Reading Roundup – Spooky Season

Ok, readers, I intended to devote Spooky Season to horror.  I really did, but I just couldn’t do it.  I think the reason is just that I don’t like horror all that much.  Despite the horror renaissance that seems to be going on these days, I haven’t found much that has kept my interest.  Also, other shiny books caught my eye, like the new Beatriz Williams, The Wicked Widow.  ‘Cause we all know readers gonna read.  And most of us can’t stay focused on a theme when our favorite author has a new one.  So, here’s the Spooky season roundup.  Still creepy, just maybe not so scary.

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

This one caught my eye because of the idea of making a documentary about an abandoned village with a dark past.  I love the Blair Witch Project.  It’s the best found-footage horror movie and I think a just all-around good horror movie.  I also gave this a go because it’s Scandinavian and they usually know their way around horror (and grisly murder mysteries).  But alas, this one didn’t live up to the hype.  It started out good with a group wanting to go out to the middle of nowhere to film and encountering puzzling problems that hint toward the supernatural.  But the story dragged, and the characters were not very interesting despite the author’s attempts to bring in themes of women and the history of mental illness stigmas.  I found myself skimming the last third of the novel.  It had some atmosphere, but the story didn’t deliver.  I wouldn’t recommend it.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

I read about this one on a list of Dark Academia books.  I’ve really gotten into Dark Academia after reading Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House.  (I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment in that series, but the author seems to be tied up with that whole Netflix series thing.  What’s that about?) Anyway, school experiences are something most of us have in common so setting mysteries and ghost stories in schools seems like a no-brainer.  So, when this came up as a deal on Book Bub, I snapped it up.  We start the story with Oliver, who’s being released from prison after ten years and he decides to tell the detective who arrested him the whole story.  It’s a story that sees seven art conservatory students unravel in their senior year while quoting Shakespeare to each other as if it’s their own language.  Some might find this pretentious and tedious, but I actually loved all the drawn-out Shakespeare scenes because I just love Shakespeare.  This was a much more high-brow mystery and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters were fully rendered.  I would recommend this if you like a mystery wrapped up in young adult angst and the Bard.  Otherwise, you might want to give it a pass.

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

I picked this paperback up at the library’s annual fall book sale and had no expectations.  I was thoroughly impressed by the author’s ability with the unreliable narrator.  This felt inspired by The Turn of the Screw but didn’t steal from it.  It’s an entirely original story but like Joyce kept the reader wondering what was really going on here.  The story is told from the perspective of the nanny who moves into the head-master’s home in Oxford to take care of his selectively mute little girl.  When the girl goes missing, we only have Dee’s viewpoint to tell us what happened.  This was refreshing considering authors are going crazy with the multiple perspectives these days, which really seems like a cop out when Lucy Atkins wrote an incredibly compelling story with only one.  I whole-heartedly recommend this one.

Alright everybody, enjoy Turkey month and I’ll see what else I can wrangle for the next one.  Happy reading, y’all! 

Pumpkins, Ghosts, and Goblins, Oh My

Hello readers! ‘Tis the season for spooky stories and if you’re like me you’re always on the lookout for good ones. I especially love haunted house stories, which is why I wrote one. Here’s an excerpt from my novel Magnolia Run to get you in the mood for Halloween. If you like it head over to Amazon or B&N and pick up a copy. Happy reading!

It was pitch dark on the mountain.  He had his father’s flashlight but it was still difficult to see the path in front of him.  He stepped carefully, afraid of snakes.  The woods were dense on either side of the narrow road and clouds obscured the moon.  He heard thunder rolling in the distance but he didn’t care if it rained.  He had come this far and he wasn’t turning back.

