05 November 2016

Book Report for July, August, and September

Apparently I'm doing quarterly book reports this year ... not a problem, it's just that I'm always surprised when I realize I haven't done one for each month!

So here you go, what I read during the end of summer/beginning of fall.  You probably won't be surprised to see that I read some Halloween-themed books at the end of October ... ;-)

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, by Tarquin Hall.  Vish Puri, proprietor of Most Private Investigations, never disappoints.  In this book, he starts out by taking a case to find out the identity of a thief who stole the mustache (!) of the person who has the longest mustache in India.  Before he gets very far into that case, he is present at a dinner after a soccer match where his nephew is playing, where the father of the star player from the opposing team dies of poisoning.

His investigation into this unexpected death takes him to Pakistan, a country that he has never wanted to visit, and that he feels a strong hatred towards.  His mother also becomes involved in the case for other reasons, and in spite of his dismay, becomes a helpful partner.

This book takes the reader into the world of game-fixing of cricket matches, and also the international trade of blood diamonds.  As usual, Vish Puri and his team manage to solve the mystery, and that of the stolen mustache as well.

This series is so interesting to me - depictions of current-day life in India, but where ancient tradition still holds sway.  And Vish Puri's nicknames for members of his team and other suspects - such as Tubelight, Facecream, and Full Moon - are so entertaining.

The story is well-written, and nicely paced.  My only problem with these books is that reading them makes me incredibly hungry for Indian food, since Puri loves to eat.  Right now, I would kill for a samosa!  :-)

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I'm glad I read this.  Though I have to say that her work "Cranford" is still and always my favorite.

This book focuses on Margaret Hale, whose father - a minister - decides to leave the ministry due to matters of conscience, and moves Margaret and her mother from a lovely, pastoral town in the south of England, to Milton, an industrial town in the north of England.  Margaret and her mother have strong prejudices against the north, which is much more industrial than the south, and the feel they are surrounded by people of a lesser quality.

Over the couple of years that they are there, Margaret realizes that the people there are still people, doing the best that they can, and she even makes some friends.  After the death of her parents, she returns to London to live with her cousin and her family, the household and life where she grew up.  She comes to realize that her life in the north had meaning for her, and that life in society is not as appealing as she had imagined, after being away from it.

This was a good story, with attitudes similar to those in our current day. But as with many works of its time, there was a whole lot of exposition and parts that seemed disjointed.  Perhaps if I had read it in the original serialize format, I would have appreciated that style more.  And the ending seemed sudden, after all of the time it took to arrive at that point!

Overall, it was an interesting look into the time when England went from an agricultural society to an industrialized one.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli.  Basic science is not my forte.  Physics is a whole other issue - it might as well be hieroglyphics for as much as I "get" it.  So I was curious about this book after I read a couple of reviews.  It consists of seven short essays that the author wrote as part of a science column in a European newspaper.

Did I come away with any understanding?  Yes.  Am I still puzzled about a lot of things related to physics?  You bet.  But this is the kind of book you can read all or part of multiple times and probably learn and understand a bit more each time.  The writing is accessible, even if the subject matter is not always as clear as you might wish.  The last essay is as much scientific as it is philosophical, and I have to say that I enjoyed it the most.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I'm going to add it to my wishlist because I would love to be able to pick it up now and then and try to learn more.

The Diva Frosts a Cupcake, by Krista Davis.  This was an enjoyable entry in the series.  The story begins with a fundraiser organized by Sophie Winston's friend and neighbor, Nina Reid.  It takes place over a weekend, with a festival, and the crowning event, a cupcake dinner, where different bakeries are assigned courses that have to be in cupcake form.

The story involves a lost dog, a couple of suspicious illnesses, two murders, and a false arrest.  As usual, it is up to Sophie and her friends to figure things out and tie the story together.

I liked this book for several reasons: 1) I enjoy most of the characters and the setting, 2) I wasn't sure who to suspect and who was innocent, so it kept me reading, and 3) because it was the perfect read for a time in my life when concentrating on anything at all was nearly impossible.  For that reason alone, I am grateful to Sophie and her friends, as well as Krista Davis, the author of this series.

Arsenic and Old Books, by Miranda James.  When the mayor of the town brings some journals from one of her ancestors to the archives where Charlie Harris works, he is thrilled that the collection will now have some first person accounts of what the town was like during the Civil War.  But before he can even begin to review and process the materials, a local reporter and one of the history professors demand access.  The mayor - a friend and former college classmate of the mayor - grants access to the professor.  But before Charlie can hand over the journals, someone breaks into his office and steals them.

