Posts tagged ‘Book Club’

Blankets, Fireplaces, Hot tea and, of course,a Reading list

There is nothing as wonderful as crisp days, thick socks, blankets, warm drinks and books.  It is just a time of year where things seem to fit so well together.  So, while I can’t make the crisp days or the warm drinks appear, I can put together a reading list for those days when you find yourself wondering what to read next (while wrapped in that blanket of course).

  1. 1. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Gowar: This book has received some stunning reviews and for good reason.  It is historical fiction of London in 1785 with the story of John Hancock, a widower merchant, and the parallel life of Angelical Neal, a high end gentleman’s companion (if you will).  After an anxious wait for the return of one of his merchant ships, Hancock finds himself, in lieu of money or his ship, in possession of a jar containing a mermaid.  Hancock must make the best of the situation and begins charging for Londoners to come see his curiosity. Meanwhile, Angelical finds herself without a patron or madame and must try to make a society name for herself somehow.  Both Hancock and Angelical cross paths and in an odd turn find their futures entwined.  This novel has a hollow sorrow that echos in all the lives and choices the characters make.  At the same time, it beautifully addresses how quickly futures, lives, and reputations can change while still offering something in the way of fable that I am not quite sure I have fully grasped yet.  It reminded me in pieces of “The Crimson Petal and the White” – as Gowar leaves no room for the reader to romanticize the life of a whore or life as a 1700s Londoner.    It was dirty, grimy, and everyone was looking for their own mermaid in whatever form she would come to them.
  2. Ghosted by Rosie Walsh: Sarah and Eddie meet on the green in a small English town on a summer day.  They spend a week together and when Eddie leaves for a trip it is clear he has every intent to come back to Sarah.  But he doesn’t.  To Sarah this seems unfathomable.  And there I must leave it because there are some many things to discover in the reading. The way this author unfolds this story is extremely well done and I loved it.  There is a bit of a slight of hand by Walsh but it is well done and by the time you reach the end it all falls together well.
  3. The Miniaturist”by Jessie Burton: This novel had all of the elements that make a period piece work so well.  The setting is visible for the reader, the restrictions of the place and time feel suffocating, the smells and discomforts of the characters layer the story.   As a reader you know where you are and what you are meant to feel with the characters.  The story itself happens behind closed doors and in whispers in hallways and bits and pieces of information. I will let you find the storyline elsewhere and the PBS miniseries does such a great job with this book. So of course after the book, you have something to look forward to as well.
  4. The Witch Elm by Tana French: I should say I absolutely love Tana French. This book was a bit of a departure for her.  It was not her usual suspense novel and that has some good things and some frustrating things. Her character development was deeper but I am not sure how much I liked the characters. The story was a mystery of sorts but more of a story of memory, family and the stories we tell are ourselves about who we are.   I am just not sure what I think of this novel but would still recommend it. Though importantly, it should not be your first Tana French experience.
  5. Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Lock:  Darren is a Texas Ranger who is also black.  He finds himself on suspension and doing a favor for a friend by visiting a small Texan town where two murders have happened.  He is just there to get a lay of the land from the small cafe that sits in front of the swamp where the bodies have been found.  The cafe is owned by Geneva Sweet who opened the place 50 years ago so that other black folks had a safe place to stop and eat in deep KKK country.  Darren finds himself quickly embedded with the characters in the cafe and the crimes.  I loved this book.  I will say that some of the characters are fairly one dimensional but the detail of the food, the relationships, the racial tension, the understanding of what is home is just so profound that we can give Lock a pass.  She makes some amazing observations about racism and how it involves the marginalized people just wanting to live their lives while the oppressors are wholly obsessed with what the marginalized people are doing or not doing.  It is a bizarre and sick way for those who have all the power to chose to live.

Hopefully, your blankets are at the ready and you have the kettle on.  Happy Reading friends.

