Jul 212015
 

Here is the latest installment of books! As always, if you’ve read something lately that you love, let me know! I am always on the lookout for new titles.

1. A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2) by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines in book #2. This time, he’s there to investigate the murder of a very unliked woman who is mysteriously electrocuted in front of the whole town. But how did that happen and who did it?

All the characters from the first book are back in the second and I’m so glad. The curious little town is so quaint and the characters are so well-written it’s a joy to read, even if the books are about murderers!

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2. The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

This book was on my “must read” list even before it was published. I was so excited when it finally came available at the library. The premise intrigued me — Angus and Sarah have identical twin daughters, Lydia and Kirstie. After a tragic accident, Lydia dies and they slowly try to rebuild their lives after this horrible event. The family moves to a remote Scottish Island and suddenly Kirstie is telling them that they got it wrong that day–that she is Lydia and Kirstie was the twin that died that day.

What is a parent to do? The book is so incredibly creepy on many levels. Each family member is slowly unraveling and clearly going insane and I can see why that would happen. Sarah has been noticing strange things and even before her daughter confesses that the “wrong” twin died, she’s already wondering if they got it wrong.

Their dog is acting strangely–treating the surviving twin the way he always treated Lydia when she was alive. How do you explain that? Kirstie (who claims she’s Lydia) insists she sees her sister and talks to her. Is it a ghost? A hallucination brought on by grief the little girl can’t fathom or explain because she’s so young? Personality traits in Kirstie are now presenting themselves as Lydia. Favorite toys, behaviors, reading ability–everything points to the girl really being Lydia but how is that possible?

“‘Kirstie is here again,’ she says. ‘She’s in my room. I don’t want to see her anymore. Mummy, make her go away.’ I want nothing more than for Kirstie to go away. And maybe Lydia too. I am frightened of both of my daughters, the two ghosts in this house, the two ghosts in my head; The Ice Twins, melting, one into the other…’I don’t believe what Lydia says, Mummy. She says horrible things.[pg 288]”

The book was creepy and gut-wrenching at times. Mostly creepy. I highly recommend this. I read it in two days.

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3. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I wanted to give this book 4 stars because I liked the characters and the story was different, but…the book could have been better.
What I liked: the story was different and interesting. Alice falls at the gym and hits her head, wakes up and finds that she’s lost the last 10 years of her life. She’s unaware that she has three kids, that she’s separated from her husband, and apparently a very different person at age 39 than she was at 29. Very interesting premise!

What I didn’t like: yet another book from this author where there are three women telling their story. The formula is tired and I’m over it. She needs to write differently. STOP! It’s annoying and I wasn’t as interested in the other story lines as I was with Alice. Also, for the first 30% of the book I was very impatient and irritated that we didn’t know why Alice didn’t have her memory. Maybe that was the point, but I didn’t like that part.

Despite all of this, I still enjoyed most of the book and I liked that there was almost this alternate universe going on–it kind of reminded me of the movie Sliding Doors.

4. World Without End by Ken Follett

Looking for a rip-roaring good time that takes place in medieval times? Complete with accusations of witchcraft, royal espionage, serfdom and the Black Plague. Then this book is for you. In all seriousness, this was a really good book. It’s long–1000+ pages–and sometimes a little slow, but overall it was a really good read. I loved the time period and the characters. It’s a book that spans a long period of time in the mid-1300’s and you follow the main characters as they try to survive in a difficult time.

It starts with Caris and Merthin as young kids, who are best friends and falling in love. The story follows them as they age and their careers “take off” and all the trials and tribulations they go through in England in 1340. Loved their story. Even Merthin’s brother, Ralph, the most evil person in the book you kind of like because his character is so well written and EVIL. Well done book!

5. Little Black Lies by SJ Bolton

I love this author! I discovered her last summer and read all her Lacy Flint books and loved them. This isn’t part of that series–new story, new characters and it’s really good. It takes place on the Falkland Islands. Sadly, I had never heard of them before this book and now I am absolutely fascinated and want to visit.

The main character is Catrin. She’s a diver and whale expert. The book is about young children who have been disappearing in the community and this brings up painful memories of the death of her two boys. The other main character is Rachel, the best friend who’s neglect lead to their death. Finally, Callum, Catrin’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. The story is told in such a unique way, from each person’s point of view, and the twists and turns were so unpredictable! The who-dunit was so well done! It had me guessing all the way to the last page. GOOD BOOK!

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6. Bones are Forever (Temperance Brennan #15) by Kathy Reichs

I’ve read a few of the books in this series over the years, somehow not in order. If it sounds familiar, I believe there is a TV show based on the characters (Bones). I plan on starting at the beginning of this series and re-reading the ones I have read.

