Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

Cass Anderson lives in a beautifully idyllic hamlet in England and is married to a wonderful man. She loves her job teaching, but she is looking forward to her long summer vacation. At least she was. On the last day of school, during a horrific storm, she takes a windy desolate road through the woods to her home. On the side of the road she sees a woman in a car and assumes she is broken down. Cass pulls over but the woman in the other car makes no attempt to ask for help so Cass drives home with the intention to call for help for the other driver when she arrives home, just in case. But Cass forgets to make the call and the next day she hears about a murdered woman on the radio; the woman in the car is dead. Even worse, once the murdered woman’s identity is made public Cass realizes she had lunch with the woman the week before. 

Cass feels extremely guilty for forgetting to call, but it seems to be only one in a long string of things she has been forgetting. Her mother died of early onset Alzheimer’s a couple of years before and Cass is afraid she is suffering from the same illness. She is seeing things that aren’t there, things aren’t where she left them and items start arriving at her door she has no memory of ordering. It looks like Cass is headed for a breakdown herself.

Picking up the book you know going in this is a thriller so you are waiting for the shoe to drop. And it comes down with a crash! You really get into Cass’s head and understand why she feels that she is slowly losing her mind. Then again, you know the genre of the book you are holding, so you always have that little bit of doubt. 

The book starts slowly but everything builds up to the amazing conclusion that will have you cheering out loud. This is a great book, please do yourself a favor and stick with it. You’ll be thrilled that you did.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Today Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln decide to visit the zoo. Lincoln enjoys the play areas away from the main section of the zoo so he can play with “his guys” like Thor, Predator and Captain America. It’s a typical fall day. Lincoln doesn’t want to leave and Joan needs to encourage him towards the exit. But what were those popping noises Joan heard before? And why are they continuing? As she nears the exit, sees the people on the ground, and glimpses a man with a gun, she knows that today is not like any other day she has ever experienced. She needs to keep her wits about her and do all she can to keep her son safe. Her tired, hungry son who doesn't really understand the danger they are in.

I typically don’t like when readers act out the voices of children, but this reader really brought Lincoln to life as a four-year-old boy. When he spoke too loudly or started getting grumbly I understood, he’s a little kid! The reader kept that part of the story alive for me. That said, I switched over the print (thankfully I had both) because I was getting really anxious listening, and needed to know what happened next and I can read so much faster.

I’m not a parent so maybe a parent would like the ending more than I did? I understood the direction and message the author wanted to convey, but I didn’t like the execution of the ideas. I really enjoyed the first 90% of the book but the ending fell flat for me. Again, could just be me and the bulk of the book is a really great read.

The Child by Fiona Barton

The Child by Fiona Barton

The skeleton of a newborn is found by a crew at a construction site on the outskirts of London. Reporter Kate Walters finds a small article in a competitor’s newspaper about the discovery and it starts firing questions in her mind, most importantly, who is the child?

The book has four narrators: Kate; a mother whose newborn was stolen from a hospital decades before; and both the mother and daughter who at one time lived at the property where the skeleton was discovered. You know that all four women are tied to the baby in one way or another but it doesn’t become clear until the end.

Each chapter has a different narrator, and therefore a different point of view, and on the audiobook each of the four narrators are voiced by a different actor. This is a character driven thriller, you really get to know these four women and what events in their past have made them the people you meet in the opening pages.

I was able to figure out what was going on very early in the story, but I still wanted to keep reading to find out how it all came about. My one issue is that there is some DNA testing in the book and the science didn’t really make sense which may have been a good thing because I kept doubting that I truly did figure out the plot!

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

About fifteen years ago Helena emerged from the marshlands of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan where her family lived in her entire life. It was then that she discovered the truth about the world, and about her father Jacob. Helena’s mom lived in the marsh with her father for over a decade, years she would never get back with her family, years from which she would never recover. Helena’s mom was fourteen when Jacob kidnapped her and brought her to the cabin, only slightly older when she became pregnant. Helena grew up in the marsh never knowing much about the world outside the marsh, her reading materials were National Geographic's from the 1960s, and never knowing that her mother was a prisoner until mother and daughter realized they had to leave. Jacob, nicknamed the Marsh King by the media, was captured after two years on the run and sentenced to a lifetime in prison. 

Twelve years after her father entered prison Helena has started over. No one knows who she once was, not her husband or their two young daughters. But then the unthinkable happens. Her father escapes from prison. Helena knows that the only one who can possibly capture the Marsh King is the Marsh King’s Daughter.

The narrative alternates chapters between the life in the cabin and Helena’s present day life. It was a good way to work up to the events that made Helena flee the cabin and the father she adored, while at the same time working up to the present day meeting between Helena and her father. Needless to say you are on the edge of your seat as the book nears its conclusion! 

