Friday, April 20, 2018

April 2.0

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
This is a gorgeous book, both inside and out, that perfect encapsulates my personal beliefs about why I am a proud bookworm. In a witty, sassy, irreverent voice, London writer Lucy Mangan takes us on a nostalgic trip through her childhood reading. We journey through picture books, first readers, obsessively read book series, and the power of young adult books that made her see the world in a new light. Sprinkled throughout is some wonderful trivia on the varied famous children's authors of yesteryear, as well as the different movements throughout the rise of children's literature. While many of the books were unknown to me (born and raised in the U.K., Lucy was enamored with different books than an American child of the 1960's and 70's), yet I was interested in what these books meant to Lucy, and ultimately they reminded me of my own childhood obsessions. Much of my current book tastes were born from my childhood: the Oz books gave me my love of magic and fantasy; the Little House series brought me into the world of historical fiction; Anne Frank introduced me to the power and learning of non-fiction; and Anne of Green Gables showed me the world of a strong young girl who fights for her place in the world. This book felt like a warm hug as I traveled back in time, when books opened my world in stunning and unforgettable ways.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
The latest new hot Broadway hit, Come From Away, is based on this 2006 book; considering the musical is coming here to the PNW in October it made sense to give this book a read. And wow, it blew me away - finished in just a day and a half, it is near impossible to stop turning pages. If you are like me and vividly recall every moment, for weeks on end, of 9/11 and its aftermath, this book will grip you as well. On that day, over thirty airplanes were directed to land in Gander, a small town on the island section of Newfoundland. And in this remote land, passengers from over 40 countries, varied religious beliefs, ages, and economic levels, a total numbering over 6,000 came together to be hosted by "Newfies." I was amazed at some of the famous folk involved, and moved by the stories of ordinary Americans as they dealt with the griefs and worries over family left behind, where to turn next, and the horror occurring in their own country. The Newfies themselves are heroic, almost unreal in their hospitality, compassion, and kindness. As I see a level of hostility towards the 'Other' in America today that breaks my heart, as I long to see more human kindness and compassion towards those in need, from wherever they may come, this book renewed my belief in humanity.

The Liar's Candle by August Thomas
This book surprised me. When I first got into it, I thought it was going to be a shallowly written, stereotypical "girl is stupid, man saves her' kind of spy thriller. Yet August Thomas pleasantly surprised me in her debut outing with truly authentic characters and exciting plot twists. Penny Kessler is a 21 year old American intern at the Turkish embassy when a bomb goes off and kills hundreds of innocent people. As Penny gets wrapped up in the search for the perpetrator, she meets an intriguing group of people: the daughter of the Turkish president, the female section lead of the CIA, the agricultural desk jockey who is actually an intelligence officer, and an assortment of folks just trying to kill her. Author Thomas does not denigrate Muslims or Turks, does not play to racist hatred, puts strong females in important roles - impressive. Penny acts perfectly her age - impulsive, sassy, smart, and thoroughly twenty-one. I loved that the author didn't make her out to be a stupid girl, but a young one who has much to learn about trust and truth. My favorite though was her sidekick, Connor, who totally runs against the typical male hero - former Naval officer, current CIA agent, is openly gay, questions his actions in following immoral orders, is not superhuman but wholly human. I turned pages quickly and was thoroughly entertained by this story.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Gilbert
The title itself is a bit of a downer, and I'm not usually a science-genre kind of reader, so this is a surprising choice for me. I chose to listen to it, figuring the science-y talk would not put me to sleep that way; for the record, I was correct. Gilbert spends this book looking at the vast extinction going on literally right under our noses - think frogs, reefs, and lots and lots of bugs. Yep, they're all dying off, which may seem inconsequential, but Gilbert makes us see the overarching big picture of what this means for Earth. It did not make me feel as if the sky is falling, spinning me into a grand depression, but it is eye-opening, shocking, and ultimately very enlightening. Granted, I do not care all that much for bugs; most of us don't. However, the author makes a good point that we all are much more drawn to the 'sexy' possible extinctions, such as rhinos and gorillas, but it's the small stuff that is going to be the ultimate problem. We humans have not been good for this earth and this book, while a tad boring at the beginning, is quite interesting in the end.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatche from the Border by Francisco Cantu
Topical and multi-faceted, this is an interesting memoir. Cantu focuses on his life as a  Latino-American - fluent in Spanish, a college graduate who wants more than a cubicle in an office, and who is able to see both sides of the big picture of immigration in America as he spends a few years as a border patrol agent. The problem with the book for me is the writing style: it jumps abruptly amongst an olio of topics, none of which become deeply developed; I found the writing to be a bit clunky at times when discussing the people involved in the story, yet poetically descriptive about the scenery of the Southwest; and the narrator's voice is quite calm and cool on a very emotional topic, which I find a bit perplexing. This book takes a very controversial subject - how do we deal with illegal immigration in this country - and actually creates no controversy in his story? Odd. Cantu witnesses some pretty heavy stuff, yet maintains such emotional distance that I ultimately was disappointed with his effort.