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November 7, 2018 at 9:27 pm Leave a comment

The Perfect Beach Book – Whatever that means

I am not typically a big fan of the largely acclaimed beach books. They are often overrated books that come out in late Spring/early Summer with a lot of marketing and fanfare. For me they often fall flat and are disappointing.  Below are some books that have better alternatives, books that were fine, and books that were super fun and you should read anywhere (even the beach).  And here’s to hoping better books get fanfare and the marketing Gods shine on them as well….Unknown-5.jpeg

  1. Tangerine by Christine Mangan: This book was really set up for great success.  The setting is Tangier, Morocco. The tension is between two old college roommates, Alice and Lucy, who attended the all girls school in Vermont a few years before.   Lucy shows up uninvited to Tangier where Alice is living with her new husband, John.  The question for the reader is what happened between them in Vermont and why is Lucy in Tangiers suddenly.  So, we have some really good elements at play. But truly the characters are stereotypical and either entirely lackluster or just ridiculously flagrant in their character flaws.  There are no unexpected twists or turns and even the interesting setting doesn’t help this book.  Think Single White Female meets Sheltering Sky meets The Talented Mr. Ripley but you also don’t care about anyone in the story. For a Book about friendship gone wrong in an interesting backdrop with suspense (it exists!) read instead: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell.  Quite honestly, I have not even finished this book  but it is again about two young women who have a sorted past with each other.  It is set in a small English fishing town where Betty lives with her bi-polar mother who manages a boarding house on the days she is herself and able.  Mary, her best friend, is constantly jealous of Betty seemingly unable to see how complicated her life is.  In the midst of their town, there is a serial killer and dead girls’ bodies keep popping up.  Every character so far is complex and trying hard to balance their better natures with their faults.  The setting is also interesting. The tension in the story is carefully built between many of the key players as they try to just get through their days, while the town is in disquiet around them.  There are multiple questions for the reader to contemplate which makes me feel like this writer might actually think we all have the ability to understand the complexities of life.  See, sounds better already right? Even if the end falls apart the rest of the book is far superior so I stand behind this partially read recommendation.
  2. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy: This has been described (marketing Gods again) as an addictive thriller. That, it is definitely not. I am not even sure this is a thriller to be honest.  A group of new mothers who get together weekly in a Brooklyn park find themselves in quite a pickle (yep, I said pickle) when they go to a bar leaving their babies at home with sitters, spouses, etc.  Not only do they spend the night judging each other, but then one of the babies is stolen while the mother was at the bar and the sitter was at home napping.  Who stole the baby? Who is the mother? Do any of these new mothers really know each other? Who has cracked nipples? Is anyone sleeping through the night and if so, how are they doing it? All of that sarcastically said, I will give the book credit for looking at the crazy, awful, stressful, and psychologically damaging world that new mothers create for themselves and each other. I have been in that crazy upside world and I am happy I got out alive. But the other pieces of the book are pretty routine and not all that interesting – including the ending which I finished and then went about my day unaddictively and not at all thrilled.  For an Addictive Thriller read instead: I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.   It is a very real account of the Golden State Killer. Sometimes truth is much better than fiction and here that is definitely the case.  I listened to this one on audible and it is scary and awful and intriguing.
  3. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: This book has no “read instead” because I loved it.  It is a fun, interesting and crazy story about rich people so I was totally in.  Rachel Chu and Nick Young have been dating for two years while they both teach at NYU.  For their summer break, Rachel agrees to fly to Singapore with Nick so she can meet his family.  Nick failed to mention that his family is one of the richest families in Singapore and Rachel finds herself in the bizarre world of petty rich people – their expectations and all of their competitions.  There is really no deep lesson from this book (except I would like my own plane), it is just fun and at the time I read it that was exactly what I needed.
  4. The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka: I need to first say this author is from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio so I wanted to love this book.  I didn’t love it but I enjoyed it. There is a lot of potential here that I think will get better in the next book.  Roxanne, a woman with a sorted history of bad choices and daddy baggage, is hired to investigate a 15 year old case.  The parents of teenager Sarah Cook were murdered in their home and the body of Sarah Cook was never found.  The easiest suspect was the African-American boyfriend, Brad, who consequently has been in jail since his guilty verdict and has two months until he is executed.  Brad’s sister is positive that she saw Sarah Cook, presumed to be dead, at a gas station and wants Roxanne to find her to try to save Brad from execution. Lepionka’s story has some nice touches and some interesting twists.  I get the impression that it was not originally written for a broader audience because of the way she names places around Columbus with minimal explanation for an audience unfamiliar with our city (like what does living in Bexley mean?).  But, there are also some nice name dropping in the book like the restaurant Wings, which made me smile.  I would like the character of Roxanne to be fleshed out better so hopefully that will happen in the future. Just making her bi-sexual or the daughter of a flawed cop doesn’t make me care about her.  Her relationship with her brothers seemed very real though and some of her own personal issues are very relatable – hence the earlier referenced hope. The overarching story carried me through and had some really good twists.  So you should read it because (a) it is a pretty good book and (b) we should support our Columbus writers (even if you aren’t from Columbus, come on be a mensch).

