Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This one has gotten a lot of hype, and seems to enthrall, enrage, bore, delight, hold captive (choose all that apply) readers across a broad spectrum.  While it's been compared to GONE GIRL, the absence of GG's pages and pages of gratuitous sex made this one a better read for me.   Here's how the publisher describes it:
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.  And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Author Paula Hawkins has three different narrators relate the story.  The first, Rachel, is an alcoholic, subject to black-outs, depression, and on the verge of total melt-down.  Not up there at the top of the reliable witness category.  The second is the "victim?" Megan, who is missing  (sound familiar?)  The third, Amy,  is a neighbor of the missing girl, who also happens to be married to Rachel's ex-husband.   Not only are relationships a bit confusing at first, but as the story progresses, the reader becomes aware that none of these storytellers is reliable.   Who to believe?  What really happened?

While this device of multiple and/or unreliable narrators can add a great deal of suspense to a mystery, it has to be handled carefully to avoid descending into a farce.   Hawkins manages all the twists and turns admirably to give us a true page turner.  We don't even have to like these characters to have a ripping good read. I was really glad that I had not read any of the reviews before I picked this up in the library.  It's a book that deserves to be read with as little known up front as possible.

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Press, 2015, 336 pages

Genre: Mystery - psychological thriller
Subject: Missing persons
Setting: London and environs
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  It jumped off the shelf yelling "pick me!"

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Winter At the Door by Sarah Graves

Lizzie Snow, an experienced homicide detective from Boston, has come north to the farthest reaches of Maine to take a job in a small town where the sheriff is concerned about a string of suspicious deaths among former police officials.  We quickly learn that Lizzie is there only because she's looking for her missing niece, although we never quite seem to find out much about this missing girl.

In the meantime, the plot thickens as Lizzie settles into small town, winter-time life in rural Maine.   I've enjoyed Sarah Graves' "Home Repair is Homicide" series set in the same general locale, and actually thought this one was better written.   The characters are edgier and more sketched in, and the place descriptions are spectacular.  However, the plot really became very much like the runaway logging trucks that are the stuff of legends in the Maine wilds.   Way too much going on with no brakes on the wild ride.  We had little vignettes of quirky town characters, we had Lizzie fending off two suitors, both too good to be believed and too edgy to be comfortable about.   We had those suspicious suicides, out of control teenagers, and mysterious bad guys running around unnoticed.

I actually couldn't put it down because I had to see how all of these pieces would ever come together.   Graves does a reasonable job of tying up loose ends, and gives us a real kick-a surprise at the end, but there is still laundry hanging on the line at the end.   I guess this is her way of making us wait for the second installment.   I think there's plenty of potential for a good series here.   Lizzie Snow is definitely a female character with lots of pizazz.  I just hope that Graves isn't going to do one of these series where we are forever hanging waiting for the heroine to decide who's sleeping in her bed that night.  Lizzie appears to be too smart to let that go on for long.   Let's hope so anyway.

Title: Winter at the Door
Author: Sarah Graves
Publisher: Bantam (2015), Hardcover, 272 pages
Genre: Mystery - police procedural
Subject: murder and mayhem
Setting:Fictional town of Bearskill Maine
Series: Lizzie Snow #1
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program
Why did I read this book now? I was given a review copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

I never really got into Tony Hillerman's books, although there are many of them on my shelves since my husband is a big fan.  I did however get a chance to listen to this one last month while I was snowed in, and have decided that the Hillerman books are definintely worth adding to the my teetering TBR pile.  I especially liked the female protagonist in this well plotted story that paints a detailed picture of the police procedures employed when crimes occur on Native American reservations in the southwest.  I'm definitely going to be reading more of hers when they're published, and will be going back to look at Tony Hillerman's popular series.  Here's what the publisher tells us about this one.
 Anne Hillerman, the talented daughter of bestselling author Tony Hillerman, continues his popular Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman's Daughter, a Navajo Country mystery, filled with captivating lore, startling suspense, bold new characters, vivid color, and rich Southwestern atmosphere.Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn't mean she's going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth, and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

the Fakir

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe: A novel by Romain Puertolas

