Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I See You/Clare Mackintosh/384 pgs

If  you regularly commute to work via public transportation, you may not want to read this book:-) Zoe Walker takes the London Underground to work and back every day. One day she notices her picture in a classified ad in the paper. This rightly creeps her out, but she becomes even more worried and paranoid when she discovers that another woman whose picture appeared in the same ad has been murdered. As with Mackintosh's first book, I Let You Go, this one alternates between the victim's (Zoe's) point of view and that of the investigating officer. Here that's Kelly Swift. Kelly has been demoted, for reasons the reader will discover, and at first is the only member of the police who will listen to Zoe. This is a truly creepy tale, especially when we get a few short chapters from the "stalker/mastermind." I was engrossed by this book up until the reveal of the mastermind, whose motivation I found wholly unbelievable. The book was only saved, by a narrow margin, by the very, very end. I seem to always find flaws with Mackintosh's books, but I enjoy her writing style and intend to keep reading her books.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette / Maria Semple / 330 pgs

This is the second time I've read this book. My book club will be talking about it in June, but I went ahead and reread it now, although that's not quite the right way of putting it. I actually listened to it. I'm just going to say this is one of those books where reading it is FAR better than listening to it. I wasn't a fan of the narrator, and the letters, e-mails, and faxes lose their charm when you're hearing them, rather than reading them.

This is mostly an epistolary novel, though it is also narrated in sections by Bee Branch, a 15 year old girl, who sounds like a whiny brat in the audio book, but did not come across so in the print book. Her agoraphobic mother, Bernadette Fox, has gone missing, and it is through all of these letters, e-mails, and faxes that Bee is trying to piece together how, why, and where her mother disappeared.

The story is fun, funny, and kind of crazy. I enjoyed it back in 2014 when I first read it, and I still enjoyed it this past week, even if the audio book was not the best way to experience the book. The movie has been in development for quite a long time, with Cate Blanchett attached to star as Bernadette. Would recommend!

The Penelopiad / Margaret Atwood / 198 pgs

I have to admit that I've only read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood before now. To remedy that, I read The Penelopiad which is the story of Odysseus and Penelope of Homeric myths, but from the point of view of Penelope. I enjoyed the insertion of the twelve maids that were hung by Odysseus when he returned from his Odyssey as a chorus, much like how most Greek epic poems included a chorus of maidens that told a bit of the story from a third person point of view. Overall, since I have always enjoyed books based on Greek myths, like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, I really liked this book. At only 198 pages, it's not overly long at all. My only beef is that a portion of the book, towards the end, got a bit hyper-feminist for my taste, but this is Margaret Atwood we are talking about!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Best of My Love/Susan Mallery/313 pgs.

Because of her painful childhood, Shelby Gilmore has trust issues where men are concerned. Aidan Mitchell has the reputation of a "love 'em and leave 'em" type of guy. He no longer likes that aspect of his life, so when Shelby approaches him with the proposal of just being "friends" with her--no more, no less--he agrees to try. It's a six month experiment, and the reader isn't surprised how it turns out. I really like Susan Mallery because she gives more depth to her characters than some contemporary romance writers do. This title is part of her Fool's Gold series--and a welcomed addition!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / J.K. Rowling / 320 pgs

I probably have not read the first Harry Potter book in a decade, though I am a huge fan of the series. Since the ReadHarder challenge requires you to reread a book, I chose Harry Potter. I wanted to see if anything new leapt out at me, considering I know the whole story now. First, I had forgotten just how nasty Snape really was to Harry throughout this whole book. Second, Dumbledore explains to Harry that Snape was especially upset with Harry's dad because James Potter saved Snape's life at some point, and Snape hated being in Harry's dad's debt. Did we ever learn just what James did to save Snape's life?

