Big Adventure!

This past month life has been crazy. Not crazy bad, just busy. Lots of work commitments, a trip to the desert to see my grandfather, taking up a new hobby (guitar) and getting ready for my big trip to Nosara, Costa Rica for my pilates certification course. I leave this weekend! When I return I will do one big book review highlighting everything I enjoyed while traveling, relaxing and learning. Voy a escribir cuando regrese. Adios

Hour of the Red God

I learned of Hour of the Red God from NPR. I was drawn to the location, Nairobi, Kenya and the protagonist, a former Maasai warrior, Detective Mollel knowing both would create an interesting, different type of mystery. Also having traveled to Nairobi, I was curious how Richard Crompton would depict the city and its people. Crompton uses descriptive prose to bring Nairobi alive. The city is more than a simple setting for a brutal murder of a prostitute. It is a textured part of the story line exposing the gritty yet modern Africa during the turbulent elections of 2007. 

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper significantly lacked what is expected from a Kate Morton mystery. Morton's other books were magical exposing an intricate story line with fascinating characters. This tale faltered. The primary character, Dolly is unlikeable. Laurel is lukewarm. Vivien's situation with her husband is extremely predictable. Jimmy and Vivien's disappearance is not well executed and hence lacks intrigue to prompt the reader to consider alternative scenarios. The book is far too long detailing aspects of characters lives that do not contribute to the overall story line. I was truly taken with The House at Riverton, The Distant Hours and The Forgotten Garden. The Secret Keeper was not Morton's best work, yet I will not disregard her as a talented author and will openly embrace her next read. 

The Twisted Thread

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon took me forever to finish. My mom gave me this so-called mystery. It fails to provide the excitement and suspense that most readers seek from this genre. Bacon promises a mystery but really this book has an identity crisis without a true direction. Is it a murder mystery, suspense, drama, romance, coming of age story turned bad or young adult fiction? What an awful read. It lacked intrigue, the characters were boring, there was very little time focused on the solving the crime and there were too many subplots that had nothing to do with the main story. Bacon's writing style is very juvenile. She was not able to write dialogue that made sense for her male characters. The male characters read like women. I had to keep reading as I wanted to know how the story was resolved, but it was extremely painful and predictable. 

The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place is an extremely sad, dark novel. Trezza Azzopardi sets the scene in the soon to be demolished Cardiff, Wales docklands. She develops a stark, scuzzy, cold environment where the Gauci family struggles immensely. The main character is Dolores. Her goal is to untangle memories, piece together stories and sort through the gossip to learn the truth behind what tears her family apart. "Someone must be to blame." Dolores eventually realizes that it’s impossible to pinpoint who is to blame “as with all truth, there is another version.” Azzopardi is absolutely brilliant with language. In the story, ghost pains plague Dolores. These pains not only represent the real loss of her hand, but also the loss of her family. She misses what she never had. She was so young when her sisters were sent away, her dad left, her mother broke down or when she is placed in care. She wants so desperately to be part of her family. A family that is grossly dysfunctional. Azzopardi has created a disturbing, emotionally powerful tale. 

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed is the best book I have read this year. Khaled Hosseini continues to craft masterpieces. He is a beautiful writer and bewitching storyteller. His technique is delicate, yet purposeful. He makes suggestive comments that gradually reveal key plot lines. The narrative is appropriately complex. Hosseini’s characters are rich. Not one of them lacked interest. Every character (and there were many) had story lines for which I would have loved further exploration. I was so drawn to the characters and invested in the story that the last twenty pages had me bleary eyed with tears. I did not want the book to conclude.

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins was well written, but I did not enjoy it. I would have preferred a story focusing solely on Pasquali, who is so endearing. Additionally, there are too many meaningless side plots. I found the story to be a downer. It is a book about how entertainment types are most often destructive and deceptive. What a nasty, heartless industry. At least, Jess Walter’s skewers the industry.

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden of Evening Mists takes the reader on a beautiful, haunting, painful, turbulent journey. Tan Twan Eng demands that the reader pay close attention, as instead of crudely spelling everything out she slowly reveals importance aspects of the plot.  

