7

Library Checkout: February 2016

Last month was dismal for library reading so I didn’t bother joining in with RiverCity Reading’s Library Checkout. But February was EXCELLENT for my relationship with the library and here we are!

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Library Books Read
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
The Wrong Girl by David Hewson
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Politt

Returned Unread
None

Still To Be Read
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother by Anne Sebba
The Color  Purple by Alice Walker
The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsy Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Lives and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters by David Grath

On Hold
None!

See? A great library month. There was nothing better in February than the crackle of a fresh library cover. You know that particular sound that comes from reading a library book, yes?

How was your library month? I don’t know about you, but posting about my library usage always makes me want to run back to the library and get more books. And I need more books like I need a hole in my head.

 

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16

Batch Reviews: Crime Fiction

Once you decide that crime fiction is going to be a genre you love, there are so many reading options.

You could go for roller coaster thrill rides with Linwood Barclay or country house weekend style with Agatha Christie. Camilla Lackberg could send you to small town Sweden where you would be shocked at the deprave things people get up to. Ian Rankin is all about the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh while Jo Nesbo prefers Oslo. Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series likes a balance of philosophy and mystery, while Mo Hayder just likes to get right to the blood and guts.

agnes

There’s an entire section of the library devoted to mysteries! Sometimes it just feels impossible to hone in on a good one.

I’m here to help.

If you’re looking for something quick to get your skin crawling, I would recommend The Grownup for Gillian Flynn. Just 64 pages but it packs a big punch. Her narrator, a former sex worker turned “psychic”, starts right off talking about hand jobs and carpal tunnel so it’s probably not for everyone. But if you can get past that, I found it to be an expertly crafted little story. Susan Burke comes for help after moving to a new neighbourhood. Her stepson starts acting strange (more like a little psycho) and her house seems like it’s haunted. Our narrator decides to help, planning to spend hours in the library reading instead.

I was totally creeped out, completely taken in by Flynn’s misdirection and thoroughly enjoyed how it ended. Flynn shows just how good she is with this pocket sized tome and I am now more impatient than ever for her to give us something new.

If you were a fan of the show The Killing, might I suggest David Hewson’s Pieter Vos series? There are just two books so far (The Doll House and The Wrong Girl) but they are deeply enjoyable. One of the things that you really notice about these books is Hewson’s ability to get a place right. Apparently he spends lots of time in the cities he chooses to feature and he gets Amsterdam just right in these.

I think if you’re going to feature a city so prominently, you have to understand it’s people and way of life and Hewson nails it on both counts. In The Wrong Girl, a little girl, Natalya, is abducted at the Sinterklaas parade. Her mother is a sex worker, an illegal in Amsterdam from Georgia (the country) where they lost everything. On the day of the parade Natalya wears a new pink jacket that her mother got for her. She doesn’t like it much but it’s the warmest thing she owns. Across town, another little girl, Saskia, wears the same jacket. She’s the girl that is meant to be taken but it’s Natalya that they get. Now Vos has to find Natalya while he has the equivalent of Homeland Security on his ass because they’ve been working on this terror cell that is potentially in the Netherlands.

Oh yes, I enjoyed this one. I first wanted to read them because they were the only mysteries I knew of that took place in Amsterdam. But once I started reading them realized that they were actually really well done. Now I’m just hoping that Hewson is working on a third one.

Do you like your mystery fiction to take place in another time? Perhaps The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse will fit the bill.

It’s 1912 and about 10 years earlier Connie Gifford fell from a great height and hit her head. Her whole life until that day disappeared. Recently she’s started seeing a strange woman in town that looks vaguely familiar but she can’t tell why. When a woman’s body is found in the creek behind her house, it’s the beginning of a series of strange things happening, including the disappearance of a number of men in the area.

This was a strange one but it was decent. Connie has learned how to taxidermy birds from her father who was once a “bird stuffer” of some renown. Chapters are marked with excerpts from a book that teaches taxidermy, as well as a letter to Connie from someone mysterious talking about why certain things had to be done. There are loads of sketchy characters, stormy weather that hampers travel, and the hint of a love story. I will say that there were some taxidermy elements that were so gruesome I had to skip them…

The one big thing that I really had an issue with in this one is why do we keep having to refer to the main characters in books as someone’s wife or daughter? This one could have been called Constantia or The Corvidae Club or any number of other things. Her father barely features in it except as a drunk she has to make sure doesn’t off himself. Let’s make a deal to stop doing this.

After all that fiction, it’s probably time to take another stab at non-fiction…

6

Crime Fiction shorts: Partners in Crime

I picked up Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime because I saw a trailer for a TV version of it and wanted to read the book before I watched it.

I just watched the trailer again and am now surprised by how different it is from the book – namely that it’s taking place in the 1950s and Tommy and Tuppence are now evidently spies in the Cold War.