If you've never read the Harry Potter series, do yourself a favor and start! The books become progressively more mature as the author's audience matured through the years that the series was being written. So, you find that the first book is maybe too juvenile for you, keep reading because you'll find that the writing becomes more and more sophisticated. Will happily recommend to anyone, no matter the age!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Marrying Mr. Winterborne/Lisa Kleypas/416 pgs

This is the second in Kleypas' Ravenel series and it's received high praise from some quarters. My enthusiasm for the book was already dimmed at the outset because the hero is just not my type and, unfortunately, the story did nothing to change my mindset.

Rhys Winterborne is the son of a Welsh grocer who has made a name, and tons and tons of money, from opening a successful department store. What he doesn't have is access to the upper reaches of society. He decides that marrying a lady from an aristocratic family, Lady Helen Ravenel will help cement his place in society. Helen and Rhy met in the first book of this series and I really feel like that's where they fell in love. In this book they already seem to care for each other and the romance isn't really expanded on. The only thing keeping them apart in the beginning is that Helen is still in mourning for her brother. The second half of the book throws in a conflict that feels very contrived because the two characters can't seem to communicate.

Though Kleypas' writing is still gorgeous and her attention to detail extraordinary, overall this wasn't a favorite of mine.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Dressmaker/Kate Alcott/306 pgs.

Tess is provided passage on the Titanic by the famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon. Lady Duff Gordon is everything Tess aspires to be in America--a successful designer. However, as the Titanic is sinking, choices are made, and the aftermath follows the survivors to America. Tess is torn between her loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon, and what the newspapers are reporting. The book grabs one initially, but then somewhat stalls--especially in Tess's indecisiveness between two suitors. In spite of this, I would recommend this book. It's an interesting fictionalized account of the some of the Titanic survivors.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Missing/Caroline Eriksson/222 pgs

The Missing is a Swedish-language book that's been translated into English. I thought the translation was well done, though of course I have no idea how closely it hews to the original.

The book begins with Greta, Alex, and 4-year-old Smilla heading out across Lake Malice in a motorboat. They dock at an island in the middle of the lake, and Alex and Smilla get out to explore. Greta is urged to accompany them but she declines. Next thing you know, Alex and Smilla are missing. Greta searches for them but does not go to the police, at least initially.

This story is told almost entirely from Greta's 1st person point of view. To be honest, I found it very difficult to be inside of Greta's head. There is a lot going on there, much of it confusing, depressing, and frustrating. I found I couldn't read very much of this book at one sitting because of this. And I have to say that I am shocked the book is only 222 pages long because it felt like it was at least twice that.

I must warn that this book deals with a number of issues that may disturb readers, including but not limited to:  child in peril, animal abuse, graphic domestic violence, assault, and murder. The main focus of the story is domestic violence and while I don't expect sunshine and roses from my suspense novels, parts of this story situation just felt too real. The book was compelling in its own way but I can't say I enjoyed reading it. I will say that despite the grim subject matter the story did end on a somewhat positive note.

Doomsday Book / Connie Willis / 592 pgs

Confession: My two favorite themes in literature are time travel and alternative histories. Somehow, this book has completely escaped my notice until now, despite the fact that it won the Best Novel Hugo Award back in 1993. The story is set in 2054 in Oxford, England. Time travel has been invented, but up until now, people were not allowed to go back to the 14th century because it was considered too dangerous for two reasons. First, it was the era of the Hundred Years' War, and second, it was the era of the Black Death that killed almost half of Europe. However, Kivrin Engle, a young post-grad historian, ends up going back to 1320 to study medieval Oxford for a three week period. Unbeknownst to her, a mistake actually sent her to 1348, the year that the Black Death struck Oxford and the surrounding villages. Meanwhile, the characters in 2054 Oxford find themselves also the victims of a mysterious influenza that strikes most of the people who are tasked with pulling Kivrin back into the present. 

