Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

save me the plums

Hardcover: 266 pages
Published: April 2, 2019 by Random House

Save Me the Plums is a memoir by Ruth Reichl of her days as Editor-In-Chief at Gourmet Magazine. As a child, Ruth found a copy of Gourmet Magazine, and the swordfish coming out of the water on the cover captured her attention. She savored the magazine page by page, resulting in the beginning of her love affair with food and the magazine. She began her career as a food critic for New York Times but then Conde Naste approached her to become Editor-in-chief of Gourmet. She was a writer and wasn’t looking to become a manager, so she told them they didn’t want her and she wasn’t interested. After a couple of approaches, she finally accepted the job.

I did not inherit the good cooking gene from my mother who is a wonderful cook, so I was surprised how much I liked a book involving a food magazine. What I found fascinating, though, was Ruth’s career. I would have loved having someone pursuing me to offer me the job of a lifetime. I also found it interesting how she maneuvered through her career and getting a glimpse into how a magazine is put together. Ruth felt the magazine was old fashioned when she started and tried to make it more current. If you are a foodie, you will recognize some of the players in the book which I’m sure would make it even more enjoyable. The book also has recipes from the magazine included.  The hostess for my bookgroup prepared some of the recipes which were delicious.

 

My Rating:  3.5 Stars

 

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

this tender land

Hardcover: 450 pages
Published: September 3,  2019 by Atria Books

I have been fortunate to hear William Kent Krueger speak many times, most recently at our library book and author event where he talked about this current book. He is a great speaker as well as an excellent writer. I have been a fan for years of his mystery series set in Minnesota, but he has really surpassed himself in these last two books that ventured in a different direction from his mystery series.

Odie O’Banion is a storyteller, and the book is told through his eyes. The story opens with Odie looking back on his life during 1932 when he and his brother, Albert, were sent as orphans to live at the Lincoln School which was primarily a school for Native American children. Life was not good there. The school was run by “the Black Witch,” and O’die spent a lot of his time in “the Quiet Room” or getting a beating. One night, Odie, Albert, Moses, and Emmy decide to make a break for it and run away from the school.

This book has something for everyone. It is part coming of age, adventure story, reflections of spirituality, a story of friendship and family, and a story of survival. I adored every aspect of this book. Like Odie, William Kent Krueger is an excellent storyteller. This beautifully written and captivating story is full of great characters, both good and bad. They are well-crafted, and the main characters grow a lot throughout the book. Krueger captures the setting well, and I felt like I was right there along with the characters. I also enjoyed the spiritual questions posed and felt like they were presented in an accessible and non-preachy manner. The book is being marketed as one for people who enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing and Before We Were Yours, and I think people who enjoyed those would enjoy this one. It really touched my heart, and I savored every bit of it. I did listen to the audiobook which is narrated by the very talented Scott Brick. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 5 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill

the merry misogynist

Hardcover:  272 pages
Published:  August 1, 2009 by Soho Crime (first published January 1, 2009)

 

The Merry Misogynist is the sixth book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, featuring the 73-year-old, 5’2″ coroner in Laos during chaotic 1978. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Clive Chafer. Dr. Siri is intrigued when a body turns up in the morgue of a beautiful girl whose porcelain white skin looks like it has never seen the sun, yet her feet are gnarled. She was found tied to a tree and strangled but not raped as would be expected. Thus, he becomes curious and starts looking into the death.

This book has a lot of things that typically would make me love the book. It has an exotic location to learn more about, an interesting and unique protagonist, colorful secondary characters, and humor interspersed throughout the book. All that being said, this book just didn’t grab me. I didn’t feel connected to the characters or the story, and even though I recognized the humor, I felt it should have resonated with me more. I do wonder if part of the problem was due to the narration. The narrator had a nice voice but read the story in a matter of fact manner without much emotion; So I think if he had read it more colorfully, I might have enjoyed it more. I usually don’t like books with serial killers in them, either, but in this case, there really wasn’t much in the way of a plot to the mystery. The book almost seemed more about the various sub-plots. I did enjoy the humorous situation where the Housing Department employees were investigating Dr. Siri for having so many people living in his Government-issued housing. I liked the way Dr. Siri worked his way around their questions and out-witted them.

