Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I so enjoyed Ruth Ware's thriller The Woman in Cabin 10 and couldn't wait for her newest book to hit the library. It is another taut, exciting psychological thriller mixing the elements of friendship, coming of age, mysterious death, and loyalty. 

Kate, Isa, Thea, and Fatima were all girls at a boarding school when they met and became close, playing a game where they scored points for telling random lies to those they thought would believe them. They liked to see who they could dupe into believing their ridiculous tales. They also shared their living quarters and their desire to be individuals as well as part of a family who would love them unconditionally. They all found that their family was the four of them. They then clung to the only adult they knew who would allow them the freedom to explore and experiment, Kate's father. But then, one night Kate summons them to her house to help her with a big problem. Someone is dead.

Years later, Kate summons them again with a short text that says simply, "I need you." The other women don't hesitate to come to her aid, leaving their new, adult lives behind as with strings of lies in their wake. The question they then face is: how far do you go to protect those you love? Should we be willing to risk everything to be loyal and uphold a promise? When do the lies have to stop?

Don't miss this spooky, twisty gem of a mystery filled with great characters you won't soon forget!

I do not read series fiction very often, but I never miss a Daniel Silva right as it comes out of the box of new books at the library. Gabriel Allon is the star once again in this one, and I just can't seem to resist someone who is not only a spy, but an assassin, and an art restorer too.

This newest Allon tale begins in the wake of the terrorist attack on London depicted in Silva's book The Black Widow. It was a well-constructed and secret attack with few holes, however Allon's team finds one in the form of an ISIS operative known only as Saladin. The team from The Office has history with Saladin, and is determined to bring him down. To do that, they enlist a wealthy drug dealer and his wife, under threat of prosecution and possible health hazards, to bring Saladin closer so they can take him out for good. It is a plan that takes money, planning, patience, deceit, and the help of the one woman who knows Saladin's looks and nature from up-close experience. 

Besides all this exciting espionage, the core of the novel is always Allon's character and the personalities of those on his team. Their honed spy-craft and irresistible, quirky personalities draw you in and make you care deeply about the dangerous outcome of the mission. Allon is an enigma who cares and fights for not only his own home of Israel, but his beautiful wife, his children, the art he lovingly restores in his "down time" and indeed, the safety of the entire world. Silva's extensive research and thrilling writing style bring them all together into a seemingly current-day world where disaster is on the horizon on any given day. 

While you certainly do not have to read all of the other 16 wonderful books in this series to understand the plot of this one or any of the others, it would certainly be a joy to go back to some earlier books such as one of my favorites, The Secret Servant, to get to know the core characters and their history. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

There are getting to be a lot of psychological thrillers since the phenomenal success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. If you liked those novels, you are sure to like this new one by Mary Kubica, one of my new favorite authors.

Told in alternating chapters from the two main character's points of view, we get a look into the marriage of Clara and Nick Solberg. They are a happy couple with two young children, seemingly living the dream. Nick is a successful dentist with his own practice, and Clara stays at home to raise Maisie and baby Felix.  But tragedy strikes, and Nick is killed in a car crash. Maisie is unhurt in the back seat, but she sees a "bad man" in a "black car." Her terror at these two things raises a lot of questions in the grieving Clara's mind. Was it an accident? Could it be a suicide? Murder?

All of these questions start to mess with poor Clara's head, as she starts to do some investigation of her own. With each new clue, she is convinced that the crash was not an accident caused by her husband's lead foot and the sun in his eyes. But the list of suspects and motives in her mind grows, as does her daughter's terror.

It is not until the very last chapter that the facts come together for both Clara and the reader. And while I didn't think Every Last Lie was Kubica's best, it is a fun, summer page-turner. If you'd like to try some others, check out The Good Girl, Don't You Cry, and Pretty Baby.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

This is our first book of the new reading year for our Valley Book Club. It is a bitter-sweet novel of love, friendship, secrets, and coming of age.

The Sweetest Hallelujah is really about the unexpectedly intertwining lives two very different women in 1955 Mississippi: Betty Jewel, a black, single mother who is dying of cancer, and  Cassie Malone, a recently widowed, childless white woman. As Betty Jewel tries to enjoy her last days on earth with her mother and her loyal girlfriends, she also is trying to decide what to do about the custody and care of her young daughter, Billie. Billie doesn't know her father, a formerly famous jazz musician, but longs to meet him and be with him should her mother die. But he is not a suitable parent, according to everyone who knows him. Then enters Cassie Malone. Cassie always wanted children with her beloved husband, Joe, but it was not to be. After his death, Cassie struggles with making her life meaningful with her job at the newspaper, and then receives some shocking news about her husband's life which links him to a jazz club near where Betty Jewel and Billie live. Cassie is forced to make a lot of decisions about how she saw her marriage and her past, and she must make some choices about her friendships, motherhood, and racism in our society. 

The Sweetest Hallelujah is beautifully written and addresses a lot of issues that are still extremely relevant in today's world. It is a touching novel that those who love a real tear-jerker will not want to put down. I, myself,  found the cancer element of the story very hard to read at times, as I know so many who have struggled with this horrible disease. And while the ending will be satisfying to most, it did seem quite predictable and a bit unrealistic to me. That said, it will make for some good discussion for book clubs everywhere, and I can't wait to talk to our group about it in September. Let me know what you and your book groups think of it!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

When I read the description of this book somewhere, it sounded like the author was going to tell me secrets about myself. And who can resist that title? Love AND trouble. I'm in - even though I don't really read many memoirs.