The book is filled with intertwining themes. A central theme is the role of memory in human existence. She connects memory with guilt, particularly survivor guilt. Eng also focuses on the relationship between memory and forgetting. She illustrates brilliantly how memories are tenuous. Often one's grasp of the past is severely limited.

Art is shown as a powerful medium. Art heals, soothes, frustrates, manipulates, excites, challenges. Eng illustrates through her different characters varying attitudes towards colonialism. Yun Ling downplays the importance of nationality. Tatsuji carries post-colonial guilt. Magnus has strong memories of his home country under British rule. Finally, war is analyzed. War creates inconceivable circumstances. In a war there is no logic or reasoning.

Eng has carefully constructed her characters. This is a character driven novel. None of the characters are perfect. They have flaws and vulnerabilities.

Eng does not wrap up the story. Instead she leaves the reader with unknowns thus enhancing the richness of the novel and its believability.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a very funny, girl read. Mindy Kaling had me laughing aloud. The picture of Kaling and her brother in which she states, this is a photo of me plotting to eat my brother is hysterical. I loved when Kaling describes breaking her best friends nose. I related to the chapter, “Why Do Men Put on Their Shoes So Slowly?" In my experience, most men are not as skilled at multi-tasking. The slow shoe analogy is perfect. This book is the ideal read for a day when you need some light, distracting, hysterical entertainment. 

The Boy in the Suitcase

The Boy in the Suitcase created by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is written in that uniquely Scandinavian style. It is sparse, dark, uncomfortable and perplexing. I often wasn’t sure where the story was leading which is good indicator of a solid thriller. The writing was frequently choppy, perhaps due to the translation. I seem to like to blame the translator. Kaaberbol translated the book from Danish to English. (Sorry Lene.) The multiple perspectives made the book a bit challenging to start. Stay with it as the subject, characters and reveal make it worth the read. Additionally, the shifts in points of view create a suspenseful effect, as you questions how will all these characters be brought together? One implausible element is Nina Borg’s reason and hence decision not to go to the police with the strange, emotionally charged situation. Instead she goes it alone to try to manage the mystery. I guess we wouldn’t have had as interesting of book without Nina and her not so wise choices. 

Best Kept Secret

Best Kept Secret was another disappointment. The struggles and achievements of the characters are not developed and far too predictable. Harry needed to be on the New York Times Bestseller List. A few pages later the goal is accomplished. Emma wants to locate her late father’s child. Walla, it’s done. Now she wants to adopt her. Check. Sebastian is having problems socially in school. An incident occurs and abracadabra he is the hero. These examples are endless. 

Characters unknown to me but probably previously introduced in story lines created in book one are just now resurfacing in book three. So annoying! The politics were boring. Who cares about Giles, the election or the parties? There are far too many characters and many of them are insubstantial. Again, Archer’s characters are unsophisticated, unsurprising and lacking complexity. For example, an Archer villain is a diabolical scoundrel with not one redeeming characteristic. 

Jeffrey Archer has created a soap opera. The dead woman’s letter written in case the will is contested is presented in the nick of time. One hundred pages to the books end a ridiculous caper emerges. And of course, at the books completion, Archer leaves the reader with yet another cliffhanger, which is notorious technique of a good soap opera. Best Kept Secret is overly dramatic, poorly constructed, unbelievable and sadly lacking depth. I will not be continuing with the Harry Clifton Chronicles. 

The Sins of the Father

The Sins of the Father is part of the Harry Clifton Chronicles. I read the second story first.  It really must be read in chronological order, as Jeffrey Archer does not summarize the first book, Only Time Will Tell. I was handicapped by not knowing what occurred as well as who was whom.

I started the third book, but am contemplating continuing, as the writing in the second book was full of faults. The coincidences were preposterous. The characters are one-dimensional and clichĂ©d. (I could care less if Harry was Hugo’s son.) Predictably Archer depicts the good people as brave, resourceful and courageous whereas the bad ones are class-conscious, vile, inept, arrogant jerks. The separate stories were disjointed. Overall the story was boring.

Archer has proclaimed he will create "at least" five books in this series. I can’t imagine there will be many readers left by the fifth; especially since I am unconvinced I should brave the third in the chronicles.