Many people rate this author and book highly, so if you like books with exotic locations giving you a good sense of place, humor, and interesting characters, you might want to give this one a try. I would suggest reading the book rather than listening to it in case that was what influenced my feelings about the book.

My Rating: 2.5-3

The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney

the perfect wife

Hardcover, 413 pages
Published August 6th 2019 by Ballantine Books

Psychological Thriller meets Science Fiction. Tim Scott is the founder of a Silicone Valley start-up that specializes in AI technology. For five years he works on re-creating his dead wife as an AI cobot (Artificial Intelligence Companion Robot). When Abbie awakes after being created, she doesn’t remember initially who she is or how she got there. Her husband, Tim, tells her what happened to her five years ago. He also informs her about his technological breakthrough, making it possible to bring her back from the dead, and upload her memories. As Abbie starts putting memories together, she begins to question what really happened in her past and questions whether or not she can trust her husband.

With this title, I thought the book was written about me -haha. When I selected this book, I didn’t realize it had a Science Fiction element to it. I’m not a huge fan of Science Fiction, and I had a hard time buying into the AI aspect that she could be created so much like his dead wife and have emotions like a human being. Because she was a cobot, I also think I was having trouble connecting to Abbie because I knew she wasn’t real. I did continue, though, and eventually became a little more invested in Abbie’s character. The only character I could really attach to was Abbie’s and Tim’s autistic son, Danny. Although a lot of reviewers have given this book high marks, for me, the book just fell flat. It didn’t provide the element of suspense I was hoping for. I do applaud Delaney, though, for the creativity of combining the two genres and creating a scenario to think about the moral consequences of being able to create a cobot such as Abbie.

 

Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

long-way-gone__medium-large

Hardcover: 296 pages
Published: October 4, 2016 by Thomas Nelson

Cooper O’Connor is the son of a traveling tent preacher who is raising Connor alone after his wife dies. Music is special to his father, and he treasures the guitar his wife gave him, Jimmy. Recognizing that Connor has a special gift for music, Connor’s father encourages his musical talents by sharing his love of guitars and enrolling Connor with a teacher who can help him develop his musical talent. When he becomes an eighteen-year-old, Connor rebels against his father and leaves home, taking his Dad’s car, money, and guitar with him. He pursues playing and writing music. The path is not always easy. He reaches the pits but manages to rise again. Along the way, he comes to terms with himself, his past, and his relationship with his father.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Charles Martin is becoming one of my favorite authors. He’s a Christian writer, but the other books I read were not overtly Christian. They just contained Christian themes of imperfect people, redemption, forgiveness, and grace. This book was more overtly Christian. It is a re-imagined telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son. What I love about Martin’s books is his outstanding writing style. He has a gift with words, often writing fabulous, unique descriptions. Martin skillfully develops this story so that layers are added to both the story and the characters. Speaking of characters, I must mention that music in this book is also a character. I also take delight in this story because it is different from other stories being written today. My only minor complaint with the book is that there is some repetition that could have been eliminated. I highly recommend this 2017 Book of the Year Christy Award winner.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

the-last-house-guest-9781501165375_lg

Print Length: 336 pages
Published: June 18, 2019 by Corvus

The Last House Guest is set in the small town of Littleport, Maine which is a summer vacation spot for the wealthy. Avery is one of the year-round residents who grew up there, and she was raised by her grandmother after her parents died. She meets Sadie Lowman who is from one of the richest families in town, and they become best friends. After Avery’s Grandmother dies, the Lowmans embrace Avery as one of their own and hire her to be the caretaker of their summer rental properties. While preparing for the big annual Labor Day party, Avery can’t understand why Sadie hasn’t shown up and isn’t responding to her texts. The reason becomes clear when the police show up at the party and inform the party-goers that Sadie has been found dead. Her body was found at the bottom of the cliffs. The police eventually rule the death as a suicide, but Avery is not convinced. She starts her own investigation, but she also often feels like the police officer who originally investigated the death still thinks she might have been involved.