If you are at all interested in wilderness survival this will appeal, even if you know you never want to live off the grid this is a glimpse as to how life would be with limited provisions and no electricity. This is also a fascinating character study of three people living in isolation; and a daughter growing up outside of society and how difficult the transition to the “real world” is for her after she leaves the marsh. 

I really enjoyed this book but those that are a little squeamish may want to skip the audiobook and stick to print; you can skim print, you’re listening to every word on audiobook. I’ll admit I was flinching on more than one occasion, but it was such a great story I just kept listening and listening to find out what happened.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy Carpenter is a Final Girl. She is the sole survivor of the Pine Cottage massacre when all her college friends were brutally murdered by an escaped psychopath. (I did laugh when I found out Pine Cottage is in the Poconos, but having stayed in a cabin there I can picture the scene. Not sure I’ll be staying anywhere near there again though…) Thankfully Quincy can’t remember any details of the night the knife-wielding maniac slaughtered her friends and injured her, but there are a few people that find it curious (and convenient) that she can’t remember anything.

Quincy is one of three Final Girls. Lisa Milner survived a sorority house massacre and has devoted her life to helping women overcome their problems and the horrible things they’ve experienced. Samantha Boyd is the third, surviving a killing spree at a hotel in Florida, but she disappeared years ago out of the public eye. Quincy is shocked to find out that Lisa is dead, apparently by suicide, and soon after Samantha comes out of hiding and shows up on her doorstep because they are the last two Final Girls and need to stick together.

I want to say more, but anything I say will mess up some of the reveals of the book. This psychological thriller takes the typical slasher movie ending of one girl standing and writes the “what happens after the cops come” part of the story. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming and I really liked how the author kept switching my opinion of who was the evil one of the piece. You get to know these Final Girls and how damaged they are after their ordeals, but also how strong they really are.

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. 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 

Nadia and Saeed meet while taking a class together at the local university. Nadia wears a burqa which hides her fiery nature and Saeed loves his life with his family and finds Nadia mysterious, together they make an odd couple but they are falling in love all the same. Unfortunately it is against the backdrop of a civil war breaking out in the country and circumstances worsen forcing them to flee their homeland and become refugees.

I really liked how the author transported his refugees from one location to another. Doors start opening around the world letting people go from one country to another. A door to a pantry in a restaurant in Iraq can lead to the bedroom closet in a seaside resort in Australia; another door in a villa on a Greek island can lead to a door in an upscale highrise in London. Having people move quickly from place to place really let the characters be the focus of the narrative, similar to the Underground Railroad being an actual railroad in Colson Whitehead’s book. 

I was hoping for a book that focused on the hardships of the refugee experience and instead this book illustrates what would happen in the flow of people were (for the most part) unhindered from place to place. What that would look like in the beginning as doorways and routes opened up. It was an interesting concept and while at first I was disappointed as time goes by I find myself thinking about the book more and liking what the author created. A what if novel that starts great discussions within yourself.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nikki dropped out of law school and fell into bartending but she knows something is missing from her life. She needs to do something to make a difference. So she decides to give back to the Sikh community she has distanced herself from since her youth and teach a creative writing course to women. Her first day in the classroom she is surprised that most of the widows in attendance can’t speak much if any English and can’t write in any language and are expecting Nikki to teach them. Completely thrown by the change in the course she leaves the classroom to talk to the administrator and when she returns she hears the women giggling. The one widow who can read English is reading and translating an erotic story from a book Nikki purchased as a joke for her sister and left with the pile of books on her desk. Nikki is horrified yet the widows are thrilled. They would love to tell stories like this -- they can be creative and share their stories and work on their writing all at the same time! But they all know that the traditional Sikh community may frown upon a class of this nature, but how do you keep something that fun quiet?

This book flew under my radar until I was listening to a webinar with the publisher who couldn’t say enough wonderful things about it and members of the audience chimed in about it as well. I loved the glimpse into the culture of these women living in Great Britain yet holding onto their traditions. Women’s rights becomes a focus of the book as does the marginalization of widows; and these widows will not be marginalized any longer! There are very serious themes here and a mystery that ties the story together but overall the tone is light and there is quite a bit of humor. Be forewarned there really are erotic short stories interspersed throughout the text. (And they are quite steamy!)

I found myself with a free rainy evening and read half the book in a single sitting. If you want to learn about a culture, watch women take control of their lives, and just enjoy a good read you’ll want to add this one to your list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I have a rule to avoid any book Oprah endorses. It’s not that they aren’t good books, it’s that they are usually horribly depressing and make me want to cry. But when your book club picks one it’s hard to say no and overall I’m glad I read this one.

Cora is persuaded to leave the plantation she was born on in Georgia by Caesar. He feels she is good luck because her mother escaped years before and was never caught and returned by the slave catchers. Cora doesn’t want to chance it, she doesn’t feel lucky, but an incident gives her the strength to try to escape. The two find passage on the Underground Railroad to South Carolina and it is there that Cora’s journey to freedom begins.

