Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Thorn Birds

Fiction by Colleen McCullough


This book was published in 1977 and is considered a classic by many readers. I'd heard of it (mostly because of the early 1980's miniseries version on TV that everyone talked about at the time) but had never read it, or watched the TV show.

It's a family saga type of novel, beginning in the early 1900's and set in Australia. I really liked the characters and enjoyed the story. I did feel like it was more tragic that it needed to be; when I become fond of characters I'd really prefer they end up happy. I mean, this IS fiction. The author can do what she wants with these folks, so why not make them happy? Still, this is a good book.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sad Cypress

Fiction by Agatha Christie.

In this story, Elinor Carlisle stands accused of murder, and it really looks like she did it. But, since this is an Agatha Christie mystery, the reader knows she cannot have, because the obvious solution can't be the correct one. Only Hercule Poirot can save her!

On a side note, I love this cover but I don't love the title. I noticed the French version of this novel is called Je ne suis pas couplable, which means "I'm not guilty." I like that title better.

I also read recently by this author: One Two Buckle My Shoe

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Fiction by Yara Zgheib.


I wasn't sure what this book would be about based on the title; what is this house at 17 Swann Street and why do only girls live there? I thought perhaps the address mentioned contains a block of student apartments, or a brothel? But 17 Swann Street is not a house; it's a treatment center, and the patients there are all suffering from eating disorders. So... that's why they are all girls....

This book contains a sometimes-too-realistic portrait of what it's like to have anorexia, and how hard it is to recover.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Smoke Screen

Fiction by Terri Blackstock


In this story, a small-town young woman called Brenna is afraid of losing her children to her ex-husband. Things are further complicated by the arrival in town of the man who was convicted of her father's murder fourteen years before, newly pardoned by the governor. Plus her old flame from high school shows up, a guy who happens to be the son of said recently-freed convict.

This is a very rich plot set up and the story was good, but I did feel like it was a little rushed. The book seemed like it ended too quickly to me.

I also read recently by this author: Never Again Goodbye

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Golden Child

Fiction by Claire Adam


This story is set in Trinidad, which is not a place I know much about at all. It's got an exotic feel, not in a pretty way, but in a foreign, Other-kind of way.

At the beginning of the book, a man called Clyde comes home from work to find that Paul, one of his twin 13-year-old sons, is missing. We don't find out until near the end what has really happened, but most of the story is about the family, especially Paul and Peter, his twin.

This is not a thriller, but more of a family story. It's good but somewhat sad.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Silent Patient

Fiction by Alex Michaelides.

At the beginning of this story, Alicia allegedly shoots her husband Gabriel in their kitchen, and then she completely stops speaking. She is convicted and confined to a mental institution, but never regains her voice.

Seven years later, psychotherapist Theo Faber contrives to get a job at this institution expressly for the purpose of working with her. He says he wants to help her, but the ethics of his single-minded interest in a female patient seem pretty iffy to me.

Did Alicia really kill her husband? Why doesn't she speak? What is really going on here? The ending was quite a surprise.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Misenchanted Sword

Fiction by Lawrence Watt-Evans


Several of my friends have done this thing on Facebook in which they post The Ten Books That Have Impacted Me The Most, or something like that. They post a picture of one book each day and then "challenge" their friends to do the same.

(I am not doing that, no matter if they challenge me or not, by the way. They can look at THIS BLOG to see what books I read, for crying out loud! Not that anyone does. Sigh.)

Anyways, one of my friends stretched this challenge to TWENTY books, posting one in the morning and one in the evening for the prescribed ten days. I noticed that almost all of his books were sci-fi titles that I hadn't heard of with rather old and battered covers. This book was one of them, and I decided to try it.

This was kind of a fun little story about a soldier in a mythical land whose sword gets enchanted rather badly by a wizard who either doesn't like him, or isn't very competent, or both. (Hence the title.)

I really liked the book but I don't necessarily recommend the audiobook version that I got; the narrator reads as if he were a radio announcer instead of a storyteller.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Long Call

Fiction by Anne Cleeves


I had this author recommended to me by someone who mentioned her Detective Vera books, so when I saw that she had a new series beginning I decided to try her out. (I've mentioned before that I feel like series detectives get a bit stale after several books, so that's why I'm often reluctant to jump into an established set of detective stories.)

DI Michael Venn (introduced with this book) is definitely of the brooding tortured variety of detective, although I think I like him well enough. This story was good but not great; I was surprised by the ending and also rather let down by the sordidness of the solution to the mystery. I'm not sure if I want to read more of these stories or not. Still, it was an absorbing read.

Monday, December 9, 2019

One Two Buckle My Shoe

Fiction by Agatha Christie

In this story, Hercule Poirot, famous detective, goes to the dentist. Oh no! Will someone be murdered there? Yes, I think so!

I also read recently by this author: Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Friday, December 6, 2019

We Must Be Brave

Fiction by Frances Liardet

Oh, this was a lovely story!