Alone featured Bobby Dodge and only briefly included D.D. Warren, the tough detective for which the series is based. This is Lisa Gardner’s first book in the series. It is quite interesting that she developed D.D. as her writing progressed versus concentrating on Bobby who was the prominent character in this book. At first I was concerned I would not connect to Bobby, but the story like all Gardner's was extremely absorbing. I really related to Bobby and his families dysfunction, which he further unravels in therapy. He struggles to accept just like I have struggled to accept a loved one's inability or in Bobby’s case lack of desire to connect or rebuild.

Alone had some missteps. The recap of the story while the deranged killer was on the loose in the penthouse suite was ridiculous. Gardner timing of summarizing the story for the reader was poorly executed and unbelievable considering what was suppose to be occurring. Additionally the connection between a number of characters or how characters deduced their next actions were convoluted.

Kindle Baby!

I did it! I purchased the Kindle Paperwhite. Although I am in the middle of The Sins of the Father I switched to a book via the e-reader. As you all know, I very much enjoy Lisa Gardner's detective thrillers. I figured I should purchase one of her books for my first Kindle reading experience as I know I would enjoy the story and hence may get use to e-reading. If I hated the first book on my new toy, my Kindle experience could have been tainted. I finished Alone last night. Reading on the Kindle isn't terrible. There are both pros and cons.

I prefer the feel of an old fashion book. I am not fond of reading from a computerized screen. I like knowing exactly how much you have left to read by visually seeing and paging through rather than a percentage of the book completed. I enjoy going to a bookstore to browse versus reading about books on-line. However, the ease of purchasing books from Amazon with a quick search and click is a luxury. I love the dictionary feature, although this first read was not comprised of challenging, foreign words. Finally for my upcoming travel adventure or possible jury duty in late August, carrying one very light machine opposed to numerous books is extraordinarily convenient. 

Marrying the Mistress

I reluctantly picked up Marrying the Mistress from the lending library at work. I quickly hid this trashy book in my bag. I figured it would be a quick, fun weekend pool read. Yet,I did not want to publicly promote this book pick.

Joanna Trollope provides a glimpse into a family’s reaction to divorce. She develops an authentic portrait of domestic friction. Surprisingly it is full of realistic sibling relationships, generational differences, midlife crises, nasty family dynamics and lightly woven subplots. The story veered far from trashy. The title and cover were very misrepresenting. Besides my extreme dislike that the characters used the first names when referring to their parents rather then mom or dad, Trollope creates an interesting novel. 

The Divide

The Divide was an enjoyable, easy read, yet far from groundbreaking. Nicholas Evans use of many voices was a good technique providing a glimmer into each key character's unique perspective and feelings. I'm at a bit of a loss on what else to write about this book. The eco-terrorism angle was different. The writing was mediocre. The characters were run of the mill. The book was nothing spectacular.

The Secret Scripture

The Secret Scriptures focuses on Roseanne McNulty, a centenarian and long-time resident of the Roscommon mental hospital. The institution, her home is to close. Roseanne’s life spans a turbulent era in Ireland’s history, from the Irish civil war to the German bombing of Belfast during World War II. The destructive history shapes the experiences of this intriguing protagonist. Roseanne relays here story taking on the task of writing her personal narrative or the "secret scripture." Her voice is sad, strange, strong and often confused. Her account interweaves with that of her psychiatrist, Dr. Grene who is charged with assessing whether she can finally be released.
Sebastian Barry writes about love, loss, broken promises, failed hopes, morality, religious prejudice, archaic beliefs. Barry's style is poetic. He creates beautiful prose out of the wreckage of horrendous circumstances, diving into the complexity of human emotions while illustrating that destructive actions are in our nature. 
Barry faltered tremendously with the twist at the very end. The twist was too coincidental, unbelievable and completely unnecessary. Luckily this mishap did not diminish the books overall quality. 

Deceptive Intentions

Deceptive Intentions is listed under two different titles. Heart of Deception is the other listed title. The prequel also has two different names. I’m not entirely sure why M.L. Malcolm has taken this approach. Any thoughts or known reasons please let me know.

I am surprised how much I enjoyed the genre. It’s my first spy novel, although this book can also be characterized as a family saga, loosely historical and perhaps even a coming of age story. I think I may like Secret Lies or Heart of Lies even better as one of the primary characters Leo Hoffman’s early life as a spy is explored. In Deceptive Intentions I wanted to learn more of Leo’s clandestine identity. I was fascinated by the colorful, foreign landscapes of Tangier and Egypt. Unfortunately the spy story line was vague and underdeveloped in this book.