I loved that the author altered history and made the underground railroad an actual railroad with underground stations, spurs, lines, schedules and locomotives. I remember as I kid thinking that is what it actually was and I’m sure other schoolchildren made the same initial mistake. Whisking Cora from one state to another swiftly on the railroad made the narrative really move and by her moving to so many states the attitudes of each state were able to be brought into the narrative. It was the differences between each state that really made the book riveting for me, the atrocities were awful and very hard to read, but the imagination the author brought to the tolerance of each state was interesting and showed the compassion of the station masters as well as the resourcefulness (and luck) within Cora.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

Detective Louise Rick is happy with her life. Her adopted son is doing well at boarding school and her boyfriend, Eik, and his dog, Charlie, have basically moved into her place. The only issue is her boyfriend is also her partner so they know one of them will need to switch divisions and since she’s only been in missing persons a couple of years she knows she’ll be the one to move. But that is a thought for another day, Eik has tickets to a concert for her and friends that night and she’s looking forward to the outing. But then she looks out the window of her shared office. Eik went for cigarettes a long while ago, why is Charlie still tied up outside the convenience store in the frigid Danish winter? Where did Eik go? Is the missing persons detective actually missing?

This is the setup for the book. Eik’s disappearance ties into a missing person case from years ago with direct ties to Eik and it once again consumes his life and in turn Louise’s as well. Usually this series tends to focus on the police procedural part of the narrative, but this time it is more a character driven novel delving into the ethics of assisted suicide which gets tied into the plot early on. The reader gets Louise’s point of view and we can understand the hurt she feels and the frustration as she discovers secrets about Eik’s past and the reasons for his actions in the present. Those that don’t want their mystery to take a backseat may not enjoy this entry in the series as much as past books, but I found a lot to like here.

A good choice on audio, it’s also available on Playaway, especially for the pronunciation of the Danish names and locations!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Three women all receive an identical text -- “I need you” -- and they drop everything to reunite at the home of childhood friend who sent the urgent text. 

Seventeen years ago these four women, girls at the time, were all residents of a subpar boarding school on England’s southern coast. Kate was, and still is, the local. She could walk home to the mill, with or without permission, to see her half-brother and her father who also taught at the school; often taking her three best friends along. Thea had been thrown out of other boarding schools and Salten House was practically a last resort. Fatima’s parents were going to Pakistan to give back through Doctors Without Borders and felt their daughter should continue her education in England. And the narrator, Isa, is sent away by her father who is overwhelmed with his job and caring for her dying mother. Seventeen years ago these four girls were expelled and sent home (for reasons unknown to the reader) but they created a strong bond of friendship. But something else seems to tie them together as well. In the present a human bone has been discovered and the girls return under the guise of attending a reunion, but really to see what happens next and if it can be tied to them. 

The most important rule of the lying game was that they never lied to one another. But it’s beginning to seem like someone has been lying and hiding the truth for a very long time.

Fans of the author’s previous books will find a lot to like here. Having the story told from Isa’s viewpoint the reader gets a lot of the story, but not all of the story, and discovers the truth alongside her. I was a big fan of In a Dark, Dark Wood and I didn’t really like The Woman in Cabin 10. I would place this book on the enjoyment scale firmly between the two.

The Lying Game is released July 25th -- place your holds now!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins almost died just weeks before her graduation from high school. Since that time she has spent her days locked in her house taking courses online, reading tons of books and never ever leaving the house. One day, ten years later, her mom’s husband calls to let Jubilee know that her mother has passed away and while he’ll be paying off the house and deeding it to Jubilee he will be stopping the monthly checks that were sent while her mother was living. Suddenly Jubilee is faced with the horror of entering the outside world and finding a source of income. But she had a good reason to lock herself away from the world. The reason she almost died ten years ago? Her first kiss. She is highly allergic to human touch. The mere brush of a hand will cause painful welts and hives and oral contact, as was proven in high school, will cause anaphylaxis. 

Jubilee gets a job at the local library through an acquaintance, a girl (now a woman, divorcee and a mother) she thought hated her in high school. Jubilee gets to know her co-workers and some of the regular patrons. At the library she meets Eric and his ten-old adoptive son Aja and through interesting circumstances begins spending time with the duo. Jubilee is exactly who Aja needs right now and Eric is beginning to think he needs Jubilee as well. But how does one go about being in love with a woman you can never touch? 

This is the story of one scared woman re-entering the world and learning to live among other people, forming friendships and falling in love, but knowing that she must always hold herself apart. The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Eric and Jubilee and while Jubilee is working through a lot of problems they all center around her allergy while Eric’s problems seem to be messier since he came to New Jersey for a temporary job transfer not just for the opportunity but to leave some of his mess behind.

