It was a slow month for me as I only finished 8 books. Some of that was due to the fact that a couple of the books weren't all that good and I think I avoided them by listening to podcasts instead. But let's just recap my favorites. By far, my favorite book of the month was The Reading List. It is a lovely book.
I also loved the most recent installment of the Department Q series, The Shadow Murders; the classic, Stoner; and All The Broken Places. I only read one non-fiction, Breath. It's a health-focused one and very good.
Let me knwo what good books you have read this month. I do put a lot fo your suggestions on my library and Audible wish lists.
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio - Got 2.5 hours in and realized that I could only remember the names of 2 of the 5 or 6 main characters. Flat and dull.
The Shadow Murders
By Jussi Adler-Olsen, Read By Graeme Malcolm
This book is #9 in the Department Q series. I love this series and I love the characters. Scandinavian authors can dream up some really twisted plots. The books take place in Denmark and Department Q is the cold case unit. The books really need to be read in order so if you are going to give this author a try start with The Keeper of Lost Causes. Several of the books focus on on developing one of the rich characters in the novels.
In this installment, Department Q is assigned a case of a sixty year old woman who has committed suicide. It's not a cold case but their boss is convinced that it's related to a cold case from 1988. They quickly discover that there are a series of murders that have been meticulously timed to occur every 2 years on the birthday of a despot. The murders span over 30 years and another is scheduled to happen soon.
This is the second book that is written to happened during covid lockdowns. I hated the first one because of all of the talk of putting masks on and taking them off. It was tedious. This one is different because it uses the lockdowns to let the detectives and antagonists take advantage of the lockdown situation.
The book does end with a giant cliffhanger that will obviously be the topic of the next book. I usually hate cliffhangers but I didn't mind this one. It really is a separate storyline and sets up the next (and rumored final) book in the series. I can't wait.
By John Williams, Read By Robin Field
This is not a novel about Grateful Dead fans. It was written in 1965 and is considered an American classic....and I agree.
John Stoner was born on a small farm in 1891 and his father was encouraged to send him to the University of Missouri to study agriculture so he could make the farm more successful. He did attend the university but fell in love with literature and ultimately received a PhD in Literature and then took a job teaching at the University. It's a novel about the life of John Stoner and about how we make decisions about our lives and work. It's about campus politics, bad marriages, feeling stuck and making the best of it. It's not exactly profound or moving but it makes you aware of the Stoner moments in our own lives and tradeoffs that we make. It's beautifully written with no wasted words and the narration is right on point.
The book brought forward to me two memories from my college years. One is of the rampant politics and pettiness in academia. I always felt that it rivaled Congress for political shenanigans and the tenure system may benefit professors but it sure doesn't benefit the consumers who pay for the education. I remember quite a number of ineffective professors that I was stuck with because they were tenured. This book exposes campus politics entrenched in the early 1900's. It must be worse now with the amount of corporate money funding academic "research".
I'm going to take a little side step here out of book review mode to tell you a story from my college days because Stoner is the embodiment of this one English professor that I had. Prof Collins was my English Professor one summer session. He was an OK, but uninspired, teacher and all I really remember is that he wore the same two suits all summer. I remarked to a fellow student one day that his wife must hate him. Not that she was responsible for his wardrobe but she sure could have influence over it if she wanted.
During college I worked almost full time at a nice restaurant. It was run by a man named John and his assistant manager, Jackie. Jackie had stunningly beautiful red hair, dressed provocatively and loved doing belly dancing shows for the employees. The dudes loved it. John loved Jackie and it was blatantly obvious that they were having an affair. One day I came to work and there was Jackie sitting in a booth with Prof. Collins and she introduced him to me as her husband. I remarked that I had been in his class the previous summer and then I ran to the kitchen before my shock showed on my face. This book could have been called Collins and been written in the 1980's.
Jackie also kept pet ferrets in the restaurant. Yes, we had rodents in the restaurant intentionally. So many stories!
Shadows of Pecan Hollow
By Caroline Frost, Read (poorly) by Alex McKenna
I've got some real mixed feelings about this one.
In 1970 Kit walker ran away from her horrible home and ended up being cared for (groomed) by Manny Romero. In the beginning he was kind to her but eventually, of course, it turned into a somewhat captive relationship and they became knows as the Texaco Twosome for their series of gas station robberies across Texas.