Private James Adams had been eager to enlist in the army.  He went to the movies to see the newsreels more than anything else.  He saw the soldiers already overseas battling the Germans, taking the fight to Hitler.  He and his friends talked about how they would be once they got there, bantering about how many Germans they would kill and how many French women they would kiss.  As soon as he turned eighteen James went to the nearest recruiting office and began his journey to immortality.  Surely he would be in a great battle and surely people would write songs about his battalion.  He joined the airborne and he finally made it to France but he didn’t do much kissing.  The war was loud and frightening and very real.  His friends from basic were dying all around him that day.  He huddled in a fox hole praying for it to be over.  It was muddy and damp and the earth under him smelled foul.  He heard his commanding officer yell for them to advance.  Everything inside him resisted but he knew it was his duty to follow the order.  People on the home front were counting on him.  Seeing the faces of family and friends back home, he leapt out of his fox hole and joined the other sprinting soldiers. 

Suddenly, he was on the ground.  His ears were ringing, he couldn’t see, and pungent smoke filled his nostrils.  He didn’t know how long he lay there.  It was as if time was standing still.  Then very faintly he heard someone yelling, “Medic!”  Hands grabbed his shoulders and legs, lifting him onto a gurney.  They were running with him, away from the gunfire and the screams, the horrible screams.

He woke up in the hospital, his eyesight and hearing restored, but something else was missing.  The explosion had taken his left arm clean off at the shoulder.  All that remained was a raw stump and a bloody bandage.  He eventually traveled home and his parents met him at the station.  His mother wept and his father just shook his head.  There wasn’t anything to say really.  After the war he found work as he could, whatever anyone would let a one-armed vet do.  He despaired of ever finding a girl to marry.  Who would want damaged goods like him?  The nights were the worst, though.  That’s when he felt it.  He would wake in the night with shooting pain down his left arm and he would clap his right hand down expecting to feel flesh there but he just felt the bed sheet.  He knew his arm was gone yet he could still feel the pain.  Doctors gave him sad looks and told him merely to “give it time.”

It was this pain that had driven him out of his house, out into the black woods and the gathering storm.  He had heard of a woman who could cure people.  Two men in the back of the barber shop had been whispering about her three days before.  When he approached them, they tried to put him off but he insisted.

“She lives up the mountain,” one of the men said.  “She’s got a little cabin up there.  They say she can make a potion that can cure whatever ails you.  You just tell her about it and she’ll make it up right there.”

“What does it cost?” James asked eagerly.  He didn’t have much but it would be worth it if this woman could help him.

The man hesitated.  “No one whose been up there ever talks about what they had to pay.”  He cut a look at his companion who looked away hurriedly.  “Let’s just say it’s expensive.”

James thanked them and turned to leave when the other man grabbed his bereft shoulder.  “Son, you were in the war.  You’ve already lost enough.”

James pressed on down the road.  He heard the terrified squeak of a small rodent.  An owl had found dinner.  It felt as if he had been walking forever and he was starting to think those men were having him on when he finally saw a small rectangle of light in the distance.  His heart leapt.  There was a cabin up here.

He shone his flashlight over the gate.  It was tilted and rusty and squealed when he swung it open.  He could only see the front steps and door of the house in the yellow circle of the flashlight as he approached.  It looked old, like it had been there since the 1800s.  As he drew near the porch, he stopped and listened.  It was deathly quiet.  There was no thunder or sound of animals, only a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees and he was suddenly afraid.  Something was telling him to turn back.  He did turn around but then caught himself.  This is ridiculous, he thought.  She’s just an old woman.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

James cried out and dropped his flashlight.  He whirled around and saw a black figure standing on the porch.  The door was open and a dim light was pooling around the figure’s feet.  He could barely make out that it was a woman.  She turned and headed through the door, seemingly confident that he would follow.  He hesitated, a chill running through his body but then he felt a twinge in his phantom arm and scurried up onto the porch and into the cabin.

