Friday, February 28, 2014

The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon 243 pages

The Confidant was a book club selection and will forever reside on my best-books-ever read list. Strangely enough or maybe sadly enough I was the only one to feel that way. That may have been due to some questionable choices the author made. First Grémillon didn’t take the time to set up the transition between narrators and there was enough confusion behind this to cause all of us to have to go back and reread and some to just give up. Secondly, the author wrote the last chapter in prose form so that some of the members skipped over it thinking the author was just quoting poetry or starting a new book. But the last chapter put everything into perspective and delivered the final twist. Without it the book just hung there.

The Confidant begins in 1975 Paris. Camille, pregnant and abandoned by the baby’s father has just lost her mother. She receives a letter in the mail telling the story of Louis and Annie—neither of whom she knows—who lived in Nazi Occupied France more than thirty years before. The letters continue to appear weekly and eventually the connections between them are revealed in a huge, life altering way.

What I loved most besides the actual story of course was how easy it was to empathize with the characters totally independent of the absurd choices they were making and the havoc they created for others. The plot was so intricately woven that one deviation, just one tiny deviation would have changed the entire story. It just doesn't come much better than that. 

The Final Cut by Catherine Coulter 449 pages

This is a fast paced thriller that takes the reader from New York to Washington D. C. to Paris to London and points beyond.  It is a quick read due to the short chapters and the fact that it is hard to put down. The Koh-i-Noor diamond is on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Queen Mother's Crown, on loan from England.  Inspector Elaine York, sent to guard the Crown Jewels is found murdered.  Her partner, Nicholas Drummond comes to help the FBI investigate her murder....and the thrill ride begins.  An international art thief, known as the Fox, is behind the theft.  FBI  Special Agent Michela (Mike) Caine joins with Drummond as they lay their lives on the line, several times, to retrieve the diamond.  In fact, their efforts are almost super-human. Barely excaping a bomb blast one day, out of the hospital and back on the trail the next, only to be shot at, etc! 
I enjoyed the thrill ride but was a little disappointed in the
Sci-fi/Fantasy aspect of this book.  I know Catherine Coulter writes the occaisional romance, but personally, I wish she would just stick to her FBI thrillers. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Go By: Lisa Scottoline 607 pages (Large Print)

Mike Scanlon is an army doctor. Dr. Scanlon is called to war in Afghanistan to operate on wounded soldiers.  He leaves behind his wife Chloe and new baby daughter Emily.  While in Afghanistan, Mike learns that his wife has died in a household accident. Mike returns home to bury his wife, finding he is a complete stranger to his baby girl.  While home, he discovers some rather shocking secrets and even more secrets when he continues his tour in Afghanistan.
This book was a tear jerker for me.  However, I really enjoyed it.  It will send you through all types of emotions.  But it keeps you wanting to read until the end.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard 382 pages (large print)

This book is the 3rd in a series by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard: "Killing Lincoln", "Killing Kennedy" and now "Killing Jesus". Despite what you might think of Bill O'Reilly, I have learned some historical fact from each of these books. Some have been harder to read; I have personal memories of when Kennedy was shot and personal beliefs where Jesus is concerned. In this latest book, the authors delve into the Roman history of the time just preceding the life of Christ, and also what was going on during his life on earth. I guess I never really new the depths of debauchery the Roman Emperors stooped to. These were powerful men and life was cheap. It is no wonder people flocked to hear someone speak of a story of hope and love. But as much as Dugard and O'Reilly spelled out the history of these times and the stories of the gospel, whether or not you believe Jesus of Nazarene was the Christ comes down to one word: Faith. Do not read this book thinking you will find irrefutable answers. There are none and probably never will be. You either believe the words of the gospels, written decades after the events by 2 eye-witness disciples and 2 men who were followers of Paul and Peter, or you do not. This book is a good read, despite all the necessary footnotes. I recommend all the books in this series.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith 455 pages

