This was a timely book to read during the COVID pandemic. I won’t give spoilers, but the story is about a potential pandemic due to biological warfare. The book was released on March 17, 2020. I wondered while reading what the author thought about the timing of it’s publication. I know that for myself, I had been told we would be off work for the foreseeable future and that home would be where I needed to stay. It was a bit of an eerie read from that standpoint.
Alexis goes to Vietnam, with her boyfriend, Austin for a bike trip. While there, Austin dies and questions arise as to why they were really there. It becomes clear that a bike trip was only a cover for something very sinister. Austin is not what he appears to be and neither is his inner circle. I found myself questioning every single person Alexis came into contact with upon her return home. No one is above suspicion.
Like always, Chris Bohjalian has a fascinating story to tell. The Red Lotus, like The Flight Attendant, has a flawed female protagonist that you find yourself liking, in spite of her bad decision making. Five stars!
I have done a lot of reading for the last few weeks. More than usual. One of my job requirements as we sat at home was to read and write book reviews. That is a job description I can get behind 100%! For the most part, I read some really good stuff. There were a few disappointments, here and there. We are now offering curbside service, so I am able to work at the library several hours a week. I won’t get as much reading in. Honestly though, to be told to read and get paid for it fulfilled my lifetime goals. Here is a list of what I was able to read while sheltering at home.
The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben – Harlan Coben never fails to impress with his mysteries that provide twists and turns throughout. When 16 year old Naomi goes missing from her New Jersey home, Wild, the boy from the woods, is called on to help find her. With help from an attorney, a police officer and a 16 year old boy, Wild sets out to find out what led up to Naomi’s disappearance. What starts out as a missing person case, that seems to have a simple conclusion, actually turns out to be far deeper and darker than it appears. Several members of the community are somehow linked to her disappearance, without even knowing it and all in ways you can’t see coming. Be prepared for a shocking end. I didn’t see this one coming. It was also pretty clear to me, that a sequel is definitely in the works. Five stars.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid – If you liked Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, you will really like this book as well. Like Little Fires Everywhere, Such A Fun Age forces the reader to confront their biases on race and socioeconomic class. Emira is a black woman who is the babysitter of young Briar, the daughter of Alix, a social influencer. After an incident at a local, high end grocery store, Alix becomes strangely obsessed with Emira and Emira’s white boyfriend. Alix becomes determined to help Emira, no matter what the cost is, thinking that she is somehow improving Emira’s life. Emira on the other hand is not interested in help, she has her own issues to deal with. This book leads the reader to the conclusion that sometimes in our effort to be a good person, we reveal our true colors. In the case of Alix, that proves to be the case.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra – I wasn’t sure about this book when I started it. It was not on my TBR list. Since my list is so long, I was apprehensive about adding something I wasn’t already interested in. However, I recently started a virtual book club in response to the safer at home order. This was the first pick, so I was obligated to read it. I really liked the book, a lot in fact. It’s a series of short stories dating back to the rise of communism and ending with contemporary Russia. While the book is series of short stories, all of the characters somehow tie together. The first story and the last story, bring the entire series full circle, leaving the reader satisfied. I am giving it a rave review. But, I was the only one in the book club who liked it. I gave it a strong 4 stars on Goodreads, everyone else either gave it 1 star or didn’t even finish it. The rating on Goodreads seem to follow that pattern as well. It seems to be a book that elicits strong emotion.
The Missing Sister by Elle Marr – I don’t think that I could recommend this book without letting the reader know that the ending is disappointing. It is actually a fantastic idea for a story. She had all the elements. A series of crimes, a missing identical twin sister, and string of suspects all in Paris. But, the ending was ridiculous and getting there was somewhat painful. It did not flow. The main character was extremely unlikable so I found myself not caring about her or her Paris adventure at all. I think the author is a talented writer and like I said, the premise was good. I read this book because it was free on kindle and once I committed, I really wanted to know how it was going to end. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad is the story of Cora, a slave from Georgia. Cora escapes one night with two other slaves and finds herself on the Underground Railroad. The story is told as though the railroad was an actual railroad. We follow Cora on her journey as she is pursued by a slave hunter determined to catch her. This book is brutal and honest. The American slaves lived a life of extreme horror and brutality that we have an obligation never to forget. Five stars without question.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by – Amy has been given the opportunity to live in New York City for the summer while her ex husband takes the kids. This book is what I would call every mom’s fantasy (in my case I wouldn’t want the husband to be an ex, just willing to let me go for 3 months). During that time, Amy learns a lot about herself. I enjoyed this one, but wouldn’t give it more than 3.5 stars.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – A man goes to a baptism party, uninvited, and two families are torn apart. Commonwealth tells the story of Burt and Beverly and their six children. Their’s is a blended family that effects all six children, the spouses they abandoned and their marriage which was doomed from the beginning.This is done with brilliant story telling and characters who are constantly evolving. I forget about female authors who have these wonderful stories to tell that are not just a series of mysterious twists and turns. This one did not disappoint.