The front room was lit only by a fire in the grate.  The woman walked over to the chair next to it and sat down.  She turned to look at him and he could see her face properly.  She was older but not as old as he expected.  She looked to be in her sixties.  Her drab brown dress was oversized but he could see she was round in the middle and her shoulders were stooped.  Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun with frizzy lengths falling around her wrinkled face.  Her eyes were a very dark brown.  To James they looked black and very deep.

“Come and sit.”  She gestured to the chair on the other side of the fire place.  He could hear an accent but he wasn’t sure what it was, possibly Russian.  He sat.

“I brought some money – “ he started but she waved her hand.  “I care nothing for money,” she said.  Thunder cracked outside and James jumped.  The storm was closer now.  The woman stared into the fire.  “I know why you have come.  Your arm hurts you.”

“Well, yes, but not this one.”  James held up his right arm.  “The other one,” he finished sheepishly.  The doctors he had seen hadn’t understood his problem and he was worried the woman would think he was crazy and maybe laugh at him.

“I know that,” she snapped.  “Would you have come all the way up here if it was that one?”  She sounded insulted.  “Idiot doctors can handle that.  You require something more.”  She turned and stared into his eyes.  As he looked back, her left eye slowly turned back towards the fire but her right one continued to bore into him.  “Isn’t that right?”

“Y-yes.”  He shifted in his seat.  “Can you help me?”

“Perhaps.”

It had started to rain and the wind beat it against the window.  Lightning flashed, briefly lighting up the rest of the room.  James wasn’t sure what he had seen out of the corner of his eye but a chill went up his spine.  He stared into the dark corner straining to see.  When he turned back the woman had closed her eyes and was chanting in a foreign language, rocking back and forth gently.  As the thunder rolled and the woman chanted, James started to get the feeling they were no longer alone in the room. 

She suddenly stopped chanting and opened her eyes.  “The spirits say they can help you.”

The mysterious presence seemed to be getting closer to him and he could feel eyes watching him.  Terror was rising in his chest.   He felt rooted to the chair and was too scared to look around.

“I told you I don’t care for money,” the woman was saying.  “There is something I value.  If I ask the spirits to heal you, you must give me something in return.”

“What – what is it?”  It was sweltering by the fire but James shivered.  He felt like he had a fever and he was starting to feel queasy. 

The woman smiled.  It was a horrible smile.  Her teeth were yellow and slightly pointed at the end.  James thought that might be his imagination.  He was feeling a little light-headed.  Again he sensed someone moving closer to him across the room.  She reached up to the mantle and pulled down a small wooden box.  She held it out to him and opened the lid.  He leaned forward and peered into the box.

The scream that escaped him was foreign even to his own ears.  It was worse than the screams of the dying men on the battlefield.  It seemed to come from a place he didn’t know he possessed.  He jumped to his feet knocking over the chair and staggered to the door, jerking it open and dashing out into the rain.  He tripped on the flashlight he had dropped in the yard and went face first into the mud.  He screamed again, certain the shadow in that room was pursuing him.  He scrambled to his feet and bolted out the gate and ran full speed down the road not caring if he collided with anything.  He knew he had to get away from that cabin at all costs.

Inside, the woman chuckled to herself.  She closed the lid and set the box back on the mantle.  “There won’t be anything tonight,” she said.  She felt that she was again alone in her cabin.

Reading Roundup: General Fiction

I am sooooo behind on my book reviews.  I know you’ve all been clamoring for one.  Not really, but I’m going to say that because it makes it sound like I have real readers.  So, without further ado (or needless self-deprecation), here it is.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This one has been hovering around my Want To Read shelf for a while.  I kept putting it on and taking it off and putting it back on again.  Finally, this summer it stuck.  I love stories told in unique ways and this one is really clever in that it tells its story through a dossier of emails, letters and news stories.  Bernadette Fox is a reclusive genius architect who runs away when her daughter wants her to go to Antarctica on a family trip.  Her daughter is desperate to find her and she’s the only one who doesn’t think her mom’s crazy.  I thought it was amusing and a light read.  I recommend it for squeezing in between those Scandinavian thrillers.  You know the ones.