Friday, April 6, 2018

April Reading

Circe by Madeline Miller
Remember way back in 2011, a gorgeous book called Song of Achilles? I have been waiting patiently for her next book...and it is finally here on April 10. Once again, as is obvious by the title, Miller returns to her Greek mythology roots. As a retired teacher who taught the Odyssey relentlessly, year after year, Miller picked one of my favorite characters on which to focus her incredible story-telling skills. Circe, the witch who 'imprisons' Odysseus and his men for over a year, sends them to the House of the Dead, tells them how to avoid Scylla and the Sirens, this gorgeous, frightening, intriguing, complicated woman finally gets her own story and it's a doozy. We see her youth in her father Helios' palace (yep, that Helios, the Sun God), her interplay with some creepy siblings and cousins, her first foray into witchery, the banishment to her island, and her dealings with a wide variety of characters from Greek mythology; don't forget - she's immortal so time just whizzes by. While it was a bit of a slow start for me, by about page 40 I was ensnared in Circe's world. This is a gorgeously written book of a historically misunderstood woman, imperfect yet capable of growth, weak yet learns strength, unlikable at times yet wholly admirable. I highly recommend:)

The Chalk Man b C.J. Tudor
This is a deliciously British mystery, dark and chilling, with some strangely compelling characters. The plot line trades places between the childhood of a small gang of children and thirty years later, as the boys have grown into men, the girl into a woman with secrets, and adults who are ill, dead, or have lots of skeletons in their own closets. Eddie Adams is the core of the story that everything swirls around; he has a wild crush on Nicki, the one girl in their crowd, he befriends the school teacher who helps him save a young girl's life after a horrifying carnival accident, and Eddie is also the one who creates the game of chalk. Their gang uses chalk messages and stick figures to communicate with one another, but when a dead body is found and chalk messages litter the forest, a mystery is born. This book will take a reader down a lot of dark alleys, through mazes of dead ends, give hints along the way, and leave one reeling all the way until the final chapter. I highly recommend listening to this one; the narrator has a marvelously clipped British accent, perfect for this creepy tale.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
This book is definitely a page-turner of a thriller. Laurel's daughter Ellie went missing ten years ago, yet Laurel's new love interest has a young daughter who looks strikingly like Ellie. As Floyd becomes incorporated into Laurel's life, author Lisa Jewell creates a cast of quirky characters: Hanna, the daughter Laurel has a complicated and negative relationship with; Noelle, the weird math tutor; Paul, the ex-husband who Floyd seems freakishly copy; and Poppy, Floyd's young daughter, brilliant, socially over-mature, homeschooled, and a dead ringer for Ellie. Yet with all this mystery, the book ultimately was a bit predictable for me, with too pat of an ending. Read in one day, this is a vacation read that won't let you down, but not one that will linger long in my mind. Thanks to Net Galley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers by Alex Grecian
The author of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad books (The Yard, etc.) has turned his attention to a new cast of characters in a new setting. Investigator Travis Roan has made his way to Kansas where he is in search of a Nazi who has hidden for decades. On his first day, he meets both Skottie Foster, a state patrol woman and Sheriff Goodman, a stereotypical small town lawman who does not want strangers in his territory. My favorite character, however, is Bear, Travis' humongous Tibetan mastiff, whose personality, bravery, and intelligence steals every scene. The hidden Nazi, Rudy Bormann, has gathered a creepy collection of acolytes around him while Travis' family organization supports his investigation. The plot line is unique and definitely gripping; in other words, I was compelled to keep turning pages. My one complaint would be the characters. At times, I felt that Skottie, a newly single mom who happens to be one of the rare African-American staters, was thinly drawn; so many deeper issues seemed to be plausible with her that I felt the author ignored. Ditto for Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing but also makes me want a second book in order to delve deeper into how Travis came to be this human who fights those who lack humanity and honor. Well worth the read, but also worth a round two by the author to flush out these characters.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March 2.0