This is a fun book with a serious side which never overwhelms the humor and lightheartedness of the writing style and of the personality of the characters. The best part? The ending. I’m not going to ruin it for you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

Jeremy Logan, enigmalogist, is trying to leave his secondary profession behind and work on his monograph on medieval history. He checks into Cloudwater, a retreat for writers and artists in the Adirondacks, to focus and finish writing. But his life as an investigator of mysteries can’t leave him alone.

A Park Ranger, a friend Jeremy went to college with, tracks him down to get the enigmalogist’s opinion on the slain hikers found within the park boundaries in recent months. It looks like the hikers were viciously attacked by a large animal, possibly a bear, all on the nights of the full moon. Jeremy has never found evidence of lycanthropy in his travels or research, but these events are making him rethink the possibility of werewolves.

I really enjoy the Jeremy Logan books, there is always some familiar myth at the center and it’s fun to see if the myth is found to be based on fact or fiction (not going to spoil which way this book goes) and how Jeremy follows the clues to his conclusions. Even though the Adirondacks were portrayed as thick, lush, creepy forests in this book I’m still looking forward to heading up that way this summer. This is more thriller than horror and a really fun discovery of things that bite in the night. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Liv suggests that they skip the traditional Christmas this year. Her cousin, and best friend, Nora recently lost her mother and is not looking forward to the holiday so Liv comes up with the novel solution of a cruise up and down the western coast of North and South America. So both families, each with two kids, book passage for a unique late year getaway.

Liv, Nora and an Argentinean couple are the only parents with children on board the ship so they naturally gravitate towards each other. At a port in Latin America the husbands go to meet one of their friends for a round of golf while the women and kids decide to take a tour ziplining through the jungle. On the way to the zipline course the van breaks down. Knowing that they will never make their trip the guide calls in for another van and takes the three adults and six kids down to a local beach to enjoy the waters. It’s a sheltered area at the mouth of a river so there is no worry of sharks and the guide has inner tubes and other beach toys to make the impromptu trip enjoyable. All seems idyllic. The kids are all having a great time, two mothers doze on the beach and the guide goes to look at birds with Nora. When Nora returns to the beach she sees the two adults asleep and the beach and waters are empty. It seems that the kids were pushed up the river by the incoming tide. When the adults, and the authorities, finally find the abandoned inner tubes on the river bank they also find a freshly dug grave on the nearby roadside inhabited by a dead man with a bullet in his head. The kids were obviously taken by the gravediggers, but where? Are the kids okay? Will their guilt stricken parents ever see them again?

This book could have been written like a thriller, but it is more of a character study. You know what is going on with the children as well as the parents throughout the entire ordeal but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. Awful things happen, very awful things, but as a reader you aren’t left in the dark like the parents of the missing children. What hit home most for me was the utter lack of street smarts the American children possessed. The reactions of these children seemed real; as did those of the parents. My only issue with the book was how well all the American characters came out of this ordeal; you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean...

Put your holds on this book now, it comes out next week on June 6th!

And Then You’re Dead by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot From a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara… is the actual title of this question and answer gem that goes into the physics, chemistry and biology of what would happen to your body if really strange things happen to it. You’re dead at the end of every scenario described, it’s just how you become dead that is interesting.

You learn LOTS of fascinating (and sometimes gross or shocking) facts in this book. For instance no one in the history of the world has died being sucked into a pit of quicksand. (You’d float and once you got to about your belly button you’d become neutrally buoyant so you wouldn’t sink any farther in.) If you have an issue with germs skip the chapter on Botulism H; it was the most disturbing part of the book. I was astounded by the things that people have survived like the pilot who was sucked out of a windshield that popped out of his plane because of a quick thinking co-pilot, and also those things not survived (in recent times) like a papercut.

If you have an affinity for weird factoids like I do this book will give you a few more to clutter up your brain.

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The Signalman is waiting in Winslow, Arizona for Immacolata Sexton to arrive. They each work for unnamed agencies and are coming together to exchange information. Members of a cult were found dead in a house near the Salton Sea and it is the manner of their deaths, and what it might foretell, that has these two agents on edge.

The X-Files meets chthonic lore in this darkly atmospheric novella. Chapters bop back in forth in time and things are never what they seem to be on the surface. If you need a quick shot of something off-kilter go for this one, I couldn’t put it down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has been working the same job, living in the same apartment, and basically following the same routine since she graduated from college ten years before. The Social Welfare people stop by twice a year and the occasional meter reader, but otherwise she lives a solitary existence and she’s completely fine with that. Until the day when she and her co-worker Raymond are walking home from work and come across Sammy, an elderly gentleman having a heart attack. The duo get help for Sammy and so begins the unlikely friendship between the three. It becomes apparent that Eleanor is not completely fine, but with Sammy and Raymond’s help she may just get there.

