Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Agatha Christie was my favorite mystery author growing up, thanks to my grandmother who consistently bought me her books and watched her ‘Marple’ and ‘Poirot’ series on television. The classic whodunit mystery holds a special place in my heart. As a result, I have turned into a picky mystery reader. A mystery novel has to grab my interest quickly, sustain it through the end, and be complex enough that I am unable to predict whodunit. Enter in Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and I felt like I was back at my grandma’s watching Poirot solve a crime. This book felt like a delicious dive into my childhood.

Magpie Murders is a book within a book, a mystery within a mystery, a murder within a murder. Susan Ryeland is the editor of Alan Conway’s mystery series featuring detective Atticus Pund. This book opens with Ryeland receiving a copy of Conway’s latest book, Magpie Murders, and her decision to read it over the weekend. Such begins the first foray into the book within the book. Conway’s Magpie Murders is the classic whodunit that takes place in the English countryside in a small village in 1955 where a well-known woman has died. Atticus Pund, a German concentration camp survivor who has become famous for his sleuthing skills, decides to head to the small village of Saxby-on-Avon to try to solve this Agatha-Christie like puzzle. A housekeeper named Mary Blakiston fell down a flight of stairs at Pye Hall. Her death had been ruled accidental, but the fiancée of Mary’s estranged son seeks Pund and asks for his help. There are many questions that Pund must answer and after a second crime occurs, Pund decides to visit on his own accord and figure out what exactly is happening in Saxby-on-Avon.

Flash to the present when Susan Ryeland has reached the end of the Magpie Murders manuscript only to discover that the last chapter is missing. Confronting her boss, Charlie Clover, about the missing chapters, both Clover and Ryeland are surprised to learn that the author, Alan Conway, has committed suicide. Conway mailed a letter to Clover before his death explaining why he decided to commit suicide. After reading the letter, Susan decides to look for Conway’s last chapter and sets off interviewing his family and friends to find it and to learn more about Conway’s motives for killing himself. That last chapter will save Magpie Murders and hopefully Susan’s business as the death of Conway will certainly sink the company if that last chapter is never found. As she searches, Susan comes to believe that maybe Conway didn’t kill himself. She soon finds herself becoming sort of a detective as she tries to figure out what exactly happened to Alan Conway.

I really enjoyed this book. Atticus Pund’s story was entertaining enough, but the addition of Susan’s story adds a delightful twist to the whole book. I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end in both stories. I also enjoyed how the stories intertwined together and how Susan was able to rely on the Magpie Murders manuscript to help her figure out what happened to Conway. There were so many tiny clues and revelations hidden in both Pund’s and Susan’s story that had me on the edge of the seat wondering whodunit.


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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

The Subtle Art OF Not Giving A F#*K: A Countnerintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

What is bright orange, shiny, and maybe half as cool as Miles Davis? (and that’s pretty cool–just sayin’).  Though the title of the book itself isn’t an obvious indication, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F%ck isn’t exactly a throwback to 90s slackerdom. On the contrary, my contrarian friends, this book is for anyone who could benefit from being strategic and mindful about prioritizing how–and to whom–we give our precious time.  And that’s probably just about everyone. This book is for those of us who care too much.  This book is essentially about choices and in turning a widely-held assumption about happiness on its head.

In many ways, Mark Manson concisely re-packages the basic tenants of Eastern philosophy and religion in a hilarious and concise self-help guide . “In case you haven’t heard of him,” Manson says of the Buddha, “he was kind of a big deal.” Manson continues:

There is a premise that underlies a lot of our  assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school or building a really complicated Lego set. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy. This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness (26).

What Manson offers in his book is the strangely comforting idea that striving for happiness is itself a negative act. Yep. And his ideas make a lot of sense. Manson seamlessly weaves in Alan Watts’ “backwards law” which says that “the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place” (9). Kind of makes sense, right? Manson ultimately rejects the established dogma in the self-improvement literature in favor of recognizing and even embracing suffering. You can thank the Buddha for that.

Charles Bukowski, a poet known for his irreverence and salt-of-the-Earth writing style kicks off Manson’s book, and for good reason. Bukowski–offering up all kinds profane-yet-sage wisdom noted that there is no way around the fire: “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire”. No sugarcoating here, folks. And that’s a welcome and refreshing approach to the happiness conundrum. Is it at all ridiculous and miraculous that Charles Bukowski turned out to be a self-help guru? (And not the self-appointed kind). If you haven’t read any of the late great Bukowski, do yourself a favor. Sometimes the sacred & profane are two sides of the same coin.

