One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

Opinion is truly divided on One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis.  People who don’t like it, really HATE it. They feel manipulated and ticked off at the author and the main character – Emily/Cat. I have to admit, I began to fall into the second camp midway into the book, but still had to finish it. Seskis subverts expectations over and over again, and I think this is part of why people get upset. It seems to be one sort of book and then it goes in a completely different direction

The author tantalizes the reader by withholding critical information. Why has Emily left her life? What exactly was the tragedy that set her flight from her family and home into motion? Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the methods Emily/Cat uses to disappear. Because her passport is in her maiden name, which is a common one (Brown) and because she alters her first name, she is able to get lost in London.

As Emily transitions to Cat, it’s gratifying to see her gradually re-build her life – she gets a job she is good at, a place to live, and a new friend. However, it doesn’t take long for Cat to spiral out of control – she alienates co-workers as her drug use and drinking escalates. The actions of her truly awful sister and the series of events that lead to her becoming a national pariah, make you wonder if these things are really happening or if they are part of Cat’s hallucinations. 

If you like intricate plots, and don’t necessarily need a cuddly heroine, you may enjoy this domestic suspense novel.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis alternates between the present day New York City and 1952 via the lives of the women who live at the Barbizon Hotel. In 1952 it was known as the Barbizon Hotel for Women, catering to young, single women who aspired to be secretaries or models. Darby comes from Ohio to enroll in the Katharine Gibbs College, which taught young ladies business skills and etiquette. Very soon, she becomes friends with Esme, a maid, singer and aspiring actress. When Esme encourages Darby to perform with her at a jazz club downtown, Darby’s world view changes radically; she discovers passion – creatively and romantically. These chapters are tinged with nostalgia and a sense of impending tragedy. Davis does a marvelous job of immersing the reader in a very different era, with different assumptions for women – and she does it with a subtle, realistic way.

The chapters set in contemporary New York feature Rose, a journalist for an online magazine, and a current condo dweller at the Barbizon. As her own life falls apart, she becomes fascinated by the earlier inhabitants – some of which still live at the Barbizon (in rent-controlled apartments).  Rose wants to tell the forgotten story of these women, but needs the hook of a fatal accident more than 50 years ago, to get the interest of her editor.  She doesn’t want to exploit Darby, who just wants to be left alone,  but, in the end, that is what she does.

Rose herself undergoes a transformation – from a woman who had a successful career, and a rising politician for a boyfriend to someone who is in the process of losing her job, her home and her father. Ultimately, she comes through it all a wiser and more independent person.

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, tells the story of Tilly Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham. Tilly is an accomplished dressmaker who spent years traveling the world learning her trade. She has returned to her small Australian hometown in 1950s Australia. Tilly escaped from this town when she was young after being accused of murdering a young boy. She has returned to learn the truth.

Upon arriving back in town, Tilly finds her eccentric mother, played by Judy Davis, living in squalor. She begins taking care of her and scheming to get revenge on those who accused her of murder. Tilly’s way of dressing shocks the town. She begins to offer her dressmaking services to women in town, seemingly as a kindness, but really as a way of revenge. She begins working with the local sergeant, a man who has secrets of his own. Tilly also falls for a local farmer, Teddy, a man who lives next door to her mother and whose family has been stopping in to care for her mother while she’s been gone.

This small backwoods Australian town is rife with secrets and scandals, more than just Tilly’s exile for the supposed murder of her young classmate. More and more of these secrets are exposed as Tilly works her magic on the local women. This movie shows that nothing is what it seems and that everyone has secrets. Tilly struggles to find out the truth, remember her past, and clear her name. I really enjoyed this movie because Tilly clearly knows how to get revenge on people. While she may appear strong, she also has a lot going on under the surface.

Turncoat by Ryan Sullivan

Turncoat is not your traditional superhero graphic novel. Duke is a superhero assassin. He’s the world’s worst superhero assassin, a fact that is lost on him because on every contract he is sent out on, those superheroes end up dead. He’s never the one that kills them though. His partner ends up doing the killing and Duke gets the credit. (And his partner usually ends up dead as well).

