If you don’t mind reading the last few chapters of Kristin Hannah’s novel Night Road through teary eyes, then this book is absorbing novel. The story begins with Lexi who was recently shuffled around between foster homes until her lovable but poor aunt takes her in. Her aunt also manages to get Lexi into an elite high school in the rich part of town. She befriends two twins, Mia and Zach, amongst the background of first love, senior fever and college application drama. The story alternates with the perspective of Jude, the twins mom, who is fiercely devoted to her kids, and is constantly jockeying to secure the best possible futures for them. After an inevitable tragic crash (the book is named Night Road after all), everyone’s life is ripped apart.The first half of Night Road is all teen romance (which could have been shortened without detracting from the story arc). But the second half is based upon a surprise twist which is by far the more engrossing portion. Once again Hannah wraps up her story too neatly and without taking a side in her own debate, so the story loses creditability. Even so, while the majority of the characters are stock, Lexi is drawn as strikingly rounded and complex young woman. She’s easy to root for. All in all, Night Road is winning portrait of motherhood explored from many angles. It focuses on the difficult choices a mother must make in the worst possible circumstances. Another must read for Hannah fans.
Hard to believe it’s a debut novel, SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep has garnered star reviewed from Kirkus and Booklist and was in development to be adapted into a movie before the book was even released. And though I’ve read some excellent books this year, I haven’t come across a novel that would appeal to so many readers. This book has all the makings of an absolute block buster.It begins as a twenty something Christine wakes up in a stranger’s bed unable to remember how she got there. She quickly learns some disturbing facts: the stranger is her husband, Ben who she can’t remember at all, she is middle aged and has forgotten most of her life, and she suffers from a rare form of amnesia where she can’t retain memories from day to day. As she’s trying to cope with all of this information, she stumbles across something more bizarre—a journal where she’s been recording her recollections of recent day’s events beginning with the title page on which she has scrawled, “Don’t Trust Ben!”And then the story is told through Christine’s journal offering the readers an over the shoulder roller coaster ride as Christine tries to determine what has happened to her, and who if anyone she can trust. The dread mounts until the book’s messy conclusion. Because it’s so well plotted to say Watson’s story is “gripping” is an understatement, it is simply breathtaking. It’s a hell of a book, and is sure to be a hell of a movie. Highly recommended.
Water for Elephants is first narrated by Jacob, a 90-93 year old living out his days in a nursing home. He begins to tell the story of his life including a 70 (or so) year old secret he's revealing to anyone for the first time. Jacob is a young man just short of taking his tests to become a Veterinarian until both his parents die, and his life seems to hold no direction. He accidently finds himself in the midst of circus train where he meets an unpredictable circus manager, August, his beautiful wife, Marlena, and later a difficult to train elephant, Rosie. The element that lights up this audio book is John Randolph Jones amazing narration as the tired and cantankerous older Jacob. His voice is heavy with age and experience. It would be difficult for any secondary narrator to compete but David LeDoux does a good job of holding his own. Though the setting is lively and obviously well researched, the love triangle is underdeveloped and the end of the book just sort of unravels. At turns mindless, salacious, and fun, Water for Elephants effectively captures a bygone time and offers some fascinating circus details most will enjoy.
As Craig Wasson launches into the first lines of 1922, “My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession. In June of 1922 I murdered my wife, Arlette Christina Winters James, and hid her body by tupping it down and old well.” You can feel how much you’re going to love this audio book. Even if you feel like a sick deviant as you delight in their sinister plot lines and unshakably vivid characters. And then, Jessica Hecht begins to warble through Big Driver, the story of a Tess, a mystery novelist, who is brutally attacked and that’s just the beginning. Though none of the women in all four stories are treated with particular care (the men don’t fare much better), Hecht’s Tess was particularly weak and a little whiny.Wasson comes back with King’s clever take on the deal with the devil tale in Fair Extension. The story of Dave Streeter terminal cancer patient who is seduced by the idea of extending his life, this is easily the most uplifting of the four stories, and it almost feels out of place amongst the sheer dire straits some of the other characters land in. But of course, Hecht begins to prattle and baby talk her way through A Good Marriage. Though the story of a longtime wife who makes a gruesome discovery about her husband, is hands down the most fear inducing story of the four (King states he was inspired by the BTK murder and his wife in a killer afterword), it’s the worst performance. Thankfully, some merciful producer selected Wasson to read the afterword in which King describes the collection: “I have tried my best to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances”. He does that in spades. He also investigates the many incarnations of duality in all the stories. And all in all, he written four unforgettable stories that are sure to haunt readers long after the book is finished. If I had read the text copy I may have given the story five stars, as for the audio book, I can only justify four stars soley on the merits of the terrifyingly good Wasson, and the perennially wonderful Mr. King.
