I know I've been MIA, but before more of October passes, I wanted to let you know what I had read during the past few months and what I thought about them. So before any more time passes, here you go. Maybe you'll come across something that will be just right to start reading this weekend!
Force of Nature, by Jane Harper. This was really interesting. A company team-building retreat [Editorial note: UGH] sends two teams of five (men vs women) on a trek into the Australian bush. The company that runs these "adventures " has set up camps along the way with shelter, food etc.
The men return first; when the women finally return, one is missing. This is where Adam Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper enter the investigation. The missing woman, Alice Russell, was helping them with a money-laundering case against the company. She had most recently been tasked with getting contracts.
So, all the while they are trying to find Alice, they also want to know - did oneofthe others find out and kill her? All anyone will say is that once the group got completely lost and off the trail, Alice left at some point on her own to find help.
As time goes on, we learn about each character and their secrets. And for once in a book like this, it wasn't a love triangle at play.
Cappuccinos, Cupcakes, and a Corpse, by Harper Lin. This was a fun, quick read, which is an excellent combination for a summertime read when you have Covid.
Francesca Amaro has returned to her hometown of Cape Bay,* Massachusetts. She had been living in New York City, was engaged to be married, and things started falling apart. Her fiance dumped her, and her mother died unexpectedly. So she is now living in her childhood home, which originally belonged to her grandparents, and keeping things going at the coffee shop started by them, and kept going by her mother.
One evening, while taking a shortcut to get home, she sees an elderly neighbor sitting on his back porch and when she greets him, he doesn't respond. Closer inspection shows that he is dead, and the autopsy showed he had been poisoned with cyanide. Being a childhood friend of the neighbor's son, Francesca decides to see what she can find out, so that Matt (the son) can have some closure.
It's an enjoyable read about life in a small, coastal town, where the locals mostly all know each other, as well as each other's business. Many of Francesca's friends from childhood are still there, and she keeps coming across them in their various roles.
Not great literature, but a fun summer read.
*It makes no sense for a town to be named "Cape Bay."
The Uninvited Corpse, by Debra Sonnefelder. Another enjoyable enough read while dealing with Covid. I gave it three stars because the title entertained me, and there are some good recipes at the end. Also, the killer reveal was not someone I'd suspected.
Hope Early has returned to her childhood home after a divorce and disastrous time as a reality show contestant. She's bought an old house to fix up, some chickens to raise, and is becoming a well-known food blogger. When her best friend hosts a book signing party and a local real estate agent is found murdered, things head south fast. Hope's sister Claire, another real estate agent, becomes the main suspect, and is eventually arrested. So it's up to Hope to figure out what really happened.
Not great, not awful.
The London House, by Katherine Reay. This is a very interesting book, but it requires attention while reading it to keep track of things.
Caroline Payne is at work one day when she gets a call from an old college friend, Mat. He is doing some geneaological research for a family to supplement his academic income, and has come across something that he thinks would make a good article for The Atlantic - which then could help his academic career. But one of the people involved may be a relative of Caroline - a great-aunt actually, for whom she was named.
Caroline thinks that it is not possible, since she was always told that the other Caroline died as a child. She was the twin sister of her grandmother. But Mat says that he thinks she is mistaken, because he has located information saying that she lived to adulthood, got a job in Paris at the House of Schiaparelli, and went to work for the Nazis!
Needless to say, this would be disturbing news for anyone, but Caroline has a dim memory of finding some letters as a child when they were visiting the family home - London House. Her questions about the letters seemed to make everyone uncomfortable, and were never mentioned again. She decides to return to the London House, where her own mother is now living, to see if the letters still exist and what she can learn about them.
It's a daunting project, and she invites Mat to come and assist her. What they find is a complex story, involving espionage, the Nazis, the British government, and a series of events and secrets that none of the family ever knew about. Though the long-ago Caroline is not someone the current family has ever met in person, they come to realize how her existence and her story have had a long-lasting effect on all of them.
Switching back and forth between current day and the years leading up to and including World War II, this is a really interesting stories, with some unexpected twists and turns that make you want to keep reading.
A Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths. When Ruth Galloway hears of a college friend's death in a house fire, she starts to remember how close a group of friends were while studying archaelogy in college. The next day, she receives a letter from the dead friend, Dan, telling her that he had made what could be an amazing discovery while on a dig for his university in northern England. But he mentions that he is really afraid, and wonders if she could come for a visit to look at the bones. All kinds of red flags come up, and when the head of the history dept at the university where Dan was asks her to come and look at the bones, she decides she owes it to her friend.
