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Tag Archives: Book Review
Set in the Sandhills of Nebraska, this mystery centers around a children’s home for troubled youths and a psychologist who is trying to start a new life. Isolated and far off the beaten path, Hatchery House, is a treatment facility for orphaned children with psychiatric disorders. Lore Webber has left a job with the FBI in Omaha and moved out west to start over, but when one of her patients at Hatchery House is found murdered her old life and her new life will collide. This closed-door murder thriller will have readers guessing until the very end. The inherent remoteness of the setting has limited the suspect pool, and no one wants to think the people they live with are capable of murder. The beautifully written descriptions of the setting honor the unique beauty and seclusion of the Sandhills. Too many people who comment on the Nebraska landscape have only ever driven through on I80, it was good to read a book that looked deeper. The characters are complex and well-written, with interesting backstories that unfold throughout the story as you work alongside Lore to solve the crime. Thoroughly well-researched and compelling, this is Montag’s second novel, her first “After the Flood” was published in 2019, and is also a favorite read of mine. I would highly recommend both.
Montag, Kassandra. Those Who Return. Quercus. 2022.
I’ve been rereading the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith, in anticipation of the next book in the series. This is a tradition I have with this series and others, I love revisiting my favorite books. Right now I’m on the 5th book, “Troubled Blood.” I love the multidimensional characters that are both lovable but flawed, making them come to life for me. The combination of the personal lives and stories of the main characters and the professional pursuit of solving one major mystery in each book will keep readers invested in the story as the series continues. In Troubled Blood, the Strike Detective Agency is hired to look into a missing person’s case from 1974, and a trail that went cold decades ago. Without a body to even prove death or foul play, the possibilities of what happened to Margot Bamborough are seemingly endless. The search through old police files and the troubled mind of the original detective on the case will make their search for the truth even more difficult. This book and series are perfect for readers who love mysteries and procedural dramas. I highly recommend starting at the beginning with “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” for the full story.
Galbraith, Robert. Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike Novel. Mulholland Books. 2020.
Beautifully written, with poetic prose, this novel is haunting in its storytelling. Set in a world where even the most common animals are on the verge of extinction, the skies are empty of birds, and the seas have been fished to nothing. Franny Stone has been tied to the ocean for as long as she can remember, her wandering spirit has always led her back to its cold embrace. Once again, she’s left everything behind, this time for a research trip. She’ll try and follow the only remaining flock of Arctic terns across the Atlantic, on what might be their last migration. Franny will have to convince a Captain and his eclectic crew to take her on this journey, with the lure of following the terns to herring. A desperate last-ditch effort to find fish in the sea. Told from Franny’s point of view, the story flashes back and forth from the present expedition to her past, explaining how her life has ended up here. Ornithology and natural sciences take a front seat in this story that is at times, both uplifting and heartbreaking. The perfect read for fans of strong and unique female main characters. “Migrations” is Australian author, Charlotte McConaghy’s, first foray into adult fiction. Her second novel “Once There Were Wolves,” published in August 2021, is next on my to-read list.
McConaghy, Charlotte. Migrations: A Novel. Flatiron Books. 2020.
The Maisie Dobbs mystery series begins in 1929 with Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator, opening her own detective agency. With 16 books to date in the series, the 17th is set to be out this March, Winspear has been writing this character for over 18 years. The heroine, Maisie Dobbs, is a physiological detective solving all kinds of cases including murders and missing persons in the heart of London. Her inclusion of non-western methods such as meditation and intuition make for a thoughtful and all-encompassing approach to solving mysteries. Working as a nurse on the Front during WWI, war and its effects play a large role in Dobb’s storylines as well as crossing society’s class lines. As a fan of mysteries, procedurals, and detective books in general, I find a certain comfort in Winspear’s series. The thrill solving the mysteries is there without some of the more graphic aspects you might find in other crime novels. I love the female lead in a mostly male occupation as well as the thought-provoking nature of the stories. The Maisie Dobbs series is perfect for readers who already love Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Armand Gamache.
How well do we really know our parents? In Margot Lee’s case, her mother is turning out to be quite a mystery. If you had asked her a few weeks ago, she’d probably have said her mother, Mina Lee, lived a quiet, boring life. Her days filled with working at her consignment clothes booth and evenings alone in the small, rundown apartment in L.A. she’s lived in since Margot was a child. But after finding her mother’s body, in what Margot thinks are suspicious circumstances, she embarks on a journey to unravel the puzzle that was her mother’s life.
Written in alternating viewpoints, the story unfolds both from Margot’s veiw as she finds her descesed mother, and from a young Mina’s, as she leaves South Korea. The juxtaposition of both narrators, as well as the time frames, really made the story for me. The exploration of Mina’s life as an undocumented immigrant in L.A.’s Korea Town was also eye-opening. If you enjoy familial drama mixed with mystery this Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick is for you.
