What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

Book Blurb:

Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who—or what—could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?

Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn’t a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end—a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.

In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?

My Thoughts:

Laura Lippman has always been a top notch mystery writer in my book. She has a long-running series featuring Tess Monaghan, but this was one of her stand alone mysteries. This book was another winner with a deftly plotted mystery and interesting and well-developed characters. She skillfully moves the plot along with alternating timelines between the past and present and varied points of view. Although I did correctly suspect part of the mystery, I still found it to be an enjoyable read. I’d recommend this one if you are looking for a well-written mystery.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : William Morrow; First Edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Hardcover : 384 pages

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown

Book Blurb:

“I was desperate. . . . I couldn’t turn off the dark thoughts, no matter how hard I tried or how much I prayed. And then I spent a whole weekend in bed, and the crying wouldn’t stop, and I got really scared. I’ve had bouts with depression before―it’s kind of a cloud I’ve learned to live with―but this time was different. I felt like I was going under, like I’d never feel hopeful again, and then that just made my anxiety worse and it all spiraled from there.” Wren Crawford is a social worker who finds herself overwhelmed with the troubles of the world. Her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression are starting to overcome her. She finds solace in art, spiritual formation, and pastoral care along with traditional therapeutic interventions. But a complicated relationship from her past also threatens to undo her progress. Fans of Sharon Brown’s bestselling Sensible Shoes Series will be delighted to discover some old friends along the way. As Wren seeks healing in this beautifully written novel, readers are invited to move beyond pat answers and shallow theology into an experience of hope and presence that illuminates even the darkness.

My Thoughts:

This is a Christian fiction book that one of my bible study groups discussed. The author’s mother-in-law happens to be in my group. Because of that, we were fortunate to have a Zoom session with the author which was great. I must admit that even though I am Christian, when we did the Christian genre study years ago at the library, I didn’t really enjoy it. The book I read wasn’t written particularly well, and It felt shallow to me, so my opinion of the genre wasn’t stellar. I have since then read some books within that genre, though, that raised the bar with better writing and more depth. This is one of those books.

Brown has filled this book with three dimensional, realistic characters, learning to maneuver through difficulties of life. The focus is on an artistic girl whose mental health was precarious, yet she chose social work as a career, which created more challenges for her. The book really puts a great spotlight on mental health and the challenges for the individual and those around them.

Brown’s writing can be very elegant. I loved this quote describing artistic Wren when she just wasn’t coping, couldn’t take in information or respond. “Beauty would feed her. It had to. Jamie pictured intravenous tubes pumping sunlight, birdsong, and color into her daughter’s desperately dehydrated soul. Words were evidently too much for her to receive. Words were like rain pounding parched land that was so dry it repelled the very water it needed. Jamie had seen that before, how sometimes after a forest fire the scorched soil couldn’t absorb water, so it pooled on the surface of eroded the ground. But beauty with its unassuming gentleness, could seep into the cracks. Beauty demanded nothing. Not even appreciation.”

She also writes about Vincent Van Gogh throughout the book, showing how much his art inspired the main character. I felt like I’ve learned a lot more about the artist, and now I can’t wait to see the Van Gogh exhibition that is coming to the art museum here in a few months.

The author has a popular series called the Sensible Shoes. I plan to go back and read that full series now. When I joined the group initially years ago, they were almost finished with the third book, so I just was so far behind at that point, I never really got around to it. I’m glad I got the opportunity to read this.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

  • Publisher : IVP Books (August 20, 2019)
  • Paperback : 360 pages

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Book Blurb:

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

OPTIONED FOR TELEVISION BY BRUNA PAPANDREA, THE PRODUCER OF HBO’S BIG LITTLE LIES

“A tour de force of original thought, imagination and promise … Kline takes full advantage of fiction — its freedom to create compelling characters who fully illuminate monumental events to make history accessible and forever etched in our minds.” — Houston Chronicle

The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant novel about three women whose lives are bound together in nineteenth-century Australia and the hardships they weather together as they fight for redemption and freedom in a new society.

Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.

During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel—a skilled midwife and herbalist—is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.

Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.