So she loads up her daughter Kate and her friend Cathbad and they head north, partly for work purposes, partly for a holiday. When Ruth arrives and meets the head of the history dept, something just seems off. But she carries on, and it turns out that Dan may have uncovered the bones of King Arthur. There is a twist though, because the bones were taken for security to a lab, and when Ruth examines them, she finds that the jawbones are from two different people. So what happened since the bones arrived?
She also learns of a group called the White Hand, which claim to be devoted to King Arthur, but are in fact more or less a white supremacy group. They learned somehow of Dan's finding, and have theatened him - but why?
Meanwhile, Ruth's friend and the father of her baby, Harry Nelson is in the same area with his wife on a holiday. As more and more threatening messages arrive for Ruth, and strange things happen surrounding the located bones, he convinces an old friend to investigate. And when Nelson and Cathbad visit another druid friend of Cathbad, things seem off with him as well.
A lot happens in this book, but it is well laid out and stays interesting. The whole part about King Arthur was interesting to me, and Ruth and Cathbad and their friendship makes it enjoyable as well. I thought this book had a lot more going for it than one or two previous ones in the series.
Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. This is a beautiful and incredibly poignant book. It takes place in1985 Ireland in the time leading up to Christmas. William Furlong, who delivers coal to homes and businesses in his town, makes a surprising discovery during one of his deliveries. He is a family man, with a wife and five daughters, and has had some small amount of good fortune in his life.
As he goes about his business after making his discovery, he begins to question what is really good in the world, and his place in it. He makes a decision on his way home on Christmas Eve that has the potential to create huge changes.
Read this book.
One by One, by Ruth Ware. This was a really good read.
A group of employees from a tech-start up company go on a team-building retreat to a ski chalet in the mountains. It's supposed to be a weekend when they build collaboration, but there are also a couple of people who want to discuss a possible buyout.
But it's a lovely setting, and the two people who work at the chalet have everything ready and waiting for the perfect weekend. But when one person doesn't return from a ski outing the first morning they are there, and then an avalanche traps them all there and unable to reach the outside world, things start to look grim. Another employee is discovered dead in his room, likely poisoned by something put into his coffee, with his computer completely smashed up. People start to panic, and when another employee is killed by being smothered to death, it's clear that one of the people left in the chalet is the killer. But who is it, and why?
This was a good read, particularly during a heat wave. It was interesting enough to keep you wanting to go forward, and well-enough written that your own suspicions keep moving from one person to another. And since they are surrounded by snow and cold, freezing temperatures, it reminds you that life is not always lived in devastating heat.
Boiled Over, by Barbara Ross. This was an enjoyable read. Julia Snowden is still in her hometown of Busman's Harbor, Maine, trying to save her family's summertime business. It's Founder's Weekend, and her brother-in-law has built something he calls The Claminator, which will make genuine Maine clambake food for a large crowd. But when they open it to add the food, a charred foot falls out!
Julia also notices that the young man she just hired for the summer runs away when the incident occurs. She feels certain he is innocent, but realizes that she knows little about him.
Between trying to prove the young man's innocence, and trying to find out what actually happened and why, she has her hands more than full. But the guy she has been dating - who she had a huge crush on as a girl - wants to take their relationship to another level. So why does she hesitate?
There were a lot of tests in this book, but it was a good story that kept me engaged.
The Odor of Violets : A Duncan Maclain Mystery, by Baynard Kendrick. I so enjoyed this book! It is apparently one of a series written by the author, and considered to be his best. I'm so glad it was reissued.
Captain Duncan Maclain, blinded in World War I, has learned how to hone and refine his other senses so well, that he has become a well-known and well-regarded private investigator in New York City in the early days of World War II. Having worked in intelligence during his service, he takes the things he learned there and applies them to his current work. He has two dogs - one, a Seeing Eye Dog named Schnuke, and another one, also a German Shepherd, named Dreist. They are extremely helpful to him.
In this book, there seem to be several things happening at once, but as it turns out, they are all interconnected. First, a popular actor is found murdered in his apartment - which is weird, because he had supposedly just visited Maclain at his apartment to drop off some important papers for work he is currently doing for the government, against the Nazis. Also, a prominent family fears their daughter has been kidnapped - a daughter who had been seeing the murdered actor romantically, and the actor had been previously married to the girl's stepmother. A son in the prominent family is working on a top secret design to help fight the war, and fears of espionage are high. Duncan Maclain is asked to help with all of this, and reading the ways in which he works and resolves things is just fascinating. The ending is just as complex as the whole story!
