Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Challengers!

How did your reading go this month? I hope you found something interesting for our Jojo Moyes read-alike month. I hadn’t read anything by Moyes, so I choose one of her more popular titles, The Giver of Stars.

Taking place in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, The Giver of Stars dramatizes the work of the WPA Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky which ran from 1935 to 1943. Hobbled by poverty, isolation and lack of resources, the people of this area had little access to reading material. The Packhorse Librarians brought books, newspapers and magazines to far flung mountain homes, facing difficult terrain, bad weather and suspicious landowners. Their hard work provides a fascinating backdrop to the stories and adventures of the people of this beautiful but unforgiving land.

The small town of Baileyville. Kentucky has been hit hard by the Great Depression. Coal mining has provided some jobs, but at great cost both to the miners and their families and to the land. Alice Van Cleve, recently arrived from England and newly married to the son of the mine owner, she finds it nearly impossible to fit in. When the call goes out for ladies to help run the newly established Packhorse library, she is quick to volunteer despite the objections of her conservative husband and father-in-law. Away from her overbearing family and loveless marriage,  Alice has more freedom and independence than she has ever known and grows to love the land and the people she serves.

Alice and the other library workers face many obstacles including a catastrophic flood, townspeople who try to shut down the library as “unChristian”, lack of funds and materials, wild animals and treacherous terrain. There’s some romance, some heartbreak and a murder mystery. Through it all, Alice and her library friends form an unbreakable bond, coming together to support and celebrate. I especially enjoyed reading about and was impressed by the hard work these women did and their dedication to their patrons and literacy.

Earlier in the month I mentioned that I had read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson a couple years ago. It is also about the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky and was published just a few months before The Giver of Stars. At the time, there was some controversy that Moyes’ book had plagiarized  the earlier book. I didn’t feel that though – while both books center on the Packhorse Librarian program during the Great Depression, the characters and what happens to them are very different. Both are worth reading!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in April?

Online Reading Challenge – March Wrap

 

Hello Challenge Readers!

How was your March reading? Did you find something wonderful to read? Hopefully not anything too creepy (unless that’s what you like!)

As I said before, I’m not too interested in reading about serial killers so I passed on those and went for a straightforward murder. (Nothing creepy about that, right? ha!) I decided to read A Better Man by Louise Penny, a book that had been gifted to me and wow, it was great!

A catastrophic flood, a missing woman and tensions at work greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache when he returns to the Sûreté du Québec (the national police force in Quebec, Canada) after serving a suspension in the 15th installment of Louise Penny’s popular series.

Gamache has been demoted and now his former second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir is temporarily his supervisor – as well as being his son-on-law. Gamache had been Beauvoir’s mentor and the two share a close bond complicated now by their change in position and the fact the Beauvoir and his wife (Gamache’s daughter) will soon be moving to Paris. In addition, heavy rain and a sudden thaw have caused ice jams on the many rivers of Quebec, threatening dangerous flooding and diverting all personnel to cope with the national emergency. Into this chaos a father reports that his daughter is missing – she had been repeatedly abused by her husband and was desperate to escape and now she cannot be found. The father appeals to Gamache’s love for his own daughter – what would you do if it was her? – and Gamache is drawn into a complicated, twisted, emotional mystery.

This is the first novel by Louise Penny that I’ve read and boy am I hooked now. Penny is a masterful writer, conjuring up a cast of colorful characters in a beautiful setting (I desperately want to go to Quebec now!). It’s not sugar-sweet idyllic because people are, well, people, full of messy emotions  and always managing to get themselves tangled up in one situation or another. The mystery is interesting, but the heart of the novel is Gamache, his calm, wise counsel, his brilliant mind, his love for his family and his staff. Now I’m well on my way to reading the entire series from the beginning!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for March?

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

A forbidden love, a mystery shrouded in superstition and myth, a clash of cultures and generations – all of these elements and more make up The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, recreating the long-gone world of colonial Malaysia shortly before World War II.

Several main characters are at the center of the book. There is Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker who moonlights as a dance-hall girl to earn extra money to pay off her Mother’s mah-jongg debts. Ji Lin wants more from life than to become a wife, but her stepfather has denied her request to further her education. Instead, her step-brother (by marriage) Shin, who she has fallen in love with but believes he will never feel the same, is the one sent to medical school.