At the beginning there is Ellen, living in a small English village in 1940 trying to cope with various war evacuees. Ellen finds a motherless little girl called Pamela and takes the child in, although she has told her husband from the beginning of her marriage that she doesn't want children, knowing that he cannot physically father any. When her husband protests, Ellen explains slightly scornfully, "I don't want children. I want Pamela."

This story resonated with me a good deal. A mother's love is an amazing and fierce love, a very personal love of a particular human child. It doesn't matter how many children she has, a mother loves each one for him or herself. That is why it's ridiculous for people to say, in the terrible event of a loss, "Well, at least she has other children. She won't miss that one." But she will. She will always miss that one.

I'm getting a little maudlin with this description, but this book really affected me emotionally. It is not a war story, or a thriller, which I think maybe the negative reviewers I read on b&n.com were disappointed by. It's a life story instead. I loved it.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Murder 101

Fiction by Maggie Barbieri


This is a light mystery about a woman who teaches at a small college and stumbles into a murder case. I liked it some, but I had trouble really being interested in the characters.

Still, the story was pretty good.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Fiction by Agatha Christie


A rich and rather crotchety old man decides to gather his family for Christmas, including in the party his two estranged sons, his two faithful stay-at-home sons, and a long-lost grand-daughter. Then just to spice things up a bit more, he decides to tell everyone he's about to change his will. Is anyone surprised when this rich old man gets murdered?

Oh, but which one of them did it? Only Hercule Poirot knows....

I also read recently by this author: Murder is Easy

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Guardians

Fiction by John Grisham


I'll call it a legal thriller because that's the official Grisham genre, but this novel is much more "legal" than "thriller." This is the way John Grisham's books have been going recently, it seems. It's not necessarily bad, but it's not very thrilling either.

This story is about a lawyer who tries to help wrongly convicted people get out of prison, which sounds amazingly noble and (frankly) kind of hopeless. I mean, first you've got to find a prisoner who was actually innocent (sifting him out of all the others in prison who just claim they are innocent), and then you've got to get the government to admit that they made a mistake. And we know that no one likes to admit they made a mistake, especially not a bureaucrat. So this seems like a tough job.

I know that there are such people, both the wrongly convicted and the lawyers who defend them, but there sure aren't very many. There just can't be.

This story was pretty good; I liked the main character and the case was interesting. But this was not a thriller.

I also read recently by this author: The Reckoning

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Perfect Husband

Fiction by Lisa Gardner


Jim Beckett thinks he is the perfect husband and demands that Theresa be the perfect wife for him in return. Except he's actually an abusive psycho and a serial killer...

This thriller novel is pretty good but not great. It's an early release of Lisa Gardner's (more than twenty years old) that they have re-released because she is more popular now. This is really more of a romance story with the psycho killer business thrown in, rather than a mystery thriller with romance thrown in.

I've liked some of Lisa Gardner's books and disliked some; this one I'd say 75% like 25% disliked? I don't think I have a thumb for that.

I also read recently by this author: Crash and Burn, Fear Nothing 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

On Wings of Eagles

Nonfiction by Ken Follett.


What do you know about Ross Perot? All I personally knew before reading this book was about his failed election campaign of 1992. I was in college at that time, and mostly I remember my Republican relatives blaming Perot for the fact that Bill Clinton had been elected. (I don't think this is completely unfair, either; the fact is that he split the conservative vote by running against the party nominee, and he should have known it was impossible to win without a major party nomination.) At the time Perot was a bit of a comic figure, a billionaire who thought he could be president, and failed to win.

Well, this book is all about something I DIDN'T know about Perot. He was a bit of a bad-ass, apparently. In 1978, Perot's company was working with the Shah of Iran on a government computerization project when a couple of his employees got caught in the political crossfire of a revolution and ended up in Iranian jail with an exorbitant bail/ransom price-tag on their heads. Perot was determined to get them out, and this book is the story of how that happened.

I also read recently by this author: Triple

Warning! Long parenthetical aside about classification: (I couldn't decide whether to categorize this book as fiction or nonfiction. I'v read most of Ken Follet's books, and most of them are fiction, although many are based on true historical events. This one, however, is about rather recent history, and the author explicitly states in the beginning that everything written in it is true to the best of his knowledge, and not a novelization. Still, I was unsure. I had listened to the story on audiobook, and so I did not have a paper copy to refer to, and the barnesandnoble.com record referenced above did not classify one way or the other. I decided to try to settle the question by checking to see if the library categorized the book as fiction and filed by author's name, or if they had assigned it a Dewey Decimal number and marked it as nonfiction. Interestingly, my local library system had a record of several copies of this book, and about half of them were filed under fiction, and half under nonfiction. So the library didn't know what to do either!)

Friday, November 15, 2019


Subtitled: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
Nonfiction by Stephanie Land.


Stephanie starts this book out in a homeless shelter with Mia, her toddler daughter; she's left Mia's abusive dad and has nowhere else to go. To be honest, the place she starts out in is way better than most homeless shelters I've come into contact with, but still, it's not where she wants to be. The next steps are far from easy for Stephanie.