This book has so many things I like: 1) dogs, especially Seeing Eye Dogs; 2) New York during this time period, and the descriptions of places and people; 3) Maclain's partner has a great nickname for the time period - Spud; 4) when - due to problems in the investigation - Spud ends up in the hospital, Maclain visits along with Spud's wife Rena, and they all have a drink and a smoke in the hospital room. These are just some of the things that make these stories highly amusing to me, and allow me to picture the characters and places, having been a fan of old movies since childhood.
I recommend this book if you love reading stories from the Golden Age of Mysteries.
What The Cat Dragged In, by Miranda James. Charlie Harris and Diesel are at it again.
When Charlie Harris learns that he has inherited his grandfather's farmhouse out in the country, he's really shocked. He has a few memories of visiting and staying there as a child, but once his grandfather died, he never gave it another thought. It turns out that his grandfather had made an arrangement with one of his tenant farmers that the house and farm would belong to him until his death, but then would revert to the grandfather's heirs (aka Charlie).
When Charlie and Diesel go to see the house and get an idea of its condition, Diesel finds a human skeleton in the attic; if that's not bad enough, a young man shows up who us the late tenant's grandson, claiming the farmhouse belongs rightfully to his family ... and then he turns up dead, shot in the back.
A really interesting, complicated story follows, which is really creepy in parts. But as I have said every time I read one of these books, the fact that Charlie is a cataloging librarian and archivist and always takes his cat to work makes me love this series.
Plain Bad Heroines, by Emily M. Danforth. This was an excellent read. Sometimes creepy, gothic, weird, but also funny and touching.
It starts in 1902, at the Brookhants School for girls in Rhode Island. Two students there, Clara and Flo, become enamored - or is it obsessed - with a memoir/diary written by Mary MacLane. They form a group of like-minded students called the Plain Bad Heroines.
The book is also about 20--, when a book about the girls and the school written by a very young writer Merritt Emmons, is going to be made into a movie starring the latest "it" girl, Harper Harper. The director, Bo Dhillon, is known for his horror movies, and anticipation is high.
The story goes back and forth between times, giving us the chance to see why in the present time when the movie is being made, certain occurrences convince people more than ever that Brookhants is haunted.
I don't really want to say a whole lot about the book, because I don't want to ruin the fun of reading it for those who give it a try. Yes, it discusses lesbian relationships but not in a sensational fashion - certainly not as they were viewed in 1902, if they were even known about at all. And the undercurrent of gothic creepiness, mainly involving yellow jackets, keeps the story moving easily between eras.
I recommend this book.
Crime in the Cafe, by Fiona Grace. When a new B&B is getting ready to open, the owner asks Lacey to help her decorate the place Victorian style, like an old shooting lodge. Lacey has the perfect piece - an antique flintlock rifle sent to her by a friend.
But when the gun is used to murder the mayor at the opening of the B&B, Lacey has her hands full figuring out what really happened.
Enjoyable enough, but not amazing. I liked the first two in the series more. And the title has nothing to do with the story.
Bookmarked for Death, by Lorna Barrett. This is the second book in this series, and it was much more interesting than I was expecting it to be, which is a good thing. I was reading it as somewhat of a palate cleanser, but got more involved because the story was pretty decent.
Tricia Miles is doing quite well with her mystery bookstore, Haven't Got A Clue, in the downtown bookstore area of Stoneham, New Hampshire. As the book begins, her store is hosting a book signing by a local author who is a New York Times bestselling author. However, when the author ends up strangled and tied up dead in the bookstore's restroom after the signing, things start to go downhill.
First of all, the local sheriff is displeased because she already doesn't like Tricia, and this is the second murder that she has been "adjacent" to; secondly, since the bookstore is a crime scene, it has to be closed and sealed until the forensics team is finished there. That's bad enough, but it also means that Tricia has to stay next door with her sister Angelica and Tricia and her staff have to help out in The Cookery, Angelica's cookbook store. Angelica had trouble keeping staff, and they all soon find out why.
As Tricia digs around a bit, she learns things about the murder victim that don't add up - and since the sheriff seems to be dragging her feet, Tricia starts to try and figure things out herself. When other troublesome incidents happen, things get pretty tense in the town.
