Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book Reviews November 2018

The Witch Elm by Tana French.  Tana French’s novels are always wonderful and this one is no exception.  It is different from the rest in that it is not from a detective’s point of view.  It takes place in Ireland, though, and involves crimes.  The narrator is Toby, a guy who for the first 30 or so years of his life has lead a charmed one.  He has a good job in Dublin and a good girlfriend and all is well.  But then one night he wakes up and finds burglars in his living room and is viciously beaten by them.  He finds himself a changed man, and the head injuries don’t help.  While in recovery, he goes to live with a beloved uncle.  He and his two cousins spent their summers living with this uncle, and when the uncle is diagnosed with brain cancer, Toby – with his life on hold anyway – is designated as the one to help.  While there, however, a body is discovered in a hole in the witch elm in the back yard.  The Dublin Murder Squad comes and Toby ends up a prime suspect.  Toby and his cousins work to discover what really happened, and it’s a fascinating mix of chance and secrets and circumstance.  All throughout, too, Toby muses on the notion of luck and fortune.  It’s a great read.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney.  This was a really fun read with a powerful twist in the middle.  The novel begins with the narrator giving the reader three facts, but the third one is “Sometimes I lie.”  So of course as you read you have to keep in mind her unreliability.  Also when the novel begins, the narrator, Amber, is in a coma and narrating what happens as she drifts in and out of consciousness.  These moments are interspersed with a childhood diary.  It’s a well-done premise, especially when halfway through the book something is revealed that changes everything.  I recommend.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty.  I love Liane Moriarty’s novels!  She’s a good writer and a good story-teller, and her characters are always so likeable in interesting ways.  I’d say this is one of her best novels yet.  It begins with Frances, a delightful fifty year old woman who is on her way to a ten-day spa stay at Tranquillum House in the country in Australia.  Frances is a romance novelist and is recovering from a romantic scam perpetrated on her by someone she met on the internet.  She is humiliated, but jolly and wry.  The other eight strangers are all clients who are at Tranquillum House for this retreat.  We meet them all – from an ex football player, to a family in grief over the death of their son, to the somewhat crazed director of the resort, who has her own agenda.  It is a funny and poignant read and I enjoyed it immensely throughout.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.  At the risk of having too many good reviews in a row, I loved Pat Barker’s new book as well.  She is one of my favorite authors, and this novel reminded me of her WWI trilogy, which first got me hooked.  Unexpectedly, it takes place during the Trojan war and the narrator is Briseis, a young queen of a Trojan city who becomes a slave when Achilles and company ransack the town.  The novel is about the women who are the spoils of war, and what exactly it is like to go from luxury to slavery.  Briseis “belongs” to Achilles after he won the city, but Agamemnon claims Briseis when he is forced to return his own female slave to her father.  Because of this, Achilles and his Myrmidons stop fighting and the Trojans gain ground over the Greeks.  Briseis is smart, and an observer, and she is trying her hardest to figure out how to make this terrible situation work for her.  She wants to have agency over her own story and fate.  It was a really wonderful book; now I need to go re-read the Iliad.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.  At first this book made me a little grumpy with its cuteness and obviousness of plot.  But by the end my cold heart grew a size or two and I’m willing to admit that it has its moments:  in general, however, it is just not my kind of book.  Sara is a woman from Sweden, who when the book begins has landed in Broken Wheel, Iowa, a depressed town in the middle of nowhere with not much going for it, to visit a penpal named Amy.  She discovers that Amy has died, but stays on in the town for a while, and gets to know the inhabitants she has heard so much about already via letter.  Sara is a booklover who used to work in a bookstore, so she decides she will set up a store of sorts in the downtown and give away Amy’s books.  She believes there is a book for everyone, and nothing a book can’t fix.  There are Romances and Realizations and several meet cutes.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Book Reviews October 2018