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
It's hard to know where to start with this profoundly gorgeous book. Evocative, lyrical, powerful...this book grabs the reader by the throat and forces one to look at the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and it doesn't let go easily as I found myself continuously thinking of this story well after turning the final page. First, the characters - oh my, the deeply complex, beautifully flushed out people who inhabit these pages: Lillian, a young girl involved in the beginnings of the civil rights movement in America, who eventually moves to Rwanda and starts an orphanage; Henry, the white man Lillian loves during a time it wasn't allowed, a photographer, a father, a wanderer, a lost man; Tucker, a young medical student who comes to Rwanda seeking meaning in his life; Rachel, Henry's daughter and grieving mother, who seeks answers about her father to fill the empty spaces in her heart; Chloe and Nadine, survivors of the genocide, living victims whose life will never be the same; and most importantly, the country of Rwanda, the land of 10,000 hills, whose land is rich with both tradition and hate, the land that needs to heal and regrow. Author Jennifer Haupt, a journalist who gathered the stories of the Rwandan survivors and wove it into a breathtakingly beautiful book, shows great talent in her debut novel. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Oh my, what an utterly delightful and unique book from an author I should have discovered long ago. Set in 1921, Bombay, Perveen Mistry is a young woman who works in her father's law firm as the first female solicitor in Bombay, awaiting entrance to the bar. Intensely curious as well as intelligent, Perveen's unique ability to enter purdah (the strictly secluded women's quarters of Muslim women) allows her access to a fascinating world. The three widows who live in a bungalow on Malabar Hill need help with the will of their recently deceased husband; as Perveen gets to know these intriguing women, secrecy and even murder invade the legal machinations. Woven throughout the novel is Perveen's own past history, one that involves a deeply held love, abuse, and her own experience in an orthodox Muslim household which gives her a depth of understanding far beyond the ordinary Farsi attorneys. This is a beautifully written book that showcases a strong woman, an fascinating culture, and a time period of long ago that has echoes of today. It is also a beautiful book to listen to as the narrator is quite gifted - I highly recommend it for your next long car ride:)

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Janesville is the quintessential Rust Belt town: majority white, suburban/rural, dependent upon manufacturing, strong traditions, can-do spirit, and yes, the home of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Yet in the Great Recession of 2007-2008, Janesville has the rug ripped from under thousands of feet as the major employers in town (General Motors, Parker Pens, Lear Corp who made the car upholstery) all shut down. The fallout is what Washington Post journalist Amy Goldstein explores, and it is a strangely gripping read. Strange because at times I felt I was invading peoples' lives, as Goldstein follows a variety of people for years as they struggle through these hard times. Yet she also shows the other 'side' of Janesville as the bank president and other leaders of the community experience and see the destruction of jobs in a completely different light. I came to better understand the frustration with both political parties as Janesville was promised, lied to, and deceived as the people tried to recapture their jobs of yesteryear, a time of high salaries, good health insurance, and dependable pensions, a time that was never to come again. This was a fantastic listen with a great narrator and an inside look at how the recession almost destroyed a community.

White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl
The premise of this book is unfortunately quite topical: a respected doctor in a Welsh community preys on young boys, yet the police, child protective services, and parents have a hard time believing such an upstanding citizen could be a monster. The author uses a variety of story strands to tell the story: police detectives investigating a pedophile ring in the area; a family in crisis with a young son who needs counseling; a social worker that knows what is going on yet cannot inform a friend to remove his son from the doctor's care; and the creepy, insane, evil doctor. The problem I had with this book is what I would call "unrealistic predictability.' Instead of focusing on how deft and insidious many pedophiles are at grooming their young victims, the main focus is more on the unraveling of this doctor, as we watch the wheels go spinning off in remarkable fashion as the police close in. The psychiatrist does insanely ridiculous things, yet it seems almost how it goes in this book. The family story is the most compelling, as the parents try to get past an affair and mend their family. The creepy doctor is such a flat character, who shows only his evil side in the telling of this book, that it is impossible to believe anyone in this town would have liked and respected him. And as far as the doctor's own damaged that the ending is completely unrealistic. Potential here, but a miss for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Marching Into Spring Reading