There are a few red herrings in this book, which makes it fun to read, but it's also an interesting plot that goes a couple of different ways before you reach the end.
Educated, by Tara Westover. This book was really disturbing to me.
Tara Westover grew up in a family of survivalists living mostly off the grid in Idaho, Mormons who were zealots about religion, particularly her father. Her mother was an herbalist and for a while, a midwife. The author grew up helping around the home, and working for her father in the family's junkyard. The junkyard is the scene of several harrowing events, including one involving Tara herself.
When her older brother decides to go to college, their parents are in an uproar. The father sees education as indoctrination into socialist values, Big Government control, and the path to their lives being threatened. But as Tara observes her brother, communicates with him, and listens to what his life is, she decides that maybe she could also go to college. With the help of her brother and some friends, she eventually enrolls in Brigham Young University, much to the dismay of her parents.
The person she is at the beginning of her college career is so damaged by years of abuse by her "prophetic" father and submissive mother, that she has a hard time adjusting to different kinds of people, and that becomes a theme throughout her academic life, clear through to her obtaining a Ph.D. Her choice boils down to keeping her family, or keeping her education. She has so much conflict and so much guilt, there are times when it seriously nearly kills her.
Coming from a poor childhood where education was seen as the ultimate goal in life, a lot of the things that happened in this book were both unbelievable and also appalling to me. My parents were religious (we were not Mormons), but in no way fanatical about religion. They wanted us to grow up to be citizens of the world, to take advantage of any opportunity presented to us. Completely opposite to Tara Westover's upbringing.
I'm glad I finally had the chance to read this book. But it makes me wonder how many other children grow up in this kind of environment, and never have the chance to leave. And how many do leave, but are faced with complete estrangement as a result.
This is not a book for the faint of heart.
Olga Dies Dreaming, Xochitil Gonzalez. Olga and her brother Prieto grew up in Brooklyn, far before it was fashionable. Their mother left when they were young, to continue life as a revolutionary, fighting in particular for freedom for Puerto Rico and its inhabitants. Their father died of AIDS, and for most of their lives, they were cared for by their grandmother.
As the book begins, Olga is a huge success with a party/wedding planning business, and Prieto is a congressman in DC. Their lives are successful to anyone looking from the outside, but even though they never see her or talk to her, their mother sends them letters quite frequently. But not the kind of letters telling them how much she loves them, etc. - rather she wants them to change their lives and fight for the cause, and feels they are both sellouts.
Leading up to Hurricane Maria and its destruction of Puerto Rico, Olga and Prieto's lives are undergoing big changes. Olga might finally actually be in love. Prieto is getting ready to tell his 12-year old daughter as well as his constituents a huge secret so that he can live his life without being concerned that he will be exposed as a corrupt politician.
I really enjoyed this book. Olga and Prieto, as well as many of the other characters, are interesting and real, and their lives seem to go in many directions at one time. It was a fascinating look into Puerto Ricans in the U.S. and their lives and the challenges they face. It was a lesson in Puerto Rican history as well. Granted, I was inclined to find it interesting because Puerto Rico is one of my favorite places on earth. But learning about its history and its people - even just a bit more - was not just interesting, but eye-opening.
I will admit to being a tiny bit disappointed in the way this book ends, but that happens to me a lot. I just often get the feeling that the author said everything they had to say and then realize they need an ending, so one just gets added. But I will say this one at least kept the characters true to themselves throughout the book.
I really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.
An Appetite for Murder, by Lucy Burdette. I had read a couple of later books in this series, so thought I'd start at the beginning and see if I wanted to fill in.
Hayley Snow moved from her parents' home in New Jersey to Key West when she fell hard for a guy she met Ina bookstore. But nine weeks after she moved in with him, she arrived home to find him in bed with another woman, who turned out to be his previous girlfriend. So Hayley moved onto a houseboat owned by a college friend, and started looking for a job.
When shelearns that a new local, food magazine is getting started, she submits some reviews and learns she is in the running to be hired, and that would be her dream job. Then, one of the new owners of the magazine is poisoned to death, which is bad enough, but its the same woman that Hayley walked in on with her boyfriend! And now the police seem to think that Hayley is a prime suspect!
This was a fun read, and enjoyed getting the sense of what island life is like in Key West.
Dark Tide : The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, by Stephen Puleo. I can't believe that I never heard of this event, even in passing. It seems like such a story would be something at least referred to in listings of major events in history, but at least of the ones I've come across, it has never been mentioned.