More complications begin when the history professor is killed, the mayor suddenly finds an extra volume, the missing journals are returned with pages missing, and a local election appears that it will be affected by the information inside these journals.

With a lot of twists and turns, and with his cat Diesel by his side, Charlie eventually figures out what happened.

I like this series for several reasons, but high among them is the fact that the author understands the differences between archives and libraries, and the nuances of how each work.  I enjoy the characters, and of course the cat (!), and in this particular book, I was highly amused that people kept pointing out to Charlie that he always seemed to somehow get involved in local cases of murder.  It was really quite amusing, particularly since he didn't find it that amusing.

Aunty Lee's Delights, by Ovidia Yu.  I read this based on a recommendation from someone I follow on Instagram.  It takes place in Singapore, and is full of references to Singaporean history and culture, and mostly to their food.

Aunty Lee is a widow who runs a small cafe.  She has two adult children, one who lives in England, and one who lives near her and is married to a social-climbing wife.  They try to begin a series of wine tastings at Aunty Lee's modest cafe to try and bring a little bit of upward mobility to it, as they hope to take it over one day.  At the second one of these events, they learn that one of the participants is missing.  Soon after, they learn she was murdered.  Aunty Lee decides that she must learn what happened and solve the murder.

The book and the story was OK, but I found it a bit scattered in the storytelling and the writing.  Even without knowing anything much about Singapore, it could have been a lot more interesting and even "educational" if the writing had been better.  It's definitely a series with possibilities.  I may read the next one sometime to see if it has the potential to improve.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.  I didn't *dislike* this book, but I also didn't like it a whole lot, either.  It was enjoyable, it was well-written, but it just didn't grab me like I was expecting that it would.

It's the story of a boy, Jacob Portman, who grew up hearing the stories of his grandfather's youth, and about the children's home where he grew up after being sent to England to avoid the Nazis.  When the grandfather dies, Jacob is not convinced that it was just old age.  He travels to Wales, to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, hoping to talk to her and find out more about his grandfather's childhood.  He has seen photos that his grandfather had kept, and even finds a letter from the headmistress, so he is determined to find answers.

He does find them, though maybe not the way he expected.  And in the end, he learns a lot about himself and his grandfather, though the answers would likely be difficult for most people to believe or understand.

I think I just didn't find Jacob all that interesting, and as a result I just didn't care as much as I might have about his journey.  Everyone else I know who has read this book has loved it, but I guess this is one of those times I'm in the minority.

A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable.  When April Vogt is sent to Paris by her boss to appraise furniture in a Paris apartment to prepare it for auction, she is on the one hand, since she adores Paris, and unsettled on the other hand, because she is trying to determine if her marriage is falling apart.

Upon arrival at the apartment, she finds that it is a treasure trove of Belle Epoque pieces, and that no one has lived there for years.  She finds the diaries of the woman who once lived there, and it changes everything.  Not only as far as the auction prep goes, but as far as April's interactions with her colleagues and the estate's attorney.

I liked the book well enough overall.  I think it was just hard to be attracted to April, since she just didn't seem that well-developed or interesting to me.  I liked hearing about the apartment and about Paris, and the diaries were interesting, but the whole story and book just seemed awkwardly composed to me.

Persecution, by Alessandro Piperno.  This book is a real change of pace from most books I've read, especially recently.  The bulk of the book takes place completely within the mind of the protagonist, with a detached observer telling us the fill-in details.

It all begins during family dinner one evening, when Leo Pontecorvo, a renowned pediatric oncologist in Rome, is sitting down for dinner with his wife and two young sons.  They have all the trappings of a well-to-do, well-respected family.  Then, Leo's picture appears on the screen in the news report, where we learn he is accused of having indecent sexual conduct with the girlfriend of his thirteen year-old son.

Leo retreats to the basement, where he basically exists for the rest of the novel.  Seldom leaving the house at all, and watching his wife and children from the basement window whenever they are outside the house or going to the car in the garage.   Leo realizes that there have been things in his life that have all come crashing down at once for him, both personally and professionally.  We hear his side of the accusations made by the girl, where we learn he is innocent.  As time wears on, he goes back and forth between wanting to fight for his life and his family, and giving up.

We learn that Leo was a child of privilege, and how he seldom even as an adult ever had to take care of daily things like paying bills or organizing vacations.  His wife or his mother always handled these mundane things.  But his mother is dead, and he can no longer count on his wife.  At a minimum, he doesn't even try to contact his wife or his children for the rest of the book.