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo – This one was both creepy and grisly. Not a book that I would normally enjoy due to the intense violence. But, the writing was very good and the story was compelling. The main character was likable, but had very real flaws. She made mistakes as a police officer that she acknowledged and paid for dearly throughout the book. I did figure out who the killer was just before the big reveal. Five stars without question.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann – The Osage tribe was the wealthiest group of people, per capita, then anyone else in the world in the 1920’s due to their oil rights. That kind of wealth brings out the absolute worst in people. Mix in the American government’s belief that Native Americans could not possibly handle their own finances. Add the extreme greed of the 1920’s and you have the ability to commit crimes against humanity with very little fear of punishment. This was the case in the Oklahoma until the FBI investigated. The case was finally resolved by Tom White, an agent who had morals and integrity. He saw the case to the end, or though he thought. An additional investigation in the 2000’s found that the horror the tribe endured was far vaster than originally believed.
The Wife by Alafair Burke – Another mystery that seems to follow the Gone Girl formula. But it works! I was hooked from the start and found myself starting and finishing this book in one afternoon. Angela is married to Economics professor, Jason. A student accuses Jason of inappropriate behavior and what starts out as a misunderstanding, turns into a full-fledged scandal. Meanwhile, Angela is dealing with a significant trauma from her teen years. Angela has secrets of her own, which in retrospect, make Jason’s trouble seem insignificant. This one is full of twists and turns throughout. I was honestly shocked by the big reveal. I did not see it coming. That says a lot for the authors story telling. Five stars!
When I Was You by Minka Kent – I was really excited to get this book, as I really enjoyed Minka Kent’s book The Stillwater Girls. Unfortunately, this one was not a worthy encore to her previous work. I was very disappointed. Like Stillwater Girls, Kent is writing about a type of amnesia. It seems to be a part of her formula now, which could get old. Mix in identity theft and a handsome doctor, and you have no idea where the story is going to go. With this one, it didn’t go too far. To be honest, I thought the main character, Brienne, couldn’t realistically be as unaware as she was in this book. It was far-fetched at best. The author did have a really good idea though. It was just taken in a really odd direction, that made no sense in the end. I really can’t recommend this one.
The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand – This is the first Elin Hilderbrand book that I have read. I really liked it! I had no idea that it was a mystery when I picked it out. For some reason, I thought that the majority of Elin Hilderbrand books were romances. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had the elements that I love in a good book. Those being a good plot, likable characters and a mystery with a lot of suspects. I am always so happy to find a new author that I can start to read. Elin Hilderbrand will be on my list for future reads.
The Chain by Adrian McKinty – Wow, what a rollercoaster ride this one was! Imagine getting a phone call that your daughter has been kidnapped and the only way to get her back is to kidnap another child. That is exactly what happens to Rachel one morning when her daughter, Kylie, is kidnapped on her way to school. This starts a heart stopping quest to get Kylie back. With the help of Kylie’s uncle, Pete, they find themselves as links in something known as The Chain. Once they are in, they can never get out. This was such a great idea for a story. Five stars!
That is 4 weeks worth of reading, the job requirement started on April 1st. No way May’s list will be this long. Happy reading!
I have been busy compiling a list of books that I plan to read this spring.
This is a big number one for me. The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben. I LOVE Harlan Coben’s books. Every single one of them. I have read them all and would reread them all if I had the time. Harlan and I have a special relationship. I follow him on Instagram and one time I commented that the next time he is in Milwaukee he should contact me, I would take him for a brat and beer. He responded “there’s beer in Wisconsin?’ I felt pretty special. He’s kind of my middle aged crush.
Reese’s Book Club always has good recommendations. I have Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid already checked out and ready to start today. I have yet to read a book that Reese Witherspoon recommends that I don’t end up loving. She really has great taste in books.
