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Books Read in 2020

  • Follett, Ken: Third Twin: A Novel of Suspense

    Follett, Ken: Third Twin: A Novel of Suspense
    Scientist Jeannie Ferrami stumbles across a baffling mystery: Steve and Dan appear to be identical twins, but were born on different days, to different mothers. A law student and a convicted murderer, they seem a world apart, but as Jeannie begins to fall in love with Steve, who is charged with a horrendous crime he swears he didn't commit, she finds her professional - and personal - future threatened. A true page turner. (****)

  • Jewell, Lisa: The Family Upstairs: A Novel

    Jewell, Lisa: The Family Upstairs: A Novel
    Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone. In this chilling novel, the author brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets. (****)

  • Napolitano, Ann: Dear Edward: A Novel

    Napolitano, Ann: Dear Edward: A Novel
    Best book I’ve read in months, maybe years. At 12 years of age, Eddie (Edward) Adler survives an airline crash in which 191 people die, everyone except him, including his mom, dad, and older brother. For the next six years, Edward struggles to find his place in a world without his family. I highly recommend this book. (*****)

  • Hudson, Suzanne: The Fall of the Nixon Administration

    Hudson, Suzanne: The Fall of the Nixon Administration
    This is a silyl book. And if you were to remove all the profanity, obscenity, and pornography, you wouldn’t have three paragraphs left, nor a story (which you don’t have much of anyway). The only good thing about this book is the chickens. But it does have some funny dialogue. So I’ll give it three starts for that. (***)

  • Levy, Andrea: Small Island: A Novel

    Levy, Andrea: Small Island: A Novel
    Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve. (***)

  • Kehlmann, Daniel: You Should Have Left: A Novel

    Kehlmann, Daniel: You Should Have Left: A Novel
    Super chilling story of a writer who can’t seem to write anything except notes to himself. He and his wife and 4-year-old daughter have retreated to a secluded house in the German mountains so that he can finish a screenplay. Things do not go well. (****)

  • Erdrich, Louise: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse: A Novel

    Erdrich, Louise: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse: A Novel
    This was our book club selection for August. I found it sort of cumbersome and confusing. There were far too many characters to keep track of, and many of the characters were more than one person. If you’re interested in the plot, click on the link and read about it on Amazon. I’m to tired of this book to go into detail. (**)

  • Morgenstern, Erin: The Starless Sea: A Novel

    Morgenstern, Erin: The Starless Sea: A Novel
    A mythical story about stories, is how one reviewer describes this book. Did I like it? I did at the beginning and for maybe halfway through. But so much description, repetition, and repetition of descriptions got on my last nerve, and I confess I didn’t quite finish the book. I just found that I didn’t care much how it ended, so I gave up. But the premise was a good one. (***)

  • Adams, Taylor: No Exit: A Novel

    Adams, Taylor: No Exit: A Novel
    On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers. Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate. (***)

  • Wright, Kim: Last Ride to Graceland

    Wright, Kim: Last Ride to Graceland
    Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth. (***)

Books Read in 2019

  • Herman Koch: The Dinner

    Herman Koch: The Dinner
    Forgot one. This is a darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal. I liked this one. (****)

  • David Koepp: Cold Storage: A Novel

    David Koepp: Cold Storage: A Novel
    An alien biohazard, buried deep underground for decades, has escaped. This is a fast-paced, scary read. Very entertaining if you’re a fan of thrillers. This was my last read of 2019. (***)

  • Charles Brandt: I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa

    Charles Brandt: I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa
    After watching the fantastic movie “The Irishman” recently, I wanted more. So I read the book from which the movie was taken. It recounts the mobster career of Frank Sheeran, who before his death, confessed to the assassination of Jimmy Hoffa. (****)

  • Jeffrey Lent: Lost Nation: A Novel

    Jeffrey Lent: Lost Nation: A Novel
    Another book that I had a difficult time finishing. I think maybe because I didn’t really like any of the characters. Set in the early nineteenth century, Lost Nation is about a man known as Blood with a secret past and Sally, a sixteen-year-old girl that Blood won from the madam of a brothel over a game of cards. Set on the isolated land that could belong to Canada or the United States, the story is brutal, as are the characters. I think maybe some judicious cutting and editing and fleshing out of characters might have made reading this book more enjoyable for me. (***)

  • Leigh Bardugo: Ninth House

    Leigh Bardugo: Ninth House
    Sort of a Harry Potter for adults (although this adult enjoyed the actual Harry Potter more). It deals with the actual secret societies at Yale (one in particular), but in a fictional kind of way. For some reason, I had a hard time finishing this book. Maybe it was the pace, not sure. The writing was good, and the story premise intriguing, but I had a hard time maintaining interest. (***)

  • Gregg Olsen: If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

    Gregg Olsen: If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood
    Harrowing and heartrending, If You Tell is a survivor’s story of absolute evil—and the freedom and justice that Nikki, Sami, and Tori risked their lives to fight for. Sisters forever, victims no more, they found a light in the darkness that made them the resilient women they are today—loving, loved, and moving on. A good book, if you can stand the descriptions of true evil and cruelty. (****)

  • J. T. Ellison: Lie to Me

    J. T. Ellison: Lie to Me
    Sutton and Ethan Montclair's idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her. Is she a alive? Is she dead? Did her husband do it? What about their baby? Think of it as GONE GIRL, but better written with more likable characters. A great page-turner. (****)

  • Stephen King: The Institute: A Novel

    Stephen King: The Institute: A Novel
    As is often the case with King’s best books, the character list of the one is peopled with adolescents. These kids become the victims of a sinister institute that is using their special skills to prevent the end of the world. It’s a hefty book, 577 pages, but a real page turner. (****)

  • Ellis Nassour: Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline

    Ellis Nassour: Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline
    Lots of information on Patsy, but it reads more like a reporter’s notebook than a real story. The account of the plane crash and its aftermath is hard to read. (***)

  • Elie Wiesel: Night (Night)

    Elie Wiesel: Night (Night)
    Elie Wiesel's masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. It will make you shudder at the true evil in the world; it will amaze you and the strength of the human spirit. (*****)

  • Joshilyn Jackson: Never Have I Ever: A Novel

    Joshilyn Jackson: Never Have I Ever: A Novel
    A tense tale of human frailty and human strength, or blackmail and betrayal, and ultimately of redemption. A fan of thrillers, I loved this book. (****)

  • Robert Inman: Dairy Queen Days

    Robert Inman: Dairy Queen Days
    I love how this author mixes humor with human tragedy. This story takes places in a small Georgia town in 1979, told from the view point of 16-year-old Trout Moseley, new to this place that bears his family’s name and legacy, his mother is a patient in an Atlanta psychiatric facility and his father -- a 300-pound motorcycle-riding Methodist minister -- is delivering scandalous sermons comparing Jesus with Elvis and the Holy Ghost with his college football coach. (****)

  • Jennifer McMahon: The Invited: A Novel

    Jennifer McMahon: The Invited: A Novel
    Ghost story with a twist. They didn’t move into a haunted house. They built one. Excellent read. (****)

  • Peter Heller: The River: A novel

    Peter Heller: The River: A novel
    The DELIVERANCE of the 21st century. This is a very exciting and interesting read. The only negative criticism I have is that the characters weren't developed enough. The ending should have brought tears, but it didn’t for me. (***)

  • Casey Cep: Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee

    Casey Cep: Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
    I cannot believe someone wrote an entire book about somebody not writing a book. That’s the best I can say for this one. I found most of it quite boring. (*)

  • Jodi Picoult: A Spark of Light: A Novel

    Jodi Picoult: A Spark of Light: A Novel
    A hostage situation at the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi is the setting for this book. Picoult does a good job, I think, of presenting the complicated subject of choice and abortion. Maybe it was the format of the book (jumping back and forth in time) that bothered me. But for whatever reason, I didn’t feel this measured up to most of her other books. (***)

  • Adrian McKinty: The Chain

    Adrian McKinty: The Chain
    If you’re a fan of thrillers, this is a book for you. A really tense page-turner. The story involves a rather unique kidnapping/ransom plot. I chose it because it was recommended by Stephen King. Sometimes his recommendations have been a little disappointing, but not this one. I enthusiastically recommend it too. (****)

  • Max Shulman: Rally Round the Flag Boys!

    Max Shulman: Rally Round the Flag Boys!
    Master satirist Max Shulman’s talent shines in this novel of life in 1950s bedroom community Putnam’s Landing, Connecticut. There’s adultery, juvenile delinquency, Saturday morning cartoons, teenage angst, commuter train rides, booze o’plenty, disagreements among citizens--and of course Cold War anxiety. When the army moves in with its base to house Nike missiles, things get worse, and then worse still, and then all hell breaks loose. I fell in love with Schulman’s writing while i was still in high school. It has been more than 50 years since I first read this book. It holds up extremely well. Hilarious. (****)

  • Sean Dietrich: Stars of Alabama

    Sean Dietrich: Stars of Alabama
    A pregnant teenager whose parents have kicked her out, a child preacher, a couple of migrant farm workers, a houseful of prostitutes, and various other characters, both good and not-so-good populate this delightful book. Reading it made me laugh, broke my heart, made me angry, and caused me to marvel at the human spirit. I strongly recommend. (****)

  • Paul Tremblay: The Cabin at the End of the World: A Novel

    Paul Tremblay: The Cabin at the End of the World: A Novel
    This is one of the most tense and gripping novels I’ve ever read. A couple and their seven-year-old daughter are vacationing at a remote cabin by a quiet New Hampshire when they are visited by four weird and dangerous strangers. The tension builds page by page until the shattering conclusion, one on which the fate of a loving family and perhaps all of humanity hangs. (****)

  • Elin Hilderbrand: Summer of '69

    Elin Hilderbrand: Summer of '69
    Four siblings, summering on Cape Cod, experience the drama and upheaval of a summer when everything changed. There isn’t a lot of suspense in this story. No twisting plot nor intrigue. But I found it to be very readable and mildly enjoyable. (***)

  • Stephen King: Elevation

    Stephen King: Elevation
    Pretty good little novella. But, uh, didn’t SK already write this story? I seem to remember another book, much longer (maybe 400 pages) that he released in about 1984 called THINNER. Yeah, he published that one under the name of Richard Bachmann. But we know that was you S.K. ELEVATION is about another guy who is losing weight (or at least the effects of gravity) slowly, but ever more quickly. He isn’t, however, losing mass or girth or fat or any of those things--just weight. Just like the lawyer in THINNER. (***)

  • Tayari Jones: An American Marriage (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel

    Tayari Jones: An American Marriage (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel
    Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit....This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future. (****)

  • Greer Hendricks: An Anonymous Girl: A Novel

    Greer Hendricks: An Anonymous Girl: A Novel
    Looking to earn some easy cash, Jessica Farris agrees to be a test subject in a psychological study about ethics and morality. But as the study moves from the exam room to the real world, the line between what is real and what is one of Dr. Shields’s experiments blurs. If you like thrillers, I recommend. (****)

  • Richard Grant: Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

    Richard Grant: Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
    Richard Grant and his girlfriend were living in a shoebox apartment in New York City when they decided on a whim to buy an old plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. Dispatches from Pluto is their journey of discovery into this strange and wonderful American place. Nonfiction. (****)

  • Nicole Seitz: The Cage-maker

    Nicole Seitz: The Cage-maker
    This was our book club selection for May. I tried, but I just couldn’t finish it. I was so confused about who everyone was and who did what, I gave up. That seemed to be the prevailing attitude at our meeting, although most members finished it. I was weak. (*)

  • Philip Shirley: The Graceland Conspiracy

    Philip Shirley: The Graceland Conspiracy
    Young Matt Boykin, 27, becomes caught in a government conspiracy where no price is too great to stop the release of information on a 22-year-old crime that could bring down many powerful government figures. (***)

  • Caitlin R. Kiernan: Black Helicopters

    Caitlin R. Kiernan: Black Helicopters
    Something strange is happening on the shores of New England. Something stranger still is happening to the world itself, chaos unleashed, rational explanation slipped loose from the moorings of the known. Two rival agencies stare across the Void at one another. Two sisters, the deadly, sickened products of experiments going back decades, desperately evade their hunters. An invisible war rages at the fringes of our world, with unimaginable consequences and Lovecraftian horrors that ripple centuries into the future. (****)

  • Greg Iles: Cemetery Road: A Novel

    Greg Iles: Cemetery Road: A Novel
    A great southern crime novel populated with the requisite dysfunctional southern family and a well ensconced southern “mafia” of greedy, powerful men. There’s a murder or two and some near misses. Good book. Iles is a gooooood writer. Pat Conroy on steroids. (****)

  • Clayton Lindemuth: My Brother's Destroyer

    Clayton Lindemuth: My Brother's Destroyer
    Baer Creighton is a gifted distiller of fruited moonshine, capable of detecting even the subtlest lies. He lives in the woods next to his house, philosophizes with his dog Fred, and writes letters to his high school love Ruth--who long ago chose Baer's brother. Baer keeps a low profile. Everyone is happy drinking his sublime moonshines--until Fred goes missing. When you discover who stole Fred, you'll know you've found a new master of the dark surreal. And when you see what Baer does to him...them. Well, suffice to say this is a very dark story. Three stars mostly because of the dog fighting. If I had known it was involved, I never would have started reading this book. But once started, I was hooked. (***)

  • Louise Penny: Still Life

    Louise Penny: Still Life
    This is the second time I’ve attempted to read this book, the first in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. I have a friend who is obsessed with these books, thinks they are beautiful. For some reason, this one just doesn’t grab me and I find myself plodding through and uninterested. I got over 2/3 of the way finished this time. Maybe third time will be a charm, but I don’t know when that will be. (**)

  • Margaret Atwood: Alias Grace: A Novel

    Margaret Atwood: Alias Grace: A Novel
    It's 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. Then he gets himself in a pickle and the story gets even more bogged and boring. There was way too much descriptive prose and too many tangents in this book. I’m sure some loved it, but I was just glad when it ended. (***)

  • Jen Waite: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

    Jen Waite: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal
    If you’ve ever been in a marriage where your eyes, ears, and brain tell you you’re being betrayed but your spouse tells you you’re being paranoid and crazy, you’ll relate to this books main character. Nonfiction. (***)

  • James Patterson: The President Is Missing: A Novel

    James Patterson: The President Is Missing: A Novel
    This book is at once very entertaining and very terrifying. It’s isn’t a big jump to believe that a foreign government who can control our elections can control everything else that we depend upon in this country. I recommend this book highly. (****)

  • Lou Berney: The Long and Faraway Gone: A Novel

    Lou Berney: The Long and Faraway Gone: A Novel
    In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved. the book kept me turning pages, although not at a frantic pace. My main problem was there there were too many mysteries (actually, more than the two mentioned above) and unrelated characters. And neither of the two main events is ever totally resolved. (***)

  • Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing

    Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing
    It took me 50 or 60 pages to really get into this book, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s about a little girl who grows up all alone in a shack in the wetlands of North Carolina. Beginning at seven years old, Kya, whose entire family has abandoned her, fends for herself and does it quite well. It’s a coming-of-age story and also a mystery story of a murder (or not) of a local man. It’s a love story or Kya and Tate’s lifelong connection. And the ending? Well, you might see it coming, but I sure didn’t. I’m happy to recommend this book to anyone who like beautiful writing and excellent storytelling. (****)

  • Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None

    Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
    As a book lover, especially a mystery/thriller lover, one would think me an Agatha Christie fan. But I must confess I had never read one of Ms. Christie’s books until this month when I read this jewel. I’ve since learned that this is one of her best and most famous works, and I can see why. I loved it. The plot is similar to other mid-century mysteries in that it involves a room full (in this case a houseful) of strangers who meet, one of them is murdered, then the murder is solved. Except in this case, they’re all getting murdered in what seems to be impossible circumstances. If you love a good who-done-it about strangers in a spooky old house, you should like this one. (****)

  • Greer Hendricks: The Wife Between Us

    Greer Hendricks: The Wife Between Us
    Can’t say a lot, good or bad, about this one without creating spoilers. I will say, though, that the bombshell about 1/3 of the way through is more of a distraction to me than a plot device. It threw me for a loop, and I had a hard time getting back on track. Also the ending seemed a little unrealistic and happy-ever-after for my approval. But all-in-all it was pretty entertaining if you like a Lifetime-movie-type story with several twists and turns. (***)

  • Robert Jackson Bennett: American Elsewhere

    Robert Jackson Bennett: American Elsewhere
    Another great story about what happens sometimes when scientists mess around with things best left alone. This particular group has delved into the realm of alternate universes with dire consequences to the small town of Wink, New Mexico. The Main character, Mona Bright, has been lured to Wink to learn something of her mother, who died of suicide when Mona was a little girl. It’s a long book, almost 700 pages, and I found myself a little bogged down during pages 500-600 or thereabouts. But the ending is exciting and satisfying. (***)

  • Taylor Brown: Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel

    Taylor Brown: Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel
    This story is set in the North Carolina mountains amidst bootleggers, whiskey runner, snake handlers, folk healers, and all manner of violence. The hero, Rory Docherty has returned from the Korean War, with one leg missing and a determination to learn the details of his mother’s debilitating trauma when her boyfriend was beaten to death before her eyes.II loved this book, although I’m still not sure of the details of who did what to whom. I think I have to read it again. (****)

  • Lou Berney: November Road: A Novel

    Lou Berney: November Road: A Novel
    Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances. In this story, the New Orleans Mafia is the perp in this crime of the century. And I, for one, agree with the concept. (****)

  • Lorna Landvik: Oh My Stars: A Novel

    Lorna Landvik: Oh My Stars: A Novel
    Physically and emotionally abandoned by her parents, Violet comes of age during the Depression, learning early on to fend for herself as an accomplished seamstress. When a violent factory accident takes part of one arm, her dreams of becoming a fashion designer die, as Violet wishes she could, too. Physically recovered but emotionally bereft, Violet hops a bus headed for San Francisco, planning to commit suicide once she reaches the Golden Gate Bridge. But when the bus breaks down outside a small North Dakota town, Violet encounters a handsome young musician who changes the course of her life, and vice versa. (****)

  • Kristin Hannah: Winter Garden

    Kristin Hannah: Winter Garden
    And intriguing story of family relations--especially those between sisters and between mothers and daughters. Nina and Meredith were never close to their mother, never really even knew her nor felt any love from her. Not until their father, on his death bed made them promise to remedy that. A Russian fairytale, told by the Russian mother, becomes the device by which the mother tells her story and brings this family together. Wonderful book, one of Hannah’s best, I think. (****)

Books Read in 2018

  • Esi Edugyan: Washington Black: A novel

    Esi Edugyan: Washington Black: A novel
    George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. (****)

  • T.K. Thorne: House of Rose (A Magic City Story Book 1)

    T.K. Thorne: House of Rose (A Magic City Story Book 1)
    Rookie patrol officer Rose Brighton chases a suspect down an alley. Without warning, her vision wavers, and the lone suspect appears to divide into two men—the real suspect, frozen in time, and a shadow version with a gun. Confused by what she’s just seen, but with no time to second guess it’s meaning, Rose shoots the real suspect in the back.Forced to lie to detectives, she risks her job and her life to discover the shocking truth of who she really is—a witch of an ancient House, the prey of one powerful enemy, and the pawn of another. Set in Birmingham, Alabama, it is first book of the Magic City Stories. (***)

  • Amazon: Dark Corners Collections
    Don't believe what they say. There really is something to be afraid of in the dark. You'll find it in a quiet motel in the middle of nowhere, on the other side of an attic door, under the bed when the lights go out, and in your own imaginings when your mind starts playing tricks. Whatever your fears may be, the nightmares begin here. This collection of short stories and novellas by some well known authors is great for those who like to do a little delving into dark corners. (****)
  • Matt Haig: The Radleys: A Novel

    Matt Haig: The Radleys: A Novel
    Not TWILIGHT, not TRUE BLOOD, nothing like Anne Rice, but a vampire story nonetheless. Dr. Peter Radley and his wife, Helen, are trying to live a normal family life in a small English village. They haven't told their 15-year-old daughter, Clara nor 17-year-old son Rowan that they're vampires. A crisis occurs and the cat is out of the bag (***)

  • Reginald Hill: The Woodcutter

    Reginald Hill: The Woodcutter
    Wolf is a self-made man who has been robbed of everything he worked for, including his home and family. He has spent the last 12 years in prison for financial crimes and for child pornography charges. But now he’s back, and all his friends and associates whom he blames for his incarceration are getting nervous--and for good reason. It’s especially joyful to find a book that is both wonderfully written as well as an unputdownable story. This is one of my favorite books of the year. You must read it if you’re a fan of the psychological thriller. (****)

  • Lisa Unger: Under My Skin

    Lisa Unger: Under My Skin
    One year ago, Poppy Lang's husband Jack was murdered while out running in a Manhattan park. Poppy had a nervous breakdown that left her with holes in her memory. She’s now trying to move on from this tragedy, but disturbing dreams and the feeling she's being followed are keeping Poppy from healing. One of the best crime thrillers ever. A real page-turner. (****)

  • Laura Purcell: The Silent Companions: A Novel

    Laura Purcell: The Silent Companions: A Novel
    When Elsie marries Rupert Bainbridge, she believes she is destined for a life of luxury. But pregnant and widowed just weeks after their wedding, Elsie has only her late husband’s awkward cousin, along with distrustful servants and some mysterious wooden figures, to keep her company in her unfamiliar and mysterious new surroundings. This Victorian ghost story will keep you reading into the night--if you dare. (****)

  • Matt Haig: The Humans: A Novel

    Matt Haig: The Humans: A Novel
    When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry home to his own utopian planet, where everyone is omniscient and immortal. He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family. He begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection, and begins to question the very mission that brought him there. (****)

  • Iain Reid: Foe: A Novel

    Iain Reid: Foe: A Novel
    In this haunting, philosophical puzzle of a novel, set in the near-future, Junior and Henrietta live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with alarming news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm...very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Henrietta won't have a chance to miss him, because she won't be left alone. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company. This story has a most surprising ending--well, actually two surprises. (****)

  • Iain Reid: I'm Thinking of Ending Things!