This was an interesting, if sometimes frustrating book.  Leo is a person who in some ways is sympathetic, but in other ways comes across as having sealed his own fate as a result of his arrogance and self-centered-ness.  He seems to want to avoid conflict at all costs, even if it means facing his family.

The ending was a surprise, at least to me.  But after the last sentence, it also says "To be continued," so I am wondering what the next part will be.  Other versions of Leo's story?  The story of how his family carries on?  I will definitely want to find out.

One particular thing of interest to me, was that apparently in Italy (at least at the time of the novel, the late 1980s), a defendant was not required to attend his own trial.  Fascinating.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, by J. K. Rowling.  This was good, creepy, and enjoyable.  That's all I want to say so as not to give anyone who hasn't read it, but wants to, any spoilers.

Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin.  This is a really chilling psychological thriller. Tessa is the only survivor of the Black-Eyed Susans, murdered young girls who were buried until a cover of the flowers.  She was a teenager when it happened, and as the book opens, she learns that there is a re-opening of the case of the person she sent to Death Row.  The rest of the book alternates chapters between Tessa as an adult, and Tessie when she was 15 years old, and preparing for the trial of the kidnapper/murderer.  It was a little bit hard getting started, but once you get used to the format, the story unfolds and you are sucked in.

There are not a lot of details about the actual kidnapping, nor about the hours that Tessie was buried alive.  Instead, we hear about snippets of her time with a psychiatrist, and time preparing her testimony.  Tessa, in the meanwhile, has become an independent artist with a 13-year-old daughter, who is haunted by what happened to her, and that she never could *exactly* remember everything.

As the case is reopened for the Death Row inmate before he is to be executed, and Tessa finds black-eyed Susans planted in her window box, we learn that her "monster" has followed her for years, using that deceit.

I am not going to say any more, because I don't want to spoil it for those planning to read the book.  I can say that, at the end, I thought I had figured a part of it out.  But wow, I really had not.

Patterns in the Sand, by Sally Goldenbaum.  I decided to read this book because a) I enjoyed the first in this series, and b) it takes place in a town in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and we would be spending part of our vacation in a couple of Cape Ann locations.

One regular, quiet evening in the town of Sea Harbor, Izzy Chambers, the owner of the local yarn shop, gets a call from the local police saying that someone has died in her store window!  She arrives to see what is happening, and it turns out that the young woman is alive, but that she had broken into the shop and fallen asleep.  Her name is Willow Adams, and she came to town because a while back, Izzy and her aunt Nell had seen some of Willow's textile art and had sent her an e-mail saying how much they had admired it.  Izzy had said if Willow ever came to Sea Harbor to let her know, she would love for her to teach a class or something.

So that's weird enough - why didn't she let them know she was coming, etc.?

Then shortly after, on a night when the local artists have their open house events, Aidan Peabody, a one of the artists and a force in the town, dies from having his drink poisoned.  Who did it?  Why? There are several people who he had conflicts with, but to the locals, it's hard to believe one of them was the killer.  Willow becomes a suspect.

After that, one of the gallery owners dies.  At first everyone thinks it is suicide, but they cannot figure out why he would kill himself  Then it's learned that it was murder.  So two murders in the small town in a short time - what is happening in normally quiet and lovely Sea Harbor?

This was an enjoyable read, perfect for a vacation.  It was interesting enough to keep me turning the page, but did not require intense, singular concentration to keep track of things.

The Red Bandana. A Life. A Choice. A Legacy, by Tom Rinaldi.  Did not finish.

I wanted to like this, I think it is likely a lovely and inspiring story about the human spirit.  But about 50 pages in, the writing is soooooo stale, I gave up.

Threads of Evidence, by Lea Wait.  This was my second vacation-related read, because it takes place in Maine, and I was going to be there.

Angela Curtis once again becomes involved in a murder investigation.  This time, it's related to problems that begin to occur when a well-known popular Hollywood actress buys a decaying estate in the town and begins to restore it.  The family who owned the house lived there every summer, and one year their daughter died by falling into the fountain.  Or did she?

As the story progresses, we learn that someone is worried that the truth will come out, and is anxious to keep that from happening.

Great for a vacation read.  Entertaining and involving, but not heavy or deep.

Brooklyn on Fire, by Lawrence Levy.  This is the second book in this new series, and I found it maybe even more interesting than the first.  In the first book, the story brought in Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse.  In this one, we have the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Huntingtons, and the Vanderbilts.  The author has based this one on real events, mainly the merger of Brooklyn into New York City.