I did enjoy how Malcolm used historical figures to shape the narrative. Sadly the author makes some glaring mistakes. The mob plot was rushed. The Fifty Shades of Grey chapter was completely out of left field. Taking this strange, disconnected approach confused the flow and style. Even with the criticisms, I will embrace Heart of Lies, as the characters were absorbing. I am invested in their origins.  

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey of insight, new friends, loss, love, growth and the ability to change. I love how Rachel Joyce highlights that there are always opportunities for new beginnings even when for so long things have been stuck. Joyce’s characters are varied, intricate and very unique. The premise of walking across England with no supplies, yachting shoes or truly clear intention is absolutely absurd. Nevertheless our protagonist Harold moves forward emotionally, spiritually and physically. Joyce has developed a character to emulate, as it is honorable, dedicated and exciting to take on a challenge and then succeed beyond everyone’s, including your own, wildest expectations. Joyce does a great job of creating a complicated, rich, sad yet happy tale.

Lunch in Paris

Lunch in Paris is a predictable, pretentious, uninteresting memoir of an American woman who falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to Paris. The author’s story is not at all gripping or poignant. Moving from the States to another first world country is not brave or automatically interesting to compel the creation of a memoir. Moving to Pakistan, Iraq or Ghana, well that’s a different matter. Elizabeth Bard self-portrayal is obnoxious and bratty. Additionally she takes a formulaic approach of comparing the States to France. Americans are portrayed as uncultured and greedy while the French are sophisticated, higher beings. This book’s saving grace was the recipes. To start I want to try the quick and dirty chocolate soufflĂ© cake, trout with cherry tomatoes baked in foil and yogurt cake. There are many more recipes that peaked my interest and did not appear super challenging to accomplish. The recipes were more interesting then Bard's story. 

Live to Tell

Live to Tell is haunting. Lisa Gardner combines children with severe mental health issues, a pediatric psyche unit and alternative treatment practices that involve communicating with the spirit world to create a seriously disturbing but engrossing suspense thriller. Of all the Gardner books I have read thus far, (I’m at number three), Live to Tell is the best but creepiest. The psychotic children are the most extreme and unsettling element to this story. I know I have written this before, but what in the world is going on in Gardner’s head to create such horrendous plots?

I’m taking a big trip to Costa Rica in winter. Traveling to my final destination will include three separate plans rides and lots of lots of waiting which results in a ton of time for reading. I have decided that my suitcase and carry-on will be bulging with Gardner’s books as they are quick and easy while keeping me fully engaged. Thus no more Gardener’s until winter!

Life at the Marmont

Life at the Marmont is not my typical read. The book is comprised of short snippets about various people who have worked, lived, or briefly visited the Chateau Marmont. Although slow at times, probably because some of the starlets were unknown to me, I really enjoyed this glimpse into old as well as new Hollywood. I particularly liked reading how the Sunset Strip transformed. It began as absolutely nothing, commonly referred to as “No Man’s Land.” Slowly development was sparked and posh, glitzy nightclubs like the Brown Derby and restaurants such as the Trocadero arose. In the 1960’s hippies claimed The Strip with scruffy, unpolished appearances, protests and psychedelic music, bringing an unheard of ruckus to the hotel. Maybe being an LA native and hence proud of my city or because Hollywood is my backyard I gravitated to this little gem. Life at the Marmont is a piece of history not worth missing.  

The Wonder Bread Summer

The Wonder Bread Summer is a nonsensical adventure filled with bizarre, stupid, damaged characters. The premise was extraordinarily unrealistic, yet Jessica Anya Blau  created a strangely entertaining read perfect for the beach or pool. Countless reviews promise that Blau would have readers laughing aloud. Unfortunately, I failed to get the humor. Even with the lack of humor this was a unique story.  