If suffering and struggle is inevitable, Manson frames the happiness dilemma like this: for what are you willing to struggle? Those things–the things you’re willing to do the hard work to attain–those are the things that define you. In other words, you have to choose where to ration out your four letter words. And this book has all the 4-letter words, be sure. You know how your mother or sister or aunt or best friend told you to choose your battles” ? Yeah–that. Because life is short. Maybe you figured that out already, and maybe one of your employee-sponsored motivational speakers reminded you that you yourself are what appears between the two dates on your tombstone. You are the hyphen. Make it count.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I found Manson to be a sort  of new-breed George Carlin, and if you are a fan of comedy and satire, look into adding some George Carlin comedy sketches to your list of library holds (of course, not if you’re easily offended by expletives and socio-political satire). One of my personal favorites, George Carlin,  makes no appearances in Manson’s book but poignantly asks in one of his comedy sketches: “why do we call them self-help books when we didn’t write them ourselves?” Aw, the best comedians were and are some of the most insightful poets and philosophers of our time, indeed.  But for a moment ponder the implications of writing your own self-help book. Writing it would require the type of self-reflection and self-awareness (and Manson would say self-doubt) required of self-improvement and even, ahem, tracking down the big, elusive Happy Dragon that lives in the distant castle of your mind. Even more: Manson discusses how the “pursuit of certainty” is a barrier to living a good life.

While this little book contains many noteworthy nuggets of insight, I’ll highlight my other favorite: namely, that action is not the result of being motivated, but rather action is itself motivation. Mmm hmmm. I’m sayin’. Do you feel inspired by that? Manson outlines a sort of flow-chart to illustrate his point, and it looks like this: Action ——>Inspiration——>Motivation. Instead of waiting around for the spirit to move you or for a lightening-strike of inspiration, just simply do and the rest will follow. And the rationale is quite simple. Manson calls this recipe for motivation the “do something” principle, and he credits a former Math teacher. Many of the impediments to living a good life can simply be removed by the “do something” principle.

A personal example of the do-something rule in action in my life: when I’m not doing work in the library, I’m a songwriter and performer. I personally enjoy the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment I derive in bringing a song into the world–in crafting something completely new and original that only I can produce. And the way to craft something new and original is not to wait. On the contrary: I write. so. many. songs. They’re really just poems or short stories or sketches, anyway. Or notes on my iPhone app. Or doodles. But that writing begets more writing. And one idea or concept leads to the next, and so forth. And before you know it, you’re a writing machine, churning out all kinds of new songs. Like, lots of new, really crappy songs. But guess what? The more songs you have, the higher your chances of writing a song that is great.

You remember the 10,000 hour rule from the wildly popular book Freakonomics? The rule is simple: what you practice, you become. If you practice something for 10,000 hours, like the Beatles relentlessly practiced and performed their music, you’re bound to get really good at it. Manson has a similar idea which is namely this: “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement” (61). Here again is the resounding mantra that what defines us is what we are willing to struggle for–whether that be in cultivating a family, excelling in our careers, painting a masterpiece, or juggling flaming tennis rackets while balancing on a unicycle.

It’s no-doubt time for me to wrap up my ramblings. Check out this book if you like Eastern philosophy, suffering, pleasure, pandas, inspiration, self-defeat, self-improvement, the F word, Pakistani freedom fighters, the other F word: fun, Dave Mustaine from the band Megadeath, and hilarity in general.

You’re welcome!

 

 

 

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.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star continues my journey back into young adult fiction. I used to exclusively read only young adult fiction, but about five years ago, I decided that I needed to read outside my comfort area (and to read books with people my own age in them). Starting to read in a new area can be daunting, so I recommend looking at award-winning book lists and even articles with lists of books on different subjects. That is how I stumbled upon The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Nicola Yoon had already been on my radar because of her book, Everything, Everything, but I had never actually read it. When I found an article that was talking up The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give it a go and try to see what everyone was getting so excited about. (I was also slightly obsessed with making things using yarn when I saw this book cover, so I figured I needed to read it!)

The Sun is Also a Star takes place all in one day. Natasha is a girl who loves everything that is based in facts. She adores science and has a list of facts for almost any situation. She lives with her parents and her younger brother in a one bedroom apartment. Natasha’s life had been going along perfectly until one day when her father makes a mistake and ruins everything for the whole family. Her life could implode around her. Daniel is a boy who never messes up and is therefore seen as the good son at home and the good student at school. After his older brother messes up in college, the pressure on Daniel to be perfect becomes even higher.

When the two meet, Daniel finds himself questioning what his parents have always told him and just how he lives his life. He is a poet and a dreamer, but must live up to his parents’ high expectations. Daniel must find a way to be around Natasha more than he probably should. Natasha is more hesitant than Daniel and finds his exuberance about their “relationship” daunting and more than a little off-putting. Daniel feels that there is something magical and extraordinary between them, if only he could get Natasha to feel the same way. Daniel reaches out into the universe to try to convince Natasha that their futures can change, but he has trouble believing he can change himself.