The follow up to My Lovely Wife is He Started It by Samantha Downing. I am guessing her encore will be as disturbing and fun to read as My Lovely Wife. I can’t wait!
I have read rave reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I hope to read this one by June, but I am number 93 on the library hold list. This one might not happen until summer.
I am going to put The Institute by Stephen King back on the list. I never got to it in the winter, like I had planned. I have heard great things about it, but for some reason I just couldn’t find the inspiration to start it.
That’s my list. I love book recommendations, so please send them my way.
Below is a list of books that I read in the month of February. I am well on my way to achieving my goal of reading 110 book in 2020.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger – In a word, fantastic. This author has proven over and over again to be a master story teller. His books are always thoughtfully told with characters that the reader is meant to genuinely like. His last book Ordinary Grace is another that I would highly recommend. My mom gave me this book for Christmas because she did not want me to have to wait too long on the library hold list. Five stars for this book, without hesitation.
Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller – I read this one for my bookclub. It is a biography about Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon. It really gets into their role in the feminist movement, while telling their individual stories. I liked it, but there was about 150 pages in it that could have been edited out. I would give 4 stars.
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman – I had high hopes for this one. After reading her 2018 novel Something In The Water which was a nail biting, brilliant story, I was so excited to see she had something new. Meh. What a disappointment. She had such a great idea with this one, but it was rushed and the ending was really unsatisfying. Two stars, which really broke my heart. I know this author is capable of great novels.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – Everyone knows this story. It was ok at best. I am glad I read it, as it has been on my to read list for years. Three stars just because it’s a classic and his withstood the test of time.
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick – This book was on my 1000 Books To Read calendar, so I ordered it from my library. I had never heard of it before seeing it on that calendar. Mothers and daughters can be so complicated, this book proves that over and over again. This is Vivian’s story about her relationship with her mother. It made me happy that I have the mother that I have, because her’s was a piece of work. Four stars because anyone who came out of that childhood a productive citizen deserves a well reviewed book.
The Winter Sister by Megan Collins – This was another good mystery. It tells the story of Sylvie and her mother, 16 years after her sister’s murder. I had no idea who did it until about two pages before the reveal. This is another one with a pretty terrible mother, who the reader has very little sympathy for. Four stars for this one
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – Imagine the most annoying grammar police, times ten on Facebook and you have twins Laurel and Daphne. Their world is grammar and words, making them pretty insufferable to be around. This books tells their story up to the rift that causes them never to speak to each other again. This was an okay book, not great but certainly not terrible. Three stars.
I did not read nearly as many books in February as I normally do because Girls Like Us was so long, well over 500 pages with small print. March should be a better reading month for me, I have a lot on my list. What is on your list for books this year? I need recommendations.
I have compiled my list of books that I would like to read this winter. I came up with this list from a variety of sources including Goodreads, friend recommendations and my local newspaper book reviews.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger – I received this book for Christmas and was told by the giver that it was her favorite book of 2019. That is a pretty strong endorsement. I can’t wait to get started.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – I loved the The Handmaid’s Tale and have avoided watching the tv show. Given today’s political climate, the tv show feels a little too real. But, The Testaments won best 2019 fiction on Goodreads, so I will put it on my to read list.
The Call of the Wild by Jack Wolf by Jack London – This is the next book on my pile. I want to finish this in anticipation of the movie that will be released soon.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell – I have been on the waiting list for this one for months. I can always depend on Lisa Jewell to write a great mystery and is also an easy read.
The Institute by Stephen King – Another dependable author. I have read so many Stephen King books and know that I have not even scratched the surface of the great stories he has written.
That’s about it for planned reading. I like to keep my options open. Working in a library, I see so many great books come through circulation that I never knew existed.
Reading is without a doubt my favorite hobby. I can spend hours with a book in hand, ignoring the world around me. I have been like this since childhood. I remember many nights when I was supposed to be studying for a test and instead, I was quietly reading. My tests grades were often a reflection of my lack of preparation, but I did not care if I was in the middle of a good book. In fact, 7th grade earth science really took a hit when I was 12. So far, I have read 110 in books in 2019. I will likely add 1 or 2 more to that total, but I feel confident in my 2019 favorites and doubt that I will add to that this list. My list is not in any particular order, I had too many to consider favorites.