    Iain Reid: I'm Thinking of Ending Things!
    This is my second reading of this book. And with each reading, I understood it a little differently. So there’s no need in trying to explain the story. Just know that it’s tense and creepy with a surprise ending (which actually surprised me both times). Amazon calls it a literary thriller. I’m not sure what that is, but I really liked it. Several of the women in my book club didn’t like it at all. So before digging into it, you might want to read some other reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite book review site. (****)

  • A. J. Finn: The Woman in the Window: A Novel

    A. J. Finn: The Woman in the Window: A Novel
    Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. This is a wonderfully tense, well written thriller. I think I could have come up with a better title, but the book is great. (****)

  • Stephen King: Blaze: A Novel

    Stephen King: Blaze: A Novel
    Reminiscent of the classic OF MICE AND MEN, with a Stephen King touch. Your heart will break for Blaze as you hold your breath awaiting the fate of the baby boy he has kidnapped. Not as well known as some of King’s works, I feel that this is some of his best writing. (****)

  • Scott Thomas: Kill Creek

    Scott Thomas: Kill Creek
    When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country’s most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek. A darn good haunted house book. (****)

  • Mike Burrell: The Land of Grace

    Mike Burrell: The Land of Grace
    Looking like Elvis and sounding like Elvis are not enough for tribute artist Doyle Brisendine. Deep in his heart, Doyle wants to be Elvis. After performing in front of a wildly enthusiastic group of seniors, he realizes the absurdity of his fantasy and sees a dead end looming. Then, in the midst of his despondency, his world brightens as a beautiful young woman offers him not only flattery and a dinner invitation, but a pile of cash and a ride in an antique pink Cadillac. He thinks he’s died and gone to Elvis heaven after she takes him to a replica of Elvis’s Graceland. At first he believes the place is an amusement park staffed by actors portraying characters from Presley’s life, including the Memphis Mafia and the man known as the King--an Elvis impersonator who looks like the singer in his final years. The longer he stays, the more he realizes he’s in the company of a zealous cult, ruled by a ruthless matriarch called Mama and founded on worshiping the King. And when he attempts to leave, Doyle finds out that what he took to be Elvis Heaven is actually Elvis Hell. I loved this book. (****)

  • Kristin Hannah: The Great Alone: A Novel

    Kristin Hannah: The Great Alone: A Novel
    It’s the 1970s. Ernt Allbright returns from Vietnam a volatile and often violent man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision to move his family to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ stormy relationship, hopes that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves. At first, Alaska seems to be a good move.The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. During the last half of this book, I put it down only when absolutely necessary. Another winner by the author of THE NIGHTINGALE. (****)

  • Richard Montanari: The Rosary Girls: A Novel (Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne)

    Richard Montanari: The Rosary Girls: A Novel (Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne)
    This suspenseful thriller begins with a teenage parochial school girl, artfully posed in death with her arms chained around a graffiti-scarred pillar, a rosary clutched in her praying hands. The next three murder victims are found in similar tableaus, each one suggesting the next in a string of calculated killings whose themes follow the Rosary meditations. Philadelphia detective Jessica Balzano, new to Homicide, and her new partner Kevin Byrne, a former superstar cop, team up to find the killer. This is the first book by this author I have read. I don’t think it will be the last. (****)

  • Zoje Stage: Baby Teeth: A Novel

    Zoje Stage: Baby Teeth: A Novel
    Afflicted with a chronic debilitating condition, Suzette Jensen knew having children would wreak havoc on her already fragile body. Nevertheless, she brought Hanna into the world, pleased and proud to start a family with her husband Alex. Estranged from her own mother, Hanna proves to be a difficult child. Now seven-years-old, she has yet to utter a word, despite being able to read and write. Defiant and anti-social, she refuses to behave in kindergarten classes. Resentful of her mother’s rules and attentions, Hanna lashes out in anger, becoming more aggressive every day. The only time Hanna is truly happy is when she’s with her father. Suzette knows her clever and manipulative daughter doesn’t love her. She can see the hatred and jealousy in her eyes. And as Hanna’s subtle acts of cruelty threaten to tear her and Alex apart, Suzette fears her very life may be in grave danger. I found this book to be a suspenseful page-turner. The only complaint I have is the ending, which I found a little unsatisfying. (***)

  • Virginia Foster Durr: Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr

    Virginia Foster Durr: Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr
    Outside the Magic Circle gives the background on the life of Virginia Durr, and how she, a conventional southern belle from Birmingham, Alabama, ended up as a prominent civil rights activist. Mrs. Durr talks about how she began to question the ideas of white supremacy and southern traditions that she was brought up with. She mentions her brother-in-law Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and other Washington politicos such as Harold Ickes, and Eleanor Roosevelt that she met over the years. She tells of how redbaiting damaged the fight for civil rights and how the red scare, which started under Truman and helped to create McCarthy, paralyzed America. Although Mrs. Durr was happy about the abolition of segregation, she knew that integration didn't solve all of America's problems and that America is still divided by race and class. (from Amazon reviews) (***)

  • Jodi Picoult: Leaving Time: A Novel

    Jodi Picoult: Leaving Time: A Novel
    For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts. Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons, only to later doubt her gifts, and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who’d originally investigated Alice’s case. As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A really surprising surprise ending. (****)

  • Valerie Fraser Luesse: Missing Isaac

    Valerie Fraser Luesse: Missing Isaac
    It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople's reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it's all over, Pete--and the people he loves most--will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever. (****)

  • Stephen King: The Outsider: A Novel

    Stephen King: The Outsider: A Novel
    An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has what should be an iron-clad alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? IMO, one of King’s best books yet. (****)

  • Alex Marwood: The Darkest Secret: A Novel

    Alex Marwood: The Darkest Secret: A Novel
    Twelve years ago, Mila Jackson’s three-year-old half-sister Coco disappeared during their father’s fiftieth birthday celebration, leaving behind her identical twin Ruby as the only witness. The girls’ father, thrice-married Sean Jackson, was wealthy and influential, as were the friends gathered at their seaside vacation home for the weekend’s debauchery. The case ignited a media frenzy and forever changed the lives of everyone involved. Now, Sean Jackson is dead, and the people who were present that terrible night must gather once more for a funeral that will reveal that the secrets of the past can never stay hidden. (***)

  • Matt Haig: How to Stop Time

    Matt Haig: How to Stop Time
    Tom Hazard has just moved back to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history--performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life. (****)

  • Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture: A Novel

    Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture: A Novel
    The setting is Ireland throughout most of the 20th century and into the present day. Roseanne was born into a world with very little in the way of rights for women and children. A bright beautiful woman, Roseanne threatens the old fashioned values of her village by existing. The priest works for years to have her marriage annulled, she is committed for her entire life to an insane asylum. At the age of 100, still living in the asylum, she writes her memoire as her doctor records his experiences and observations of her. The story is told through these simultaneous writing. This is the type of novel--much like THE SCARLET LETTER, THE DOLLMAKER, THE HANDMAID’S TALE, etc.--that will get under the skin of anyone who is disturbed by injustice and unfairness. But the unexpected ending wraps it all up nicely. (****)

  • Alma Katsu: The Hunger

    Alma Katsu: The Hunger
    A tense and gripping reimagining of one of America's most fascinating historical moments: the Donner Party with a supernatural twist. I enjoyed this book but feel it would have been better if the plot and characters had been fleshed out (pardon the pun) a bit more. (***)

  • Neil Gaiman: American Gods: A Novel

    Neil Gaiman: American Gods: A Novel
    Shadow Moon is released from prison early when his wife and best friend die in a car accident. Alone now, he takes a job as bodyguard for a mysterious con man, Mr. Wednesday. Shadow and Wednesday travel across America visiting a cast of unusual characters until Shadow learns that Wednesday is really an incarnation of the Norse god Odin. Wednesday is recruiting American manifestations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers have waned as their believers have decreased in number, to participate in an epic battle against the New American Gods – manifestations of modern life and technology, such as the Internet, media, and modern means of transport. This book would have benefitted from some judicious cutting--about 200 pages worth, I think. Although the premise and story are fascinating, the narration frequently bogs down in scenes that don’t feel important to the story. (***)

  • Michael Goorjian: What Lies Beyond the Stars

    Michael Goorjian: What Lies Beyond the Stars
    Lost soulmates drawn together through time and space, or perhaps their meeting is only the beginning of a much deeper mystery. As Adam Sheppard awakens to the possibility that his life could be destined for more than a bleak virtual wasteland, he soon finds himself a crucial pawn in a game that pits forces intent on enslaving the human spirit against those few quixotic souls who still search for meaning, beauty, and magic in the world. This book ends without answering many of the questions I had. That’s why I can only give it three stars. It was a real page turner, but it just stopped short of a real ending. (***)

  • Tom Clavin: Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West

    Tom Clavin: Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West
    This long and rambling history of Dodge City, Kansas, made famous by a parade of lawmen, gunslingers, prostitutes, cowboys, businessmen and women, and all manner of characters during the westward expansion of the United States, takes perseverance to finish. I love books about the Old West, but I’m afraid this one just tries to cover too much ground. It seems there is not a person who passed through Dodge City during the 19th Century, famous and unknown, that isn’t mentioned (usually at length) in this book. And the author does so much jumping back and forth among years (no chronological order to speak of) that it’s easy for the reader to get confused. If you are really really into the history of the West, and not so much the story, you might like this book. I was disappointed. (***)

  • Brendan Duffy: The Storm King: A Novel

    Brendan Duffy: The Storm King: A Novel
    In this atmospheric thriller, Dr. Nate McHale returns to a small town he left many years before, to attend a funeral. As a hurricane lashes Greystone Lake, Nate's past mistakes catch up with him, and he finds that history is repeating itself in the worst way possible. Alternating between the present and the last few years of Nate's high school career, this thriller will have you guessing till the end. (****)

  • C. J. Tudor: The Chalk Man: A Novel

    C. J. Tudor: The Chalk Man: A Novel
    In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same. Shades of Stephen King’s “The Body.” I enjoyed it. (***)

  • Octavia E. Butler: Kindred

    Octavia E. Butler: Kindred
    Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin. (****)

  • Hannah Tinti: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel

    Hannah Tinti: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel
    Hawley has been on the run for decades. He’s had various side-kicks – his con-man partner Jove, the love of his life, Lily – but for the past decade and a half, it’s been his daughter, Loo. When she turns twelve, Hawley buys a house in Olympus, Massachusetts, the hometown of his deceased wife, and settles down for good. But his penchant for violence and his dark past make settling in far from easy. Loo, too, has picked up the ways of her father – but she doesn’t know the half of it. The novel deftly alternates between present day Massachusetts and Hawley’s younger years to tell the story of the twelve bullets that have scarred his body. Tinti’s gritty, deeply flawed characters are rendered with such empathy that it’s impossible not to root for them. I had some trouble getting into the story, but once I did, about 1/3 of the way in, it was a page turner. (***)

  • Ania Ahlborn: Seed

    Ania Ahlborn: Seed
    This book was recommended by a friend who shares my love of scary stories. She described it as her “favorite horror novel.” I’m afraid I can’t agree. It was a poorly written retelling of an old story, demon possession of children. (**)

  • Michel Faber: The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel

    Michel Faber: The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel
    Peter and Bea are a young devout Christian couple who live in England.The story begins as Peter is called to the mission of a lifetime that takes him galaxies away from Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to the native population, small, strange creatures who are struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings. Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons, earthquakes, violence, shortages, and governments crumbling. Should Peter leave his new flock who has come to depend on him (and he on them) and return to his wife while he can still can? My second reading got this book. (****)

  • Charles Martin: The Mountain Between Us: A Novel

    Charles Martin: The Mountain Between Us: A Novel
    When a blizzard strands them in Salt Lake City, two strangers agree to charter a plane together, hoping to return home; Ben Payne is a gifted surgeon returning from a conference, and Ashley Knox, a magazine writer, is en route to her wedding. But when unthinkable tragedy strikes, the pair finds themselves stranded in Utah’s most remote wilderness in the dead of winter, badly injured and miles from civilization. Without food or shelter, and only Ben’s mountain climbing gear to protect themselves, Ashley and Ben’s chances for survival look bleak, but their reliance on each other sparks an immediate connection, which soon evolves into something more. Keep the tissues handy. This book is mesmerizing. Now that I’ve discovered this author, I’ll be reading more of his books. (****)

Books Read in 2017

  • Hannah Kent: Burial Rites

    Hannah Kent: Burial Rites
    A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. (****)

  • Stephanie Dray: America's First Daughter: A Novel

    Stephanie Dray: America's First Daughter: A Novel
    This is an historic novel about the lives of Thomas Jefferson and his family, including his slave/mistress Sally Hemming. The book was well written, but fact that none of the characters were sympathetic or likable made this a tedious book for me to read. Back in my ancestral annals, there were Randolphs akin to some of these people. But having read what a bunch of scoundrels they were, I’m not inclined to brag about them. (***)

  • Joe Hill: Strange Weather: Four Short Novels

    Joe Hill: Strange Weather: Four Short Novels
    This is a collection of four short novels or long stories, however you want to think of them. I love Joe Hill’s writing, just as I love his father’s (Stephen King), but I have to say that these stories left a little to be desired. They just didn’t measure up to his previous storytelling. My favorite was the third one entitled “Aloft.” In it, Hill tells of a reluctant skydiver’s encounter with an alien craft that is truly original. (***)

  • Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night

    Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night
    On Tuesday, I watched the new Netflix movie by this same title, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I liked the movie so much that I immediately downloaded the novel and read it on Wednesday. It's a sweet by poignant story of a widow and a widower in their 70s who find romance and love in a very unexpected way. It isn't a fairytale, however. Their romance comes up against the obstacles of their former lives, and they find they must adjust their relationship accordingly. (****)

  • James Scott: The Kept: A Novel

    James Scott: The Kept: A Novel
    This is a somewhat strange book with a strange premise. In the late 1800s, Elspeth marries a man of a different race and moves with him to a isolated farm in upstate New York. Elspeth takes frequent trips to the nearest town to work as a midwife, staying away from her growing family for months at a time. She returns from one of these trips t find all her children except for 12-year-old Caleb have been slaughtered. She and Caleb set out on a dark and treacherous journey to find the murderers and exact revenge. This author's writing style, as well as his use of violence and carnage as almost characters in themselves, reminded me of Cormack McCarthy. (****)

  • Stephen King and Owen King: Sleeping Beauties: A Novel

    Stephen King and Owen King: Sleeping Beauties: A Novel
    This is a great story told by the father/son Kings in a 700-page book. The story line goes: all the women in the world begin to fall asleep (like Sleeping Beauty of fairytale fame). And while their sleeping bodies remain in this world, another version of each woman's self travels to a world they call Our Place. That's all I'll tell you about the plot, except that it's a really good one. I did have one problem with this book, however. It has far too many characters. I finally had to give up about halfway through with remembering who was whom, and just concentrate on the major actors--and there are quite of few of them. (****)

  • Katherine Clark: The Headmaster’s Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel (Story River Books)

    Katherine Clark: The Headmaster’s Darlings: A Mountain Brook Novel (Story River Books)
    "With a style reminiscent of Tom Wolfe, Katherine Clark takes aim at the 'tiny kingdom' of Mountain Brook, Alabama, in her frank and feisty debut novel, The Headmaster’s Darlings. In her riveting narrative, Clark delves into the mores and foibles of a hermetically sealed southern suburb and its prep school, where an obese, quixotic college counselor Norman Laney – a combination of Ignatius Riley, Truman Capote, and a Florentine prince – wields his wit, aspiring students, and sheer size as weapons of social change in his battle against a traditional Confederate mythology.” (***)

  • Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger

    Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger
    The narrator, Dr. Faraday (no first name revealed) is called to a crumbling English country mansion, Hundreds Hall, to treat and ailing maid. Faraday subsequently becomes acquainted with Mrs. Ayres and her two adult children, Roderick and Caroline (the likewise crumbling family at Hundreds) and becomes their family doctor. As days go by, Hundreds Hall and its occupants continue to deteriorate. Everyone except Faraday suspects a haunting. The ending, or culmination, of this book was a surprise to me, although looking back at the entire story, foreshadowing certainly exists. This is a very good book, not as downright scary as I had expected (after all, Stephen King said it was scary), but certainly dreadful. And the last 25% of the book is a real page-turner. And one finds that the title must be rethought in light of the whole of the story. (****)

  • Lisa Wingate: Before We Were Yours: A Novel

    Lisa Wingate: Before We Were Yours: A Novel
    Once in a while, a book comes along that has a profound effect on me, that I can truly say is one of the best books I’ve ever read. This is one of those books. Most of the characters are fictional, but unfortunately Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society were all too real. "Told with stunning imagery, wonderfully fleshed-out characters, and a story that is spellbinding, heart-wrenching, and uplifting. The story tells of families torn apart by a horrible injustice, and how revealing the secrets of that past can somehow reunite them. The story is told from two points of view, generations apart; Rill, a 12-year-old river gypsy, who endures unspeakable heartbreak and horrors; and Avery, a young woman from an established southern family who unwittingly unearths family secrets that have been buried for decades. The love leaps off the pages of this book, landing directly in my heart...a stunningly beautiful tale of finding our place in the world, finding the people who will love us, finding where we belong, despite the twisty, perilous, heart-aching journey that takes us home,” --Amazon Review (*****)

  • Wendy Walker: Emma in the Night: A Novel

    Wendy Walker: Emma in the Night: A Novel
    Really good “who dunnit and what did they do.” This was one of those couldn’t-put-it-down thrillers that I love so much. It deals with sisters Emma and Cass who grew up under the domination of a narcissistic mother, a weak father, and a mostly uninvolved stepfather. The results are devastating for both sisters. (****)

  • Michael Brooks: 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

    Michael Brooks: 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
    When I read this description of this book I thought it would be a fascinating read. I found it one of the most boring books I’ve ever tried to read, and I admit that I skipped over the end of almost every chapter. How someone can make things like quantum science, alien life, death, sex, etc., boring is beyond me. One star, and that’s stretching it. (*)

  • Sarah Schmidt: See What I Have Done

    Sarah Schmidt: See What I Have Done
    Fictionalized retelling of the famous Lizzie Borden story. I have long had a fascination with this story and a longing to know for sure who really axed Lizzie’s parents. My reaction to this book was: yeah, it could have happened that way. But nothing really convinced me. There’s just too much we don’t know and will never know. Pretty good book. (***)