This book, while taking place in one day, shines through a series of flashbacks into each character’s life. Minor characters that Natasha and Daniel come in contact with have their own sections within the book as well. The tiny snapshots into daily life show the effect a short interaction with a complete stranger can have on both your life and the other person’s. The ending left me wondering what had really happened between the two. Long after I finished reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about fate, how even the smallest and inconsequential of our actions can greatly impact our lives and the lives of others, and how our attitudes and thoughts can influence our futures as well. The Sun is Also a Star had more of an impact on me than I thought it would. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I’m a cover girl (not the make-up kind of cover girl), but the kind of person who is intrigued by book covers and usually picks her next read based on what cover catches her eye. That’s how I started my latest read. In my latest fit of boredom in a doctor’s office, I was scrolling through OverDrive trying to find something new to listen to. I stumbled upon Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, an author whose book covers always caught my eye, but also an author that I had never read. The book blurb sounded promising(“Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” – provided by publisher), so I decided to give it a go.

I loved it. Truly Madly Guilty is a domestic fiction romp into the lives of three different families: Erika and her husband Oliver, Clementine and her husband Sam (and their two little girls, Holly and Ruby), and Tiffany and her husband Vid (and daughter Dakota and their dog). Tiffany and family live next door to Erica and Oliver, while Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood. Sam and Clementine seem to have everything together. Clementine is a cellist preparing for a new audition and Sam just started a new job. They are also busy parents to two adorable daughters.

Erika and Clementine have been friends for so long that they can have whole conversations just by looking at each other. Their friendship is immensely complicated though. The real story of Erika and Clementine’s friendship unfolds throughout the book. I was reminded of unpeeling an onion or a head of lettuce. There are so many layers to their relationship that just when I thought I had them figured out, I didn’t really know anything at all.

One day, Vid, Erika’s boisterous neighbor, invites everyone over to his house for a barbecue. Clementine is delighted because that means that Vid and Tiffany will be able to be a buffer between her and Erika. Erika and Oliver are the uptight, childless, responsible, and type-A couple, while Sam and Clementine are more care-free and go with the flow. Plus Clementine has always felt an obligation to Erika, due in part to the fact that her mother always forced her to hang around Erika even when she didn’t want to. This barbecue is just what they all needed: a chance to relax and enjoy good food, good company, and good music. A series of unfortunate events both leading up to that day and the events of the day of the fateful barbecue changes everything for all three seemingly perfect families. They are left reeling and feeling guilty for their actions.

Truly Madly Guilty is told from multiple characters’ points of view, as well as by switching back and forth between present day and the day of the barbecue. Readers are given crumbs of information throughout the book, but what really happened at the barbecue isn’t revealed until towards the end of the book, about 3/4s of the way through. I really liked all the background information that was given before we found out what happened the day of the barbecue. I’ve read reviews that disliked all the build-up, but I really enjoyed being able to guess what could have possibly happened.

This story is read in OverDrive by one narrator who manages to change her voice subtly for each character she is voicing, so much so that it seems at times that there is more than one narrator for this book. I was easily able to keep all of the characters separate in my mind, a feat I was amazed at given how many different points of view are represented within. I enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and am looking forward to reading more Liane Moriarty books in the future.


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The Magicians

Full disclosure: I have the hardest time reading or watching anything with magic. Suspending reality is very difficult for me, especially when that suspension involves negating laws of physics or science or math. I’m a slightly more left-brained person (in case you couldn’t tell by my inability to handle anything that defies logical thinking), so anything with magic needs to be crafted in a way that I find believable. The television show, The Magicians, which premiered on Syfy in 2015, has elements of believable magic(at least to me), plus really engaging character development and background information, that allowed me to suspend my logical brain for a little while.

The Magicians is what I think Harry Potter would be like for grown-ups. Just imagine Hogwarts as a college and BAM! You’ve got The Magicians. The main characters of this show are college students looking to get into different graduate schools. Quentin Coldwater is an awkward student who has been selected for an alumni interview for a prestigious university. As he and his best friend, Julia, walk into the interview, strange things begin happening.

Quentin finds himself admitted to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy(which is NOT the college that he had the interview for). Brakebills is a secret university located in upstate New York dedicated to all things magic. Quentin and his friends at Brakebills are thrust deep into the world of magic. They are learning more and more every day about their powers, but learning to control them proves difficult.  Each student has an interview/test to figure out what kind of powers they have, where they will live, and what sort of classes they will take. (Same type of concept as the sorting hat in Harry Potter! Except it’s a teacher testing them..) Quentin and friends are struggling with normal college problems with an added level of magical complications. Watching each student struggle to learn to master even the most basic spells is what made this show believable for me the most.