The company that Duke works with keeps pairing him up with weird loser partners and also only gives his contracts to kill D-list superheroes. Who wants to be known as the assassin who killed Bug-Boy or Freedom-Fighter?! Certainly not Duke! He just wants to kill a big name superhero, somebody from the Liberty Brigade. Duke is also battling against his ex-wife, Sharon. This battle isn’t a domestic one; Sharon is also a rival assassin who just happens to be way better at killing than Duke. She keeps stealing his contracts and his money! This bothers Duke. He just can’t win.

When a contract comes through to kill the entire Liberty Brigade, Duke first thinks it’s a mistake, but then realizes that this is the best thing that could have happened to him! He will finally have the opportunity to kill the big heroes, but also to beat his ex-wife at something. Killing the members of the Liberty Brigade will also give him the motivation and the prestige to move on from his ex-wife. Chaos ensues as Duke goes after the Liberty Brigade and realizes that there are other major players behind the scenes pulling the strings. This anti-hero graphic novel was a fantastic palette cleanser from all of the traditional Marvel and DC comic books I had been reading.

Floret Flower’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein

Happy first day of Spring! This is, by far, my favorite time of year, when the earth wakes up from it’s winter slumber and all things are new and possible. And best of all, flowers are blooming in the garden again.

There is always a surge of new gardening books published in late winter and early spring – you will find many of them on the new book shelves at the library. Gardening books tend to fall into one of two categories – practical or beautiful. Now, there’s nothing wrong with beautiful – you can find a lot of inspiration and ideas from those gorgeous pictures and who doesn’t like whiling away a winter afternoon dreaming of colorful gardens? And there’s nothing wrong with practical – these are the books that get you through the growing season. (My favorite is Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer) But the fact is, there’s not always a lot of overlap. Happily, this year there’s a gardening book that is both practical and beautiful – Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein.

If you have ever dreamed of being a flower farmer, or if you’re passionate about growing your own flowers (that’s me!), or if you simply want to grow a few flowers for your kitchen table, this book is for you. Over 170 plants are included in this book, all of which are easy to grow, some of which you may not have considered for bouquets (like vines, branches, and grasses). There is well-written practical information for each plants as well as lovely photographs (I love the use of lighting and perspective in these photos). And there are instructions for creating beautiful bouquets, arranged by season so that you can use readily available flowers from your yard or the farmers market. Erin includes “minor” flowers that are easy to grow but that you’re unlikely to find at the florist (something that I’ve been an advocate of for years) such as grape hyacinth and nasturtiums. It doesn’t take a lot of land or expensive tools to add a lot of life and beauty to your corner of the world.

I’ve long been a fan of the floret website and blog – there is an incredible amount of helpful information on the site (and, much like the book, it’s overflowing with gorgeous photography). I also enjoy the behind-the-scenes views of the job of growing flowers for a living – romantic yes but mostly lots of hard work. Much like their book, it’s the perfect combination of beautiful and practical.

OK Spring – bring it! I can’t wait!

 

 

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Looking for a new book in OverDrive, I offhandedly asked another librarian if she had heard of The Queen of the Tearling. She said she had heard of it, that it had won some awards or been on some lists and that it was supposed to be a good read. Taking that as a good enough endorsement for me to read it, I checked it out and started listening to it after work. Holy smokes! I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s the first book in a series and I honestly can’t wait to read the rest of the books. I am hardly ever motivated enough to finish the next books in a series unless I am blown away by the first. Johansen blew my mind with the first book, so my hopes are up for the next two.

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel packed full of adventure, journeys, and self-discovery, while also telling the story of a young girl’s coming of age. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is a young exiled princess, who, on her nineteenth birthday, is summoned back to the castle where she was born to take her rightful place on the throne. Her mother died when she was young, but before she died, she sent baby Kelsea into exile to be raised and hopefully kept out of harm’s way. Every Raleigh Queen is murdered by assassins and therefore her mother wanted to keep her safe. Rumors swirled around the young princess with some thinking her dead while others believed her to be alive and as frivolous and vain as her mother. Mysteries abound and young Kelsea must work tirelessly to secure the trust of her people.

