Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Book Review - Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy; Anne Sebba

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy; Anne Sebba

Macmillan Audio - 2021  - (10 hrs. 21 min)

Orlagh Cassidy - narrator (very good)

I've always enjoyed a good dose of NF, especially with a good bio or memoir, so when I saw this biography was recently released, I was intrigued.

I think most of us in the US have heard at least a little about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The couple who lived on the lower East Side in NYC and were convicted of conspiring to commit espionage for the Soviet Union. The couple was put to death by electrocution minutes apart on June 19, 1953, leaving two young boys who would enter the foster care system.

Ethel, a Jewish immigrant, was raised by a mother who was very cold and critical and favored her brother David. Ethel was a bright girl who graduated from school at 15 and loved music; she had dreams of a career in the opera. She landed a job with the government which she gave up when she married Julius so that he could work for the government in New York. She wanted to be a good wife and mother, but at the age of 37 she was put to death leaving her sons ages 6 and 10 orphans.

All of this happened during the Cold War and both husband and wife believed in communism as did many immigrants at that time. They, along with others,  saw communism as a way to lift immigrants who came to US in search of a better life out of poverty.  The US in the 1950's was the age of McCarthy-ism and there was rampant political paranoia.  Ethel's own brother David perjured himself and later admitted he lied when he gave testimony. There was jealousy among the families and David's false testimony against his sister Ethel was an effort to protect his own wife.  There was no concrete evidence that Ethel was guilty but, it was proven that her husband Julius had been recruited and was a spy. Despite the pressure put on Ethel to incriminate Julius, she refused to do.  Most believed that at least Ethel Rosenberg was innocent but, the government was determined to send a frightening message by putting her to death as well. 

This book was extensively researched and was an eye-opener for sure; it gives the reader a lot to think about. At times it made me mad that something like this could have happened here in the United States, especially in the manner it all appeared to go down.  

Rating - 4/5 stars

This audio download was provided by Macmillan Audio and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The narrator, Orlagh Cassidy did a very good job.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed; Helene Tursten - First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Soho Press - 10/4/2021

Maud let out a loud sigh of relief as she sank into her comfortable seat on the plane.  She surprised herself, because she rarely showed her feelings. She stole a glance at the passenger next to her, a young man in a suit who was busy trying to stuff his elegant black carryon into the overhead bin.  Despite his best efforts, he couldn't manage to close the door. Good. He probably hadn't heard her little burst of emotion, which had come straight from the heart. The last few months had been extremely taxing but she felt as if the worst was over.  At long last she could relax and look forward to a wonderful trip to South Africa.

I really enjoyed the last short mystery book I read by this Swedish author in 2018: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good so I'm looking forward to getting started on this book as well.

What do you think about the intro? 

Helene Tursten was a nurse and a dentist before she turned to writing. Other books in the Irene Huss series include 
Detective Inspector HussThe TorsoThe Glass DevilNight Rounds, and The Golden Calf. She was born in Göteborg, Sweden, where she now lives with her husband and daughter.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Book Review - Bewilderment; Richard Powers

Bewilderment; Richard Powers

Random House Audio - 9/21/2021

Bewilderment was powerful story about a young boy named Robin, age 9 (soon to be 10) and his father Theo, an astrobiologist, whose researches possible life on other planets.  It's also a story about their mother and wife Alys, a former environmentalist, who died in a car accident two years earlier while trying to avoid hitting an opossum.  Robin is a highly intelligent and sensitive young boy who is considered to be on the spectrum, he has also been bullied.  Robin is very intense about the world around him and is especially concerned about animal kind.  When Robin becomes enraged in school one day and lashes out, hitting another classmate in the face with a thermos, the school demands that Theo do something about his son's behavior or he will not be allowed back in school.  Not wanting to medicate Robin or label his son, Theo reaches out to a former associate of his late-wife asking him to allow Robin to participate in a neurological study to help better understand the emotional triggers which cause Robin's outbursts.  The love of this father for his son is easy to see in the way these two interact. When Theo and Robin are a twosome exploring nature, rivers and sleeping under the stars, profound discussions happen and all is well.

The story is much more complex than my simplified review above demonstrates. Yes, it's about raising a child who is wired differently.  It is also very much about science: the planets, our climate crisis at its tipping point and what is happening in American politics and the world around us. This is a fairly short book under 300 pages and 7+ hours on audio.  I thought the story was awesome but, at times it seems like the author tried to cover too much territory as well.  I enjoyed the audio but, I also wished I had a print copy of as well.  The writing is quite moving so it would have been nice to reread some parts.