The book is a bit long, but I enjoyed it anyways. Be warned, it does get very depressing and rife with gross details of what the Bubonic Plague does to a person before death. I would not recommend for the squeamish or those who are unable to read about death. For me, someone who is fascinated by history, I loved it! It took a while for the book to really get going, but once it did, I thought it was great. The parts that dragged were mostly those that occurred in 2054, and the side story of the American bell-tollers. Still, I'd recommend it to those who are not overly sensitive and like to learn more about medieval history

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Storied Life of A.J Fikry / Gabrielle Zevin / 260 pgs

I read this book solely because a friend of mine said it was her favorite book ever. I wasn't sure if our tastes exactly aligned, but it was a wonderful book. I highly recommend it to anyone. It has so many great quotes in it, that I find I want to make some sort of cross stitch pattern and stitch all of my favorite quotes.

The book is about a 39 year old widower, A.J. Fikry, whose wife died in a car accident the year before. He is old and grouchy before his time. He owns the only bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off the coast of Massachusetts, and lives in an apartment above it. One day he finds a 2 year old girl in his bookstore with a note from the girl's mom. The mom can no longer care for her child and wants the girl, Maya, to be raised among books. What A.J. decides to do afterwards changes his life and makes him a better man and a better bookseller.

Here are some quotes from the book that I loved:

Sometimes books don't find us until the right time.” 
"We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. "
We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”
They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?”
We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.” 
"Someday, you may think of marrying. Pick someone who thinks you're the only person in the room.”
Every word the right one and exactly where it should be. That's basically the highest compliment I can give.”
"And I like talking about books with people who like talking about books."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Code of Honor / Alan Gratz / 278 pages

     Wow.  This was an exciting book with lots to think about.  It is a YA story about a high school senior  who is football star, prom king, headed for West Point, etc.  Then, his brother is on the news as a terrorist traitor soldier to the United States.  Being half-Iranian, Kamran's world upends.  Not only is he suddenly viewed suspiciously at school by everyone including former friends, but Homeland Security takes him and his parents away for questioning and can apparently hold them indefinitely in an unknown location.  Kamran is only 17, a minor.  He has no rights and no recourse.  I didn't know that they could do this to citizens!  Apparently they can.  He is in solitary with no access to the outside. no visitors. no news. no communication with his parents.  Even people in prison get that much.
     The CIA grills him daily.  At last, one man believes him when he says his brother is not a traitor.  He and his brother played an Iranian superhero game as children and Kamran figures out that his brother is using it as a code in his online addresses that he finally is allowed to see.  Then, the exciting process of tracking everything down begins.  
     Luckily the chapters are only 1-2 pages long because it is too exciting to see what will happen next.  It is all CIA spy stuff and Kamran is totally in it.  Whom should you trust?  Who is the real traitor?  How can it end well?
     This would make an awesome book for a book club whether for YA or adult.  There are so many things to discuss.  Especially now.  How far to go in profiling mid-east or any group of people?  Is Homeland Security too powerful?  How to keep the U.S. safe while preserving freedom.  How would you feel if you were suddenly shunned by everyone you knew?  What if you found out that a friend or their family had done a terrorist act?  etc. 
     F for Fantastic book.

Cold-Hearted Rake/Lisa Kleypas/416 pgs

When Lisa Kleypas was strictly a historical romance writer, I read everything she wrote. I didn't follow her when she switched to contemporary. Then about 2 years ago she jumped back into historical romance with Cold-Hearted Rake. I'm not really sure why now, but at the time I wasn't interested in reading the book. I know I sampled the first chapter and didn't fall in love with it, so I put it aside. However, when it was announced that Kleypas would be publishing a sequel to her much-loved book Devil in Winter this year, I knew I wanted to read that. Turns out that book, Devil in Spring, is actually the third in Kleypas's newer trilogy so a colleague talked me into starting at the beginning with Cold-Hearted Rake.

I was not disappointed. I had forgotten what an awesome writer Kleypas is. The one word I would use to describe her writing is: Rich. She includes so much detail, whether it's setting, characters, emotions, actions. She does not skimp on anything and reading one of her books is like enjoying a layered confection--with icing on top!

This is the story of Devon, the new earl of Trenear. His cousin died, leaving Devon an ancient house in need of repair, tenants farms that are struggling, a mountain of debt, and oh yes, a young widow, Kathleen. Devon and Kathleen get off on the wrong foot when Devon initially decides to sell the estate and kick Kathleen and his 3 female cousins out the door. He eventually softens and puts his heart and soul into trying to revive the estate. Along the way, he and Kathleen fall for each other.

