Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder
I don’t read a great deal of true crime books because humanity is depressing enough without reminding myself of how awful people can be. However, this case came up to my attention, and I wanted to learn more about it. Michele MacNeill was discovered dead in a bathtub by her husband, Dr. Martin MacNeill, shortly after what seemed to be a successful face lift. Martin immediately acted in a way that seemed suspicious to first responders; however, her death was ultimately deemed natural. It was only through the insistence of Michele and Martin’s children and Michele’s family that the case was eventually re-evaluated and Martin was charged with her murder. I did find this book fascinating, if not unsettling due to Martin’s sociopathic behavior. I don’t think I’ll read any true crime any time soon because it took a bit to forget this one!

The Animals: A Novel
Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary, although outside of legal limits. At first glance, Bill seems a stand-up guy, but the layers of this story peel away like onions. It seems Bill had a criminal past and this book alternates between the present Bill and the Bill of the past, along with his sins and crimes. I really enjoyed this book. I was bothered by the lack of quotation marks (I know, I know, prose… still, it’s not my favorite style), but I was drawn into Bill’s life and Bill’s past and present betrayals.

The Children's Crusade: A Novel
I struggle with lack of character development and while I felt this book characterized the children well, there was a distinctive lack of character development with Penny—the mother—and somewhat with Bill—the father. If the book had just been about the children and their relationships, that would have been okay, but it wasn’t entirely. The book began with a glimpse at Bill and Penny’s early married life, and then skipped ahead to where, inexplicably, Penny is an absentee mother and wife, far more interested in her art than her family. I had such a struggle with the jump that I actually looked back to the beginning to see if I missed something, but I didn’t. I understand that people can change over time and sometimes that’s all it is, but I still had a tough time with the leap. Other than that, I enjoyed the story told from the point-of-view of each of the four children. I did feel that since so much of the focus was on Penny’s mothering, or lack thereof, the story needed to be told from her, as well, or with less focus placed on it. I was disappointed because I felt that if it wasn’t for that gaping plot hole, I would have really enjoyed the book.

Black Dove, White Raven
I tried and failed to finish Code Name Verify by this same author. I finished this book, but I truly pushed through. Teo and Emilia are siblings, but of another manner. Teo and Emilia’s mothers perform stunt airshows together, until Teo’s mother dies during a stunt. Emilia’s mother takes Teo and Emilia to Ethiopia (the country of Teo’s father) and goes through the trials of raising children of two different races in the midst of Mussolini invading Africa. I felt that the pacing of this book was off. It was slow. Whole chapters were devoted to inconsequential things, while other important things (like Theo grieving his mother?) were entirely left out of the book. Definitely not the best book I’ve ever read.

The Last Flight of Poxl West: A Novel
Maybe I’m in a mood, but I wasn’t really awed by much of what I read this week. Poxl West is Eli’s de facto uncle, a war hero who writes a memoir of his time as a Jewish man in the RAF during WWII. After Poxl becomes critically acclaimed for his life, he drifts further from Eli’s life--though he still remains Eli’s hero. This book alternates between Poxl’s memoir and Eli’s thoughts at the time. As time goes on, it becomes evident to the literature world that Poxl’s memoir is not entirely truthful, and Eli is forced to recognize that his hero maybe isn’t quite the hero he claims to be. I found Eli’s reaction to Poxl’s lies to be utterly truthful and without any glossing over natural reaction, but I found the parts that were to be Poxl’s memoir slow and not overly engaging. I understand the author had to tell the story of Poxl to balance out Eli’s life, but it didn’t grab me like I thought it would.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Better late than never with my Wednesday post! This week got away from me.

Apron Strings
Disclaimer: I received this book free to review, but I receive all of my books for free from the library, so clearly all opinions are my own. This book is told by two characters: Sallee, a young girl, and Sallee's mom's maid, Ethel. Ethel has been a part of Sallee's mom's life since her mom, Ginny, was a young girl. Through Ethel's eyes we learn the past that surrounds Ginny and through Sallee's eyes, we learn the present surrounding her family and the prejudice surrounding her community. Life in the 1950s south was a tumultuous time and this novel captured it well. My only complaint was that I felt some of the characters needed more depth, BUT I also had to take into account that part of the story was being told by Sallee, a child. From a child's perspective, the characters were developed as deeply as a child could. This story grabbed me in and I definitely fell in love with the characters. It was a very well-done period piece, in that it's difficult to characterize pre-Civil Rights south without relying on too many stereotypes.

