in the series but if the other two are like this one you can read any of them as separate stories.

A good pick on audio – the reader does a great job distinguishing all the voices and make Tiny and her sister especially come to life.