Monday, January 26, 2015

Her by Harriet Lane

Her is a slow moving psychological thriller that leaves more questions than answers.

The book begins with successful, poised, well off artist Nina catching sight of exhausted, poor, overwhelmed Emma. A flood of very bad memories hits Nina, but she befriends Emma (who does not recognize her) anyway. Of course, Nina's way of befriending Emma is quite different than you would expect. The word that comes to mind is menacing...

Tension builds as the novel continues, until the reader understands that something very bad is going to happen. But we just do not know why.

Told from both Emma's and Nina's perspectives, the past unfolds in little snippets in each chapter.

If you have a lot of patience, you may enjoy this novel.


Read-alike: The Playdate by Louise Millar

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

On many international education tests the United States scores below average for the world's developed countries; especially in the subjects of science and math. In The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley looks at the education systems of the countries that scored highest on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), these countries include South Korea and Finland. Ripley not only speaks to teachers, school officials, and politicians, but also follows American students studying abroad in Finland, South Korea, and Poland.

What Ripley found to be a fairly straight forward difference between the United States and higher performing countries is the expectations teachers and parents had for students. However, that isn't to say that all of these countries achieved this in the best way possible, South Korea was called a pressure cooker more than once and after school tutors have a legally mandated curfew for closing (and their school days already goes until 5:00pm). Ripley discusses what makes American schools different (such as our emphasis on school sports) and what steps the high performing countries took to get their education systems where they are. I found this to be a fascinating look at education in a global context.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wicked Autumn by G. M. Malliet

Agatha Christie enters the 21st century with this new series. Max Tudor has been the vicar of St. Edwold’s in Nether Monkslip for three years. Prior to becoming an Anglican priest, he was a member of MI5 but became disillusioned and left the undercover world for what he assumed would be a quiet, affirming life in a sleepy English village. Not happening. Just as Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead was rife with the less-desirable emotions that led to violent ends, so is Max’s world.
The head of the Women’s Institute is the obvious victim early on: vain, bullying, overbearing, and ripe for murdering, but that doesn't spoil the story. I was ready to get her if the murderer didn't! Max pretty much gets roped into investigating – who wouldn't trust the vicar!
The story was a bit slow starting and there was a lot of character detail that I wasn't sure was required, but as the first book in a series, getting to know the locals will probably prove helpful. The identity of the murderer was a surprise with the clues only obvious after the solution – very well played.

Malliet handles the blending of the 21st century (cell phones, forensics, relationships, etc.) with a small village with great finesse and intelligence. Nether Monkslip is a believable place in a modern world and Max Tudor an engaging protagonist. Wicked Autumn is a satisfying modern mystery in a comfortable, familiar setting.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimmage by Haruki Murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki was one of a group of five close friends when he was younger.  These years were the best of his life. They all grew up together in the Japanese town of Nagoya. Tsukuru was the only one in the group to leave their town to attend college in Tokyo. He still frequently went back to Nagoya to see his friends until one day, most likely the worst day of his life, all four of them stopped talking to him without any explanation. After initially being baffled by the group’s decision, he sadly accepted that they no longer wanted anything to do with him and did little in the way of asking why. Instead, he grew depressed and wondered what it was that made them no longer associate with him.

Now in his late thirties, he becomes a romantically interested in a woman named Sara and, though he rarely speaks about what happened, decides to tell her about his former friends. She encourages him to track down each of his four friends in order to ask them what happened.

Colorless TsukuruTazaki and His Years of Pilgrimmage did not go in the direction I expected. In particular, one character shows up in the book and then is pretty much forgotten. The novel does not end with a big bang or come to any sort of clear conclusion. The writing has more of a dream-like quality and a reoccurring dream, in fact, is an important part of the plot. While I wasn’t completely satisfied by Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, its combination of strong characters and unusual plot and pacing make it very likely that I will pick up another book by Haruki Murakami.


Monday, January 12, 2015

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

One Hundred Names is a story of friendship and second chances.

Kitty Logan is feeling as low as anyone can go. As a journalist, she has just broken the number one rule - be sure your facts are straight on before you run with a story. But Kitty is hungry and caught up and makes the biggest mistake of her life. On top of that, her mentor, Constance, is dying. On her deathbed, she asks Kitty to tell the one story she never got to tell. But the only clue she gives Kitty is there is a list in her office of 100 names. That is all she says - not who these people are or what Constance wanted written about them.

After Constance dies, and with no other job prospects, Kitty takes on her mentor's wish. She finds the list and starts to contact the people, one by one. Slowly, she realizes that these people have no link to Constance or each other. So why did she want their stories told?

Find out in this intriguing yet warm and charming novel.


Read alike author: Emilie Richards

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Sherlock Holmes is back and better than ever with the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate's authorization of the novel. London, 1890. 221B Baker Street. Dr. John Watson narrates as he and Sherlock Holmes submerge into a new world in this action packed adventure. An art dealer visits the famous duo — he is being terrorized by a wanted criminal in a flat cap. Sure enough, his family is attacked and the first murder occurs…
From London to the streets of Boston, this newly discovered international criminal conspiracy holds Watson and Holmes captive. They find themselves being drawn ever deeper into a plot where they hear "the House of Silk" What is it? Who is it?

I greatly enjoyed reading The House ofSilk and thought Anthony Horowitz did a very creditable job of bringing Holmes and Watson back to life! When I finished reading, I just wanted more. Since it had been quite a while since I had read any of the original Holmes stories, I downloaded several public domain eBooks and after re-reading "The Redheaded League," "The Copper Beeches" and other stories, was even more convinced that the portrayal of Holmes and Watson in The House of Silk was well done, the plotting intriguing and the detection convincing. It also held true to the “double mystery” that so many Sherlock Holmes novels contain. The crime they uncover put me in mind of one of contemporary writer Anne Perry's dark Victorian mysteries set in a London rife with hypocrisy and exploitation.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. EJI’s mission is to help people on death row, incarcerated children, and those without a voice. Just Mercy tells the stories of the people who have been wrongly accused, those who can’t speak for themselves, and those who are affected by our broken justice system.

This is the best book I read all year. Bryan Stevenson is a wonderful storyteller, and I often forgot that this is nonfiction. He is obviously passionate about what he does and is trying to make a difference. Just Mercy was an inspiring read.

If you like this book, you might also like The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.