You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison

I tried expanding out of my comfort zone to read a nonfiction book and quickly fell asleep. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started it before I went to bed… As a result, the next day, I turned to the next book on my list, a suspenseful thriller by Colin Harrison called You Belong to Me. This book started out slow for me, but quickly picked up. If you decide to read it, I urge you to stick with it. This piece of literary fiction tells the tale of old maps, immigration troubles, lost loves, hit men, obsession, murder, and betrayal. I loved it. It was riveting.

Paul Reeves works as an immigration lawyer, a fairly successful one at that. His boutique firm handles cases for famous people, successful businessmen, and large companies working with foreign nationals. Paul may like his job, but his real love is maps. His passion is collecting old maps of New York. Seeing the city change throughout the years through a print record gives him chills. As he’s walking the streets or looking at his maps, he can see, in his mind’s eye, New York growing, changing, and morphing into the city that he lives in today. Paul can frequently be found at auctions throughout the city bidding on different New York maps. He attends an auction one afternoon with his neighbor Jennifer Mehraz. Jennifer is the beautiful young wife of an Iranian financier-lawyer, a man who has the best things in life and knows what he wants. Jennifer’s husband knows how to complete deals and expects his life to keep going the way that it is. Halfway through the auction, a man in soldier fatigues appears and Jennifer’s entire demeanor changes. She abandons Paul and takes off with this mystery man.

This man who showed up out of the blue to see Jennifer is a long-lost love from her past, from when she used to live in Pennsylvania. His arrival sets off a frightening chain of events that entangles Paul, Jennifer, her husband, the mystery man, and a wide variety of other people in a messy dangerous game. Jennifer, remaining somewhat tight-lipped about this mystery man, leaves those close to her very confused as they try to figure out just who he is and how they are connected. Her husband, being Iranian and very important in his chosen work field, feels her dalliance with this mystery man as a major embarrassment and wants the whole situation to disappear, no matter the consequences nor the expense.

Paul has more than Jennifer and her possessive husband to deal with though. He is desperate to get his hands on one of the world’s rarest and most sought after maps. Paul thought it was out of his reach until he was directly contacted by the seller with an offer for him to buy it. Before he can put in his offer, another buyer swoops in and buys it right from under Paul. He’s furious about this incident and is desperate to figure out who this mysterious buyer is. Paul will do anything to get that precious map into his possession, especially since it was promised to him and therefore should belong to him.

I enjoyed this book, even though it took me a few chapters to get hooked. The characters are very compelling and developed well. There are multiple story lines throughout this book that kept me hooked while I was reading. Every character has their own personal problems to work through, but they each remain entangled together. I enjoyed watching each character’s story grow as the plot developed.  Harrison has written several older books that I’m hoping are just as riveting as You Belong to Me was. I’ll let you know!

Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Black Irish by Stephan Talty

I have a fascination with serial murderers, the grislier the better. I snatch up books about them as quick as I can, but veer away from television shows because they seem too formulaic and predictable. The books that I have read/listened to recently have all been reliably gritty and suspenseful. I stumbled upon Black Irish by Stephan Talty a week ago and loved it.

Black Irish is delightfully gruesome and mysterious. Absalom ‘Abbie’ Kearney is a detective in South Buffalo. Even though her adoptive father is a revered cop, Abbie is considered to be an outsider in this working-class Irish American area because of her dark hair, druggie mother, mysterious father, Harvard degree, and a myriad of other reasons. Her troubled past makes her current life in South Buffalo difficult as she works to earn the trust and respect of everyone in ‘the County’. The County is full of fiercely secretive citizens who look out for their own and shun outsiders. Digging for the truth or trying to find out about her past is nearly impossible for Abbie without the help from accepted local Irish good-ol’-boy cops and detectives. Because of this, Abbie works even harder to prove herself to be more than capable and worthy of her badge, much to the chagrin of the locals.

When a mangled corpse is found in a local church’s basement, the very church that Abbie herself attended, the County finds itself unnerved. A message seems to sweep through the area. While Abbie is the lead detective on the case and is running the investigation, she finds that other detectives, and more importantly the locals, are taking it upon themselves to solve the case. The code of silence and secrecy that began in Ireland still exists in the County, making Abbie’s search for the killer even more difficult. This secrecy stonewalls her everywhere she goes, even at the Gaelic Club which her father frequents. Shaking down leads is difficult and Abbie soon finds herself receiving vicious threats and warnings.