Cormoran Strike has one foot (literally) in the door of financial ruin, he’s broken up with his girlfriend, living out of his office, and receiving death threats from a previous client when John Bristow hires him to prove that his supermodel sister did not commit suicide when she fell to her death from the top floor of her apartment building.  So Cormoran charges him an outrageous fee and in a very systematic and organized way begins to investigate what seems from every angle an obvious suicide. But the deeper he delves the more he comes to realize that nothing is as it seems. My first exposure to JK Rowling was Casual Vacancy and I enjoyed it every bit as much as I did The Cuckoo’s Calling. I love the effort she puts into creating her characters, the time she takes to set up the plot, the English village aspect (although that’s pushing it for the London setting of The Cuckoo’s Calling) the way she writes, all of it. And the best news of all! A sequels on its way. 

The Affair by Colette Freedman 322 pages

The Affair is narrated from three perspectives: Kathy, her husband of eighteen years Robert, and Robert’s mistress Stephanie. The author takes a series of events that occur over a period of several days and each character gets to tell their side of things. A clever premise to be sure. The problem was in how Freedman chose to do this. She repeats verbatim the entire dialog in each of the three narratives. On the one hand it allowed the different perspectives to be clearly seen and felt. On the other, it was tedious as hell to keep reading the same thing over and over and over again. And I’m sure that somewhere in the universe a wife and her husband’s mistress might well meet and handle a confrontation in much the same way as Kathy and Stephanie did. I’m equally sure I wouldn’t. Not that that's a good thing. Still it was well written, the characters are easy to like or despise—depending on the perspective you happen to be reading and the subject matter is juicy enough to keep you interested. I will read the next installment simply because I want to know how it all ends up.

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen 500 pages

Detective Carl Mørck and his assistants Assad and Rose work for the Danish Police in Department Q a cold case unit housed in the basement of police headquarters. The Purity of Vengeance moves back and forth between 1987 and the story of Nete Hermansen detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of a secret organization and 2010 where Mørck is investigating several cases of missing people who vanished over twenty years ago during the same weekend. Eventually they discover a link to Nete and the missing people. 

 I really love this series but this was not one of my favorites. Maybe Adler-Olsen was trying to offset the seriousness of the subject matter with his forced and repetitious attempts at humor (very unlike the previous books in the series) or maybe it was the downward spiral into schizophrenic like behavior for his assistant Rose or maybe even it was the subject matter that was based on actual events in history. But for whatever reason I’ll still be first in line for the next installment.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, 384 pages

Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees has written another heart wrenching book about blacks and whites in America.

The Invention of Wings is a fictionalized account about approximately 40 years in the life of abolitionist and early feminist, Sarah Grimke.

The book begins in 1803 when Sarah, who lives in Charleston, SC is 11 and is given a 10-year old slave, Hettie for her birthday.  Sarah tries to give Hettie back, but is unable to do so.  Hettie is also known as Handful, the non-slave name her mother gave her.

The book alternates between the narration of Sarah and Handful and is a beautiful but brutal book.  Many of the characters are real people and the afterward by Sue Monk Kidd is just as interesting as the book itself.

This one goes on my recommend to others list.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill 177 pages

I loved this book.  It was a quick read but full of philosophizing about life and love. Quotes from famous authors are scattered throughout the book, which is written in a stream of consciousness format.

The narrator is “the wife” and tells the story of her marriage and the birth of her daughter.  “The husband” strays and the wife does lots of soul searching as a result.

One of my favorite parts:

“Three things no one has ever said about me:
You make it look so easy.
You are very mysterious.
You need to take yourself more seriously.”

Another favorite part, written in regard to the characteristics of the husband’s girlfriend:

Easier, he says.”

How can you not love this woman?

A Moveable Feast: the Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway, 256 pages

 The Library book clubs are reading A Moveable Feast this year.  We picked it because last year we read The Paris Wife, which is a book of historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley and their life together.  

A Moveable Feast, is a memoir written by Ernest Hemingway at the end of his life and it covers his life in Paris while he was married to Hadley.  Hemingway died in 1961 and the book was published posthumously in 1964.  The restored edition was published in 2009 and is supposed to be closer to how Hemingway intended the book to be published.