I enjoyed this psychological suspense book well enough, but it just didn’t have enough punch for me. Throughout most of the book, I just never had that “edge of your seat” feeling. The characters were not very compelling, and the pacing of the book felt slow. I did begin to enjoy the book more toward the end, though, when the pacing increased as more of the secrets and twists were revealed. My enjoyment also grew because I didn’t guess what had happened before the revelation at the end. If you love this genre and are running out of books to read, this one is a fine one to read. I just felt there are better ones out there.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

bad blood

Print Length: 339 pages
Published: May 21, 2018 by Knopf Publishing Group

This was another book group selection, and I really wasn’t looking forward to reading it. This isn’t my typical type of book, but boy am I glad that I did read it. This was a fascinating book.

John Carreyrou, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, uncovered and detailed the story of the rise of Elizabeth Holmes and her start-up, Theranos, which rose to a 10 billion dollar company based on a product that never worked, potentially putting peoples’ lives in danger. Elizabeth comes from the Fleishmann family but that fortune was spent by previous generations. Her family was still prominent, though, and she and her family knew other prominent people. so she was able to use some of her connections to raise funds. She had been an ambitious child and managed to talk her way into advanced classes during her Freshman year at Standford. Wanting to be the next Steve Jobs and develop her idea for a medical device that could be used at home without needles to test blood on a small drop, she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to start her business. Even though her product never worked, she was able to defraud so many people for 15 years. She did this primarily by controlling everything, compartmentalizing so no one knew everything about the product, and ruthlessly getting rid of anyone who questioned the product. I was amazed by how many smart, prominent men board members and investors just took her word and didn’t do their due diligence even when a concern was brought to their attention.  Elizabeth is currently standing trial while her partner, Sunny Balwani was convicted in 2018 of crimes.

This book reads like a suspenseful crime thriller and is a real page-turner (although I did listen to it on an audiobook). I kept saying “Wow!” and “Unbelievable!” as a journeyed through this book. The difficult part of the book was keeping up with the multitude of people that played a part throughout the Theranos rise and fall. At times I felt the story jumped around a little and probably could have been written smoother. Nevertheless, the book grabbed me, and I often found myself sitting in my car because I didn’t want to stop listening.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

the ruin

Print Length: 380 pages
Published: July 3, 2018 by Penguin Books (first published March 1, 2018)

 

Mysteries used to be my comfort read, and I used to read a lot of mysteries. Over the last several years, though, I haven’t been as interested in them, mainly because the ones my mystery group kept picking seemed to all be very dark, with a protagonist who was an alcoholic with an ex-wife. Recently, we’ve been getting out of that rut and picking more books like this one which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Set in Ireland, Cormac Reilly, now a seasoned Garda, follows his partner, Emma, to Galway and secures a position in the Garda Station. He’s being kept on the periphery and receives cold cases to look into. While he’s trying to get a feel for the station’s politics, he is assigned a cold case that he was involved in 20 years previously. In that case, he was called to a dilapidated old mansion where an addicted woman was found dead, and her children, Maude (age 15) and Jack (age 5) were severely neglected and possibly abused. Jack goes to foster care but Maude escapes and leaves the area. The case ties in with a current case where Jack is found in a river, and it is believed that he committed suicide. The current case begins to look like homicide when Jack’s sister, Maude, who has been away for 20 years shows up at Jack’s partner’s house, claiming that this was not a suicide. Eventually, events turn, and one of Cormac’s friends at the station, Danny, becomes insistent on pointing the finger at Maude. Cormac does not think all is as it appears and investigates the death on his own along with looking back at the cold case.

