Monday, September 1, 2014

The Secret Place; Tana French

 The Secret Place; Tana French
Viking - 2014

The 5th novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series, Tana French once again shines on, delivering a psychological thriller that does not disappoint.

In The Secret Place, almost 2 years earlier, Christopher Harper, 16, who had attended St. Colms an all male boarding school for the elite was found bludgeoned to death. His body was found of the grounds of St. Kildas, an all female boarding school nearby.  His killer was never found and the case pretty much went cold.

One day, Holly Mackey , a troubled St. Kilda's girl who appeared in an earlier novel, arrives at police headquarters with something significant enough to reopen the murder case.  Holly shows, Detective Stephen Moran, who has been looking for an opportunity to get his career jump started, something posted on a anonymous message board, at St Kildas. The message board known as the "secret place" is a picture of the deceased boy with the words "I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM."  Detective Moran brings the new evidence to Detective Antoinette Conway who had previously worked on the case. Detective Conway is smart, tough, somewhat abrasive and thick-skinned -- she has to be as the only female on the murder squad she is disliked by many of her peers. 

With the investigation reopened, the suspects are many, especially since some of the St. Kilda's girls were sneaking out to meet up with Chris prior to and around the time of his murder.  Surprisingly, the entire story takes place in a 24-hour period and is told in two different timelines....the investigation in the present and the months leading up to the murder. The author does a terrific job drawing us into the insular world of the privileged teens, teenage angst, friendships, loyalties, rivalries and meanness.  The intricate details given and secrets revealed, had me with notebook in hand playing amateur detective as I read. I enjoyed the characters, the writing and the dynamics between the detectives as well.

Although The Secret Place would be enjoyable on its own, I highly recommend reading the series in order, beginning with In the Woods, as some of the characters reappear in subsequent novels.  Well worth your time for readers who enjoy psychological thrillers with substance.

4.5/5 stars
(finished copy from publisher for review)

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman; Eve Harris

Grove Press - 2014

Set in 2008, the neighborhood of Golders Green, London, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, tells the story of an ultra-orthodox Jewish couple about to be be married and how the Hasidic culture views love and marriage.

Baruch Levy, 20 is determined to marry Chani Kaufman,  19, a young woman he was attracted to the minute he saw her across the room. The background of the two couldn't be more different, except for their religious backgrounds. Baruch is the oldest son of a very wealthy family. His mother is a social status conscious snob.  When Baruch tells his parents about the young woman he wants for his wife, they are not too happy with his choice. Baruch is a respectful son, but at the same time, he will not allow his parents to make him rethink his choice.

Chani, is one of 11 children (8 daughters) and lives in a somewhat rundown home. She has not had the privilege of a seminary education, which by custom ranks high in choosing a mate. Chani thinks Baruch will make a good husband, but she seems more interested in leaving the confines of her strict religious life.  When she thinks about her wedding and especially about what the wedding night might be like, she's nervous -- no terrified of the wedding night ritual.

The author has written and eye opening book the I think many outsider's to the ultra Orthodox religion, like me will enjoy. The story opens as Chai is preparing for her wedding and takes the reader back in time when the Rabbi and his wife were advising the young couple about marriage.  The flashbacks help to explain the reactions of the present day family members.  The story flows well and is told in a fun manner. Most of the characters are both sympathetic and likeable as well. Chani in particular was one I admired -- headstrong, determined and smart. This is a great book for readers who are interested in learning about other religious customs and beliefs .

4/5 stars
(eGalley)
 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Blatherings and New Books and Monthly Wrap Up

A lovely 4-day weekend here, and it's been relaxing so far.  The weather is great, shopping for fall clothes, visiting the kids and grand kids, eating out lots and reading -- life is good. Do you have any special plans for the last official holiday of the summer?

I've been reading and listening to a lot of books lately, but I seem to have lost my interest in spending time writing reviews.  I have about (5) reviews to write and may just resort to some mini reviews.

Needs reviewing  - The Marrying of Chani Kaufman; Eve Harris; To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Joshua Ferris; The Arsonist; Sue Miller; A Sudden Light; Garth Stein and The Secret Place Tana French.

New Books - 

Crooked River; Valerie Geary (Wm Morrow)
The Way Inn; Wills Wiles (Harper/Amazon Vine)
2AM at the Cat's Pajamas; Bertino (Random House audio)
Harbor Island; Carla Neggers (Harlequin/Mira)
After the Funeral; Agatha Christie (Wm Morrow)
At Bertram's Hotel; Agatha Christie (paperback swap)
The Secret Adversary; Agatha Christie(paperback swap)
Murder is Easy; Agatha Christie (paperback swap)



 August Reading in Review - (13) books read August
                                                 (95) books YTD 


Favorite Book - The Conditions of Love; Dale M Kushner


  1. Mr. Mercedes; Stephen King - 4/5 (audio) August
  2. The Girls From Corona del Mar; Rufi Thorpe - 4/5 (audio & eGalley) August 
  3. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman; Eve Harris - 4/5 (eGalley) August
  4. The Conditions of Love; Dale M Kushner - 5/5 (eGalley) August 
  5. The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar - 4/5 (eGalley) August 
  6. Colorless Tsukuro Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Haruki Murakami  - 5/5 (audio/eGalley)
  7. All Fall Down; Jennifer Weiner - 4/5 (audiobook) August 
  8. California; Edan Lepucki - 3/5 (audiobook) August
  9. We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas - 4.5/5 (eBook) August
  10. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Joshua Ferris - 3.5/5 (audio) - August)
  11. A Sudden Light; Garth Stein - 4/5 (arc) August
  12. The Arsonist; Sue Miller - 2.5/5 (audio)
  13. A Secret Place; Tana French - 4.5/5 (August)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You -- The Secret Place; Tana French


Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think -- would you try it?

The Secret Place; Tana French
Viking - Sept 2, 2014

(Description)
The sensational new novel from “one of the most talented crime writers alive” (The Washington Post)

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster

In Matthew Thomas’ debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves, the central character, Eileen Tumulty, born in 1941, is first introduced as the nine year old daughter of Irish immigrants growing up in Queens, NY. Her father “Big Mike” is a hard-drinking, well liked, larger than life figure in their community. Her mother always felt inferior and was hospitalized for a breakdown after suffering a miscarriage. She is never the same when she returns home. She drinks too much, smokes to much and poor little Eileen is more like the grownup as a result. She learns early on that it’s important to have goals in life, and strive to achieve them.

She chooses the nursing profession and a very bright man, Ed Leary for herself. They marry, buy a multi-family home in Jackson Heights, and have a son that they name Connell. Although Ed is a good man and a college professor, he remains content teaching at a local community college instead of pursuing a more prestigious job at another college or university. He doesn’t have the drive that Eileen was hoping for. She is disappointed in her husband, but yet she is also committed to him and their life together. She focuses her energy one searching for another house,  bigger , in Bronxville, a much better area. Ed does not share her enthusiasm about moving and does not want to move, but Eileen gets her way, The next home is a bigger, albeit run-down house in her dream neighborhood. It isn’t long before Eileen’s brief house high, takes a back seat to a life changing event, that begins explains her husband’s secretiveness and his odd behavior of late.

I really enjoyed this 600+ novel. Described as a sprawling saga, it’s the story of a marriage and family. Eileen, Ed and Connell, a family affected by heartbreak . It's about how their life is torn apart and how they move on. It’s a story about life, about longing for more than we have, but accepting the hand you were dealt. It's a beautiful story. Although there were many instances where I did not care for Eileen, the central character, I did respect her and feel for her situation especially in the last half of the novel. Son Connell’s story and his struggle to please his parents, was also good, although a little less compelling.

The writing is really good, and although a long novel, I never lost interest. I alternated between the print version and the audio version (which was fantastic - read by Mare Winningham). This was a terrific novel, worth the time spent, and a story I will not forget. Read it.

4.5/5 stars
(audiobook and review copy)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Sudden Light; Garth Stein

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. 

A Sudden Light; Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster

Prologue - The Curse

"Growing up in rural Connecticut, I had been told the name Riddell meant something to people in the Northwest.  My paternal great-great- grandfather was someone of significance, my mother explained to me. Elijah Riddell had accumulated  tremendous fortune in the timber industry, a fortune that was later lost by those who succeeded him/  My forefathers had literally changed the face of America-- with axes and two-man saws and diesel donkeys to buck the fallen, with mills to pulp the corpses and scatter the ashes, they carved out a place in history for us all. And that place, I was told, was cursed."
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What do you think?

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking your post below.

Monday, August 25, 2014

California; Edan Lepucki

California; Edan Lepucki
Little Brown & Co / Hachette Audio
July - 2014


In California, by Edan Lepucki, civilization as we have known it is gone after what we can only assume was some sort of apocalypse. Frida and Cal are a young married couple fleeing Los Angeles to live off the the land in a lush forest to the north of LA. With the shelter of a shack nearby, foraging for food, the couple seems happy, perhaps too happy, given the circumstances. To add to the unsettling situation, Frida suspects that she is pregnant.

Given the situation the two search for a more communal lifestyle, but they have no idea what they are in for.  They find a strange town,  surrounded by “spikes” meant to keep the undesirables away. The group with its self-appointed leader promises protection, but at what cost?  Many of the things that the couple has long taken for granted are forbidden here, in what they initially thought might be a safe haven for them.

I must admit this was a trying book for me. First dystopian novels are not a favorite for me in general, but because there was so much hype about this book, I was anxious to try it.  I liked the beginning very much and I thought that the set up felt very atmospheric. However, once the couple joins up with the questionable group and becomes at odds with one another, I found I had a hard time caring about the couple.  The story is told in alternating POVs with lots of flashbacks along the way. The writing is good and the author shows promise, but the story itself just was not a good fit for me. I encourage other readers, especially lovers of dystopian fiction to give this California a try.

The audio book was read by Emma Galvan who did a decent job portraying the bleakness of the situation and showing just how naive this young couple was.

3/5 stars

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - The Book of Strange New Things; Michel Faber

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think -- would you try it?

Crown-Hogarth - October 2014

 Description

A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC.   His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling.  Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable.  While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival.  Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.
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I was first introduced to this author's work some 10 years ago when I read, Crimson Petal and the White (2003) which I loved.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar
Harper - August 2014

Maggie Bose is a 56 year old psychologist who is married to a professor from India.  She is a black woman who has become successful despite growing up poor and being sexually abused as a child.  One day she gets a new client, a 30-something, Indian woman named Lakshmi who has just attempted suicide. Every week following her release from the hospital, the two of them meet for a one hour therapy session at Maggie’s home office. 

Lakshmi’s suicide attempt stems from several factors. She is in a loveless marriage to an verbally abusive man, cut off from her family (she moved to the US from India 6 years earlier), she is friendless and even though she works long hours at her husband’s restaurant, she has no money of her own. She is dependent on her husband for every little thing. In India, Lakshmi was a woman with pride yet in the mid western town she now lives her life is lonely and her self-respect gone.

As Maggie and Lakshmi meet for their weekly therapy sessions, Maggie is confident that all her client needs is a friend and some confidence to begin to feel some self-worth. Maggie tries to maintain professional boundaries yet she tells Lakshmi that her husband Sudhir is an Indian man so that she begins to feel comfortable with their sessions. Before long, Lakshmi is bringing Sudhir his favorite Indian dishes and she is starting to feel that Maggie is more friend than therapist. At her weekly sessions she shares more about her life in India and even sheds light as to why her husband feels the way he does about her. 

Although Maggie is shocked by what she learns about Lakshmi's marriage, she has some secrets about her own marriage that she has attempted to keep secret, until one day Lakshmi discovers the truth. Despite all the help Maggie has been to build Lakshmi’s confidence and to make her more independent -- she’s taught her to drive, found her jobs catering for small parties and is cleaning houses, when Lakshmi discover the secret Maggie's been hiding she is angry and shocked and without thinking seeks revenge against the woman who has helped her.

The Story Hour brings together two very different women each carrying their share of guilt and secrets. Told primarily in the alternating voices of each woman,  I must admit that initially, I found reading the broken English narrative of Lakshmi to very a bit off putting, but once I eventually got used to it., and understand that, it did make her character more authentic.  As with her earlier novels, the author has created a compelling story and characters that you will remember after the final page is turned. 

⅘ stars
(review copy sent by publisher)

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros - We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Just started this one  -- 600++ pages, but very good so far.

We Are Not Ourselves; Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster - August - 2014

"His father was watching the line in the water. The boy caught a frog and stuck a hook in its stomach to see what it would look like going through.  Slick guts clung to the hook, and a queasy guilt grabbed him.  He tried to sound innocent when he asked if you could fish with frogs.  His father glanced over, flared his nostrils, and shook the teeming coffee can at him.  Worms spilled out and wriggled away.  He told him he'd done an evil thing and that his youth was no excuse for his cruelty.  He made him remove the hook and hold the twitching creature until it died.  Then he passed him the bait knife and had him dig a little grave.  He spoke with a terrifying lack of familiarity, as if they were simply two people on earth now and an invisible tether between them had been severed."
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What do you think?

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking your post below.