Bewilderment was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini who did an excellent job. The audio download was provided to me at no change by Penguin Random House Audio in exchange for my unbiased review.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Review - The Last House on Needless Street; Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street; Catriona Ward

Macmillan Audio - 2021

This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. But you’re wrong. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…


Ted Bannerman lives on the "Last house on Needless Street."  The house is boarded up, has triple locks on the doors and backs up to the forest.  Ted is pretty much confined to his house, he's severely overweight, drinks too much but, he likes going out at night and also loves feeding the birds in his backyard.  He has a cat named Olivia, who also narrates this story and, her POV provides some excellent perspective so readers need to pay attention to her POV.  Ted also has a young daughter Lauren who only resides with him sometimes but, where she lives otherwise is a bit of a mystery.  The neighbors think Ted is strange and his property is often the target of vandals and pranksters.  Then there is Dee, a new neighbor, who moves in next door. She is definitely suspicious of Ted and she thinks he might know what had happened to her sister who disappeared when she a very young girl years earlier.  What's up with Ted and did he have anything to do with the missing girls disappearance?

Ted comes across as very gentle and sincere but, something is definitely off with him. I viewed him with both suspicion and sympathy the more the story progressed. As he enlightens us to missing pieces of his childhood, it's easy to see his mother was a definite kook. Olivia the cat was another terrific POV that added insight into both Ted and Lauren as well as things that have been happening around the house.

When I first came across this book I thought it seemed like a perfectly awesome choice for my list of darker fall weather stories and, this one worked out great. The audio, read by Christopher Ragland, was excellent. Although this is described as falling into both the psych thriller and horror genres - there was no horror but, it is quite creepy at times.  How can a creepy book make a reader feel sad and sympathetic toward a person like Ted? That's what made this story so good; this author has real talent and made this story so compelling. I can see why this has already been optioned for a movie as well.  A perfect RIP Challenge pick. I'm so happy I listened to this one as well.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

The audio book download was provided to me by Macmillan Audio and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.

Book Review - A Single Rose; Muriel Barbery


                                                             A Single Rose; Muriel Barbery

Europa - 9/28/2021

In A Single Rose, we meet Rose, a 40 year old French woman and botanist. She's a woman who never knew her Japanese father.  Rose is not a happy woman, her mother has long suffered from depression and Rose has never seemed to know what love is all about.  Now after a phone call from a lawyer, Rose finds herself headed to Kyoto for a reading of the last will of her now late father, Haru, a former art dealer. Needless to say Rose is a little more than apprehensive about the whole ordeal. She has been advised that her father's assistant, Paul, a widower, will meet her and guide her around.  

Once in Japan she learns that her father has left a specific itinerary of things to do and places to visit before the reading of the will. There are long walks, lush gardens to be seen, temples to visit, Zen gardens, bars, restaurants, and so much more. There are also many people to meet, people who were important in her father's life. Through this well drawn road map which her father left behind Rose will begin to understand more about the man she never knew but, there is something more we begin to see a connection between Rose and Paul as well.

This book was roughly 160 pages and so different from any of the other books I've read by this author.  I was happy I tried it but, it's not a book that every reader will like.  The story is dripping with imagery throughout, most of the details are lush and painted a lovely picture as I read but, I found the writing style a bit too flowery, too overdone and too poetic for my taste. It's the kind of story that can overwhelm the senses at times - at least that happened with me.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

An eGalley of this book was provided at no cost to me by Europa Editions and Edelweiss in exchange for my unbiased review.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Book Review - The Fortnight in September; B.C. Sherriff


The Fortnight in September;R.C. Sherriff

Simon & Schuster Audio - 2021

 Jilly Bond - narrator - 9 hours 40 min.

Originally written in 1931, The Fortnight in September,  was a wonderful COVID-escape read.

The Stevens family is preparing for their annual holiday returning to the same seaside town where the couple honeymooned 20+ years earlier.  Now the Stevens the clan, as a family, has returned to Bognor Regis year after year.  Besides the mother and father there is Mary 20, Dick 17 and Ernie 10-ish.  The story begins with all the pre-planning that goes on into getting there: packing, leaving the pet, home and garden behind, train arrangements and so much more.  

Mrs. Stevens clearly doesn't even like going to the beach but she does it year after year for her family.  She comes across as a bit of an anxious woman who worries about what people will think about her, afraid of not measuring up or being laughed at, her mind is constantly moving and worrying at full-speed.  Mr. Stevens seems anxious as well; he obsesses about everything in preparing for the trip by checking and double checking.  He is a bit of a nut when it comes to details making sure everything and I mean everything is in place with no room for error.  It is clear that Mr. Stevens is a hard worker and that his family means everything to him.  Once they finally arrive and getting there is full of delightful details, they soon settle into holiday mode. We see the children enjoy themselves, relaxing, swimming and meeting new friends and thinking about their own futures.