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.  I loved this book!  It was even better than herUprooted, and that was a book so good I was jealous not to have written it myself.  This one has some similarities, in that it is very fairy tale-esque.  Novik takes from Rumpelstiltskin the bit about the girl having to turn straw into gold and runs with it.  What she ends up with is this wonderful story of strong women who save their town, country, people, selves using their own smarts and bravery.  Miryem is the daughter of a poor money-lender in a small village.  Her father is too nice to be a good money lender, and when her mother gets sick, Miryem decides she will collect the debt owed to her father.  She becomes so successful at it, that she catches the eye of the king of the Staryk, a winter people who live in a parallel universe to Miryem.  The king sees Miryem making money and wants her to change his silver into gold.  There’s also Wanda, a servant who Miryem helps, and who helps her and her parents in return, and Irina, a princess who has to defeat a demon and save her kingdom.  It’s wonderful! It was such a fun and compelling read – I plan to give it to my nieces with November birthdays. J

Calypso by David Sedaris.  I had been warned that this book was a bit more melancholy than some of his previous work, but I liked it the better for that.  Sedaris is always funny – and he continues to be so in Calypso – but he is also an excellent writer, and I think his writing skills were highlighted in this book where his topics tend more to the bittersweet.  As always, he is a master at the turn of phrase, and weeks later I am still laughing to myself at his wording.  I recommend. 

Holy Ghost by John Sandford.  I’m a big fan of John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mysteries, although I can’t quite articulate what it is I like about them.  They are ordinary, yet entertaining, and it is fun to watch the smart, Virgil Flowers, who is a secret thinker who doesn’t take himself too seriously, piece together another Minnesota mystery.  This one takes place in Wheatfield, MN, a town that has recently had two Virgin Mary sightings in their church.  The sightings have revitalized a dying town, and so when a sniper starts shooting people, the town both wants to apprehend the murderer and keep their new tourist business intact.  Virgil sets to figuring it out. 

Transcription by Kate Atkinson.  Kate Atkinson and Pat Barker are two of my top-five favorite authors, and both have new novels out.  The whole time I was reading this one, I kept thinking I was reading the new Pat Barker – it is very Pat Barker in theme and tone!  It was a really interesting read and, like I often do with Atkinson’s novels, I plan to read it again very soon.  Her writing is so good and has zero clutter, so I think it is often easy to miss details I’d like to note.  Transcription is a spy novel that takes place during WWII and in the decade after.  Juliet Armstrong is a wonderful main character!  She’s smart, and brave, with a really wry sense of humor.  She works for MI5 as a transcriber during the war.  She types conversations that occur in an adjacent apartment between another spy and British supporters of Hitler.  She’s also occasionally sent into the field, as it were, as a young third Reich supporter, Iris Carter-Jenkins.  This is half of the book.  The other half, interspersed with the war scenes, are in the 1950’s when Juliet is working for the BBC putting together educational radio programs.  She had her own share of trauma during the war, and is finding that it is hard to completely leave the MI5 – there is always one more favor she can do for them.  It was a fascinating read and, as always with Atkinson (and Barker!), well done.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Book Reviews September 2018

