Friday, June 18, 2021

A Glimmer of Death by Valerie Wilson Wesley

Reviewed by Jeanne

Recent widow Odessa Jones is trying to make ends meet by working at a realty office.  It’s stressful work, especially for those who aren’t the top sellers. Charlie Risko runs the place, and he enjoys making people squirm.  His volatile temper flares up on a too regular basis, leading to tirades and threats against employees. There’s also the undercurrent that some of his business transactions might not be quite on the up and up, to say the least.  And he certainly has an eye for the ladies. Sometimes that even includes his wife.

So it’s not really a surprise when Charlie ends up dead.  There’s no shortage of suspects, given Charlie’s abusive behavior and his penchant for unsavory deals.  The problem is that Dessa’s nice young co-worker Harley is arrested on suspicion of murder and she can’t believe that he is guilty.  There are a lot of others who had just as much motive and opportunity.  Besides, Dessa sometimes has a sort of sixth sense about people.  Call it a glimmer, an aura, but she occasionally sees things—colors, feelings-- that give her insight into a person’s emotional state.  It’s not sure-fire: Dessa certainly regards it with distrust but there does seem to be a bit of truth to it.  And it doesn’t seem to indicate that Harley is a murderer. But if not Harley, then who?

I found this book to be quite enjoyable.  I liked that Odessa isn’t an impulsive twenty something, but a woman struggling to put her life back together after the loss of her beloved husband.  She’s methodical and knows when to ask for help, such as seeking advice from ex-cop Lennox who runs a diner.  As a first in series book, the author handled the set-up and character introductions smoothly, without bogging down.  Dessa’s lively aunts brought a bit of fun to the book with their unwanted advice and I enjoyed learning more about her co-workers.  I hope some of them will show up in subsequent books.

The plot was well done, and the hint of the supernatural was appropriately handled—in other words, Dessa put the clues together without otherworldly intervention. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy having some otherworldly touches in cozy mysteries but I also like for the protagonist to figure things out.  I liked the possibility of a romance, and of course I adored Juniper the cat who serves as comforter and companion.  It’s a treat to have a genuine adult sleuth handle a case, someone who understands that life is not fair and bad things can and do happen to good people.  I’m looking forward to Dessa’s next adventure, but alas!   A Fatal Glow isn’t due out until February, 2022.



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Nevermore: Yellow Wife, Maus, Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Sunday Times Travel Book

 

Reported by Garry

 

This meeting was the first in-person meeting that we have had since March of 2021, and it was wonderful seeing everyone in person.

 


The first book discussed today was The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson.  This historical novel follows the story of Pheby Delores Brown a young mixed-race woman who lives in Charles City, Virginia in 1850.  Promised her freedom at age 18, Pheby instead is incarcerated in Devil’s Half Acre, an infamously sadistic slave prison in Richmond, Virginia, where she must fight to survive against all odds.  Our reader said that this enthralling, extremely well written book is an important look at the lives of enslaved African Americans and what they had to both endure and undertake in order to survive.


 

Next up was Maus by Art Spiegelman.  This graphic novel recounts Spiegelman’s father’s time in Poland as a Jew during World War II, and Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father.   Maus depicts the Jews as mice, German Nazis as cats, and the Polish as pigs.  This graphic novel was the first long-form comic that was taken seriously in academia and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and to this date remains the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize.   Our reader highly recommends this groundbreaking book.

 


The intriguingly named The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Messina was the next book reviewed.  This international best-selling book tells the story of Yui, a Japanese lady who lost her mother and sister in the March 11, 2011 tsunami that devastated costal Japan.  Consumed by her grief, Yui learns of a local man who has an old crank style telephone in a booth in his garden.  People can come to his booth and speak to the dead, and in doing so, start their healing process by saying goodbye.  Our reader found this touching and heartwarming book to be very relevant to anyone who is dealing with grief, and highly recommends it.

 

Our next reader reviewed the Sunday Times Travel Book and found it fascinating, hilarious and mortifying.  This collection of stories was gathered by the British Newspaper the Sunday Times.  They held a contest asking their readers to share their most memorable travel stories, and boy did they deliver!  The Times had initially only planned to publish the top three stories, but they received so many outstanding ones that they decided to publish the top 50, which are collected in this book.  This first book, published in 1986, was so well received they have released two other books.  Our reader thought the stories published in this collection were definitely standouts in travel writing, and especially liked the forward by Paul Theroux – her favorite travel writer.