My Thoughts:

I hadn’t realized until I was preparing for a book discussion, that this was my third Christina Baker Kline book. I knew that the Orphan Train had been written by her, but I had forgotten that she had also written A Piece of the World. I enjoyed both of those a lot, and this was was also another winner in my book. I really didn’t know a lot about the beginning history of Australia and how it was settled with prisoners from the UK. That’s what I enjoy about reading historical fiction-learning something new. Not only did I learn, but I found the stories of the three main characters captivating. CBK deftly wove their stories as they were told in alternating points of view. The plot was engaging, and I was absolutely shocked at one development in the story. Although unexpected, it did add to the realism. I also was interested reading about what happened to the Aboriginal population and their treatment which is similar to what has happened with the Native Americans in our country. I didn’t like this one quite as much as The Orphan Train, but it wasn’t far behind. I did listen to the audiobook which was well-narrated, and I enjoyed hearing the accents which also made it seem more real.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : Custom House (August 25, 2020)
  • Hardcover : 384 pages

Spoils of the Dead by Dana Stabenow

Book Blurb:

Newenham is an ice-bound bush town with a six-bed jail, a busted ATM and a saloon that does double-duty as a courtroom. It’s a wide-enough patch to warrant a state police presence, though, and Trooper Liam Campbell is it. Campbell has been exiled from Anchorage to Newenham in disgrace, busted down from sergeant to trooper in the aftermath of a mistake that cost a family of five their lives, to spend some time in the wilderness. Campbell didn’t expect the job to be simple and it hasn’t. From the (literally) cutthroat business of commercial fishing, to the paranoid misanthropy of the back-country prospector, to drug dealers, serial killers, and caches of forgotten war gold, he has had his hands full. Now he has a dead archaeologist, murdered at their own dig site, who claimed to be on the verge of a momentous discovery. Fans of the icy frontier, of mystery tinged with a frisson of romance, of laconic lawmen with good intentions, of tai chi and small aircraft piloting take note: Liam Campbell is for you.

My Thoughts:

Dana Stabenow has been an author I’ve planned to read for years now. Somebody had given this one a good review, so it caught my eye, and I checked it out. Although it did give a good sense of place in the Alaska setting, that was probably the highlight for me. This is the 5th in this series, and it might have been better if I had started at the beginning of the series. The characters were fine, but I didn’t really connect to them as I would have expected which might have been different if I had the previous books in the series. The mystery itself was also pretty simple and wasn’t even solved by Trooper Liam Campbell which I found disappointing. This wasn’t an unenjoyable book, just not up to my expectations. I will still probably read another one of her books, but it may be one in the Kate Shugak series next time.

My Rating: 3 Stars

  • Publisher : Head of Zeus (February 4, 2021)
  • Hardcover : 304 pages

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

Book Blurb:

New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice ​

From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there.

WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN

Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining.

Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream.

Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since.

Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition. 

My Thoughts:

This book wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I guess I had forgotten what I read about it because I thought it was going to be a fiction book set in New York at the Barbizon. It is actually non-fiction. I listened to the book which was well narrated by Andi Arndt.

I found the information fascinating about all the people whose paths have crossed the doors there. I had no idea. I had thought it was mainly models who used to live there, but there were writers, artists, actresses, etc. It was a safe place for women to leave home and pursue a career at the time. I also learned it is now turned into condominiums that house other well-know people such as Ricky Gervais and is no longer limited to women. This book was a historical look at women, careers, and a past look at America and New York. The amount of research Paula Bren must have done to write this book is amazing. Although it was filled with amazing research, I never felt like she was just throwing in information just to show what she had researched. It was very well put together.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st Edition (March 2, 2021)
  • Hardcover : 336 pages

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Book Blurb:

The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart. 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger–and their true enemy–closer… 

My Thoughts:

I have known that known that Kate Quinn’s books are very popular, and I’ve been interested in reading her after hearing her speak at a book and author luncheon, but her books are rather lengthy which has prevented me from diving in. I’m really sorry now that I have waited so long. This book was so good! To begin with I am just fascinated by the code breakers from the war.

The book is filled with interesting characters with a variety of backgrounds and situations they come from. It’s fascinating to me how they did all the amazing work, but had to keep everything so secretive. The duality of women’s lives at the time was demonstrated well. Women were just suppose to have these secretarial type jobs, find a husband, and be of high moral character, yet here we had these women doing such amazing work, but having to hide it from those they knew. It allowed the workers to become a close knit community. But then there was also some fallout. The book also brought up some moral dilemmas. What do you do if you learn something might be happening in an area where you have a friend or loved one?