Despite reading it out of order, it wasn’t necessary. I never felt lost or confused. If there was a main character I didn’t quite remember the author did a good job of giving the cliff notes reminders. I enjoyed this book a lot. The main character, Temperance, is a strong female lead character and the story had an interesting combination of science and mystery that never felt over my head or too dumbed down.

The story is about a mysterious woman who checks into an ER because of excessive bleeding, they realize she’d just given birth, but she disappears from the hospital before being treated. With some detective work they find her apartment and sadly, the corpse of a newborn baby. But that’s not it, they find two more mummified corpses in the apartment. Thus the search begins for this “horrible monster” that killed her babies…except, is that what really happened? No spoilers. But it was a good and very fast read.

7. Us by David Nicholls

This was a very charming, heart-warming book. Douglas is in his 50’s and his teenage son is about to graduate from high school when one night his wife says that she thinks the marriage has run it’s course. This was completely out of the blue for the middle-aged scientist who thought everything was going great. The three of them are also about to embark on a summer long European family trip to celebrate before their son goes off on his own journey.

They go on the trip anyways, the wife being cagey about when she was leaving him and why. He thinks this is his last chance to keep the family together. The story is told in little vignettes instead of chapters and the story of how he met his wife and their life together is intertwined with the current day struggles and their European adventure. It was a REALLY good book. I liked it a lot and read it in two days!

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Jun 102015
 

I’ve read some duds lately. And a few that were so bad I couldn’t finish reading them. I hate when I go through dry spells like that with books! I recently read a few good ones on vacation, so here goes:

1. The Mourning Bells by Christine Trent

This is the 4th book in the series. It’s a great series and I liked this newest book, even if it wasn’t quite AS good as the other three. The first two books were the best, for sure. It takes place in Victorian England with the main character, Violet, as a female undertaker who solves mysteries. It’s “cozy” and charming and I like the characters and the stories in this world.

This particular book takes place at the height of Victorian paranoia about being buried alive. The newest thing is coffins with bells attached to alert people just in case someone was buried alive! I knew a little about this from other historical books I’ve read but it was fascinating to read about it in a fictional book. The story introduces these coffins and the London Necropolis Railway (which I hadn’t known about–London cemeteries were FULL!):

“One of Victorian London’s most respected undertakers, Violet Harper has the new duty of accompanying coffins from various undertakers on the London Necropolis Railway for respectful funerals and burials in Surrey. But on her fateful first trip, the mournful silence of the train is shattered by the shrill ringing of a coffin bell—a device that prevents a person from being buried alive.”

I love this time period and the sometimes quirky and odd traditions. There is a whole world around “mourning” (complete with traditions such as wearing the hair of the deceased, mourning jewelry and all the “rules” around mourning and what you’re supposed to wear). It’s all very fascinating. It was a good, fun read and I enjoyed it!

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2. Still Life (Book 1 Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries) by Louise Penny

I really enjoyed this book. I accidentally read another one in the series (not knowing it was a series). The writing is good and the story was interesting and compelling. The mystery was unique and the characters and world the writer created was very charming. The story takes place in a small town outside of Montreal. A local woman, an artist, is found dead. At first they aren’t sure if it’s a murder. CI Gamache brings his investigative team out there to solve the mystery.

“His theory is that life is loss. Loss of parents, loss of loves, loss of jobs. So we have to find a higher meaning in our lives than these things and people. Otherwise we’ll lose ourselves. [pg 138]”

“I think many people love their problems. Gives them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are very immature. They lead “still” lives, waiting…Waiting for someone to save them. [pg 140]”

Hence, the story behind the title. I really liked the book and I am looking forward to reading more in the series. I was disappointed that there is a long wait for the books at the library! Also, I guess there is a tv show based on the book!

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3. Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box

The main character, Joe, is a Game Warden in Wyoming. He has a pregnant wife and two young daughters. The story starts out with him fairly new in the job and trying to find his feet. The previous warden was a legend in the area and he’s struggling to get the respect of the locals. The story is a murder mystery and it’s a unique story that was interesting to me. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but some hunters find an endangered animal in the wild and are murdered as a result. The story is as much about Joe’s life and job, the murder mystery, and about endangered animals. I thought it was well-written and the last few chapters were probably the most on-the-edge-of-your-seat reading I’ve had in a long time!

4. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was a very odd book. It felt like a “Real Housewives of Singapore” or something. It definitely had a gross, snobby, tacky, elitist tone to it but I think that was the point. The main characters, Rachel and Nick, travel to Singapore for a wedding. Rachel is an “ABC” (American Born Chinese) and Nick’s entire family is back in Singapore. They’ve been dating for 2 years. They are both down-to-earth and “normal” but once they arrive Rachel realizes that Nick comes from a very different world–a world of snobby, filthy rich and narrow-minded people who also happen to be royalty in some cases.