The killer has a clear signature and with each passing day, Abbie thinks she is getting closer. With more people murdered, Abbie finds this case consuming her. While working to solve these crimes, the killer is slowly circling closer and closer to Abbie, until finally dropping into her life. Abbie is left to dig into her own past, her family’s past, how everything is related to the County, and also how the County’s secrets just may end up destroying everything in which the whole community believes.

This book hooked me from the start. The narrator uses different accents for each character which made them all easy to follow. Stephan Talty has woven a masterful examination into the cone of silence in closed off neighborhoods, even when that code hides dangerous, murderous pasts and people. I greatly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for more.


This book is also available in the following formats:

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.

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.


 

Copper

copperCopper tells the story of an Irish-American boxer turned cop named Kevin Corcoran, who after returning from the Civil War finds his wife missing and his young daughter murdered in their home. Corcoran keeps in contact with two of his soldier friends: the son of a rich industrialist and an African-American physician. These three are linked together by a secret that happened on the battlefireld, one that changed the future of their lives forever.

Right off the bat, Copper is fast-paced and running you through the streets of Five Points, the immigrant neighborhood in New York full of lawlessness, deceit, and murder. Kevin Corcoran, or Corcy as his friends call him, frequently finds himself having to solve the many murders that happen in Five Points. Corcoran never lets a case close without finding the true killer and getting vengeance for the families left behind. The entire time he is solving crimes for the police department, he is also looking for any clues into his wife’s disappearance and his daughter’s murder, asking people in the streets and looking for anyone who saw them before they died.

This television show hits every aspect of tv that I love: romance, murder, mayhem, secrets, espionage, politics, etc. This is 1864, so Copper deals with slavery, Lincoln’s election, spies for the Confederacy and the Union, lynchings, upper and lower class struggles, immigration, murder. Just when I thought I had this show figured out, I realized that the characters had far more depth and far more secrets than I ever realized.

How to Be a Grown-Up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

How to be a grown-upCo-written by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, How to Be a Grown-Up is a fascinating peek into upper class New York and the world of start-up websites – in this case, one for upper class babies and their parents. More than a little absurd, this world of over-consumption and ambitious, yet inexperienced, young bosses is the one in which Rory finds herself – after her husband, an  aspiring actor, dumps her.

Kraus and McLaughlin are the authors of The Nanny Diaries,and there are definite similarities – in the dynamic between the very rich and those struggling to get by. Some of the scenes do seem to be written filmically; we can almost see a  Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway-type breaking her foot as she juggles the impossible demands of her tyrannical bosses and the equally formidable demands of her two children, while teetering on five-inch heels.

The most successful part of the book is the satire of the workplace – the two young entrepreneurs in charge of the start-up dress in the skimpiest of outfits no matter how cold they are, and regard “things” such as wastebaskets and a work space as unnecessarily retro. It’s satisfying to see the tables turned, and  Rory’s experience and know-how are acknowledged as valuable.

If the authors had focused more on the work aspect of the book and less on the inexplicable choices Rory makes in her personal life, the book would have, in my opinion, been better for it. Still, it’s a revealing and interesting look into a very fast-paced world, not well-known in Iowa – even in the metro Quad-Cities.

The Knick

the knickCinemax has put together a splendid fictional drama based on the medical field and goings on at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York. In this show called The Knick,  surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff and benefactors, deal with the ins and outs of running a hospital in downtown New York in 1900. The star of this show is the new chief of surgery, Dr. Thackeray, having just inherited this position after the suicide of his predecessor.

Dr. Thackeray and the rest of his team are forced to deal with changes due to poor finances and increased competition between the other hospitals when all of their wealthy patients leave. In order to keep the place afloat, viewers will see the administrators wheedling for money, extorting patients, selling bodies, all the while telling people things are going okay.

The Knick is a fairly bloody and graphic show, which one must expect considering it is a medical drama. This show deals with complicated subject matter, like drug addiction amongst the doctors, racial and gender prejudice when Dr. Thackeray is forced to work with his new Deputy Chief of Surgery who just happens to be a black doctor, while all the while dealing with a typhoid outbreak (HELLO Typhoid Mary!) and trying to come up with and perform new surgeries to save their patient’s lives.

I found this show to be riveting and personally can’t wait for the second season to come to DVD, so I can check up on Dr. Thackeray and friends to see how they are all fairing!

