10 October 2015

Book Report - Third Quarter 2015

Well, it appears that quarterly is the plan for 2015.  That's fine, since it's not a contest, and I'm not getting a grade.  I'm just surprised that's how it is turning out this year.

Oh well, here you go.  These are my thoughts on what I've read during July, August, and September.

Worn Stories, by Emily Spivak.  I wanted to read this book and I really wanted to like it.

But I don't know if it just isn't that well put together, or if I just wasn't in the mood for it.  But I started it, and had absolutely no desire to finish it, so back to the library it went.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Flying Shoes, by Lisa Howorth.  This book introduces Mary Byrd Thornton, a married woman with two children, living in Mississippi in the late 1990s.  One day she receives a phone call from a reporter in Richmond, asking her about the case of her younger brother who was kidnapped and killed on Mother's Day in 1966.  This takes Mary Byrd back to the time, place, and family in Virginia where she grew up, and where this happened. She has always had a certain degree of guilt about her younger brother's death, and it has colored her personality and life for nearly as long as she can remember.  There is a detective who is working on cold cases, and wants to update the family on details.

I found this part of the book really interesting, and thought the author did a good job of evoking people, places, and emotions about this time.  (I later found out that the author's younger brother was also kidnapped and murdered, and it has never been solved.)  An event like this changes every person in a family in some way, and also changes a community, particularly at a time when people were not necessarily as aware of child predators as they are now.

I can't say that I really liked Mary Byrd.  She was interesting, but not that appealing to me.  I liked the book overall, and kept reading to the end, but found it odd and frankly frustrating when chapters would be about tangential characters.  I guess it was supposed to lend flavor of time and place to the story, but I think they could have been left out, or at least shortened, and the main story would have held up just fine.

The Budapest House, by Marcus Ferrar.  Well crap.  I was really looking forward to reading this.  But 40-some pages in, I'm giving up.

The story has potential - the story of Hungary after the first world war and beyond, and the story of one family.  I know I would enjoy reading this story if it were written by someone else.  But the author's style is just so painful for me to read, I'm moving on to something else.  I realize that others may enjoy the way he tells the story, but it's just working for me.

The Surgeon, by Tess Gerritsen.  This is the first in the Rizzoli and Isles series, and when I saw that it was available, I thought I'd give it a try.  I have never seen the TV version of these stories, but I do know that Angie Harmon plays Jane Rizzoli.  Which was a surprise, since Rizzoli is described as plain, short, with black curly hair, and not that attractive.  Then again, TV does tend to change things ...

Anyway, in this particular story, Rizzoli and her partner Thomas Moore are working on a case that eerily duplicates a serial killer's practices from a few years before.  The thing is, that serial killer's last victim not only survived, but managed to shoot the killer to death.  She now lives in Boston, and Rizzoli and Moore bring her in to help them.  But it turns out that the current killer seems to know a lot of details about what happened, and begins to follow certain rituals that make the former victim, a doctor at a Boston hospital, think that she is in danger.

I don't want to give out any spoilers, so that is as much as I'll say.  I enjoyed this book, it was nicely paced and the mystery kept me reading.  There were actually a couple of times when I was creeped out enough to put it down during the evening and wait until daylight to pick it up again.

In this book, the Isles character is not present, but I found Rizzoli to be smart, willful, and determined.  I can see myself reading at least one more in this series to see how it goes.

Homicide in Hardcover, by Kate Carlisle.  I don't remember how I came across this, but it was on my Nook, and I was in the mood for a mystery.  This book introduces Brooklyn Wainwright, a San Francisco rare books conservator.  She attends a reception for an upcoming exhibit where her mentor is the person doing the conservation. Unfortunately, shortly after they have a warm reunion, he is found murdered in his workshop.  At first, Brooklyn is a suspect, but later is asked to complete the work her mentor had begun.

Things get creepy fast, as another rare book conservator is also murdered, and Brooklyn's apartment and her late mentor's workshops are both broken into and ransacked.  She is racing against time to catch the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

I enjoyed this book.  I liked the San Francisco setting, and I found the main character and her family amusing.  I liked that she grew up in a kind of commune, and that her parents were Deadheads (big time!).  And the rare book nerd in me REALLY enjoyed the book parts.  I would have enjoyed it for that part alone.

I'll definitely check out another one in this series.

I Shall Not Want, by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  I have read this series from the first book, and have really been enjoying it.  I am now afraid though, that it might veer away from what makes it so interesting.  But that's still to be seen.

Anyway, the main plot in this installment is trying to figure out who has killed migrant workers who have been hired to help on various farms in Millers Kill, NY, where the Reverend Clare Fergusson is the pastor at St. Albans Church, and where Russ Van Alstyne is the captain of the police force.  Throughout the series, Clare and Russ have found themselves working together to solve crimes in the town, with each of them bringing something to the process.  In the previous book, Russ was at a crime scene involving Clare when his wife was killed.  As this book opens, he has been staying away from her, since he feels guilty and conflicted about his wife's death.  For her part, Clare is also staying away, trying to sort out her feelings for the police captain.  She has also since joined the National Guard, and is active in training.  But when a van with a group of migrant workers is shot at and crashes, she finds herself involved, and since Russ is also investigating they are thrown together.

This was a good mystery, in that I had a hard time figuring out what might be going on.  The ending was not a complete surprise, but was much more involved than those in the previous books in the series.

