Posts Tagged ‘murder mystery’

Yes, I know everyone is rushing around like crazy getting ready for the holidays, but I still have two reading suggestions. One to start now, just to take your mind off the busy-ness, and another to get into when the final crunch is over.

The first is a crime thriller, Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger. The writing is taut, the pace brisk, and the subject matter all-too-current – online dating in today’s (2021) world of hook-ups and ghosting. Unger knows how to pull you in, build the suspense, and change direction without a misstep, always leaving you wanting more. Our main character, Wren, has dated a man she found on an online dating site. She believed they was falling in love, but he mysteriously disappears, leaving no trace of himself anywhere. A private detective contacts Wren also looking for the boyfriend, who may be involved in the disappearance of three other young women with a lot in common with her. I find myself jumping in every chance I get. I haven’t read Lisa Unger before, but I will again. More from goodreads.

The second is a book for when you want to get into a novel a little deeper, by the ever-amazing Barbara Kingsolver, called Unsheltered. This is the story of two families living in the same falling-apart house in Vineland, NJ, one in the 1860’s, and the other today. When I first started reading, I felt slightly puzzled – Kingsolver never writes about “nothing,” so I wasn’t sure where this story was going to go. Told in alternating chapters, we come to know Willa, in current day, at a loss as to how life is falling apart for her and her family despite always trying to do the right thing, and Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who wants to bring the wonders of the living world to his students, but is stymied in every attempt. When he comes to know the next door neighbor, Mary Treat, his devotion to science is finally recognized by a woman, a biologist, who is in communication with Charles Darwin. This part of the story evolves to a degree around the growing awareness of the theory of evolution, religion’s backlash against it, and how it affects Greenwood’s life. In Willa’s story, we ultimately find the connection of the two stories, but also how a family struggles and grows in spite of daunting circumstances. Unsheltered is just excellent, and Kingsolver an outstanding writer who crafts the most believable characters. More on goodreads.

Two very different reads, both terrific, and each for a different pace in your life.

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My last few posts have featured different aspects of my businesses because, truly, that is where my energies have been flowing. However, I have been reading books constantly all the same (you just haven’t heard about them yet.) I started this post Thursday in the afternoon and it had been snowing (!) for nearly 3 hours, the white sky starting to turn that dusky cloud grey. It was a great time to divert myself from the work on my desk and dwell on words … beautifully written, elegantly connected, come-hither words.

Where to start? Books and movies, or in this case, books and television. It seems fairly well-established among anyone I speak to that movies/television rarely live up to the quality of the books they’re based on, and are often disappointing. Two programs I have watched recently – one series on DVD and another of three episodes on Masterpiece Theater/PBS – were outstanding, easily the best things I’ve watched on TV all year and I highly recommend them – Big Little Lies and The Miniaturist. Each inspired me to read the books.

I must say, I was not as drawn in by Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty as I’d hoped to be. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman optioned the series and made it into something riveting, but as to the book? For me, not so much. I decided to try another of Moriarity’s books, The Husband’s Secret, and it was significantly better.

But ah, The Miniaturist … absolutely fantastic. The story by Jessie Burton is written in the present tense from Petronella Oortman’s POV and takes place in Amsterdam in the late 1700’s. She is a young bride from another part of Holland. She has a respected family name but no money, and is married by a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. While often absent, he buys her a cabinet as a wedding gift to help keep her occupied, a large and expensive dollhouse built and designed to look exactly like the house Petronella is now living in. The Miniaturist is a story about relationships, secrets, about the forbidden, prejudice, and very much, mystery. Although Nella orders miniatures to be made for her dollhouse, the miniaturist sends more, unrequested, that start to reveal a life unexpected in which the young bride finds herself inexorably tangled. Seeing the series on TV first was actually a great advantage – the settings, dress, morals, and attitudes of the Dutch at that time in history added much to the reading.  Take a peek at Petronella’s world; it will not give away the story. And then get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Another book that I could not put down is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is also historical fiction; one part of the story takes place in Memphis, TN in 1939, the other in present day South Carolina where a young lawyer begins to research her grandmother’s buried and seemingly disturbing past. We are taken to a shantyboat on the river where the oldest child, Rill, and her four younger siblings are kidnapped and brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They soon discover they will not be reunited with their parents as promised, but will be adopted to wealthy people willing to pay handsomely for children to adopt. The stolen youngsters at the orphanage are often starved, abused, and neglected at the hands of the cruel director and her lecherous brother; a large number of children disappeared entirely. In part what makes this book so riveting is that it is based on the very real adoption operations of Georgia Tann, a notorious felon who kidnapped and sold children for decades. Excellent in every way.