Making of the Mob: New York

making of the mobIn The Making of the Mob: New York, AMC has created an eight-part docu-drama series that begins in 1905 and traces the rise of the American Mafia for over fifty years. This series examines the lives of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, and several other notorious gangsters as they all struggle for power when the mafia starts becoming more organized. The amount of attention to detail that went into the establishment of the five major heads of the family, also known as the Commission, and Murder, Inc., the group of Jewish hitmen who killed around 1,000 people in ten years, shows that the new mobsters rising up in the ranks were definitely looking to run the mafia as more of a business with set consequences and an elected representative board.

This docu-drama looks into the five main families of the American Mafia and goes into great detail showing how organized crime came to exist and flourish in America. What I found to be the most intriguing part of this series was that it included interviews from former politicians, mobsters, actors, and other influential people, as well as actual archival footage  and sound recordings of the actual mobsters alongside the actors’ dramatic interpretations of what was happening. The inclusion of actual footage and interviews really drew me into this docu-drama and had me fully invested in the lives of the mobsters, the shady deals they were doing, and the specific individuals and governmental organizations who were working to bring down the American mafia.

Girl Online: the first novel by Zoella by Zoe Sugg

girl onlineSitting at the reference desk affords me the best opportunities to figure out what the people who visit any of the three Davenport Public Libraries like to read. Reading selection catalogues is good for finding what reviewers think my patrons will like to read, but actually sitting at the desk and talking really gives me a solid idea about what our patrons want to see on the shelves.

My newest reference desk plug comes from a string of junior high and high school girls who, within the span of two to three days, all requested one book: Girl Online: the first novel by Zoella by Zoe Sugg. This book can be found in the young adult section and while that alone might throw some of you off and also send some of you wondering why there is a young adult review on this blog, let me tell you that while there are themes of first love and heartbreak and friendship within this book, there are also adult themes that I found resonated with me, even though I had to venture into teen land to find it. So let me tell you this: Instead of “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” maybe we should switch that handy motto to “Don’t judge a book by its call number”.

Girl Online: the first novel by Zoella by Zoe Sugg chronicles a short bit in the life of Penny, the girl behind the popular blog, GirlOnline, an anonymous blog that she runs online after she finds out that it is easier to share her real life and real feelings online than it is to face ridicule with everyone she knows in real life, or maybe a better way to word what she is doing online is to say that she is unsure whether or not others are feeling the same way as she is, so she posts her feelings and interactions only to be surprised that there are other people out there who feel the same way as she does. Penny, who is suffering from panic attacks after going through an accident with her parents, is supported through her online escapades and real life encounters by her best friend, Elliott, a gay boy struggling to get his parents to understand his homosexuality who lives right next to Penny and is able to knock on her wall with a secret code to let her know that he wants to come over and visit.

Well, Penny’s parents just happen to own a wedding planning business and, more specifically, a wedding dress store where they specialize in designing somewhat off-the-wall and different weddings. As the plot rolls on, Penny and her parents, Elliott included, are invited to New York to help plan a Downton Abbey themed wedding just around Christmas time. Could anything be more perfect?! Of course because this is a young adult novel!!! Once there, Penny meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming, tall eighteen-year-old boy who just happens to be the grandson of the chef for the wedding. This. Is. Awesome. They travel around New York together and have picnics together on a roof top and just when you think they are going to be parted, Penny’s mom gets asked to design another party, which means they get to stay together for a whole other week! Sweet!! Penny and Noah fall in deep like, but alarm bells kept going off in my head because it seemed like Noah had a secret too. Can’t spoil everything for you. Read the book and let me know when your alarm bells start going off. Mine were right when they met. (And all the while, Penny is blogging about her encounters in New York, anonymously of course). Anyway, Penny comes home and THINGS BLOW UP! Not actual bombs and stuff, but metaphorical “her life is over because she’s a teenager and no one else will love her”. Sugg’s writing was so good in this part, I actually could not put the book down and read it all the way through breakfast.

The reason why I am blogging about this book is because it shows people just what happens when you put your life all over social media. The consequences, the interactions between your real and online life, and the inevitable collision between the two are what really makes Sugg’s writing shine in this novel. Zoe Sugg, also known as Zoella, is a vlogger, someone who, like bloggers, posts videos online to diary and document what is happening in their lives. Sugg does this through her YouTube channel. If you visit the about page on her YouTube channel, there are multiple links to her other various social media platforms. She is a social media QUEEN, winning awards and such for her presence online!