Though she helped the NYPD solve a major case, Mary Handley has not been asked to join the force.  So she has an "office" at a bookstore where the owner has become both a friend and a supporter.  She has been calling herself a Consulting Detective, and when a woman comes in to ask for her help regarding a family member, Mary becomes involved not only with dirty little secrets among the city's elite families, but also in political maneuverings based on water supply to Brooklyn, and it becoming a borough instead of an independent entity.

This was a good follow-up to the first book, and makes me want to read the next one as well.  And this particular book has one of the best Prologues I've ever read.

The Silent Wife, by A. S. A. Harrison.  Well.  This was not the book I was expecting.  Granted, I don't really know what I *was* expecting, but nonetheless this was different.

Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint, between Jodi, a practicing pscychologist, and Todd, her husband and self-made real estate developer/builder, and a serial cheater.  They've been together for 20 years as the book opens, and things are heading south.

They have lived a nice life, in a beautiful lakefront condo in Chicago.  But things take a turn when Todd's latest affair results in a pregnancy.  On top of which, it's the college-age daughter of one of his lifelong friends.  The young pregnant woman commands Todd to leave Jodi and marry her.  Since things have been rough lately, Todd thinks this might be the best thing.  But nonetheless he drags his feet, because maybe he should stay with Jodi.  Jodi, for her part, is upset and angry about it all, but continues to live in a state of denial.

When Jodi is given an eviction notice to leave their condo, things come to a head.  She takes action and her plan seems to work, even though of course once it's accomplished she has second thoughts.
She prepares for the worst.  But things don't quite happen that way.

I don't want to say much more, in case anyone reading this decides to try the book.  Todd and Jodi are characters who are not lovable, but it is interesting the way they are drawn, and they way the react - or do not - to everything around them.  This is a really interesting psychological tale.  

Murder Is Binding, by Lorna Barrett.  Tricia Miles is owns one of the new businesses on the main street in Stoneham, a plan devised to bring business and tourist to the town to spend money.  She owns a mystery book store, next to a cook book story owned by Doris Gleason, an unpleasant person if there ever was one.   When someone appears to have broken into Doris' store, stolen a rare and valuable cookbook, and killed Doris, Tricia not only finds the body, but becomes the primary suspect.

On top of which, Tricia's soon-to-be divorced sister decides to come for a visit, and maybe even move to Stoneham herself - a source of dread, as the two were never close growing up.

This is the first book in this series, and was entertaining enough to keep me reading.  The murderer's identity became clear to me near the end of the book (your mileage may vary), but there were aspects of the story that were unexpected (at least to me).

I enjoyed this book, especially since the book I read just prior to it had been a very intense read.  Seeing how Tricia solved the murder and reading about her experiences was a nice way to move forward.

The Children, by Ann Leary.  This was an interesting book, about a blended family and hidden truths.
The story is narrated by Charlotte, who is in her late 20s, lives with her widowed mother, and is more or less a recluse.  She has a successful blog, though it is based on a series of lies.  Her late stepfather owns the house where they live, and it has been in his family for generations.  When her stepbrother comes to visit with is fiancee, Charlotte, her mother, and her sister are both surprised and intrigued.

The family relationships - both birth- and step-families - are each fraught with their own issues and problems.  Laurel's arrival (the fiancee) brings these into focus, and also exposes some of the things that had been ignored or disposed of in the families' relationships.  By the end of the book we've learned a lot about each of the characters, and needless to say, it's not all good.

I liked this book, and found the characters and their interactions with each other interesting.  The premise is a little bit different, but the only thing that was annoying about it was that towards the end, I felt it was somewhat predictable.

Brownies and Broomsticks, by Bailey Cates.  It turns out that this was not a Halloween-themed book, but it was about magic, so I kept reading.  And it's not that I hated it - it was fine.  Just not exactly what I usually enjoy.

Katie Lightfoot has just moved to Savannah, Georgia, to open a bakery with her aunt and uncle.  She is a trained baker, but between not really liking her previous job, and a recent breakup with her boyfriend, she's ready to start over.

When a local society matron is found murdered in her car after a business meeting at the bakery, and Katie's uncle is the prime suspect, she decides to do whatever she can to find the real killer.  The kicker is that she learns that her aunt and the women who are her group of friends are witches - and so is Katie!  Her parents are also witches, but chose to turn away from it, and never told Katie.

So that was just kind of weird, though not as hokey as I was afraid it might be.  And the search for the real killer was interesting.  And there are some amazing-sounding recipes at the end.

I liked it well enough, but it just wasn't quite my cup of tea (though I am going to try one of the recipes ...).