This book is Derva McTiernan’s debut. She has done an outstanding job for a first novel. It has the feel of being written by a seasoned pro. There are multiple stories and intricate plot lines that are expertly woven. The characters are believable and fully formed, adding to the interest of the novel. Although we don’t learn a lot about Cormac, he is a character that is likable, and the Irish setting is delightful. The excellent story lines with lies, deceit, internal politics, and the suspicion of corrupt Garda, all make for a compelling police procedural. I am looking forward to reading her next book in the series.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network

Hardcover: 560 pages
Published: June 6, 2017 by Turtleback Books

This one has gotten good reviews, and I had planned to read it back when it came out but never got to it. So, I was glad my book group picked this one. I initially thought it was another World War II book, but the Alice Network operated during WWI, and there is an intertwining storyline that takes place just after WWII.

In the more recent storyline, unmarried and pregnant college student, Charlie, is being sent away by her proper parents to Europe to take care of her problem. Charlie, however, has other intentions. She believes that her cousin, Rose, did not die in Nazi-occupied France when she disappeared, so she hopes to find her alive. Charlie plans an escape from her parents to go search for her. She comes into contact with a drunk and rough woman, Eve. Eve had been part of the Alice Network, a group of women spies during WWI.

What I love about Historical Fiction is being able to learn about another time period or events in history in an enjoyable way through reading. I had never heard of the Alice Network and enjoyed learning about it.
I keep saying that there should be more novels set during WWI because I’d really love to learn more about that particular war and time period. My disappointment with the book was that I really didn’t learn much about the war itself other than the existence of this female group of fabulous spies and what they went through. It was interesting that this group of women accomplished so much. I especially loved the way Eve used her stutter to her benefit, so she often wasn’t questioned because of it. Women should never be underestimated! I do enjoy reading books like this that focus on strong women and their achievements. The story was compelling, but it was way too long and could have been shorter without losing anything important. I think it would have been more impactful Fans of war historical fiction and strong females will enjoy this book.

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

the overdue life of amy byler

Kindle Edition: 328 pages
Published: May 1, 2019 by Lake Union Publishing
One of my book groups picked this book because several of us had selected this as a free copy with our Amazon Prime subscriptions.

Amy Byler had to pull herself up from the pits three years ago when her husband suddenly left her to move to Hong Kong. Since then, she has masterfully worked as a school librarian and taken excellent care of her two teenage children. However, Amy is feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, in a rut, and in need of a break. Then, out of the blue, she sees her husband in town. He has returned for the summer in hopes of re-establishing a relationship with his children (and possibly Amy?) He wants to spend the summer with the children which allows her to go to New York to present a paper at a library conference and then take a break to stay with her college friend, Talia, who is now working for a woman’s magazine. Amy ends up being the main focus in a spread for the magazine as they chronicle her “Momspringa” as she is re-invented with a more glamorous look and lifestyle. While in New York Amy begins to let loose and re-examine herself. When a tragedy happens back home, it forces Amy to return and make decisions regarding her life.

The strength of this book lies in the witty dialogue. It is sharp and has a lot of humorous moments throughout the book. I enjoyed the book well enough, but think I have just read too many of this type to enjoy it as much as I probably would have had I read it earlier in the summer. Also, I did feel frustrated with the main character. Although I have had a supportive husband which she didn’t, as a CPA, I worked a lot of hours and did feel like I needed a break at times. I never would have wanted to leave my children for months – maybe a girls weekend away, but not for a whole summer. Thus, I had a little bit of trouble identifying entirely with her. When she was falling for the “hot librarian,” she acted like that was an impossible situation because he lived in New York and she lived in Pennsylvania. She could have quickly resolved the quandary by just talking to him to see if they could work something out. Her supportive friends were a feature that I did like in the book. So if you are looking for a light book with a bit of romance and about a woman who finds growth, you might be interested in this one.

My Rating: 3 Stars