The Clare/Russ story though, could be going downhill for me.  In this book, they finally do resolve their guilt, and confess their love for each other, yadda yadda yadda.  As the book ends, Clare has been called up to active duty in Iraq, and Russ sees her off, both of them wondering what will be next.

When they were not a couple, I found them much more interesting.  They had the kind of conflicts that people who work closely together and are maybe attracted to one another might have.  It made their working together pretty interesting.  Now I fear that they will inevitably get married, probably have a baby, and the dynamics of the stories will change and become predictable.  I'm not saying that I know that has happened, but I'm almost reluctant to read the next one because of this.  I will read it though, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble : Some Things About Women and Notes on Media, by Nora Ephron.  OK, admittedly, I didn't read every piece in the book.  Those I did read were well-written, as you would expect from Nora Ephron.  However, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I was hoping to, mainly because it was a collection of her more "serious" essays, and many were really dated (for example, a lot of Watergate stuff).  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't annoyed that they were not more recent, and she got in some funny comments and good digs at some of the people we all loved to hate back then.  But I was thinking this would be more of her humorous essays.

So, three stars for good writing.

A Misalliance, by Anita Brookner.  This was a very interesting read, and funny in parts.  It follows Blanche, a woman of a certain age whose husband Bertie has left her for a younger woman who works with computers and is called Mousie.  Blanche tries very hard to keep herself from becoming a recluse, and follows a certain routine every day so that she won't give up on things.  She spends a lot of time wondering why things went wrong, when she tried so hard to be a good wife, and not embarrass or annoy her husband.

When she gets involved Sally Beamish, a young woman with a stepdaughter named Elinor, she begins to feel that she can make a difference in their lives.  Eventually, it becomes clear that Sally is making no effort to improve her life, but rather counting on Blanche and other friends to do everything boring and uninteresting, so that she can enjoy the fun things in life.

Towards the end of the book, Blanche has had enough, and finally decides to break away, and also to start living the rest of her life.  But a big event happens at the end, so we never learn if she becomes the new woman she wants to be, or goes back to her old life.

This is the second Anita Brookner book I've read, and it was well-written with interesting but quirky characters (quirky in a good way!).

Help Thanks Wow : The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne Lamott.  You know me and my "seasonal" reading, right?  Well, I decided to read this one now since the Pope was coming to Philadelphia ...

This is one of those wonderful books that I can see myself picking up many more times to read through, either the whole thing, or just pieces of it.  You can easily read the whole thing straight through in a couple of hours, but I always like to take my time with Anne Lamott.

She posits in this book that in any given day, we all say three prayers:  Help (from big things to little things), Thanks (again, for all of it), and Wow (even when we don't realize we are praying).  She gives various examples, but in the usual Anne Lamott way, makes spirituality, religion, and belief in God a serious topic but also entertaining and very thoughtful.

It never hurts to be reminded that we just may not be the ultimate center of the universe.

Dying in the Wool, by Frances Brody.  I don't remember how/why I had this book, but it turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable read.

It takes place after World War I in England, and the main character Kate Shackleton, has been helping wives, girlfriends, and mothers track down missing soldiers, with contacts she has through her adoptive father in the police force, as well as through contacts she made as a nurse volunteer during the war.  Her own husband, Gerald, is presumed dead by most, but Kate still thinks of him as "missing."

She gets a phone call from an acquaintance from her volunteer service, asking for her help in locating the girl's father, a wealthy mill owner who disappeared.  The girl, Tabitha, is getting married, and would like her father to walk her down the aisle.  His disappearance has a lot of mystery surrounding it, and Tabitha has heard about Kate's luck finding missing persons.

I liked learning about mill work and the manufacture of wool, particularly during this time period.  Kate is an interesting and well-written person, and the mystery had enough twists and turns to keep me interested.  So I will likely read the next in the series at some point, to see if it continues as something I want to keep reading.

Nine Lives to Die, by Rita Mae Brown.  First of all, you should know that I am a sucker for these books, so I am already inclined to like them even before I open them.

In this installment, Harry and her animal friends are busy getting ready for Christmas, when two prominent businessmen in their town die suddenly.  Was it because of the heavy snow?  If so, why did each body have two fingers missing, and the same fingers at that?

And as far as the animals are concerned, where did the skeleton in the woods come from?  Why is it missing part of an arm?

These two things intersect in an interesting story.  As always, the "conversations" among the animals are my favorite parts.  I do wish I'd read this during Christmastime, but since it was loaned to me by a friend, I didn't want to keep it that long!

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters.  This was a really interesting book.  It focuses on a few characters, and starts in 1947, then goes back to 1944, and finally to 1941.  By the end of the book, you have learned the back stories of each character, and how they intertwine, directly or indirectly.

But what I think this does best of all is evoke London during those years.  The thinking, the people, and the hardships they dealt with as a result of World War II. Though I can't really say I got attached to any character in particular, they were all well-drawn and seemed real.  I could picture the places and the atmosphere in my head, and you felt the danger, happiness, and the everyday-ness of their lives.

Have you read any of these?  If so, what did you think?  Or, what have you read lately that you can recommend?  Let me know!


Mereknits said...

You have several on your list that are on my to-read list. I just finished listening to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Buckman. I loved it. At first I was not sure what the fuss was about, but after a bit I was hooked. I laughed and I cried especially at the end while driving my car, I would not suggest that.

Araignee said...

I'm heading over to Audible now to see if I can find some of these. Great reviews!

Caffeine Girl said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one putting down books these days! I know that if you don't like a book, I won't either.