Otherwise have fun at the beach, enjoy a gin and tonic or a martini, take deep breaths, watch a sunset, and read. Always read.

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June 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

The “what if it really is Spring?” reading list

Let’s admit it has been a long, long snowy, cold and dark (did I say long) winter.   I believe this means we need to tip our customer service people more than usual because likely they are Unknowndealing day in and day out with the cranky lot of us.   But this also means I have been reading a lot of mysteries just to keep me awake in the evening and get my adrenaline going (the gym works too, but reading is usually more fun).

Here is what has kept me sane through this crazy weather of random:

  • A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch – This is the first in the series of Charles Lenox mysteries.  Lenox is a wealthy, upper-crust gentleman in Victorian London who also seems to have a good handle on sleuthing.  The mystery itself in this first book wasn’t what kept me captivated, though it was well done, it was the societal descriptions, the cups of tea, and the rules of priority that made this fun.  It is best enjoyed with a glass of sherry, if you can handle the stuff, or just admit that sherry is terrible and just have a glass of wine while you imagine gaslights and rustling petticoats.
  • Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker – I need to just throw it out there that I love Jane Eyre like the rest of you love Pride and Prejudice.  That is not to say that I do not love Austen (I absolutely do) but nothing has ever grabbed my imagination like Thornfield hall and poor, resolute Jane.  I say all of this because maybe this retelling of the story through Edward Fairfax Rochester’s perspective is not as good as I think it is.  I am pretty sure I would latch onto every retelling of this story and love it.   The critics of this book complained that it was slow but the way Shoemaker matches her style to Bronte’s, as well as the writing of the period, is really well done.   No, it is not exciting at every turn and no this is not a traditional mystery.  But Jane Eyre is one of the best gothic novel of its time and this retelling is just fun.
  • Arrowood by Laura McHugh – This is the second book I have read by McHugh and I like her style.  While playing outside on a summer day, Arden Arrowood’s twin sisters disappeared without explanation  and with only 7 year old Arden as the unreliable witness. After searching everywhere for the twins, the Arrowood family moves away from their family home in the small Iowa town to try to forget all of the terrible memories.  But as Arden comes to examine her life in her twenties she finds that she is directionless and again newly single.  So she returns to her family home and begins trying to examine her own memories of the day her sisters were lost.  As she begins piecing together things that as a child seemed unimportant, she finds that those same events reveal that there may be a way to find out what really happened. And Arden quickly realizes that finding these answers seems the only way to help her move forward in her own life.
  • The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton –  This book is everything I love in a quirky story.  Agatha Raisin has spent her life building her own firm in P.R. in London.  In her early fifties she decides to sell her firm and retire to a quaint cottage she has found in the Cotswolds.  Not exactly a warm and fuzzy person, Agatha finds that her neighbors in the village are not as easy to get to know as she had hoped.  In an
    effort to assimilate, she enters into the local quiche baking contest.  Of course, Unknown-2.jpegnever having baked a quiche in her life, Agatha trains up to London, purchases a quiche at the award winning bakery, and returns to the town to submit it as her entry.   The judge after eating a piece of Agatha’s quiche dies and the police discover that he has been poisoned.  Obviously, Agatha has to shamefully admit that she did not make the quiche but this leaves the interesting question of who wanted this small time judge of quiches, jams, dog shows, and flower arrangements dead? This book is just fun and should be read while also googling sales of Cotswold cottages so we can all dream about moving there but not entering into local bakery contests.  I already found my cottage and of course you can visit.

Don’t despair friends, as happens every year, I feel almost positive that warm weather has to be on its way. But until then I wish you warm cups of tea, sightings of snow drops and violets, and cozy reads.