While on the topic of books not to be missed, I read Snow in August by Pete Hamill. Hamill is famously known for being the publisher of major newspapers in NYC, plus a journalist and novelist. The story takes place in Brooklyn  in 1947, a tale about friendship, faith, and trust, about an 11 year-old Irish Catholic boy, Michael Devlin, and a refugee from Prague, Rabbi Hirsch. Struggling through a snowstorm to serve mass a few blocks away, Michael, though fearful, gives in to the Rabbi’s repeated calls for help and enters the synagogue. It is the sabbath, and the rabbi needs the lights turned on. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship, set against a backdrop of ignorance of and prejudice against the Jewish people in a community of Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics. A violent act is committed against a Jewish candy store owner by the leader of a local group of thugs; Michael was in the shop as a witness, and so the story unfolds. The prose is exquisite and the story moves along quickly. Snow in August is immensely compelling.

In my journey with excellent mystery writer Louise Penny, I read the seventh book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series – A Trick of the Light. While of course there is a murder to be solved, Penny writes each novel with a new frame of reference, this time the highly competitive art scene in Montreal. The cast of characters, always perfectly drawn, and the home of the story’s activities, Three Pines, are the setting for this novel. Louise Penny has made me a fan of her superb writing and for engaging me in reading a mystery series, something I never thought I would do.

I just finished another murder mystery I spotted on the shelf in my local library, The Day of the Dead by Nicci French, actually a collaboration between a husband and wife team. The book seemed interesting and a good read while I waited for another book through inter-library loan. I was surprised to find how really good it was. Fast moving, tight writing, great plot – I could not believe how quickly I devoured this book! It may not be my usual fare, but I enjoyed every moment of this story about a renowned psychologist, Frieda Klein, whose life had been entangled with a serial killer, Dean Reeves, for a decade. She has suddenly dropped off the map and at the same time, seemingly unrelated murders  are appearing at various locations around London. These are later revealed to be at pre-determined intervals and at locations which would have meaning for Freida, clearly to draw her in and be his final victim. In the mix, and another main character, is Lola, a college student to whom it was suggested that she study Frieda Klein for her major college paper. This is apparently the last/latest in a series about Freida Klein, but worked effortlessly as a standalone.

I am now beginning  to read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. I already read The Art of the Racing in the Rain, now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time, and another excellent novel of his, Sudden Light. I would probably read anything this man writes. Quite simply, he is a brilliant and gifted writer.

Hope I’ve inspired you if you’re looking for a good read. The weather is becoming that kind of chilly that has us curling up with a good book, and if you’re lucky, in front of a warm fire.

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GirlWDragonTattoo2What a writer! Oh, my. Talk about books you cannot put down.

I just finished The Girl Who Played with Fire, not all that much later after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo*. Is it any wonder Larsson won so many awards? He was truly a masterful writer. Not only does he have that whole end-of-the-chapter-page-turning thing going on big time, but he is able to effectively flip back and forth into different places and characters’ situations in rapid succession, never losing, but rather only building, the momentum of the story.

The fact that the names of the characters and frequently referenced locations are all Swedish and unfamiliar to the English-speaking reader still does not slow one down. Larsson periodically goes into paragraphs of description, such as in his providing the background of each member of the murder investigation team under Bublanski in The Girl Who Played with Fire, but that doesn’t seem to slow you down either. The information proves to be relevant later on in the story, but in the hands of a lesser writer, such descriptions might leave one meandering and lost down some other path. Larsson’s twists and turns keep you turning the pages and reading far later in the night than you should.

GirlPlayedWithFire2His characters are engrossing, particularly, of course, the main character, Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant computer hacker with a profoundly painful past. She can be violent, yet is at the same time, highly moral, and always complex and challenging. Mikael Blomqvist, the investigative journalist, is also compelling in his own way, but more so, I believe, in his relationship to Lisbeth. The trilogy is classified as crime thrillers/murder mysteries, and, of course, this is true, but for me, I also found them fascinating character studies.