Add in a magical kingdom called Fillory, the land that Quentin’s favorite book series is based in, and there’s a whole new level of mystery involved! They soon find out that this magical fantasy world is actually very real. The consequences this discovery has on not only the students, but on humanity as a whole, is catastrophic and very dangerous. This television show is incredibly layered with multiple plots running simultaneously. I found this to be refreshing because it allows each character to become fully developed and have their own separate storyline that is still connected to the others. Highly recommended.


This television show is based on the book The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This book is the first in the Magicians Trilogy, which is:

  1. The Magicians
  2. The Magician King
  3. The Magician’s Land


Mother, Can You Not? by Kate Siegel

mother can you notIntroducing your parents or grandparents or even cousins or siblings to any new form of social media means that there is going to be a learning curve where mistakes are made and ridiculous things said. We’ve all been there. Before you bridge the social media gap however, there is one important step that needs to happen: text messaging. Author Kate Siegel’s mother is the queen of off-the-wall text messages, so much so that Kate decided to broadcast their most ridiculous conversations all over Instagram for everyone to see. (Want to follow their antics? Check out @crazyjewishmom on Instagram!)

Mother, Can you NOT? : And you thought your mother was crazy… follows Kate’s Siegel’s decision to broadcast her and her mother’s text messages online and the crazy journey it proved to be for her. This book is chock full of anecdotes featuring Kate’s mom and the conversation that she has with her on a daily basis.

Kate’s mother is the classic helicopter parent and you can even go as far as to call her a drone parent, which Kate certainly does. Kate’s mom is a hovering Jewish mother who only wants the best for her daughter and the best just happens to be married to a wealthy Jewish doctor and pregnant with his many children. Never mind the fact that for a long time, Kate was single and her boyfriends weren’t even Jewish. These are just unnecessary obstacles in Kate’s life that her mother knows all the solutions for: hanging out with the Princeton rabbi, going out even when you don’t want to, talking to a new doctor about sex when your mom is right in the room, etc. All perfectly normal things. This book is a very humorous and hilarious read chronicling the many adventures that Kate and her mother find themselves on and the many different ways all of our mother go on to help better their children’s lives even if their children’s don’t even ask for the help.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky

heads in bedsHave you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of hotels? What the front desk attendant, concierge, bellman, or housekeeping person is thinking as they check you in, follow you around, or clean up your room? Having spent a fair number of my summer vacations in hotel rooms, I was curious as a child what these people actually did at work and what they thought of everyone they came in contact with on a daily basis. Lucky for me, I found just the book to ease my curiosity: Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

Heads in Beds is written by Jacob Tomsky, a pseudonym the author adopted to keep his anonymity since he was, and is still, a member of the hotel industry at the time this book was released. Every hotel he worked for, as well as every person he worked with and each hotel guest, has a pseudonym, allowing Tomsky to go into great detail about everything that happens behind the scenes of hotels.

This book is a hilarious ride through Tomsky’s journey from a valet to manager to front desk attendant. Want to know how to get an upgrade? Tomsky tells you. How to get a late check out? Tomsky again. What about those pesky mini-bars and in-room movie fees? Tomsky knows all about those. He is full of tips and tricks about how to make the most out of whatever hotel stay you’re experiencing. Check out this book for glimpses into the inner workings of the hospitality business, what valets really do in your car, what goes on in empty rooms, and even why you should never turn down a bellman’s help.


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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all the bright placesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven handles difficult topics for teens, from emotional problems and mental illness to death and suicide, but in such a way that everything is written eloquently and seriously, showing the consequences of all actions, no matter how big or small. Niven’s characters are beautifully written. The story really captures the heartbreaking yearning for everything to end up alright by showcasing a compelling search for hope when all seems lost.

All the Bright Places is told from the points of view of two high school students, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theodore and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Finch is fascinated with death, chronicling ways to kill himself. Something good stops him from hurting himself every time. Violet has a countdown until graduation, when she can finally leave Indiana and start a new life away from the aftermath of her older sister’s death.

That first meeting is the start of a very unlikely relationship between the freak, outcast boy, Finch, and the popular, yet damaged girl, Violet. This book weaves an exhilarating and  charming, yet simultaneously heartbreaking, love story between the two that immediately draws you in. When Violet and Finch then pair up on a class project to discover the natural wonders of their state, they learn more about each other than they initially thought. Death-fascinated Finch and future-focused Violet find hope and help by working with each other. Their lives will be forever changed.

This book is also available as an audiobook. If you use RiverShare OverDrive, our e-book and audiobook service, you can check out All the Bright Places as an e-book, as well as an audiobook.