I thought this was going to be the story of a socially awkward woman breaking out of her shell. While that was part of it, this is actually the story of an emotionally damaged woman learning to like herself, other people, and begin actively participating in the world around her. You know something is really wrong in Eleanor’s world during her Wednesday evening phone calls with her mother, a woman who seems to be in a criminal asylum and hurtles abuse at her daughter with every word. But Eleanor is a survivor, and this is the story of a woman who lived through a horrific childhood coming to terms with her adult life free from abuse.

This is a trend I’m seeing lately, the story of what happens after. We eventually find out what happened to Eleanor as a child, and how she was coping (or not coping) in her adult life and how the power of friendship helps her actually become completely fine. Another refreshing thing about the book is the purely platonic friendship between Eleanor and Raymond; it was nice to see strong friendship between a man and a woman that doesn’t develop into a love story for a change.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Jules Abbott never wanted to return to the small English town of Beckford; it holds too many bad memories for her. When her estranged sister’s body is found broken in the drowning pool she is forced to return and care for her teenaged niece Lena. Nel, Jules’s sister, was always obsessed with the drowning pool. It is a place that witches were tried and many women have committed suicide. Katie, Lena’s best friend whose body was found in the pool months before, and Nel, are considered just two more women who decided to end their lives in the spot. But Jules is sure that isn’t true. Nel always said if she wanted to kill herself she would never jump from the cliff because there would be a chance she could live. She would fill her pockets with rocks, just as Katie did months before. Nel also always said another thing about the spot, that is was a place to get rid of troublesome women.

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t a fan of The Girl on the Train. I didn’t understand why everyone loved that book so much. Now this book, this book I liked. The only thing good about getting laid low with a cold was being able to read this book in two days between my naps. 

The characters, even the deceased, slowly start to share their secrets and you get to know these troublesome women. It’s a twisty turny tale and you’re not completely sure whodunnit, or why they did it, until the very, very end. If you need a good summer thriller be sure to pick this one up for your beach bag.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Lisa Bellow is the queen bee of the 8th grade. She’s popular, has a boyfriend in high school, and a clique of beautiful friends. Her locker is right next to Meredith Oliver’s. Meredith is not popular, but she has close friends. She does well in school and has a happy home life. Until the day she decides to stop at the Deli Barn on her walk home from school to treat herself to a root beer. The Sandwich Farmer is creating sandwiches for Lisa when Meredith walks in; then the robber comes in wearing a ski mask. He waves a gun at the two girls and makes them lie on the floor while he takes the worker in the back demanding he open the (non-existent) safe. Moments later he comes out alone. He asks Lisa to get up and the two leave; Meredith is still on the floor and the worker is unconscious in the back room when the middle school custodian comes in the store to buy dinner. This isn’t the story of Lisa Bellow. This is Meredith’s story: how does a thirteen-year old cope with being the girl left behind?

A really good choice on audio; the narrator voices the characters well and you can hear the teen angst and emotion clearly. Meredith is suddenly the center of attention, she’s popular for an awful reason, and she’s trying to figure out how to cope with it all. Also, she’s trying to imagine what Lisa is going through. Is she alive? Is she dead? To help assuage her guilt for not running outside and getting the car’s license plate, or at the very least a description of the car, for just lying there on the linoleum for who knows how long, she makes up a fantasy life for her and Lisa where they are in this together instead of both being alone.

While I think it’s impossible to know what would go through someone’s head in similar circumstances I think the author makes a very believable guess at how Meredith could begin to live with the aftermath of that day. 

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns has an eidetic memory, a trait that not only proves that a former slave can have superior intelligence but that serves the Loyal League well in her work as a spy for the abolitionist cause. Malcolm McCall is an attractive Scotsman who can charm anyone, a helpful asset in his work as a Pinkerton Detective gathering intelligence for the Union cause. When the two meet at the home of an important Southern senator’s mansion hoping to overhear information that will benefit the Union their roles couldn’t be more different. She is posing as a mute house slave to the Senator’s daughter, he is posing as a Rebel officer there to woo the Senator’s daughter. While sparks fly at their first meeting, Elle is not about to enter into a hopeless relationship, but their work for the Union keeps throwing them together. Will they both, and their love, survive this war?

It was really interesting to read a romance about the love story between a freedwoman and a white man. She is, understandably, wary of his advances and nervous about being seen with him, a situation he is unprepared for but over time begins to understand. These two care for each other, as evidenced by the very steamy scenes between the two, and you can only hope that love will truly conquer all once they settle in north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

Grace is content in her life. She has two small children and a third on the way. She doesn’t have warm feelings towards her husband, but she is hoping things will get better; Gene is a very good provider and he cares for their children deeply. The best part of her life is her daily talks with her neighbor Rosie. But one day everything changes. Gene is off fighting the inland fires when Grace is awoken by her daughter’s screams and the smell of smoke. The fire has turned to the coast and is coming their way. Without a car, or even the ability to drive, Grace manages to get her children as well as Rosie and her children to the ocean where they huddle in the surf with wet blankets over their bodies hoping to survive the flames. They survive, but they awaken to a new world. Grace must try to find work, learn to drive, and take care of her family because Gene is missing in the fire, possibly dead, and she needs to provide for all of them now however she can.

