08 July 2012

May and June Book Report

It's that time again, when I bore regale you with my thoughts on the books I've read recently.  I came across a couple of authors who were new to me, and continued with others who are favorites.  I have to admit that at the end of any month or months, when I see what I've read to put the information in this post, I am always surprised by one or two things that I've read.  Not because they were necessarily bad, but because I'll think I read them longer ago than earlier in any given month.  Times like that, I wonder just how much of a sieve my brain actually is ...

Just Run, by Chris Culver.  This was either a freebie or a 99-cent-er for my Nook.  The descriptive blurb made it sound interesting, so I figured what the heck.  Turns out, it was quite a read!

Dr. Renee Carter is a math professor at a small Ohio college.  We learn that she has written a research paper proving that online poker games are rigged.  As the book begins, she is going to her colleague's office and when she arrives, finds the colleague dead, and she herself is attacked.  Detective Trent Schaefer is called in from Cincinnati to help the small-town police force investigate.  Turn out, the men who attacked  her are with the Russian mob.  

Needless  to say, things start moving pretty fast after this.  When Renee's life is threatened, she and Schaefer hit the road.  They try to keep a few steps ahead of the Russians and an FBI agent who are trying to find them.  Schaefer turns out to be quite resourceful, and though Renee is suspicious, she sticks with him since he is the only person who seems to be interested in saving her life.

I'm not going to say much more, because if you are going to read this book, I don't want to ruin any of the suspense.  The book is fast-paced, and covers a lot of ground (literally and figuratively), while also making the reader wonder how good their own instincts are.  

If you like suspense, I can recommend this book.

Trouble in Spades, by Heather Webber.  In this second installment of the Nina Quinn series, Nina is in the throes of implementing the design for her baby sister's garden as a wedding present, when her brother-in-law to be goes missing.  Between her dread of dealing with her sister, wearing the bridesmaid's dress chosen for her, and the problems of a dead body turning up in the koi pond of her sister's backyard, Nina has her hands full.

I enjoyed reading this book - a  nice break in my reading and a fun set of characters.  So OK it's not Tolstoy, but it doesn't need to be.

The Well of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde.  Well, Thursday Next is at it again.  Trying to lay low until her baby is born, and trying to figure out how to get her husband back from being eradicated, she is sent by the Jurisfiction office to the Well of Lost Plots - where unpublished books and characters live.  

She has made arrangements to live in a plot of a not-that-great-book and keep the story going for as long as she is there.  But as usual, things get complicated when she finds out a secret about a new product that will supposedly improve and revolutionize the reading experience for "Outlanders" - real people who do not exist only as characters in books.

This installment was just as amusing and fun to read as the previous two in the series.  Some old characters are still around, while other new ones are introduced.  I keep thinking that Jasper Fforde must have an incredible imagination to create these other universes that seem truly real.  I am generally not fond of alternate universes, or fantasy, or science fiction but these books are ones that I truly enjoy.  It might be due to the literary references, but mostly it is because the writing is so good.

If you haven't met Thursday Next yet, I think you really should.

The Air We Breathe, by Andrea Barrett.  This story, which takes place as World War I is underway at a sanitorium in the Adirondacks, was one I wanted to read after reading a blurb about it on a "Book of the Day" calendar a co-worker gave me for Christmas.  The time period is one of my favorites, and I was intrigued that the action all occurred at the sanitorium.  The story focuses from the beginning on one of the patients, Leo Marburg, who we meet as he is first arriving after being diagnosed with tuberculosis.  The narrator remains somewhat mysterious throughout the book - by the end, you do not know if the narrator was a patient, doctor, employee, or townsperson.  That, added to the overall story, kept me reading.

The Tamarack Lake Sanitorium is a small universe of its own.  Though some of those who work there are residents of the town, most everyone is from someplace else.  When a patient staying at another house in the town suggests a weekly get-together at the sanitorium, it seems like a chance for the patients to have something new and interesting in their lives.  And for a while, that's the case.  But as World War I rages on, and more people become suspicious of immigrants in general and Germans in particular, the group and personal dynamics begin to change.  Add in teenage unrequited love, and Leo's interest in chemistry, and things start to become complicated and frankly, kind of scary.

I don't want to give away any details other than those above, because this is a book that I think is well worth reading.  But what happens to people due to their perceptions of others, and the actions they take are not just disturbing, but much like some of the suspicion and rhetoric about people of Middle Eastern descent and/or Muslims in today's world.

This is a good book.

To Fetch a Thief, by Spencer Quinn.  Another outing of the Little Detective Agency, with Bernie (guy) and his partner, Chet (dog).  This time, they are hired to find a missing trainer and elephant from a down-and-out circus.  In another storyline, Bernie's ex-wife Leda announces her engagement, which is good news for Bernie - no more alimony payments.  But then they see Leda's intended leave a cheapo desert motel with a woman whose husband has hired them, because he thinks his wife is cheating.

As usual, the story is narrated by Chet, in his usual entertaining fashion.  They end up in Mexico, involved with people who are involved with the smuggling of rare animals for sale, and Bernie is arrested by the Mexican police.

That's all I'm saying, because if you are a Bernie and Chet fan and haven't read this one yet, I don't want to ruin it for you.  Once again, though, I found the story to be a good read, and would recommend the book to anyone interested in crime mysteries.  Especially if they are also animal lovers.

Oh - and the ex-wife's fiance?  Well, that gets cleared up too.

I'll definitely keep reading in this series.

