Friday, July 31, 2015

Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid writes books that are not my usual type of story.  That being said, it's a good thing to hop over to a different kind of book on a regular basis.  Keeps you thinking and keeps your reading fresh.  Maybe In Another Life is exactly the sort of book that I mean.  It's another of those that at first glance appears 'light' (I hate that expression), but has some quite serious things to say underneath the cinnamon rolls.  Yes, our main protagonist, Hannah, loves cinnamon rolls and honestly, she eats them all through this book and talks about them even more.  I really don't know why this story doesn't include a coupon for a cinnamon roll.  You'll want one when you finish it - I promise!

So, our primary character, Hannah Martin, is in her late 20's.  She is leaving New York, where she has also left a very bad relationship, and moving home to Los Angeles.  She'll go to her best friend, Gabby, who has been there for her since they were in high school.  Gabby is married to Mark, and Gabby's family invited Hannah to live with them years ago when Hannah's parents and sister moved to London, where the said sister had a special dance opportunity.  Gabby represents stability to Hannah.

Hannah is still unsure what she wants to be when she grows up.  She's lived in six different cities and has not felt settled anywhere.  Perhaps Los Angeles will finally be the right choice.  Gabby and Mark take Hannah out to meet friends soon after she arrives back in town.  There are people at the bar that they've known since high school and more importantly, Ethan is there.  Ethan and Hannah dated long ago, but college and circumstances separated them.  Hannah has always wondered 'what if' about Ethan.  At the end of the evening, a choice is presented.  Should Hannah go ahead and leave with Gabby and Mark or should she stay longer with Ethan to renew their acquaintance?  Here's a small quote:

     Life is long and full of an infinite number of decisions.  I have to think that the small ones don't matter, that I'll end up where I need to end up no matter what I do.
     My fate will find me.
     So I decide to . . .

At this point, our storyline diverges between the two choices.  In one, Hannah leaves and her life changes dramatically.  In the other, Hannah stays and her life changes dramatically.  Did you ever see the movie Sliding Doors?  This is kind of like that.  In each chapter, we see what happens on the one path and then we see what happens on the other.  And Hannah's fate is very interesting in either direction.

I found this book a good one, if a bit predictable.  I did enjoy seeing what might happen and seeing where the lines melded and diverged and then ran back to cross over and over again.  Hannah and Gabby were true friends, in both universes.  I liked how Hannah's extended relationships were examined as well and sorted out.  I'm not someone who spends a lot of time wondering if I found the 'right' guy.  I know that I did.  However, I also believe that sometimes, your 'right' person just isn't available, for whatever reason.  And, perhaps then, there will be another path.  What do you think?

I'll be checking out this author's other books - there are two - and I might have to go have a bit of cinnamon roll.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I loved reading and listening to The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  I read it in print last year and then decided to re-read it on audio.  Caroline Lee provides the wonderful narration for this updated tale of Pandora and her famous choice.  The three major characters in this book - Cecilia, Tess and Rachel - all have choices to make, big choices.  Each woman is presented with an impossible situation and one wonders - what would you do?

The Husband's Secret begins with The Berlin Wall.  No, it's not set in Germany.  Australia is our place to be - a little in Melbourne and a lot in Sydney.  However, Cecilia Fitzpatrick is our first character.  She discovers a letter, written by her husband and addressed to her, in the attic as she is looking for a piece of The Berlin Wall.  As a college student, Cecilia visited Germany and came home with what she was told was a bit of that structure.  Her daughter, Esther, is obsessed with The Berlin Wall and Cecilia promised to find the souvenir.  The letter that Cecilia stumbles across is meant to be 'opened after my death'.  Well, John-Paul Fitzpatrick is not dead, but he is on a business trip to America.  What could it possibly say?  And more importantly, should she open it?

Meanwhile, our attention turns to Tess, who lives in Melbourne, but who grew up in Sydney.  She's sitting at the conference table in the office that she, her husband, Will, and her cousin, Felicity, share, just as they share their business.  Tess and Will have one son, Liam, the light of their lives.  Will and Felicity have just told Tess that they are so, so sorry - so, so sorry, but....they've fallen in love with each other.  It just happened.  It's no one's fault.  And they are so, so sorry.

Lastly, there is Rachel, who has a son and a daughter-in-law and a grandson, Jacob.  Rachel loves being a grandmother so very much.  Years ago, Rachel's daughter, Janie, age 17, was murdered.  The person who killed Janie was never caught and Rachel has spent all these years missing Janie and thinking about what Janie would be like and hating whoever it was who took her life.  Her husband, Ed, died suddenly and now Jacob is her greatest joy.  And what were her son and daughter-in-law telling her?  They were moving - leaving - taking a job in New York???  Rachel had thought they were going to tell her that they were having another baby.  Instead - well, no.

Each of these women is a distinct character and has her own personality, life, and trials.  They will come together at the school where Rachel works, where Cecilia's children attend and where she is the 'queen bee' of the parents, and where Tess retreats and enrolls her son when she visits her mother.  Their stories will intertwine and connect and decisions are made - both good and bad ones.  And there are consequences.  And secrets are revealed.  Not everything will turn out the way you might imagine.  But do remember what was left when all the bad things came out of Pandora's box -- hope remained.