The story is told basically from the POV of Mr. Stevens but, we clearly get to see what others are thinking and doing. There is nothing earth-shattering that happens in this story, yet the prose and slower pace makes the reader long for a similar, simpler life and time. What a treat! This would be a terrific book to take along on your own holiday or vacation. I'm happy I had the chance to try it and it was such a different kind of story from anything I've read in a long while.

Thanks go to Simon & Schuster Audio and Edelweiss for allowing me access to both the eGalley and audio book which made for a perfect combo read/listen. The audio was read by Jilly Bond who did a fine job.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Book Review - Where I Left Her; Amber Garza


Where I Left Her; Amber Garza

Mira - 2021

Whitney is a divorced mother to a moody, disrespectful sixteen year-old named Amelia.  As the story begins Whitney is using her GPS to drive Amelia over to the home of Lauren, a newer friend that she is planning an overnight with.  Amelia, like many teens, has a way of making Whitney's life more than challenging lately, so Whitney is looking forward to kicking back and having an evening to herself.

The following morning after Whitney's calls to Amelia's phone go unanswered she drives over to the tract house neighborhood where she dropped her daughter off.  When an elderly couple answer the door and everyone seems surprised, Whitney thinks she could have the wrong house yet, she remembers the red door and rose bushes.  Confused and disoriented she rides around the the connecting neighborhood but ends up back at the home of the elderly couple.  Where is Amelia?

The story is clearly every parent's worst nightmare and it has a somewhat creepy feel at times.  The story backtracks to seven weeks earlier and progresses to the present and the reader gets to speculate about what has happened to Amelia and her friend.  There were also flashbacks to Whitney's own teenage years that makes the reader wonder where the story is headed but, after some unexpected curveballs, it all makes sense in the end - definitely different from anything I've read recently.  

Although I did not love this one as I did the author's previous book, When I Was You,  however, I was still happy I read this one.

Thanks go to Edelweiss and Mira for allowing my early access to the eGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.

Rating - 4/5 stars

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Oh William! ; Elizabeth Strout


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews
Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Oh William!; Elizabeth Strout

Random House - October 2021

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. William has lately been through some very sad events--many of us have--but I would like to mention them, it feels almost a compulsion; he is seventy-one years old now.

My second husband, David, died last year, and in my grief for him I have felt grief for William as well. Grief is such a--oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think.  It is like sliding down a really long glass building while nobody sees you.  But it is William I want to speak of here.

Elizabeth Strout is a favorite author after Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again. I hope this is another winner.  What did you think of the excepts I've shared?

Friday, September 17, 2021

Book Review - The Stolen Hours; Allen Eskens

The Stolen Hours; Allen Eskens

Mulholland Books - 2021

Lila Nash is a petite, young woman who has made a lot of progress with anxiety issues after she was drugged and attacked when she was eighteen years old. Both therapy and counting rituals have helped her succeed in law school and she now works in a Minnesota prosecutor's office. Her job isn't easy as Frank Dovey has an axe to grind and wants to see her fail. Lila is determined to succeed and when she is reassigned to work under Andi Fitch we see her confidence slowly building.

Gavin Spencer is a creepy, calculated psychopath and photographer. He has a distinct lisp and gets even with any woman who snubs him usually by doing away with the offender.  His most recent victim, Sadie Vauk, survived her attack and was able to identify him and,  the evidence is building against Gavin.  The more the evidence builds, the more Lila recalls similarities between her attack and the way Gavin operates.  This makes Lila more and more determined than ever to see him prosecuted for what he has done.

Without saying too much, I loved the way this story developed slowly, the details are so finely drawn and the pace was pitch-perfect.  The characters were expertly crafted. I especially loved that the women were so strong and determined. I enjoyed this one so much and did not want it to end so I read a few other books in between to make this story last.  The ending was both unexpected and thrilling.

Allen Eskens is a go-to author for for me.  One character, Joe Talbert who has been involved with Lila for six years has appeared in a few earlier offerings but, he played a minor role in this one so I feel this would work perfectly as a standalone novel.   If you haven't read this author previously, do yourself a favor an add him to your list. 