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, Bryan Stevenson, and Lara Love Hardin
Powerful. Heart-wrenching. Inspirational. Anger-inducing. Hopeful. In other words, this is a "do not miss" book to read. Told by an innocent man who spent thirty years on death row in an Alabama state prison, this book will do what Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson did; it will shake you to the core, make you question the idea of 'justice' in America, and give you hope that regardless of what society does to a person, it is still possible to be human. Ray Hinton was a 29 year old man who was just cutting his mom's lawn one day when he was arrested; subsequently convicted by a white prosecutor, white judge, and all white jury, through his words Ray shows us life on death row, the choices he makes to turn from bitterness to compassion, and the incredible help he gets from Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative to fight for his release. It is a rare book that can make one rage one moment, cry the next, and then squeeze one's heart to produce an incredible admiration for one human; The Sun Does Shine is that rarity. It is a perfect choice for a book club, a person interested in social justice, but more importantly, it is the must-read book for someone who thinks they know everything about how justice works in America and is willing to let the blinders be ripped off their eyes.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Hold onto your black, twisted, psychological thriller hat - this book is a DOOZY! Heck, just look at the title. The main character, Amber, is in a coma, she believes her husband has fallen out of love with her, and yes, sometimes she lies.  And that is just the beginning. Told in three different time periods, debut author Feeney does a masterful job of stringing the audience along: Amber's story of "Now," as she experiences her present coma and all the visitors to her hospital room; Amber's story of the previous week prior to her car accident that precipitates the coma; and diaries from a long-ago childhood that tell of a poverty-stricken, loveless, abusive childhood and her best friend. An ex-boyfriend makes an appearance, while the husband and sister play pivotal parts, making one wonder what happened in this 'idyllic' adult life. The red herrings along the roadside are thick and plentiful, and you will find yourself crashing against them throughout the pages of this short, crisp, well-told thriller. I began this book on a Saturday morning, and closed the cover that same night while my husband wondered if my nose was ever going to rise from the pages. It is that kind of book. It will make a reader question the narrator (is she reliable or is she stringing us along?), question the ending (did this really just happen or did I miss something earlier?), and question when the next book by this author is coming out. In other words, this book is a HIT.

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh
This is one of the best legal thrillers I have read since I turned the first page of The Firm by John Grisham. And no, I am not exaggerating; it is seriously that good. Cavanagh, an Irish writer who nails the New York voice of his main character, Eddie Flynn, knows how to fully development all his characters so that one can root, laugh, and worry for them. Eddie is a lawyer on the seamy side of NYC, but really, he's a conman, raised by a father who knew how to run a good grift, but taught Eddie to only run a con on corrupt people who deserve to be cheated, not on good humans who are just trying to survive. Yes, Eddie is that kind of main character; he is corrupt when he needs to be, wily as a fox, loyal to the core, and has a moral center that I wish more people had. Eddie loves his wife, and she is being threatened as this book begins. He must get a young dotcom techie billionaire to plead guilty to murdering his girlfriend in order for Eddie to get his wife out of the trouble she's in. But what happens if Eddie senses that the billionaire is incapable of being a killer? And the chase begins...the chase to the truth, the chase for who the real bad guy is, and the chase for all the pieces in this puzzle to find their place. I could not put this book down; it kept me voraciously turning pages late into the night. I just need this publisher to hurry up and get the subsequent sequels into print here in America.

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
The description of this book was a bit deceptive, in my opinion. Touted to be a book about a resilient girl, faced with adversity, who heads to Las Vegas in the 1960's to be a costume-wearing, dripping with jewels and feathers, showgirl, I would say this book is far more about the sexual abuse of a child, in great detail, and her battle against a variety of demons, both exterior and interior, to find some peace. Yes, there's some intriguing scenes that beautifully describe the showgirl lifestyle, the stars of the 60's club scene, and the rampant drugs and free sex of the 60's era. With that said, it is an admirable plot idea, that fell flat for me. Lily (aka Ruby Wilde in Vegas) is fairly likable, but thinly drawn; I did not find myself rooting for her as much as I should have, as I did not have a deep sense of who Lily actually was as a young girl, or as a grown woman. Complexity in characterization all around was lacking for me. And while I understood the focus on physical beauty in the Vegas showgirl life, if I heard one more time that Ruby was devastatingly gorgeous, I was going to yack. Every plot 'twist' was pretty predictable, with very little to keep my interest. I would recommend The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker if you want to read about complex characters dealing with serious child abuse and the heroic avenues a young girl will go to in order to save herself. This one was a miss for me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February - Post Vacation reading:)