The subtitle pretty much describes the book (and indeed most women's thoughts about middle age). There is a reckoning coming when you hit the mid-forties. If you aren't there yet, honey, please - get ready. This is why Love and Trouble is such an entertaining, terrifying, brutal, poignant, and cool read. The author takes her many trials, experiences, and thoughts (also interesting diary entries) from when she was a teen and mixes them with her trials, experiences, and thoughts from her mid-life crisis on a sort of winding continuum. This may sound pithy and overdone when it comes to memoirs, but Dederer manages to tackle this in a very interesting and easily readable way. 

Although I couldn't really relate to it all, as I might have thought by reading the jacket, there was so much that I could see in myself that made it truly enjoyable. It always amazes me how strong women are and how common our experiences really seem to be. I've read a lot of mixed reviews on this one. Try it, and let me know what you think. 

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

This is another beautifully written book by Kelly Barnhill. If you loved Newbery winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon, you will certainly like this truly magical tale as well, and vice versa.

There is nothing more engrossing than a tale of witches, magic, kings and queens, bandits, lost souls, and loyal wolves. This book has it all. It is a page-turner of a fairy tale that has a beautiful, fulfilling ending. 

Don't miss either one of these fabulous stories, even if you think you are too old for magic.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I had the great privilege of hearing Newbery author Kelly Barnhill speak at the Kids First Conference in Des Moines, Iowa this year. She spoke about how reading fairy tales changed her life, and I think reading hers will change mine.

This book is full of magic of many kinds. It is about magical characters, magical creatures, and the power of the magic that is in all of us. It is about a witch and her true friend a swamp monster and their "pet," a tiny dragon. It is also about a boy who sees something so powerful that it could change everything. It is about the love of a mother for her child, and the extent people will go to save each other from what they think is evil. 

It's a complicated tale told in the most beautiful language I have read in a long time. I could not put it down, which was amazing and surprising, as I am not used to reading fairy tales any more. And although it's a children's book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon poses some fascinating questions about society and the world we live in today. Should we follow a rule or law simply because it seems to serve a purpose for the many? Is fear ever a necessary method of rule for a government? How do we go about questioning rules or government when it's difficult to do so? And of course, the most important question: Can we learn to use the magic for Good?" I surely hope we can. Perhaps fairy tales can teach us more than we think.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Damon Blundy, trendy, controversial blogger and news columnist is dead. A message is scrawled near the murder scene, "He is no less dead." What? Yeah, that's what everyone is asking in this wonderful psychological thriller by Sophie Hannah.

Nikki Clements feels like she knows what "He is no less dead," means. In fact, she drove by Damon Blundy's house many times that day. In fact, she just moved to his neighborhood. But she can't quite place why those words stick in her head. Words are important to Nikki, you see. She uses them a lot in her secret life. Is her secret big emough to kill for?

If you liked Gone Girl with all its quirky, pyscho drama, you'll love this book. Its pace is good enough and just wild and creepy enough to keep you reading page after page. Give it a try, and then check out the many other Sophie Hannah books the library has to offer!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Second books in trilogies are often my favorites. For me, this was definitely true of The Hunger Games and Legend. I think the same holds true for this second entry in the Darkest Minds trilogy.

In this continuing saga of Ruby and her friends as they battle to find each other after separation in battle, President Clancy's son and his personal agenda become evident. Ruby must face her decision regarding her sacrifice for Liam as well as analyze every part of her humanity and conscience. There are some wonderful chances for readers of all ages to ask themselves the questions Ruby faces: Does love really mean letting go sometimes? Does an end justify the means? How far would we go to help others?

The twisty plot and thrilling action once again drew me in and amazed me as an adult reader reading this YA novel. If kids can follow all the espionage and mind games going on here, they are very smart readers, indeed. There is also just enough "superpower" sci fi going on to keep those readers going, but like other well-done dystopian books, there is enough "reality" or real-world drama to keep those who really don't get into fantasy plots reading well into the night.

The next book is called After Light. I might have to take a break to read some great new adult novels coming out this summer, but I'm eager to know if the last book ties up all of the exciting loose ends in this wonderful series.

Friday, June 5, 2015

I took this book to our middle school for kids to check out, and the school librarian said they immediately started passing it around because after one person read it, another wanted it. So, I'm finally giving this trilogy a shot.

The premise is that the children in the United States suddenly become vulnerable to a virus at the age of 10 which ultimately either kills them or changes their brain chemistry so that they have new and powerful abilities. The government and all the adults don't really know what to do with the kids who survive because some the "powers" the kids now possess seem dangerous. So, the really great system the government comes up with is to label the kids by ability, giving it a color name, and putting them in separate camps away from their parents and the rest of humanity. Ruby is one such girl, labeled "orange" because of her ability to read people's thoughts and memories. Orange kids are extremely rare by the time Ruby is 16, and so various organizations are looking for her to be their secret weapon. What could a girl who could read people's thoughts and erase their memories do for a government? An army? Yeah. A lot.

There is a little bit of something for every reader in this series, I believe. There is thrilling action, good dialog, a smart heroine, a couple of handsome love interests, friends with loyalty, war, and any number of other social issues. Pick it up and give it a try. I'm going to read the second book, Never Fade. I'll let you know if it's as good as the first.