I loved the way this story was told.  Loved the glimpses we got into the thought processes of all these women.  And the narration was helpful in that regard - a sort of stream of consciousness of Cecilia, Tess and Rachel.  It made me laugh more than once.  But, don't think that all was sweetness and light.  It wasn't.  There were serious issues as well and frustrations and upsets.  I guess you could call this a domestic mystery or maybe a suburban mystery.  It was pretty snarky at times and would probably make any mother nod her head now and then.  We've all been there.  For me, this was definitely a two-thumbs up read.

I've also read Big Little Lies (loved it) and there was a similarity in the primary school setting with competitive mothers and wry humor.  Plus, there were underlying very serious issues.  I need to read more books by this author.  If you've read others, which would you suggest I pick up next?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - What You See

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Hank Phillippi Ryan's Jane Ryland series is one that I've meant to sample pretty much since she began it.  It has been nominated for and won numerous awards in the mystery community.  The main protagonists are Jane Ryland, investigative newspaper reporter, and Jake Brogan, homicide detective, in the Boston area.  Ryan herself is an investigative reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boston.  She's won EMMYs galore, as well are other media honors.  And by the way, this author is a she - make no mistake about that!  The first book in the series is The Other Woman, and my pick for this week, the 4th book, is:

Publication Date:  October 20th
Why would a father abduct his own child?  A wedding is planned in Jane Ryland's family, but there's a disaster instead.  Nine-year-old Gracie-supposed to be the flower girl-has been taken by her stepdad.  Where are they?  Is the girl in danger?  Reporter Jane Ryland learns there's a limit to the bonds of family-and learns to her peril what happens when loved ones are pushed too far.

Meanwhile, Detective Jake Brogan's got a doozy of a case.  At Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, a man is stabbed to death in front of a crowd of tourists snapping photos of the murder on their cell phones.  Solving the case should be easy, but the pictures and surveillance video lead him to a dark conspiracy of extortion and stolen lives.

Jane and Jake must explore where their loyalties lie-to each other?  To their families?  To their careers?  If they make the wrong decision, the consequences could be fatal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Killing Secrets by Dianne Emley + Giveaway

Killing Secrets is a fast paced thriller by Dianne Emley.  It's also the 5th book in a series featuring Nan Vining of the Pasadena Police.  Now, most of you know that reading books out of order in a series is not preferred by me.  Yes, I'm a 'must read 'em in order' sort of person.  However, I took the plunge and dove right in to this one.  And you are likely asking, will she read the previous books?  Yep.  Several incidents were referred to as the story progressed and I thought 'gotta find out about that'.

Our story begins as Emily Vining, age 16, runs through a park, supposedly taking pictures for a school assignment, with a boy her mother doesn't even know about.  The two teens kissed and played and then everything changed.  Below them, in a small ravine, are two bodies - a young woman and a teenage boy.  As it turns out, the woman is a teacher at their school, Erica Keller, and the boy, Jared, is a fellow student.  Emily's mother, Pasadena Homicide Detective  Nan Vining, arrives at the scene to find Emily shaken, but basically all right.  Nan also finds that Emily has a boyfriend she didn't know about, a young man who is the stepson of a prominent local defense attorney.  Oh, and there are a few other changes in her daughter's life that Nan had not been aware of.

Detective Vining, who is supposed to be on vacation, is not allowed to participate in this investigation, which very quickly is labelled a murder/suicide.  Before any time has passed, the police declare that the case is closed.  The press release states that Jared Hayword, a disturbed teen, has murdered his teacher, Erica Keller, and then killed himself.  Nan is stunned that things have wrapped up so quickly and then she is suspicious.  After poking around a bit, she finds that there are many questions left unanswered.  The boy's mother is adamant that her son would not have killed anyone.  Erica Keller was married to a police sergeant and their marriage had become rocky, with a restraining order issued.  Is there a cover-up?  Even though she's being warned off, Nan can't let it go.  And there are some powerful and influential people that intend to see that both Nan and Emily Vining are silenced.

I found this book pretty interesting.  I did wish that I knew more of the back story, but that was more of a personal wish than a necessity.  This story stands on its own.  The mystery itself was not terribly complicated.  I guessed the identity of the murderer early on.  However, I enjoyed the fast pace.  I did feel that both mother and daughter had a tendency to throw themselves into danger with regularity.  Not surprising.  It was that kind of book.  The depiction of teen life seemed valid.  Lots of social media and dependence on electronics for pretty much every aspect of news.  The way that rumors spread almost instantaneously and, despite kids being tech savvy, the cluelessness about what might be unwise or dangerous regarding shared information online.

Would I read another book by this author?  Yes and I'll be looking for the four previous Nan Vining mysteries.  I give this book a 1-3/4 thumbs up.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sharing this book with me.  The other stops on the tour can be found here.  The author's website is here.  And, there is a giveaway below.  Please feel free to enter to win a $25 eGift Card and a copy of Killing Secrets.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

The Good Girl by Fiona Neill begins with this quote:

"The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water."