Based on the true events of the fire that ravaged coastal Maine in 1947, this is a dark, bleak look at marriage during the time right after World War II when women were housewives and mothers unprepared to become the provider for the family. This book is Grace’s story, we get to know her and her motivations on every page. I have to admit I didn’t think the book would take as dark a turn as it did, but you’re still cheering for Grace and hoping that her new found confidence will see her through whatever life throws her way.

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film)

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film) 

Melanie seems to be a normal child. She attends classes every morning and tries her best, wanting to impress her teacher. But Melanie is not a normal child. She lives in an underground military bunker and is transported to class each morning restrained in a wheelchair. Melanie is infected with the fungus that changed most of the adult population into hungries (read: zombies) but she and her classmates have retained the ability to learn, and unfortunately also the desire for living meat. The doctors feel that Melanie’s brain is key to the development of an anti-fungal and plan on removing her brain tissue that morning. Of course that is the day the fences fail and the base is overrun with the infected. Melanie and a few humans survive and manage to escape, will they be able to reach another base? Is Melanie the key to the survival of humanity? Or is she the reasons for humanity’s demise?

I enjoy twists on the typical zombie movie and this was a heck of a twist. Based on the book with the same name that I’ve been meaning to read it is a great edge of your seat horror film. But you’re not waiting for the next scare or scream, you’re waiting for answers. How things are going to unfold. If humanity is going to survive this. Melanie, the character and the actress, is amazing. She can be scary, funny, a monster and a typical little girl all in a matter of seconds. Even with blood all over her face you can forget that she isn’t one of us. And like most of the movies I like it’s got a great gut punch of an ending.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Billie Breslin drops out of school and moves across the country to New York City to find her way in the world of culinary journalism. She manages to snag a great position at Delicious! an iconic foodie magazine housed in a Federalist mansion mere months before it is cancelled by the corporate owners. She is kept on as the sole employee to fulfill the Delicious! Guarantee -- the magazine will refund money spent on ingredients for any recipes that don’t work out quite right. While exploring the mansion and its library she comes upon a secret room and cryptic card catalog. Following clues she uncovers the letters of Lulu, aged 12, to the legendary James Beard, a correspondence initially started in the quest for tips to make good tasting meals during the rationing of World War II and later developing into a friendship. Throw in family drama, artisanal cheeses and hole in the wall restaurants and you have the recipe for a fun read.

Do not read this book if you are hungry. You will end up at a market spending your paycheck on interesting cheeses. I just talked about this book with my book discussion group and we all had one complaint -- everything fits together too neatly, too conveniently, wrapped with a big white bow. You see the resolution to subplots a mile away and know as soon as he walks onto the page who Billie’s love interest will be in a few chapters. That said, if you go into this one knowing it’s a romance, following the rules of a romance novel, you’ll find a lot to like here. I’ve been reading some dark and serious books and this one was a nice yummy fluffy confection that hit the spot. 

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Leah Stevens is starting over. She reluctantly quits her job with a prominent Boston newspaper, leaving her love of journalism behind, to become a teacher in rural Western Pennsylvania. She didn’t plan on ending up in bear country but when she bumps into Emmy again, her roommate for a brief period after college, she follows along; both young women looking for a new start. Leah isn’t exactly enjoying her new life, but she enjoys being with Emmy again. A few months after the move a young woman, who looks disturbingly like Leah, is found near death at the side of a lake close to their rental home and Emmy goes missing. As Leah’s digs into her friend’s past she doesn’t find many answers, just more and more questions. Who is Emmy Gray? 

I really enjoyed the author’s first adult thriller, All the Missing Girls, so I was really looking forward to reading this one. Since the author’s last book was written backwards I knew this was going to be a tough act to follow. It’s a good thriller, but I can’t help but compare it to her first book and find it slightly lacking. 

A good summertime read that makes you question how well you know your friends. (Hint: make sure all your friends have at least one utility or mortgage/lease in their name. It’s a good place to start towards thinking they are who they claim!) Enjoyable on audiobook. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Life in Chilbury changes dramatically with the start of World War II. Suddenly all the men in the village are away at war and the dread that fell during the previous war revisits Chilbury. Without men the choir is disbanded but through the efforts of a spunky newcomer to town, and the ladies of Chilbury themselves, a new choir of female voices is formed. Some complain that it’s wrong, that it’s never been done, but what during these turbulent times is that way it has always been?