Thanks go to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the pre-pub eGalley.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review - The Heron's Cry; Ann Cleeves

The Heron's Cry; Ann Cleeves

Macmillan Audio - 2021

In Book #2 of the Two River series, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn returns to the North Devon coast to investigate a murder that took place at at an artist's studio.  Dr. Nigel Yeo is the victim and he was stabbed in the neck with a jagged shard of blown glass from his own daughter Eve's workshop and art studio.

The previous evening the deceased approached Matthew's homicide partner Jen Rafferty telling her there was something he wanted to discuss with her in private but, Jen had a little too much to drink so she gave him her number and asked if they could talk in the morning.  When her phone wakes her the next morning,  it is Matthew giving her the bad news and asking her to meet him.  Apparently, the late doctor was a patient advocate who had concerns regarding some suicides of patients with mental health issues. He was planning on voicing his concerns about the NHS and the way certain groups of patients were being handled.  When a second person is murdered under similar circumstances, the reason for the murders as well as the suspect pool widens.

Less than a month ago I read, The Long Call (Book 1 of this series) and I was quite impressed. In this sequel we see further development of each of the returning characters both professional as well as Matthew's marriage  and relationship with his husband Jonathan. I loved seeing how Jonathan is trying very hard to have Matthew rebuild his estranged relationship with his mother. I love the character driven style of this author and also the unique way in which her crime procedurals and investigations proceed.  There are lots of details and clues to take in and quite a few characters as well.  This was a very good sequel.  Someone mentioned that the Two River series will become a 4-part series for television.

Thanks go to Macmillan Audio and NetGalley for allowing me to download this audiobook in exchange for my unbiased review. The audio was narrated by Jack Holden who did a very good job.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Book Review - Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor; Anna Qu


Made in China; A Memoir of Love and Labor; Anna Qu

Penguin Random House Audio - 2021 - (5 hours 41 min)

Made in China, is rather sad memoir about what it was like growing up unloved and feeling like an outcast.  The author was born in Wenzhou China in the mid 80's. Her father died when she was young.  Her mother decided that if she stayed in China, with the one-child rule at the time, it would be unlikely that any man would want to marry her so she made a decision to leave her daughter behind with grandparents in China and go to America.  In New York her mother got a job at a Queens sweatshop and eventually ended up marrying the owner and having two more children.  In 1991 when Qu was seven, her mother brought her to live her new family which she had never met.  

In America, Qu was not treated like her half-siblings, and never shown any love or attention. She had a room in the basement.  Unlike her half-siblings, as a teen she was forced to work 40+ hours a week in the sweatshop. Her mother was beyond strict, she was down right abusive and eventually Qu files a report with The Office of Children & Family Services, a decision which affects her later on.  An excellent student she was determined to succeed despite little encouragement and without her mother's help. While her mother wore designer clothes, Qu wore sweatshop clothes which made her stand apart from her classmates even more. Although she manages to go to college without her parents help there are more issues to contend with as an adult.

This was an eye-opening memoir that makes you think about the immigrant experience.  We learn about generations of struggles for women in China and the need for mothers to be tough.  Qu's bitterness, loathing and resentment is difficult to read about at times as you learn more about the complicated mother-daughter relationship here.  This memoir showed the darker side of a journey from China to life in America to what one would always hope to be a better life.

I downloaded this audio book from the public library. It was narrated by Catherine Ho who did a very good job with this memoir. Recommended.

Rating -  4/5 stars

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Where I Left Her; Amber Garza


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews
Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Where I Left Her; Amber Garza

Mira - August - 2021

Friday, 5:00 pm, drop off

Whitney wanted to get rid of her daughter.

How awful is that?

Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the fifteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks. 

That's why she wasn't paying as much attention as she should've been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren's.  Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.

"The destination is on your right."

She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter's phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking

The house in front of them was  nondescript. A tract home, painted beige with dark brown trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rose bushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny jagged stems.

 What do you think?  I loved this author's previous book, When I Was You so I've really been looking forward to her new one.  It sounds perfect for the RIP Challenge as well.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Book Review - The Stowaway; James Murray and Darren Wearmouth


The Stowaway; James Murray and Darren Wearmouth

Macmillan Audio - September 2021

Maria Fontana is a Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and single mother to younger twins, she's in a committed relationship with Steve.  Two years early Maria sat on a jury where Wyatt Butler, was on trial for several murders. At the time Butler was portrayed as a brutal, ritualist serial killer.  The evidence however for the most part was circumstantial.  While eleven jurors voted for him to be convicted, one in good conscience could not convict him -- that juror was Maria and as a result Wyatt Butler was set free.  Soon a media circus ensued as well as outraged family members of the victims. It wasn't long before the public knew that Maria was the lone hold out juror.  Maria's  life became a living nightmare and the university made her take a force sabbatical.  