I wouldn't say that this book is as good as Kleypas's older historical romances, but it's still really good. I finished this one and immediately downloaded the next one, Marrying Winterborne, so look for my thoughts on that one soon.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Unexpected Duchess/Valerie Bowman/368 pgs

I am an unabashed lover of historical romance but this, unfortunately, was not my cup of tea (pun intended, though really no cup is my tea because I do not care for tea!). Lucy is an outspoken young miss who never learned to curb her tongue and scares off all the gentlemen. Derek is a war hero who was just created a duke. He promised his dying soldier friend that he would marry a lady named Cassandra. Cassandra is Lucy's friend and she doesn't want to marry this new duke because she's in love with someone else. So she asks Lucy to use her sharp tongue and help her scare off Derek. As generally happens, Lucy and Derek end up falling for each other. This would definitely be considered a Regency romp. There are funny parts but the characters seem very young, and honestly theywould have been more at home in a contemporary novel than a historical. Still, Bowman writes well and if you are looking for something lighthearted and fun, this just might be YOUR cup of tea.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Hunt for Red October / Tom Clancy / 469 pgs

This was my first Tom Clancy book! I chose this book because it was the first Jack Ryan book he wrote, and also because it was the one Jack Ryan movie I haven't seen yet. I love Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears, so I hoped I'd like the book. The book centers around a Soviet nuclear submarine captain, Marko Ramius, and his crew aboard the Red October, as Captain Ramius hatches a plan to defect to the United States with his more senior officers who want to defect too. Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst living in London. When he sees pictures of the Red October and their "caterpillar" propulsion system which allows the submarine to sail virtually undetected, he hops a flight to Langley, and from there the adventure begins.

I'm of two minds about this book. Certainly the tension is very well written. There's lots of twists and turns that keep your attention. On the other hand, I bored with all of the technical details found throughout the book. It made the book feel very long, longer than it actually is. However, because the story itself was so good, I hope to get my hands on Patriot Games soon. I genuinely think that the only reason why I don't give this book a higher rating is because the technical jargon, and that should be not as prevalent in Patriot Games. I can see why men like Tom Clancy more. That said, I definitely recommend the Jack Ryan series to anyone who likes Brad Thor or WEB Griffin.

The Girl Before / JP Delaney / 320 pgs

Obviously, this book is being put into the same category as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, and for good reason. I have every reason to believe that this will become a big bestseller in the coming weeks, and it has already been optioned to be made into a movie with Ron Howard directing. I've already read the books I mentioned above, and I think it was FAR BETTER than Girl on the Train, and I might even like it more than Gone Girl, which I think was an amazing book, because the big reveal at the end of The Girl Before is such a gut punch - completely unexpected and VERY satisfying! I gave the book five stars. Very high praise from me indeed!

The story alternates between two women, Emma and Jane. Jane is in present time. She rents a very austere, modern, smart house in London that is very cheap, but requires a lot of rules to be followed. These rules were put into place by the apartment's architect. Meanwhile, a couple of years before, a woman named Emma moved into that same apartment. Both women are dealing with recent trauma. Emma's old apartment was burglarized and Jane recently suffered a stillbirth. Both become mesmerized by their new house's enigmatic architect. Saying anymore would definitely spoil the book. Check it out as soon as you can!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Arrowood/ Laura McHugh /288pgs

Arrowood is the story of Arden Arrowood, a young woman whose twin toddler sisters disappeared while she was playing with them in the yard. It's now almost twenty years later. Her father recently died and Arden is finally returning to the house, called Arrowood, where the twins were kidnapped. Her mother has since remarried and moved away. Arden has always felt guilty that the twins disappeared while she was watching them, even though she was only 8 years old at the time. With the help of a stranger who investigates unsolved disappearances, she sets off on a path to discover exactly what happened that day (in this, it reminded me of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, though Arrowood isn't nearly as violent). I enjoyed this story, the way the past and present are woven together, and the look into how things are never exactly as they seem, even when we have vivid memories.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anything for You/Kristan Higgins/366 pages