Jooyoun Kim, Nancy. The Last Story of Mina Lee: A Novel. Park Row. 2020.
Science fiction titles have been popping up more and more in my reading list over this past year, perhaps as an escape from our current reality. A list of the some of the best new science fiction from the last 15 years led me to some fantastic escapes, including:
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
- Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (2014)
- The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull (2019)
- The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2014)
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2014)
The last one on that list, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is the first in the Wayfarers trilogy. Described as a “light-hearted space opera”, the story follows a ragtag group of wormhole tunnelers as they cruise through space. New ship accountant Rosemary is adjusting to life off-planet and to her new crew mates. But when the team is offered the tunneling job of a lifetime, Rosemary must decide if she can trust them with a secret about her past.
I don’t often associate “cozy” with “sci-fi” but this is an apt descriptor of this novel. Quirky, likeable characters and a heartwarming tone would make this a perfect read for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Chambers, Becky. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. New York: Harper Voyager 2016. (Originally self-published, 2014).
Historical Fiction meets Murder Mystery is always a good read in my book. In this case the setting is Medieval Europe, more specifically Cambridge, England. Our heroine is Adelia Aguilar, a trained doctor and what we would call a medical examiner. Rare and heretical for the time, she must pretend to be an assistant and translator for her long time Muslim protector, Mansur. Think Rizzoli and Isles, but with knights, monks, and convents.
Four children have been brutally murdered in Cambridge. The townspeople have accused the local Jewish community of the crimes and forced them to flee. The disruption to King Henry II’s tax revenues leads him to ask for outside help from the King of Sicily. Thus our story begins with Adelia’s summoning from the Salerno School of Medicine.
If you love procedural drama intertwined with historical facts, this is the book for you. Even better, it’s a series of five books.
Franklin, Ariana. Mistress of the Art of Death. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 2007.
Confession: my son is a reluctant reader. This pains me both as a mother and a librarian. He was introduced to books as an infant, visited me at the library, was (and is) read to constantly, and there are books everywhere in our house. He can read just fine; it’s just not his preferred hobby. He’ll do whatever it takes to get through his daily 20 minutes of assigned reading and not a minute more. This is obviously a me-problem; what librarian doesn’t want their kid to know the joy of reading?
So I was pleasantly surprised when he voluntarily brought home a middle-grade novel this week. He will often check out a book about animals or cars, or just choose to read picture books aloud to his sister. But this week, he handed me Bob by Wendy Mass. “I heard it’s a good story.” Indeed, it is – I read it in early 2019 and it was a 2020/21 Golden Sower nominee. We are reading a couple of chapters a night (don’t want to exceed that 20 minute limit!).
Bob is the story of a small green creature, dressed in chicken suit, waiting not-so-patiently in a closet for his friend to return. That friend, Livy, has been gone for 5 years and when she does show up, she doesn’t remember Bob or the promise she made to him when she was 5 years old – to help him find his home. Now that they are reunited, they set off to figure out the mystery of Bob.
Bob may or may not kick off a lifelong affinity for the written word, but for this winter break at least, I’m going to savor each page read aloud by my favorite reluctant reader.
Mass, Wendy. Bob. Feiwel & Friends, 2018.
I listened to this audiobook from Lincoln City Libraries through my Libby App. Narrated by the author, it’s a short 4 hours, the perfect listen for a road trip. I looked up Bess Kalb’s book after reading the following statement “Last year at a party a writer I respect called my pregnant stomach a ‘career-ender’ and now I’m the head writer of a show I sold to a major network and yesterday I signed the deal paying me to write a movie based on the book I finished 5 weeks postpartum, so do you like apples?” and I thought… yes, this is a woman whose book I’d like to read.
Some relationships are meant to be memorialized, the voices of our loved ones with us even after they’re gone. Such is the memoir of Bess Kalb and her maternal grandmother “Grandma Bobby.” Kalb recounts three generations of family history, mostly focused on the women, in a succinct and heartwarming account. The author doesn’t gloss over the true-to-life relationships of her family but displays them in all their messy glory. The result is a series of recounted conversations, family tales, and verbatim voicemail messages left by her grandmother. Kalb saved every one her Grandma Bobby ever left her. I admit, I laughed and cried as these people, flaws and all, came to life. Relationships and family especially can be messy, filled with misunderstanding, pride, and rough edges that rub, but through all of this, the spunky voice of Grandma Bobby is clear, that and her love for her granddaughter.
Kalb, Bess. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story. Penguin Random House Audio. 2020.
Is there anything better than a crisp cool night at the pumpkin patch in the fall? The smell of campfire smoke, kettle corn, and apple cider in the air?
Deja and Josiah have been partners in the Succotash Hut for 4 seasons at the world’s greatest pumpkin patch. It’s their last night, and Deja is on a mission to get Josie to finally talk to his long-time crush at The Fudge Hut…and score some snacks along the way.