April 15, 2018 at 5:23 pm 2 comments

Hopefully the first and only suspense novel you have read – “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris

Let me begin at the beginning. I did not love “Behind Close Doors” which was B.A. Paris’s previous book. It was fun and that was enough to carry me through to the end. So I was not completely smitten with her writing to begin with.  But all of that said what the hell was this book “The Breakdown”?

To clarify, if you have never read a suspense book before, never seen the movie “Gaslight,” have been living in a cave or have been raised by wolves and have just learned to read, then this may very well be the book for you. And in that case, please enjoy.  However, if you actually enjoy the suspense genre, go and see a movie now and then, and engage in general society then I challenge you to not figure out the twist of this story within 10 pages.  I have laid down a fairly easy gauntlet, I promise you.

The combination of the riddle being so easily solved and how actually unlikable and whiny the main character is makes this book even more disastrous.  Our simpering, pill-popping heroine is just too much to bear and quite frankly I felt at times sympathetic to the alleged stalker who was messing with her sanity.

In sad news,Unknown-1.jpeg I read the entire book because I was hoping that my initial thought was wrong and perhaps Paris had a different plan – pssst, I was mistakenly hopeful.  As an added insult to reading injury, when the story reveals itself you then get to read a lot of pages about how the evil doer(s) plan unfolds. Just in case you, dear reader, are that stupid and can’t figure it out for yourself.

No, I did not give you a synopsis of this story because well, that seems to be wasted time. But do, watch “Gaslight” – it is a wonderful old movie and really the same story.  On the reading front, if you want to read an interesting suspense novel both Karin Slaughter’s “The Good Daughter” and Ali Land’s “Good Me, Bad Me” are certainly worth your time.

And for the time being, I am wondering if I should challenge myself to read my unread books sitting on countless shelves and surfaces around my house.  But then again, Alice Hoffman has a new book out that may be calling my name…

 

October 22, 2017 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

Crazy Lady Brains are Always Trouble – “The Address” by Fiona Davis

I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  It was an interesting look at the history (through fiction) of the famous New York city Dakota building – which is well known for being the place where John Lennon was shot, where famous people like 500px-Dakota_Building.JPGLauren Bacall lived and where parts of “Rosemary’s Baby” was filmed.

This book, like many as of late, cuts back and forth chapter by chapter between the presentish* (1980)  and the past.  In 1884, Sara Smythe travels from Ireland to run the staff at the newly built  Dakota.  So in the pieces of the past, Sara  finds herself struggling with class, understanding how the nouveau rich work, while also trying to manage her feelings for the married architect of the Dakota, Theodore Camden.

A century later, Bailey finds herself freshly out of rehab after too many nights living like a scene out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.  She is out of a work interior designer, homeless and unsure if her sobriety will stick.  Her last hope is her wealthy cousin Melinda, who has inherited an apartment in the Dakota from her grandfather Theodore Camden (see the connection).  Melinda is quite excited to hire Bailey to oversee the modernizing of her apartment  – though Melinda’s vision has all of the amazing decor touches that so many of us are happy were left in the 80s (think pink bathrooms sinks and decorative bamboo).   As Bailey reluctantly helps Melinda achieve her decorating vision, Bailey begins to learn more through boxes and archives about Theodore Camden and the  woman who eventually was accused of murdering him, *insert dramatic music here* Sara Smythe .
The twists and turns are somewhat predictable but not painfully so.  There is a lot here about class and what society did with women who did not follow the rules.  Davis did her homework here and incorporates in her story the cutting-edge journalism that really helped reform the New York asylums and treatment of women in the 1880s.  She makes it clear that if a woman was too smart for her own good she would be punished severely and for the right amount of money you could make her disappear.

Davis also touches on how America really was meant to be a place where you weren’t born into society but, instead, you actually could climb the societal ladder – but then it became a place that was turning itself inside out to create the very nobility it had wanted to leave behind.   She touches on some tender parts of who we are as a country and where this seems to have led us.

This is not a deep book, but it is interesting with enough historical pieces to make it thoughtful and enough compelling story to make it fun.   It also makes me eternally grateful that asylums for sassy women are a thing of the past because sometimes I do use my lady brain too much.

 

*As an aside, I know presentish is not a word but shouldn’t it be?

September 28, 2017 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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