I was really moved by Lisa See’s latest novel Dreams of Joy. It’s a sequel of sorts to her previous novel, Shanghai Girls. It isn’t necessary to have read Shanghai Girls to understand the major events which motivate the characters in this novel. However, I do recommend Shanghai Girls because it is an excellent book. Dreams of Joy opens when the young, impulsive and naïve Joy runs away to China after learning some buried family secrets. Joy is enamored with the Communist ideals and is hoping to connect with her father, a famous artist. Joy’s actions leave her mother, Pearl, no choice but to risk her freedom and follow Joy to China. Lee manages to tie the storyline into Mao’s The Great Leap Forward a massive production campaign with tragic consequences and contrast this program’s effects in both city and village life. Parts of the story involving this arc are simply horrifying and other were poignant as Joy becomes disillusioned with her beliefs and Pearl copes with the dramatic changes to her home, Shanghai. Dreams of Joy is a sweeping novel driven by intriguing characters. Highly Recommended.
Blomkvist, Lisbeth and the gang are back! After Lisbeth is shot, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s nest starts with her in the hospital and in deep legal trouble as those who have been in successful in derailing her life in the past conspire to do so again. Will Blomkvist be able to battle corruption and save her through the power of the press? More of a legal thriller and less action packed then the preceding novels, TGWKTHN wraps up Stieg Larsson’s unprecedented saga.This book was not my favorite of the three. It seemed like we were just re-hashing the same material from The Girl that Played with Fire with an added side story featuring Erica Berger who’s never been a central character for me while reading the other two. It seems like they should have just combined both novels and cut a lot of the repetitious re-capping. As it is, TGWKTHN moved slowly for a thriller. Lisbeth also begins to act out of character, where’s my fiercely independent and exceptionally moral Lisbeth? And what is the situation with Blomkvist? Yes, he’s loyal. Yes, he’s smart. But I don’t know how he accomplishes anything when he bedding a female lead every ten pages. That said, it’s a Millenium novel, so it’s still smarter than almost any other book you could pick up. It goes without saying that Larsson will be greatly missed. The series as a whole? amazing! The GWKTHN as a conclusion? Somewhat disappointing.
The Girl in the Garden is as far as I can tell is the first novel by Kamala Nair which is surprising because it's rendered with the restraint and grace that many novelists only develop later in their career. The plot begins with Rahkee on the verge of her engagement as she recollects a summer she spent in India with her mom and her Indian Relations. Eleven year old Rahkee spends the first part of the trip contrasting India and her hometown of Plainfield, Minnesota, bonding with her cousins, and fiercely missing her father. When her mother starts acting strangely, her amateur investigations lead her to a family secret that will have tremendous implications for everyone she loves.Rahkee is a smart and unbelievably mature young lady. Her actions not only defy reason but ensure great personal consequences that only the bravest of characters would make. She's almost too rational. The first of many illogical elements a reader must wrestle with before surrendering to the magic of Nair's tale. And The Girl in the Garden is most definitely a modern fairy tale. The novel will undoubtedly draw comparisons to The Secret Garden due to the similarities in tone and plot. It also nods to it's mythic roots by weaving the Indian epic of Rama and Sita from the Ramayana into its narrative. Though the book is touted as terrifying, I found it more melancholy. It incorporates the clash of many themes ie, the difficult relationship between Rakhee and her mother with the traditional familial dynamic of India, science with the supernatural, love with obsession, etc... For a short novel it covers a lot of material, no doubt due to the large page count of exposition which Nair slowly builds, and then unravels in pages. And so novel does manage to hold tension throughout the story and yield multiple surprises. The Girl in the Garden is a spell binding work which captures the imagination of it's audience. Recommended.