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Don Quixote

This is the first book I've read by Fiona Neill and I did like it.  It was not quite what I was expecting, but honestly, I'm really not sure why I expected a thriller.  Perhaps I didn't read the info closely enough.  It's certainly got some tense moments, but this book is more of a study of a family in crisis.  Or maybe two families in crisis.  There are adults with secrets from their kids.  There are kids with secrets from their parents.  There are neighbors with secrets from each other and that doesn't even take into account the school scenarios.  A story of modern families that are trying to raise their teens and get them to adulthood without too much drama.  And how do you suppose that works out?  Well, about like you'd expect.

The Good Girl begins with the pivotal 'event' in March and then takes us back three months to see what leads up to that first scene.  Ailsa and Harry Field have moved from London to Norfolk, along with their three children, Luke, Romy, and Ben.  Ailsa Field is the head teacher at Luke and Romy's school.  Harry, who taught at a university in London, is taking on the house duties, along with writing a book.  Everyone has settled in pretty well or so it seems...until the Fairport family moves in next door.

Wolf and Loveday Fairport are sex therapists and live quite the different lifestyle from their neighbors.  They have two teenage sons, Jay and Marley.  The Fairport parents, who have lived all over the world, do yoga in unusual ways and have spirit guides and build a sweat lodge.  All kind of fascinating to the Fields, but out of the norm.  On New Year's Eve, the two sets of neighbors get together for a meal and to get acquainted.  Jay and Romy really seem to have hit it off.  They become friends and then a little more than friends and then perhaps boyfriend/girlfriend.  The problem is that there are all these secrets.  With the adults, even before they came to Norfolk, with the kids, and with extended family and work colleagues.  And secrets do have a way of getting out.

This story felt more than a little slow getting started.  After the prologue, where we hear about the 'event', the chapters alternate between Romy's viewpoint and her mother Ailsa's perspective.  Some parts were interesting and some got a little long.  There was a lot of information about the brain and how it processes decisions.  And as I said, secrets abound, and the trail of revelation for the various stories took us round and round and round.  The final 75 pages were pretty gripping.  This book points out how standards of privacy have changed and how so many young people do not understand appropriateness and Internet sharing.  It just isn't something they think about.  But they should.  Oh, they definitely should.

So, would I read another book by Fiona Neill?  Yes, I think I would.  The secrets related here are not especially unique, but I think the author did a nice job with some contemporary issues.  I give it 1-3/4 thumbs up.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Let's talk about early 20th century cooking and Donis Casey's Alafair Tucker mystery series...

I've mentioned before how much I like Donis Casey's mystery series that is set in early 20th century Oklahoma.  It tells of Alafair Tucker, her husband, Shaw, and their 10 children and extended family.  Alafair is a busy, busy mother, but she also is an inquisitive soul and has a tendency to run across situations that include bodies - dead bodies.

This author has put a lot of wonderful historical detail in these books and includes descriptions of both the setting and culture of the time.  Oklahoma of the early 1900's was an interesting place - to me anyway.  My mother's family was from that part of the world and I spent quite a lot of time in my childhood on summer visits to my great-grandparents' home.  My grandmother and her sisters would gather and they and my great-grandfather would talk about 'old times'.  I was a little mouse in the corner, always with a book, quietly reading and listening.  So, I remember quite a lot about the things that they talked about and the stories they related.

As I read this mystery series, the setting is vivid and the descriptions of life, including what they ate and how they tended to chores is reminiscent of my grandmother's tales.  Donis Casey includes recipes at the end of each book, as well as 'how-to's' on some chores.  In the first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, the recipes include Josie's Peach Cobbler, Buttermilk Biscuits, Alafair's Meatloaf, and Pecan Pie.  There is also a description of 'The Drippings Jar' and how to make coffee.  The author reminds the reader to 'Be Forewarned:  These are not health foods.'  Ha!  Well, the people at that time worked awfully hard physically in their daily lives, and so I don't think they needed a Fitbit to measure their steps or efforts.  I'm going to share how Alafair made coffee (I've already told all of you how much I love coffee).  And I'll tell you up front, I'm not changing over to this method - ever!
How To Make Coffee
      Alafair made coffee by putting 1/4 cup of ground coffee in the bottom of a tin coffee pot, filling the pot with water, and boiling it furiously for ten or fifteen minutes.  She knew the coffee was ready when a spoon stood up in the cup.  Coffee was usually drunk with two or three spoonfuls of sugar.  Cream was a matter of taste.  After drinking a cup of Alafair's coffee, one could go out and happily plow the south forty.  Sometimes one didn't even need a horse!
Honestly, my paternal grandmother made coffee just like that.  It was what she called 'stout' coffee.  And she would give me a tiny bit, with a lot of milk.