Broken Harbor

Broken Harbor was such a slow read. It has taken me half of June to complete and two days to write the review. The first hundred and fifty pages take place in the murder victim’s home with the detectives slowly, tediously reviewing the scene. I began to wonder if the entire story was going to take place in the home. Sadly the story continued to disappoint. The motive for the murders seemed unlikely. The creature in the attic was the most interesting element. However, the obsession with capturing it would never have been tolerated. The perspective of Scorcher’s green partner was just ridiculous. I would have rather seen this detective succeed and be an asset to Scorcher. Finally, the case sparks tragic family memories, which impacts Scorcher and his sisters. This story line is poorly executed. I adored Tana French’s first book, Into the Woods. Unfortunately, her last two have not thrilled me.

My next read is not my usual taste. I picked up Wonder Bread Summer, which promises to be a hilarious, yet heartbreaking coming-of-age novel by Jessica Anya Blau. We’ll see. I am fifty pages in and it is definitely a raunchy, wild, adventured full summer read.

Catch Me

Lisa Gardner creates addictive, satisfying crime thrillers. My eyes hurt from hungrily devouring the pages. Catch Me is my third Gardner read. Her stories unfold well and she creates dynamic characters. Gardner often uses the prologue to depict part of a murder or in Catch Me exposing a critical interaction with characters. The prologue influences the rest of the story. The reader can’t help but refer back to this introductory passage to try to uncover the villain. Gardner is not perfect. Many aspects of her books are too convenient or far-fetched. Nevertheless the three books I have read have been very enjoyable. Gardner is my go to for a solid mystery that will keep me entertained. For my next trip, I plan to fill my suitcase with all the Gardner books I have not read. 

Orphan Train

 Orphan Train provides a glimpse into a little-known period of American history where between 1854 and 1929 more than two hundred thousand homeless children were transported by train from the east coast to the mid-west to be adopted. Often instead of being embraced as part of the family, the child would be forced into indentured servitude. Christina Baker Kline creates a fast moving story of two woman living similar circumstances nearly a century apart. Kline employs a double narrative to expose the parallels between the character’s stories. 

Orphan Train is a story that broaches themes such as unwanted children, social services in the past and present, cultural identity, belonging and fate. The present day social services picture did not seem very accurate, however, I have not had much experience with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). My experience is primarily with Adult Protective Services (APS). From what I do know of DCFS it seems that they would be aware of a foster family receiving funds but not actually caring for the child. Perhaps Kline was taking creative license. Regardless of this small criticism Orphan Train was an interesting, good read. 

The Leopard

The Leopard is nothing like Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman. This book took forever to finish with its countless tiresome twists, ridiculous number of characters and implausible, deadly situations that both Harry and Kaja survive. The story was too far fetched. It was as if I was reading a Norwegian soap opera not a crime novel. I did not care for Nesbo’s style of connecting The Snowman and The Leopard. If a reader choose The Leopard first, The Snowman would be ruined. Additionally two side story lines were lacking full exploration and eventual explanation. Perhaps as Nesbo did in this book, he continues to expose aspects of these characters in his next mystery. The Bellmen situation may be revealed, but I’m done with this author. Unfortunately, Nesbo disappointed me.

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home is an extremely dull read. Jennifer Weiner is predictable creating extremely uninteresting story lines that readers have come across hundreds of times. Weiner’s stories are always the same featuring a character that struggles with her weight resorting to rich, salty and of course high caloric foods for comfort. She loves to incorporate sex to try to excite and capture the reader. Unfortunately, the sex descriptions are poorly done and cheesy. Hurried sex in an exam room with your lover who is pretending to be a patient. Come on! Lame! Weiner is also quite fond of portraying sisters that are extreme opposites and at odds until the very end when the story is wrapped up and all live happily ever after. One sister seems to be all together from outwardly appearances but actually is a complete mess. The other sister has had past challenges, which makes her the identified patient, yet she is the sister that saves the day rallying the entire family. This is just badly written chick lit. Luckily I fly through this type of read. I am looking forward to my next book The Leopard by Jo Nesbo.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

I usually enjoy historical novels, yet I found Clara and Mr. Tiffany slow, even a bit boring at times with far too much emphasis placed on the artistic process and creation. The story gets too bogged down by long descriptive passages that painfully detail the entire process of creating artistic pieces. These descriptions are repeated over and over each time Clara becomes obsessed with a new idea or project. It became tiresome to read.

