Mini Reviews for December - 8 books, 5 genres
Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien
Published 2008, 230 pages
Strongly recommended by my sister, I finally picked this up for a challenge read this year. It's the excellent story of a woman biologist who raised an injured owl from infancy until he died 19 years later. The trials and tribulations, joys and bond that they had is extraordinary. If you're any kind of animal lover, you will enjoy this heartwarming story. And, you'll learn SO much about owls and birds in general (though not in an overly scientific way).
Reading Challenge: #PopSugar20 #22: by or about woman in STEM
Career of Evil #3 by Robert Galbraith
Published 2015, 489 pages
A solid mystery with 3 strong suspects - someone is seeking to hurt Strike, put him out of business and kill his assistant, Robin. As the dead bodies begin to stack up, but his business begins to suffer due to the bad press, the pair have a philosophical difference that may be the end of their partnership. The excellent characters of Strike and Robin are well developed and we get more of their backgrounds filled in. However, I feel like this could be read as a standalone - I read # 2 so long ago I don't remember the details and it didn't hurt this story at all.
I did find that I kept getting the bad guys and their histories mixed up so when the finale came up, it took me a bit to catch up. Well written, lots of action, a little genuine emotion, evocative of the British setting, all-in-all, a good read. Satisfying ending and with a decent cliff hanger to draw you to the next one.
Reading Challenge: #Bookworm20 #41: by author using a pseudonym
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
Published 1974, 237 pages
A different kind of fantasy novel in that there's not much world building or warring, but in place of that there is some pretty imaginative 'character building'. Sybel, the heroine, is a young woman happily living alone on Eld mountain with her magical creatures. The story evolves when a man delivers a baby to her for care, politics and war from the kingdoms down in the valley intrude on her quiet life, the baby grows up to be a strong young man and hard decisions have to be made.
This is a short book for a fantasy, which seem to run over 500 pages frequently. And yet, it is complete and it's strength is in the writing style. I found myself intrigued and then noticing my pleasure in reading the turn of phrase, the dialog (no contractions, make it more formal and medieval feeling), and the descriptions of her powers as she falls in love (a light love story) and, more importantly and interestingly, gets reluctantly drawn into the politics of the world. I read this as a Buddy Read with my sister Donna and it's another recommended book!
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2019, 351 pages
A Reese Witherspoon book club pick, this excellent debut novel is about an immigrant Korean family trying to make a success of their business which is a hyperbaric chamber in which they offer treatments (oxygen under high pressure). There's a tragedy in which 2 people are killed and others injured. The story unfolds over the course of the trial of a woman accused of arson and starting the fire that killed people. That's an excellent vehicle to explore what happened and who knew what and when.
"Tragedies don't inoculate you against further tragedies, and misfortune doesn't get sprinkled out in fair proportions; bad things get hurled at you in clumps and batches, unmanageable and messy."
The pleasure of this storytelling is that we learn that EVERYONE is hiding something, lying, hiding information which provides a lot of uncertainty and I kept changing my mind about who was really guilty! Really well done about trickling out the lies and misinformation so that I was kept guessing throughout the story. And it has a satisfying conclusion. Recommended!
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published 2019, 336 pages
I was prepared to love this story - the premise sounds so good. However, it's not the first time the book blurb has over promised and under delivered. I enjoyed it, but ultimately I was underwhelmed. Mind you, it isn't terrible. It just seems to not quite reach 'there' - It's the story of a "surplus" woman, a young single woman, after WWI. There are many more women than men and Violet needs a purpose after the death of her fiance in the war. She discovers a group of women who embroider pillows, etc. for the church and becomes involved. There's a light love story that doesn't have much impact on the story. I appreciate the attempt to tell the little known story of the 'surplus women'. Violet is a strong enough character and I appreciate her growth throughout the story. But, all together, there wasn't anything to make this story memorable. Not my fave historical fiction this year. Donna and I read this as a Buddy Read in November but agreed that it was just "okay" and we didn't have enough to say to make a full review of it.
The Story of Arthur Truluv #1 by Elizabeth Berg
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2017, 240 pages
What an absolutely delightful, charming book. A short 240 pages in which no big dramatic events happen, but everything happens. An elderly man (Arthur) who visits the cemetery every day to have lunch with his dead wife meets a lonely teenage girl. The other main character is Arthur's retired neighbor, Lucille - and she's a real character! These three people don't have anything in common except their loneliness and yet they become friends and support and encourage each other.
"Everybody wants to be a writer." Arthur says. ... "But what we need are readers. Right? Where would writers be without readers? Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort? See, that's what I do. I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator."
It reminds me of a Frederik Backman book but a bit lighter. This is a feel-good book that will make your holidays a bit brighter. Definitely recommended.
How the Light Gets #9 In by Louise Penny
Published 2013, 405 pages
A perennial favorite, Penny has penned another winner in her award winning series featuring Chief Inspector Gamache. This is two or three mysteries twining around each other, complex and intricately plotted but SO engaging and the characters continue to delight.
One of the mysteries centers around the murder of the last of a famous quintuplet of sisters born 70 years ago, a lesser mystery is the questionable death of a young woman who appears to have committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, and the final, huge, mystery revolves around the solution of an ongoing antipathy between Gamache and his boss.
Corruptions run deep in the Montreal police department, and all lines trace back to Francoeur, his boss. I loved the many threads and details of this portion of the book - it explained a lot from previous books. Though I haven't read earlier books in any particular order, this was the first time that I felt that I wanted to go back and fill in some of the references made throughout this story. So, I will. In 2021, I plan on reading this series from the beginning. It should be interesting!
Reading Challenge: #Bookworm20 #5: book with 'light' in the title
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis
Genre: General fiction (holiday)
Published 1999, 336 pages
This is our last Buddy Read of 2020, and we picked this holiday collection by Willis. In the forward, Willis discusses how much she loves Christmas and her favorite traditions, food, books, and movies. She's a fan of Miracle on 34t Street instead of It's a Wonderful Life and a couple of the stories focus on that theme (to my amusement). Donna and I talked about the book and agreed on one main thing.....short stories are just not our cup of tea. We don't enjoy the format.
That being said, Donna's favorite of the bunch was Cat's Paw, a clever Christmas mystery. One I found interesting was Newsletter, about a family's tradition of writing excruciatingly detailed holiday letters and one member's rebellion.
Miracle is about an unexpected connection with a co-worker (over their favorite holiday movie, Miracle on 34th Street (which is Willis's fave) and Inn is a take on the nativity story where a woman helps what she thinks is a homeless couple until she realizes there's something magically different about them. There's a good variety of stories, a couple really quick ones with endings we didn't like - too abrupt and odd - and all with a pleasant reflection on one of the meanings of Christmas.
I hope that one of these mini reviews piques your interest and leads you to a book you'll enjoy. Did you have time to do any reading in December? What was the best book you read this month? Let me know in the comments......