In the third book, The Drop Edge Of Yonder, we are treated to recipes for Fried Okra, Piccalilli (a sort of relish made with green tomatoes, onions and spices that my grandmother called Chow Chow), and Chicken and Dumplings.  We also learn how to iron a shirt.  Best of all, a recipe for Peach Ice Cream.  Here it is:

Peach Ice Cream

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups heavy cream

Puree four or five peaches, which Alafair would have made by mashing the flesh of the fruit through a sieve with the back of a large wooden spoon.  Sweeten the peaches with another 1/2 cup sugar if desired.

Mix sugar, salt, milk, and egg yolks in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until bubbles begin to appear around the edge of the pan.  Cool to room temperature.  Stir in the cream, vanilla, and peach puree.

Pour the ice cream mixture into the freezer can.  Fill the can only two-thirds full, to allow for expansion as the ice cream freezes.  Fit the can into the bucket, insert the dasher and put the lid on the can, then attach the crank.

Fill the freezer tub one-third full of ice, then alternate the rock salt and remaining ice, filling the bucket to the top of the can.  Use about four parts ice to one part salt.  Turn the dasher slowly until the ice partially melts and makes a brine.  Then crank rapidly until it's hard to turn the dasher.  How long this will take depends on the weather.  If you're lucky, the ice cream will set in ten minutes or so.  Or it may take half an hour.  Or it may not want to set properly at all.  It's all very mysterious.

So, do you have any memories of hand cranked ice cream?  My parents, my father in particular, loved homemade peach ice cream and we had it often.  By my time though, the freezer was an electric one.

If you're looking for a fun mystery series, pick up one of these and take yourself back a hundred years.  A fun summer pursuit that would only be improved by a dish of homemade peach ice cream!

I'm linking this post to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cards On The Table by Agatha Christie

Cards On The Table is one of my favorite Agatha Christie books.  I listened to it read by the wonderful Hugh Fraser, who played Captain Hastings in several of the TV adaptations.  Mr. Fraser does a good job of narrating this unusual tale in which Christie pits four 'sleuths' against four 'murderers'.

We begin our story as Hercule Poirot is attending an exhibition of snuff boxes with many London society people.  He meets an acquaintance, Mr. Shaitana, and has an interesting little discussion about collectibles and murderers.  Mr. Shaitana, who is famous for wonderful and interesting parties, invites Poirot to dinner and promises that the evening will showcase a 'collection' of a very different kind.

Poirot arrives for dinner and finds himself not the only guest that is connected with crime in some way.  There are four 'crime solvers' - Poirot, Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race - Secret Service or MI6 or whatever that branch is called in the 1930's, and also Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, crime fiction writer.  In a few minutes, the other guests arrive - Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Miss Meredith, and Major Despard.  These people represent the other side of the coin.  Mr. Shaitana has hinted to Poirot that he collects 'murderers' - the ones that got away with it.

Dinner is served and afterwards, the guests divide up to play bridge - sleuths in one room and possible criminals in the other.  Mr. Shaitana sits in a chair by the fire and as the evening goes on, well, Mr. Shaitana is murdered.  Who did it and how can no one have seen?  Our task as readers is to go along with the investigation in which all of our crime solvers take a part.  They have to suss out not only the murderer of Mr. Shaitana, but also decide if his suspicions were correct.  Were their fellow guests murderers?

I listened to this book, but I have read Cards On The Table in print as well.  Christie uses the bridge scores to assist in solving the crime and the book shows those scores as a visual aid.  I know nothing about bridge, but it's not hard to follow Poirot as he questions people using the score sheets.  Each sleuth has their own method.  Battle appears slightly slow and dull, and he is anything but that.  Colonel Race is the one shown least, as befits a spy, I suppose.  I love Mrs. Oliver and love the books where she appears.  Her character is humorous and shrewder than one might expect.  It's not hard to surmise that the author put a bit of herself into the character.  I've always wondered if Christie liked apples as much as Mrs. Oliver.  She wrote in an introduction to the book:

     Spot the least likely person to have committed the crime and nine times out of ten your task is finished.
     Since I do not want my faithful readers to fling away this book in disgust, I prefer to warn them beforehand that this is not that kind of book.  There are only four starters and any one of them, given the right circumstances, might have committed the crime....The deduction, therefore must be entirely psychological...

So, if you'd like an Agatha Christie book that will keep you guessing, pick up Cards On The Table.  It a good 'un!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Head Full Of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Whew!  This was such an odd book.  Truly.  A Head Full Of Ghosts was written by Paul Tremblay, an author that I have not read in the past.  It's billed as a melding between psychological thriller and horror novel.  I'd say that fits pretty well.  I've also seen Mark Z. Danielewski's House Of Leaves mentioned, as well as Shirley Jackson's books.  Have you read either of those authors?  I tried to read House Of Leaves at one point, but stalled.  I think I've read a Shirley Jackson book, but can't remember which or maybe I'm just remembering watching a movie based on one of her books.  So, do you like horror stories?  Or horror movies?  I like some of them, but not all.  I like Stephen King's early books, and I remember watching The Exorcist and The Omen and other scary movies of that era.  This book took me back to that type of storytelling.