This is a book about women coming together and redefining themselves during turbulent times. Told entirely in letters at first glance it may remind readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but only at a glance. This book is a lot deeper; the war hits Chilbury and the town feels loss deeply. There are also spies, slighted love, conspiracies, and romance. It’s war, so naturally the book takes some dark turns; it’s a small town, so of course there are nefarious things going on in the shadows; but all’s well that ends well, in case you wanted to know.

This is one that you should listen to rather than read. Each letter writer is voiced by a different reader, an experience that really helped immerse me in the story and form pictures in my head of each character. And it’s available on Playaway so pop in a pair of headphones and get out in the sunshine (when it returns) and listen to the ladies of Chilbury tell you their stories.

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

The sequel to Sleeping Giants finally arrived! I’ve been waiting a year and I wasn’t disappointed. I actually screamed aloud “Wait! What? NOOO!” at one point as well as laughed and gasped on numerous occasions. This was a great book, but it is a sequel -- you’ll need to read the first to enjoy the second. What I loved most about this book was my utter inability to see what’s going to happen next. 

If you enjoy a book that makes you think; a book that makes you angry and flummoxed; a book that makes you smile; a book told non-traditionally in interviews, diary entries and transcripts; a book that makes the impossible seem real; a book that takes the phrase what-if and runs a million miles with it, please give this series a chance.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley has twelve scars on his body and he has never told his daughter Loo (short for Louise) anything about them. Now that she’s older she knows they are from bullet wounds, and that her dad must be in some kind of trouble because they tend live in motels and move around a lot. The year Loo turns twelve things change. They rent a house in New England near the home of a grandmother she doesn’t remember, she grows up, gets a job, falls in love, but it seems like the past just can’t let them go.

This turned out to be a great pairing with The Hearts of Men -- what makes a good father? Can you do bad things and still be a good person? Hawley is an interesting character and we learn the story of his past through the stories of the scar. Each bullet wound is a chapter. Alternating chapters focus on the present, and Loo’s life, and the father-daughter duo comes to terms with living a “normal” life.

Loo doesn’t remember her mother since she died when Loo was an infant, but the shrine her father creates to Lily in each place they live is a testament to his undying love for her as well as his inability to let go of the past. The is a damaged and haunted man trying to do right by his daughter by sheltering her from his life, but Loo is more like her father than he realizes.

Fans of Lee Child and Vince Flynn will enjoy getting to know Samuel Hawley. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of the law, but he’s trying so hard to right wrongs and be good but the past sometimes refuses to let go.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Boy Scout camp at Camp Chippewa, Wisconsin, in 1962 was a turning point in the life of a young bugler named Nelson. Nelson is a good boy, on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, but it is the qualities that make him a good scout that set him apart from his fellow scouts. It is there that he makes a friend in Jonathan, his only friend, and one that he will have contact with throughout his life. It is also there that he finds his mentor, Scoutmaster Whitesides, who runs the camp and becomes a father figure for Nelson. 

This is the story of two good boys, Nelson and Jonathan’s son Trevor, who strive to always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing or the unpopular thing. But is the thing that is right always the right thing to do?

This book should be referenced whenever bildungsromans (coming of age stories) are discussed. This is the story of Nelson growing up and learning what it is to be a man and striving to be a good man despite all he faces during wartime. This is also a book about Trevor growing up and falling in love, reluctantly continuing the Camp Chippewa tradition.

Is it okay to sometimes do the wrong thing if your heart is in the right place? And what does it mean to be man? Why do some men seem to think that a “real” man can’t be both good and a man? But most importantly this book is about heroes and what it means to be a hero in another person’s eyes.

This is a good choice on audio but I will warn you, there is one part about a lost bet at Camp Chippewa that will have you cringing and rolling down the window in your car for fresh air if you’re listening while you drive.


Friday, April 14, 2017

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Walsh-Adams family has their hands full. Rosie is a doctor at the local ER, Penn is writing a novel and together they are raising four boys and another child is on the way. Rosie is (not so secretly) hoping this next one will finally be a girl. The whole family is overjoyed when a perfect little boy named Claude joins their clan. Claude is precocious and precious, unlike the rough and tumble brood already under their roof. When Claude announces at age three that he wants to be a girl the family doesn’t think much of it, it could be a phase, so they go shopping and buy him dresses. After a little time goes by they realize that Claude is much happier as a girl. After an incident in Wisconsin regarding Claude, now Poppy, the family ups and moves to Washington state. Upon arrival they all make the mostly unconscious decision to let Poppy be Poppy and keep what’s in her pants a secret. But can a family of seven keep a secret like this? And another question, should they?