The Golden Hour and The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m endlessly impressed by Ms. Williams’s productivity.  Her new one-off historical novel The Golden Hour came out this summer and the follow-up to The Wicked City will be released in December.  I’m lucky if I get a blog post written every two months.  But anyway, The Golden Hour, set in the Bahamas during WWII, was a bit of a disappointment.  We’re following a gossip journalist in the inner circle of the former king of England and his wife Wallace Simpson.  What I didn’t get was that our POV character has the inside scoop, but she doesn’t share it with the reader.  I always felt like I was missing something, and I didn’t like that.  In preparation for the next installment of the 1920’s series, I picked up The Wicked City.  It’s got an interesting main character and I look forward to seeing more of her, but the current day storyline seemed extraneous.  Just because it’s historical fiction doesn’t mean we always have to have two timelines.  Just saying.  It wasn’t the best Beatriz by any means, but I have a soft spot for the 20’s so I’m going to continue the series.  Bottom line, I wouldn’t recommend The Golden Hour because it just couldn’t keep my attention.  I thought The Wicked City ran a little long, but it’s got potential for the series.  If you love Art Deco like me, pick it up.

The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

I picked up Abbi Waxman this summer and I’m so glad I did.  She’s hilarious, y’all.  In The Garden of Small Beginnings we meet Lillian, a widow with two little girls.  She’s an illustrator who’s sent to a gardening class to get up-close and personal with her subject.  Not everyone could make a story about moving on from the loss of a spouse funny, but Ms. Waxman does it brilliantly.  She has a wry wit that really speaks to me.  And that wit was on full display in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.  I loved this book.  Nina is a bookworm who doesn’t like people and has no problem not having any family.  So when the father she never knew dies and leaves her with a ton of relatives and a mysterious inheritance, she’s thrilled!  Just kidding.  I recommend both these books with relish.  You can read Nina Hill without having read Garden but the characters overlap and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Until next time.  Happy reading!

Reading Roundup

I’m currently in a “book hole.”  You know that place where you’ve finished a book and you just can’t settle into a new one?  It’s frustrating.  So instead of reading, I thought I’d write about the ones that have recently moved to the Read shelf on Goodreads.

The Hiding Place by CJ Tudor

I was really excited to get CJ Tudor’s second book since I liked her debut The Chalk Man.  I picked this one up expecting the unexpected because she seems to do that pretty well.  It started out fine.  I was intrigued by our less-than-truthful narrator and the eerie English setting.  We had a mysterious setup and I was onboard, but I found myself disappointed at the answer to the mystery.  Maybe I was just expecting too much but it just wasn’t enough for me.  I hesitate to recommend it because it didn’t do anything for me, but people are different.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

It pains me to say it, but I didn’t really like this one.  I know, I know, I sing Ms. Williams praises a good bit on this blog and she really is great, but this one just, well, isn’t.  For starters it’s too long.  There are very few people who have any business writing books that are over 400 pages.  There was a story there, but I think it was just drowning in all the words and descriptions and introspections.  I personally didn’t connect with the narrator and it was never definitively explained why she refused to see her husband for the three years leading up to the book’s events.  Not to mention if you’ve read A Certain Age, you already know the story of her sister and father so you’re stuck treading water for the benefit of all those who haven’t.  I’d say skip it and wait for her new one The Golden Hour coming out next month.  I’ve already pre-ordered it.  I know I have a problem.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