This is one of the funniest farces I've read in a long time.  Available as a Kindle download from my local library, very reminiscent of  The 100 year old Man who climbed out the window and disappeared or a good old fashioned Three Stooges/Fawlty Towers/Monty Python slapstick.  A quick, quirky, belly-laugh out loud satire.  Absolutely delightful.  Get it and save it for a day when you need a quick and sure pick me up.
Here's a fer instance:
 "A fakir by trade, Ajatashatru Oghash (pronounced  A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!) had decided to travel incognito for his first trip to Europe.  For this occasion, he had swapped his "uniform," which consisted of a loincloth shaped like an enormous diaper, for a shiny gray suit and a tie rented for peanuts from Dilawar (pronounced Die, lawyer!), an old man from the village who had, during his youth, been a representative for a famous brand of shampoo...."
In addition to the fun, the travel, and the outrageous puns, there's actually a teensy bit of a life lesson. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Port City Shakedown: A Brandon Blake Crime Novel

This first book in a new series is set in and around the Portland, Maine, waterfront. It introduces Brandon Blake, a loner who lives on his old wooden cruiser. Raised by his alcoholic grandmother after his mother was lost at sea, Blake learned to depend on himself. During an assignment for a law-enforcement class, Blake gets involved in a fight and is marked for payback by a soon-to-be-released convict. Meanwhile, questions surface about his mother's disappearance.(from the publisher)

Last year I read the 2nd in this series "Port City Black and White" but only got around to reading this 1st in the series when the paperback edition was offered through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. This is a very well done police procedural series with lots of room to grow. I especially like how Boyle shows us the early motivations that bring Blake to his career in the Portland police department.

I've gotten to know the city a bit more than I did when I read the previous volume and was very comfortable reading this. The crime story was especially well-plotted and I didn't see the end until it was upon me.  I don't do spoilers, but there was plenty of action, romance, and lots of clues to keep the reader interested. I did see that we were going to solve the crime, but I didn't realize what the crime was!!! A great story, and I'll definitely keep my eyes out for the next one in the series.

Title: Port City Shakedown
Author: Gerry Boyle
Publisher: Down East Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2014) 240 pages
Genre: police procedural, crime
Subject: gang fighting, smuggling
Setting: Portland Maine
Series:Brandon Blake crime mysteries #1
Source:Review copy from the publisher through LibraryThing.com Early Reviewer program
Why did I read this book now? I promised to do a review in return for a free copy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter Reading Continues - Mini re-caps

The snow story is getting very boring. The weather forecasters don't even bother to spend much time on it other than to say "well another 3-6" by tomorrow--nothing to get excited about!" That just gives me more incentive to snuggle down and read. I've been doing a lot of reading, and have settled into a re-read of one of my favorite series - more on that later. I'll give you one big hint, it's not Louise Penny, or Deborah Crombie.

Anyway, I've finally finished all 25 of the Maine Reader's Choice long list, and I'm now re-reading a couple of them so I can decide how I'm going to vote. There were so many good ones this year that it's a really hard choice. I've been having such a good time reading and sorting through all the books in piles and stacked up on my Nook and Kindle, that I never got my weekly post done last weekend. Here's a mini re-cap of some more goodies to tempt you.

Everything I Never Told You 
by Celeste NG

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  Character studies are one of my favorite fiction genres and this one gives us well drawn characters struggling with the racial and socio-economic issues so prevalent today.   It's a true page-turner.  Here's how the publisher describes it:
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue-in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. ....  A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another"-- 
* * * *  

The Daughters of Mars
by Thomas Keneally
I got a review copy of this last year, and never had a chance to read it.  Like several others I've read recently, this one is large in size and scope.  In the past two years, I've done quite a bit of reading set in the World War I timeframe, but never had one set in the Dardanelles, nor did any of them feature Australian nurses. This one has been rightly described as epic.
"From the acclaimed author of Schindlers List comes the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the First World War. In 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their fathers farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Though they are used to tending the sick, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first on a hospital ship near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front. Yet amid the carnage, the sisters become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger and also the hostility from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their newfound independence if only they all survive. At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I vividly to life from an uncommon perspective. Thomas Keneally has written a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad"--
 About half-way through my read I was able to borrow a copy of the audio format and it was absolutely splendid.  The print book has an excellent map inside the cover which made the reading even more enjoyable.  Definitely a keeper and one to re-read and loan to friends.