Susan Vreeland obviously did her research. She developed a story that focuses on the not well known until hopefully now, Clara Driscoll, who led the "Tiffany Girls" who were responsible for the amazing designs and manufacturing of the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass lamps. Vreeland gives the reader an unexposed and unexpected view of the studio but also the story of changing women's roles in the early part of the twentieth century. Additionally, Vreeland does an exceptional job of illuminating an exciting era filled with a diverse cast of characters that reflect the evolving time period. Clara interacts with bohemians, immigrants, gays and high society. She is living in New York City, which is vibrant and bustling with exciting innovations as well as ways of thinking. The history was fascinating, but again, the story was too slow for my taste. 

Mason's Retreat

Mason’s Retreat was a bland and depressing novel in which Christopher Tilghman tries to create a historical epic peppered with what if done well are meaty issues. Unfortunately Tilghman falls terribly shorts. The story takes place on a family estate on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake. The pre-WWII time-period and themes should have led to a more dynamic tale. Sadly ideas such as a woman’s needs versus what is best for her family, the legacy of slavery in Maryland and the complicated relationship between agriculture and industrialization were introduced yet not fully developed. Another disappointing element is that Tilghman promises to reveal some great wrong in the Mason family past that has cursed the family in the present. This tainted history is never truly exposed which left me questioning why this was even introduced? Finally, the overarching sense of doom makes for a depressing read. None of the characters are happy, even when doing something of their choosing. The family from the books’ onset is dysfunctional and fractured. They all experience disappointment, frustration, resentment, lack of commonality and connection with one another. The tension as well as overall feeling of malaise is miserable. I could not wait to be done with Mason’s Retreat. My next book is Clara and Mr. Tiffany. 

The Neighbor

Lisa Gardner Detective D.D. Warren series are very entertaining, fulfilling my need for escapism. She creates mysteries that are imaginative and intricately woven. The Neighbor does contain some flaws. I could do without the details of the Detective’s desire for an intimate relationship. It’s unnecessary and her manner is overly crude. The back-stories are lacking for some of the most critical characters. Finally, the ending is wrapped up to quickly; leaving ends loose causing me to want more. Nevertheless, similar to my last Gardner read The Neighbor was hard to put down. I read until 10pm last night. Today, between meetings, waiting in my car because I am always early, I was happy for the extra free moments to read. Although I am not thrilled that her paperbacks are commonly found in supermarkets or pharmacies I am going to read Gardner’s mysteries freely and try to change my book snob demeanor. One should never judge a book by its cover, especially when so much enjoyment is gained. As a pre-teen I ate up every Agatha Christie novel available. Gardner may be my new Christie.

Reading this book made me think of Gone Girl. This particular Gardner must have influenced Gillian Flynn as the style and even the premise are similar. I would love to hear if this opinion is shared by any of my blog readers. Let me know!


Honolulu is quite different from Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i. In Brennert’s second book he is able to explore more of the Hawaii’s rich as well as seedy history, introduce a range of fascinating characters and intertwine historical events and real people. He could not do this in Moloka’i as the main character was held in isolation. Honolulu summarizes the life a picture bride, detailing the turbulence of the early 20th century. Brennert did an example job of portraying the Korean experience in Hawaii illustrating the extreme challenges and the opportunities. Honolulu had me pining for a holiday! 

Home Front

This is chic lit at it’s finest. I am a tad embarrassed to report how much I enjoy Kristin Hannah’s books. I was secretly overjoyed when I found that one of our volunteers had left me this read. Hannah writes heart-touching page-turners. They always provide a healthy dose of needed escapism. However, be prepared. Home Front was much sadder and deeper then most of Hannah’s works. She took a somber, challenging subject and did not gloss over its seriousness, which is often the case in chic literature. She made all the character suffer. Although we have a positive ending, getting there takes real work from each of the characters.

My next read is Honolulu by Alan Brennert. I really enjoyed Moloka’i, thus I have high hopes for his second novel. I’m looking forward to diving into a historical fiction book. It feels like it has been a long time. 