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell.  This is a well-written thriller that I couldn’t wait to read on my train ride every day.  It’s about a girl, Ellie, who disappears one day at 16 when she is walking to the library.  We get Ellie’s point of view in the beginning, along with warnings she gives herself –it’s an interesting technique.  Then a decade passes and we see Laurel, Ellie’s mother, trying to live her life without knowing what happened to her daughter.  Ellie starts dating again, and the man she dates, Floyd, has an ex-partner who used to tutor Ellie for her exams.  This connection starts to seem sinister.  It’s all quite well-done:  Jewell introduces more points of view, and does an amazing job with Laurel, showing how her life fell apart and how she tries to get it back together, and what happened with her relationships with her other children.  She also begins to suspect Floyd and the tutor –it’s a great read!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien.  This is a long epic novel about China under the cultural revolution of Mao and his cronies, and then all about the Tiananman Square massacre.  Thien begins in Vancouver with a young girl, Marie, whose family takes in a student, Ai-Ming, who is on the run after Tiananman.  Marie’s and Ai-Ming’s families have connections which go way back, and Thien basically leaves Marie to elaborate on the long story of Marie’s father and many branches of Ai-Ming’s family, who were musicians in Shanghai.  I haven’t read many novels about this time in China, so in that regard I found this novel an interesting read.  Structurally, however, it was more of a mess than I would have guessed from the raving reviews.  Thien returns to Marie and her search in China for Ai-Ming every now and again, but the shifts in time are awkward.  There’s also a symbolic novel within a novel that people try to save during the cultural revolution when all books, etc., were destroyed (as were the people who owned and read them).  I get what Thien was trying to do with this inner novel, but it just got confusing.  You basically have to read for the story and the well-done portrayal of a horrific time, and give up trying to make the overall structure and all the parts into a coherent whole.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.  I kept hearing good things about this novel, but was not impressed with the writing.  It’s about a “marsh girl,” Kya, who grows up on her own in a shack in the North Carolina marsh after being abandoned by her mother and siblings.  Kya learns how to eke out a living and evade the truant officer, and grows up with the marsh as her friend.  I really enjoyed all the descriptions of the marsh, and its bird life, but the overarching story is sort of silly.  A local ex-football star is found dead below a water tower, and the sheriff begins to expect that Kya had something to do with it.  We then get Kya’s life in long flashbacks, with the novel switching from her life growing up to the present day of 1970, when the sheriff is trying to figure out what happened.  Kya, of course, is a quiet genius, and ends up the author of several books on marsh wildlife.  A young local lad teaches her how to read, and – you’ve guessed it – romance ensues.  It’s not a bad read – it just was not for me.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson.  I borrowed this from my parents this summer after reading in The New Yorker that it was one of her best books.  It is good, albeit a little slow-going.  She’s a scientist writing about the formation of the seas from the beginnings of earth to the 1950’s when the book was written.  It is hard to write poetically about the sea floor, I would think, yet Carson manages to do so.  It has made me realize how much I do not know.  Some of what she writes about is dated; there’s a chapter in particular in which Carson gets excited about the rising of the seas, thinking it was just the cycle of things, when of course we now know it is global warming.  Also, when she was writing there was still so much unknown about the sea floors (and sea life) and instruments uninvented.  We had yet to discover the blobfish!  Yet still, I enjoyed reading this book and stretching my mind.

Cooking For Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser.  This is a part memoir part cookbook, or memoir with recipes – a genre I love and don’t read enough of.  Hesser writes about her courtship of her now husband, but is really writing of food and her vast relationship to it.  She writes well, she knows a lot about food and cooking, and although I haven’t come across many recipes I actually want to try, I like reading through them.  My favorite chapters are the ones that feature her grandmother, Helen, who is almost always cooking crab while lecturing.  She’s a pip.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Book Reviews August 2018

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I read and enjoyed this ten years ago when it first came out, and decided to give it another go.  I like most of Kingsolver’s novels, but I think I like her nonfiction voice even more.  She is interesting and knowledgeable and funny.  The book is about a year in which Kingsolver and her family decide to eat mostly locally grown and sourced foods (they each have one thing they are allowed which is not local, like coffee and rice).  She writes about what they ate, why eating locally is better for the planet, and also about their prodigious farming and animal husbandry.  I found it just as fascinating the second time around.