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I cannot recommend this memoir highly enough. Not since The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls has a true story gripped me, challenged my thinking, and changed my perspective like Tara Westover's first book. Raised in a strict Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, Tara and most of her siblings were kept out of school, not to be educated at home, but to work in their father's scrap yard and their mother's homeopathic and unlicensed midwifery business. Luckily for all of us readers, Tara kept untold number of journals that detail her life: the abuse by her brother, the unending brainwashing of what world history entailed, the attempts by other brothers to break free, the utter lack of safety in her life, the horrific accidents that devastated her family, the total reliance on naturopathic curatives by her mother, and the impact on her family of her father's mental illness. And just when you think life cannot get crazier, Tara's college and graduate work takes us down another insane rabbit hole. It is a profound look at what happens when one doesn't educate a child on things we think are basic. What if a child has never heard of the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King? How does this skew their view of the world? How does the world look on this child, when as an adult their questions and comments show not only ignorance, but whiffs of racism and hatred? Whose fault is it? Parent, society, the  individual herself? Can a lack of education, or conversely a formal education, fundamentally change society? This is a powerful book that will completely engross you, fascinate you, and in the end, Educate you. Do not miss this book!

Kill the Angel: A Novel by Sandrone Dazieri
Having read Kill the Father last year, I was excited to get my hands on the second book of this Italian author who writes crime novels quite reminiscent of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. While this second one did not knock my socks off as the first one did, it is still a solid detective novel with two quirky and compelling characters and an extremely topical plot line. The story begins with a deadly poison attack on a train entering Rome; seen as a terrorism by Muslim extremists, the police stir up a hornet's nest with their investigation. Columba Caselli, a female police detective with some serious baggage in her past involving death, bombings, and guilt once again turns to layman Dante Torres to help her solve this crime. Dante, a previous kidnap victim with personality quirks that could fill a psychiatrist's schedule for decades, believes the crime to be committed not by terrorists, but by a serial killer who has avoided detection for years. As we follow these two investigators down numerous rat holes, it occasionally gets a bit confusing and the book is longer than I felt it needed to be, yet I could not put it down. If you like complex detective crime novels, this one is for you.

The Liar's Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard
Ireland, college kids, + a murder = great vacation read! The story moves between the world of today, where Allison is living in a town in the Netherlands, has a good job and caring friends, and has not returned to her homeland in almost a decade and her college world of the past. When Irish police come to call at her home in Breda, Allison is compelled to finally return to Ireland and confront the horrors of the past where her freshman year boyfriend was not only arrested for a series of horrific murders, but confessed and has spent the last ten years in a psychiatric hospital. Now that a copycat murderer is once again busy at their Dublin university, the police need Allison to confront Will, eliciting details and information about the crime so they can catch the killer. However, Will now says he is not the Canal murderer so who does Allison believe? The twists and turns are compelling, the writing is solid, and the characters are well developed; it is a solid first mystery outing for this author.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Published two years ago, this is a particularly relevant book to read, considering the school massacre on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. This account of the Columbine shooting and its aftermath is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters who walked into Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and murdered 13 people and injured 24 others. Told in an incredibly honest and authentic voice, Sue Klebold pulls no punches and relays to us every detail of every moment both before, during, and after this tragedy. She tells of Dylan's life - his childhood, their family life, his school history - all seen through his mother's eyes, not the media's. Sue Klebold also does a tremendous amount of research surrounding not only school violence, but around teenage depression and suicide, and comes to some painfully honest observations about her own son whom she ultimately had to see as a murderer. Not an easy read due to the painful content, but incredibly compelling and eye-opening. It reminds us not to judge, to open our eyes to the needs of those kids who don't 'fit,' to all the victims in this type of tragedy including the perpetrators, and the vast need for more research and more support for brain health in this country.