A Biscuit, a Casket, by Liz Mugavero.  Kristan "Stan" Connor is feeling happy that she left her stressful job and moved to Frog Ledge, Connecticut.  Even better, her organic pet food company has been gaining more and more business and she has even been asked to make all of the treats for a dog birthday party (!) at a local farm.  She is excited because it's also the opening night of the Halloween corn maze, and the whole town has been talking about it.

Except shortly after she arrives, the farmer is found dead at the entrance to the maze.  With a sickle sticking out of his chest.   As the police try to figure out who killed the farmer, we learn that he was actually not that interested in the farm, and had other activities going on.  Stan volunteers to help the farmer's wife straighten out the books, and starts to learn that there were real problems with cash flow.  It leads her to some suspicions about others in the farm co-op, as well as trying to figure out if her friend Izzy was involved.

In the middle of all of this, her mother shows up for a visit.  Stan is truly thrown for a loop, as her mother is not known for enjoying small towns, and is really critical of Stan's latest venture.

This was an entertaining read, and enjoyable for the Halloween season.

Candy Corn Murder, by Leslie Meier.  Another Halloween-themed book, which was a fun read.

Everyone in Tinker's Cove is excited about the Pumpkin Fest being sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.  Lucy Stone, a local reporter for The Pennysaver, a weekly paper, is busy with reporting on preparations and also taking care of her family, which includes her 4-year old grandson, who is staying with them while his parents are on a medical mission in Haiti.  Her husband is working with a neighbor to build a pumpkin catalyst, so they can participate in one of the Pumpkin Fest events.

Certain things leading up to the big event make Lucy slightly suspicious about it, but when a body is found in an old car during the pumpkin catalyst event, and it is the neighbor who had been helping Lucy's husband, she knows for sure that there is something that needs to be investigated.  And when her husband is arrested for the murder, it's up to Lucy to find out what really happened.

Entertaining and a fun holiday read.

Death by Pumpkin Spice, by Alex Erickson.  The final book I read for this Halloween season.

Krissy Hancock is the owner of a bookstore cafe, who apparently (in previous books I have not read) finds herself investigating and helping to solve murders in the community.  A local doctor who she hopes will become her boyfriend invites her to a swanky Halloween party.  She would rather stay home, but does not want to miss the opportunity to spend time with this guy, Will.  So she gets a costume together and they go to the party.

When one of the guests is murdered, the party pretty much stops, but no one is allowed to leave the house.  The investigating officer Paul - who Krissy also dated and likes - is also a guest at the party, so the two of them start trying to figure out what happened.

Besides Will and Paul, Krissy's ex shows up, hoping to win her back.  And the other police officer called to the scene is not a fan of Krissy's and she is pretty sure he wishes he could pin the whole thing on her.  Eventually things are resolved.

This was another OK read.   I didn't love it, but I also didn't hate it.  It was just acceptable.

I need to start finding books for Halloween reading that engage me more ...


Have you read anything you particularly liked lately?  Feel free to offer recommendations!


Anonymous said...

Holy WOW! That is a LOT of reading.

I'm currently reading Jane Eyre.

KSD said...

You find books with the most amazing titles. . .

I'm with you on "Red Bandana." It's a book that you shouldn't want to put down, but you can't keep reading.

Lorette said...

Great, now I have a BUNCH more books on the to do list! Thanks, I think. :-)

Araignee said...

I am so impressed by the length of your review-and the fact that you can remember so many details.

Bonny said...

That is a long and diverse list! I'm glad for your reviews of North and South, Miss Peregrine's Home, and Persecution. They're on my list and I can make a better decision having read your reviews. Physics is my nemesis, so I'm definitely going to try Rovelli's book. I have to recommend The Nix by Nathan Hill. I think it will be the best book I read this year.

AsKatKnits said...

Oh. My. Goodness! What a lot of reading! Wow. I found several things that I am adding to my read list! Thank you!!

Oh, and I just finished A Year of Living Danishly - and I loved it!

Caffeine Girl said...

Holy cow, girl, you have been reading!
I read North and South recently, and I really liked it. I also didn't love the Peculiar Children book, either. I did really like The Silent Wife.
I have been struggling to find a book that hooks me!

sprite said...

I had to give the physics book back thanks to a hold on it, but plan on giving it another go this winter.

And while I liked Miss Peregrine, I read it shortly after it came out and was so irritated by the fact that it wasn't a standalone that I refused to read the sequels. I would like to give the movie a shot, though...

Vera said...

WOW - that's a ton of reading! I want to try to physics book...but maybe later. My reading has slowed somewhat...but I'm reading the Night Circus and enjoying it more than I expected to. Waiting for a few to come in on Overdrive.