Book of the Month’s latest offering is a book about death and life and…well, death.  A book about a man who works tracking down next of kin for people who die alone in their homes sounds pretty depressing.  And he lies about having a happy family life while living like the very people he investigates for.  Again, depressing.  Except for the delightfully quirky love interest and the off-the-wall co-workers, right?  Sadly, this book just didn’t come together for me.  It’s one of those that was good enough to finish but not really that good.  Book of the Month has always been hit and miss and I think this one goes in the miss category.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking “Does this girl like anything?”  Yes, actually, I do.  I loved Kate Quinn’s new historical fiction novel The Huntress.  If you have the least bit of interest in historical novels and WWII, do not miss this one.  Like I said, very few can write a 500 pager, but Ms. Quinn is one of those few.  Intriguing characters, Nazi hunters, unorthodox love affairs, and female bomber pilots.  What’s not to love?  No one writes a battle ax character better than Kate Quinn.  I was enthralled by Eve Gardiner in The Alice Network and now Nina Markova.  I’ll be pre-ordering her next one for sure.  I do not need an intervention.

Happy Summer reading, y’all!

Love and Hate in the Time of Audiobooks

Back in the fall I got a new car, the result of an accident involving the Jaws of Life, a night in the hospital, and a hematoma that just won’t quit.  On the brighter side, my shiny, purple RAV4 has brought me into the 21st century with Bluetooth capabilities and a nice sound system.  Eventually, I realized that these could be used to listen to audiobooks on my commute thanks to Libby, the amazing library app.

I was pretty stoked until I remembered that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks because my mind wanders, and I miss things.  But I gave it a shot anyway.  I started with Julie Shumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel told through a series of letters.  I thought the format lent itself to audio because it’s told in only one voice.  I was reminded of the other reason I don’t listen to audiobooks when I tried French Exit by Patrick deWitt.  The narrator worked for the voice of our protagonist, an aging New York aristocrat, but when she read as the male characters, it was not a pleasing auditory experience.  Also, I wasn’t into the story, so I abandoned it.

I thought I would give up on the experiment until Aha! Of course!  Non-fiction!  This will solve the problem of multiple voices since it’s merely recounting the true experiences of others.  It won’t, however, solve the problem of my attention span, but we can’t have it all.  So, I settled on Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker.  It was pleasing to the ear but not the best true-crime I’ve read/listened to/absorbed/whatever.  That brings up another issue.  What do you say when you’ve finished an audiobook?  I listened to Insert Book Title?  Does that count as “read” even if you didn’t actually eyeball the book?  Do I need a separate list on Goodreads?

Sigh.  I suppose that’s a personal choice, how you classify your audio/reading experience.  I definitely prefer the reading of a book to the listening of one but when you’re trapped in a car (regardless of how nice) for an hour a day, we beggars can’t be choosers.

Happy reading/listening/whatever, y’all!

Book or Movie?

As I was facing a Saturday night alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I turned to the interwebs for something to entertain me.  It turns out that they recently adapted the Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked.  Last April when I went to Taiwan I bought that novel to read on the excruciatingly long flight.  (No, really, it was thirteen hours.)  I was drawn to the off-beat plot of a woman in a dead-end relationship who starts up an accidental correspondence with her boyfriend’s musical idol.  But I found it to be pretty boring.  The writing was bland and it dragged, not really giving me anything to connect to.  I got through maybe a third before moving on to something else.  That’s why you always put multiple books on your Kindle before flying to the other side of the world, am I right?

So, why would I want to watch the movie you ask.  The book is always better than the movie, right?  They even have t-shirts that say “The book was better,” so everyone knows it.  Well, call me crazy but I’m squarely in the camp of Not Necessarily.

Books and movies are different mediums.  Some stories work really well in book form and lose something in translation.  I’m sure you can find many a rant online about why your favorite book didn’t fare well in Hollywood.  And a lot of times that’s true.

I heard great things about that movie The Notebook.  Everybody loved it and it was just the most romantic and beautiful love story.  As any good reader I said, “I’ll read the book first.”  So I did and it was…terrible.  Oh, M. Goodness, so overblown and melodramatic.  I was expecting more from Nicolas Sparks, having seen the film version of Nights in Rodanthe, which was pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing.  So what was I missing?  I came to the realization that some authors and their stories are just better suited to film.  I think Nicolas Sparks is one of them.