The book is hard to pinpoint. It felt like a trashy book sometimes, then it felt like a good story. I liked the main characters and the author did a good job of portraying the “villains” in the book. I liked it because I liked the main characters and it was a different type of book than I normally read. There were a lot of times it felt like nothing happened in the book, but overall I enjoyed it.

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5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I loved this book and all the crazy characters in it! Ove is a grumpy old man. He is ornery, impatient and has opinions about everything–from what car you should drive to what people say and do to joggers:

“What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema…Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? [pg 11]”

As the story unfolds you realize that his wife has died and his life is unraveling in a quiet way.

“It’s been six months since she died. But Ove still inspects the whole house twice a day to feel the radiators and check that she hasn’t sneakily turned up the heating. [pg 35]”

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had. [pg 45]”

“But if anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either. [pg 136]”

And so, having nothing left since his wife died, he decides he’s going to kill himself. But each time he attempts to do it (in a different way each time) he’s interrupted by the neighbors and other characters in the book that eventually become this grumpy old man’s family. It’s a “Dark” comedy I suppose but it was so funny and endearing and heart-warming it never felt too sad or too dark. I absolutely loved the story and could see it become a movie.

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6. The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier

This is the 1st book in the series (but it doesn’t look like the next three have been translated yet). The main character is Commandant Servaz, a Toulouse city cop. There is a gruesome murder high in Pyrenees and nearby is an asylum for the criminally insane. Except, the murder is of a local billionaire’s horse. He’s surprised to be dispatched for that but soon there are human murders and he starts to unravel the history and horrible cover-up.

It was a fun read in that it was exciting and I liked a lot of the characters. At times it felt a little disjointed but overall it was a quality mystery book. I’d like to read the rest.

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7. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

This is book#2 in the Harry Hole series (another series I read out of order unfortunately but I believe it was because the books weren’t published in English in order). It was well-written and the story was interesting and different. At times I was annoyed by the main character’s crippling alcoholism and I hope that he gets over that in further books because it could become tiresome to read. However, this book was pretty good and the mystery itself was unique and I didn’t guess it at the end.

Harry is a Norwegian cop and when the Norwegian Ambassador is found murdered in Thailand, he’s sent there to investigate. Soon he realizes that his superiors sent him because they hoped he’d be too drunk to actually solve it. It’s a good read, but gritty so be prepared.

8. The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

This book had mixed reviews and a friend who recommended this author said it wasn’t her favorite book by Wolitzer. Except, I really liked the book a lot. Not a whole lot HAPPENS in the book, so if you’re looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven story, you won’t find it here. What you will find is good writing and reflections from women (fictional) that took a “nap” from their careers. These women left the workforce to become mothers and raise their children.

The main character, Amy, reflects on her own childhood with her two sisters. Her mother was a burgeoning feminist in the 70’s who became a writer and while she was a “stay at home mom” for her kids, she’d leave them to their own devices for hours a day while she went into her “office” to write her novels. She was successful, too.

“At first, it was a shock to have their mother so close and yet unavailable. They were stung by her absence, as though it was a personal afront. [pg 7]”

Amy and her sisters were told not to bother their mother unless it was life and death. When Amy got her period for the first time her and her sisters debated whether that counted as “life or death”?

“‘You could bleed to death,’ Naomi had said. ‘You could exsanguinate. It’s happened before. Thought it’s not really likely. [pg 7]” 

They interrupted their mother and she wasn’t mad, instead she thanked her daughter for interrupting her for this big moment. Amy grew up vowing to be home for her own kids and always present, so when she had her son she quit her job at a law firm and became his mom.

“Women who worked were exhausted; women who didn’t work were exhausted. There was no cure for the oceanic exhaustion that overwhelmed them. [pg 80]”

The book was about motherhood, marriage, leaving and returning to careers, and about female solidarity.

Oh female intimacy! Amy thought with longing. She had missed it so much since Jill had left the city…But their time together seemed stolen, pitched against the grain of family life. Marriage and children sometimes divided friends. [pg 69]”

“Many of the boys and girls of America were now as oversubscribed and overextended as executives, Their mothers were their secretaries, keeping track of the children’s calendars, running slightly behind them as they went from piano lessons to fencing to paper-making to martial arts to the homes of other children and then back out into the world. [pg 280]”

I liked the stories and most of the women in the book. Amy was the main character and her friend Jill was also a major part. I liked those. There were a few women in the book I was less interested in but overall I liked the premise, the writing was gorgeous, and I liked the philosophical questioning throughout.

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I’ve read some more pretty good books but this particular post has gotten longer than usual so I will do those in another post soon.

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