Hausfrau: A Novel
Anna grabbed me from the very beginning of this story by disclosing that she's a good wife. Mostly. Anna fits the very nature of a desperate housewife. An ex-pat living in Sweden, Anna struggles to fit in despite living there for many years. She seems almost adrift in her life, finding stability in, of all things, extramarital affairs. Anna finds herself in a web of her own making, clinically depressed and trying to find something. What I loved about this story is that it was sad and it rolled itself out easily and even though I saw the ending coming, it still grabbed me to the point where I read it twice--because it was that good.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
I don't read much non-fiction, but I really enjoy Erik Larson so I had to check this one out. Surprisingly, I loved it. This book balances history with personal accounts. I didn't know much about the Luthistania, other than it was sunk by a German submarine. What I learned is that there were multiple warnings that this was an unsafe voyage, that despite the recent wreck of the Titanic, the lifeboat situation wasn't where it should be, and that the survivor accounts were chilling. The history angle was fascinating, but the personal accounts really pulled me in. One woman spoke of her daughter napping above deck and her son being below deck when the boat was hit, so she had to make the decision which child to go to first. She grabbed her daughter above deck, then handed her daughter off to an unknown man and ran down below to get her son. The next time she saw the man, his arms were empty and her daughter was eventually found among the dead. The thought of this was overwhelming--how do you make those choices and survive? I definitely breezed through this one much quicker than I thought I would.

The Harder They Come: A Novel
There is not a character within this book who I would label as sane or normal. Sten, the father, is an ex-Marine and retired school administrator who overcomes and kills a man while on vacation. Adam, Sten's son, is schizophrenic, paranoid and violent. Sara, Adam's girlfriend, believes the government is out to infringe upon all of her rights. This was not an easy book to read. All of the characters were deeply flawed, Adam becoming more clearly dangerous as the book went on. I spent most of the book wishing that someone, anyone, would change the path of destruction all the characters seemed to be following, but no one did. The end was fitting, but also not an easy read. Still, I really enjoyed this book.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Aquarium
This book took me a very long time to read. It was not an easy read, but it was still a very good read. Caitlin and her mom have only each other in this world. Her mother works long hours to support them, leaving Caitlin with nowhere to go after school. Caitlin loves fish, though, and has found a comfortable home in the aquarium every day until her mother gets off work. One day, Caitlin meets an older gentleman and from this point on, it's unclear whether his intentions are good or malicious, but it sparks a change in the dynamic between Caitlin and her mother that is incredibly uncomfortable to follow. Despite this book not being an easy read, it was heavily thematic on forgiveness and just when it's okay to forgive and when it isn't.

All the Old Knives: A Novel
Henry and Celia were CIA agents in Vienna when a hostage situation went horribly wrong. On this night, Celia left the agency, moved to California, started a family and never looked back. Or so Celia would have you believe. Henry is still with the CIA and determined to find out just who was on the inside of the hostage situation, the night everything fell apart. Celia and Henry meet over dinner, during which secrets and lies are revealed. The two characters verbally dance around each other, but in the end, the element of betrayal is strong. Although this is not your typical fast-paced spy novel, it was still brilliantly written and left me with many questions.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

How is it Wednesday already? Alternately… how is it ONLY Wednesday?

An Untamed State
Mireille, her husband and son are visiting her family's home in Port au Prince, Haiti. Of the haves and have nots of Haiti, her family is the haves. While heading to the beach, Mireille is kidnapped and held in captivity for over two weeks while her father negotiates (or doesn't) her release. The brutality she goes through is horrific, but it is not the crux of the story. The story mainly focuses on her rebuilding, on learning to live without overwhelming fear and to accept her still beautiful but changed body and mind. This one struck me. I thought of Mireille long after I ended the book. It is not an easy read, but it is a powerful one.

Crooked River: A Novel
This was a good read to follow Untamed State because I could just sink into it and not think too much. Sam and Ollie, following the death of their mother, go to live with their somewhat wild father who lives in a teepee in a meadow surrounded by his beehives. Shortly after they arrive, a woman is found dead in the river and their father becomes the number one suspect. Sam knows he couldn't have done it and sets out to prove it. Ollie knows her father is innocent but for different reasons. Struck mute after the death of her mother, Ollie is followed by spirits who she calls the shimmering ones. The shimmering of the dead woman is trying to send her a message about her killer, but Ollie can't--or won't--speak to tell her sister what she knows. Although the ending was fairly clear at one point, it was more than just the ending. It was a story of growth and recovery following a loss, for so many characters within this book.