 

Also mentioned:

Maisie Dodd series by Jacqueline Winspear

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear

Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass and Other Works by Frederick Douglass

The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

Before and After: The Incredible Story of the Real Life Mrs. Wilson by Alison Wilson

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Caste:  The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

A Cure for Darkness: The Story of Depression and How We Treat It by Alex Riley

America on Fire by Elizabeth Hinton

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Reunion Beach:  A Story Collection based on Dorothea Benton Frank

When A Stranger Comes To Town edited by Michael Koryta

Monday, June 14, 2021

Emily Henry: Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation

 Reviewed by Christy

 


Beach Read by Emily Henry

            When writer January Andrews’ charmed life crumbles around her, she escapes to a beach house in her father’s hometown. A house, she has recently discovered, he shared with his mistress. A writer of romance novels, January has always looked to her parents’ seemingly happy relationship to reinforce her belief in happily ever after. She’s hoping time alone and a salty breeze can break her writer’s block. It doesn’t help that the cute grump next door is also a writer and also happens to be her former college writing class rival.

            Beach Read is a fun and exuberant read that is not without weight. Its cheerful cover might belie its heavier themes but overall I think its view on love and life is ultimately optimistic. Henry’s writing crackles, and the banter between the characters is a lot of fun, albeit a little too “quippy” at times. I do think it’s a great choice for a vacation read if you’re in the mood for a romance that feels a little more substantial. (The beach should’ve been featured more though. It’s called Beach Read!) It’s also a nice entry in the “enemies to lovers” trope, which is typically not my favorite. But I liked it so much that I immediately checked out Henry’s most recent novel People We Meet on Vacation.

 


People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

            Speaking of tropes, People We Meet on Vacation is solidly “friends to lovers.” Poppy and Alex first met during Orientation Week at college. But it wasn’t until they needed to share a ride to their Ohio hometown that they became friends. Their friendship probably shouldn’t work. She’s a thrift-store shopping free spirit who can’t wait to leave Ohio and travel the world. He’s a khaki-wearing high school teacher who wants nothing more than to settle down and start a family. But they’re best friends, and they both look forward to their annual Summer Trip more than anything. Until Croatia two years ago. Until things got…complicated.

            Henry isn’t breaking new ground with this storyline or anything, and sometimes the conflict itself feels a little thin and drawn out (Just say “I love you” already!) but it’s still a very enjoyable time in all the ways that Beach Read is. It’s also a much lighter read so if one is not in the mood to read about parental death or marital infidelity, this might be the better option. Reading these two books back to back has made me realize that Emily Henry is the kind of author I was wanting Sally Thorne to be. Thorne writes fun dialogue and snappy prose but some of her characters can be a little unlikable. I love unlikable characters in thrillers but not my romantic comedies!

            Fortunately, I did not have that problem in either of Henry’s offerings. I liked everyone and wanted them to be happy. If I had to pick, I think I favored Beach Read slightly more but I would highly recommend throwing either one in your beach or pool bag.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

 


Reviewed by Abby

The Silent Patient is a psychological thriller roughly inspired by the play Alcestis by the Greek playwright Euripides. The story begins with Alicia Berenson being accused of murdering her husband Gabriel by shooting him in the face.  Apparently traumatized, she stops speaking.  Due to her silence, Alicia is unable to defend herself at her trial. Her lawyer claims she suffers from mental illness, and she is sent to a psychiatric ward called the Grove. The murder is never officially resolved.

Alicia’s trial is very well known throughout London due to her fame as a painter and her late husband’s career as a fashion photographer. The media hype for the mysterious murder slowly dies down as the years pass. Alicia continues to stay silent. Her case captures the attention of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who decides to apply for a job at the Grove with the sole intention of working directly with Alicia. Theo is determined to do whatever it takes to get Alicia to open up about why, and/or if, she killed her husband. As he attempts to dig deeper into Alicia’s subconscious, Theo begins to question his own relationships and reality.