But we will get to that.

I chose Partners in Crime as a sort of palate cleanser after the short story experience of The Tsar of Love and Techno. I was ready to jump into a story and stick with it for a couple of days. Or hours, really. Agatha Christie books are never more than 300 pages.

So I was pretty shocked to realize that Partners in Crime are a bunch of short stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence Bereford!

tommy and tuppence

Tommy and Tuppence are probably the least popular of Agatha Christie’s characters. They are a married couple who solve crimes that come their way as proprietors of a detective agency in London. Tommy and Tuppence both worked for the secret service during the war – although as Partners in Crime was published in 1929, one presumes that “the war” in question was actually the First World War. Now that the way is over, Tommy is still working for the agency in some capacity but Tuppence is bored at home – their place isn’t that big and it doesn’t take that much effort to keep it running smoothly. So when Tommy’s boss asks them to operate this agency undercover, Tuppence convinces Tommy that they should do it.

The stories are short and sweet, if a little far-fetched at times. But they are still extremely clever. Some cases are little more than misunderstandings, such as the missing fiancée who is actually just at a kind of fat camp, while others are more serious and have shades of spy rings.

They decide that they will emulate famous fictional detectives, which actually is really hilarious. Sometimes they try and be Sherlock Holmes, other times a pair of detective brothers but when the decide to copy Hercule Poirot and encourage the use of “the little grey cells” – well that’s obviously the best.

This little book is very much of it’s time and while I don’t have much time for Tommy, I’m a fan of clever Tuppence. It seems like TV adaptations always make Tuppence seem kind of scatterbrained and flakey but she’s actually much the cleverer of the two. Tommy is very much a man of his time but Tuppence is quite modern.

In the end though, this book is from 1929 and when Tuppence gets pregnant, of course she will give up work.

I’ll still try and watch the show but I’m not sure that Tommy and Tuppence will be my Agatha Christie go-to.

17

Library Checkout: November 2015

We’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving up here in Canada but since this will go up on American Thanksgiving, just wanted to wish all of you celebrating a happy, delicious day with your loved ones.

I know I’m super thankful to Shannon at Rivercity Reading for starting this handy little library love chain letter because it means I don’t have to think about content for a blog post! And of course, I’m so thankful to have such wonderful libraries close to home because they continue to support my love of reading without devastating my bank account.

Let’s get to it!

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Library Books Read

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

It felt like I had a strong library reading month but actually, I just had a strong library visiting month. I did manage to read these before my crippling inability to CHOOSE a book handcuffed me. (Anyone else feeling this right now? I dread finishing books because I have to DECIDE what I’m going to read next and I don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. As if there’s such a thing.)

Checked Out, To Be Read

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Arial Lawhon
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (I thought I had A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Chelsey, but I don’t! This is the one I grabbed)
Carol by Patricia Highsmith

For some reason when it’s time to choose a new book and I look at these books I don’t want to read any of them. But I have the same issue with all the books I have yet to read, the ones I’ve borrowed and my own. What is happening?

Returned Unread

The Bishop’s Man by Linden McIntyre

I started reading it, was looking forward to reading it in fact. But nothing about it hooked me and after 60 pages I decided that actually I wasn’t in the mood to read about the horrible things priests did to kids that the Church did nothing about.

On Hold

Still nothing! I don’t deserve to get to hold anything – I was late returning some of the books and now I owe $0.60.

What did your library month look like? Any tips for healing my choosing paralysis? 

 

10

Flat Crime Fiction: Broken Harbour

A few years ago, I did not read crime fiction.

Hard to believe now, isn’t it? I don’t even remember what triggered my love for the genre a few years ago but now I can’t get enough.

I read the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Scots.  I have a newfound love for Linwood Barclay and continue my love affair with Agatha Christie. Taking a stab at the Irish, I recently read Tana French for the first time and found that The Secret Place was well worth the 452 pages it took to get to a resolution. I was definitely game to read more of her work.

I thought Broken Harbour was the first of the “Dublin Murder Squad” books. It is not – it’s the 4th. Why can I never seem to get the right book in the right order? Why is this so hard?

It seems like they all work as standalones, so it’s not actually that big of a deal.

Detective Mike Kennedy is being given another stab at a high profile case: a family found dead in a house about an hour outside of Dublin, in what is now called Brianstown. He takes his brand new partner, Richie Curran, with him to show him how working a high profile murder investigation goes. When they get to the house, they see that the whole development is a dump – the victims’ house is one of the few finished houses in a sea of half built, abandoned house shells. Kennedy himself feels very uneasy about being back in Brianstown – it had been called Broken Harbour when he used to spend two weeks of the summer there every year as a kid. He has fond memories of the place, until he thinks about their last summer there.