This was the first book that I’ve read by this author.  Apparently, it’s the 5th book in the “Blue Heron” series, but you can read it without having read the previous titles.  Jessica and Connor have been secretly together – off and on – for many years.  He has proposed to her several times but she always seems to find a reason to turn him down, maybe because Jessica feels as though she is someone who can only count on herself.  .The author includes many interesting social issues – fetal alcohol syndrome, social class, alcoholism, poverty.  I enjoyed this book.

First Star I See Tonight/Susan Elizabeth Phillips/370 pages

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my favorite authors.  As usual, the plot grabbed my interest almost immediately and I read the book very quickly.  Cooper Graham is a retired pro quarterback who’s opened a night club, and eventually wants to open a chain of them.  A potential investor hires a private detective (Piper Dove) to follow Coop.  He catches Piper following him and eventually hires her to work for him in his club.  There are several subplots in the book and the heroine maintains her integrity and ethics throughout.  

Humans, Bow Down / James Patterson / 373 pgs

This was my first James Patterson book. Of course, we all know that James Patterson doesn't actually write his own books, so take that for what it's worth. Unless I read one of his Alex Cross novels, I doubt I'll ever know how *he* actually writes. I was curious about this book because I like a good dystopia novel, and I thought it would be nice to read one that wasn't explicitly teen-oriented.

To be honest, I don't know what I just read. The book is over 370 pages long, and yet it has a bunch of pictures, nearly one on every page, depicting the characters and actions going on. I feel like I'm reading a kid's book. The font is quite large. The main characters, Six and Dubs, act like teenagers, but at one point, they're described as "not yet having reached their third decade" which makes me believe they're adults. At the same time, Six, our kick-ass female heroine, remembers events occurring not yet a decade ago, back when she was just a six year old kid. So, color me confused.

The story involves human-made robot hybrids that nearly succeeded in wiping out humanity in a three day war a decade before. Most remaining humans are "reformed" and live as servants to their Hu-Bot overlords, but many others live in refugee camps outside of Denver, in squalor, with little food to eat or other resources. We never hear of what is going on in the rest of the country, or the world, with the story really only taking place in Denver and the mountains around it. When Six and her friend, Dubs, steal a sports car from a Hu-Bot in the city, they bring down the terror of the Hu-Bots upon themselves and the rest of their human friends. Meanwhile, one Hu-Bot, MikkyBo (I am not making that name up), finds herself starting to feel empathy towards the humans. Furthermore, Mikky's brother (yes, Hu-Bots have families) is dealing with some sort of "glitch" which gives him gender dysphoria. An LGBTR relationship that emerges in the last few pages feels really forced too. And yes, I meant to tack on an "R" at the end of LGBT. If you make it to the end of the book, you'll see why.

I can see this becoming a series by the way it ended, but I honestly don't plan on reading any more if there are sequels.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Girl Before/J.P. Delaney/336 pgs.

The house at One Folgate Street is a bit of an oddity. The architect, Edward, is a minimalist, and is very particular to whom he rents the house. This is the story of two renters: Emma and Jane. In alternating chapters, the story unfolds about these two tenants, always with an undertone of unease. I don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say, there are secrets, suspense--and quite a few surprises. Highly recommended! Also, Ron Howard plans on making a movie from it. The book has been likened to Girl On a Train, and Gone Girl. In my opinion, The Girl Before outshines both of them.

The Marriage Lie/Kimberly Belle/334 pgs.

Iris and Will have been happily married for seven years. Will takes a flight out to Florida, and on the same day a flight out to Seattle, Washington, crashes--killing all on board. Iris is notified that Will was on the Seattle flight, and as a result, perished. Iris's world is upended: why would Will lie to her about his business trip? What else has he lied about? Digging into his past reveals more secrets--and leads to danger. A fast moving book, and one I highly recommend!