Court of Thorn and Roses/Court of Mist and Fury/Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Can you say 'brain candy' for vacation reading?! If you like YA fantasy and you have yet to discover Sarah J. Maas, who is the queen of the genre, I would strongly suggest you pick up this series. But be prepared - you will not be able to put it down until you have indulged yourself in all three books, well over a thousand pages. The main character is Feyre, a human girl who lives next to the Wall, the boundary between fairyland and the mortals they once enslaved. Feyre is one of the most compelling characters I have found in YA fantasy; she is life-smart, tenacious, loyal, shockingly stupidly brave, passionate, honest, and just overall a badass. Her foils and companions are a variety of fairy folk who are deep and complex, with backgrounds filled with tragedy, war, and murder, as well as two human sisters who are as different from Feyre as they could be. Throughout the three books, we see Feyre fall in and out of love, fight some seriously wicked beings, go to war, save a variety of creatures, and prove herself to be one of the most well-rounded heroes of today's YA novels. Trust me - this series is un-put-downable. (Warning: the YA classification is  questionable - there's more sex scenes than in the Outlander series!)

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Because I loved the first book to be approved by the Sherlock Holmes society, House of Silk, I figured this second one would be a hit as well. The answer is...nope. The story line is confusing at times, lots of good bad guys but not very well developed good guys, and an extremely disappointing ending. And where the heck was my buddy Sherlock Holmes??? He never appeared so no, this was a mystery that all I could say was "blech" when I was finished.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) by Jane Harper
This looks to be another hit by new Australian writer, Jane Harper, author of last year's break out hit, on everyone's Best-of-2017 list, un-put-downable mystery The Dry. I was a huge fan of her first, and Force of Nature proves once again that Harper can write. This is a solid police mystery, returning her main character, Aaron Falk, who she fleshes out even more in his attempt to discover a missing executive off on a corporate team-building adventure in the Australian mountains, an area shadowed by tales of a past serial killer. Harper slowly builds the tension, as Falk and his female partner interview each woman who hiked with Alice: the sister of the company president, the co-worker who knew Alice as teenagers, and the twins, one with a dark past and the other with a self-protective need to separate herself from her twin. Wrapped up in this mystery is also the reason why Falk must find Alice; she is his main witness to the financial crime hidden within her company - no Alice, no convictions. In any one else's hands, this would be a basic detective story. Yet in Harper's hands, it is extraordinarily well-written, with an ability to fully develop not only a creative plot line, but the characters as well. Falk is complex, puzzling, endearing, thoughtful, and ceaselessly curious; he has become one of my favorite leads in a mystery series. Sadly, sometimes the number two book after a huge hit can be disappointing; luckily, this is not the case with Force of Nature. Happy reading:)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
For those of you who follow my book blog Laurie's Lit Picks, you know I have spent a bit of time over the last couple years reading non-fiction about prison reform (ie Just Mercy and The New Jim Crow) and the need for true justice in America. In a powerful new novel, acclaimed author Tayari Jones brings us a fiction book that explores what happens to a young marriage when it is ripped apart by injustice. Roy and Celestial, a young married couple who are living the American Dream in Atlanta, journey home to Louisiana to visit Roy's parents; a night at a motel leads to a false accusation of rape against Roy and the subsequent conviction and incarceration in a state prison. Told through the voices of Roy and Celestial, and eventually Andre, Celestial's childhood friend and third cog in the romantic triangle of tragedy, this book blew me away. It is a deep character study of how mass incarceration impacts individuals; we see the toll it takes on a young marriage, on Roy's parents, on Celestial's relationship with her friends, family, and her young husband, and most importantly, on Roy's own life as he watches his career, his home, his reputation, his very essence slip away. Told through three powerful voices, this is a compelling profound read on today's justice system and the impact mass incarceration has on black America. I highly recommend this book for book clubs and individuals; it will provide a great deal of provocative material to digest.