Eventually to get away from her nightmare Maria decides that she, Steven and the children need a family vacation and book a two-week transatlantic cruise.  Just as the family begins to think of having some much deserved fun and relaxation, people begin to go missing onboard and it soon becomes evident that there is a killer on the ship.  When details of the killings are leaked Maria soon realizes that the details of the killings on the ship are eerily similar to evidence shared at the trial of Wyatt Butler.  Is there a copycat on board?  

I couldn't recall reading a book that for the most part takes places on a transatlantic cruise ship but the setting was perfect and, because of the ship's size there were plenty of places for the cat and mouse game of a serial killer.  There wasn't much character development in this book but, it certainly was intense. This was a very addictive story but not a book for all readers as the serial killer targets mostly children and the details are quite specific.  If you're the type of reader who say keep telling yourself "it's not real, it's fiction," we found it to be a riveting thriller. We listened to the audio version in 2-days flat and we were satisfied with the way the story played out.

The audio book was read by Barrie Kreinik who did a fantastic job ramping up the thrills and chills. Thanks go to Macmillan Audio and NetGalley for allowing me access to this audio book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Spotlight Post - My Sweet Girl; Amanda Jayatissa

 My Sweet Girl; Amanda Jayatissa
Berkley - September 14, 2021

(about the book)

A Most Anticipated Novel of Fall 2021 by Entertainment WeeklyNew York PostThe Boston GlobeFortune, Buzzfeed, Goodreads, Shondaland, PopSugar, Bustle, Crime Reads, BookRiot, Crime by the Book, The Nerd Daily, The Every Girl, and more!

Paloma thought her perfect life would begin once she was adopted and made it to America, but she’s about to find out that no matter how far you run, your past always catches up to you…

Ever since she was adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage, Paloma has had the best of everything—schools, money, and parents so perfect that she fears she'll never live up to them.

Now at thirty years old and recently cut off from her parents’ funds, she decides to sublet the second bedroom of her overpriced San Francisco apartment to Arun, who recently moved from India. Paloma has to admit, it feels good helping someone find their way in America—that is until Arun discovers Paloma's darkest secret, one that could jeopardize her own fragile place in this country.

Before Paloma can pay Arun off, she finds him face down in a pool of blood. She flees the apartment but by the time the police arrive, there's no body—and no evidence that Arun ever even existed in the first place.
Paloma is terrified this is all somehow tangled up in the desperate actions she took to escape Sri Lanka so many years ago. Did Paloma’s secret die with Arun or is she now in greater danger than ever before?

(about the author)

Amanda Jayatissa grew up in Sri Lanka, completed her undergrad at Mills College in California and lived in the UK before moving back to her sunny little island. She works as a corporate trainer, owns a chain of cookie stores, and is a proud dog mum to her two spoiled huskies.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Book Review - The Guide; Peter Heller


The Guide; Peter Heller

Random House Audio - 2021 - (6 hours 59 min)

In 2019 I read Peter Heller's book The River which took place in Canada and I really enjoyed it.  This new book, The Guide, has Jack returning to the river but, this time the setting is Colorado. Jack is still dealing with grief: his mother's violent death and a tragedy involving a best friend. He has been hired by The Kingfisher Lodge, as a fishing guide to wealthy clients looking for peace and relaxation and, this may just be the job that helps Jack move beyond his grief. The story takes place in a post-COVID world but where another type of virus is threatening.  The lodge is nestled in a canyon with the most beautiful waters yet the grounds are surrounded by high razor wire fences, locked gates and signs warning trespassers who wander beyond the grounds that they risk getting shot.  What is really going on around the so-called "billionaire's mile?"

Jacks first client is a famous young female singer named Allison seeking the relaxation and someone to bait her fishing line. Although the two get along well Allison comes across as someone who is quite meek and not at all the way you would imagine a famous singer to be.  Shortly after the story begins there is a loud scream during the night and things begin to happen.  Although the setting was nicely described, the storyline itself did not work well for us.  For example, on a few occasions Jack's job is in jeopardy for policy violations yet he never gets fired and still freely snoops around when you would expect that video surveillance would be everywhere. There are also some strange things going on that make the reader realize that something at Kingfisher Lodge and the surrounding property isn't the peaceful place it claims to be.  The story eventually goes to a very dark place which involves young children. The happenings didn't seem at all plausible and the ending seemed unlikely as well.  After enjoying, The River, this follow-up just did not measure up.

I borrowed this audio download from my local library and fortunately is was shorter than most books. Mark Deakins narrated the book and did a decent job but, overall, we found this book very disappointing.

Rating - 2/5 stars

Friday, September 10, 2021

Book Review - Should We Stay or Should We Go? Lionel Shriver


Should We Stay or Should We Go; Lionel Shriver

Harper Collins - June - 2021

In 1991 when Kay Wilkerson's father dies in his 90s, Kay feels nothing but relief.   Kay felt that Alzheimers, in reality,  took her father from her some ten years earlier.  Kay and her husband Cyril are medical professionals for the NHS. Kay is a (National Health Services Nurse) and Cyril a NHS doctor.  Both of them realize that living a long life does not mean living a quality life.  After some discussion, Kay, now 51 and Cyril just slightly older, make a pact.  They decide that when Kay turns 80 the two of them will end their life with a lethal cocktail so that they won't be a burden to anyone.  Sound simple?

Fast forward and it's 2020 and Cyril has turned 80 and Kay will be there soon. They are both in pretty good health. What about the pact? Over the next (12) chapters some very different scenarios play out - some are quite funny and downright cynical, while other scenarios fell flat. Topics like Brexit, the NHS, the pandemic / lockdown, immigration and other sometimes controversial issues arise.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I began this book somewhat blind.  I did think it was about an elderly couple deciding to end their life at the same time.  I really thought I would enjoy it but, I ended up being disappointed. My biggest complaint about this book, was not the story itself but the writing.  I found her literary style rather pretentious and after a while just plain frustrating.  It was like she chose to use a version of a word that had the least frequently used synonym.  Here are just a few of those unusual word choices: Wherewithal - tautology - horlicks - ebullience - propinquities - foetal and that was just some of them in the first 100 pages or so.

It's been a long while since I read a Lionel Shriver book. In fact, I checked it was the summer of 2013 when I read both: We Need to Talk About Kevin and Big Brother.  While I liked both of those well enough (especially Kevin), I'm wondering whether her writing style has changed drastically over the years?  Have you read this author recently, if so, what did you think?

Rating - 2.5/5 stars

eGalley provided by Edelweiss and Harper Collins in exchange for my unbiased review.

Spotlight Post - The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris; Marc Petitjean


The Heart Frida Kahlo in Paris; Marc Petitjean (translated from the French by: Adriana Hunter)

I long been fascinated with the somewhat tragic life of Frida Kahlo and, I was happy to learn about this new book now available in paperback by Other Press. (released September 7, 2021.)

This intimate account offers a new, unexpected understanding of the artist’s work and of the vibrant 1930s surrealist scene.

(about the book)

In 1938, just as she was leaving Mexico for her first solo exhibition in New York, Frida Kahlo was devastated to learn from her husband, Diego Rivera, that he intended to divorce her. This latest blow followed a long series of betrayals, most painful of all his affair with her beloved younger sister, Cristina, in 1934. In early 1939, anxious and adrift, Kahlo traveled from the United States to France—her only trip to Europe, and the beginning of a unique period of her life when she was enjoying success on her own.

Now, for the first time, this previously overlooked part of her story is brought to light in exquisite detail. Marc Petitjean takes the reader to Paris, where Kahlo spends her days alongside luminaries such as Pablo Picasso, André Breton, Dora Maar, and Marcel Duchamp.

Using Kahlo’s whirlwind romance with the author’s father, Michel Petitjean, as a jumping-off point, The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris provides a striking portrait of the artist and an inside look at the history of one of her most powerful, enigmatic paintings.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book Review - Billy Summers; Stephen King


                                                             Billy Summers; Stephen King

                                                       Simon & Schuster Audio and Scribner - 2021

Who is Billy Summers? At 44, Billy has seen a lot, a decorated war vet who served in Iraq, a professional sniper and a calculated killer with one last hit to accomplish before that part of his life is over.  While waiting for just the right moment to make that final hit, he uses not only multiple disguises but, also poses as an author who needs quiet and seclusion to work on a book his is writing.  

It is through this therapeutic writing exercise that we learn so much about Billy and his childhood tragedies as well as the horrors he experienced in Fallujah.  The internal struggles that Billy deals with help the reader to understand the real Billy, a man ultimately in need of redemption.  When a young, college student named Alice is drugged and viciously raped and dumped on the side of the road, it is Billy who rescues her and helps her heal from the physical and emotional trauma.  We suddenly see the softer side of Billy, a man with compassion but also one who understands in the need for justice.

