EIGHT MINI REVIEWS - a smorgasbord of books to whet your appetite for reading
February quick reviews cover a wide range of reading interests from fantasy to mystery to nonfiction. Donna and I didn't read any duds this month but have a couple of favorites - skim the short reviews and see which ones make your TBR list. This month we reviewed Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni, The Blue by Lucy Clarke, The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence, The Day the World Came to Town by Jim deFede, Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs by Dave Barry, and Blue Heaven by C.J. Box.
Storm Front #1, Jim Butcher
Published 2000, 322 pages
Terrie's Read (Donna read it too)
As the first in a new-to-me series, this was very entertaining, action-packed and filled to the brim with magic - loved the introduction of faeries, demons, wizardry (the detective is a wizard), and even vampires. The mystery was a solid one, the main character, Harry, is a good guy living a somewhat charmed life.
This series is a favorite of my son's and he owns all 15 of the books as he eagerly awaits the next one. I'll be borrowing the next couple to see how the world building and magic develop. Definitely intrigued and want to explore more!
Her Final Breath #2 Crosswhite, Robert Dugoni
Published 2015, 426 pages
I'm a fan of Robert Dugoni and his writing. This installment of the Tracy Crosswhite series is a good solid mystery. The plot device of a boss that doesn't like her and she has to work around to solve the murder isn't a new one. As a tribute to the writing, sharp dialog, and pacing, I didn't even notice that it was a "routine" plot.
As Crosswhite hunts for a serial killer, clues are left indicating that she may be on the killer's radar. She discovers that an old case may have bearing on this and, of course, that case implicates her boss. Cover up ensues! If you love a good mystery but haven't read Dugoni yet, I recommend you give him a read!
The Blue, Lucy Clarke
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2015, 320 pages
"She stares beyond the window, thinking about how regrets can burrow under your skin, take root inside you, so that there is no escaping them."
This is a story of a group of young adults who sail around the world on a yacht but the trip turns from one of exploring tropical paradises to a nightmare when one of them disappears at sea. The well-paced story poses an ethical question as we learn more about the various passengers - I found myself thinking "what would I do in this situation?" a couple different times. Friends, disaster, moral decisions, figuring out who you are.....all themes that wind throughout the book. It's billed as an adventure story, though I didn't think it was; to me, it's more a story of situational ethics/morals. I did enjoy the description of the "free" lifestyle of living on a yacht and just wandering where the tides take you.
The surprise at the end totally caught me off guard and added another layer to consider at the very end....This would be an excellent summer read.
Widows of Malabar Hill #1, Sujata Massey
Genre: General Fiction, Mystery
Published 2018, 385 pages
In this book set in Bombay, India, a young woman, a newly minted lawyer, joins her father's law firm. Her first case is for three widows who live in strict seclusion. As she helps them navigate their husband's will, she discovers something suspicious and in the course of trying to help the widows, there is murder and a tiny bit of mayhem (though this definitely would qualify as a cozy mystery).
I enjoyed the split timelines and liked learning about Perveen's marriage. I feel like it gave Massey the opportunity to explore more Indian customs and marriage laws. I enjoyed the 'current day' (1920) segments as well because we're given a chance to see a young woman overcoming prejudice and her fears as she starts to come into her own.
I also enjoyed the Bombay setting - it was well described without becoming overly detailed. I liked the variety of characters but particularly Perveen and her fairly progressive family. The mystery was foreshadowed well and each of the suspects were developed. Although it was a fairly light read, I thought it well written and well plotted. This is my first book by this author but won't be my last.....she has a series set in Japan that might be calling my name.
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, Annie Spence
Genre: Nonfiction, Humor
Published 2017, 244 pages
Let’s start with the fun book cover – that right there drew me in! Annie Spence is a librarian and this is a collection of humorous love letters and break-up letters she’s written to books she’s read over the years. Most of the books I haven’t heard of, but that’s alright, I added over a dozen to my TBR list. Beware, in case this is something that turns you off, she swears quite a bit in her letters. Spence injects a lot of humor into her letters, which I love, but by the end I was getting a bit tired of the cuteness of it.
She writes in part to The Virgin Suicides,
“Congratulations on your fifteenth consecutive year as my favorite book. To mark this commemorative anniversary, I’m writing you a love letter. It’ll be moony goony nonsense compared to your perfection, but the thing you’re perfect about is conveying imperfect love. So even though this is going to look a little bit like pen puke, I hope you’ll appreciate its sincerity.”
About Agatha Christie she says she’s the go-to author for moms, truckers, teenagers. There’s nothing to offend anyone. Her mysteries are cozy but still intriguing. I found her letter about Misery (Stephen King) very funny and also really enjoyed her chapter on her Thesaurus.
In her chapter about Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, she writes “Your quote ‘no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment,’ couldn’t fit a group of people better if you’d Quantum Leaped to this very time and location from 1945 and eavesdropped on a conversation about the flavor nuances of the Taco Bell breakfast menu.” As you can see, she has a clever way with descriptions.
Overall this was an entertaining read and I always like hearing about books and reading about books. The author’s three all-time fave books are: Heartburn by Nora Ephron, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read any of these but have added them to my TBR list. If you’ve read any of them, do you agree with Spence? Let me know in the comments.
The Day The World Came to Town, Jim deFede
Published 2002, 256 pages
Terrie's Read (Donna recommended it to me)
I loved the heartwarming elements of this story - the way the people in several small towns in Newfoundland came together, donating time, money, and supplies to help thousands of passengers from 38 (!) planes that were forced to land after the attack on 9/11 and the US air space was closed. These hardy people opened their hearts and homes to so many people and made them feel welcome. It's an uplifting story and restores my faith in humanity.
"They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed. If the terrorists had hoped their attacks would reveal the weaknesses in western society, the events in Gander proved its strength."
What I didn't enjoy is the d-r-y storytelling. Although there was clearly an effort to feature specific passenger and resident stories, the telling didn't give me any warm fuzzies. I think it was too reporterly, too clinical of a style for me, though it's definitely a story that needs telling.
Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs, Dave Barry
Genre: Nonfiction, Humor
Published 1997, 112 pages
Columnist Dave Barry asked his readers to send in their worst-song-ever nominee (MacArthur Park, You’re Having My Baby are samples). He got a huge response and this book is the result. It’s obvious from when it was published that there are no current-day songs here, but rather songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You’ll find songs by Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Captain and Tennille, John Denver, and many more. Personally I recognized almost every song he mentioned.
This is a short, funny read about songs you are probably familiar with but haven’t given much thought to their lyrics and whether they made sense. If you want something easy, lighthearted, and fun to read, this is it.
Blue Heaven, C.J. Box
Award: Edgar winner
Published 2007, 352 pages
Listened to this on audio during my commute and each time I got to my destination I wanted to keep listening. I even found the story intruding on my thoughts at work. Needless to say, it is an action packed, sometimes edge-of-seat thriller. The crime is committed right at the beginning of the book, so there's no mystery; the thrill is in catching the bad guys. As I've come to expect with Box novels, the characters steal the show, particularly the kids Annie and William and the old rancher, Rawlins. Rawlins becomes the unwitting and sort of unwilling protector of the kids after they witness a murder and his uncertainty and ambivalence is written so believably. The town is populated with interesting characters: a new sheriff, a gossipy postal worker, a morally lax banker, cold-as-ice bad guy as well as unwilling bad guy, and more. Each one made believable and playing their role in the story so well. This is a stand-alone book, not one of the Joe Pickett series. If you haven't discovered C.J. Box yet, I highly recommend that you find time to give his books a try.