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller, Ken Armstrong
This is a powerful book that chronicles an incredible travesty of justice: a young girl reports a rape, police charge her with false reporting, and years later the rapist is caught in a different state. It sounds like a bad made-for-television movie, yet it is a true story. Well-researched and written by two outstanding journalists, Miller and Armstrong begin their story in Lynnwood, WA where a young girl, just aged out of foster care, experiences a horrifying rape, made more tragic by the investigation into the belief that she is lying. This timeline follows the victim's struggles, the aftermath and public humiliation of being accused of a false report, and the consequences of her 'crime.' Juxtaposed with this story is the opposite tale of the Colorado investigation where police work with other detectives in neighboring jurisdictions, follow leads, and never give up to find justice for the victims. A False Report is an important book to add to the library of 'must-reads' when it comes to justice, sexism, and crimes against women, and most importantly, how our justice system can do better.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
This is a unique book, set in the beauty of pre-revolutionary Iran, that explores the life of famous poet and movie director, Forugh Farrokhzhad. Always the rebellious daughter, the story begins with Forugh's forbidden teenage crush, giving the reader the first insight into the role of women in mid 20th century Iran, before the advent of Sharia law, during the time of the Shahs, the outpouring of literature and film, yet still a time when women were subjugated and forced into a box created by society's sexist rules. This book takes us back to a time when a young girl, found with her crush, is forced to marry him, a time when wearing modern clothes is a statement on your sexual proclivities, and a time when a woman choosing a career outside motherhood will get her talked about in the press. Forugh chooses a life few women would in Iran in the 1950's and 60's, leading to abandonment of her child, time in a mental institution, and torrid love affairs with questionable men. The description of Iran is breathtakingly, achingly beautiful, describing a country that has since been stolen by religious zealots and hidden behind a government-run press. My one complain was the shallowness of Forugh's character; I never quite got the true sense of who she was and what drove her, but perhaps that was the author's point. This was a woman who stepped out from the metaphorical harem walls, to live a life without boundaries.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January 3.0

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Fantastical, mesmerizing, gorgeous...that is the only way to describe this beautiful new book by debut author, Melissa Albert. A brilliant mix of fairy tales and fantasy, it brings to mind the darkness of the real Grimm's tales, painting forests of reaching arms, villains with black cold eyes, and a spinner who holds characters captive in their own story. The main character is Alice, always a good choice for a fantasy tale, whose mother yanks them throughout the country, always trying to escape the bad luck that seems to follow them. However, after receiving a letter that Alice's grandmother, a famous recluse who wrote a book which has a serious cult following, has died means the darkness that follows them has receded into the past. So Alice goes to school, lives in New York with her mother and a new husband, and is a normal teenage girl. Until that is, the stories return to invade Alice's life once again. This author shows her chops the first time out with compelling characters, a complex plot line, and stunning writing. Fingers crossed for a sequel! (and seriously, look at the cover - it is stunning!)

Into the Black Nowhere (Unsub #2by Meg Gardiner

Quite rarely do I give 5 stars to a police/murder mystery; it has to be incredibly well-written with complex and well-developed characters, as well as a thoughtful, realistic yet filled-with-shockers plot line. Meg Gardiner's second book in her Unsub series hits all these criteria - it is just outstanding! Question you have to read the first book, titled Unsub? Nope - Into the Black Nowhere can absolutely stand alone (but the first book is awfully good so why not?!) This second book reintroduces the reader to Caitlin Hendrix, recently trained at the BAU at Quantico after leaving the SFPD and her ATF boyfriend. Loosely based on Ted Bundy, Caitlin and her team encounter a slick, intelligent, well-to-do serial killer who holds the Austin area of Texas in fear. As the team uncovers more victims and the murderer unravels, it becomes apparent that the psychological genius of the killer is going to lead both the team, the community, and we, the reader, on the chase of a lifetime. I ferociously turned pages, with twists upon turns upon surprises, all the way until the end. This is what I call a "humdinger" of a book. If you like Mind Hunters on Netflix, the Jo Nesbo series with Harry Hole, Criminal Minds on CBS, this book is definitely for you.

The Night Child by Anna Quinn
Not for the fainthearted reader, but what a powerful, tragic, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful story written by a Pacific Northwest writer. Anna Quinn knows Seattle and places her story in a realistic time back in the 1990's, when the trauma of sexual abuse was starting to make it more and more into the public eye. As a former public school teacher myself, I was impressed with her depth of knowledge of both setting and career. Quinn's main character, Nora, is fully developed as a high school teacher who sees for herself the outcome of students' home lives and the impact on their school lives. Nora, however, also has demons of her own as her young daughter is soon to turn six. As the author slowly and insidiously pulls secrets out of Nora, through visits with her therapists, moments with students, and an unhappy marital life, the true tragedy unfolds. This is a powerful tale of mental illness, childhood trauma, and abusive parenting that will rivet you, make you turn pages, cry a few tears, and cheer for the heroes found in the end. I look forward to Quinn's next book after this powerful debut.