Before picking up Bringing Adam Home, I did not know all that much about the Adam Walsh disappearance and eventual murder investigation. So the bulk of the book was all new material for me. What ended up capturing my interest was the way the case resonated with the American People, so much so that it permanently changed the way children are parented, and the way law enforcement handled missing children cases. The most inspirational aspect of this horrific event, if there is one, is how the Walsh family took this tragedy and leveraged it into something positive, like America’s Most Wanted. Bringing Adam Home, however, mostly focuses on the gritty details of the case and how Joe Matthews overcame a lot of procedural politics and was able to clear it. We know who the killer is pretty early on, and then we go over the same evidence repeatedly until Les Sanford finally frames it in context while dispelling some of the other prominent case theories. There is also a where are they now conclusion and a list of those who figure strongly in the story for reference. The book is well written in typical crime fashion think Grisham’s An Innocent Man with an extra heap of salacious and cliffhanger phrasing (ie, if only they had known…). But as fascinating as hindsight finger pointing at a bungling Police Investigators is, at times it veered towards spiteful. It was pretty clear Joe Matthews had something to prove. The books also pointed out some really intriguing theories that it failed to then develop. It also bothers me that the book is titled, Bringing Adam Home when this title is misleading considering the facts of the case. It’s also doesn’t give much on the where are they now section beyond the Walshs and Joe Matthews. To have updates on the other detectives (especially Buddy Terry who was accused of corruption) would have been interesting. It did spark my interest in John Walsh’s book, Tears of Rage. Those with an interest in the case or how police build a case should find it thrilling.
In Hallie Ephrons' Come and Find Me, the narrator Diana is finding it hard to cope after losing her husband a rock climbing accident. A reformed hacker she is able to start a business without taking a step outside. Cameras and security systems guard her home. The only interacting she does of any kind is on a virtual online word, and the occasional visit from her sister. But when her sister comes missing, she's forced to confront everything she's hiding from including enemies both real and imagined. Ephron seems to have found her niche with plot driven mysteries. Come and Find Me has everything I liked about Ephron's debut, Never Tell a Lie, mostly dozens of twists and turns. Yes, Come and Find me is predictable. Yes, some will find the plot contrived. And yes, Diana is pretty dense for a brilliant hacker. But Come and Find Me is still an entertaining and escapist read. And it's refreshing to read a novel by an author who completely gets her audience and is writing books they want to read. The details of someone facing PTSD add a layer of intensity to the story, and all of the hacker lingo and situations offer a fascinating look into a world some may not even know exists. If you're in the mood for a page turner, this is your book.
In full disclosure, I'm a 29 year old white woman who listened to Ice-T rap in high school in my bedroom in the suburbs (and even then it was considered old school). I'm THAT fan. And now, I get a kick out of watching IceT add edge to SVU week to week. I had high expectations for his book, and was not disappointed. IceT has an amazing life story. Born Tracy Morrow and orphaned at a young age, IceT found himself coming of age as the Los Angeles gang scene was heating up. His book recounts is time in the military, how he gained fame as a rap star despite minimal radio play and controversy, and his success as an actor since. He delves into his family life and sums it all up with some wisdom, sayings that are part hustler part common sense.ICE is written in ICE T's distinctive voice. You can almost hear him as you read. There is no other rap star out there whose book I'd consider reading, but IceT's. His charisma is undeniable. And even the diehard fans should enjoy some surprises. For instance what struck me the most was how humble he is. He hands out a lot of credit and praise throughout the book which of course makes him even more likable. He's just a cool guy with a great story and now he can add excellent memoir to add to his credit.