Sometimes we have to be in the mood for a certain kind of book – I don’t always feel like reading a crime thriller any more than I do any other genre. But if you are in the mood, these are books you will not easily put down. I was lent the first two by my neighbor, but for the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I will need to go to the library in town. Starting Monday morning, I am committed to being home for the tree people to come at a currently unspecified time to remove a very large and threatening dead branch high up on an older spruce next to my home. Start a new book? Wait to get to the library? All life’s decisions should be this enticing.

* The movie version of this book with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig is also outstanding, in my opinion.

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There’s something very exciting about discovering an author we’ve never read before. Sometimes we are drawn to this author by personal recommendation, subject matter or from our simply having heard of him or her along the way and wanting to check them out. It’s also often exciting to return to an author we do know and read something fresh. Clearly, we can be surprised in either instance.

HouseRules-JodiPicoult2I picked up House Rules by Jodi Picoult at a friend’s book swap, a chance to try a new-to-me but very well-published author. House Rules is about a family which includes a single mom, a teenage son, Jacob, who has Asperger’s syndrome and his younger teenage brother, Theo. The father had walked out when Jacob was a toddler. He was unable to cope with the demands of a child whose symptoms were on the higher spectrum of autism, and who required enormous amounts of time and attention to continue to grow and function. Theo, who by necessity must often take back seat to Jacob, is longing for a more “normal” home and has begun to engage in dangerous behavior – breaking into people’s homes just to see what “normal” feels like. Jacob is obsessed with forensics and sometimes crashes local crime scenes, instructing the detectives on what they’re missing at the scene. When Jacob’s like-skills tutor turns up dead, he sets up the perfect crime scene to challenge the detectives, but then becomes the focus as her possible murderer.

This was really a very good read. At first, I was bothered by a little too much educating on the subject of Asperger’s, but as I read on, I realized the necessity of this baseline to truly understand Jacob’s behavior. I have some small knowledge of the subject, but Picoult’s extensive research brought a character to life who was worth a little schooling at the beginning of the book. So in House Rules, we have a family wrestling with the numerous complications of a child with Asperger’s, a murder mystery, a burgeoning love story and some great character development. I think anyone who has an Aspie child of any age in their family or works with one will appreciate this book best, but I wouldn’t limit the audience to that. It’s an engaging story on its own merit by an author with a good, clean style, a perpetually twisting plot, and an excellent grasp of her characters.

Bleachers-JGrisham2The I picked up Bleachers by John Grisham. I read a number of his legally-oriented novels quite some time ago, but the book by Grisham that really impressed me was A Painted House. It’s a story about a family in the Arkansas Delta who owns a cotton farm and hosts migrant workers in the summer for cotton picking. This particular summer, two dangerous men were among them, and life became deeply complicated for all, especially Luke, the seven year old farrner’s son. I found A Painted House to be a very powerful book that was exceptionally written and also refreshingly outside the legal genre in which Grisham usually writes. I wish I could say I was as excited about Bleachers. It was a fast read and centered around football players returning to the town of Messina because their coach was dying. The man’s brutality was experienced by the players in every year ‘s teams but because football was the life blood of the town, it was often overlooked or justified. Coach Rake was a hero to many, as were the high school Spartans, but his methods affected those around him in many ways. The premise of Bleachers is good. Maybe if I loved football, I would have liked it more, but I don’t think so. It just lacked something that A Painted House really had – a depth, conflict, that real make-you-want-to-see- what-happens-next quality. Not there for me in this book.

TheSmokeJumper-NEvans2So I’ve picked up The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans. He is the author of two books that I recommend highly, the acclaimed The Horse Whisperer and The Loop. about the return of a pack of wolves to a ranching community in Montana and the ensuing conflicts between a biologist who wants to save the nearly extinguished species and the ranchers who hate them. Evans is an outstanding writer, and I think he could write about football and mesmerize me. I don’t know anything about smoke jumping – those who descend into forest fires to put them out – but he already has me sucked in in the first chapter. In Evans’ case, I suspect he could use almost anything as the backdrop and still draw in the reader. I’m ready.


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