The main storyline takes place around six years after Gabriel’s murder. It is told through the perspectives of Alicia’s diary entries and Theo’s description of events both at the Grove and in his personal life. This story has a unique plot twist ending, and I absolutely loved the similarities Michaelides incorporates from Alcestis. I noticed this book has drastically mixed reviews online. Readers either wholeheartedly love the plotline or they find everything too cliché and drab. I personally enjoyed this debut by Michaelides and I highly anticipate his next novel, The Maidens, coming out in June 2021. There are also rumors that a movie adaptation of the book is coming soon!

I chose to listen to the audio book through the Libby app of The Silent Patient as read by Jack Hawkins as Theo and Louise Brealey as Alicia. Hearing their opposing narratives really allowed me to be more immersed in the story. It may just be because I am new to audiobooks, but I prefer a larger cast over one person voicing every character in the story. I especially appreciated that Alicia’s diary entries were being read aloud. Because Alicia does not speak, we do not completely know what she is thinking while interacting with Theo and other Grove staff members/patients. Listening to the audio book gave Alicia a voice in numerous ways.    

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Nevermore: Dan Rather, Kitchen Front, Underground Railroad, Orphan's Tale, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune

Reported by Garry


Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News by Dan Rather was the first book reviewed this week.  Published in 2012, Rather Outspoken is the first memoir by the famed news anchor, and our reader said that this is a fascinating book.  She commented that Rather is an excellent writer who is very candid and truthful about his coworkers – the owners of Viacom (CBS’s parent company) didn’t like him because he was too honest.  One of the observations that our reader particularly picked up on was Rather’s advice that when embedded in an armed forces unit, always go to the sergeants and the colonels for information – they are the most truthful.   Our reader also highlighted his sections on Vietnam and Jerusalem, and was overall very impressed with this memoir from one of the most storied news anchors in the industry.


 

Next up was The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan.  This historical novel is set in England during World War II.  Due to the effects of the German war on Britain, the UK is undergoing food shortages.  In order to encourage and enable the people of the UK to make as much as possible with as little as possible, the BBC launches a cooking show called “The Kitchen Front.”  Four very different women compete for the top prize – the chance to be the first-ever female co-host of the radio show – by using rationed food to make fancy meals.  Our reader enjoyed this book and found the characters to be well drawn and engaging.   

 


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. The story follows Cora, a slave girl in Georgia who escapes from the cotton plantation via the Underground Railroad – a literal railroad running under the soil of the Southern states to deliver escaped slaves to safety in the North.  Our reader pointed out that this book is more fantasy than historical fiction, but recommends it and found it a very interesting read.

 


The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is a historical novel set during WWII.  Noa is a 16 year old Dutch girl who was raped and impregnated by a German soldier. She was thrown out of her home and had to give up her baby.  Noa sees a train car of Jewish infants on their way to a concentration camp and steals one off the train to save it.  In doing so, she jeopardizes her life. Joining a circus in order to create a new life, she strikes up a contentious relationship with the lead aerialist, Astrid, and learns how to be a trapeze artist in order to blend in to the circus community.  Tensions arise as secrets come out and the Germans close in.  Our reader enjoyed this book, and recommends it for its writing and intriguing story line as well as the in-depth look at circus training and culture.  

 


Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim was next up.  This modern day novel has magical components woven into the story of intergenerational and intercultural change.  Natalie Tan grows up in Chinatown in San Francisco with a disapproving, agoraphobic mother and leaves to pursue her dreams of becoming a chef – a decision which upsets her mother to the point that the two women haven’t spoken for seven years.    After her mother’s death, Natalie returns home to find the neighborhood is in decline, and that she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.  Once a thriving cornerstone of the community, the restaurant has started to fall apart, like Chinatown itself.  The neighborhood seer predicts that if Natalie cooks three of her grandmothers’ special (read: magical) dishes to help the neighborhood, that the restaurant will flourish again.  Our reader really enjoyed this magical homecoming book for not only its great recipes but for its heartfelt look at community and what it means to belong. 

 

Books also mentioned:

Caste:  The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

China by Edward Rutherfurd 

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese-Amerian Heroes in WWII by Daniel James Brown

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Maisie Dobbs Mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

This Land is Their Land:  The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman

Maus II by Art Spiegelman

The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux

Bottle of Lies:  The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Jennifer Eban

Homegrown Humus by Anna Hess

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline