Archive | November, 2012

Thankful for some time to read…

25 Nov

Nearing the end of this long holiday weekend, I find myself wishing for just a little more time to read. I still have a half dozen or so books that I am wanting to dig into. Here are the three books I read this week. All are fiction (shocking!) and all of them I liked.

Of all three – this was my favorite. Something about the cover makes me think of Story of Beautiful Girl, which I loved so much I can’t explain, and I was hopeful that this story would at least be in that same ballpark. Tom and Isabel live on an island off the coast of Australia – Tom is in charge of maintaining the island lighthouse and the two are the only people on the small island. Isabel has suffered a series of miscarriages and finds herself in the depths of a dark depression. Then one day, a little dinghy washes up onto their shore containing a dead man. And a live baby. And Isabel convinces Tom not to report it, but to bury the man and raise the baby as their own. You can probably imagine the gist of the storyline (and that the baby’s real mother is looking for her) and where it will go, but I thought it was nicely done. I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads that claimed that there are no likable characters in the book – and I would almost nearly agree. At one point or another I hated nearly every player in the story. But I think that’s human.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a weird one. Parts of it reminded me of Goodbye for Now, which I talked about in an earlier post. Sort of techy-nerdy-scholarly. My friend Mary likened it to Harry Potter, and I can see what she means. Ok so here is the plot: a young man/graphic designer goes to work for Mr. Penumbra, working the late night early morning shift of the 24 Hr store. He notices that a strange bunch of elderly scholars come in asking for bizarre old books that seem to be written in code. He generates a computer program that translates the code and finds a pattern – and in doing so he finds himself in the middle of a secret society. He also falls in love with a girl who works for Google. Eh. I give it 3 stars out of 5. It was fast and suspenseful. But if I was going to recommend a book that revolves around advancing technology – I’d go with Goodbye for Now (I liked the plot line so much better).


Oh, Per Petterson. This was recommended to me by a friend – a friend who said that it was his favorite, even over Out Stealing Horses. To be 100% honest, I never finished Out Stealing Horses. So I thought I’d check this one out. From the Library, of course. And I flew through it in a morning. I have a huge soft spot for characters who love books. They could be pot-smoking, beer-drinking, fisticuffians and secretly read Kerouac and obscure Jack London titles and I will be in love. And so that is how I felt about Audun – the hero of this book. We follow him through five years of his life – 13 to 18, and you can kind of imagine the type of story it is. His father was an alcoholic and left them a long time ago, his sister ran off with a man that Audun suspects beats her, his younger brother drowned. His mother works and struggles and his friends are similar. I really enjoyed it.


A Bit Twisted, a Bit Touching.

13 Nov

I am FINALLY done with wedding season and ready to dig into the mountain of books that has been growing and growing for the past few weeks. Here are three from this past week that I enjoyed enough to share:

I was perusing the airport bookstore and found a half-price copy of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, and since I so loved Gone Girl I decided to check it out. Have to say – way creepier than GG. Years ago in a small town in Kansas, a young girl’s family was brutally slaughtered. Having escaped through the window, Libby Day (7 or so at the time) testifies that it was her brother – an angsty sullen boy, who killed her mother and two sisters (with an ax, a gun, his bare hands) and sends him away for life in prison. Now, 20 odd years later, Libby Day is broke and looking for a quick way to earn cash. So she agrees to be the guest of honor at a local Kansas City “Kill Club” – a group of people obsessed with famous crimes. And almost ALL of them think that her brother is innocent – blaming her for his wrongful imprisonment. Libby Day decides to conduct her own investigation – and it gets TWISTED.