My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley.  This was a delightful read.  I was a fan of McCauley’s books in the nineties, but then he fell off my radar.  I saw a review of this book recently and remembered how much I enjoyed his writing, and this did not disappoint.  David Hedges, the main character, lives in San Francisco and works as a consultant helping students get into a college that is right for them.  When the book begins, he hears out of the blue from Julie, a woman he was married to briefly, before he realized he was gay.  Julie is living in a big house on the coast in Massachusetts, and is dealing with the dissolution of her second marriage.  She is trying to keep her big house, which her ex wants her to sell, and is also troubled by the recent antics of her teen-age daughter, Mandy.  McCauley switches deftly between David, Julie, and Mandy, and creates them accurately and with humor.  David and Julie are both funny and, more importantly, nice – although not at all dull in the way that word might conjure.  It’s a really good book about people in mid-life, and the problems and realizations that come with the age. 

Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years by Catherine Newman.  Catherine Newman is an excellent writer, and her earlier memoir, Waiting for Birdy, was one of the best books I read about infants and toddlers.  In this one, she continues writing about her children, Ben and Birdy, as they age from about 3 or 4 to mid-teens.  She is funny and honest and wise, and is quite good at doing what the title proclaims:  finding the good moments in the midst of the chaos.

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton.  I thought this was a good read, although since finishing it I’ve been seeing some unfavorable comparisons to A Talented Mr. Ripley.  But I’ve never read that!  So no comparisons to it here.  I thought it was well-done.  Louise, the main character, is a 29 year old trying to make it in New York city, and having trouble making ends meet.  She meets Lavinia, a high-society “It” girl, who sweeps Louise up into her circle in rather disturbing ways.  Louise starts living more and more beyond her means, and Lavinia manipulates the situation in unstable ways.  Eventually Louise gets in over her head and does what she feels she has to do to not retreat back to her small town.  The writing is nicely spare, and Burton is talented enough so that the reader gets swept up in Louise’s momentum, and wants her to succeed, while also taken aback by her actions.  I recommend.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer.  By the end of this book, I liked it, but it took me at least the first half of the book to get drawn in.  My problem with it is that it seemed like it was going to be about the slow dissolution of Arthur Less, who is turning fifty and is having all sorts of things suddenly not work out for him – he’s a writer who gets dropped by his publisher, his ex boyfriend is getting married, etc.  The narrator seemed to look at Less from a wry distance, and I was rather bored – and somewhat pained – at watching all the small injustices that Less has to suffer, even while recognizing the good writing and humor that described them.  However, I began to like the occasional narrator interruptions that occur:  the narrator is someone who at first seems to know Less from afar, and it was an interesting technique.  It is the excellent writing that won me over, but it took me a while to get there.  The first half is a comedy of errors, but it does become more than that by the end.

You’re On An Airplane by Parker Posey.  I loved this memoir.  I’m a fan of Posey’s work in movies, and throughout this book I could hear her distinctive voice speaking all the lines.  I’m not surprised that she is a good writer, but I was happily surprised by how smart and charming her writing is.  She tells stories from her life experiences, and of her experience as a woman in Hollywood, who didn’t necessarily fit into the usual roles.  After doing really well in independent movies in the nineties, she ended up getting bit parts in movies after that, and has very wry commentary on why she didn’t necessarily fit in.  There’s a lot of celebrities waltzing in and out of her stories – so that aspect is certainly fun – but her book is much more than that.  She is silly, sure, but also an astute observer of people and getting older and life.  It was better even than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book Reviews July 2018

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre.  I was reading some article several years ago about spy novels in which they said everyone should read Tinker, Tailor by LeCarre.  I’ve never read any of his books – somewhat on purpose; it’s a long story – but decided to get this one and read it.  And then see the movie.  I didn’t love reading it, although I can see how it would work well as a movie.  I liked the main character, George Smiley, the British CIA character who is doing the sleuthing, but overall I found it confusing, and felt like I had to work too hard to figure everything out, and simultaneously not inspired at all to do so.  So:  check, check!  I’ve read a LeCarre book, and won’t be doing it again, I don’t think.