  • Christopher Golden: Snowblind: A Novel

    Christopher Golden: Snowblind: A Novel
    A dozen years ago, a blizzard visited the small town of Coventry, bringing with it unimaginable horror. When the storm leaves, it has taken the lives of some of Coventry’s citizens. When those lost souls begin returning, they portend the town’s next horrific blizzard, and the icy horrors that will return with it. I love me a good scary story, especially one that takes place in a snowy world. If you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ll surely enjoy this book. Very King-like in its plot, setting, characters, and action. (****)

  • Joshilyn Jackson: The Almost Sisters: A Novel

    Joshilyn Jackson: The Almost Sisters: A Novel
    One tequila-soaked night at a comic-book convention, the Leia Birch Briggs is swept off her barstool by a charming and anonymous Batman. But the Caped Crusader leaves more than just a fond, fuzzy memory in his wake—Leia is pregnant. Before Leia can break the news of her impending single motherhood (and the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional lily-white Southern family, her perfect stepsister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns that her beloved grandmother, Birchie, has been hiding her rapidly progressing dementia. Heading seven hundred miles south, Leia plans both to aid her family and somehow break the news of her blessed event. But Birchie has been hiding a dangerous secret that threatens to change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her unborn son and his absent father, and the world she thinks she knows.The author tackles the difficult and disturbing subject of white privilege in a thoughtful and often humorous way. (****)

  • Douwe Draaisma: Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past (Canto Classics)

    Douwe Draaisma: Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past (Canto Classics)
    This book, translated to English from Dutch, is very interesting. However, the title is misleading. There is one small section about the phenomenon of life seeming to speed up as we get older, but it is not the subject of the entire book. That subject is mostly memory. There is a very interesting section on deja vu and one on near death experiences. A good book, but I was disappointed with the information on the time phenomenon. (***)

  • Pam Jenoff: The Orphan's Tale: A Novel

    Pam Jenoff: The Orphan's Tale: A Novel
    A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival. Excellent book. (****)

  • Mike Love: Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy

    Mike Love: Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy
    Some people, I understand, don’t care for Mike Love, the Beach Boys’ front man. But he’s my favorite member of the 60s surfer band. Brian Wilson has always been known as the “genius” of the group, and I agree that Brian is an awesome talent. But so is Mike. Without Mike, most of the lyrics that we associate with Beach Boys’ music would not exist. Mike is very humble in this his self-penned telling of his years with the band. He gives credit to all the band members, and never slams any of them. I liked this book. I love Mike Love. (****)

  • Paulette Jiles: News of the World

    Paulette Jiles: News of the World
    In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s family. Sparing the little girl, they raised her as their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.The 400-miles journey to return Johanna to a family she doesn’t know is fraught with danger and discomfort--but it also forges a strong bond between the the Captain and Johanna that won’t be broken. (****)

  • Sarah Lotz: Day Four: A Novel

    Sarah Lotz: Day Four: A Novel
    A cruise ship has engine problems and is stranded in the Gulf of Mexico without communication with the rest of the world. Among the more than 2,000 passengers, as part of the planned entertainment, is a psychic, her assistant, and a group of her followers. The fate of the ship's passengers and crew grow more and more bleak as plumbing and electricity fail and food grow scarce. And it appears that no one is searching for the crippled craft. Things really get bad when a tropical storm hits the area, and the ship is in danger of sinking. Most of the passengers abandoned ship in lifeboats. The storm finally subsides with a handful of survivors aboard. And just as all hope of rescue seems to be lost, they spot land, Miami. But it's certainly not the Miami they were familiar with. (***)

  • Dennis Lehane: Since We Fell: A Novel

    Dennis Lehane: Since We Fell: A Novel
    In my opinion, Dennis Lehane has written at least two of the best books in current fiction. This is not one of them. If you haven’t read any of Lehane’s books and want to get started, go for MYSTIC RIVER or SHUTTER ISLAND or even GONE BABY GONE. Lehane dropped the literary ball on SINCE WE FELL. First of all, it’s at least two stories. The first half of the book involves the main character’s search for her father. Lehane drops that plot line altogether once she finds her father and goes on to the thriller story, which is confusing and unbelievable, and boring. And there’s one scene, just a short paragraph, in which some people get brutally murdered, and in the very next paragraph those people are fine and dandy, not murdered at all. I wish I hadn’t read this book because it diminished my esteem for this writer. I think I need to go back and read one of his better efforts to get rid of the bad taste. (**)

  • Christopher Golden: Ararat: A Novel

    Christopher Golden: Ararat: A Novel
    I was really into the book, a fictional account of an ark discovery atop Mt. Ararat in Turkey. It had excitement, danger, mystery, and even a mean old demon--all the elements of intrigue and adventure. But then came the ending. I had to read the ending twice to make sure I had read correctly. I had. But I just didn't buy it. Didn't ring true and didn't fit the rest of the story--not to me anyway. Seemed like the author had suddenly veered off onto a story line used in a famous horror novel of the 60s. I won't say which one l'est I give away something. Most enjoyable book, but I sure didn't care for the ending. (***)

  • Sharon Guskin: The Forgetting Time: A Novel

    Sharon Guskin: The Forgetting Time: A Novel
    “What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, consequences unfolding across decades and continents? This question is at the heart of Sharon Guskin's luminous novel. The Forgetting Time is about memory and forgetting, grieving and letting go, and the lengths a mother will go to for her child. It is both a relentlessly paced page-turner and a profound meditation on the meaning of life.” ―Christina Baker Kline, author of The Orphan Train (****)

  • Graham Moore: The Last Days of Night: A Novel

    Graham Moore: The Last Days of Night: A Novel
    This is my book club’s reading selection for our June meeting. I didn’t expect to like it, dreaded trying to read it, thinking it would be some boring technical thing about invention and what not. Well, it is about invention, but far from boring. Based on actual invents and filled with real-life historical characters, A thrilling novel based on actual events, this novel is about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America. Very good book. (****)

  • Stephen King: Gwendy's Button Box

    Stephen King: Gwendy's Button Box
    The King of Horror takes us back to Castle Rock, Maine for this short novella about Gwendy, who is give a strange box by an even stranger man. The box can do good things, but it can do bad things too--oh such bad things. How Gwendy handles this awesome responsibility is the story. (***)

  • Shaun Considine: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud

    Shaun Considine: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud
    This book was very well written, but for some reason, I got bored with it before I was finished. I just got tired of hearing about who all Joan and Bette slept with, who all they married, what they wore, who they insulted and swore at, how many jewels they wore, what parts they fought over, and how much they hated each other. Maybe I should not have seen the mini-series first. (***)

  • Homer Hickam: Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator

    Homer Hickam: Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator
    I read very very few books to which I'm willing to give a five-star rating because I leave that rating for the likes of LONESOME DOVE, DAVID COPPERFIELD, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Here's another one to add to my very short five-star list. This is one of the most enjoyable, charming, and well written books ever. Based on stories the author's parents told him about their lives before they had children, when their only child was an alligator named Albert and an unexplainable rooster. Lots of laughter, some thrills and chills, and a few tears. I cannot recommend this book too strongly. I will probably it again eventually. (*****)

  • Caitlin R. Kiernan: Agents of Dreamland

    Caitlin R. Kiernan: Agents of Dreamland
    Definitely one for Mulder and Scully to investigate. A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. He meets a mysterious woman to exchange information about an event that haunts the Signalman. In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible and offers them something to believe in. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA's interplanetary probe. And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity. (****)

  • Dave Eggers: The Circle

    Dave Eggers: The Circle
    Read this book and you might just rethink the amount of time you spend on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s frightening because it seems very realistic that we could all become controlled in this way. Doesn’t seem like fiction at all. (****)

  • David Grann: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

    David Grann: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
    This book is hard to rate. There are parts that are so boring they put me to sleep, and other parts that enthralled me and put me on the edge of my seat. I have been disappointed with both of the Lost City books I’ve read this year. I’m hoping the movie “Lost City of Z” will be better than the book. It has to be: Charlie Hunnam stars in it. (***)

  • B. A. Paris: Behind Closed Doors: A Novel

    B. A. Paris: Behind Closed Doors: A Novel
    Not since STEPFORD WIVES has a book made me as angry as this one did. At least until the end. This is truly a nerve-wracking, suspenseful read. I started it last night and finished it this morning. Couldn’t bring myself to let it go until I had found out how it ended. (****)

  • Celeste Fletcher McHale: The Secret to Hummingbird Cake

    Celeste Fletcher McHale: The Secret to Hummingbird Cake
    A story of friendship--the way only southern girls can do it. If you follow my books reviews, you know this is not the type of book I normal go for. But I’m sure glad I went for this one. It’s full, full I tell you, of love and humor and pathos and I just don’t know what all. I can’t say a lot without giving the story away--except if you love a good old story about southern girls and the men they love and who love them, you have to read this book. Keep of box of Kleenex handy though. I cried through the last two thirds of the book. (****)

  • Michel Faber: The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel

    Michel Faber: The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel
    Peter and Bea are a young devout Christian couple who live in England.The story begins as Peter is called to the mission of a lifetime that takes him galaxies away from Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to the native population, small, strange creatures who are struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings. His Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons, earthquakes, violence, shortages, and governments crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter. Should Peter leave his new flock who has come to depend on him (and he on them) and return to his wife while he can still can? (****)

  • Michel Faber: Under the Skin

    Michel Faber: Under the Skin
    A strange woman named Isserley roams the Scottish Highlands looking to pick up juicy, well-muscled hitchhikers in Faber's menacing debut novel. In the beginning, I thought I was going to be reading about a female serial killer, but this book turns out to be so much more--and less. Futuristic, unreal, fantastic, horrifying--it’s difficult to categorize this very strange tale. Reviewers have compared it to ANIMAL FARM and SOYLENT GREEN, but neither comparison does suits this book. Strange is the best word I can come up with to describe it. But I enjoyed reading it. (***)

  • Iain Reid: I'm Thinking of Ending Things: A Novel

    Iain Reid: I'm Thinking of Ending Things: A Novel
    This might be the strangest book I’ve ever read--and one of the best. From the first sentence through the unexpected (well, I didn’t expect it) and shocking ending, the tension and fear builds. I couldn’t put the darn thing down. And after I had finished it, I went back and read sections again to make sure I had read what I thought I had read. I had. (****)

  • Austin Wright: Tony and Susan

    Austin Wright: Tony and Susan
    A story of revenge within a story of revenge. Or are they just two different tellings of the same story? Who knows? I watched the movie, “Nocturnal Animals,” based on this book and needed clarification. The book broadened the story, pumped up the ending, and clarified things a little bit. I liked this book and also the movie. The book, however, might not be for everyone. The writing style is almost “stream of consciousness,” although not on the difficulty scale of someone like Joyce. Worth the time to read it if you like thrillers. (***)

  • Hallie Ephron: There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense

    Hallie Ephron: There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense
    This is a compelling novel of psychological suspense in which a young woman becomes entangled in a terrifying web of deception and madness involving an elderly neighbor. I’m reminded of the Nancy Drew mysteries that my friends and I read when we were young girls. It’s just that kind of structure and kind of plot, except for grownups. I truly enjoyed this book and will look for more of Ms. Ephron’s books. (***)

  • Henry Farrell: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    Henry Farrell: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    Although I have seen the classic movie, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, several times, I had never read this book until this week. The movie didn’t veer from the book at all, as far as I can tell. Same plot: two old has-been show-biz sisters live alone together in a shabby Hollywood mansion. One sister is an invalid, one is a maniac with a murderous hatred toward her sister. Good story. (****)

  • Cassie Dandridge Selleck: The Pecan Man

    Cassie Dandridge Selleck: The Pecan Man
    In the summer of 1976, recently widowed Ora Lee Beckworth hires a homeless old black man to mow her lawn. The neighborhood children call him the Pee-can Man. When he is arrested for murder, only Ora knows the truth about the man she calls Eddie. But truth is a fickle thing, and a lie is self-perpetuating. Ora and her maid Blanche soon find themselves in a web of lies that sends an innocent man to prison for the rest of his life. Twenty-five years later, Ora sets out to tell the truth about the Pecan Man. (****)

  • Isaac Marion: The Burning World: (The Warm Bodies Series)

    Isaac Marion: The Burning World: (The Warm Bodies Series)
    Being alive is hard. Being human is harder. But since his recent recovery from death, R is making progress. He’s learning how to read, how to speak, maybe even how to love, and the city’s undead population is showing signs of life. R can almost imagine a future with Julie, this girl who restarted his heart—building a new world from the ashes of the old one. And then the helicopters appear. I confess that I read this love/horror story out of curiosity. I usually don't go in for zombies. I heard Donald T. said this book was supposed to be about him, and I had to see for myself. Could be. (***)

  • Jeff Menapace: Vengeful Games (Bad Games 2)

    Jeff Menapace: Vengeful Games (Bad Games 2)
    The Lambert family has survived Book One of this trilogy of psychological terror and are back home in Valley Forge. Two more members of the evil Fannelli family, these possibly more evil than the two bothers, have joined the games. Will the Lamberts survive Book Two? Will the Fannellis? Will the games ever end? (***)

  • Jeff Menapace: Bad Games

    Jeff Menapace: Bad Games
    The Lambert family is heading to Crescent Lake, a rural cabin community in western Pennsylvania, for an idyllic weekend getaway. Some fishing, some barbecue, some games.The Fannelli brothers are heading to Crescent Lake too. Some stalking, some kidnapping, some murder, definitely some games...though not necessarily the type of games the Lamberts had in mind. This is the first book in Menapace's best-selling "Bad Games" trilogy. (***)

  • Andrew Michael Hurley: The Loney

    Andrew Michael Hurley: The Loney
    Thirty years earlier "Tonto" Smith's family and other church members undertake an Easter pilgrimage to an old shrine in order to heal his mute brother Hanny. Strange and disapproving locals, loud noises in the night, locked rooms, and "miracles" that may not have been God’s will at all combine to make this eerie first novel a compelling read. The tone and atmosphere reminded me of the 20th century stories of Daphne duMaurier and Shirley Jackson. (****)

  • Douglas Preston: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

    Douglas Preston: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
    I was looking forward to reading this book. Then after the first couple of chapters, the author got so descriptive and technical that I lost interest. But I persevered. And somewhere around the middle or a little further on, it got interesting again. It took me several days to read the first half, but only a couple of hours to read the last half. Don’t look for an Indiana Jones saga, but if you’re at all interested in the discovery of lost cities and ancient ruins (or the invasion of Europeans into the Americas) this might be the book for you. (***)

  • Fiona Barton: The Widow

    Fiona Barton: The Widow
    When a little girl disappears from her yard in suburban London, police and journalists quickly focus their investigations on Glen and his wife Jean. This book will keep you guessing. An intriguing thriller that reviewers are comparing to GONE GIRL. (****)

  • Fannie Flagg: The Whole Town's Talking: A Novel

    Fannie Flagg: The Whole Town's Talking: A Novel
    Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening at the cemetery. Still Meadows, as it’s called, is anything but still. The book tells the story of Lordor Nordstrom, his Swedish mail-order bride, Katrina, and their neighbors and descendants as they live, love, die, and carry on in mysterious and surprising ways. (***)

Books Read in 2016

  • Cormac McCarthy: Outer Dark

    Cormac McCarthy: Outer Dark
    Set is an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century, this is the story of a woman who bears her brother's child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother's lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution. (****)

  • Paul Tremblay: A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel

    Paul Tremblay: A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel
    Anytime Stephen King writes a blurb for a new book, it usually says something like “This book scared the hell out of me.” And I usually fall for it. That’s what happened with this book. Well, it was a pretty good book, but it scared nothing like the hell out of me. It’s sort of a knock-off of several other books and movies, including The Exorcist, Amityville Horror, and a bunch of others. A young girl is diagnosed by priest and psychiatrist as being possessed by an evil spirit. It’s up to the reader, I suppose, to decide what’s going on with he girl and why and who did what to whom. I enjoyed reading this book, really, but it was hardly a classic. (***)

  • Josh Malerman: Bird Box: A Novel

    Josh Malerman: Bird Box: A Novel
    This is one of those "it's the end of the world as we know it" books, and a very good one. I read it in one marathon reading session. In this one, there's something out there that must not be seen. Seeing these whatever-they-ares will fry one's mind and lead to suicide. Blindfolds become necessary survival gear. It's a very claustrophobic read. It made me walk around the house with my eyes closed a lot just to get the feel of what these people were going through. (****)

  • Jodi Picoult: Small Great Things: A Novel

    Jodi Picoult: Small Great Things: A Novel
    In which public defender Kennedy learns from her client Ruth, a neonatal nurse accused of murdering a baby in her charge, the true meaning of white privilege--and is much richer for having learned it. Every white person should read this book. (****)

  • Joe Hill: Horns: A Novel

    Joe Hill: Horns: A Novel
    Ignatius William Perrish wakes up bleary and confused after a night of drinking and "doing terrible things" to find he has grown horns. The horns give Ig the power to make people admit awful things they have done or want to do. This bizarre affliction is of particular use to Ig, who is still grieving over the murder of his childhood sweetheart (a grisly act the entire town, including his family, believes he committed). Horns showcases Hill's knack for creating alluring characters and a riveting plot. (****)

  • Lisa Jackson: Malice (A Bentz/Montoya Novel)

    Lisa Jackson: Malice (A Bentz/Montoya Novel)
    Since the accident that nearly claimed his life, New Orleans detective Rick Bentz has been on edge. That must explain why his mind is playing tricks, making him think he sees his first wife, Jennifer. His dead wife. He can't bring himself to tell his new wife, Olivia, about the sightings, or his fears that he's losing his sanity. To find answers, he has to return to Los Angeles, where Jennifer died. And it's there that the murders begin. (****)

  • John Hart: Redemption Road: A Novel

    John Hart: Redemption Road: A Novel
    After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen. Brimming with tension, secrets, and betrayal, this book kept me up past my bedtime, trying to guess who the serial killer was. (****)

  • Ramey Channell: The Witches of Moonlight Ridge: A Novel (The Moonlight Ridge Series) (Volume 2)

    Ramey Channell: The Witches of Moonlight Ridge: A Novel (The Moonlight Ridge Series) (Volume 2)
    This is the long-awaited second book in Ramey Channell's Moonlight Ridge series. The author happens to be my sister and I know I'm biased, but I think her story-telling skills are some of the best in the literary world today. In this book, Lily Clare Nash and her cousin and best friend Willie T. Nock, return to solve the mystery of the the Three Wayward Sisters who live out on Moor's Gap Road. The language is lyrical and alive. The characters are compelling and oftentimes funny. I highly recommend this wonderful book. (*****)

  • Gilly Macmillan: What She Knew: A Novel

    Gilly Macmillan: What She Knew: A Novel
    Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes. Now police must determine who took Ben. Was his father, his father's new wife, the teaching assistant at Ben's school, or his mother herself? Is Ben dead? Is he still alive. Read the this book to find out the answers. It's an exciting and fast read. (***)

  • Ronald Malfi: Little Girls

    Ronald Malfi: Little Girls
    When Laurie was a little girl, she was forbidden to enter the room at the top of the stairs. It was one of many rules imposed by her cold, distant father. Now, in a final act of desperation, her father has exorcised his demons. But when Laurie returns to claim the estate with her husband and ten-year-old daughter, it’s as if the past refuses to die. (***)

  • Liz Moore: The Unseen World: A Novel

    Liz Moore: The Unseen World: A Novel
    Ada was born of a surrogate mother and raised by her brilliant mathematician father David. David schools Ada at home, in his own creative and unorthodox way. She has few friends and is a stranger to most of the outside world. When David falls ill, information slowly comes to light that Ada's father might not be the person she has always thought him to be. And so begins her journey to find out her father's secrets. This is a wonderful book filled with mystery, great characters, and a plot that will keep you reading. It's one of the best books I've read this year. Especially the last chapter. I highly recommend it. (****)

  • Jewell Parker Rhodes: Ninth Ward

    Jewell Parker Rhodes: Ninth Ward
    Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane--Katrina--fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. This is a book intended for middle school youngster, but I found it a very good read. (***)

  • Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island

    Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island
    I give very few books five stars. Very few. But this is one of those books that deserves all the stars I can give it. It is mesmerizing. Fantastically written and amazingly constructed, this mystery is full of clues that lead inexorably to its mind-blowing conclusion. Lehane's excellent skills for characterization, plotting, and setting are on display here. (*****)