Eventually they robbed one to many places and Manny was caught while Kit got away. Manny was jailed and, at 19, Kit tried to forge a new life for herself in Pecan Hollow with an Aunt she had never met. In 1990 Manny is out of prison and shows up in Pecan Hollow professing to be a new man, making nice with the townspeople and trying to get Kit back.
I believe that this is Frost's first novel and it has that feel to it but the basic storyline is pretty good. The profanity and vulgarity is over the top but I think that's a common crutch for new authors. It relies on shock value as added depth to the storyline. I'm no prude and my language is anything but clean and some things in this book were over-the-top and unnecessary even to me. There are also decisions that characters make that just don't make any sense but are used to further the plot. The whole thing felt like she had a good solid beginning and ending but the middle was a labor to write.
The worst thing about the book was the narration. I hope the author didn't select this narrator because she made all of these Texas characters sound decrepit and ignorant. Frankly, it was a bit offensive and very distracting. She also mispronounced so many words so badly that it was jarring. You hear a nonsensical word and have to stop to think about what word she actually meant. If you want to give this book a try, get in in paper form and read it yourself.
By Nick Pirog, Read By Johnny Heller
Apparently Nick Pirog was an early adopter to the eBook publishing scene and has been very successful with it. This is the first book in a 5+ book Thomas Prescott series. I found it on Audible as a deal with the first 4 together as one book. I'm not sure I'll listen to the other 3.
Thomas Prescott is a retired detective who helped solve a series of serial murders the previous October. He's been trying to get himself to read the Eight In October book about the murders and is avoiding meeting the author. The killer, Trystan Grayer, was dubbed "The MAINEiac". Prescott has never felt that Trystan was the real killer and that starts to be proven right when someone close to Thomas is murdered starting off a chain of new murders.
It's actually an interesting plot but the writing is a mess. First off, the Prescott character is hard to take serious. He's in the middle of a series of murders of women close to him and he's stupidly focused on ogling women, talking about his penis and, frankly, not focusing on the actual murders and protecting the potential victims. He gets a good amount of sex and sleep while women are dying. The FBI is supposedly heavily involved but basically leave the case up to him and they aren't even capable of being protection teams for the targeted victims. The boorish behavior of Prescott is something might expect in a book written in the 1960's but not one written in 2004. His behavior is inexcusable.
The ending had a big twist but even that was too convoluted for me to stomach. This book needed a serious editor for sure. I don't recommend it but I see that the subsequent books in the series have much better review so one day I might give book 2 a try.....but not anytime soon.
The Reading List
By Sara Nisha Adams, Read by a cast
After the last two books I felt I was due for a good one and Saint George delivered!
The Reading List is a lovely book written for those of us who can't live without books.
Mukesh is a widower living in West London and he's quite lost after the death of his wife. He's close with his daughters but not an integrated-life kind of close. He has his weekly routines and watches nature documentaries in the evenings. He worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who spends all of her time alone and reading.
Aleisha is a recent graduate reluctantly spending her last summer before university working in a library. One day she finds a piece of paper in the back of To Kill A Mockingbird. It's a list of books to read. Her home life is incredibly stressful and her job is dull so she decides to read the books on the list. One day Mukesh comes into the library and she uses the list to recommend books to him.
Each section of the book is loosely based on one of the novels on the list: Rebecca, The Kite Runner, The Life of Pi, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Beloved, and A Suitable Boy. I personally haven't read Beloved or A Suitable Boy. The Audible version of A Suitable Boy is massively abridged and Beloved is (by the reviews) horribly narrated by Toni Morrison. Apparently she narrates all of her own books, generally a bad idea.
This book is all about the power of books to educate and heal and the potential of libraries to build communities. It's lovely.
By James Grippando, Read By Christine Larkin
Kate Gamble is a law student, aspiring playwright and daughter of the CEO of Buck Technologies, a big data firm with big ties to the CIA. Kate has written a play about the Nazi's use of census data and early punch card technology to identify and control the Jewish population. She has supposedly written this play to explore her mother's loss of purpose. In the midst of all of this her mother commits suicide by jumping off her balcony.