Becoming by Michelle Obama – Michelle Obama is an excellent writer. Her book sets the gold standard for autobiographies. I listened to this one and cried more than once. Her descriptions of loss are truly heartbreaking. Don’t go into this one thinking it’s about her husband’s rise in politics, it is not. This book is about her life. It made me miss the Obama presidency more than I thought possible.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – This is another autobiography. 2019 was the year of the autobiography for me. I have read a lot of them this year. Imagine taking a DNA test and finding out that everything you thought you knew about yourself was not true. For this author that is exactly what happened. In the age of at home DNA kits, this is becoming a reality for a lot of people. This one validated by position that somethings in life are best unknown.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – This book was released in 2018 but I read it in 2019. It was nearly impossible to get at the library for months, it’s that good. This tells the story of girl left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina. The descriptions of her natural world transport the reader.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing – This one puts a whole new spin on dysfunctional family. You know the author is talented at her craft when you find yourself hoping that these 2 truly terrible people will get away with their crimes.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This book won best historical fiction on Goodreads. It is written as an interview with the band members of Daisy Jones & The Six. I kept picturing Fleetwood Mac and the story behind Rumors when I was reading this one. It was an excellent read and rumor has it will be turned into a limited series, staring Elvis Presley’s granddaughter.
That is my list, I could have gone on. I know that there are at least 5 more books that I could have added as favorites, but it needs to end somewhere. I am really looking forward to what 2020 has to offer in the way of new books.
Last year I read the book Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shafer. It followed Barack Obama and Joe Biden while they tried to solve the mystery of the murder of Joe’s favorite Amtrak conductor. It was a ridiculous story in which after their time in the White House, Obama and Biden join forces to solve mysteries. It’s an absurd concept that works for me. I laughed out loud countless times during the first book, imagining the Joe Biden we know from the Biden memes that became so popular at the end of their term.
Hope Rides Again is the sequel to Hope Never Dies. In this story, Obama’s blackberry mysteriously disappears and Joe decides that he needs to solve the mystery of what happened to it. Over a 24 hour period, on the streets of Chicago, Biden and Obama not only try to find the blackberry, but they also try to solve the attempted murder of the presumed thief. Their adventures are hilarious and I think I laughed out loud on every page. The infamous tan suit makes an appearance in this book and Biden has a very strong opinion of Obama’s greatest scandal.
I love these books not because of great writing or because an important story needs to be told. I love these books because I miss Barack Obama and for a few hours, I can imagine that he and Biden are out there, somehow making the world a better place.
I recently finished The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda. The main character in this book, Jane, is a mother of 2. She recently lost her older daughter, Mary, and questions remain as to what happened. When the book begins, they are approaching the one year anniversary of Mary’s death. Jane has spent a year, heavily medicated, to get through the grief of losing who she believed was her perfect daughter. During that year, her husband has been working longer hours and her younger daughter, Betsy, is keeping secrets. The family appears to be falling apart and Jane has made it her mission to find out what is going on and what actually happened to Mary.
I don’t want to give any spoilers. But, I have read a lot of books that follow what I have mentioned before as being in the “Gone Girl” genre and this one definitely follows that same genre. As we all know, Amy was a certifiable lunatic in Gone Girl. Compared to Jane in The Favorite Daughter, Amy was actually very sane and normal. To say Jane is crazy, would be an understatement. While I had fun reading this book, I did have a hard time dealing with the true insanity of Jane, I can’t remember the last time I read a character that was crazy and so void of humanity. In a word, WOW!
The Favorite Daughter gives us a very fictional glimpse into the perfect, All American family living in Orange County California. The neighborhood that they live in is over the top idyllic and the people who live there are nothing more than characters. If this is what it is really like to live among the rich in California, I will continue to be happy in Midwestern America. No one seems real in the story, making it hard to actually care about the characters. That being said though, I did have fun reading the book and read it quickly. It is a very easy read and while the ending is very predictable, Jane is very transparent, the story will draw you in.
Don’t expect great literature with this one. I came across one very glaring mistake the author made while writing the book. Throughout the story she talks about all the years her girls were one year apart in school. However, when the oldest daughter goes to college, the younger daughter is starting her junior year of high school. This was, in my opinion, a major mistake that the editor missed. That set aside, expect to have fun reading it and know that the ending will be very satisfying. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. I would have given 3.5, with a half star for the fun factor if that was an option.