The Barrett family is going through hard times.  The father, John, has been out of work for over a year.  The mother, Sarah, works as a bank teller, but can't really make enough to pay all the expenses.  There are two daughters, 14-year-old Marjorie and 8-year-old Merry.  Marjorie becomes ill with some pretty strange symptoms.  She might be experiencing mental illness, as she tells her little sister about the 'voices' in her head.  Her parents take her to a psychiatrist, but her symptoms worsen.  John Barrett turns to his church for help and shares his fears with a priest.  As Marjorie continues to fall further and further into a type of madness, the priest suggests that she might be possessed.  At this point, you're probably going....right....shades of Regan and The Exorcist.

As John and finally, Sarah, buy into the whole 'need for an exorcism' proposition, a TV production company is contacted and a reality show proposed and actually filmed showing the family and their trials and tribulations.  A sort of 'Life With A Mad Or Maybe Possessed Girl' scenario.  Sadly, people would likely watch such a thing and, who knows, maybe it actually exists or something like it.  Meanwhile, little Merry is watching everything and trying to sort out a normal life with soccer and her Richard Scarry book and cartwheels.  Eventually, the show is filmed, terror ensues and truly awful incidents occur.

Fifteen years later, a writer meets with 23-year-old Merry Barrett to ask her what she remembers about that part of her childhood.  What was it like to be in the midst of a family disintegrating to bits?  What does she recall about the filming, her sister's mental illness, her parents' stress?  And Merry tells her.  As I said at the beginning, it's an odd, odd tale.  Paul Tremblay takes us back to the past and then relates more of Merry's interview.  Interspersed are a series of blog posts about the TV show, The Possession, with an analysis of what was shown.  And then the end comes and it's disturbing and a bit ambivalent.  I know what I think, but there's a little question.

I liked this book, mostly.  It was disturbing, certainly.  It was hard to tell who was relating truth and who was not - all the way through.  The little girl, Merry, was very vivid and lively and kind of exhausting to read about.  She bounced through the whole book, pestering her parents, her sister, and the film crew.  Marjorie was creepy in some ways, but a lot of her scenes seemed a little cliched - like right from old horror films.  Otherwise, she didn't seem all that different from a 'normally' disturbed and 'should be hospitalized' teen.  If that makes sense.  I did not like the parents much, either of them.  And what do I think about the possession?  Well, I'll leave that up to you if you read it.

I'd be interested enough to try another book by this author.  However, I now feel the need to get back to my usual lovely murders and crime solving - you know, murders for profit or revenge or a good old serial killer.  Something that has a definite solution and evidence.  No more exorcisms for me for a while.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - The Darling Dahlias and the Eleven O'Clock Lady

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Have you read any books by Susan Wittig Albert?  She has several series and is probably best known for her China Bayles mysteries, which are set in my area of the world, Central Texas.  She also has a historical series that I've sampled in the past with my mystery group - The Darling Dahlias.  We read the first book, The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree, several years ago and enjoyed it a lot.  Set in Darling, Alabama of the 1930's, the Dahlias are the local garden club members.  Oh, and they also seem to run across mysteries.  The book I'm looking forward to this week is the 6th in the series:

Publication Date:  September 1st
The eleven o’clock lady has always been one of garden club president Liz Lacy’s favorite spring wildflowers. The plant is so named because the white blossoms don’t open until the sun shines directly on them and wakes them up.

But another Eleven O’Clock Lady is never going to wake up again. Rona Jean Hancock—a telephone switchboard operator who earned her nickname because her shift ended at eleven, when her nightlife was just beginning—has been found strangled with her own silk stocking in a very unladylike position.

Gossip sprouts like weeds in a small town, and Rona Jean’s somewhat wild reputation is the topic of much speculation regarding who might have killed her. As the Darling Dahlias begin to sort through Rona Jean’s private affairs, it appears there may be a connection to some skullduggery at the local Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Working at the camp, garden club vice president Ophelia Snow digs around to expose the truth…before a killer pulls up stakes and gets away with murder.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - Devil-Devil

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent.  My mystery group is reading books set in Asia and the South Pacific for our August meeting.  This book is the first in a mystery series set in the Solomon Islands of the 1960's.  I've been planning on reading this series (which it seems only has 2 books) for a long time and it fits our upcoming theme perfectly.  Let's see what you think:

     Sister Conchita clung to the sides of the small dugout canoe as the waves pounded over the frail vessel, soaking its two occupants.  In front of her the Malaitan scooped his paddle into the water, trying to keep the craft on an even balance.  Sister Conchita could see the coastal village a hundred yards away.  The beach was crowded with islanders.  She wondered whether it had been worth the perilous sea journey just to see the shark-calling ceremony when all she wanted was a shower and a meal.  Of course it was, she told herself severely.  If she intended serving God in the Solomons then she had to get to know everything about the islands.
     The half-naked islander in front of her suddenly gave a scream of terror.  Turning he thrust the paddle into the sister's hands and dived over the side of the canoe, disappearing into the frothing white foam.  Sister Conchita sat rigid with apprehension, the pitted wooden blade clutched loosely in her hands.  Bereft of the islander's control, the canoe started pitching and swinging wildly.