  • Chris Bohjalian: The Light in the Ruins

    Chris Bohjalian: The Light in the Ruins
    "A mystery that reminds us of the harrowing choices World War II forced on so many. Beautifully structured, written with restrained intensity and suspenseful to the end, this is both a satisfying mystery and a gut-wrenching account of moral dilemma in a time of moral struggle." --People Magazine (****)

  • Blake Crouch: Snowbound

    Blake Crouch: Snowbound
    One night during an electrical storm on a lonely desert highway, Rachael Innis vanishes. Her husband Will is suspected of her death. Knowing his six-year-old daughter Devlin, who suffers an incurable illness, has no one now but her father to care for her, he takes his daughter and flees to avoid arrest. Will and Devlin carve out a new life for themselves under new names in a new town. When one night, a beautiful FBI agent appears on their doorstep, they fear the worst, but she hasn’t come to arrest Will. She tells Will she can help him prove his innocence. Desperate for answers, Will and Devlin embark on a terrifying journey that spans four thousand miles from the desert southwest to the wilds of Alaska. (***)

  • J. D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

    J. D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
    This is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck. (***)

  • Chris Bohjalian: Midwives (Oprah's Book Club)

    Chris Bohjalian: Midwives (Oprah's Book Club)
    On a violent, stormy winter night, a home birth goes disastrously wrong. The phone lines are down, the roads slick with ice. The midwife, unable to get her patient to a hospital, works frantically to save both mother and child while her inexperienced assistant and the woman's terrified husband look on. The mother dies but the baby is saved thanks to an emergency C-section. And then the nightmare begins: the assistant suggests that maybe the woman wasn't really dead when the midwife operated. (****)

  • Brad Watson: Miss Jane: A Novel

    Brad Watson: Miss Jane: A Novel
    Drawing on the story of his own great-aunt, Brad Watson explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place – namely, sex and marriage. I love this book. The prose is mesmerizing and the story intrigues. (****)

  • Cormac McCarthy: Child of God

    Cormac McCarthy: Child of God
    In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail. While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance. (***)

  • E. M Forster: A Room with a View

    E. M Forster: A Room with a View
    A Room with a View is a 1908 novel by English writer E. M. Forster, about a young woman in the restrained culture of Edwardian era England. Set in Italy and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. I know this is a classic and many readers love it, but I found it a bit dry and boring. I watched the movie after reading the book, and enjoyed the movie much more. The characters had more dimension, and the story (what there was of it) progressed at a faster clip than in the book. (***)

  • Blake Crouch: Dark Matter: A Novel

    Blake Crouch: Dark Matter: A Novel
    By the author of the book series and miniseries, Whispering Pines, this was one of those book, which I rarely come across, that I almost literally could not put down until I finished. It's fiction but is set in a world where quantum physics and the multi-verse (parallel universes) have become more than merely scientific theories. When physics professor Jason Dessen is forced at gunpoint to travel into a world that he does not recognize as his own, the tension starts and lasts throughout Jason's battles to find his way back to his own world and his family. I loved this book. (****)

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

    Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me
    We know that America hasn't often been the land of the free and the home of unlimited opportunity for African Americans. And in today's culture, it can be downright dangerous, especially for African American men. This book is a letter to Coates young son, full of advice and hope, but also peppered with the fear, frustration, and despair that has been a large part of the author's life. Every white person in American should read this book. (****)

  • Peter Ross Range: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler

    Peter Ross Range: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler
    Scarier than any horror novel or ghost story I've ever read, this nonfiction account of Adolph Hitler's rise to power in Nazi Germany instantly grabbed my attention. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't reading about Donald Trump in 2016 America. (****)

  • Joe Hill: The Fireman: A Novel

    Joe Hill: The Fireman: A Novel
    I forget what a good storyteller Joe Hill is until I read one of his books. This apocalyptic tale reminds me that he's every bit as good as his dad Stephen King. In this story, set in the near future, a spore dubbed Dragonscale infects people, draws patterns on their skin, and eventually makes them spontaneously combust. Good characters and edge-of-your-seat action. (****)

  • Stephen King: End of Watch: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)

    Stephen King: End of Watch: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)
    The finale to Stephen King's trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers. In this third and final book of the series, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves. (****)

  • M. R. Carey: The Girl With All the Gifts

    M. R. Carey: The Girl With All the Gifts
    Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh. This is an apocalyptic thriller that kept me turning pages (figuratively, since I read with a Kindle app) until the end. (***)

  • David Benioff: City of Thieves: A Novel

    David Benioff: City of Thieves: A Novel
    During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible. An awesome good book. (****)

  • Christopher Moore: Coyote Blue: A Novel

    Christopher Moore: Coyote Blue: A Novel
    As a boy, he was Samson Hunts Alone—until a deadly misunderstanding with the law forced him to flee the Crow reservation at age fifteen. Today he is Samuel Hunter, a successful Santa Barbara insurance salesman. Then one day, destiny offers him the dangerous gift of love—in the exquisite form of Calliope Kincaid—and a curse in the unheralded appearance of an ancient god by the name of Coyote. Coyote, the trickster, has arrived to reawaken the mystical storyteller within Sam...and to seriously screw up his existence in the process. Excellent writing. (****)

  • T.K. Thorne: Angels at the Gate

    T.K. Thorne: Angels at the Gate
    A fictional retelling of the story of Lot's wife from The Old Testament. I loved this book by Birmingham, Alabama, writer Teresa K. Thorne (NOAH'S WIFE). But if anything other than a strict literal interpretation of anything biblical offends you, this book is not for you. Not that it's profane or sacrilegious or anything like that, but Thorne does take poetic license with the story. But then, if she hadn't, it would have been a very short story indeed. (***)

  • Judith Richards: Summer Lightning

    Judith Richards: Summer Lightning
    I loved this book, the story of a six-year-old out-of-control cigarette-smoking, redheaded truant named Terry and called Little Hawk by his friend, Old McCree. Together they prowl the Everglades in search of rattlesnakes, pine cones, air plants, and adventure, until the law and society change their lives forever. Reportedly based on the true childhood of the author's husband, I still have a bit of trouble believing that parents would allow their 6-year-old (much less their 4-year-old, the age at which the child begins his independent swamp ramblings) this much freedom without seeking help earlier. The toddler LuBelle, who has never worn a stitch of clothes in her life, also stretches the willing suspension of disbelief. But, in spite of these problems, I would still recommend this story. (***)

  • Chris Bohjalian: The Guest Room: A Novel

    Chris Bohjalian: The Guest Room: A Novel
    A page turner about a man who opens his house up to a bachelor party for his immature and irresponsible kid brother and lives to regret the decision. Murder and sex slavery. (***)

  • Patrick Logan: Skin (Insatiable Series) (Volume 1)

    Patrick Logan: Skin (Insatiable Series) (Volume 1)
    There are many compelling reasons for Cody wanting to keep his skin, but as much as it means to him, something else has another use for it. And as determined as Cody is to keep it, the evil in the driving snow is equally determined to peel it off. What can I say? The book was a Kindle freebie, and really pretty good. And I love stories that take place in blizzards. But this one is not for this squeamish. (**)

  • Robert Inman: Old Dogs and Children

    Robert Inman: Old Dogs and Children
    This is the story of Bright Bascomb Birdsong and her family – a family that has been in the forefront of social and political change through much of the 20th century. The story takes place in a small southern town, built by Bright's father. Bright is a 68-year-old widow whose quiet life is suddenly interrupted by a series events. Her son Little Fitz, the Governor, is suddenly embroiled in scandal. Bright's 10-year-old grandson comes to visit. And then there is a windfall of $50,000 in a supermarket giveaway. Flavo Richardson, the town’s black leader and Bright’s lifelong friend, demands she take on a new challenge. In the end, the book is about choices and the consequences thereof. I loved this book. (****)

  • Jeffrey Toobin: The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson

    Jeffrey Toobin: The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson
    If the prosecution in the O.J. trial had done half as organized and thorough job of their prosecuting as Jeffrey Toobin did in the writing of this book, things might have turned out differently. Still, even with Toobin's excellent writing, I got bored with the book before I was finished. Not even he could make this old story new again. But it does emphasize just what a ridiculous fiasco the trial was, from both sides. (***)

  • E. P. O'Donnell: The Great Big Doorstep: A Novel

    E. P. O'Donnell: The Great Big Doorstep: A Novel
    The Crochet family lives on a tiny peninsula called Grass Margin that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico at the tip end of Louisiana, an impoverished community of which the Crochets seem to be the poorest. The rickety shack in which they live threatens to collapse with each heavy step or light gust of wind. The only thing of material value in their lives is the set of doorsteps tht the Crochets pulled from the river and placed at their front door. This story, in turns humorous and tragic, tells of the Crochets' efforts to acquire $60, which will allow them to move themselves and their doorsteps to a better house. Written in 1941, this book is rife with racist terminology that is a little hard to take for anyone with 21st century sensibilities. But it's a good story. (***)

  • Matt Marinovich: The Winter Girl: A Novel

    Matt Marinovich: The Winter Girl: A Novel
    Good beginning and good ending, but not enough middle. It was an exciting read, but the ending came on like the writer just got tired of writing. Too many questions left unanswered. Too many plot elements underdeveloped. (***)

  • Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train

    Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train
    I'm rarely any good at figuring out the identity of the unsub when reading a mystery. But once the killer is revealed, I can always look back and say, "Oh yeah, I can see that. I should have figured that out." Not with this book. Any one of the characters, up to and including the uncooperative police detective, could have turned out to be the doer, as far as I can see. There were no clues that pointed to the solution. At least none that I can remember. Anyway, it was an entertaining read, a great beach book, or something to keep you occupied if you're sick in bed. (**)

  • Michael Punke: The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge

    Michael Punke: The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge
    Based on a true incident in the history of the American West, this novel is a painfully gripping drama. Frontiersman Hugh Glass goes to sea at age 16 and enjoys a charmed life, including several years under the flag of the pirate Jean Lafitte and almost a year as a prisoner of the Loup Pawnee Indians. In 1822, Glass escapes, finds his way to St. Louis and enters the employ of Capt. Andrew Henry as a trapper. After surviving months of hardship and Indian attack, he falls victim to a grizzly bear. His throat nearly ripped out, scalp hanging loose and deep slashing wounds to his body, Glass appears to be dying. Capt. Henry leaves two men, a fugitive mercenary, John Fitzgerald, and young Jim Bridger, to stay with Glass until he dies and bury him. After several days, Fitzgerald sights hostile Indians. Taking Glass's rifle and knife, Fitzgerald and Bridger flee, leaving Glass to fend for himself. Glass survives against all odds and embarks on a 3,000-mile-long pursuit of his betrayers. This is a very good book, but not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. Some scenes were hard to read. (****)

Books Read in 2015

  • Adam Croft: Her Last Tomorrow

    Adam Croft: Her Last Tomorrow
    When his five-year-old daughter, Ellie, is kidnapped, Nick's life is thrown into a tailspin. In exchange for his daughter's safe return, Nick will have to do the unthinkable: he must murder his wife. (**)

  • Kitty Kelley: His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra

    Kitty Kelley: His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra
    Here's another book I sort of wish I had never read. Sinatra has always been a bit of an idol of mine, based on his music, his voice, and his cool. But if Kitty Kelley's book contains even a modicum of truth, I'm afraid Frank has taken a nosedive from his pedestal. While this author never disses the man's music nor even his voice very much as he aged, she paints a picture of one of the most hateful, psychotic, violent, disgusting, dishonest, egotistical, and despicable humans on earth. The way he treated friends, strangers, business associates, and especially his numerous women will turn your stomach. And he got away with the most horrendous acts, some of them downright criminal. People appeared to fear him for some reason. I guess because he made them lots of money. I think my Frank Sinatra CD collection in going in the thrift store donations. (Note: Kelley's writing is good, even though her subject matter is detestable. The 3-star rating is for the book, not the man.) (***)

  • Jeanne Bastardi: The Taconic Tragedy: A Son's Search for the Truth

    Jeanne Bastardi: The Taconic Tragedy: A Son's Search for the Truth
    Truth, my royal rear end! This book contains very little of that. If you expect this to be an evidence-based account of the 2009 car crash in upstate New York that took the lives of eight people, including four children, you'd be wrong. The family of the woman who wrote this book lost a father and a brother in the wreck. Anyone would expect them to be traumatized and grief stricken. But what I didn't expect was the mean-spirited, vicious, atack on the Hance family, who lost their three little girls (their only children) and Daniel Schultz, the husband of the woman who caused the horrible event by driving the wrong way on the highway and crashing into another vehicle. Daniel Schultz lost his wife and a young daughter, and his young son was severely injured. Using sarcasm, innuendo, implication, speculation, and outright lies, and absolutely no evidence, Jeanne Bastardi lays the blame for the deaths of her father-in-law and brother-in-law on these grieving parents, who were not in either car and nowhere near the accident. I wish I had never read this book. No stars.

  • Jackie Hance: I'll See You Again

    Jackie Hance: I'll See You Again
    On July 26, 2009, Jackie and Warren Hance's idyllic suburban Long Island life became an unimaginable nightmare. On that day, their three young daughters were returning with their aunt, Diane Schuler, from a weekend camping trip in upstate New York when a crash on the Taconic Parkway took the lives of the three Hance children, Diane's Schuler's young daughter, Diane herself, and three men in the car Diane hit as she drove in the wrong direction on the parkway. Although an autopsy showed Diane to be heavily intoxicated at the time of the crash, no one among her friends and family knew her to be a drinker nor had ever seen her drunk. This book is Jackie Hance's memoir of unbearable loss, darkest despair, and—slowly and painfully—her cautious return to hope and love. (***)

  • Stephen King: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories

    Stephen King: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories
    A new collection of short stories by my favorite boogie man and storyteller, Stephen King. Amazon writes of the collection, "magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader." “I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.” (****)

  • Stacy Schiff: The Witches: Salem, 1692

    Stacy Schiff: The Witches: Salem, 1692
    It seems that anytime religion joins forces with government to control a people, horrible things happen. Case in point, the Salem, Massachusetts witch hunt of the late 17th century legalized purgery and theft, imprisoned innocent men, women, infants, and children in chains and uber-squalid conditions, took innocent lives, ruined lives and careers and fortunes, left children orphaned, left many in dire poverty, and gave Puritanism (and to a somewhat lesser degree, Christianity) an intensely black eye. In an atmosphere painted by such fire-and-brimstone sermonists as Cotton Mather and his father Increase Mather, a few mischievous and/or hysterical adolescent girls began an epidemic of witch accusations and subsequent trials where no evidence was presented except "spectral," even less substantial and reliable than today's circumstantial evidence. In fact, people were arrested, imprisoned, tried, tortured, and executed on the strength of accusations alone. When these New Englanders finally began to come to their senses and put an end to these atrocities, 14 women and five men had been hanged. One man was crushed to death under rocks piled upon him to try and illicit a confession from him. If at any time you begin to think that perhaps the Constitution of the United States should not include safeguards against the interference of any religion in our government proceedings (separation of church and state) as some inside and out of our governing bodies insist, just read this book or any other published telling a of the happenings in Salem in 1692, and you should change your mind. (***)

  • Lee Child: Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel

    Lee Child: Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel
    Lee Childs' latest (no. 20) in his Jack Reacher series, but my first. Reacher gets off a train in the middle of seemingly endless wheat acreage at a little wide spot in the road called Mother's Rest. He meets Michelle Chang, who is there trying to find her private detective partner, Keever, who has gone missing. The two team up to find Keever and get involved in a dark, dark mystery. Good thriller. I'm sure I'll read more Reacher adventures. (***)

  • John Brady: Frank & Ava: In Love and War

    John Brady: Frank & Ava: In Love and War
    I had been looking forward to the publication of this book since reading about it last spring. But after reading it, I have to say I'm extremely disappointed. It is one of the most poorly written books I've read. It reads more like a list of events than the story of a passionate love affair. Syntax is often awkward and confusing. For instance, consider my favorite: "The cake was delivered upon Bacall's departure from New York in a large white box." Must have been a VERY large white box to get Lauren Bacall into it. But my most serious complaint of all is that this is more a book about Frank and about Ava than it is about Frank and Ava. We very rarely see them together. Didn't like it; can't recommend it. (*)

  • Robert McCammon: Stinger

    Robert McCammon: Stinger
    Good and scary. Got monsters and everything--just right for reading during October--but not if scary books are not your cup of tea. This book is also about space aliens (good ones and bad ones). It takes place in tiny Texas border town. The characters are well presented and believable. No all-good or all-bad buys (except some of the space creatures). I enjoyed reading this throwback from the 80s. (***)

  • Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood

    Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood
    The impending marriage of Nora's best childhood friend brings her to a glass-walled cabin deep in the woods, for a hen party (the U.K. equivalent of a bachelorette weekend). But why is she there when the two haven't spoken since Nora fled their college town ten years ago? As the party gets underway things start to take a dark turn that builds with each passing moment. Good book. Goooood book. (***)

  • James Patterson and David Ellis: The Murder House

    James Patterson and David Ellis: The Murder House
    It has an ocean-front view, a private beach--and a deadly secret that won't stay buried. Full of the twists and turns that have made James Patterson the world's #1 bestselling writer, THE MURDER HOUSE is a chilling, page-turning story of murder, money, and revenge. (***)

  • Inger Ash Wolfe: The Calling

    Inger Ash Wolfe: The Calling
    Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef has lived all her days in the small town of Port Dundas and is now making her way toward retirement. Hobbled by a bad back and a dependence on painkillers, and feeling blindsided by divorce after nearly four decades of marriage, 61-year-old Hazel has only the constructive criticism of her old goat of a mother and her own sharp tongue to buoy her. But when a terminally ill Port Dundas woman is gruesomely murdered in her own home, Hazel and her understaffed department must spring to life. And as one terminally ill victim after another is found, Hazel finds herself tracking a truly terrifying serial killer across the Canada while everything she was barely holding together begins to spin out of control. (***)

  • Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Red Tree

    Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Red Tree
    My favorite of all Cait's books. I have read it several times. This time was no less intriguing. Plot: Sarah Crowe left Atlanta to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house's former tenant-an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks everything to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago. WARNING: Graphic sex and some violence. (****)

  • Robert Marasco: Burnt Offerings (Valancourt 20th Century Classics)

    Robert Marasco: Burnt Offerings (Valancourt 20th Century Classics)
    One of the best haunted house books ever, in my opinion. Right up there with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and THE SHINING. Young family leaves heat and noise of city to spend the summer in an isolated and dilapidated mansion in the New York countryside. The house is starving, and the family provides it with sustenance. (****)

  • Ted Kosmatka: The Flicker Men: A Novel

    Ted Kosmatka: The Flicker Men: A Novel
    "If Stephen Hawking and Stephen King wrote a novel together, you'd get The Flicker Men. Brilliant, disturbing, and beautifully told." -Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of the Wool series A quantum physicist shocks the world with a startling experiment, igniting a struggle between science and theology, free will and fate, and antagonizing forces not known to exist. I loved this book. Anything that deals with quantum physics and quantum mechanics fascinates me. Add some suspense, and I'm in. (****)

  • Carsten Stroud: The Homecoming: Book 2 of the Niceville Trilogy

    Carsten Stroud: The Homecoming: Book 2 of the Niceville Trilogy
    When two plane crashes set off a spellbinding chain reaction of murder and mayhem, Niceville detective Nick Kavanaugh has to investigate. He and his wife, family lawyer Kate, have also just taken in brutally orphaned Rainey Teague. Meanwhile, people are disappearing in Niceville. Kate and Nick start to unearth Niceville’s blood stained history, but something (or is it Nothing?) stands in their way. (****)

  • Carsten Stroud: Niceville: Book 1 of the Niceville Trilogy

    Carsten Stroud: Niceville: Book 1 of the Niceville Trilogy
    For lovers of crime, mystery, and the supernatural, this book has it all--almost too much in fact. In this first book of the trilogy, the author introduces so many characters that it's often difficult to keep up. but there's lots of action and suspense, beginning with the disappearance of 9-year-old Rainey, seemingly into mid-air, from Niceville's Main Street. A bank robbery follows; four cops are gunned down; a TV news helicopter is shot and spins out of the sky, triggering a disastrous cascade of events that ricochet across twenty different lives over the course of just thirty-six hours. Something is very wrong in Niceville. In spite of the preponderance of characters and the fast succession of events, this book was worth the read, and necessary to the understanding of the next book in the series. This trilogy reads more like one novel as the story picks up in each book just where it left off in the last. (***)

  • Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale

    Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale
    There are very few books to which I give five stars. This is one of them. Definitely one of the best books I have read in many years, it tells the story of two French sisters – one in Paris, one in the countryside – during WWII. Each is crippled by the death of their beloved mother and cavalier abandonment of their father. Each plays a part in the French underground. In a way, the War is also a main character in this book, a cruel, horrible character. Hannah has said her inspiration for Isabelle, the sister in Paris, was the real life story of a woman who led downed Allied soldiers on foot over the Pyrenees. This book was a page-turner for me, and I had a hard time leaving it when I had to do other things. The very end came as a surprise to me. Maybe it will for you too. (*****)

  • Erik Larson: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

    Erik Larson: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
    I had a dickens of a time getting into this book, and it took me almost all summer to finally finish it. The problem for me is the tons of detail and description. For instance, I was not all interested in the history of submarines. And the author's habit of describing every piece of clothing that every passenger of the ship was wearing at any given time almost gave me hives. However, about three-quarters way through, things speeded up and I found the end of the book interesting and heartbreaking. I'm sure there are those who would be enthralled by the entire book. I'm just not one of them. (***)

  • Sharon Honeycutt: The Dragon's Daughter

    Sharon Honeycutt: The Dragon's Daughter
    I didn't realize until I was well into it, that this book is YA, written for teenagers. Still it's a good, quick read. It is written from the perspective of the children of a KKK grand dragon and his underboss. There is blatant cruelty and racism, so caution regarding recommending this young children. There is also some profanity. I enjoyed the book though. It gives a look at racism from a perspective that one might not normally consider, that is what it does to children who are born innocent and must either learn to hate or fight their upbringing. In a way, the book is heartbreaking. (***)

  • Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel

    Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel
    According to Sharyn McCrumb's blog, "What began as a fictional re-telling of the historical account became an astonishing revelation of the real motives and the real culprit in the murder of Laura Foster. With the help of Wilkes County historians, lawyers, and researchers, Sharyn McCrumb visited the actual sites, studied the legal evidence, and uncovered a missing piece of the story that will shock those who think they already know what happened." The result is a riveting novel dealing with the events in 1866 Appalachia that led to the hanging of Tom Dula (Dooley). McCrumb's best book so far, in my opinion. (****)

  • Caitlín R. Kiernan: The Ape's Wife and Other Stories

    Caitlín R. Kiernan: The Ape's Wife and Other Stories
    Caitlín R. Kiernan (my oldest daughter) has been described as one of “the most original and audacious weird writers of her generation,” (The Weird) “one of our essential writers of dark fiction” (New York Times), and S. T. Joshi has proclaimed, “hers is now the voice of weird fiction.” In The Ape's Wife and Other Stories—Kiernan’s twelfth collection of short fiction since 2001—she displays the impressive range that characterizes her work. With her usual disregard for genre boundaries, she masterfully navigates the territories that have traditionally been labeled dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, science fiction, steampunk, and neo-noir. From the subtle horror of “One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)” and “Tall Bodies” to a demon-haunted, alternate reality Manhattan, from Mars to a near-future Philadelphia, and from ghoulish urban legends of New England to a feminist-queer retelling of Beowulf, these thirteen stories keep reader always on their toes, ever uncertain of the next twist or turn. My favorite story in this collection is the title story "The Ape's Wife." While Fay Wray's character of Ann Darrow in the 1933 movie "King Kong" is memorable for not much else except her ear-splitting screams, Kiernan gives us a three-dimensional (or maybe even four) flesh-and-blood woman. For those of you who enjoy weird fiction, this book will be a treasure. (****)

  • Laura Lane McNeal: Dollbaby: A Novel

    Laura Lane McNeal: Dollbaby: A Novel
    Set in New Orleans during the civil rights era of the 60s, this sweet story tackles the subject of racism in an almost childlike and naive fashion. Although bad things happen, somehow the women in this family are able to put it all behind them and dance in the rain. The story is full of mystery and family secrets, many of which aren't revealed until the very end. This coming-of-age tale is a testament to the resilience of human nature and the strength of familial love. (****)

  • Blake Crouch: The Last Town (Book 3 of The Wayward Pines Trilogy)

    Blake Crouch: The Last Town (Book 3 of The Wayward Pines Trilogy)
    Ethan Burke has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity. This final installment of the Wayward Pines trilogy will have you guessing right up until the last sentence--and thereafter. Let's hope that Crouch has a Book 4 in the works. (***)

  • Blake Crouch: Wayward (Book 2 of the Wayward Pines trilogy))

    Blake Crouch: Wayward (Book 2 of the Wayward Pines trilogy))
    Welcome to Wayward Pines, population 461. Nestled amid picture-perfect mountains, the idyllic town is a modern-day Eden…except for the electrified fence and razor wire, snipers scoping everything 24/7, and the relentless surveillance tracking each word and gesture. None of the residents know how they got here. They are told where to work, how to live, and who to marry. Ethan Burke has seen the world beyond. He’s sheriff now, and one of the few who know the truth—Wayward Pines isn’t just a town. And what lies on the other side of the fence is a nightmare beyond anyone’s imagining. (***)

  • Blake Crouch: Pines (Book 1 of The Wayward Pines Series)

    Blake Crouch: Pines (Book 1 of The Wayward Pines Series)
    Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive. (****)

  • Stephen King: Finders Keepers: A Novel

    Stephen King: Finders Keepers: A Novel
    As with his classic MISERY, the King of Horror again explores the theme of a novelist and his deranged number-one fan. This book is dubbed a sequel to King's MR. MERCEDES, with the return of some of that book's main characters. But it is not necessary that one has read MM in order to enjoy FK. All you need is an appreciation for a good thriller written in classic, page-turner Stephen King style. (***)

  • Flannery O'Connor: "A Good Man is Hard to Find": Flannery O'Connor (Women Writers: Texts and Contexts)

    Flannery O'Connor: "A Good Man is Hard to Find": Flannery O'Connor (Women Writers: Texts and Contexts)
    I was first introduced to Flannery O'Connor and this disturbing story as a sophomore in college. It's a tale of an irritating family (the grandmother being the most irritating of all) who sets out for a vacation, but decides to take a side trip down a dirt road (at the grandmother's insistence). Because of an unfortunate occurrence with the cat that the grandmother has stowed away in her bag, there is an auto accident. When the dust clears, everyone is relatively safe, for the time being. This classic short story is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy a good read about the darker side of human nature, you should like this. If you can imagine a story about the Griswolds (of National Lampoon fame) meeting up with some bad guys from an episode of "Criminal Minds," then you'll have some idea of the gist of "A Good Man...." (****)

  • Cheryl Strayed: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

    Cheryl Strayed: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
    I had seen the movie about the young woman who hiked 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself and liked it so much that I had to read the book. I found the movie to be much more entertaining and interesting. For one thing, except for her spunk, there was little to like or admire about the main character. Maybe Reese Witherspoon added depth and personality to Cheryl Strayed's character that didn't come through in the book. I don't know. I only know I had to force myself to finish the book. (**)

  • Donald Spoto: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography

    Donald Spoto: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography
    This book will not endear you to either Norma Jeane Baker nor to her creation, Marilyn Monroe. Norma Jeane thought the rules didn't apply to her and neither did Marilyn. Chronically late for everything, both in her professional and private lives, her regard for others' time was nonexistent. She never met a man she wouldn't sleep with if sleeping ywith him would further her career. Three failed marriages, said failure at least partially Marilyn's fault, added to the picture that she had invented of a tragic life. She faked emotions both onscreen and off, she faked the events and conditions of her childhood. One wonders how the people around her knew what was acting and what was not. The platinum blonde hair and surgically created facial features were not the only lies in MM's life, including the extent of her relationship with JFK. And although she frequently claimed that she wanted people to like her, that desire was not evident in her actions toward people. Indeed her life was tragic, but she made it so. As for the book, it's too long with too much repetition and too many words I had to look up. (**)

  • Lisa Genova: Still Alice

    Lisa Genova: Still Alice
    Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever. An excellent read. (****)

  • Ambrose Bierce: The Damned Thing

    Ambrose Bierce: The Damned Thing
    "There are colors that we can not see. And God help me, The Damned Thing is of such a color." This short but very scary story, written in 1898 by Ambrose Bierce, is the narration of a witness at the inquest of a friend, who has been horribly killed by an unseen and unseeable entity. (****)

  • Jeff Gunhus: Night Chill

    Jeff Gunhus: Night Chill
    This book proves my contention that there are oodles of excellent writers out there who never reach the well-known status. I discovered this book in an email ad about Kindle bargains. Mr. Gunhus is a fine writer of suspense and scary stuff. The horror of this story lies deep within the earth underneath the state of Maryland and is based on Gunhus's imagined Native American lore. Coupled with a group of unscrupulous men who will do anything for the sake of longevity, the "Source," as it is known, threatens not only our main character and his family but perhaps the entire world if it is able to escape it's subterranean prison. (***)

  • George V. Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel

    George V. Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel
    While watching the "Justified" series finale the other night, my attention was caught by Marshal Raylan Givens pulling a battered copy of this book out of his desk drawer and tossing it to his partner. I got curious and looked the book up on Amazon. It seems that this little tome is what Elmore Leonard, the crime novelist and creator of Raylan and all the Harlan folks, called the best crime novel he had ever read. Hmmmm. Not only did Leonard himself produce better books than this one, many other authors have produced much better crime novels than either Higgins or Leonard. (THE GODFATHER and MYSTIC RIVER are two that come to mind right off the top of my head.) The best I can say about this little novel noir is that it was mildly entertaining and contains some really good dialog--not enough, however, to rate it more than two stars. It was gravely lacking in story. (**)

  • Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

    Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
    From delinquent youth to thief to Olympic runner, to WWII airman to castaway to Japanese POW to--well, I won't spoil the ending--Louis Zamparini's life was anything but dull. This is a wonderful book that shows just how strong the human sprit can be. Louie endures horrors that would make a Stephen King novel seem wimpy, first as a castaway after his bomber crashes in the Pacific.. But then, when you think things can't possibly get worse for him, he and his fellow castaway are captured and interned in a succession of Japanese prison camps under the command of what must have been one of the most evil men to ever live, the Bird. Don't even try to read this book if you can't deal with human horror because there's plenty of it. (****)

  • Harlan Coben: The Stranger

    Harlan Coben: The Stranger
    Engrossing page-turner of a thriller, and the first of Coben's books that I have read. Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life. Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them. (****)

  • Lilly Ledbetter: Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond

    Lilly Ledbetter: Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond
    The courageous story of the woman at the center of the historic discrimination case that inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act--her fight for equal rights in the workplace, and how her determination became a victory for the nation. Lilly Ledbetter was born in a house with no running water or electricity in the small town of Possum Trot, Alabama. She knew that she was destined for something more, and in 1979, Lilly applied for her dream job at the Goodyear tire factory. She got the job—one of the first women hired at the management level. Though Lilly faced daily discrimination and sexual harassment, she pressed on, believing that eventually things would change. Until, nineteen years later, Lilly received an anonymous note revealing that she was making thousands less per year than the men in her position. Devastated, she filed a sex discrimination case against Goodyear, which she won—and then heartbreakingly lost on appeal. Over the next eight years, her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where she lost again: the court ruled that she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first unequal paycheck--despite the fact that she had no way of knowing that she was being paid unfairly all those years. In a dramatic moment, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, urging Lilly to fight back. And fight Lilly did, becoming the namesake of President Barack Obama's first official piece of legislation. (****)

  • Rick Mofina: Cold Fear

    Rick Mofina: Cold Fear
    A very tense and exciting read. In the remote, rugged corner of Montana’s Glacier National Park known as the Devil’s Grasp, little Paige Baker of San Francisco disappears with her dog, Kobee, while on a camping trip with her family; or so her mother and father have told authorities. A multi-agency task force launches a massive search as Paige fights to survive in the wilderness. Time hammers against her and soon the nation is gripped by the life-and-death drama.The FBI grows suspicious of Paige’s parents.Their recent history and disturbing evidence links them to a horrible secret from the past. This book is somewhat similar to Stephen King's THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON, in that it's a story about a little girl lost in the wilderness and her struggle to survive. However, only a small part of the story is written from the little girl's point of view, unlike King's book. Most of it is about the parents and the search to find Paige and to find out if there has been foul play. (***)

  • Patrick O'Brian: Master and Commander

    Patrick O'Brian: Master and Commander
    This, the first in the series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, filled with details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy. I confess that I had to force myself to read this book because it's the April selection for the book club of which I'm a member. It is so filled with nautical and period terms and jargon that sometimes it's seems that one is reading another language. I will say that my sister Joanne says it is the best book she has ever read, so perhaps it's simply a matter of taste. But I struggle to give it two stars. (**)

  • Michael Malone: Handling Sin

    Michael Malone: Handling Sin
    On the Ides of March, our hero, Raleigh Whittier Hayes (forgetful husband, baffled father, prosperous insurance agent, and leading citizen of Thermopylae, North Carolina), learns that his father has discharged himself from the hospital, taken all his money out of the bank and, with a young black female mental patient, vanished in a yellow Cadillac convertible. Left behind is a mysterious list of seven outrageous tasks that Raleigh must perform in order to rescue his father and his inheritance. And so Raleigh and fat Mingo Sheffield (his irrepressibly loyal friend) set off on an uproarious contemporary odyssey/treasure hunt through a landscape of unforgettable characters, falling into adventures worthy of Tom Jones and Huck Finn. A moving parable of human love and redemption, HANDLING SIN is a comic masterpiece, the funniest book I've read since Larry McMurtry's TEXASVILLE. (****)

  • Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind

    Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind
    Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. This book has many twists and turns, if you like that kind of thing. I do, but in my opinion, the author could have tightened this story up a bit and been done with it a bit sooner. (***)

  • Rick Bragg: Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

    Rick Bragg: Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
    This book relating the life and times of rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis is the first book of Rick Bragg's that I have read. I was a little disappointed. His writing does not measure up to my expectations. To me, he seems to be more enthralled with his own prose than with the story of Jerry Lee. I would like to have seen more narrative and less "poetic resonance." It seems that the author did very little research into the facts about The Killer's life but instead relied on Jerry Lee's own "storytelling." Others (especially lovers of Bragg's poetic resonance) will likely disagree with my opinion of this book. But I found it a a bit short of the deeply research biography I was expecting. (***)

  • Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin

    Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin
    Two years before the opening of the novel, the narrator Eva's son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Eva relates this chilling story of the murders and the years leading up to the event in a series of letters to her husband. It appears apparent moments after Kevin's birth that something is wrong with this child's emotions and outlook on life. And the problems only get worse as the story unfolds. In the inevitable nature/nurture question, one must consider Kevin's parents. The mother was never cut out for motherhood and the father prefers to turn a blind eye to his son's very serious problems and paint Kevin as a gifted but misunderstood "little boy" The ending will come as a shocking surprise for some. I had already seen the movie, so I saw it coming. (****)

Books Read in 2014

  • Jeffrey Lent: In the Fall: A Novel

    Jeffrey Lent: In the Fall: A Novel
    When 17-year-old Norman Pelham departs his father's Vermont farm to join the Union army, he can little anticipate the incredulity and scorn that his return--accompanied by his former-slave bride--will elicit. The newlyweds make a go of country life, Leah's industry wins the locals' begrudging respect, and the two transact a fidelity that only rarely acknowledges their racial dissimilarities. Leah, however, who fled her native North Carolina after lashing out violently against a lifetime of abuse, believes an inescapable retribution stalks her. And so, beset with guilt and anxious to confront her own past, she briefly leaves Norman and their three children, throwing all five lives into disarray. Her desperation eventually reemerges in her youngest child, the volatile Jamie, who abandons farm life for bootlegging and rash romance. When his own ruthlessness undoes him, it falls to his son, Foster, to uncover the lingering mystery of Leah's life and death, as well as the obstinate racism that has stalked the Pelhams. (***)

  • Stephen King: Secret Window, Secret Garden

    Stephen King: Secret Window, Secret Garden
    One evening last week, I caught a showing of "Secret Window" on tv and immediately commenced to reread the novella from which it was taken. Written by Stephen King, this is an engrossing story of a writer whose marriage has hit the rocks. In the aftermath of his divorce, more trouble comes to Mort Rainey in the form of one very strange stranger, John Shooter from Miss'ssippi, who insists that Mort stole his story. Shooter wants things put right. During Mort's steep plunge into madness, Shooter is always there with threats and challenges. Read the story or see the movie to find out which of these men wins the battle. (****)

  • Stephen King: Revival: A Novel

    Stephen King: Revival: A Novel
    A study in lost faith, drug addiction, obsession, rock music, and one possible afterlife. Six-year-old Jamie Morton meets Reverend Charles Jacobs when the reverend comes to the small New England town to pastor Jamie's family's church. Rev. Jacobs becomes a fixture (his "Fifth Business," as Jamie puts it) throughout Jamie's life, and ultimately, not for the good. What at first appear to be miracle healings (for Jamie, his brother, his friend, and hundreds of strangers) performed by Jacobs (using his "special electricity") have some pretty terrifying side effects. This is the best book Mr. King has written in several years, I believe. And Charlie Jacobs is one of his most interesting characters. (****)

  • Robert Nathan: Portrait of Jennie

    Robert Nathan: Portrait of Jennie
    Starving artist Eben Adams meets a little girl skating in the park, and the two form an immediate bond. The girl Jennie returns to Eben every now and then, always a little older, until she is finally old enough that the two can declare their love for each other, a love that goes beyond time and space. Eben and Jennie were meant to be together, and neither death nor an ocean can keep them apart. "Where I come from nobody knows and where I am going everything goes. The wind blows, the sea flows, nobody knows. And where I am going, nobody knows." --Jennie Everyone should experience this wonderful book. (*****)

  • Carroll Dale Short: The Shining Shining Path

    Carroll Dale Short: The Shining Shining Path
    Turner, a rock promoter and Vietnam vet, is improbably chosen by a sect of Buddhist monks as the "Hope" -- a spiritual warrior picked to battle the forces of darkness and evil in times of millenial world crisis. And the conflagration will come in his native Alabama. The skeptical Turner is sent home with six monks whose special talents he will need. While waiting for the Armageddon, he sets off on a new concert tour, the monks performing traditional Buddhist music and dance in colleges and community centers across the South. This odyssey is hilarious, heartbreaking, and fraught with perils. A triumphant blend of magical realism and spiritual adventure, The Shining Shining Path examines the power of love, forgiveness, and redemption. (Amazon) (****)

  • John Searles: Help for the Haunted: A Novel (P.S.)