I recently finished the World War II drama Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein. This was one of those books that I started and had to promise myself that I would not stay up until 12:30 am reading. I did not fulfill that promise to myself and finished it in 2 nights, it was that good.
Set in Berlin in the 1930’s, best friends Ilse and Renate, have spent their childhood together. They share secrets and make promises to each other to remain best friends forever. As the Nazi party continues to strengthen in Germany, they find that maintaining their precious friendship is going to be impossible. Renate’s family reveals a secret that will make it impossible for her to sustain her lifestyle, her social connections and education.
After introducing Ilse and Renate, the book jumps to 1980’s New York City and the reader is introduced to Ilse’s daughter Ava. Ava was born at the start of WWII and never knew who her father was and never knew why she was surrendered to an orphanage as a young child, only to be retreived by her mother years later. She spends her life begging her mother for answers, but receives nothing from Ilse. Finally, after years of estrangement from Ilse she receives a letter from Germany that includes the story of her mother’s life through a series of letters that her mother wrote over several decades to Renate. These letters explain to Ava why her mother was distant and cold during her childhood. It also explains the mystery of her father and those years in the orphanage. The answer is shocking.
I really liked this book for several reasons. I have read so many WWII books over the years. The events of 1940’s Europe provided endless material for historical fiction. Personally, I have always felt an obligation to read those stories so that I can understand why the holocaust happened and what drove millions of people to follow a madman blindly. In all honesty, I have been backing away from those books a little bit because they all seem to end in the same place, a death camp. While I know that was the story for millions of victims, it was not the story for all of Hitler’s victims. Make no mistake about it though, just because this story does not end in a death camp, that doesn’t make the outcome any less tragic. In the end, the brutality these families live through ends before they have to enter a death camp.
I realize that while this book was historical fiction, it also had the element of mystery and suspense. The big reveal is saved for the last few pages, which allowed the book to hold my attention until the very end. I kept asking myself, what is the secret? So many scenarios went through my mind, but honestly, I wasn’t prepared for the end. That is what makes a good story great!
I also appreciated that the author had the ability to make me really hate Ilse through almost the entire book. I mean, she is really portrayed as an awful woman. Her final letter allowed me to realize their was so much more to her. I can’t say I walked away feeling pity or sorry for her, or that I even liked her at the end. But, I ended the book understanding her a bit more.
I gave Wunderland 5 stars on Goodreads without hesitation.
In 2003 I went to an author lunch with a friend of mine. We went to a French restaurant on Lake Michigan and indulged in some truly delicious and memorable food. The author we saw was Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine. She was on a book tour promoting Gourmet magazine’s first cookbook. With the guidance of my dear friend Amy, I had only recently discovered that I appreciated foods that went beyond my midwestern roots. While I love a good casserole, I realized I also love salad with baked goat cheese, a perfectly roasted chicken or mushroom risotto. The world of food had been introduced to me.
Save Me the Plums, written by Ruth Reichl, tells the story of her years at Gourmet magazine as editor. It follows other books she has written, my favorite being Tender at the Bone. I highly recommend that one, the stories she tells about her mother are laugh out loud hilarious. Save Me the Plums gives the backstory to how she fell into such a great job, the politics of running a magazine, the personalities of the people she worked with and the ultimate dismantling of Gourmet magazine. I enjoyed the book, but it was not great, it had some flaws.
I found it hard to keep track of all the people. I understand that when you run a magazine, it is a team effort. But, there were just too many personalities to keep track of. I don’t know how she could have revised that aspect, but it was hard to follow. I also felt like she jumped over huge periods of time without a lot of detail. She goes from complaining about slumping sales, to bragging about robust sales very quickly without a lot of explanation as to why. That happened quite a few times throughout the book. It made it hard to follow. I was also disappointed in the ending. She devoted very little to explaining how and why the magazine came to an end. It felt like she purposely skipped a few facts?
That being said, having met her, she came across as a genuinely warm and kind person. I loved the stories about her interactions with her son. It made the story seem more genuine. She talks about the relationship with her husband, they come across as a happy couple. She talked about the tense relationship she had with her mother and her fondness for her father. Again, all things that made me like her, therefore, liking the book more than I would have had I not met her.
Save Me the Plums is an easy read, with some recipes included, which I plan on trying. I gave it 4, very reluctant stars, on Goodreads. I would recommend that if you want to read this, start with her first book and read them all first. By doing that, you will have a better idea of what happened in her life to bring her to the world of food.