Kelsea looks nothing like her mother and also acts nothing like her. She knows the throne is her rightful place, whether she wants it to be or not. Trained and schooled in exile, Kelsea was only privy to the information her two guardians would give her, leaving her with wide gaps in her knowledge of Tearling history and her own mother’s life. Once Kelsea finds her way to the castle and proves she is the rightful queen, her troubles begin. Her uncle has been acting as regent since her mother’s death. He wants the kingdom for himself, despite the fact that he is rather unpopular amongst both the commoners and the nobility. He has also made a rather complicated alliance with the sorcerous Red Queen in neighboring Mortmesne, something that doesn’t sit well with Kelsea and a wide variety of the Tearling people.

This apocalyptic universe has a lot going on. Kelsea, having grown up in isolation, finds herself smack dab in all the problems. She is identified as the true queen by the fact that she is marked and is wearing the Tearling sapphire around her neck, a necklace that she has been wearing since birth. The longer she wears this jewel, the more she realizes that it is more than just your traditional necklace. It has magical powers and Kelsea isn’t quite sure how it exactly works… In addition to being protected by her sapphire, Kelsea is accompanied by the Queen’s Guard, a group of knights who have sworn an oath to protect the queen. They are a dedicated selection of men who sometimes are the only thing standing between Kelsea and her enemies. This book is a treasure trove of fantasy, dark magic, journeys, adventure, and self-love. Kelsea loves books and learning, a fact that I related to well. This book was incredibly put together and kept my interest the whole time. This heroine is no damsel in distress. Kelsea may need help at times, but she will ask for it and will strive to make herself better. She may be idealistic, but given her age and sheltered life, that is to be expected. I’m hoping that the next books explain the backstory further, but other than that, The Queen of the Tearling  sets up an intriguing world that will hold your interest all the way through.


The Queen of the Tearling is also available in the following formats:


This book is the first in the trilogy. The second book is The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling. (Stay tuned for reviews of those once I finish them!)

 

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man by David Baldacci is the very first Baldacci book that I have ever read. His books have never caught my eye before, ie. the covers just don’t appeal to me, but I decided to give one a try. Looking through OverDrive, I found Memory Man. The premise was intriguing and seemed to be marginally similar to author Robert Galbraith’s Detective Cormoran Strike series.

Memory Man grabbed my attention with this tagline from the publisher: “A man with perfect memory…must solve his own family’s murder”. Interesting premise, right? I thought so. The idea that someone with a perfect memory would have difficulties figuring out who murdered his family had me instantly thinking about how frustrating that must be. I knew I had to read it. (And bonus: It’s the first book in a series!)

Amos Decker is a big man, not just personality wise, but size wise as well. In college, Decker played football. He was so good that he was able to go pro. Decker was the only person from his hometown of Burlington to ever go pro, a fact that everyone in town was proud of and something that Decker cherished. His life was changed because of football though. Decker’s very first pro football game, his very first play on the field, he was the victim of a violent helmet-to-helmet collision that destroyed his chances of ever playing ball again. It also left him with an extremely rare side effect: Decker never forgets anything. His mind seems to record everything.

Flash forward twenty years and Decker’s life is about to change again. Now he’s a police detective married with a young daughter. Returning from work late one night, he discovers the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law in his house. Decker is broken, his life is destroyed, and he quickly spirals out of control. He quits the police force, ends up losing his home, and finds himself living on the street. He ends up doing odd jobs as a private investigator, just enough work to provide him with a place to live in a somewhat seedy motel.

Over a year after his family’s murders, a man walks into the police station and confesses to the murders.  At the same time, Burlington is rocked by a catastrophic event that has the ability to cripple the town. Decker’s old partner comes to him seeking his help. He soon finds himself investigating his family’s murders and helping with the other police investigation. In order to get to the truth though, Decker must rely on his perfect memory, something that he has tried to manage and get control of over the years.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced, dealt with sticky subjects, and had me wondering who the bad guys were the whole time. I sometimes find thriller plots to be convoluted and even predictable, but Memory Man was a blessing. It is a thoroughly engaging, mysterious, suspenseful thriller that had me on edge until the very end.


This book is also available in the following formats:

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes is a tale of unrelenting passion, love, and desire told through the eyes of a smitten young man. Joe Goldberg works in an East Village bookstore. His life is changed (such a cliché, I know, but just wait) the day Guinevere Beck, a young aspiring writer, walks into his bookstore. He instantly wants to be with her. Everything about her appeals to him: the way she walks, the section she visits in the store, the fact that she doesn’t check out ‘normal’ books… She’s super sexy, tough, smarter than any other woman he knows, and is drop-dead gorgeous. He has to have her.