Tarnished City by Vic James
This is the second book of James' powerful new YA fantasy series that began with the Gilded Cage back in the winter of 2017. The premise is unique and different. Yes, it has magic but it also has some alternative history, such as the Confederate United States is separate from the Union United States. Slavery of a different nature, that of the commoner who has no 'Skill' (ie magic) vs. the Equals who are the rich elite class with some fairly serious magical talents, most of them used for evil. Each commoner in the UK must donate a decade of their life and do their time as a slave in service of the Equals; this period can be done at any time after reaching the age of ten, thus many families try and do their time together. The Hadley family attempted this in the first book, with obvious negative consequences. Now split up and trying to rescue brother Luke from a diabolical Scottish Equal with some dark and nasty punishment routines, sister Abi joins the resistance and the political fight for the heart of England begins. If you missed the first book, I highly recommend picking it up as you will want to head straight into this second adventure. Need escapism, some magic, some heroes? This book will satisfy your every wish.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Need a page-turner of a mystery for your next vacation read? Here it is. At first, the plot line might seem a bit ordinary: young mom, whose life choices are not always wise, parks her car at K-Mart to grab a birthday party present, leaves her two young daughters in the car, and yes, upon returning, the girls have vanished. However, thanks to the two main characters, this is not your ordinary thriller. Alice Vega, a bounty hunter and all-around bad-ass, is hired by the wealthy aunt to find the two girls. Vega has a golden reputation, made famous by media attention, in bringing home missing kids. Once she arrives in the small Pennsylvania town, Vega needs a partner and a way in to the police department information. Enter Max Caplan (aka Cap), a former policeman who resigned in disgrace, a single father of a unique teenager, and a private detective currently involved in spying on cheating spouses. Cap sees Vega's wily tricks that get her through impossible situationsand understands the demons that drives her; Vega sees the heart of gold under Cap's gruff exterior and his keen instinct for bad guys. It is an entertaining race with these two to find these girls as they meet some unique characters both inside and outside the law.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Having read numerous stories of the Holocaust over my lifetime, I had taken a break for the past year or so; however, with Holocaust Remembrance Day and the description of this book, I decided it was time to explore once more a devastating and eternally shocking time in our recent history. Based on a true story, Heather Morris takes the story of Lale and Gita and turns it in an inspiring and hopeful story in the midst of unimaginable human suffering. The story begins with Lale, a young Slovakian man who has chosen to be the healthy Jewish male to be sent to from his family to 'work' for the Germans, arriving at Auschwitz in 1942. Quickly, Lale is trained to be the tattooist, earning extra rations and a room of his own. Torn by his seeming complicity with the SS, Lale becomes a savior to many other prisoners, displaying the Talmudic proverb that he who saves one, saves the world. In the midst of this horrible time, he meets Gita and falls in love. This is a remarkable tale of young love in the most deadly time. The beauty of this book is the ability to provide hope and inspiration through these two characters, as well as the friends they make in the camp. After reading voraciously for two days, I closed the final page not with tears, but with great hope for humanity and our ability to care for others through the darkest time.

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Written by a local author who grew up in my small, college PNW town, this is an exciting new entry in the world of dystopic novels. Set somewhere in a future that seems shockingly too real for me after all the posturing with nuclear weapons and North Korea in 2017, a family lives off the grid that no longer exists out in the cold of the Canadian Yukon. The family unit consists of mom, brother, uncle, foster son, and Lynn, a young girl who is intriguing, complicated, smart, courageous, and all-together human. When Jax, a young man from the 'real world' becomes a temporary tribe member, he brings reality back to this family unit in a forceful and frightening way. This book does a solid job of creating a new and scary world, peopling it with intriguing characters and heart-thumping plot twists that will leave one turning pages frantically. While the end is satisfying, it leaves the obvious door open to the rest of the series that is sure to come. My one hope is that in future books Lynn won't be needing the male characters to save her, that she will have learned to look into her own interior and save herself; then we will have a fully developed and evolved hero to cheer. (Author Tyrell Johnson will be at our local Village Books sometime in March so check the calendar)