The book consists of very short chapters that cover different people and events during his life in Paris in the 1920's.  His friends included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald are laugh-out-loud funny.  

I found the book easy to read, probably because of the short chapters, though sometimes I had to reread some of the sentences several times to figure out what Mr. Hemingway was trying to say.  I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't read The Paris Wife last year, but they definitely complement each other.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III 292 pages

The four stories in this book contain characters that weave in and out of each other’s lives but each story is complete by itself.  They are all well written and full of great detail.  Even when the paragraphs and descriptions went on and on I was fascinated with the writing.

The stories include lots of betrayal and deception.  In Listen Carefully As Our Options Have Changed the cuckolded husband discovers the fact of his wife’s adultery in a most surprising and unforgettable way.
Marla, the second story in the book, is at times both sad and hopeful and when I had finished reading it I was not sure which emotion won out.

In The Bartender a husband is undeserving of the life and wife he has but he is unable to change his ways.  Dirty Love is the saddest of the four novellas but Devon, the main character is strong and will probably overcome her difficulties, at least that is how I felt when I had finished her story.

All the stories deal with love and the ways love both helps us and hurts us.  Dubus writes “how can anyone ever be clean with family? Blood is too dirty, dirty with love that so easily turn to hate.”

I would high recommend this book.

The Black House by Peter May 357 pages

Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod is sent to his native Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to investigate a killing that’s frighteningly familiar to another crime he recently investigated. Leaving behind a wife and the memory of his young son who was recently killed in an accident, Fin resolutely goes back home to face the events of the past that caused him to leave so many years ago and not return. The Black House jumps back and forth between the past and the present day in a slow but methodical way as Fin works to solve the murder and come to terms with the past.
This is a take your time kind of a read. The pace is slow, the focus is on the characters rather than the crime and sometimes it seems as if nothing is happening at all. But in the end it was all worth it.

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? By Paula Daly 312 pages

Lisa Kallisto has her hands full taking care of her husband, three children and the animal shelter she runs. When the young daughter of her best friend goes missing and Lisa is blamed for it because she was supposed to be watching her, Lisa decides to investigate. What she finds sets the town on its ear and her life upside down. A grand read. Fast paced, well written, great characters, enough sub plots within the plot to make this a one stop read. Can’t wait for her next book. 

The Absence of Mercy by John Burley 328 Pages

Dr. Ben Stevenson medical examiner for the small Midwestern town of Wintersville is called in when the body of a teenager is found  murdered. Ironically enough Stevenson had moved his wife and two sons from the dangers of big city living in Pittsburgh to the relative safety of a small town where everybody knows everybody else. Or so he thought. When another teen is attacked, Dr. Stevenson’s investigation will eventually uncover long buried truths and secrets that will alter all their lives forever. A great debut novel. A book that hangs around long after the last page is read. 

Hard Going by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 236 Pages

I do love a good mystery. Strangely enough though I don’t care for all  the violence or gore. Just tell me there’s a body and a mystery to solve and I’m good. Which is one of the reasons why the Bill Slider series is one of my favorite police procedurals. That and the strong focus on the characters and their interactions with each other, the author’s command of the English language, the laugh out loud humor and the complex plots.
In this latest offering, DI Bill Slider of the Shepherd’s Bush Metropolitan Police has to solve the murder of Lionel Bygod a retired solicitor who spent most of his time helping others and who seemingly didn’t have an enemy in the world. But things are rarely what they seem and the deeper they dig the more suspects they uncover and the more secrets are revealed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo 277 pages

Gone Missing is the fourth installment in the Kate Burkholder series. Kate is the Chief of Police in the small, mostly Amish town of Painters Mill OH. When BCI Agent John Tomasetti calls and asks her to consult on a missing Amish teen case in a neighboring town (Kate is ex Amish) they find links to other cold cases dating back several years. Things get a bit tricky though when a body is found and then another teen –this one really close to home goes missing as well.

This is a well written, edge of your seat, lots of plot twists and turns kind of a series. The only thing I don’t like about them is the horrendous and detailed nature of the crimes that are committed.