It's not easy being Ben Kella.  As a sergeant in the Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as an aofia, a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper of the Lau people, he is viewed with distrust by both the indigenous islanders and the British colonial authorities.  In the past few days he has been cursed by a magic man, stumbled across evidence of a cargo cult uprising, and failed to find an American anthropologist who had been scouring the mountains for a priceless pornographic icon.  Then, at a mission station, Kella discovers an independent and rebellious young American nun, Sister Conchita, secretly trying to bury a skeleton.  The unlikely pair of Kella and Conchita are forced to team up to solve a series of murders that tie into all these other strange goings on. Set in the 60's in one of the most beautiful and dangerous areas of the South Pacific, Devil-Devil launches an exciting new series.


Do you think you'd keep reading?  Is this an area of the world that you think would make a good setting for a mystery?

Monday, July 20, 2015

In which the mystery group learns about the Navaho Nation with Spider Woman's Daughter...

The mystery book group meeting for this month was a bit sparsely attended.  It's summer and people are busy with other things - vacations and other pursuits.  However, we had a good visit and talked a bit about the book we'd read, Spider Woman's Daughter, by Anne Hillerman.

How many of you have read Tony Hillerman's mystery series, set in the beautiful arid desert region of the Four Corners?  His first book, in which he introduced his main protagonist, Joe Leaphorn, was written in the early '70's.  It was called The Blessing Way.  Over the years, Hillerman wrote 18 books featuring Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee, both Navajo Nation Policemen.  The setting of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado and Utah, was a big part of this author's books, as well as details about the culture and lore of the Navajo Nation.  I loved Tony Hillerman's books and was sad when he passed away in 2008.

Anne Hillerman, Tony's daughter, tells of the questions she received from his publisher after her father's death.  Were there more manuscripts, yet unpublished, featuring Leaphorn and Chee?  She said she told them that there were not and the publisher was disappointed.  Anne Hillerman was already a published author and journalist.  Her husband is a photographer and they had written more than one book about New Mexico, their home.  She decided, after talking with her mother, to see if she could continue writing about her father's characters, but with a little different focus.  With her mother's blessing and her own detailed knowledge of the previous books, she wrote Spider Woman's Daughter.

This book begins with a bunch of cops eating breakfast together.  The group includes Joe Leaphorn, retired police lieutenant, now a private investigator.  It also includes Officer Bernadette Manualito, wife of Sergeant Jim Chee.  After the meal, Manualito receives a phone call and she leaves the table to talk to the caller.  Leaphorn had also indicated that he was leaving and walked to his truck outside.  As Bernie watches in horror, Leaphorn is shot in the parking lot by a person in a black hoodie, who then speeds away.  Bernie rushes outside, trying to remember exact details of the shooter and vehicle, and realizing that Joe Leaphorn is critically injured.  It's quite the beginning.

The rest of the book relates the investigation, which the FBI becomes a part of.  Jim Chee is placed in charge of the Navajo Nation Police portion of the crime solving and he is also to act as liaison with the FBI.  Bernie herself, being a witness to the crime, is placed on leave and told to go home and relax.  Not so much.  She finds ways to help or maybe interfere, as her boss would term it, because she feels that if she'd only moved faster or looked up sooner or something, she might have altered the outcome in some way.

The group was mostly positive about Spider Woman's Daughter.  Some of us had read at least a few of the previous books in the series and so, we knew Leaphorn and Chee and also Bernie.  We were used to the setting and culture being a big, big part of the story.  Some members had not read any of Tony Hillerman's books.  It was agreed that the mystery itself was not particularly complex.  However, we allowed that this was a 'first' book and hope that in future books, that might change.  Most everyone was impressed with the vivid descriptions of the location and the glimpses of Navajo culture included.  Some were a little weary of the long driving distances that the characters endured and that didn't seem to affect the story, other than to be mentioned.  And it is true - the driving time for these officers is huge and it's talked about over and over.

One member mentioned that she was concerned when Leaphorn's cat, which Bernie was taking home to care for, was lost for a period of time.  It seemed that Bernie was a little careless about the cat.  I mentioned that I thought the cat was pretty 'crafty' and seemed very intelligent.  I felt the cat 'planned' to get lost.  By the way, the cat was OK.  It turned up later.

Almost everyone said that they would try the next book in the series, Rock With Wings, which was recently published.  Though we didn't feel that the daughter was quite up to the standard of the father, we're hopeful.

Next month, our group will be reading from the theme of 'books set in the South Pacific or Asia'.  We're looking forward to hearing about what everyone chooses.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Hundred-Foot Journey on Weekend Cooking

My husband and I watched the film adaptation of Richard C. Morais' book, The Hundred-Foot Journey recently and it was a feast for the eyes.  I only wish I could have smelled and tasted all the lovely food included.  The dishes looked yummy indeed.

The book, which I have not read as yet begins:

I, Hassan...was born the second of six children, above my grandfather's restaurant on the Napean Sea Road in what was then called West Bombay, two decades before the great city was renamed Mumbai.  I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of makli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents' room above the restaurant.