Happiness Is An Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein.  I really enjoyed this book.  It was the right length for a self-help-ish book (short), and Boorstein’s tone was exquisite.  She doesn’t lecture, or overload with examples, and has a great knack for getting straight to the heart of the matter.  It is about mindfulness from a Buddhist point of view, really, and how to not let negative emotions and thoughts run rampant.  She is wise and I was left with much food for thought.

The Mindful Way Through Anxiety by Susan M. Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer.  This is a book about how to control your anxiety through mindfulness instead of, say, meds.  It could definitely have been shorter, and I got a little tired of the examples, which were bereft of ambivalence, but I cannot quibble with many of the insights offered.  Orsillo and Roemer walk the reader through arresting anxiety by confronting and dissecting it, as well as really delving into the “muddy emotions” which generally surround anxiety.  I also am a big proponent of knowing your own underlying impulses: you can’t have the same negative reactions again and again if you truly understand why you have them in the first place.  It’s a helpful book, although I’d recommend skimming it in parts.

Your 6 Year-Old: Loving & Defiant by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg.  I’ve read all these books as Owen reaches the ages except for the 5 year-old one, and they are helpful (as long as one skips the dated ectomorph /mesomorph chapter and overlooks a lot of the BLATANT sexism).  It is always oddly reassuring to see that one’s child’s annoying aspects are mostly just a result of the age he happens to be.  It makes it easier to choose one’s battles.  Six is not an easy age, in case you all are wondering.  You want to be the best at everything and know the most, and you get very upset when confronted with contrary facts.  But at the same time, six is very enthusiastic and loving, and still considers his/her parents to be the smartest and most wonderful people ever.  So there’s that!

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina.  I decided I couldn’t wait and went ahead and read the last (so far) of the Alex Morrow series.  It was as wonderful as all the others.  I really think Asa Larsson and Denise Mina are the best mystery/crime writers I have read thus far.  Mina’s writing is so wonderful.  Her prose is sparing:  she tells you the minimum you need to know, yet it ends up being just the right amount.  She’s also kind to her characters in a way I’ve come to appreciate.  In this one, Alex is investigating a disappearance in Helensburgh, a resort town outside of Glasgow.  There is a woman in town who is not whom she seems to be, and of course there are all sorts of competing interests in the police force regarding money and power.  It’s quietly superb.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris.  I have mixed feelings about this one.  I kept reading that it’s the kind of book one can’t put down – and it definitely was that.  I was excited to read it and annoyed when I had to stop, upon which I would wonder what was happening until the next time I could read again.  It is suspenseful, certainly.  But ultimately, the “answer” or discovery or what have you, was so particular and/or contrived, that I found the book disappointing on the whole.  The premise is that twelve years ago, Finn was on vacation with his girlfriend, Layla, when they stopped at a rest stop in France and when he came out of the restroom, Layla had disappeared.  Twelve years pass in which Layla has never been found and Finn has been exonerated of any crime.  Finn is now living and romantically involved with Layla’s sister Ellen, when he starts getting emails from someone who might or might not be Layla.  It’s a good premise, if you can get past that “romantically involved with Layla’s sister” part.  Because, ew.  But ultimately it is all a bit too fantastic.

If We Had Known by Elise Juska.  This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.  It concerns the aftermath of a shooting – but it isn’t about the actual shooting, per se, but more the people who get caught up in the wake very distantly.  A young man shoots people in a mall in Maine; he was a former student at a Maine university, and the main character, Maggie, who teaches writing at the university, realizes he was a student of hers five years ago.  One of her students from that class writes a post on facebook about how the shooter as a student was scary and that there were warning signs, and the post goes viral, setting off a chain of events.  The other main character of the book is Maggie’s 18 year-old daughter, Anna, who is going off to college in Boston for the first time.  Anna is recovering from anxiety issues, and the shooting plus her mother’s connection to it, trigger Anna’s anxiety.  Juska’s characters are excellently created – they are flawed and real, cerebral and interesting.  There aren’t many details of the shooting, which I thought was a good choice:  it’s more a book about how the rest of us carry on.