    John Searles: Help for the Haunted: A Novel (P.S.)
    A interesting story of a most unusual family, their deep secrets, their harrowing tragedy, and ultimately, a daughter’s discovery of a dark and unexpected mystery. Sylvie Mason’s parents have an unusual occupation—helping “haunted souls” find peace. After receiving a strange phone call one winter’s night, they leave the house and are later murdered in an old church in a horrifying act of violence. A year later, Sylvie is living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened to their parents. Now, the inquisitive teenager pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night—and to the truth about her family’s past and the secrets that have haunted them for years. (Amazon review) (***)

  • Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (Second reading)

    Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (Second reading)
    Some of King's best (and darkest) storytelling, this book contains four novellas, including BIG DRIVER, from which the new movie derives. There's also a story about a serial killer who closely resembles BDK (but this one is more about his wife than himself); one about the complete destruction of a depression-era farm family; and one about a very unconventional cancer cure. These stories aren't for anyone who has a weak stomach or constitution. I'm not exaggerating when I say they are not just merely dark but really quite sincerely dark. (****)

  • James Hilton: Random Harvest

    James Hilton: Random Harvest
    I really enjoyed reading this novel, published in 1941, by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, LOST HORIZONS. But I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled by what the ending means. Here's a description from Amazon: "The story is a romance, a mystery, a critque on England's class structure, and a parable. Hilton uses the lost years of Charles Rainier as a methaphor for the lost years of the 1920/1930's when England failed to prepare for the next war. Told in flashbacks and bookended by World War I and World War II, the resolution is only revealed in its final sentence that will shock you and change everything that you have just read & thought you understood. You will go back and re-read the book as your perception of all the characters are altered by the surprise ending." But the book is really better than that description implies. I think I will have to read it again. (****)

  • Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale (2nd reading)

    Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale (2nd reading)
    Everyone has that one memorable summer of youth, that time when childhood begins to take a back seat to long awaited adulthood. For 12-year-old Rusty Harry, it is the summer of 1960 in a small town in Montana where Rusty's dad tends bar and does the job of a single parent as best he can, which turns out to be pretty darn good. The bar, the town, and the people who make up Rusty's compact life are the players in this magical story that's right up there with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for being one of the best coming-of-age stories you'll ever read. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: The Elementals

    Michael McDowell: The Elementals
    Hill House, the Marsten house, Amityville, Hell House, the Overlook--now I can add Beldame to the scariest fictional haunted house books. Located on the Alabama Gulf Coast on a spit of land between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Beldame is a compound of three identical Victorian houses, used by the McCray and Savage families for decades as summer homes. Something horrible (and very sandy) lives in "the third house," which, due to the encroachment of a very large dune, has not been inhabited by mortals for as long as anyone can remember. Now these unexplainable horrors have become interested in taking over the other two houses, and those who dare to sleep there. Ooooooooooo. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater VI: Rain

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater VI: Rain
    The town of Perdido, Alabama comes full circle in this final, and shortest, book of Michael McDowell's Blackwater series. The books of the Caskey saga are some of the best I've ever read. Taken together, they are a classic, I believe, of American literature. The marriage of southern gothic and horror makes for some great storytelling. I am so very glad that I discovered this author and will be seeking out other works by him, in limited supply since he died in 1999. The Blackwater books are out of print. I found them on Kindle, and my sister has been able to borrow them from the library. In my opinion, it's high time for a reprint. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater V: The Fortune

    Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater V: The Fortune
    As if the lumber mill and other enterprises had not made the Caskeys enough money, they now find oil under their land. Money flows in more swiftly than the red waters of the Perdido flow into "the junction." Elinor's youngest daughter Frances discovers she's pregnant and gives birth to twin girls. The daughters must be separated at birth for reasons that will become clear. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater IV: The War

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater IV: The War
    War (WWII) intrudes on the lives of Perdido, Alabama in Book 4 of the Blackwater series, not with entirely negative consequences. Elinor's youngest daughter Frances shows that she is her mother's true daughter. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater III: The House

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater III: The House
    The Caskey Saga continues in Book 3, as new characters are introduced. Elinor has given birth to two daughters who are very different from each other. Elinor's big house, which her mother-in-law Mary-Love built for her and her husband and for which Elinor must pay a terrible price to be allowed to occupy, becomes a mystery itself. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater II: The Levee

    Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater II: The Levee
    In Book 2 of the Blackwater series,Elinor has become thoroughly integrated into the lives of the people of Perdido, and especially of the Caskey family. Townsfolk decide to build a levee around the waters of their twin rivers to avoid another devastating flood. Elinor does not approve. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater I: The Flood

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater I: The Flood
    Fanny Flagg meets Stephen King: That's what comes to mind when I think of the writing style of this author, whom Stephen King himself has called “the finest writer of paperback originals in America.” Michael McDowell peoples this work with eccentric and colorful southern characters set among scenes of strangeness, spookiness, and violence. The mysterious saga of the Caskey family begins in this first of a series of six novels, set in Perdido in South Alabama during the early 20th century. A devastating flood brings a strange and beautiful visitor to the small, sleepy lumber town. Elinor Dammert's arrival will forever change the town and the wealthy and powerful Caskey family. I'm hooked. I have now moved on to Book 2, THE LEVEE. (****)

  • Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings: A Novel

    Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings: A Novel
    In the early 1830s, Sarah Grimké and her younger sister, Angelina, were the most infamous women in America. They had rebelled so vocally against their family, society, and their religion that they were reviled, pursued, and exiled from their home city of Charleston, South Carolina, under threat of death. Their crime was speaking out in favor of liberty and equality and for African American slaves and women, arguments too radically humanist even for the abolitionists of their time. Sue Monk Kidd has turned the lives of these two freedom pioneers into a most enjoyable and inspiring novel. I recommend it highly. (****)

  • Diana Gabaldon: Outlander

    Diana Gabaldon: Outlander
    In 1945, Claire Randall and her husband are just back from their service in WWII. Having been apart for five years, they are spending their second honeymoon in Scotland, getting reacquainted. At a visit to an ancient stone monument where she has gone to pick wildflowers, Claire is suddenly hurled back in time to the 18th century Scottish highlands. She is captured by warriors the McKenzie clan, who believe her to be an English spy. Eventually she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. Their relationship soon becomes passionate, and Claire's heart is torn between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. WARNING: Numerous scenes of explicit sex. (***)

  • Paul Boone: Blackbeard: To Live by the Drink, To Die by the Sword

    Paul Boone: Blackbeard: To Live by the Drink, To Die by the Sword
    Having enjoyed the recent tv series, "Blackbeard," I wanted to know more about the famous pirate, so I went searching for a book. I finally settled on this one. It's a fast read and sticks far more closely to what is known of the facts of the life and death of Edward Teach (Blackbeard) than did the tv series. I had some problems with the author's somewhat amateurish writing style, and a good copy editor would have helped, but as a source of a quick look at the reign of one of our most famous and feared pirates, it suffices. Language and violence, however, make it unsuitable for children. (**)

  • Dan Brown: Deception Point

    Dan Brown: Deception Point
    Very fast paced and exciting read. When NASA scientists discover a 300-year-old meteor buried in ice in the Arctic, it seems that not only the flagging space agency will get a new breath of life but also the presidency of the current administration, which has been a strong NASA supporter. Imbedded in the meteor are the fossilized remains of a giant insect. NASA has discovered extraterrestrial life. But of course things aren't always what they seem, or are they? This book will keep you guessing right into the final pages. (***)

  • Shelley Stewart: The Road South: A Memoir

    Shelley Stewart: The Road South: A Memoir
    Growing up near Birmingham, Alabama in the early 60s, I knew Shelley "the Playboy" Stewart as a rocking cool DJ who spun platters on local WENN. Most of us white kids had to sneak off to our rooms or to the family car to listen to this African American radio personality, it being mid-century Alabama. Little did we know of the horrors Shelley had experienced during his childhood. As a small child, Shelley and his family suffered a violent, abusive, alcoholic father who killed his mother then forced Shelley and his brothers to live on the back porch, sleep on a filthy mattress and eat fried rats. An aunt with whom he lived for a time beat and sexually abused him. By age six, he had run away and was on his on. Shelley survived the horrors of his childhood and the injustices and cruelty of racial bigotry to become a well known, well respected, and successful business man. But his quest for family love and closeness has alluded him, causing his lifelong battle with depression. (***)

  • Andy Weir: The Martian: A Novel

    Andy Weir: The Martian: A Novel
    This is the most exciting book I've read in a long time, if ever. Mark Watney, part of a manned mission to Mars, is left for dead on the hostile environment of the Red Planet by the rest of the crew after a monster sandstorm threatens the lives of all. They abandon the mission and settle in for their two-year flight back to Earth, never suspecting that they have also abandoned their friend and fellow astronaut, who is very much alive. Thus begins Watney's year-and-a-half-long struggle to survive until rescue comes. His steady nerves, genius problem-solving, and witty outlook endears the reader to Watney keeps you cheering him on. It's an impossible spot he finds himself in, and logic says there's no way out; but the reader keeps hoping against hope, even when more things go wrong than right. I was unable to put the book down for the last half. There's a lot of technical stuff, but strangely, it does not slow the story. In fact, Watney's descriptions of the working of various parts of the equipment, vehicles, and habitant that he uses to prolong his life on Mars serve to move the story along, build tension, and add dimension to this book's main character. (****)

  • Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel

    Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
    This beautifully written story takes place in occupied France during World War II. The main characters are a young blind Paris girl, Marie-Laure, and an orphaned German boy, Werner. Just as the war leaves Much of Europe in tatters, so it does with the lives of these young people and their families. But for one brief moment, the war brings Marie-Laure and Werner together and leaves them both with a memory that will last throughout their lives. This is one of the best books I've read in years. (****)

  • Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes: A Novel

    Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes: A Novel
    No ghosts, no vampires, no supernatural stuff at all. Just plenty of Stephen King gore and excitement. This is the story of a would-be mass serial killer whose first massacre occurs when he plows a stolen Mercedes into a group of unemployed people waiting to get into a job fair. A retired cop, a teenage boy, and a woman with flaws of her own team up to try and stop this killer before he can perpetrate an even more horrific slaughter. A good read, but not particularly memorable. (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel

    Larry McMurtry: The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel
    This was a good book--as far as it went. It just didn't go far enough. 167 pages are just not enough for multiple character development (if I weren't already familiar with most of these characters, they'd be blank slates) and plot development (what plot?). Granted, the dialog was the usual McMurtry masterpiece, but that's the best I can say for this little book. I was excited to know that this author, one of my favorites, had written a novel about some of my favorite old west character (Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Charlie Goodnight, etc.). When I saw the page count, I was skeptical; when I read the last sentence, I was disappointed. (**)

  • Nicholas Pileggi: Wiseguy

    Nicholas Pileggi: Wiseguy
    If you've seen "Goodfellas," (and I have, about a hundred time), then there's no need to read this book strictly for information. I have rarely seen a movie that sticks so closely to the book from which it was made. The great dialog in "Goodfellas" was, for the most part, taken straight from the mouths of the real-life characters it depicts. As with the movie, WISEGUY begins in 1955 when Henry Hill becomes, at 11 years old, connected with the Mob. It ends, as does the movie also, when Henry and Karen are forced to cooperate with the FBI, join the witness protection program, and help the government take down a bunch of Henry's coworkers--after which, as Henry said, he got to live the rest of his life as as shnook. (***)

  • Karen Novak: Five Mile House: A Novel

    Karen Novak: Five Mile House: A Novel
    Legend has it that in 1889, Eleanor Bly flung herself from the tower of Five Mile House after murdering her seven children. More than a hundred years later, her ghost reaches out to Leslie Stone, a New York cop who has killed a child murderer and is haunted by her actions. New to the town of Wellington-famous for its coven of witches-Leslie becomes obsessed with Eleanor's story, suspecting that the truth may be quite different from local legend. As she digs deeper, uncovering dangerous town secrets, her life and the lives of her children are put into peril. I love stories in which a haunted house serves as the main character: e.g., The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunted, Hell House, etc. This haunted house story contains ghosts, witches, ancient secrets, and a fascinating premise based on the supposedly infinite number pi and what will happen if its end could ever be reached. A good book for sure--but not quite on a par with The Haunting of Hill House. But then, what is? (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: Crazy Horse: A Life

    Larry McMurtry: Crazy Horse: A Life
    Not much is known about this famous Sioux warrior, therefore McMurtry's book is brief and to the point. Even so, the reader gets a pretty clear picture of the man's bravery, integrity, and generosity. As with many of our native people, he died much too young. (***)

  • Louis Bayard: Roosevelt's Beast: A Novel

    Louis Bayard: Roosevelt's Beast: A Novel
    In 1914, Teddy Roosevelt and his son, Kermit, set off to map Brazil’s Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt). What was supposed to be a lark for the “Colonel” and his son ended up almost killing both of them. Indeed, the former president never completely recovered. Bayard has taken three days out of this time period to write a fictional thriller that kept me turning pages. The Colonel (Teddy) and Kermit kidnapped are by the Cinta Larga natives The tribe is being ravaged by a “beast” that kills its prey, guts it, drinks its blood, and then leaves nothing but a husk. The beast leaves no footprints, and no one has actually seen it. The chief will release Kermit and his father if they kill the beast. The Colonel sees it as just another hunting expedition, but Kermit (the Roosevelt in the title) sees it as something much more, something that will haunt him the rest of his life. I enjoyed this book very much. (***)

  • Ransom Riggs: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)

    Ransom Riggs: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
    So Miss Peregrine is stuck in bird form, all the loops have been corrupted by murderous wights and hollowgasts, and Miss P. and her peculiar children must go on a long and dangerous trek to find an intact ymbryne to help put things to right. A whole new set of peculiar vintage photos helps the author spin his latest tale of mystery, suspense, and fantasy. Unfortunately, I think I had had enough of these characters with the first book. This one didn't hold my attention nearly as well. But there's another one coming. So if you are an avid fan, you won't have to wait long for the story to continue. (***)

Books Read in 2013

  • Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October

    Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October
    This delightful story follows 31 days in the lives of watchdog Snuff, the narrator, and his master Jack, as they prepare for a Halloween ritual. Some players want to bring Lovecraft's ancient gods of chaos back to earth; some want to banish them, at least until the next ritual. Discovering who is who and what is where are vital tasks. Zelazny freely borrows from Stoker, Shelly, Conan Doyle, and Lovecraft, screen adaptations of the same, and other popular horror sources for this fun fantasy read. (***)

  • Ronald Malfi: Floating Staircase

    Ronald Malfi: Floating Staircase
    Novelist Travis Glasgow and his wife Jodie buy their first house the western Maryland town of Westlake. At first, everything is picture perfect—from the beautiful lake behind the house to the rebirth of the friendship between Travis and his brother, Adam, who lives nearby. Travis also begins to overcome the darkness of his childhood and the guilt he’s harbored since his younger brother’s death—a tragic drowning veiled in mystery that has plagued Travis since he was 13. Soon, though, the new house begins to lose its allure. Strange noises wake Travis at night, and his dreams are plagued by ghosts. Barely glimpsed shapes flit through the darkened hallways, but strangest of all is the bizarre set of wooden stairs that rises cryptically out of the lake behind the house. Travis becomes drawn to the structure, but the more he investigates, the more he uncovers the house’s violent and tragic past, and the more he learns that some secrets cannot be buried forever. (***)

  • Pat Conroy: The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

    Pat Conroy: The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
    If you're a fan of Pat Conroy's work, you've already met Santini, aka Pat's father, Don Conroy, in Conroy's fiction. The author's latest work is a nonfiction retelling of the tragedy that is the Conroy family. An abusive father and a mother trapped in a fantasyland of her own invention formed a union that produced seven truly messed-up offspring. In this book, the surviving Conroy children lay their father, but not their demons, to rest. (***)

  • Ronald Malfi: The Mourning House

    Ronald Malfi: The Mourning House
    Devastated by family tragedy, Dr. Sam Hatch is a shadow of his former self. He travels the byroads of America, running away from a past he cannot escape. There is no salvation for him. And then he sees the house. Like a siren, it calls to him. Yet the house is not what it appears to be. Is it a blessing, a gift...or a curse? Very scary haunted house novella. (***)

  • Christopher Rice: The Heavens Rise

    Christopher Rice: The Heavens Rise
    Creepy, chilling, and almost impossible to put down all describe the new novel by Christopher Rice, son of horror novelist Anne Rice. In the swampy areas of New Orleans, Niquette Delongpre’s family discovers an old well on their property, whose contents have dark supernatural properties. During a clandestine meeting, Niquette and her high-school classmate, Marshall Ferriot, are immersed in the well water; within days, Niquette and her entire family are presumed dead and Marshall is in a vegetative state after throwing himself out a window in front of a hundred onlookers during a black-tie fundraising event. Years later, as Marshall sits in a coma in the hospital, things begin to die around him. Nurses first notice the dead birds and squirrels lined up outside his room; then a nurse, alone in his room, silently fillets herself with a surgical blade. This is only the start of what Marshall has planned. This is a horror novel, but in the telling of this page-turner, Rice also manages to deftly address issues of race and class in the Big Easy. (Review from (***)

  • S. C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

    S. C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
    This book tells of the rise and fall of the Comanche, a fierce, powerful, and proud American Plains tribe. It begins in 1836 with the kidnapping of a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower blue eyes named Cynthia Ann Parker. She grew to love her captors and eventually became famous as the "White Squaw." She married a powerful Comanche chief, and their son, Quanah, became a warrior who was never defeated and whose bravery and military brilliance made him a legend as one of the greatest of the Plains Indian chiefs. The author describes in brutal detail the savagery of both whites and Comanches. The book is full of historical characters and historical and geographical details. I was left wanting more about the sad and tragic figure of Cynthia Ann Parker and less about our violent and murderous male ancestors, both white and red. (And somewhere along the line, I guess I missed the explanation of the title. I don't know to what Empire of the Summer Moon refers.) (***)

  • Karen Kondazian: The Whip

    Karen Kondazian: The Whip
    The Whip is inspired by the true story of a woman, Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879) who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man in the old west. As a young woman in Rhode Island, she fell in love with a black man and had his child. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the killer. Charley became a renowned stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first known woman to vote in America in 1868 (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California. (***)

  • Stephen King: Doctor Sleep: A Novel

    Stephen King: Doctor Sleep: A Novel
    Danny "Doc" Torrance is all grown up now, battling alcoholism as well as the demons of his past, demons he first met at the haunted Overlook Hotel one snowbound Colorado winter. Dan and his newfound 12-year-old "niece," who, like Dan, possesses the ability known as the shining, team up to battle a tribe of murderous paranormals who travel the country in a caravan of RVs, kidnapping children who shine, killing them, and feeding on their essence, their steam. In addition to Dan, the reader meets other familiar characters, first encountered in King's THE SHINING, some 35 years ago. One very special character joins Danny late in the book for a scene that will tug at your heart. This is classic King, every bit as good as his best. Nobody can write a monster quite like he can. (****)

  • Olive Ann Burns: Cold Sassy Tree

    Olive Ann Burns: Cold Sassy Tree
    On July 5, 1906, scandal breaks in the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, when the proprietor of the general store, E. Rucker Blakeslee, elopes with Miss Love Simpson. He is barely three weeks a widower, and she is only half his age and a Yankee to boot. As their marriage inspires a whirlwind of local gossip, Blakeslee's grandson, fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy, suddenly finds himself eyewitness to a family scandal, and that’s where his adventures begin. The anomaly of Cold Sassy, in my opinion, is that it's a town full of people you don't like (with the exception of Will Tweedy. Loomis, Miss Love, and to a lesser degree Grandpa Blakeslee). You will never meet a bigger group of mean spirited and judgmental folks. But it's a good story. I liked it. (***)

  • Elmore Leonard: The Moonshine War: A Novel

    Elmore Leonard: The Moonshine War: A Novel
    The recent death of Elmore Leonard made me sad and also got me to looking into some of his work that I had not read. There's a lot of it. I chose this book, one of his earlier works. It is set during Prohibition and concerns a small eastern Kentucky community whose main industry is moonshining. Son Martin, the novel's hero, is your typical Leonard tough-guy--reminded me a lot of Raylan Givens of Leonard's tv series "Justified"--quiet, operating on the edge of things, something of an outlaw himself. The bad guys are what you would expect--vicious, erratic, and often kind of stupid. There's a treasure that everyone, bad guys and good, would like to get their hands on. Son's deceased dad has left a hoard of first-rate, eight-year-old moonshine, and nobody but Son and his farm hand know where it is hidden. It's worth boo-coodles of money on the illegal bootleg market of the times, and Dr. Taulbee, the baddest of the bad guys, wants it. Son is determined he won't get it. Who wins? Read the book. (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: Rhino Ranch: A Novel

    Larry McMurtry: Rhino Ranch: A Novel
    McMurtry ends the north Texas saga of Duane Moore, begun in 1966 with The Last Picture Show, with a blend of wit and insight, sharply defined characters, and to-the-point prose. Duane, now in his late 60s, is a prosperous and retired widower, lonely in his hometown of Thalia, Tex. Then billionaire heiress K.K. Slater moves in and opens the Rhino Ranch, a sanctuary intended to rescue the nearly extinct African black rhinoceros. Duane's two best buddies, Boyd Cotton and Bobby Lee Baxter, both work for Slater, and the three friends schmooze with the rich, talk about geezer sex, rat out local meth heads and try to keep track of a herd of rhinos. Mixed in with the humor and snappy dialogue are tender and poignant scenes as the women in Duane's life die or drift away, and Duane befriends a rhino and realizes that his life has lost its purpose. Nobody depicts the complexities of smalltown Texas life and the frailties of human relationships better than McMurtry. (***)