The Small Hours of the Morning

The Small Hours of the Morning reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl. The approaches to story telling and eventual reveal are old fashion. Perhaps this is because both authors were born in the 1920’s hence as they developed as writers their styles represented the time, which was gentler. You will not find the gory imagery depicted in present day mysteries. The writing is quaint and slow. All the characters are overly exaggerated. The smarmy ladies man, dense detective and clueless husband are all ridiculous characterures. I prefer modern day authors that entrance the readers were their truly terrifying, twisted tales. 

Dark Places

Gillian Flynn is incredibly talented yet twisted writer. While reading, I couldn't help but wonder, what has this woman been through personally that she can conjure up such horrifying, disturbing stories? Dark Places, just like Flynn's two other works have disgusting descriptions and extraordinarily damaged characters. The two points of criticisms would be that the parts of the mystery were predictable and many of the scenarios unlikely. Regardless, I enjoyed the read and look forward to future Flynn works. 

Sharp Objects

I love thrillers. I devour them. The more twisted the better. Sharp Objects is my second Gillian Flynn novel. I was captured by Gone Girl’s darkness. Dark Places will be my next read. Thus far, Flynn has not disappointed. She creates disturbed, dysfunctional characters. The imagery employed is revolting, but furthers the story brilliantly. The plot is unique while always demented. In this book she does a fantastic job of depicting mean girls. They are calculating and cruel. This was Flynn’s first book. She has a knack for developing bizarre, well constructed, ensnaring books. I can't wait for Flynn reads. 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

Scandinavian crime thrillers are usually dark and disturbing. Jonas Jonasson has taken a departure from this sinister style creating a quirky book with equally eccentric characters. I love the premise. Allan Karlsson, our centenarian protagonist hops out of the window of his "old folks' home" to further his life and need for adventure. With this as the beginning, you can only imagine that this story is loaded with ludicrousness. The book flips from present to the past where Allan has been involved in many of the major events of the 20th century. He has rubbed elbows with influential world leaders including Franco, Truman, Stalin, and Mao. Allan's present-day escapade turns into a crime caper filled with strange, scandalous characters that join in the fun. All of Jonasson’s characters are masterfully inventive. I especially loved the hot dog vendor with a multitude of almost completed degrees, Beauty, the red head who spews profanity and of course Sonya, the elephant. The book is odd but delightfully charming and very creative. It offers a radical change of pace to the harsh Nordic tales audiences have grown accustomed. Additionally Jonasson puts a wonderful spin on aging, showing growing older doesn’t have to be bad!

The One I Left Behind

The One I Left Behind has an interesting premise and started off well. It had me engaged and questioning. Unfortunately it slowly and painfully disintegrated, becoming implausible verging on ridiculous. About the only enjoyable aspect of the story was how it toggles between present day and the main character’s memories of 1985. I thought Jennifer McMahon wrote a predictable plotline with the main character, Regina and her two quirky friends trying to ascertain the killer. Now in the present, again Regina takes it upon herself to determine the identity of Neptune, although warned to wait due to safety issues and concerns. Of course, this action results in Regina being caught by the killer. McMahon did not develop a unique storyline. This approach has been taken countless times. Then there is the tragic accident that resulted in the injury of a peer. This is poorly constructed and only serves to reconnect Regina and her two best friends in the present narrative. Early on I identified Neptune. The self-mutilation piece is glossed over and not sufficiently explored. McMahon creates Tara who promises to be an interesting character. She could have highlighted her more. Why was she so obsessed with the case? Why was she institutionalized? The ending has a multitude of problems. Many of the characters would have had huge issues surrounding the killer’s identity, impacting them significantly. McMahon writes as if these characters had a really bad meal out, not that they were intimately involved with a serial killer. The killer has surgically removed another character’s hand but with the same ease of losing a favorite sweater accepts the replacement of the prosthesis. McMahon could have gone much deeper, ultimately creating something different, special and much more entertaining. 

The Snowman

The Scandinavian’s are great at creating spellbinding thrillers that are chilling to the core. Additionally the cold climate makes for great bleak, creepy backdrops. The Snowman put Jo Nesbro in the same literary category as Karin Fossum, Henning Mankel and Stieg Larsson, other wonderful Scandinavian crime fiction authors. All these authors write gruesome well-crafted tales. It is interesting that they can create such violent worlds when their countries are not plagued by the unthinkable violence they impart.