So that brings me back to Juliet, Naked.  I watched it and really enjoyed it.  Everything that was flat on the page was bright on screen.  The connections between the characters were genuine and not overdone.  I particularly connected with Annie.  She felt real and believable.  It’s not your typical rom-com and if you find yourself with a Saturday night in, I recommend it.  I also recommend High Fidelity, another Nick Hornby novel that was adapted in 2000.  I’ve never read the book so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.

I have seen some really bad adaptations (I’m looking at you, It) but I’ve also seen some good ones.  I may be standing alone, but I’ll stand up for those films that are truly better than the book.  Always is a strong word, but life has taught me that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

Bridge to Nowhere

Have you heard about Markus Zuzak’s new book Bridge of Clay?  You probably have because the whole world loved The Book Thief and have waited forever.  No really, it’s been thirteen years.  That’s the first red flag.

When I heard Mr. Zuzak was publishing a new book I was excited because I loved the writing of The Book Thief.  I thought the plot wasn’t that original or exciting but the style was awesome.  I also loved I Am the Messenger because the story was so off beat and interesting.  If we could have a book that married the amazing prose of The Book Thief with a charming plot like I Am the Messenger, we might have a contender for Favorite Book.

But it was not to be.  I read an interview on Goodreads where Zuzak said he had been trying to write this book since he was really young and he agonized over everything, making sure it was perfect.  Uh-oh.  Red Flag number two.  Something that personal does not usually translate.  Mostly it’ll resonate with, well, you.  Despite this reservation I gave it a shot.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  I read about half of the book and I have no idea what we’re supposed to be getting from it.  We start out with five boisterous teenage boys taking care of themselves with a bunch of animals running around.  That was actually the part I liked.  They were interesting, I liked the way they interacted, each with his own unique personality.  Enter the deadbeat father who asks them if they’d like to come with him out to the middle of nowhere and build a bridge.  Um, okay.  So one of them decides it’d be a good idea to quit school and go to the middle of nowhere with a man he hardly knows to dig holes in the hot sun so they can put a bridge over a mostly dry river bed.  Um, okaaayyy…

Most of the 250 pages I read didn’t even have anything to do with Clay or his brothers.  It was all about their mother’s childhood behind the Iron Curtain and how she got to Australia and their father’s childhood and how he married one girl and then got divorced.  Why do I care?

I’m sorry, but you introduced a whole group of really interesting characters and then left them for half a book to talk about their parents’ pasts?  What does that have to do with anything?  Not to mention this is supposed to be a first person narrative.  The narrator is the oldest brother who isn’t seeing any of this first hand and yet writes like he has intimate knowledge.

To me, this book was a mess.  I think this is what happens when a story marinates too long in the writer’s head.  He gets too close and loses perspective.  Zuzak wanted to convey some awesome family saga with great points about healing and forgiveness but really it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Mr. Zuzak missed the mark this time.  I would give this one a wide berth.

Book Reviews: Non-Fiction

Ok, another round-up of book reviews.  This time we turn to non-fiction.  I love a good true crime but I also love biography and memoir, so this is a bit of all three.  Enjoy.

Blood Lands Series by Harold Schechter

I thoroughly enjoyed these short works by Harold Schechter.  Each one focused on a lesser-known true crime story in American history and only took around an hour to read.  I especially liked the one about the family of murderers living across the prairie from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It was aptly titled Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie.  The other one I liked was The Pied Piper about a young man in the 1950’s who committed Manson-style murders by holding other young people in thrall.  I would suggest this series of short reads for anyone just getting into true crime.  They get in and get out and don’t have time to get dull and repetitive like so many I’ve abandoned over the years.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Before I traveled to Taiwan I felt that I needed to read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.  It was well-written and quick and deeply poignant.  There’s something about solitude that really centers us.  One thing that stood out to me was the mental toughness it took to do something like that.  It wasn’t just physical.  It took a lot of “mind over matter” to get through it.  That idea of pushing through and overcoming really spoke to me.  I definitely suggest this one even if, like me, you have no intention of hiking anywhere, alone or otherwise.