Then there is Ren who once worked as a houseboy for an elderly English doctor. Before the doctor dies, he asks Ren to find his missing finger which had been amputated years ago; the doctor believes the local superstition that if missing parts of a body are not returned and buried within 49 days, the soul will be doomed to wander forever.

And then there is William Acton, the doctor that Ren now works for (and that Ren believes has the missing finger). Acton has secrets of his own including why he has been banished from his wealthy family estate in England.

The Night Tiger is part romance, part murder mystery, part coming-of-age. These different story lines slowly begin to intersect until the book comes to an explosive finish. The descriptions in the book are vivid from describing the ordinary – the fragrant, delicious food, to the overwhelming – the lush tropical jungle, to the mystical – the countless superstitions and myths from the meanings of numbers to the many stories about tigers and men who turn into tigers. You’ll fall a little bit in love with the characters, especially Ren and Ji Lin and this long gone world of colonial Malaysia.  All of this adds up to a colorful and fascinating novel. Highly recommended.

Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Fans of Reading!

How did July treat you, reading-wise? What book about crime did you read? Or was this month a miss for you?

July was almost a miss for me –  I rarely pick up books that are mostly about crime, whether they’re mysteries or true crime. So it was a bit of a struggle finding something that grabbed my interest this month. I did find a good book though and, while it isn’t my favorite book ever, it was quite interesting and I’m glad I picked it up.

Two years ago, emergency room nurse Amelia Winn was seriously injured when she’s hit by a car near the hospital she worked at, resulting in her becoming profoundly deaf. Deeply depressed, she began drinking heavily and loses nearly everything – her career, her husband and her friends. Struggling to get back on her feet, Amelia works hard to not slip back into depression and drinking while looking for meaningful work and purpose. She lives in the country with her hearing assistance dog, Stitch, isolated from neighbors and the nearby town.

One day, in the woods behind her cabin, Amelia makes a terrible discovery – the body of Gwen, a former friend and colleague, who has been murdered. It soon becomes apparent that the police have no leads on who the murderer might be – Gwen was well-known and well-liked. Amelia, feeling that she had let her friend down, now takes on the task of bringing her justice. But Amelia is impulsive and sometimes makes rash decisions – will her inquires get her into trouble, the same trouble that killed Gwen?

Not a Sound has several interesting components that make it a compelling read: the main character is deaf (as is author Heather Gudenkauf) – seeing Amelia struggle to survive and participate in a hearing world is fascinating and eye-opening; Amelia’s relationship with her hearing assistance dog Stitch is also fascinating and sometimes humorous (and critical to the story); and the setting. Although the specific location and town is fictional, Not a Sound takes place in northeast Iowa, somewhere to the west of Dubuque (where the author lives). I really appreciated the realistic and evocative descriptions of Iowa landscape (we’re not all cornfields!) and weather and the casual (but accurate) references to uniquely Iowa characteristics (such as watching the Hawkeyes on tv). The book feels “midwestern” without being a cartoon. Nice! While I found the red herrings to be a bit obvious and I wanted to shake Amelia a few times for her stubbornness and questionable choices, the ending is tense and exciting. Overall, a great read.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for the July Challenge?

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

cat out of hellFor people who both love and hate cats comes the tale of Alec Charlesworth, a librarian who finds himself suddenly alone: he’s lost his job, his beloved wife has just died, and to top it all off, his sister has disappeared. Overcome by grief, he stands in his sister’s kitchen staring at the only witness to what’s happened to her – her cat, Roger. Who then speaks to him.

It takes a while for Alec to realize he’s not gone mad from grief, that the cat is actually speaking . . . and that much of what we fear about cats is true. They do think they’re smarter than humans, for one thing. And, well, it seems they are! What’s more, they do have nine lives. Or at least this one does – Roger’s older than Methuselah, and his unblinking stare comes from the fact that he’s seen it all.