Striking up a conversation with Beck gives Joe just enough information to see that he is perfect for her. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Joe has to find a way to convince her and to, most importantly, learn more about her so he can become her perfect boyfriend. In his quest to learn more, Joe realizes that there is more to Beck than he initially thought, that she isn’t quite as perfect as she seems to be.

Joe is obsessed with Beck and the more he gets to know her, the more he needs to be with her. Beck has her own life separate from Joe. He doesn’t want to push Beck too hard to get her to be in his life as much as he wants her to be. Joe must be clever and soon his cleverness pays off. Each becomes obsessed with the other, a situation that has the possibility to abruptly spiral out of control, to even turn deadly.

You has the haunting, thrilling, psychological messages of a good suspenseful romance. The sociopathic voyeurism and manipulation that runs rampant throughout this book had me honestly feeling a little bit paranoid. Seeing the lengths that Joe went through to learn about Beck and how sneaky Beck was made me question my social media use and whether I’m using it too much. I also questioned whether I was simply connected online too much and whether I needed to start unplugging from the internet more often. The differentiation between what we consider to be our private and our public lives, as well as the ease that those lives can be monitored by outside forces and even hacked, were all things that I thought about as I was reading this book.

This psychological thriller creeped me out. In a good way. I have read many, many thrillers from the victim’s perspective. Said books are always about their quest to find out who is stalking them or hurting them or who is leaving weird things for them. These books may also be from the point of view of family and friends who are looking for the missing person. I had never read a book from the other person’s point of view, from the point of view of the person who is completely and thoroughly obsessed. I loved and was simultaneously repulsed by this book.


This book is also available in the following format(and that’s the one I listened to it in):


The sequel to this book was released in 2016. It’s called Hidden Bodies and it continues into the exploration of Joe’s life. I’m hoping the sequel digs more into Joe’s past and gives us more of an idea of why Joe behaves the way that he does.


 

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (DVD)

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a documentary DVD that explores the influence of the internet on human life.

It begins by following internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock into a room on the UCLA campus where the first internet communication took place at 10:30pm on Oct 29, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute. Kleinrock describes the moment he began typing the very first internet message, “Login.” Before he could complete it, the computer system crashed, and the first message transmitted by the internet turned out to be “Lo” – thus the movie’s name.

Danny Hillis, an American inventor and computer scientist, describes the phone book he owned back in the early days of the internet. It contained the names of everyone on the internet. Can you imagine a directory of everyone on the internet today? It is estimated it would be 72 miles thick.

Director Werner Herzog takes us to Stanford Dept of Robotics, where we learn how the discovery of biomolecule patterns was enhanced by the creation of a crowdsourced video game called EteRNA. Crowdsourcing, as defined by Wikipedia (itself a famous example of crowdsourcing) is “to divide work between participants to achieve a cumulative result.” In this case, a videogame played by a multitude of interested laypeople -“lawyers, grandmas, students, bedridden people” contributed in useful ways to the collective knowledge base about RNA (Ribonucleic Acid), which is present in all living cells. Crowdsourcing has been used in a variety of other ways for the common good. In addition to Wikipedia, another well-known example of crowdsourcing is crowdfunding, the collection of funds from a crowd (for example, Kickstarter). If you would like to learn more about how you can be similarly involved in contributing to the universe of knowledge (sometimes even by playing video games!) see this list of crowdsourcing projects.

While at Stanford, Herzog takes us to Professor of Computer Science and director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab, Sebastian Thrun, who is designing self-driving cars. He addressed the concern for safety of self-driving cars by saying, “When a computer makes a mistake, it learns from it, along with all the other computers (in use and unborn.) When a human makes a mistake, just that one person learns from it.” He shares a fascinating anecdote about a certain class he taught to 200 students enrolled at Stanford. He was able to offer the same course online to interested members of the general public. Over 1000 people signed up for the online class. When he tested them, he found that the best Stanford student ranked 412th among all the students combined. From this he said he learned that for every one great Stanford student, there are 412 better out there in the world who couldn’t or didn’t go to Stanford.