The only issue I had, which I have found to be the case with other novels written by Scandinavian authors are the names of the character are difficult to follow. Many of the names are very similar.  Once I got a hold of who was who I couldn’t put the book down. Nesbro creates complicated plot twist and turns. There are numerous plausible alternative suppositions and reversals before the killer is revealed. I enjoyed Harry Hole and am thrilled that Nesbro has featured this character in many of his crime stories. I will be enjoying and reviewing more Harry Hole detective series.  

Lucky Girls

I don’t like short stories as I always am longing for more. Short stories only provide a small glimpse into the character’s existences. They usually lack a conclusion. Regardless of my short story frustrations and biases, Nell Freudenberge is a good writer who creates solid, absorbing characters. My two favorite stories were ‘The Tutor’ and ‘The Orphan.’
In ‘The Tutor’ a young American girl living with her father in India hires Zubin, a tutor. Freudenberge beautifully illustrates the reason for the girl's turmoil as well as the inner conflicts of Zubin. This story has a non-ending, but fits in with the overall style of the book, where we are only allowed to view a part of the characters lives and even then there is no final resolution to the part that we view.
'The Orphan' is the story for which I left craving for a complete book. Alice and Jeff a middle-aged couple have decided to divorce. They need to inform their children of this life altering choice. When the family unites there is an extreme awkwardness which I wanted the author to unravel further. Additionally, at the very start of the story, Mandy calls her mother to let her know that she has been sexually and physically assaulted by her boyfriend. During Alice, Jeff’s and her brother’s visit, Mandy introduces the boyfriend that sexually and physically assaulted her. This story was gripping and all the characters were multi-faceted. I would be very curious to read how Freudenberge would continue this story if it was turned into a novel.

Even if you are like me and do not gravitate or particularly enjoy short short stories I hope you will give Freudenberge a try as again, she is a strong, interesting writer. 

Half Life & Brida

Neither Half Life nor Brida appealed to me. I actually did not finish either of these books. They were both extremely strange. Half Life is fantasy, a genre I dislike. I can never truly picture what the author is trying to impart. Brida is just weird. I like magic, but this is too out there.

Half Life is set in a world somewhat similar to our own. The most blaring exception is that due to nuclear explosions the world has a population of conjoined twins large enough to have their own lobby groups. Nora no longer wants to share her body with her conjoined twin, Blanche who has been in a state of unconsciousness for over twenty years. Nora wants to have Blanche surgically removed so that she can live life without the burden of her comatose sister. I thought that this sounded like an interesting premise for a book so I picked it out of our lending library at work. I hated it! The writing was convoluted. The plot was difficult to follow as Shelley Jackson tackles too many ideas and is trying to make heady philosophical points. Jackson adds in strange prose that has no purpose. Nora’s character was extremely unlikable. I could only read about a hundred pages when I decided it was time to give up. Jackson, you had a good idea, unfortunately it was poorly executed.

A colleague was passing around Brida. My boss read it and commented multiple times that it was a strange book. The jacket description sounded interesting to me, as I usually love books with magical themes. I wrongly presumed I would enjoy this read. Brida is a story about a young Irish girl, Brida who has a special gift. She is a witch. I only read to about page fifty as I became too frustrated with the bizarreness of the subject matter. In the few pages I read, Brida is drawn to a forest where, Magus a teacher of things mystical leaves her alone on a rock to learn her first lesson. This experience annoys Brida, so she finds another teacher, a middle-aged woman named Wicca. Magus was a teacher of the Tradition of the Sun, whereas Wicca is a teacher of the Tradition of the Moon. (Yes, I know what you are thinking. What the hell is Tradition of the Moon/Sun?) Something happens with tarot cards and the telephone. Wicca explains to Brida that through the telephone people with gifts can experience magical things. A few pages later Wicca takes Brida on a far away journey where she begins to hallucinate. At this point, I had to stop reading. I did not understand what was happening. It was too off the wall, eccentric, peculiar. (The list of  adjectives could go on and on.) What is this touted as acclaimed, even brilliant author, Paulo Coelho freaking writing? I read some of the reviews on goodreads. I’m glad I stopped, as the book seems to get stranger and stranger by the page.

Goodness, two awful books in less then three days. Oye! Both of these books were completely unreadable!