Problem #1 - No director is ever going to put on a play about IBM's involvement with the Nazis. A documentary for TV maybe, but not a play. It's a stupid storyline.
Problem #2 - Her mother is an alcoholic and not at all tied to Germany, the plight of the Jews or anything else for that matter.
So she wants to be either a lawyer or a playwright but she takes a job at her father's company. Hmmmm
On her first day of work she runs into Patrick Battle, a boy that she used to babysit. He accidentally tells her of a secret program at the office called, seriously, Naivety. Also, her ex-boyfriend works for the DOJ and they are doing a cybersecurity audit at Buck and he's leading the audit.
When Patrick disappears and it appears that he is being held hostage, Kate takes the lead to go to Columbia and negotiate his return.
Problem #3 - We are to believe that an employee of a company that's under a DOJ audit and is a large client of the CIA is going to be allowed to fly off to Columbia to negotiate with a hostage taker. I don't think so.
While the Big Data underlying story is not only believable I think we've learned enough over the past few years to know that it's all true. The storylines around it are way to simplistic. Oh, and the hostage taker (working for a government that likes balloons) is working alone. Nope.
This is the second Grippando book that I've read and both were way over the top for me.
All The Broken Places
By John Boyne, Read By Kristen Atherton and Helen Lloyd
This book reminds me a little of A Gentleman In Moscow, one of my all time favorite books. Gretel Fernsby isn't as sympathetic as Count Rostov and the stories are quite different, but both books stay with you and make you think about what you might do in similar situations.
Gretel Fernsby is 91 years old and lives in an upscale mansion block (condos to Americans) in London. She has lived there for decades along with her neighbor, and good friend, Heidi. A new family is moving into the flat below her and she's not excited about the change. They have a young son, Henry, and eventually Gretel can't help but to build a friendship with the boy. She starts to realize that the boy and his mother are being abused. She wants to help them but realizes that getting involved may expose her own hidden past.
Gretel escaped Nazi Germany at the age of 12. Her father was commandant of one of the extermination camps. She and her mother escaped to France where they were discovered and brutalized. After her mother's death she made her way to Australia and eventually to London, changing her name each time looking for a new identity.
The story moves back and forth in time between her past and preset. Now, at 91, she faces a difficult decision that may expose her past which would have implications on her own family.
I've never read anything by John Boyne before and I now know that this is actually the sequel to he most popular book, Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. The story from that book is referenced in this book but I think that they can be read stand-alone. I will read more of Boyne's books for sure.
By James Nestor, Read By James Nestor
This one is for those of you, like me, who are interested with natural methods of healing. James Nestor had a myriad of health issues including sleep apnea and, being a journalist, he set out on a long exploratory journey to try to solve them. That research resulted in a fascinating book about how we breathe incorrectly and how to fix it. He delves into the evolution of the human skull as a result of changes in our diets over hundred of years and how that affected our nasal passages in a negative way. He interviews several people doing very interesting research into breathing and he participated in some very uncomfortable clinical trials. The book ends with some excellent breathing exercises, most of which can be found in meditation apps and YouTube videos.
At the end, he did cure his sleep apnea and learned that he can control his blood pressure to a significant degree by changing his breathing. The one major lesson is to avoid mouth breathing at all times.
People who might be interested in this book include people with sleep disorders, anxiety, autoimmune issues, ADHD and other behavioral problems and hypertension.
3/1/2023 08:08:58 am
I enjoyed the Reading List too. I'm finally doing an audiobook while I sew, but I am being so productive with it, that I am running out of projects.
3/1/2023 08:52:01 am
always glad to see your recommendations. I hadn't read James Grippando in years I don't know why I stopped looking for his books - might be the last one I read wasn't any good? I wrote down a couple from your list to give a shot at.
Always enjoy your book recommendations. Your story about the prof reminds me of working at a law office years ago. Those of us who were staffers often secretly joked that two of the lawyers were having an affair. Years later, we found out we were right. It was a bit shocking to find that out, and the damage done to the families was very sad.
3/1/2023 10:27:16 am
I look forward to reading your book reviews every month and see two this month that I will check for at the library (The Keeper of Lost Causes and The Reading List).
3/1/2023 02:16:42 pm
Thanks for your book reviews - I always enjoy reading them.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.