In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson

I realized recently that while Frankenstein is a masterful work and is still relevant today, I knew very little about the woman who wrote it.  So I read In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson.  It was a little long but it kept me engaged throughout.  I think it’s amazing that Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only nineteen.  People have mocked Shelley for being obsessed with death but death was all around her.  Her mother died at Mary’s birth, her half-sister committed suicide, her husband was killed in a boating accident, and only one of her four children lived to adulthood.  I think Mrs. Shelley can be forgiven for having a preoccupation with death.  Frankenstein is much more than a monster story.  It goes to the heart of what it means to be human and what happens when humans attempt to create life.  In Search of Mary Shelley is a good read and I recommend it for biography lovers.

The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist

This is the best true crime I’ve read in awhile.  Set in Sweden, it follows the missing persons case of Goren Lundblad in 2012.  An interesting twist to the story was the role of Therese Tang, an investigator with non-profit organization Missing Persons Sweden.  Though not law enforcement, Therese blows the case wide open.  But the best thing about this one was the dramatization of scenes without straying into fiction.  I never thought Capote was successful in mashing up true crime and fiction in In Cold Blood.  This seemed to be much more fluid and engaging, without crossing any lines.  I recommend The Dark Heart for true crime buffs and anyone looking for a good whodunit.

That’s all for now.  Happy reading, y’all!

Book Reviews: Historical Fiction

I realized recently that even though I’ve been reading a lot I’ve neglected to do any reviews on this blog.  I don’t normally read a lot of historical fiction but recently the thriller choices on Book of the Month have been lacking so I’ve been opting for something different.  So here are a few that I’ve devoured lately.  Enjoy.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

This was a good starter for me because it still has a murder mystery at the heart of things.  It’s set in New York during the Gilded Age, which I love.  There’s murder, manners, and mistaken identity.  And a little bit of Shakespeare for good measure.  Though not the best I’ve read, I would recommend it for a light read.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The next book that caught my eye was The Alice Network.  This one takes us into parallel time lines between WWI and WWII.  It delves into female roles during WWI in the real-life Alice Network, women who served as spies in occupied France.  It also looks at the female role just after WWII.  The world was changed and so were the women living in it.  Though Eve Gardner is driven by hate and revenge, she’s a captivating and sympathetic character.  Her old-age bitterness is tempered by the young woman who comes to her for help.  I greatly enjoyed this one and recommend it for WWI buffs and anyone interested in women’s roles though-out history.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

I can’t thank Book of the Month enough for introducing me to Beatriz Williams.  I bought this one as an extra, not sure if it would suit, opting for my usual dark, gritty fare, but I’m really glad I took a chance on it.  Though a murder mystery plays a role in this novel, it’s not the main focus.  It focuses on the relationships and dynamics of a small island in Long Island Sound after WWII.  There’s love, romance, and heartbreak.  And again, a little Shakespeare.  But what really captivated me was the prose.  I’m a sucker for good prose and Ms. Williams is wonderful at using her words to evoke a time and place.  It goes beyond the slang of the time period and creates the atmosphere of Post-War New England a la the Kennedy family.  I was totally swept up and definitely recommend it for those who want an author whose diction is more than hum-drum.

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

I admit I was chasing the high of The Summer Wives when I immediately went to Amazon and ordered A Certain Age.  Beatriz Williams’ writing, a love triangle, and the Jazz Age.  I was sold.  Although I must say that I was somewhat disappointed.  It was a good story and the prose was on point, but I think it ran a little long.  I found myself wishing these people would just say what they meant for once.  And the murder mystery felt a bit unnecessary.  If you love the glitz and glamour of the 1920s, you’ll probably enjoy this one but otherwise you can give it a skip.

Until next time.  Happy reading!