  • Joe Hill: NOS4A2: A Novel

    Joe Hill: NOS4A2: A Novel
    Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country. Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu) vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.” Shades of Joe Hill's dad''s, Stephen King's, work shows up in this exciting read. I caught a glimpse of Trashcan Man from THE STAND in the character of Gasmask Man; Joe is certainly following in his dad's footsteps when it comes to excellent plotting and storytelling; and there were times in this book when I felt the young author had actually surpassed SK when it came to gore and horror. So if you're a bit squeamish, you better pass on this one. Me, I thoroughly enjoyed it, although there were a few scenes when I had to put a hand over my eyes and read through parted fingers, metophorically speaking. And had I been Joe, I would have thought a while longer before writing in that romantic union in the ending. Something about that just didn't ring true. But, all in all, a good book. (***)

  • Susan Crandall: Whistling Past the Graveyard

    Susan Crandall: Whistling Past the Graveyard
    When 9-year-old Starla's strict and insensitive grandmother puts Starla on restrictions and causes her to miss her town's 4th of July celebration, Starla has had enough. She runs away, hoping to make it to Nashville to reunite with her mother whom she hasn't seen since Starla was three. Very soon, she is picked up by a black woman named Eula, who has with her a white baby named James. Thus begins an odyssey fraught with adventure, enlightenment, and danger, as Starla learns the cruelties and racIal injustices of the segregated south of 1963. Both Starla and Eula, in their own ways, are trying to create the family they have longed for to make up for hurt and loss in their past lives. In the end, they each learn that not all families are cut from the same cloth. A wonderful coming-of-age story in the tradition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (I saw bits and pieces of Scout Finch in Starla Claudelle), this book is one you'll be glad you read. It's one of the best books I've read this year. (****)

  • C. Dennis Moore: The Third Floor

    C. Dennis Moore: The Third Floor
    Pretty scary, especially near the end. My main problem with this book is that the house and it's configuration plays a very important part in the plot. But I could never get a good picture of it my my mind. I never got a good feel for how the floors and rooms were laid out. As for the plot, nothing new. Husband, wife, and 6-year-old son move into haunted house and the haunting begins. The spooks are a father and his four children, all of whom were killed six years hence by the father who hanged himself in the house after he killed the children. Sorry I couldn't give this book more stars. It just wasn't original enough to deserve more. The climax at the end of the book was the best part, and also the scariest. (**)

  • Stephen King: Joyland (Hard Case Crime)

    Stephen King: Joyland (Hard Case Crime)
    Stephen King at his worst. I had a hard time finishing this book, even though it's very short. It's about a serial killer and an amusement park and a young college student who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. All these elements come together, but not for a very interesting story. There's a ghost and there's a mystery, but who cares? The only suspense comes in the last few pages and doesn't last very long. Don't bother reading this one unless you need a sleep aid. (*)

  • Rhonda Riley: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope: A Novel

    Rhonda Riley: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope: A Novel
    During WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man…and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well One of the best books I've read this year. (****)

  • Gillian Flynn: Dark Places: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Dark Places: A Novel
    Dark indeed! This is the third and last of Gillian Flynn's books that I have read. (Actually it's the second in publication.) I have to admit that I like dark fiction, especially a good murder mystery, and Ms. Flynn is one of the best when it comes to creating dark fiction. But this one almost got a little too dark for me. There is a scene that involves animal torture and death that was more than I could read. I had to skip most of that part. Also, I don't feel this book was nearly as well plotted and fleshed out as her other two. But still, it's a thriller for sure. Keeps you turning those pages. Here's the gist: Libby Day was, as a seven-year-old, the only survivor of her family’s brutal murder by her older brother. Twenty-five years later, she has become a hardened, selfish young woman with no friends or family. Since the tragedy, her life has been paid for by donations of well-wishers, but, with that fund now empty, Libby must find a way to make money. Her search leads her to The Kill Club, a secret society of people obsessed with the details of notorious murders. As Libby tries to gather artifacts to sell to The Kill Club (whose members, it turns out, doubt the guilt of her brother), she is forced to reëxamine the events of the night of the murder. The story deals with the fallibility of memory and the lies a child tells herself to get through a trauma. (**)

  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl: A Novel
    On a summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. There's a twist around just about every page turn of this book. Never a dull moment. Although the near-end was not really a surprise to me, the very end left me a little disgruntled--until I thought about it and decided that it was quite a perfect ending for this strange marriage. As much as I like Flynn's book, SHARP OBJECTS, this one is even better. This lady is an excellent mystery writer. (***)

  • Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects: A Novel
    The beginning of this book reads like just another crime novel, starring a hard-drinking girl reporter, Camilla Preaker, with troubles of her own. However, the author takes her reader gradually into the unfolding mysteries not only of two murders but also of the world of Camilla's chillingly dysfunctional family. For much of the rest of the book, the lives this broken family seem to take over the story, the murders being almost a back story or merely a setting for the real horrors that reside with the Preaker family. But ultimately, the author brings it all together in an ending that might take you by surprise, as it did me. This is one of the best first novels I've ever read--so good in fact that I immediately started reading Flynn's GONE GIRL. I'll tell you about it when I'm finished. (***)

  • Ransom Riggs: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

    Ransom Riggs: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
    To me, the key to a really, really good book is story. And this author's first novel has an enchanting story to tell. A mysterious island, an abandoned orphanage, a strange collection vintage photographs, and a cast of most peculiar characters combine to create a story you won't want to end. A technique that Ransom Riggs used to create this story, or to enhance it, should intrigue all. He used a collection of actual vintage photos (themselves very peculiar) to illustrate his narrative. This reader found herself staring at the photos much longer than she would have illustrations in other books. Can't wait for this author's next creations. (****)

  • Stephen Dobyns: The Burn Palace

    Stephen Dobyns: The Burn Palace
    Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even supernatural—has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts confounds Detective Woody Potter and the local police—and inspires terror in the hearts and minds of the locals. If you like mystery and suspense, this should be an enjoyable read for you. But you will have to overlook a couple of drawbacks. The book has so many characters that, at times, it's hard to know who's who. And there are too many of what I call in fiction "unflushed toilets." That is, things are left unresolved or fully explained. To avoid spoilers I won't give examples, but if you read the book, you'll no doubt find them. (**)

  • Bentley Little: The Haunted

    Bentley Little: The Haunted
    WARNING: This book is only for readers who love scary books. Not an original concept (mom, dad, two kids move into haunted house), but Little does some original things with it. It's fast paced and a real edge-of-your-seat read. And at the end, you know the story's not over yet. (***)

  • Joyce Carol Oates: Daddy Love

    Joyce Carol Oates: Daddy Love
    I definitely cannot recommend this book to anyone. It's too dark and the subject matter too heart rending. You should read the descriptions at Amazon and/or the reviews online to see if this subject matter is for you. The story begins when five-year-old Robbie Whitcomb is abducted from a mall parking lot, right under his mother's nose. The next six years tells of Robbie's life of abuse, molestation, and terror at the hands of his captor, the man he knows only as Daddy Love. I won't go any farther and give away the ending. I, personally, could not stop reading once I started this book. Ms. Oates has a way of grabbing one's attention with her writing, and I just had to find out how everything turned out. (***)

  • John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany

    John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany
    "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany." And so begins this wonderful book, one of the best I've ever read. In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary. As much as I loved this book, I will add that a good editor could have improved it by cutting the length by a least 100 pages, I believe. Irving often gets bogged down in descriptions of term papers and teaching methods that, in my opinion, add nothing to the story. But that's no reason not to read this book. Don't just read it, relish it. It's a treasure. (****)

  • Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale

    Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale
    Everyone has that one memorable summer of youth, that time when childhood begins to take a back seat to long awaited adulthood. For 12-year-old Rusty Harry, it is the summer of 1960 in a small town in Montana where Rusty's dad tends bar and does the job of a single parent as best he can, which turns out to be pretty darn good. The bar, the town, and the people who make up Rusty's compact life are the players in this magical story that's right up there with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for being one of the best coming-of-age stories you'll ever read. (****)

  • Sharyn McCrumb: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O

    Sharyn McCrumb: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O
    The crew at the Hamlin sheriff's office is preparing for the reunion of their 1966 high school class. Well actually Martha is preparing; the guys are trying to figure ways to get out of going. Adding more excitement, a semi-famous folk singer has moved into town, and she is receiving threatening postcards. When a local teenage girl is reported missing and subsequently turns up dead in the French Broad River up in Knoxville, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his staff spring into action and solve another of McCrumb's "ballad mysteries." Good read. (***)

Books Read in 2012

  • Sharyn McCrumb: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

    Sharyn McCrumb: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
    Nora Bonesteel, the wise woman of the Tennessee mountains is what her Celtic forebears would recognize as an "edge witch", one who patrols the boundaries between life and death, good and evil, the supernatural and the mundane. In this novel, sorrow comes to the mountain community in the guise of a murder/suicide on a remote farm and via a polluted river that brings death into the valley. Nora Bonesteel, with her graveyard quilt and her herbal remedies, does what she can do to protect the ordinary folk from tragedy. This is a wonderful novel to trace the continuance of Celtic heritage and folkways into America's Eastern mountains. (***)

  • Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

    Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
    In 1779, Katie Wyler, 18, was captured by the Shawnee in North Carolina. The story of her escape and arduous journey home through hundreds of miles of Appalachian wilderness is the topic of ethno-historian Jeremy Cobb's thesis-and the thread that runs through the third of McCrumb's ballad novels (after The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter). As Cobb begins to retrace Katie's return journey, 63-year-old convicted murderer Hiram (Harm) Sorley escapes from a nearby prison. Suffering from Korsakoff's syndrome, he has no recent memory: old Harm is permanently stuck in the past. Hamelin, Tenn., police dispatcher Martha Ayers uses the opportunity to convince the sheriff to assign her as a deputy. One of her first duties is to calm a young mother who, angry at her inattentive husband, is threatening her baby with a butcher knife. Ayers and the sheriff must also warn Harm's ex-wife Rita that he has escaped. Acting as a kind of narrative conscience is a local deejay, a "carpetbagger from Connecticut," who sees Harm as a folk hero from another era. Deftly building suspense, McCrumb weaves these colorful elements into her satisfying conclusion as she continues to reward her readers' high expectations. (***)

  • Yann Martel: Life of Pi

    Yann Martel: Life of Pi
    Pi, his family, and their zoo set off on a move from India to Canada. All goes well until they are ship wrecked in the middle of the Pacific. Pi and three of the zoo animals manage to board a lifeboat and are saved from the sinking of their ship. The narrative of Pi's seven months as a castaway is sometimes brutal, sometimes sad, but all the time a page turner. This is a wonderful book. Perfect writing, strong characters, intriguing plotting. I recommend highly. (****)

  • Jodi Picoult: Second Glance: A Novel

    Jodi Picoult: Second Glance: A Novel
    Do we love across time? Or in spite of it? A developer has slated an ancient Abenaki Indian burial ground for a strip mall, and now strange happenings have tiny Comtosook, Vermont, talking of supernatural forces at work. Ross Wakeman is a ghost hunter who's never seen a ghost-all he's searching for is something to end the pain of losing his fiance Aimee in a car accident. He tried suicide-any number of times. Now Ross lives only for a way to connect with Aimee from beyond. Searching the site for signs of the paranormal, Ross meets the mysterious Lia, who sparks him to life for the first time in years. But the discoveries that await Ross are beyond anything he could dream of in this world-or the next. Picoult expertly weaves in the factual Vermont eugenics program of the 1930s, from which it has been said that Hitler got his ethnic cleansing idea. I truly enjoyed this book. (***)

  • Wanda E. Brunstetter: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club

    Wanda E. Brunstetter: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club
    The unlikely group that signs up for Emma Yoder's beginner's quilting class proves the adage that quilting is good therapy. The group includes a preacher's wife, a troubled married couple, a biker working through a dui probation requirement, a young woman from a troubled home, and a young widower with a baby. Every member of the group, including the teacher, is battling his/her own problems. As the six-week course progresses, our quilters come to know each other and themselves better and work through the problems that are threatening to upend their lives. The narrative is a little stilted, in my opinion, but it's an easy, feel-good read. I understand this book has been made into a play. I'd like to see a performance. (***)

  • Stephen King: In the Tall Grass

    Stephen King: In the Tall Grass
    A long short story or a short novella by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. Good and scary, well plotted, a spine-tingling joy to read. But I do believe the fellows had enough here to go ahead and make into a full-length novel. The plot centers around a field of tall grass across the highway from a rest station. There's something in that tall grass, something horrible. And once you're in, you're in for good. (***)

  • Steven Sidor: Pitch Dark

    Steven Sidor: Pitch Dark
    It’s Christmas Eve, and Vera Coffey is on the run. She doesn't know the men who are after her. She has never seen them before, but she has seen the horrors they visit on people who don’t give them what they want. Vera has something they want badly. She’d give it up if it weren’t the only thing keeping her alive. The Larkins have known the toll violence takes on a family ever since they were trapped in a madman’s shooting rampage. They've been coping with the trauma for nearly twenty years. Now, on a cold and lonely winter morning, Vera collapses at their roadside motel. And she’s brought something with her. Together they'll have to make one last stand against an evil that has followed them further than anyone could've imagined. If you don't like fast-paced thrillers, don't open this book. (***)

  • Graham Joyce: The Tooth Fairy (Kindle)
    That childhood sprite, the Tooth Fairy assumes a sinister incarnation in this exceptional supernatural novel about a troublesome but endearing trio of boys coming of age in the English Midlands in the 1960s. Seven-year-old Sam first lays eyes on the Tooth Fairy, oddly dressed and smelling of horse's sweat and chamomile, in the middle of the night after he has stashed a tooth under his pillow. Over the years, the fairy becomes a fixture in his life. No one else can see or hear this odd creature, who is sometimes male, sometimes female and alternately coy, cruel and cuddly.Sam's chums are Clive, a "gifted child" who wins a NASA science contest at age six but longs to be normal; Terry, an affable lad whose life is plagued by catastrophe; and Alice, the fetching, knowing girl who drives the boys wild with lust. Joyce describes the boys' childhood experiences, sampling drugs, toying with explosives, worrying over acne, and carefully portrays their childlike stoicism in the face of several horrifying tragedies. Sam worries that the Tooth Fairy, who grows menacing and sexually demanding, is responsible for those calamities. The novel's appeal lies primarily in the three boys, who are charmingly mischievous, naive and hormone-driven, portrayed by Joyce with a gentle wit. No less compelling, though, is the fairy, a fleur de mal from childhood's secret garden whose perfume seduces Sam and the reader alike into a fertile, startling nightmare. FYI: The Tooth Fairy has won the 1997 British Fantasy Award for best novel. (This review from (****)
  • Smoky Trudeau: The Cabin

    Smoky Trudeau: The Cabin
    James-Cyrus Hoffmann has just inherited his grandfather's farm, and with it a mysterious cabin deep in the woods on Hoffmann mountain; a cabin he has dreamed about since childhood. When James-Cyrus enters the cabin, he is vaulted back through time to the Civil War era, where he meets Elizabeth, the brave young woman who lives in the cabin, and Malachi, a runaway slave. James-Cyrus realizes his dreams of the cabin were visions of the past, and that Elizabeth is his great-great aunt—a woman who vanished without a trace from the family tree. (***)

  • Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child: A Novel (Kindle)

    Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child: A Novel (Kindle)
    Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of farmwork; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. A very good story. (****)

  • Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Drowning Girl

    Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Drowning Girl
    India Morgan Phelps-Imp to her friends-is schizophrenic. Struggling with her perceptions of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about her encounters with creatures out of myth-or from something far, far stranger. Some would say this is Kiernan's best work. I give that position to The Red Tree. Still, this is an excellent book, extremely well crafted and quite a reading experience. I recommend it highly. Of course, I could be a little prejudiced. Caitlin is my daughter, after all. Be that as it may, however, it's a damn good book. (****)

  • Elmore Leonard: Raylan: A Novel

    Elmore Leonard: Raylan: A Novel
    A crime novel based on the tv show "Justified." US marshal Raylan Givens chases bad guys and girls who have committed everything from bank robbery to kidney pilfering. Good book if you like crime fiction with a touch of dark humor. Which I do. (***)

  • Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

    Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
    I was pleasantly surprised to find how good this book actually is. Very readable with lots of action that keeps the story moving. Like STEPFORD WIVES of long ago, I found the concept to be very disturbing but also very believable. That a reality show could reach this extreme does not seem nearly as impossible to me as it would have seemed several years ago. And that the rich could one day control the country--well, I'm afraid we're well on our way. (***)

  • Todd Burpo: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Kindle)

    Todd Burpo: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Kindle)
    I don't buy it. Not to be disrespectful to this little boy or his family, but I think somebody is reading much too much (and maybe adding a bit) to this child's stories. There's too much here that just doesn't ring true; a blue-eyed Jesus; a 4-year-old boy that says things like, "God is three persons," (blessed Trinity!); people with wings. I'm not saying it's a hoax. I just think maybe Colton's parents got a little too excited and made something of their son's experience that it wasn't. Let me be clear: I do believe there are authentic near-death experiences; I just don't believe this is one of them--at least not as depicted in this book.

  • William Landay: Defending Jacob: A Novel

    William Landay: Defending Jacob: A Novel
    Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student. Your heart will break as you watch the crumbling of this happy family. (***)

  • Glenn Kleier: The Knowledge of Good & Evil

    Glenn Kleier: The Knowledge of Good & Evil
    A thriller that's a mixture of DaVinci Code, Flatliners, Paradise Lost, and the author's own imaginings of the afterlife. This thriller has, as I expected it would have, a surprise (sort of) ending. I have only one serious criticism and that would be that there's too much description. But there's lots of action and suspense to make up for it. (***)

  • Gregg Braden: The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief

    Gregg Braden: The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief
    Between 1993 and 2000, a series of groundbreaking experiments revealed dramatic evidence of a web of energy that connects everything in our lives and our world—the Divine Matrix. From the healing of our bodies, to the success of our careers, relationships, and the peace between nations, this new evidence demonstrates that we each hold the power to speak directly to the force that links all of creation. I wish the author had told us more about how to use this power in our lives. (***)

Books Read in 2011

  • Gregg Olsen: Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest

    Gregg Olsen: Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
    The setting is a forested wilderness in the Northwest, circa 1911. The villain is a tall, egotistical woman doctor with an imposing jawline and a fierce will to dominate others. The victims are two wealthy English sisters, gullible health faddists after the fashion of those who flocked to Dr. Kellogg's sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. But unlike Dr. Kellogg's comparatively gentle method of diet plus enemas, Dr. Hazzard's method was to literally starve her patients to death--and then defraud them of their valuables. An intriguing story but not very well written. (**)

  • Charles Frazier: Nightwoods: A Novel

    Charles Frazier: Nightwoods: A Novel
    A woman living in an abandoned rural lodge is suddenly forced to raise her dead sister's two wild young children. Neither of them has spoken a word since witnessing their mother's brutal murder, and they've developed a fondness for breaking things and starting fires. When their ne'er-do-well father is released from jail, the action in this lush and lively novel flares. Not as good as Cold Mountain but better than 13 Moons. I liked this book a lot. (***)

  • Stephen King: 11/22/63: A Novel

    Stephen King: 11/22/63: A Novel
    Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time. A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best. (****)

  • Emma Donoghue: Room: A Novel

    Emma Donoghue: Room: A Novel
    To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. (****)

  • Dean Koontz: What the Night Knows: A Novel

    Dean Koontz: What the Night Knows: A Novel
    Here is ghost story like no other you have read. In the Calvinos, Dean Koontz brings to life a family that might be your own, in a war for their survival against an adversary more malevolent than any he has yet created, with their own home the battleground. Of all his acclaimed novels, none exceeds What the Night Knows in power, in chilling suspense, and in sheer mesmerizing storytelling. (***)

  • Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone: A Novel (Kindle)

    Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone: A Novel (Kindle)
    Intriguing story and writing that is both lyrical and earthy. I loved this book. Bone chilling. The movie, which I saw before I read this book, sticks very very closely to the book's plot. (****)

  • Stephen King: Mile 81 (Kindle Single)

    Stephen King: Mile 81 (Kindle Single)
    A right scary novella with somewhat the same theme (but not exactly) of CHRISTINE and FROM A BUICK 8. (***)