I will admit this story took a while to get going but, once it did, everything just flowed making this a book that was so hard to put down.  Through Billy we get a taste of small town life as he goes about his business using different aliases along the way, talking with some towns people while he poses as a writer.  There are loads on literary references in this story which I enjoyed. Some of the locations where Billy finds himself are "red state areas" that allows the author to make several political observations which may annoy some readers, but that is a rather small insignificant part of what what ends up being a very satisfying crime novel.  I could definitely see this story playing out on the big screen. Highly Recommended

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

This was a combo read for me. The audio book, read by Paul Sparks was very well done. The audio download was made available at no cost to me by Simon & Schuster Audio and the print edition I borrowed from my local library. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Book Review - The Long Call; Ann Cleeves


                                                              The Long Call; Ann Cleeves

                                                                       Minotaur - 2019

In this new series, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is a 40-something, gay man who returns to North Devon and the strict evangelical community where he grew up.  Matthew has been estranged from his parents, disagreeing with their fanatical religious views.  His father has just died and Matthew is now happily married to Jonathan, a kind man who manages the Woodyard, an arts center that also runs a day program for developmentally disabled adults.

Matthew's first murder case here involves a body of a young man that has been found along the beach. The man later identified as Simon Walden was stabbed but, the reason that he was killed is a mystery. As Matthew and his partner Jen Rafferty begin to investigate Simon's murder, they learn he has struggled with alcohol issues and killed a young child while driving drunk. As the case develops this and a few other crimes that develop seem to have ties to The Woodyard which puts Matthew in a awkward position since his husband Jonathan is a manager there. 

This is Book 1 of the Two River Series.  I was pleased with this book and I liked the soft spoken Matthew character, he's introspective, a little unsure of himself but, has keen observation skills.  His partner Jen is a single parent who has left an abusive relationship. She is quite different from Matthew yet, I think they will work well together. I'm curious to see if Jen matures a bit more along the way. There are several other characters which added a nice element to this crime mystery, including Lucy, a developmentally disabled young woman with a very protective father. There were also two other women like Lucy, Chrissie and Rosa who play into the mystery here. I love the writing style and all the little details about places and people that made the story a treat to read.  I did think the story started out slow but I do understand how that was necessary in order to learn about some back stories, introduce new characters, and to understand possible motivations of characters and suspects.  I just started to read Book 2, The Heron's Cry, which released on 9/7/2021 in the US.

Rating - 4/5 stars

I borrowed the print edition of this book from my local library.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Stolen Hours; Allen Eskens

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews
Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.  
Stolen Hours; Allen Eskens
Mulholland Books - Sept 7, 2021

Chapter 1

Lila Nash counted her steps as she walked from the kitchen to the bathroom of her apartment. Ten, nine, eight--the numbers falling silently in her head, a remnant from those days when she paced from the corridors of the hospital. Seven, six, five--turn into the bathroom--four, three--close the door--two--turn--face the mirror--one.

Her last step had been little more than a shuffle, but it allowed her to stop on one, which somehow eased the clockwork that ticked inside her chest.

What do you think? read more or pass?   Today is release day for this book.  I've read every book this author has written and this sounds like a good one to me as well.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sunday Salon - Playing Catch-up

Thank You Deb@ Reader Buzz

How was your week everyone?  It's been (2) weeks since I did a weekly update but we've been busier than normal these last few weeks. Last week we did a few fun things. We used to be season subscribers to a local playhouse but when COVID hit the theatre closed and there were (2) shows that we missed out on.  When they reopened last month, they began with one of the shows that we missed. The show we ended up seeing was a baseball theme play which was very good.  The theatre requested that masks be worn, which was a relief but, of course there were a few rebels in the rather crowded theater. Despite this it worked out for us and we had a good time with really great seats as well.

The day after we had the whole family (kids and grandkids) over for pizza and salad and it was delightful having everyone together for a few hours. 

This past week another busier one with yoga, a visit to a butterfly conservatory and extra time with two of the granddaughters as mom had to return to school a day earlier than the girls.  I wasn't sure what to expect from the butterfly place but, I loved it as did the kids - just so may different varieties of butterflies in a tropical environment.  Here's a few pics:


This week will be less hectic so more reading should be possible.  I finished The Long Call; Ann Cleeves (book 1 of a newer mystery series). I really enjoyed it and hope to get to review it a day or so.  Book 2 of the series releases this month: The Heron's Cry; I'll be reading that one for RIP XVI as well.  Right now for RIP I'm finishing Billy Summers by Stephen King and have about 10% left.  It took about 40% to hook me but, then it became addictive. This one is not a horror story at all.  

20 Books of Summer

Although I didn't read (20) books from my summer list. I did have fun and read (14) plus one DNF that wasn't working for me.  Here is my completed 20 Books of Summer summary.