This is a story that looks at the life of a child who doesn’t feel comfortable in their skin and how difficult it is as a child to describe what you’re feeling a lot of the time. Is Poppy transgender? Does she want to fully become female? Or, as her brothers think of her, is she simply a girl with boy parts? And at ten years old can you know yourself enough to answer all these questions? The struggle of the parents, wanting to have a happy child however that can happen, is the part that really spoke to me. I felt for Rosie and Penn and their choices on Poppy’s behalf and how there didn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer for all the questions they kept asking themselves. These parents love all their children, and each other, and have the best intentions to bring happiness to the lives of each member of their family. The author’s daughter was born male and is now eight and I’m sure she’s asking a lot of the questions of herself that her fictional parents talk about late into the night. Written in a light hearted comic style, but with a lot of heart and seriousness, this was a great family story I think anyone would enjoy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine is a privileged woman of a certain age with an extremely successful record of finding missing persons, specifically reuniting children with their birth parents. Her deepest secret and regret is the one person she cannot find. Reeling from the triple tragedies of the death of her two sisters and witnessing the fall of the Twin Towers from her Brooklyn brownstone all in the same year Celine desperately needs a purpose, and she finds one in Gabriela.

Gabriela’s mother died in a tragic accident when she was very young and her grieving father never really recovered. He was an imperfect parent (I’m being very generous here) and spent long months away for his work as a renowned National Geographic photographer. On one assignment to shoot the wildlife at Yellowstone when Gabriela was barely out of her teens he disappears; assumed dead, mauled by a bear. Years later Gabriela learns of Celine and asks that she take the case to look for her missing father. Without a body, and with evidence that didn’t exactly add up, Gabriela has never been convinced that her father died. As Celine digs into the case it becomes clear that her investigation is unwelcome.

Celine is an interesting character, who had an interesting life in her youth. Most private investigators have quirks and I saw her and her husband as a down to earth pairing like Nick and Nora. Celine wears her privilege well and knows that she relies on her husband for his research skills and calm demeanor (he is truly a native of Maine) as well as his help physically. Celine is suffering from emphysema and the high altitude of the park isn’t helping her any. Some that are looking for just a mystery may not appreciate the forays into Celine’s past, but I found them helpful in understanding the character and her relationships with the people around her. A solid mystery that features library research prominently (woo hoo!) that was very enjoyable on audiobook. 

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Have aspirations of becoming a birder? Look no further for inspiration! This documentary takes you full circle through a year of birdwatching in Central Park. Fun fact: a quarter of the birds found in the continental United States pass through (or sometimes nest) in Central Park. I was surprised to see a wild turkey show up on the screen!

It’s great to see all this urbanites get excited about birds. Now that I’m actually looking for them I have to admit it is great to see them and be able to tell them apart. I love walking through the woods and hearing the birdsong this time of year. Of course there is some sad news, like the decline in the general bird population, but overall the message is clear -- nature is exciting, beautiful and no matter where you are, it’s there!

Check out the special features, the filmmakers put together a short film with footage of different birds all clearly labeled. A great resource for beginner birders!

Warning note: this is another film that requires cat supervision. They may try to grab, pet, chase and/or rub against the birds on screen. Trust me. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

It all begins in California with a kiss at a christening party. The mother of the christened child kisses a man who wasn’t exactly invited. Sparks fly. Afterwards two families are recreated. Six children are now stepsiblings summering in Virginia. Disasters, hard feelings, and warm feelings, they may never had experienced otherwise, unfold throughout their lives together.

I’m not typically a fan of books centered on family issues, especially the relationships between siblings, because as an only child I simply don’t get the angst and tumult that seems to exist between siblings. The circumstances that threw the stepsiblings in this novel together made me think that there would be animosity, but the relationships were stronger and much different than I thought they would be under the circumstances. 

I liked the way the book bounced between the past and present showing the lives of the six stepsiblings at different stages in their lives and how their unconventional family affected them for the good and ill. A refreshing look at family drama.

Friday, March 31, 2017

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson


Calvin Sidey all but abandoned his family after his wife died, not being able to handle his grief and raising small children. Retreating to a solitary life on the range putting in fence posts and herding cattle, Calvin is content with his life as a loner. Decades later his son David needs him. He asks Calvin to come to the house and watch his grandchildren while David takes his wife to Missoula for an operation. Calvin, surprising both himself and David, agrees. Calvin thinks babysitting a teen and tween is going to be easy, but Calvin is not one to sit idly by when he sees trouble brewing. The problem is that Calvin is a relic of the west and his way of fixing problems isn’t really acceptable in the modern age of the 1960s.


This book reminded me of a cross between Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and Clint Eastwood in El Camino. Strangely enough the picture of the grandfather in my head was not of Mr. Eastwood but a character actor I can’t place no matter how hard I try. Calvin isn’t exactly likeable, but he is relatable. You get under his skin and understand his actions, as much as you may not agree with the ways he attempts to solve his problems.


After reading and listening to a few lyrically written, and lengthy, books it was a shock to the system to read the spare no-nonsense writing style of this author. Don’t get me wrong, this is great writing with some wonderful descriptions, but the author conveys Calvin, a man of very few words, even in the style and tone of the entire work. Western fans will find a modern tale worth reading in this one.