Then, we are presented with some particularly dark sides of the internet. The family of Nikki Catsouras shares their story, explaining why they no longer use email or the internet. Nikki died in a car accident in 2006 when she was 18 years old. Gruesome photos of her decapitated body were posted online shortly after the accident. Then, the family began receiving anonymous emails containing the photos, one with the caption “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive.” The Catsouras family deeply lamented the lack of accountability on the internet.

What would today’s landscape be like without the internet? We find out more about that by visiting Green Bank, West Virginia, home of a telescope 100 meters in diameter that picks up radio waves from outer space. To eliminate interference with the radioastronomy project, all wireless transmissions are disabled within a 10 mile radius. The area has become a haven for people who experience severe physical reactions to being in the presence of radio waves. Diane Schou and Jennifer Wood describe their lives before they moved to Green Bank. They spent all their time inside Faraday cages –  boxes named for the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, designed to shield their contents from electromagnetic fields. Some regard their condition as a supersense. They regard it as a nightmare.

We visit an internet addiction treatment center near Seattle, Washington where we hear the personal stories of some clients. We learn about a South Korean couple who were imprisoned for allowing their newborn daughter to starve to death while they were consumed with playing a video game. Ironically, it was a game in which they were nurturing an electronic baby.

Adler Planetarium astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz tells us about large solar flares called Carrington Events, which have the power to disable communications and create widespread power outages, and how we could see the next powerful solar event soon. We are given a glimpse of what that might look like from footage of a recent, relatively small-scale blackout in New York City. Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss warns “if the internet shuts down, people will not remember how they lived before that.”

Famous hacker Kevin Mitnick is interviewed about the methods he employed to gain access to secured information. He goes into detail about how he manipulated weaknesses in cybersecurity systems, noting that he always found them in the people, not the systems.

In the final third of the documentary, the possible future of Artificial Intelligence is explored. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, who made a fortune through PayPal, talks about the rockets he is launching into space, and his goals of creating a colony on Mars in case Earth becomes unlivable.

Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell, brain scientists at Carnegie Mellon postulate on whether or not it is possible for computers to dream.

The Wikipedia Emergency Project is described. It is a plan that people should print out hard copies of the information found on its website and store them somewhere our heirs can find them should a catastrophic planetary event occur.

The documentary prompted much thought, and left me with so many questions the first time around, I eagerly watched it a second time a couple of weeks later, after I gave myself some time to let the ideas rattle around in my mind for a while. If you like to explore multiple sides of issues relating to the past, present, and future of technology I would recommend you watch Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.

 

 

 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Two women. One rental house in London. One eccentric landlord.

One Folgate Street in London is an unusual home. It was built by an award winning architect, Edward Monkford. The home has an open floor plan and there are no doors. The staircase is built in to the wall and there is no railing to hold on to. The decor is austere. While the home has clean lines and is in beautiful in its own way, it is not cozy. There are no rugs, pillows or photographs. But it does have state of the art technology. And this house is a rental. In fact, it is affordable. However, in order to rent this house, a person has to fill out a very lengthy application including a personality test. Very few applicants are asked to come in for an interview. And if you do live at One Folgate Street, you have to follow a large list of strict rules.

Emma is the girl before. Recently, there was a break in at her apartment while she was home. Now she does not feel safe and she wants to find a new apartment. Unfortunately, she cannot afford a lot of places that are available and she does not like the places that she can afford. Emma’s realtor shows her One Folgate Street and cautions her about the strict guidelines for living in this home. Emma is determined to make it work. She likes the security system on the home. She feels safe at One Folgate Street.

Jane is the girl that lives at One Folgate Street now. She just lost a baby girl and she is looking for a change. Like Emma, Jane cannot afford a lot of the apartments that are available. Jane finds the house at One Folgate Street calming. Jane is also determined to live there and goes through the long application answering personal questions about herself. After Jane moves in, she finds a sleeping bag in the attic. Who lived in this house before? Why were they sleeping in the attic? Jane starts investigating the previous occupant, Emma. And she finds out that Edward Monkford had a wife and child. They both died. Is there something sinister about her charming landlord?

The Girl Before is a thrilling mystery full of surprises. I could not put it down. Look for this book to be made into a motion picture with Ron Howard directing.