The movie, which I'm sure changes a few things up, is the story of Hassan Kadam and his family, who leave India and come to France where they open an Indian restaurant directly across the road from a noted French restaurant.  It belongs to Madame Mallory and has a Michelin star.  Helen Mirren stars as the very proper and correct Madame Mallory.  The styles and cuisine of the eateries are totally different, as one might expect.  The two proprietors do not get along.  Hassan's father and Madame Mallory pretty much go to war against each other.  Hassan, a born chef, wishes to broaden his cooking skills and with the help of a sous chef at the French restaurant, Marguerite, he does so.  And he comes to Madame Mallory's reluctant attention.  And that's all I'll say about the movie.

The food included, both Indian and French, looks lovely.  I will admit that I am very partial to Indian food.  We've been enjoying it for years, ever since my husband worked with a man who was from that country and who shared his tasty and spicy cuisine with us.  Austin has several wonderful Indian restaurants and we don't get to go to them nearly enough.

I'm including the trailer for the movie.  I'd like to read the book as well, but perhaps I'll just watch the movie again.  Enjoy!

I'm linking this post to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm is the 2nd book in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, written by Robert Galbraith aka J. K. Rowling.  I listened to this book on audio and it is wonderfully narrated by Robert Glennister.  Really, really good narration.  I feel that this is another series that might be best experienced in audio format.

After the events of the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, Cormoran Strike is a famous man.  Well, he was already a bit famous, being the son of an aging rock star and also a war hero, but the previous case was the tipping point for insuring that his private detection business would be a success.  He has enough work to keep his assistant, Robin, busy on the phones and the computer, and himself busy as well.  Mostly divorce cases, but one morning he has a visit from a novelist's wife.  Leonora Quine, wife of author Owen Quine, tells Cormoran that her husband is missing.  She wants Strike to find him and tell him to come home.  Now Mr. Quine has made a habit of going off for a few days, leaving his wife and daughter alone.  Usually, he's accompanied by another woman and he spends some time in a pricey hotel and then returns.  After Strike asks Mrs. Quine why she doesn't go to the police, she says that the police won't believe her and she knows that Strike will succeed.

Strike starts the process of trying to locate the author and it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to the story.  Quine has recently finished a book, yet to be published, that has several members of the book industry up in arms.  It's a very, very odd book (and when I say odd, I mean odd!!!).  It depicts certain individuals in very horrible ways and pretty much reveals a bunch of secrets that Quine's colleagues in the industry would love to keep quiet.  And then our hero, Strike, discovers the author's body, killed in a most grotesque manner.  It's up to Strike and Robin to put all the clues together and save the day.

I really like the characters of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott.  We get to see more of Robin's life in this book and also her ambitions for her own career in investigation.  We also find that she has a few hidden talents.  Strike, who is a very shrewd detective, shows himself to be adept at navigating the publishing world and people that populate it.  Everyone seems to expect him to be some kind of Neanderthal, but they don't know that before he joined the Army, he was at Oxford.  The solution was not totally unexpected for me, but I had hopped from place to place in my guesses.  The book is a bit lengthy and probably could have been 100 pages shorter, but as I was listening to it, I didn't mind.  A lot of conversation though and not terribly much action, except when Strike is injuring his knee again.

I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, Career of Evil, which will be published in the fall.  If you liked the first book, you'd probably like this one as well.  If not, well, you might want to pass on The Silkworm.  I also understand that the BBC will be adapting these books for TV.  I hope that we get a chance to see them here in the US.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Little Black Lies is a debut novel by Sandra Block, a practicing neurologist.  It's set in the Buffalo, New York area and it fits in very well with my 'read cold books in summer' quest.  I liked it very much.

Zoe Goldman is a doctor doing her residency in psychiatry in Buffalo.  She is a very interesting character.  She's adopted and has been told that her birth mother, her adopted mother's friend, died in a fire when Zoe was 4.  She has scars on her palms from that event, but minimal memories.  She has a younger brother, Scotty, that she shares a home with.  Their mother has early onset dementia of some kind, possibly Alzheimer's, and they are losing her bit by bit.  Zoe has an extremely busy life with her residency, being on call, visiting her mother, and dealing with her own ADHD issues.  And as her adopted mother slips farther and farther away from reality, Zoe finds herself wanting to know more about her birth mother before it's too late.

This story takes place over a 4 month fall/winter period.  We see the patients that come in and out of Zoe's life on the psychiatric ward.  We meet her brother and mother and also join her on her visits to her own therapist.  We're with Zoe as she begins to have nightmares again, which she hasn't done for many years.  They all involve her birth mother and a dark night where she is hiding from someone who is calling her name.  The dreams become a bit clearer, but Zoe's memory is still not cooperating.  Meanwhile, she feels a sense of urgency to discover more about the tragic events that led to her birth mother's death.  Has she been told the truth?  Why has her new patient, a woman who murdered someone at 14, appeared suddenly in her dreams?  Why can't she remember???

Sandra Block is a doctor herself and so her setting and details all seemed very authentic to me.  The memory care that Zoe's mother experienced was accurate, as far as my own experience with my parents went.  I felt Zoe's frustration in needing information from her mother, but knowing that she likely would never get all the facts.  I also felt her love as well.  Dealing with a family member that has dementia is awful, sometimes funny, and has small rewards and victories.  The reader could also feel the impulsive thought process that the protagonist went through as she dealt with her own ADHD.  It was a little anxiety inducing to me.  I kept wanting to tell her to settle down, but I guess that's not possible and kind of the point.

And then there was a sense of menace that slowly began to creep in.  As Zoe realizes that there is more to the story of her adoption and her past, the reader's heart begins to beat faster.  You were never quite sure what she would find out and where the creepiness was coming from.  Well, actually, I had a pretty good idea, but it was just a guess.

I'm happy to see that there will be another book in the fall that features Dr. Zoe Goldman and her friends and family.  It's called The Girl Without A Name and I'm definitely looking forward to it.  I give Little Black Lies two thumbs up.    

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - Career Of Evil

This is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I know I've already shared how much I love the Harry Potter books.  I also have read J. K. Rowling's mysteries that she writes under the name Robert Galbraith.  I really like Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin.  I'll be sharing the review of the second one, The Silkworm, later this week.  The third book in the series will be published later this year and it is my selection for this week:

Publication Date:  October 1st

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible--and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday - First Chapter - First Paragraph - The Husband's Secret

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading.  This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  This is a re-read for me.  I've read it in print, but I haven't listened to it on audio yet.  The narrator is the wonderful Caroline Lee, and I love her voice.  You've likely either read this book or at least heard of it.  See what you think:

     Poor, poor Pandora.  Zeus sends her off to marry Epimetheus, a not especially bright man she's never even met, along with a mysterious covered jar.  Nobody tells Pandora a word about the jar.  Nobody tells her not to open the jar.  Naturally, she opens the jar.  What else has she got to do?  How was she to know that all those dreadful ills would go whooshing out to plague mankind forevermore, and that the only thing left in the jar would be hope?  Why wasn't there a warning label?  And then everyone's like, Oh Pandora.  Where's your willpower?  You were told not to open that box, you snoopy girl, you typical woman with your insatiable curiosity; now look what you've gone and done.  When for one thing it was a jar, not a box, and for another--how many times does she have to say it?--nobody said a word about not opening it!


My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death.  Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well.  Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother.  Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home.  But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.


I totally enjoyed this book when I read it in print.  The humor is such fun, but the story does get a little serious.  And Caroline Lee's narration, with her great Australian accent, is perfect.  Would you continue reading??  If you've read this book, what did you think?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bookish Nostalgia - July 2015

Another month has come and gone and I know I'm a little late with this post.  However, I'm just returning from my planned blogging break.  And it has been a good break.  Lots of books read and listened to.  And lots of reviews to come.  Here's what I read and remember the best from July of 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010.  I think that July seems to be my month for reading YA fantasy, at least in the last years.  See what you think.  My favorites from July of...

July 1995 - The Rainmaker by John Grisham - I used to read every single book that John Grisham wrote.  That began when I read The Firm and then read his first book, A Time To Kill.  I loved both of them.  After that point, I raced to get every new book.  And then, somehow, I kind of lost my impulse to run - for Grisham at least.  Anyway, The Rainmaker is about a brand new lawyer who goes up against some very big companies.  His promised job after law school never happens, because of a merger, and he fights 'big' insurance and a 'big' law firm.  And he has right on his side, of course.

July 2000 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - Yes, this is probably my very favorite Harry Potter book.  Now don't get me wrong, I love them all.  But this one....it's the pivotal book, in my opinion.  And it's the central book of the 7.  This is the first really long Potter book.  The first that I purchased from a US publisher.  Little secret - I bought the first 3 books from 'across the pond'.  It's the one that sees Harry start that journey into adulthood, in a very real way.  I loved it and still do.  The Tri-wizard Tournament, the students from other wizarding schools, the dragons, Cedric Diggory, Mad Eye Moody, Harry's first dance, so many things.  I think I bought it the day it came out, and the time is coming closer for another re-read of the Potter books.

July 2005 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling - Do you see a theme here?  This Harry Potter book was a very hard one to read.  There were deaths of favorite characters and Harry is well on his path to adulthood by this time.  Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the 6th book in the series and we are in the midst of dark, dark times.  I remember buying this book on publication day and telling my husband that I would not be doing anything that weekend until I finished it.  It was that kind of book.  And, I also remember being so, so sad that I would have to wait quite some time for the next and last book.  Sigh.  Those were the days.  Ha!

July 2010 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I can remember reading this book on a vacation we took that summer.  I was sitting out on a cool balcony in Ruidoso, New Mexico and getting to know Katniss and company.  I had been urged to read The Hunger Games and also Catching Fire before Mockingjay was published later that summer.  I managed to do that and this was the last book I read in July of 2010, finishing it on the 31st.  I recall trying to explain the whole concept of the games to my husband on that trip.  While I won't say that I love this trilogy as much as the Harry Potter books, it's a really, really good one.

Please tell me you've read some of these books!  If you haven't read any of them, well, what are you waiting for?  Truly, what?