Into The Raging Sea:  Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade.  I loved this book, too, and couldn’t wait to read it each night.  I drove my family crazy talking about it non-stop too.  It was just so interesting!  I had heard about the sinking of the ship when it happened, but didn’t know that much about it.  Slade does a great job going into detail about the people working on the ship, and describing the business decisions and personal decisions that led to El Faro sailing straight towards Hurricane Joaquin.  There were so many moments when the captain could have turned the ship around, yet didn’t, and although he was certainly to blame, Slade shows how the TOTE company’s cost-saving measures were the true reason the ship went down – in multiple different ways.  It was fascinating reading about the lives of the people on the ship and the many jobs that are done on board, as well as the history of the shipping industry.  And her description of the last few hours is terrifying and heartbreaking.

The Seas by Samantha Hunt.  This book is beautifully poetic and well written, and thirty years ago I would have been absolutely enthralled with it.  It’s half fantasy, half real, and the line between the two is crossed to the point where the reader isn’t quite sure which is which.  Hunt does this well.  The narrator of the book is a 19 year-old girl, and a 19 year-old girl In Love, at that.  That’s the part that I would have loved when I was closer to that age, and was a bit exasperated with at the age I am now.  She lives in a town on the coast in the north – I don’t think it is named as Maine, but clearly is.  Her father was an alcoholic who walked into the sea and presumably drowned when she was eight, and who told the narrator that like him, she was from and of the sea and was a mermaid.  She’s in love with Jude, a returned Iraqi war veteran, who has major PTSD.  Her love for Jude is fierce, and not returned, although he spends time with her.  The narrator is funny and passionate, and her grasp on reality is tenuous.  She thinks that since she is a mermaid, her father in the sea wants to kill Jude, so that she will not marry him and remain on land.  It is very well done, especially how the reader has to piece together what is actually happening from what the narrator thinks is happening.  It’s a book of haunting originality.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Book Reviews June 2018

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina.  I really love all of Denise Mina’s books, and I’m especially enjoying her Alex Morrow series.  Her writing is superb – she’s very streamlined and efficient and doesn’t tell you more than you need to know, while still managing to convey all that you do.  Her characters are real and interesting – both the bad guys and the good.  In this one Alex has had her twins and is back to work, while still absorbed in all things newborn.  She is put on the case of a shooting in a post office, and is confronted with people who know much more than they will admit, and a young American whose presence at the scene of the crime is a bit suspicious.  Of course, there is also a lot going on with the Strathclyde police force, and corruption both city-wide and in the force is about to out.  A sleek read.

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding The Courage To Lead by Cecile Richards.  I enjoyed reading this book.  I was already a fan, having met her a few times at work, but I became very impressed with the concentrated scope of her life’s work.  She seems to have known as a young teenager what she wanted to do and has never deviated from that path -- I’m not sure I knew what a union organizer was at 13!  It was interesting to read the details of her account testifying in front of congress as the president of Planned Parenthood, and equally interesting to hear of what it was like growing up a progressive in Texas, and the daughter of Ann Richards.  I have no doubt that what she will go on to do will warrant an equally impressive part two of her memoirs, and I will read that one too. 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.  I had heard that this was a fun read, and it really was.  It’s a good summer book.  Rachel is an Asian-American economics professor with a professor boyfriend, Nick, living in NYC.  Nick convinces her to travel to his native Singapore for summer vacation, and when she gets there, she discovers that Nick is from one of the wealthiest of families in Singapore, heir to a vast fortune, and thus the target of marriageable women and their interfering mothers.  Before Rachel even understands what is going on, she is hit on all sides with schemes.  It’s fun.  We also get Nick’s mother’s point of view, and Nick’s equally wealthy cousin, Astrid, who is dealing with stress in her own marriage, while spending half the year in Paris shopping couture.  It was well crafted and quite entertaining.