This book chronicles her long crawl out of poverty and into a better life for herself and Mia. Stephanie explores the world of food stamps, WIC, transitional housing, section 8, childcare subsidies, and all other the helpful-but-demoralizing government social programs. It's exhausting. Most of her time and attention is on working as a house cleaner (hence the title) and she tells some good stories about the people she works for.

The main idea seems to be that hard work can only sometimes get you where you need to go. As social commentary, this story doesn't really work for me; however, it is a fairly honest memoir and interesting to read. It's better than Nickel and Dimed (on NOT Getting by in America), which got much more annoyingly political and was less personal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How It Happened

Fiction by Michael Koryta


Rob Barrett is an FBI agent who specializes in confessions; he knows both how to get suspects to confess, and how to tell if the confessions he hears are true or false. Or at least he is supposed to know all of this, and it's on the basis of this expertise that he gets assigned to return to the small Maine town where he spent summers with his grandfather as a kid, searching for what really happened to a pair of eighteen-year-olds who are presumed dead.

But when Barrett finally gets what he is sure is a true confession from an unreliable girl called Kimmy, he can't understand why her story doesn't seem to check out. Is Kimmy lying again, like everyone thinks she is? Or is something else going on?

I also read by this author: Those Who Wish Me Dead

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

Fiction by C.A. Fletcher


I chose this book solely for the title. I just liked the sound of it.

Fortunately it was a really good story. It's about exactly what the title says: In the dystopian future, there are very few humans left in the world, but there is Griz, and his dog. And when someone steals Griz's dog, what can he do but chase down the thief and get that dog back?

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Safe Haven

Fiction by Patricia MacDonald.


This is the twentieth book by Patricia MacDonald I've read within the past year. I think I am at the end of the library's stock here, which is very sad for me.

In this story, a girl called Dena has recently moved back to her old hometown to start a new life with her boyfriend Brian, a boy she'd crushed on in high school and had been excited to reconnect with at the tenth class reunion. But now that she is less than two months away from having her first baby with Brian, she's starting to feel less than sure she made the right choice.

This was an exciting thriller with a surprise ending!

I also read recently by this author: Mother's Day

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Apartment

An Audible Original
Fiction by K.L. Slater


In this story, a young woman is enticed into a fancy London apartment that she can't afford, because the landlord says he gives discount rent to "special people" like her. Gee, does that sound suspicious? The story is interspersed with ostensible diary entries from the past that the author claims to be "based on truth." the story is convoluted and does not unravel properly.

I got this audiobook to listen to on a road trip but it was not a good choice. Unfortunately I was stuck in the car and continued to slog through, waiting for the story to get better. It did not.

I also read by this author and LIKED: The Mistake

Double Identity

Fiction by Margaret Peterson Haddix


This book was in the kids' section of the library, but I'd call it more like a young adult story. It was an exciting novel for me to read as an adult as well.

Bethany is almost thirteen when her usually over-protective parents inexplicably fall apart, freak out, and dump her on an aunt she's never met. Her mom and dad then disappear, and Bethany doesn't know why. Her aunt doesn't want to talk about it but everyone is treating her strangely....

The answer to the mystery in this story was very surprising! I really liked this book.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Good Riddance

Fiction by Elanor Lipman


Daphne's mother June left Daphne something strange in her will: a high school yearbook from 1968. The weird thing about the yearbook is that June was not in the graduating class of 1968; she was the yearbook adviser and a first-year teacher that year. And the yearbook is full of little notations about the students, made by June over the years as she attended every single reunion that the graduating class of 1968 held.

In a fit of annoyance at this strange legacy, Daphne decides to toss out the yearbook while "de-cluttering" one day.... but what happens if someone else finds it? What follows is a fun little story that I found really enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Other Mrs. Miller

Fiction by Allison Dickson.


At the beginning of this story, privileged heiress Phoebe Miller is dissatisfied with her marriage and her life, but she seems unable to do anything about it. Plus there's someone watching her from a parked car outside her house every day, that she also isn't doing anything about. When she finally does something, however, it's the wrong thing.

This was a pretty good thriller; it was interesting and exciting. My only problem was how very far-fetched it got, but I guess it is supposed to be fiction...

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Everything to Lose

Fiction by Andrew Gross

I've never read anything by this author, I don't think, although I've seen his name a lot. Recently he's been co-writing with (which I think means ghost-writing for) big-name author James Patterson.

This was an exciting thriller about a single mother who is tempted to do something (maybe) illegal to dig herself out of a financial hole. Her recent job loss and deadbeat ex make her feel she has no choice but to take a chance that she may regret. The characters were believable and the action was fast-paced.

I'll definitely look for more by Andrew Gross.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Great Alone

Fiction by Kristin Hannah


Leni is thirteen years old when her unstable father decides to uproot the family once again, this time to move to the wilds of Alaska. It's both a wonderful and a terrible thing for her, and of course it changes her life completely.

This is an amazing story and a vivid portrait of life in the Alaskan bush. Having lived in Alaska myself, albeit (thankfully) in the civilized part, I can relate to the crushing darkness of winter and the manic exuberance of summer pictured here. It's an awful place, and a beautiful place.

This was a really really good book!!

I also read recently by this author: The Nightingale