The book was told from the perspective of the three main women characters. I listened to the audiobook which was superbly narrated by Saskia Maarleveld who did an outstanding job.

We were supposed to be going to London this August, but the trip has been cancelled due to the current pandemic situation. I can’t wait, though, to return next year because I learned at the end of the book that they have renovated and re-opened Bletchley as a museum. It will definitely be on my must visit list!

I highly recommend this book for historical fiction lovers.

My Rating: 5 Stars

  • Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks (March 9, 2021)
  • Publication date : March 9, 2021

Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks

Book Blurb:

A powerful family with lots of secrets. A forensic artist with his own tragedies. And a hurricane drawing bearing down on their private island. 

Fifteen years ago Piper Boone’s only child died in a boating accident, and Piper’s almost perfect life came to an end too. After living through a divorce and losing her job, she retreats to Curlew Island and her childhood home—a secluded mansion for the politically powerful Boone family, who are practically American royalty.

But Piper’s desire to become a recluse is shattered when a mass shooter opens fire and kills three women at a café where Piper is having lunch. The crisis puts her family in the spotlight by dredging up rumors of the so-called Curlew Island Curse, which whispers say has taken the lives of several members of the Boone family, including Piper’s father and sister.

Forensic artist Tucker Landry also survives the shooting and is tasked with the job of sketching a portrait of the shooter with Piper. They forge a bond over their shared love of movies and tragic pasts. But when police discover a connection between the shooting and two more murders on Curlew Island, they face a more terrible lineup of suspects than they could have imagined: Piper’s family.

Unraveling the family’s true history will be the key to Piper’s survival—or her certain death.

My Thoughts:

I can’t remember who recommended this book, but I’m glad they did. It starts out with a mass shooting where the protagonist survives but her old friend she was dining with doesn’t. Then the story shifts into a different direction, focusing on her life and family. This is one of those books filled with intrigue, wealth, family secrets, backstabbing, and mystery. The remote island this wealthy family lives on and the curse people believe surrounds the family lends a mysterious air to the story. I think I’m drawn to books with families who don’t treat each other well because it is so opposite to what my life has been. I find it fascinating. The book has a compelling story as Piper tries to learn the truth about what happened to her daughter who was kidnapped in a boat when she was a young child. If I had been reading a print copy rather than listening, I would have been turning the pages at a fast pace. If you are a movie buff, you will appreciate all the references to lines or characters in lots of classic movies. So if you love family secrets, mysteries and a suspenseful plot, I’d recommend this one. I’ll be reading some of this author’s other books.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : Thomas Nelson (July 14, 2020)
  • Publication date : July 14, 2020

The Sweetness of Life by Kathryn Andrews

Book Blurb:

From bestselling author, Kathryn Andrews, comes a new, standalone, enemies to lovers contemporary romance, that will leave readers who love food and wine hungry for more.

Shelby Leigh
I love food. I love everything about it.
My dream has always been to land a job with the Food Network channel, and I’ve spent years as a food critic, blogger, and chef, tasting my way across the South to develop recipes that are a twist on the classics and uniquely my own. When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes calling, I’m shocked to discover I’ve been paired with him, the worst blind date ever—bless his heart, and I’m determined not to let anyone get in my way. So, I buckle my designer heels, tighten my apron, and vow to myself there’s nothing in his playbook that’s going to stop me from tasting success.

Zach Wolff
I love wine. It is my life.
What I hate are critics. I hate everything about their dream-killing souls and elitist attitudes. So, when she shows up in the tasting room of my winery in northern Georgia, the devil in disguise wearing a pair of long legs and beautiful hazel eyes, I know just the plan to make and how to use her to get what I want. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, because in the end, I will win. I always do.

Two weeks.
His wine. Her recipes. A feature article in a special issue of a world-renowned magazine.
Pairing wine with food is one thing, but two hearts is another.