The Baker’s Daugher is also twisted, but in a historically accurate sort of way. I really this – having waited for it at the library for quite a while. The story begins in Texas – a young reporter (struggling to find herself and sort out her relationship with her boyfriend, of course) visits a local German bakery to work on a story about Christmas customs. She meets and immediately bonds with the owner, Elsie, and her daughter Jane. From here the story splits – half is the story of the young reporter and her Immigration Officer boyfriend, and half is the story of Elsie’s life as a baker’s daughter in Germany in the 1930s. Usually when the story splits like this, there is one half I like better. But here I liked both. In Germany during the war, Elsie finds a young Jewish boy, starved and sickly, and hides him away in the bakery. In Texas, a young Mexican family is discovered hiding on the outskirts of town. Each half was interesting and lovely – this would be perfect for book clubs and for people who loved Those Who Save Us (by Jenna Blum).

I finished this last night. I was SO EXCITED to get my hands on it – it doesn’t come out until the beginning of March. If anyone hasn’t read Plainsong – do it. Then you’ll be as excited about this new one as I was. The story is sort of a downer – an old man, known to all as Dad Lewis,  in a small town is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and given only a short time to live. Dad is sort of the center of the story, and it radiates from there. His wife Mary, daughter Lorraine, estranged son Frank, the young girl who lives next door, the new town pastor – all have interesting quirky little storylines that intersect and diverge. He is a beautiful writer and the story is very Midwesty.

Three Mysteries?

2 Nov

I had a busy week of reading – and all three, I think, can be called Mysteries. All of them were good – not GREAT – but solidly enjoyable.

This one is older. And by that I mean maybe last year or the one before. I heard about it on that Books on the Nightstand podcast, and both commentators were saying it’d been on their list forever and they were both going to move it to the top of the stack. So I thought I would too. It was kind of weird. The very beginning reminded me of Sarah Waters’ spooky Little Stranger – WWII era London, a young boy dealing with the slow death of his mother and his father’s quick new relationship. So, like any good hero, he finds solace in books. Fairy tales, mostly. And then he gets sucked through a portal in the stone garden of his estate. Weird, right? He makes his way through this alternate world, encountering many Fairy Tale legends (but all with a weird, sick twist – like Snow White, who is mean and fat and the Prince who woke her up left her because she was so horrid) trying to find the King, who supposedly has a “Book of Lost Things” that will help him return home. I think there are definitely people who would love this kind of book – maybe not so much me.

I’ve been hearing about Bernadette for a long while. In fact, I was number 149 on the Library wait list (I caved and bought it). And…isn’t the cover great? It is sort of just how I picture Bernadette. I’m having trouble writing something that accurately sums up the story, I’ve written and deleted a handful of things. Basically, Bee (the 15yr old daughter of Bernadette) comes home with all A’s from her preppy Prep school – ready to cash in on her parent’s promise to give her whatever she wants. She decides that they should take a family cruise of the Antarctic – and neither parent says no. Bernadette, who has problem interfacing with people, disappears shortly before the cruise ship is set to sail. There is a lot more – more antics, more humor, more background – and the novel is at once a coming of age story and a case file on the missing mother. I gave it 3/5 stars….but it was a fast and entertaining read.

Of the three, this was the one I think I liked best. Set in a small town in the hills of West Virginia, A Killing in the Hills is the story of Belfa Elkins and her daughter Carla. It opens with a bang – three bangs – as Carla witnesses three old men get shot in the small-town diner. Although she doesn’t tell her mother (the small town’s prosecuting attorney), she sees and recognizes the shooter’s face. There are a couple of layers to this seemingly straightforward mystery – 1) a dark terrible secret in Belfa’s past 2) a growing drug/prescription pill problem in the small town 3) Belfa’s best friend’s battle with cancer. All of these plot lines, I thought, were interesting and sort of darkly mysterious and grief-stricken. I can’t say that I was completely shocked by the final twists, but I enjoyed it and flew through it. Still 3/5 stars though – I’m feeling tough on books this week.

I’m off to a wedding in Nashville now, and am (as usual) bringing a large suitcase filled mostly with books. Hopefully I’ll have some great things to say next week.