And in Cat Out of Hell he’s got a tale to tell, a tale of shocking local history and dark forces that may link not only the death of Alec’s wife, but also several other local deaths. But will the cat help Alec, or is he one of the dark forces? (description from publisher)

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

pocket wifeDana Catrell’s life is in chaos. She’s married to a lawyer who makes her feel trivial, as if stuck inside his pocket like loose change. She’s also sliding toward the brink of insanity. Devastated by mania, part of her bipolar disorder, Dana finds that there are troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of her friend Celia’s death. She’s horrified to learn she’s the only other person with a key to Celia’s house – and the last person to see her alive. She and Celia had shared recipes and gossip. But not secrets – until that final afternoon. Closing her eyes, Dana can see images, loose pieces of a hazy puzzle. Sangria in a glass, a tiny rip in Celia’s screen door, Celia lying in a pool of blood, the broken vase beside her head, the kitchen knife just so above her hand. But there are infuriating, terrifying gaps. Is murder on her mind–or is it all in her head?

 

As evidence starts to point in her direction, Dana will use the clarity her mania brings her to fill in the blanks and clear her name before her demons win out. But her husband’s odd behavior and the persistent probing of Detective Jack Moss complicate Dana’s search for answers. The closer she comes to piecing together shards of her broken memory, the closer Dana comes to falling apart. Is there a killer lurking inside her . . . or is there one out there in the shadows of reality, waiting to strike again?

 

A story of marriage, murder, and madness, The Pocket Wife is a sophisticated, gripping tale of psychological suspense that explores the world through the foggy lens of a woman on the edge. (description from publisher)

The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

bishops wifeInspired by an actual crime and written by a practicing Mormon, The Bishop’s Wife is both a fascinating look at the lives of modern Mormons as well as a grim and cunningly twisted mystery.

Linda Wallheim is the mother of five grown boys and the wife of a Mormon bishop. As bishop, Kurt Wallheim is the ward’s designated spiritual father, and that makes Linda the ward’s unofficial mother, and her days are filled with comfort visits, community service, and informal counseling. But Linda is increasingly troubled by the church’s patriarchal structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in the ward.

One cold winter morning, a neighbor, Jared Helm, appears on the Wallheims’ doorstep with his 5-year-old daughter, claiming that his wife, Carrie, disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving behind everything she owns. The circumstances surrounding Carrie’s disappearance become more suspicious the more Linda learns about them, and she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as an abandoned husband. Kurt asks Linda not to get involved in the unfolding family saga, but she has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong? (description by publisher)

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

jane and the 12 days of christmasChristmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.

Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide revelers dies in a tragic accident, which Jane immediately views with suspicion. If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests. With clues scattered amidst cleverly crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again? (description from publisher)

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

forgerThe rare book world is stunned when a reclusive collector, Adam Diehl, is found on the floor of his Montauk home: hands severed, surrounded by valuable inscribed books and original manuscripts that have been vandalized beyond repair. Adam’s sister, Meghan, and her lover, Will – a convicted if unrepentant literary forger – struggle to come to terms with the seemingly incomprehensible murder. But when Will begins receiving threatening handwritten letters, seemingly penned by long-dead authors, but really from someone who knows secrets about Adam’s death and Will’s past, he understands his own life is also on the line and attempts to forge a new beginning for himself and Meg.

In The Forgers, Morrow reveals the passion that drives collectors to the razor-sharp edge of morality, brilliantly confronting the hubris and mortal danger of rewriting history with a fraudulent pen. (description by publisher)

Broadchurch

broadchurchWhen the body of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer is found on the beach in Broadchurch, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and her newly-appointed boss, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) are called to investigate. As suspicions mount and the mystery deepens, a national spotlight descends upon Broadchurch, threatening to pull the town, it’s residents and their secrets apart. (description from publisher)

Originally aired on BBC America this past spring, Broadchurch became an almost immediate cult favorite. Highlighted by exceptional acting (from entire cast but especially Tennant and Colman), suspenseful writing and realistic, gritty settings, the series kept fans on the edge of their seat from beginning to end. More than a simple murder mystery, Broadchurch examines the ties that bind us and sometimes break us – family, community, friends. Where does loyalty to one destroy our loyalty to another?

Broadchurch was so well received that an American version (also starring David Tennant) airs on FOX beginning October 2nd under the title Gracepoint. A second season of Broadchurch (with the original cast) has begun filming and will air on BBC America next year.