This YA graphic novel by Nebraska author Rainbow Rowell and Canadian artist Faith Erin Hicks was the perfect quick read to kick off my autumn. While I may not visit the local pumpkin patch this year (darn you coronavirus!), I am definitely ready for s’mores, fire pits, and pumpkin pie.
Rowell, Rainbow. Pumpkinheads. First Second Books, 2019.
I recently re-read this book for a book club and it was just as good the second time around. It’s one of those titles I always end up recommending when talking about books.
Meet Eleanor. She goes to work, buys groceries, she dislikes her co-workers, but enjoys doing crossword puzzles and reading. And every Friday she buys a margarita pizza and lots of vodka. Because that’s what it takes to get through the weekend. This novel brings up several hard issues, substance abuse, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, suicide and depression, but at the heart of it, it’s about being alone. How isolation is only ever a band aid, and not a very good one.
One of my favorite things about this novel is the main character’s inner dialog. For how heavy the subject matter can be, I laughed a lot while reading this book. Eleanor’s inner voice is blunt, quirky, and deeply endearing.
The main character is completely flawed, but not in the normal fictional ways that I read so often. She’s not secretly drop dead gorgeous behind her glasses, or charmingly clumsy. She’s painfully average in almost every way. Except her scars. Those that are on the outside and on the inside distinguish her. The first time I read this book I found her so painfully awkward I wondered if I could keep reading. I did, and I was not disappointed.
I also appreciate that this book doesn’t have the traditional “happily ever after” ending, but a realistic one. All of Eleanor’s problems don’t magically vanish. I think it’s much more important to see how she’s grown, and the baby-steps she’s taken to live a happier, healthier life.
Give this book a try.
Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel. Pamela Dorman Books. 2017
Let me set the scene for you. Felix, is a disgraced theatrical director, down on his luck, he applies to teach a prison literacy program. He has faded into obscurity after suffering personal loss and professional betrayal. As a result, a motley group of prisoners takes on Felix’s challenge of performing “The Tempest” to earn themselves credit in the literacy program. A play Felix has become slightly obsessed with after the fall of his career. Not only do you get to experience the play re-told but also from behind the curtain, an angle only those on the stage usually have access to. Prepare yourself for an interesting and diverse cast of characters, dark plot twists, redemption, and in true Shakespeare fashion, revenge.
I’m always in favor of a good classic transformed, and Margaret Atwood does an exceptional job of bringing “The Tempest” into the 21st century with her novel “Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest Retold” (Hogarth, 2016.) The novel is a part of Random House’s Hogarth Shakespeare series, where well-known authors re-tell one of Shakespeare’s plays. So for those of you who are fans of”West Side Story,” “Ten Things I Hate About You,” or “She’s the Man,” this is really a series you should check out.
What do our parents really leave us? Is it money, or a house? Seeing my father’s eye’s when I look in the mirror or my mother’s nose? Is it memories, the good and the bad? What if you found your dad wasn’t your biological father? That all the family history, the aunts and uncles, the cousins and grandparents, that they didn’t really belong to you. At least not in the way you thought. This is the basis for Dani Shapiro’s poignant and timely memoir, “Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love.” This is not just the tale of the author’s search for her biological father, but her desire to know the secrets her parents kept.
I listened to the audiobook, published by Random House, and narrated by the author herself. Listening to the author tell her own story, hearing her voice and emotion as she recounts the journey she takes after this discovery made the experience even more enjoyable. I choose this book in my attempt to read more non-fiction this year, and it didn’t disappoint.
Shapiro, D. (2019). Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love.
Disclaimer: I finished reading this book a week or two ago. Then I found out it was this week’s #BookFaceFriday. I couldn’t resist the temptation.
“A beautiful computer hacker and a bad-boy FBI agent must collaborate…in more ways than one…” Sometimes Goodreads just has the perfect descriptions. I can’t describe Wired by Julie Garwood any better than that. In this book, Allison Trent is a freakishly brilliant computer hacker who has a day job as a supermodel. Yes, you heard me.
Liam Scott is an FBI agent with a prickly exterior who is in a bind and needs a freakishly brilliant computer hacker to casually break into the FBI servers. He is ready and willing to break every rule in the book to complete his mission. But, don’t worry, he has a heart of gold.
Allison would love to help, but she has a super secret double life she doesn’t want anyone to know about! Fear not, I didn’t give any spoilers here. The reader knows about her double life nearly from page one. She is casually breaking a few rules of her own to use her super secret computer powers for good.
You may have noticed this, but Wired is a romantic suspense novel. This book is probably not going to radically change the way you see the world. But it sure is entertaining. Every page you turn reveals a new plot line fresh out of the Romantic Suspense Book of Clichés. It was deliciously predictable in all the right ways and was the perfect way to relax on a lazy weekend.
Read it to find out if two prickly people with a secret heart of gold can collaborate…in more ways than one.