The Red Road by Denise Mina.  This is the 4th book in the Alex Morrow series.  In it, Alex is testifying in court against a witness, and is charmed by the witness’s lawyer.  She begins to realize, however, that the criminal’s original conviction back when he was 14 was part of a massive cover-up, the exposing of which will probably ruin her career and bring down her gangster half-brother, Danny.  For all that, it is the usual excellent and calm writing – Mina doesn’t believe in extra words or extra drama, and the story unfolds in her unique way, which is never the way one expects.  I might stall reading #5 for awhile because I don’t want to end my reading of the series!  Sigh.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Book Reviews May 2018

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara.  I borrowed this from Martha, and wasn’t sure I was going to be able to read it in full, as I might have found it too frightening.  However, after I was a few chapters in, they arrested the man who they think is the killer, so my fear dissipated somewhat.  The book was half-written by McNamara when she died, and then was pieced together by a fellow true crime writer, and a detective.  McNamara’s writing is excellent, so the first half of the book – the parts she wrote – really pull you in.  The second half of the book is more scattered, and the part that I found frustrating is that she never had a chance to outline her suspects.  As it turned out, the man they arrested wasn’t on anyone’s list of possibilities, but McNamara had predicted that he might be found out by genealogy tests, which indeed he was.  It’s suspenseful and frightening; the man is a monster and he completely terrorized a whole region.  I’m glad he is (likely) behind bars.

Tangerine By Christine Mangan.  This was a good book, although definitely one of those reads that I’m rather glad when it is over.  You can see which way it is headed (although it certainly has a lot of surprises), and can do nothing to help.  It takes place in Tangier in the 1950’s.  Alice has gotten married to an Englishman who is in love with Tangier, but she is depressed and is having trouble leaving their apartment daily.  Lucy, Alice’s former roommate at Bennington College, shows up one day and moves in.  The chapters switch from Alice’s point of view to Lucy’s, as well as from current events back to events that happened at Bennington.  It soon becomes clear that Lucy is obsessed with Alice and has her own agenda.  Poor Alice does not stand a chance.  It’s very atmospheric and well done, but as I said above, I was glad when it was over, because it was a tense read.

A Girl Like You by Gemma Burgess.  This was a fun read – it’s like a Bridget Jones novel but with more detail.  It would be a good movie, and since I know Burgess writes screenplays, I imagine it is on its way to being one.  Abigail is a 27 year old living and working in London.  She’s recently broken up with a very long-term boyfriend and is single for the first time in her adult life.  The book is basically a story of her dating travails, complete with friend sidekicks, and handsome platonic roommate.  It is witty – Burgess is a really funny writer – and a fun, light read.  It made me want to partake in the constant cocktail drinking Abigail and her friends did daily.  

Back To Blood by Tom Wolfe.  I have never read any books by Tom Wolfe (just the Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe), and a colleague recommended that I try Back To Blood.  I am surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it – I would have guessed his style wasn’t something I’d enjoy, but I guessed wrong.  This book is about a Cuban-American cop in Miami, Nestor Camacho, who at the beginning of the book rescues a refugee off a ship’s mask, thus dooming the guy to be sent back to Cuba and angering his community.  This sets off a series of events that has Nestor always in the middle of a newsworthy crime solving, in very entertaining and detailed ways.  What I like best about the book and Wolfe’s writing is the saturation of details; he obviously has good powers of observation, but he must also have done prodigious research.  I also really liked how Wolfe had several different characters that he’d spend time on, and one could sense the stories of the characters would all fit together before being able to figure out how.  My criticism is that except – perhaps – for Nestor, I felt like Wolfe was making fun of all the other characters, which is fine, but if everyone is laughable it becomes less funny.  I also was often bothered by Wolfe's often overt misogyny, sigh, especially with regards to the character Magdalena.  On the whole though, a surprisingly (to me) enjoyable and clever book.