  • Robert McCammon: The Five

    Robert McCammon: The Five
    The only complaint I have about this book is that there's a little too much rock and music terminology that I don't understand. Otherwise it's an excellent thriller with a supernatural touch. You won't see the ending coming, an ending that proves you never know what effect your actions might have on someone else. (***)

  • Peter Straub: A Dark Matter

    Peter Straub: A Dark Matter
    Four high school friends in 1966 Madison, Wis., fall under the spell of charismatic wandering guru. During an occult ceremony in which said guru attempts to break through to a higher reality, something goes horribly awry leaving one participant dead. Decades later, one of the four's writer husband interviews the quartet to find out what happened. And so we get to hear the entire story not once, but four times, as told by each of the four. I have to say, Peter, I could have done with the one telling, the last one, the one that I almost didn't make it to. (**)

  • Jack Kilborn: Endurance: A Novel of Terror (Kindle)

    Jack Kilborn: Endurance: A Novel of Terror (Kindle)
    The Rushmore Inn in rural West Virginia is much like the Eagles' Hotel California: Folks check in but they can never leave. Run by a crazy woman and her brood of inbred mutants, this inn doesn't appear in vacation pamphlets or Chamber of Commerce websites. It's the area's dirty little secret that even the sheriff is in on. Being a fan of scary books, I enjoyed this one. It's scary--very. But there was one thing that kept distracting and irritating me. I have lived in the south all my life, and I have never heard anyone use y'all for a plural pronoun. When you call someone "y'all," you better be speaking to more than one person. Apparently the vocabulary rules are different in West Virginia, or this author is in over his head when he writes in southern dialect. (***)

  • Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle)

    Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle)
    One reviewer said of this book: "If what we call 'horror' can be seen as including any literature that has dark, horrific subject matter, then Blood Meridian is...the best horror novel ever written. It's a perverse, picaresque Western about bounty hunters for Indian scalps near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s--a ragged caravan of indiscriminate killers led by an unforgettable human monster called 'The Judge.' " While I didn't conclude it to be the very best horror novel ever, I do agree that it's quite horrible (and very well written). A list of creatures murdered in horrible ways in this book would include not only men, women, children, and babies but also horses, mules, cows, dogs, cats, at least one bear, buffalo, and I probably forgot a few species. The reader loses count of the murders after a while but never quite becomes sensitized to the horrific violence of this book. I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't read it again. (***)

  • Michael Marshall: Straw Men (Kindle)

    Michael Marshall: Straw Men (Kindle)
    This is a very good book. Exciting thriller. Page turner. But it's a complicated (and intriguing) plot, so you have to pay attention. A couple of ex-CIA operatives work with a couple of FBI agents to bring together and solve the disparate components of a batch of serial killings with a spate of mass murders. (***)

  • Mario Puzo: The Family (Kindle)

    Mario Puzo: The Family (Kindle)
    Take the Carleone family (The Godfather) and make them all popes, cardinals, and priests, and you have this book that centers on the lives of the Borgia family in 15th century Italy. There's plenty of murder, sex, and corruption, but this book isn't nearly as good as The Godfather. It was finished and published after Puzo died. (**)

  • Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (Kindle)

    Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (Kindle)
    Sort of a combination of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. Very good storyt of a young girl in Nazi Germany, living with German foster parents who are harboring a Jewish man in their basement. This is a very good book and has good lessons and important warnings for any culture at anytime. (****)

  • Steven Meloan: The Shroud (Kindle)

    Steven Meloan: The Shroud (Kindle)
    Think Dan Brown meets The Shroud of Turin. A fast-paced thriller about of team of genetic scientists who have been commissioned by the Vatican to test the DNA in the ancient dried blood of the Shroud. I won't tell you what they found; that would spoil much of the excitement of this book. You find yourself wishing this could and would actually happen--until another scientist with ulterior motives decides that cloning is the next "logical" step. There's danger, intrigue, and just a smidgen of sex. Occasional passages explaining the mysteries of genetic science enhance the story but sometimes go on a bit too long, making the reader feel like she's reading a text book. My only other complaint is the ending. I expected a not-quite-so-clean ending and I didn't get it. But all-in-all, a good read. (***)

  • Graham Joyce: The Silent Land (Kindle)

    Graham Joyce: The Silent Land (Kindle)
    Zoe and Jake are on holiday at a ski resort in the Pyrenees when the get caught in an avalanche. The rest of the story is cold, mysterious, suspenseful, and more than a little scary. But this isn't just a suspense novel. It's also a love story that proves love absolutely can conquer all--at least for a while. I recommend this book to anyone who loves suspense, mystery, and strangeness. (****)

  • Mary McGarry Morris: A Dangerous Woman

    Mary McGarry Morris: A Dangerous Woman
    Odd, peculiar, obsessed, haunting and haunted--all these words describe this book's main character, Martha Horgan. Martha suffered gang rape as a teenager, and now wants nothing more than to be loved, appreciated, normal. Throughout the book, while tension builds for Martha, it also builds for the reader. Even while rooting for Martha as her life becomes more and more unraveled, the reader feels that something awful is coming. And it does. (***)

  • Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Kindle)

    Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Kindle)
    In her witty and wise debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an English widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy. (Amazon review) (****)

  • Oliver Pötzsch: The Hangman's Daughter (Kindle)

    Oliver Pötzsch: The Hangman's Daughter (Kindle)
    Set in the mid-1600s in the Bavarian town of Schongau, this novel features a hangman, Jakob Kuisl, who is asked to find out whether an ominous tattoo found on a dying boy means that witchcraft has come to town. Stories of witch hunts, whether literal or figurative, always make me angry, and this one was no exception. But it was worth the feelings of righteous anger to read this well written story. (***)

  • Scott Nicholson: The Red Church (Kindle)

    Scott Nicholson: The Red Church (Kindle)
    The Days, the Littlefields, and the McFalls are descendants of the original families that settled the rural Appalachian community. Those old families share a secret of betrayal and guilt, and McFall wants his congregation to prove its faith. Because he believes he is the Second Son of God, and that the cleansing of sin must be done in blood. Well written and very scary. (***)

  • Bill Douglas: 2012 The Awakening (Kindle)

    Bill Douglas: 2012 The Awakening (Kindle)
    A young woman finds herself at the epicenter of a global awakening that is shaking the foundations of humanity. As she is about to give the most auspicious speech of her life at the Oxford Debate Club in the UK, following on the heels of her Nobel Prize in Economics, she is rattled by a "vibration." It drives her from giving her prepared economics speech, to speak from the heart - issuing a plea for humanity to redefine itself in order to navigate the troubled waters of our future - using compassion as the compass that guides us. A very interesting, compelling, and thought provoking novel. (***)

  • Mark Childress: Georgia Bottoms: A Novel (Kindle)

    Mark Childress: Georgia Bottoms: A Novel (Kindle)
    A delightful novel about a good old girl who knows how to work through her problems. Georgia is a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara who is able to juggle half a dozen gentlemen callers, a mother with "a tenuous hold on reality," a n'ere-do-well brother, and a business selling quilts that she buys from a group of ladies (who sound a lot like the Gees Bend quilters) and then markets as her own. You'll fall in love with this "fallen woman," and cheer for her to the very end. (***)

  • Eleanor Brown: The Weird Sisters (Kindle)

    Eleanor Brown: The Weird Sisters (Kindle)
    As one of three sisters from an upbringing where reading was encouraged, I expected to like this book more than I did. I can't pinpoint just what I found wrong with it. It was very well written and there were parts that were intriguing. But, all in all, I think there was just not enough story for me. (***)

  • J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye

    J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
    I guess I can understand why this novel has become so important a part of American lit. It is, the best our group could determine, the first novel in which a teenager's feelings are displayed so realistically, at least during modern times. (I know Romeo and Juliet were teenagers too.) But I have to admit that I tired of old Holden's incessant complaining, negativity, and cynicism. I'm glad I read it though. I always felt I had missed something by never having read Catcher in my youth. Now that's done. (***)

  • Keith Donohue: Angels of Destruction: A Novel

    Keith Donohue: Angels of Destruction: A Novel
    A decade before, Margaret's daughter Erica has run away with her boyfriend. Later Margaret's husband has died. Margaret is all alone when, half frozen, nine-year-old Norah shows up at Margaret's door one cold winter night. The two concoct a story that Norah is actually Margaret's long-lost granddaughter whom she has never met, and Norah settles in to live with Margaret. But is Norah actually the strange little girl that Erica and her boyfriend live with for a while? Or is she an angel come to protect and comfort Margaret? And who is the strange man who keeps appearing in Margaret's life? Another angel? Lots of mystery and magic in this book. I loved it. (****)

Books Read in 2010

  • Stephen King: THE COLORADO KID (Kindle)
    The most boring Stephen King story I've ever read, and one of the most boring stories ever. A couple of old newspaper reporters tell a young female newspaper reporter the story of one of the mysteries of Moose Look Island. It goes on and on and on till you don't even care how the mystery is solved. Good thing too. Because it isn't. (**)
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Kindle)

    Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Kindle)
    Excellent storytelling. The narrator is a 15-year-old autistic boy who sets out to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor's dog. The journey is engrossing; You'll find this one hard to put down. And, with Christopher's fast-paced way of telling his story, often opting for tangents, you'll find yourself breathless and a bit tired at the end. Like you've made the journey with him. And you'll fall in love with this kid along the way. (****)

  • Charles Portis: True Grit

    Charles Portis: True Grit
    Somehow I missed ever having read this western classic, which was published in the 60s. I loved it. Portis is a very good storyteller. You'll fall in love with Rooster and Mattie. Now I'm ready for the new movie starring the amazing Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. (Remember the old movie with John Wayne as Rooster?) (****)

  • Elissa Elliott: Eve: A Novel of the First Woman

    Elissa Elliott: Eve: A Novel of the First Woman
    A fictional account of the lives of Adam, Eve, and their children, with appearance by Elohim, Lucifer, and a bunch of other folks that we never knew were there. Good story. (***)

  • Ray Bradbury: The Fog Horn (Kindle)
    A 1951 short story by this master of science fiction and horror. A humongous beast has slept miles under the sea for millions of years until he hears a voice like his calling to him. The monster returns year after year to visit this one of his kind until his new companion's voice is silenced. (****)
  • Ransom Stephens: The God Patent (Kindle)

    Ransom Stephens: The God Patent (Kindle)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. It's a well told story with an intriguing conclusion. But I felt the characters were a bit flat. I think they could have been fleshed out more. (***)

  • Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars

    Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars
    Four long stories by the King of Horror. No vampires or werewolves though. The monsters in these stories are all too human. They're some of King's darkest stories, however. Sometimes they're hard to read. But the writing is some of his best. (****)

  • Barack Obama: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

    Barack Obama: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
    The author created OF THEE I SING for his daughters Sasha and Malia back in 2004. It's a tribute to some honored Americans of all races. It's a great little read and would make a wonderful gift for some beloved child in your life. I'm giving one to my grand nephew (5 y.o.) for Christmas. I also got one for me. (****)

  • Tiffany Baker: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

    Tiffany Baker: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
    What it means to be different and the importance of acceptance run throughout this yankee gothic story. Aberdeen County, N.Y., in all its quirkiness, serves as a microcosm for the larger world and reminds us that we are all different and that things—and people—are not always what they seem.While I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good read, it is not without problems. The main character, a girl named Truly who cannot stop growing, serves as the story's narrator. But the story loses some of its believability as Truly describes scenes, conversations, and thoughts involving other characters that she could not possibly know about. And some situations, such as the burial of Amelia's father, the lack of any kind of investigation when Truly's sister disappears, etal, interrupt one's suspension of disbelief. It's a testament of the author's otherwise superb story-telling ability that I was able to overlook this drawbacks enough to enjoy this book. I would have given it four stars if not for these problems. (***)

  • Charlaine Harris: Grave Sight (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 1)

    Charlaine Harris: Grave Sight (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 1)
    Harper Connelly's talent is that she can find dead people. She finds a bunch of them in Sarne, Ark. Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver solve a trio of murders in this small town, then hightail it to safer ground. Fun read. (***)

  • Stephen M. Irwin: The Dead Path (Kindle)

    Stephen M. Irwin: The Dead Path (Kindle)
    This is onen of the best scary books I've ever read. An adult fairy tale of sorts, don't even open it unless you're a scary story fan--'cause it's plenty scarey. Warning: It has spiders--lots and lots of spiders. (****)

  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

    Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
    My fifth reading of this most excellent of books. My book club chose this as our October selection to honor the 50th anniversary of its publication. Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Boo, and Ms. Lee, thank you for this story. (*****)

  • Stephen King: Roadwork

    Stephen King: Roadwork
    One of King's "Richard Bachman" books. There really is a difference in Bachman and King. Bachman is harsher and not as sympathetic with his characters, I think. This is a pretty good story of a man fighting eminent domain to save his house and his sacred memories. In a way, he wins. (***)

  • Amy Greene: Bloodroot (Kindle)

    Amy Greene: Bloodroot (Kindle)
    Named for a flower whose blood-red sap possesses the power both to heal and poison, Bloodroot is a stunning fiction debut about the legacies of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss that haunt one family across the generations, from the Great Depression to today. (****)

  • Stephen King: UR (Kindle)

    Stephen King: UR (Kindle)
    This novella concerns a man who ordered a Kindle from Amazon and got a highly unusual pink one that let him read books and newspaper from alternate dimensions of our universe. Good read. (***)

  • Christian Moerk: Darling Jim: A Novel (Kindle)

    Christian Moerk: Darling Jim: A Novel (Kindle)
    A dad-gum good book. Modern Irish gothic tale of traveling bard Jim Quick and victims of his killing spree. This author combines fairy tales, Arthurian legend, horror, mystery, and a few other genres to create this entrancing tale of murder and revenge. (****)

  • Colm A. Kelleher: Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah (Kindle)

    Colm A. Kelleher: Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah (Kindle)
    A compendium of every UFO and paranormal experience that most people have ever heard of. According to this book, which is presented as a true story, the owners of a Utah ranch were terrorized by everything from Big Foot to giant wolves over a period of several years, some of which appeared out of a portal to/from another dimension. NIDS (National Institute for Discovery Science) subsequently bought the ranch and started an investigation. Although the author reports that the investigators experienced many of the same phenomena that the Gormans did, they apparently didn't get a lot of evidence in the way of photos, videos, or recordings--as none appear in the book. Read at your own risk of becoming disenchanted. (**)

  • Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)

    Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)
    This is the story of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, who might just be the worst parents in the history of the world. Victims of the Walls's laissez faire form of child rearing as well as their parents' complete lack of a sense of responsibility for their children, the four Walls kids suffer inhuman deprivation and indignity. The miracle is that they all got out and, at least in the case of this author, because productive adults. A good story. (***)

  • Stephen King: N (Kindle)
    Is it possible for a psychiatrist to "catch" his patient's illness, specifically OCD? A very severe case of OCD with some very serious side effects. Well, as we know, with the Master of the Macabre, anything is possible. The strange thing about this story is that it appeared on my Kindle, and I didn't order it. (***)
  • Dan Simmons: Black Hills

    Dan Simmons: Black Hills
    Paha Sapa (Black Hills) a young Lakota Sioux, counts coup on old Yellow Hair at the Battle of the Greasy Grass and acquires Custer's ghost as an unwelcome lifelong companion. Paha Sapa's adult life finds him working as s powder man with Gutzon Borglum on Mt.Rushmore, a white sculpture paid for by the white government and carved into The Six Grandfathers, a mountain sacred to the Sioux and other Plains Indians. But Paha Sapa has a plan to avenge this desecration. If you have any interest in the history of the Sioux or Mt. Rushmore, or if you just like a very good story, you should love this book. I did. (****)

  • Justin Cronin: The Passage (Kindle)

    Justin Cronin: The Passage (Kindle)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. In the end, it was a good story, well plotted. But Cronin included way too many characters, especially in the middle of the book. Hard to keep up with who was who. But I'd still recommend it for anyone who likes a good end-of-the-world thriller. (***)

  • Ramey Channell: Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge
    The story of how Lily Claire and her beloved cousin Willie T. solve a mystery that starts with a map on a baby boy's tongue. A good read for young people and adults. Filled with humor, adventure, and a touch of the supernatural. A fun read if there ever was one. (****)
  • Paul David Binkley: Thawing Eden (Kindle)

    Paul David Binkley: Thawing Eden (Kindle)
    This book did not measure up to my expectations. While the premise was intriguing (finding the ancient Garden of Eden under the Antarctic polar ice cap), the execution just didn't ring true for me. The last fourth of the book is the best. (**)

  • Richard Matheson: The Box: Uncanny Stories (Kindle)

    Richard Matheson: The Box: Uncanny Stories (Kindle)
    I love Richard Matheson's writing. My initial reason for reading this book was to get some more insight into the movie of the same title that left me wondering WT?. But I think the story was even more ambiguous than the movie. My favorite story in the book is the last one, "Tis the Season to be Jelly." (***)

  • Sandra Felton: Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home (Kindle)

    Sandra Felton: Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home (Kindle)
    This book gives advice on how Messies can become Cleanies. Tips on decluttering, organing, finding your style, and living beautifully. The main problem I had with this book is that the author seems to be speaking to an audience with plenty of money. (**)

  • Irene Latham: Leaving Gee's Bend

    Irene Latham: Leaving Gee's Bend
    In 1930s rural Gees Bend, Alabama, young Ludelphia Bennet goes on a journey to save her mother and ends up saving Gees Bend. (***)

  • Donald B. Kraybill: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kindle)

    Donald B. Kraybill: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kindle)
    Not so much a story of the Amish school house shooting as a documentary on the history of Anabaptists and the Amish doctrine of forgiveness. But it's very interesting. It's also very inspiring to know that there are people who work this hard to follow Jesus and do the things he taught, especially the part about forgiveness and loving our enemies. (****)

  • Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box (Kindle)

    Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box (Kindle)
    As one has-been hard-rock star found out, be careful what you buy on Ebay (or a knock-off Ebay). You might get a little more than you paid for. This is a scary book. (***)

  • Robert Goolrick: A Reliable Wife

    Robert Goolrick: A Reliable Wife
    In the fall of 1907, Ralph Truitt puts an ad in a Chicago newspaper for "a reliable wife" to share his life in rural Wisconsin. Catherine Land answers his ad, claiming she is "a simple, honest woman." What she is, however, is a prostitute whose plan is to become Truitt's wealthy widow. The action, suspense, plot twists, and beautiful prose kept me turning pages until the very last one. (****)

  • Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island (Kindle)

    Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island (Kindle)
    Edge-of-your-seat page-turner with a lot of twists and an ending that I never saw coming. I had to read the last two chapters three times before I believed it. Can't wait to see the movie. (****)

  • John Connolly: The Gates: A Novel

    John Connolly: The Gates: A Novel
    Who knew quantum physics could be so much fun? This book is sort of a children's book for adults. When scientists at the CERN particle accelerator have a wee malfunction, the Gates of Hell are opened and Samuel Johnson, his doggie Boswell, and three of his friends find themselves on the front lines in a demonic war. Sounds scary, and it is a little. But mostly it's funny. (***)

  • Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (Kindle)

    Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (Kindle)
    Greg Mortenson risks his life time and again to build schools in the hostile environs of the Islamic world. Mortenson is a living hero to rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials and tribal chiefs from his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls. Read this book and believe that peace can be won without violence. (****)

  • Dan Simmons: A Winter Haunting

    Dan Simmons: A Winter Haunting
    This is a very scary book. The ending took me totally by surprise. Didn't see it coming. Sequel to Children of the Night. Just as good, if not better, than Children. (****)

  • Louise Murphy: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

    Louise Murphy: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
    Using a framework based on the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale, Murphy weaves a story of horror and heartbreak set in Poland during the latter days of the Holocaust. The moral of this story can be found in the very last chapter: When all is said and done, "when the bombs have stopped dropping...and we are done killing each other," love is what we're left with. Love is all that's eternal among the many human emotions. (****)

  • Clyde Bolton: Nancy Swimmer: A Story of the Cherokee Nation

    Clyde Bolton: Nancy Swimmer: A Story of the Cherokee Nation
    This novel takes place during the 19th century in North Georgia in the period before and during the removal of the eastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma. It's an interesting and well written account of the life of Nancy Swimmer, a Cherokee woman who lived during this time. It's heartbreaking as well and will not endear you to the government of Georgia of the time, nor to the old Chicken Snake himself, President Andy Jackson. (****)

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October 2010

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