It's a tale of corporate greed, especially during the era when Big Business was catered to - the belief being that Big Business would save us all. But at least in this case, a business was too busy getting a tank built to hold molasses to worry about any of the necessary things - was it built properly? Were the walls strong enough to hold? What about the leaks that were visible on the outside?
Instead, the people in the neighborhood around it - mostly Irish and Italian immigrants - who were generally poor, doing the jobs no one else wanted to do, etc., suffered the most. When the tank failed, and molasses POURED out of it, those were the ones whose lives were affected the most. As well as police, firefighters, and eventually the doctors and nurses who tried to treat the victims.
Determining who was responsible took years, and only then did we hear some of the stories of suffering and loss.
This book covers it all - including the stories of those involved at the corporate level, the people involved in the trial years later, and the threat faced by anarchists at work during this time. As a matter of fact, the anarchist movement provides the perfect excuse for the company who owned the molasses tank to explain away any problems or issues.
This book is very well-written and researched, and makes you feel for the people involved, while sharing the detailed story of a great tragedy.
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney. This book is based on actual characters and real events from the First World War. Charles Whittlesey is a lawyer on Wall Street, living his life and hiding his true sexual orientation; Cher Ami is an English born and trained homing pigeon. They are brought together during the Battle of the Lost Battalion in France during the war, and both declared war heroes much to their dismay afterwards.
The chapters take turns being narrated by them, and show different ways they observed the world. It's a lovely but heartbreaking story, and gives the true sense of how war damages everything, even years beyond its end.
I highly recommend this poignant story, made even more so since it all actually happened. And now I truly want to visit Cher Ami in her glass case at the American Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian.
The Outcast Dead, by Elly Griffiths. This was a good entry in the series.
Ruth Galloway has unearthed what she believes are the bones of a notorious child killer from Victorian times near the Norwich Castle. "Mother Hook" supposedly killed many children who had been in her care - there are even children's nursery rhymes built around her reputation. When an American TV show called "Women Who Murder" wants to film there, Ruth becomes a somewhat unwilling part of the production along with an American historian named Frank, who she begins to feel close to.
Meanwhile, DCI Nelson and his staff are investigation the deaths of three children in one family - are the parents involved in their deaths, or is it all just a tragic coincidence. Then, a child is abducted by someone identifying themselves as "The Childminder" and though that child is
returned home unharmed, things go into major gear when the child of one of Nelson's team (Judy, another officer) is abducted by the same character.
As Ruth and Frank learn more about Mother Hook, it seems that she may be innocent. But Ruth is still creeped out by the whole idea of children being abducted, and when Judy's son is taken by the childminder, it all becomes too real.
This was a really interesting story, and as a side part, Ruth gets a visit from her brother and his sons, who stay with her and her young daughter Kate for a week. The two siblings have not spent much time together as adults, and it looks like they may become closer.
After This, by Alice McDermott. I usually really love Alice McDermott's books, but try as I might, this was just not one that grabbed me in any way, shape, or form. I'm not sure if it wasn't good, or if I wasn't in the mood to read the story, but I borrowed it from the library one day, and returned it the next.
What Happened to the Bennetts, by Lisa Scottoline. I generally enjoy Lisa Scottoline's books, and this one was no exception. For one thing, most of them take place in/near Philadelphia, so I am always able to visualize the general locations. Also, they are very readable. Some parts may seem improbable (most people are not involved in such elaborate situations in their daily lives, I'm guessing), but the characters are always at least relatable in some way, and you want to see how they resolve any given situation.
In this book, a carjacking on the way home from a high school soccer game leaves the Bennett family living in grief and fear. Their teenage daughter Alison was killed during the carjacking, and now the FBI has told them their lives are in danger, because the carjackers were part of a large organized crime group. They are forced to enter the Witness Protection Program, and are unable to even attend their daughter's funeral.
The story gets more and more complicated as Jason Bennett, the husband/dad tries to find more answers. There is of course the organized crime aspect, but also what their friends and neighbors are saying about the whole family's disappearance. Add to that two big betrayals and the feeling that their world is crumbling, and the Bennett family is forced to deal with much more than anyone should have to experience.
Another very readable story from this author.
I hope you have found some good things to read recently. Most people I know are busy traveling to Rhinebeck today, and I hope they have a good trip and a wonderful time. I plan to just stay put and take it easy - maybe a new book will find it's way to me!
Enjoy your weekend!