My Thoughts:

This was a nice, light romance with the enemies to lovers theme. I got a kick out of the titles of each chapter that had a southern saying I’m familiar with such as Kiss My Grits, Madder Than a Wet Hen, and Bless Your Heart. I really wasn’t wild about the character Zach for a lot of the book, and the narrator for his part just bothered me for some reason (which could also explain why I wasn’t liking the character). I personally didn’t care for him, but it grew on me over time. I also thought the book got better towards the end. I did really enjoy the inside bits about the winery business and learned a few things about wine. It was an enjoyable listen along the lines of a Hallmark movie, but it was much racier than those are, so if that bothers you, I wouldn’t recommend this one. All in all, if it doesn’t, it was an enjoyable book to listen to.

 Joshua Macrae (Narrator), Natalie Duke (Narrator)

Thank you to Netgalley for the audiobook to listen to in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 27, 2017)
  • Paperback : 410 pages

The Night Always Comes by Willy Lautin

Book Blurb:

Award-winning author Willy Vlautin explores the impact of trickle-down greed and opportunism of gentrification on ordinary lives in this scorching novel that captures the plight of a young woman pushed to the edge as she fights to secure a stable future for herself and her family.

Barely thirty, Lynette is exhausted. Saddled with bad credit and juggling multiple jobs, some illegally, she’s been diligently working to buy the house she lives in with her mother and developmentally disabled brother Kenny. Portland’s housing prices have nearly quadrupled in fifteen years, and the owner is giving them a good deal. Lynette knows it’s their last best chance to own their own home—and obtain the security they’ve never had. While she has enough for the down payment, she needs her mother to cover the rest of the asking price. But a week before they’re set to sign the loan papers, her mother gets cold feet and reneges on her promise, pushing Lynette to her limits to find the money they need.

Set over two days and two nights, The Night Always Comes follows Lynette’s frantic search—an odyssey of hope and anguish that will bring her face to face with greedy rich men and ambitious hustlers, those benefiting and those left behind by a city in the throes of a transformative boom. As her desperation builds and her pleas for help go unanswered, Lynette makes a dangerous choice that sets her on a precarious, frenzied spiral. In trying to save her family’s future, she is plunged into the darkness of her past, and forced to confront the reality of her life.

A heart wrenching portrait of a woman hungry for security and a home in a rapidly changing city, The Night Always Comes raises the difficult questions we are often too afraid to ask ourselves: What is the price of gentrification, and how far are we really prepared to go to achieve the American Dream? Is the American dream even attainable for those living at the edges? Or for too many of us, is it only a hollow promise?

My Thoughts: I saw Willy Vlautin being interviewed, and I know the team at Harper Collins is really high on his books, so I finally got around to reading one of his books. I am glad that I did. Willy Vlautin is an excellent writer, and he writes this time about a difficult and depressing situation for his main character. There was a lot of depth and realism to his characters, and my heart ached for Lynette’s situation. I was frustrated by the bad choices she made but could understand how she made them. The book makes for an interesting study. As Lynette was trying to better herself and her situation, she couldn’t quite break free of her old bad tendencies, She had obstacles that were difficult to overcome, but this pointed out the additional challenges of someone who is on the edge and has had mental issues and a bad situation in life. The struggles are often greater for so many who are disenfranchised. I highly recommend this book.

This book has been selected as a Library Reads book for April.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy for review.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Hardcover: 224 pages

Expected publication: April 6, 2021 by Harper

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Book Blub:

A propulsive, richly entertaining novel about two adventure-seeking brothers, the enemies who threaten them, and the women who reveal to them an unjust world on the brink of upheaval.

The Dolan brothers live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his dashing older brother Gig dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar, and who introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a powerful mining magnate who will stop at nothing to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula.

Dubious of his brother’s idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, her passion sweeping him into the workers’ cause. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war?

An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a stunning, kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams. Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers.

My Thoughts:

This was another compelling historical fiction book that I enjoyed, especially since it was a time period I haven’t read about a lot. I always enjoy historical fiction for the ability to learn about something I didn’t know about before. This one is set around 1909 in Washington during the time period when some men were getting rich, but others were struggling to get by, looking for work, hopping railroad cars. I found the subject of the unions trying to organize to provide better pay and working conditions for the workers interesting. It’s also about two brothers and their bond. There is an interesting cast of characters that are well-drawn. Overall, another winner for Walters.

The audiobook is well-narrated by a cast of talented readers, including a few of my favorites.

My Rating: 4 Stars

  • Publisher : Harper; 1st edition (October 27, 2020)
  • Hardcover : 352 pages

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