His past is all super secrety and his fear that his younger sister, Dina, will find out about him working this case, is all very interesting but it leads to nothing.

Seriously. This book is 533 pages of dense crime fiction-y writing. And I would have been totally down with that if the secondary story had a point, but it doesn’t. Even the main event is kind of suspect. We spend a lot of time wandering around these wild animal message boards that one of the victims seemed obsessed with. Kennedy is a cranky old detective who wants you to believe that he’s seen it all but when his newbie partner sees things differently, Kennedy refuses to entertain his ideas.

I’m glad that these “Dublin Murder Squad” books work as standalones because I don’t think I want to spend any more time with Kennedy. The sister angle, which could have been so great, was really just sad. Same with the actual crime. It kind of made me feel like a voyeuristic creep for enjoying the sad state of their lives.

At least I didn’t enjoy it too much.

8

If You’re Looking For a Great Thriller…

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I didn’t know anything about Paula Daly’s work before I read The Mistake I Made. I didn’t know that her novel, Keep Your Friends Close, had been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, or that she was known to write taut, page turning psychological thrillers.

If I had known these things, I probably wouldn’t have let this book sit on my bedside table for a couple of weeks before I read it – I would have jumped all over this book because those things are my favourite.

mistake i made

Roz is a single mother at the breaking point. Her business has just gone under, she’s working as much as she can as a physiotherapist but she can still barely make ends meet. Her ex-husband took out a bunch of loans in her name, destroying her credit and putting her in the hole to the tune of 18,000£. When the bailiffs show up and take everything, she has no idea what she’s going to do.

But it’s her sister’s birthday and so for one evening, Roz and her son George, are going to celebrate and pretend like nothing is the matter. This is the night she meets the very wealthy Scott Elias, who takes a shine to her. A few days later, Scott shows up at her office with a proposition for her: spend the night with him for 4000£.

It turns out to be too good an offer to turn down – a couple of nights with Scott and she can get back on her feet, get ahead of things for a change. But the situation spirals out of control really quickly and there’s nothing Roz can do to undo her choice.

I was into the book from page one. Roz at work, talking to patients, something about it – I was hooked. Yes this is a story about a single mom, trying to get back on her feet, trying to date again. But it’s also about relationships men have with women, about the men who view women as objects, those that see paying for sex as just another ‘business transaction.’ Roz thinks that she has all the control – after all she is the one that is selling something. But the terms are Scott’s, he has the power, she needs the money and he knows it.

This is a top notch thriller. I thought Daly masterfully pulled away the layers, leading me along inch by inch until BAM! I ended up reading the rest of this at a break-neck speed, holding my breath waiting to find out just exactly what the f*ck happened.

And I’m for sure on the hunt for more of Daly’s books to devour.

13

A Perfect Thriller: Broken Promise

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In my books there is nothing better than a long weekend spent reading crime fiction in the sun. There is something about reading stories of the terrible things people do to each other while you sit in glorious weather that just feels so right.

So when I got some book mail that included Linwood Barclay’s Broken Promise just in time for the long weekend, I was in heaven. I devoured this book. When I stopped reading it, it felt like I had been holding my breath the whole time. I took down those 484 pages in less than 24 hours.

broken promise

David Harwood had returned home to Promise Falls to live with his parents. He left his job in Boston to take a job at the paper back home so that he would have more time at home with his son. On his first day back, the paper folds. Since he has nothing to do, his mom asks him to please take over some frozen meals to his cousin Marla. She’s been having a hard time the last 10 months, ever since her baby daughter died at birth. Marla even tried to steal a baby from the hospital. When David arrives he finds a baby with Marla, a little boy, who she says was left on her doorstep by an angel. Knowing Marla’s history, David fears the worst, especially when the baby’s mom is found dead.

According to Goodreads, this is book #1 in the Promise Falls series. But a lot of stuff was referenced in this book that made it feel like there had been other books before. It made me want to run to the library and find all of his other books and catch up.

This book was fast paced. Something changed or happened every few pages. We get perspectives from a number of different characters: Marla’s mother, the hospital administrator intent on making sure that nothing bad happens to Marla, the detective charged with solving the case of the dead woman as well as looking into strange occurrences all over town, the detective’s son who recently got a job with the disgraced former mayor. There are so many layers to this story, so many pieces that have to fit together in order for the big picture to make sense and Barclay ably juggles them all.

That said, when I finished reading this book I almost threw it across the lawn. Ask my mother-in-law. Turns out that Broken Promise is the first book in a trilogy of linked novels, which means I’m going to have to wait another nine months to get some of the answers I seek.

On the bright side, that should give me some time to familiarize myself with his other work. Next to crime fiction reading in the summer, crime fiction reading at Christmas is my favourite.