Book Group Discussion

A few of us met for lunch before our book group meeting last month and that was a nice treat to get to talk to other members about things other than books. We then headed over to the library to discuss American Dirt  which I read in 2019.  There were about 10 of us for the discussion and everyone was happy that they read the book and it made for a good discussion as well. We also talked about the huge controversy about the author and publisher push of this book which we all felt was blown out of proportion for the most part.

This Weeks Plans

Dental check up/cleaning, yoga, return some unread books to the library, and pick up a few more. I also hope to start: The Guide; Peter Heller and possibly begin: Should We Stay or Should We Go; Lionel Shriver or Stolen Hours; Allen Eskens this week.

Hope you all have a great weekend -- (3) day for some here in the US.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

brief Book Reviews from late August reading: Council of Animals; Nick McDonnell, His Only Wife; Peace Adzo Medie and Sooley; John Grisham


                                                   The Council of Animals; Nick McDonell

                                                           Henry Holt & Company - 2021

This slim book (just 208pp.) was the strangest of stories that I've read in a while.  It reminded me in some ways of what I remembered of Animal Farm (from decades ago).  In this story there is an event referred to as "the great calamity" where humans were pretty much extinguished from the face of the earth except for about a dozen remaining who are frightened as to what will become of them.  The event appears to have had something to do with climate change or something nuclear even but something caused by human actions or inaction.  

Left to decide the fate of the few remaining humans are "The Council of Animals" which consist of dog, cat, bear, raven, cow, horse and baboon. Since the animals feel the humans are the ones that caused the calamity, should the dozen who remain be allowed to live or should they be killed and eaten?  The manner in which the debate and finger/paw pointing goes made me smile as chaos erupted. The animal factions and their rationale was entertaining.  Yes, it's political satire but, it seems in some ways to mimic the finger-pointing that has been going on in our own politics and the divisiveness that we witness day in and day out.

I started with the short audio book (3 hours) read by the author but, the narration and sound seemed a bit annoying so I switched over to the eBook which had some cool illustrations done by Steven Tabbutt.  Although this wasn't the type of book I would normally read, I thought it had merit and was certainly thought provoking enough.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

(Thanks go to NetGalley and Henry Holt Books for allowing me access to this book in exchange for my unbiased review.)

His Only Wife; Peace Adzo Medie
Algonquin Books - 2020

Afi is a young seamstress Ghana and after her father dies she and her mother are faced with poverty.  She is convinced by family to marry Eliken Ganyo, a wealthy man she has never met in what will be an arranged marriage. When she agrees  Eliken doesn't even show up for the wedding, there is a stand-in and the marriage happens anyways.  When Afi moves to Accra to be with her new husband she learns he is in love with another woman and there is even a child involved.  

The entire set up for this marriage was by a powerful, elder Aunty -- picture the female Godfather. Aunty's intent was to get Eiken away from the woman the family does not like.  Afi starts out with an almost child-like behavior but, it was nice seeing her mature over the course of the story and begin to grow more confident. This story started out a bit slow, but, I loved the setting, Ghana, and learning about a new culture and customs. 

Rating - 4/5 stars

(Thanks go to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to this book in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Sooley; John Grisham

Random House Audio - 2021

Samuel Sooleyman is a boy who loves basketball and is living in South Sudan.  He is in his last year of secondary school and gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He will join other basketball players from his country to play in a tournament in the United States.  Sooley, has led a sheltered life and has never even flown on an airplane but, this is an opportunity for the seventeen year old to be seen by scouts.  He isn't the best of the best, in fact he's the last to be chosen but, he's determined and practices every opportunity he has even when others have stopped. He improves and his determination pays off as he gets noticed.  Meanwhile back home in South Sudan, a civil war is raging, he father has been killed and his sister abducted, terrible things happen.

This is not a book just for sports lovers as I enjoyed it even more than I expected. My husband really loved it as well. It's a story about basketball and a ags to riches stories. It's also a story about a country devastated by civil war and the dreams of a better life elsewhere.  Sooley was a character to root for and I loved the way his character developed and how he transitioned into a life that was so different.  I must say that we hadn't anticipated the way the story would end (don't look for for spoilers). I do recommend this one - especially on audio.

The audio book (10 hours, 27 min) was narrated by Dion Graham who did a fantastic job. BTW: In case you have never listened to this narrator he is also narrating Colson Whitehead's new book: Harlem Shuffle which I plan to begin soon.

Rating 4.5/5 stars

(Thanks go to Penguin Random House audio for allowing me access to this book in exchange for my unbiased review.)