The Nightingale
I've been on the wait list for this book forever, so I was super excited when it finally came in. This story focuses on Vianne and her sister Isabelle in 1939 France. Vianne and Isabelle had an uncommon childhood, given away by their father following the death of their mother. Isabelle is young and rebellious, Vianne is trying to keep her head above water with a young child and a husband who is fighting to defend France. After the Nazis invade their town, Vianne is forced to share a roof with a Nazi soldier, while Isabelle is forced to decide just how far she will go and what she will risk to stand up for her ideals. I loved this story. Loved it. It was a period piece done very well, and I was so engaged in the lives of both Isabelle and Vianne, the choices they made and the chances they took. I did not want this to end.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I am basically failing at reading lately for a myriad of reasons and that's sad.

The Word Exchange
This book was tough. I almost put it down several times, but I liked the premise and wasn't sure if my lack of attention was hurting my involvement with the book. In a future society, books are all but meaningless. People read on devices called a Meme, which not only functions as a messaging device but is so much more. The meme also offers something called a word exchange, which will help you think of the meaning of a word or the name of something if you're coming up short. When the word exchange first rolled out, people were using it mostly for multi-syllabic obscure words. After a few years of usage, people were using it to look up words like "rotten," so far removed from complex thought. This book is told from two perspectives: Anana, the daughter of Doug, a staunch supporter of the written word, and Bart, Doug's mentee and editor of the dictionary. As the story evolves, Doug disappears and Anana is unwavering in finding her father. Meanwhile, the world is becoming gripped with word flu--a virus that causes people to replace common words with meaningless words. This virus has severe consequences, deadly for some, rendering others mute. Although I felt this book could've had a better flow, it definitely made me think about humanity and our reliance on technology. When is it too much?

Cold Cold Heart
After Word Exchange, I needed a book where I did not have to think. Dana Nolan, a beautiful TV reporter, is nearly the ninth victim of a serial killer, named Doc Holiday by the media. Through her own strength, Dana survives the ordeal, killing Doc Holiday. Although she survives, her injuries are quite severe. Not only is she disfigured, but she also has a traumatic brain injury. Brought home to heal, Dana is thrust into the world she left behind after high school, a world which involves trying to solve a cold case--the disappearance of her best friend shortly after the two graduated from high school. Paranoid and not sure who to trust, Dana struggles to make sense of what happened to her best friend and why, all the while dealing with memory loss and struggling to cope with her new self. This was a quick, easy read. Some plot holes and things that I found hard to believe, but I breezed through it, which was exactly what I needed.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I didn't read much this week because I haven't felt well. My patience to concentrate on a book has decreased, while my concentration on Friends reruns has greatly increased. Go figure.

Legend of a Suicide: Stories
I am hesitant to recommend this book because it's one of those books that people will either really love or find really stupid. Kind of like a Tim O'Brien book. At any rate, I really loved it. This book is told through a novella and five short stories, all taking a semi-autobiographical stance. The novella takes up a large chunk of the book and involves Roy and his father, a dentist divorced from Roy's mom, in a remote cabin in Alaska. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Roy's father is unprepared for such a trip and also, on the verge of an emotional breakdown. This was a tense, gripping story, one that actually made my jaw drop at a point. Is it a light, easy read? No, but it is one worth reading.

A Spool of Blue Thread: A novel
I always know that Anne Tyler stories are going to make me feel equal parts happy and sad. This one was no exception. A multi-generational story, this book begins with the story of Abby telling how she fell in love with Red. The Whitshanks are like any other family--there is nothing remarkable about them, yet they all have their own familial idiosyncrasies at which they find remarkable. From Abby, the story moves on to her parents-in-law and aspects that were previously unrevealed, then ends with Abby's own children. The time jumps were fairly seamless and made sense. I liked this story. It seemed real, genuine and relatable.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Humans: A Novel
Becky recommended this book, and I loved it. An alien visits Earth and takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin, a math professor who had just solved a thought to be unsolvable math theory. The alien is originally disgusted by humans. By the way they eat, talk, wear clothes and have pets. But as time goes on, he starts to love wine, peanut butter sandwiches, dogs and, well, being a human. He makes connections with friends and family, much to the dismay of his otherworldly hosts who can't fathom that he'd trade immortality for humanity.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Vera has one friend, Charlie. Or had, because Vera is reeling after Charlie's tragic death. She knows more about his death than anyone, but after he betrayed her shortly before his death, she is reluctant to share. This story has a brilliant, engaging voice, told mainly from Vera but occasionally from Charlie and Vera's dad, as well. Vera sets out to explore her own life in the process of coming to terms with Charlie's death, and it is both touching and humorous.

What are you reading?