City of  Women, by David R. Gillham.  I received an Advanced Readers' Edition of this, and decided to give it a try.  The title refers to the fact that during the Second World War, most of the men were away fighting, so Berlin had an overabundance of women, children, and elderly men.

The main character, Sigrid, works at the patent office, and is living with her disagreeable mother-in-law while her husband is away fighting the war in Russia.  She becomes involved with the young woman who is the nanny/babysitter/au pair for the woman living across the hall, and as a result, becomes involved in hiding Jews from the Gestapo and Nazi officers who randomly search homes and businesses.  The experience changes her life, and at  one point, she suspects that she is helping to hide the wife and children of her lover.

I kept reading this book because I wanted to see how it would end (the book, I know how the war ended).  But though I didn't really like it, I also didn't really *not* like it.  It was written pretty well in my opinion, but there were parts that seemed to go on forever, with no real additional impact, in my opinion.  The characters were OK, but I felt no real investment in Sigrid.  She changed in the course of the story, and I think she started to understand herself and her place in the world better, but she just didn't really appeal to me.

I can't say that the second this is published, you should run out, buy a copy, and read it.  But as I said, it is, for the most part, a good enough read.

An Irish Country Wedding, by Patrick Taylor.  Admittedly, I was primed to like this book - I've truly enjoyed the other books in this series, so when I had a chance to read an Advance Readers' Edition, I jumped at it.  I was not disappointed.

The main event in this installment is the wedding and plans for Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly and his first love, Kitty O'Halloran.   Besides all of the wedding plans, the various inhabitants of Ballybucklebo are, as usual, having their own problems, successes, and life events that Drs. O'Reilly and Laverty have to deal with.  First among them is the sudden illness of their housekeeper, Kinky Kincaid.  

As usual, the stories all blend together seemlessly, and the characters are consistent - meaning that if you have read any of the previous books, you will feel like you are visiting with some old friends.  For the first time, though, Patrick Taylor has referenced the fighting and civil rights issues that have been part of Ireland's history for so long.  Dr. Barry Laverty begins dating the local schooteacher Sue Nolan, who is active in the movement to give Catholic residents equal rights in Northern Ireland.   It becomes a bit of a conflict for the two of them, as she does not understand Barry's unwillingness to "take sides."  I will admit to being intrigued to find out if their relationship develops more in later stories, and how they deal with it.

I did realize while reading this that I missed the book right before this one, so I'll be poking around to find that one and read it.  I don't want to miss anything that happened in Ballybucklebo!

Out of the Deep I Cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  This is one of my favorite mystery series, and this book did not disappoint.  In this installment, Reverend Clare Fergusson is faced with expensive repairs to her church, and makes arrangements with one of the parishioners to use money usually used for a free clinic to make the repairs.  The doctor at the free clinic is very upset, not just about this issue, but because he is being harrassed by a local woman who claims that the vaccination the he gave to her son led to the son's autism.

But then the doctor is missing, and the last person to see him alive was the woman picketing his clinic.  Add to that a long-ago family mystery that is tangentially related, and you have a story with a lot going on that move pretty quickly between the past and the present.  Clare and the local police chief, Russ Van Alstyne work together once again to see what happened.  Their attraction to each other reaches a turning point in this story.

I'm not going to say more, because I think if you are reading this series, you'll find what happens between them pretty interesting.

One of the things I like best about Clare Fergusson is that she is a priest, who is more than human.  She fights with the same kinds of feelings, doubts, and problems that most of us do.  Though I am not an overly religious person, I do consider myself to be a spiritual person, and Clare's real-ness makes me like this series more than many others.

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman.  I may be the only person in the world who, until I read this book, had not read anything by Alice Hoffman.  When I saw this available as a Nook Book, I figured I'd try it, since I knew people who had seen the movie made of it and really enjoyed it.

It's the story of Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters raised by their aunts after the parents were killed in a fire.  The aunts house, their activities, and everything about the family has always been the subject of much conjecture in the Massachusetts town where they live.  The sisters are outsiders to practically every person in the town, and as soon as they become adults, they begin living their lives not just in independent ways, but independently of their aunts.

Over the years, Sally has built a reputation for herself in a town on Long Island, where she moved with her young daughters after her husband was run over by a car of teenagers.  Gillian had left long before, and was never in one place for very long, or with one partner for any great length of time.  One night she shows up on Sally's front porch, with her latest boyfriend in the car, and she is fearful his death is her fault.  She and Sally bury the body under the lilac tree in Sally's back yard, and consider that the end of it.  

Time goes by, and life seems to change pretty drastically for Sally, her daughters, and Gillian, who now lives with them.  When a law enforcement agent comes to town looking for Gillian's boyfriend's disappearance, things really start to take a turn for the worse.  Finally, Sally and Gillian call on the aunts for help.

This is of course, a very stripped-down version of the story.  I enjoyed it overall, though I found the writing style a little bit difficult to hold on to some of the time.  The characters were interesting, if somewhat frustrating, and I would have enjoyed finding out more about the aunts, rather than suddenly knowing about them at the end of the book.

At the moment, I can't offer any of these books for those who might be interested.  Some were library books, some I read on my Nook, and the couple that were my own copies have been borrowed.  But I may have some books that include these to offer down the road, so I'll keep you posted.

"To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company"
 -- Andre Gide


SissySees said...

I love your book reviews. While several of them sound great, Gretchen is insisting we first meet Bernie & Chet.

Carrie#K said...

I've really loved Alice Hoffman for years but I have to be in the mood for her.

Thursday Next books! Perfect! I think I've just read the first one.

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