Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Sister's Bones, by Nuala Ellwood

William Morrow
July 2017, 400 pages

Publisher's Description:
Kate has spent fifteen years bringing global injustice home: as a decorated war reporter, she's always in a place of conflict, writing about ordinary people in unimaginable situations. When her mother dies, Kate returns from Syria for the funeral. But an incident with a young Syrian boy haunts her dreams, and when Kate sees a boy in the garden of the house next door — a house inhabited by an Iraqi refugee who claims her husband is away and she has no children — Kate becomes convinced that something is very wrong. 
As she struggles to separate her memories of Syria from the quiet town in which she grew up — and also to reconcile her memories of a traumatic childhood with her sister's insistence that all was not as Kate remembers — she begins to wonder what is actually true...and what is just in her mind.

My Thoughts:

It's difficult to say much about Nuala Ellwood's twisty psychological thriller without giving away more than I want to. But I can say it didn't develop the way I expected, and kept surprising me all the way through.

The plot emerges gradually, as each sister relates her story and reveals her memories to us. They shared the early trauma of a frightening home life, with an abusive father and a mother who seemed powerless (or unwilling) to defend herself or her children from his rages. However, their recollections of that life don't really match up, and both have their own personal demons to deal with. And a mysterious estrangement keeps them from being of any comfort to each other.

Can't say I found the sisters — Kate and Sally — particularly sympathetic, but the relationship was intriguing and their story haunting and compelling. There are several mysteries at the heart of the book, and even a bit of supernatural atmosphere. And for a relatively long book, it was actually a pretty quick read. All in all, a good suspenseful tale.

Rating: ★★★½

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge .


Miss Zukas and the Library Murders, by Jo Dereske

First published 1994
Avon Paperback edition, 218 pages

(I actually read the Kindle edition, 227 pages.)

First published in 1994, this is the first entry in Dereske's very popular and long-running cozy mystery series featuring librarian Helma (short for Wilhelmina) Zukas. When an unidentified dead body turns up in the fiction stacks of the public library, everyone is amazed and horrified. Murder just doesn't happen in lovely Bellehaven, Washington — and certainly not in the "MO-NE" aisle of the public library! Even after a thorough investigation, the police (led by the charming Chief Gallant) can't seem to turn up any information about the dead man or why the murder took place where it did. Enter Miss Helma Zukas, reference librarian extraordinaire, who just can't let a good question go unanswered. With her talent for tracking down information and her Miss-Marple-like "noticing" abilities, she's definitely on the case.

I had read one of the later Miss Zukas mysteries several years ago and enjoyed it enough to add this first work to my TBR-someday list. Glad I decided to make this year that "someday" — Miss Zukas No. 1 was a cute, fast read. Must admit, I had pretty much figured out "who dunnit" long before the big reveal, but that didn't spoil the fun. And even though Helma is a little prickly, decidedly opinionated, and not always easy to be around (hey, that sounds just like me!), I'll definitely continue with this series.

Rating: ★★★★

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge .
Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge  (February word: "and").
Reading the '90s Personal Reading Challenge .
USA Fiction Reading Challenge (ongoing) (Washington State).


How to Be Human, by Paula Cocozza

Metropolitan Books
May 2017, 288 pages

In Paula Cocozza's debut novel How to Be Human, Mary is on leave from her university job and upset by the sudden reappearance of her former fiancĂ©. She's also become increasingly intrigued by a magnificent fox she's seen several times in her back garden. First she's certain she sees him wink at her, then he starts bringing gifts and leaving them for her to find (possibly including the neighbors' new baby!), and finally she invites him into her house and her life. Not really such a good idea. Mary is obviously having some very scary problems. 

For some reason, I had a really hard time getting going with this book. Kept starting over and over for a couple of months – picking it up, reading a few pages, putting it down again. We just didn't click, the book and me. But it was an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing and I felt obligated to finish it. So I gave it one more go, and then just read it straight through in only a couple of sittings. And really enjoyed it. 

This was certainly an unusual story. Yes, disturbing – as many have said. Have to admit, I was originally attracted to the novel because one of the main characters is a fox – I've always loved the critters and we have them around our yard and neighborhood. There's one particularly handsome specimen who naps in our patio area during the summer. I can see myself getting obsessed with one, although I hope not to the extent that Mary does in the book. 

Anyway, what a mesmerizing debut. So glad I didn't pass this one up.

Rating: ★★★★

European Reading Challenge (Country: England) 


Sunday, February 04, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I only finished one book last week -- not one of the books I had intended to read, but a good one nonetheless.

If Morning Ever Comes, by Anne Tyler

Also posted a few short reading reports:

Intruder in the Dark (Inspector Littlejohn #43), by George Bellairs
A Murder Is Announced (Miss Marple #5), by Agatha Christie
Vintage Murder (Inspector Alleyn #5), by Ngaio Marsh

... and did a post about the USA Fiction Challenge that I've lately rediscovered.

This week, I'll be reading some nonfiction --

Just Kids, a memoir by Patti Smith

... and also hoping to get back to the books I thought I might read last week. Just too many books out there calling my name. But that's a good problem to have, right?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Intruder in the Dark, by George Bellairs

Inspector Littlejohn #43
First published 1966
Kindle edition, Ipso Books, 2016; 224 pages

Description (from Amazon.com):
In the strange, nearly-deserted village of Plumpton Bois, Mr Cyril Savage inherits the home of his wealthy and estranged Aunt. But before Savage has the chance to discover her fortune, he is struck dead in the cellar of this once grand country house. 
The police are baffled and, unable to unearth a motive – let alone a killer, call for the assistance of Scotland Yard. Superintendent Littlejohn and Inspector Cromwell arrive in Plumpton Bois and find the village, the family, and the house itself full of secrets. 
The door to a locked room has been bashed open, Savage’s aunt is not nearly as rich as she seemed to be, and now another body has turned up on Littlejohn’s watch…

The Inspector Littlejohn mysteries are a new discovery for me. Not sure how I managed to miss out on such a long-running series (57 books between 1941 and 1980!), but I'm very happy that I've found them.

Overall, I enjoyed this entry in the group. A little more "procedural" than I might have liked -- I think I would have been happier with a little less talking about the case, and a little more action. But apart from that quibble, I thought it was very well written and found Superintendent Littlejohn a very intriguing character. I can definitely see myself continuing with this series in the future.

Rating: ★★★

Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge


A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple #5
First published 1950
Pocket Books paperback, 1990; 275 pages

Description (from the agathachristie.com website):
A Murder is Announced is a staple of crime fiction and is often considered the best of all the Miss Marple novels. The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which reads: ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.’ A childish practical joke? Or a hoax intended to scare poor Letitia Blacklock? Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out….
... and, of course, murder happens. And would you believe it -- Miss Jane Marple just happens to be staying at the local hotel where the victim worked. And Inspector Craddock, who's investigating the goings-on, just happens to be the godson of Sir Henry Clithering, the ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard who is a confirmed fan of Miss Marple. Sir Henry strongly encourages Craddock to avail himself of the old bag's the talented spinster's sleuthing abilities. And the game's afoot.

I haven't read all the Miss Marple books, but I do think this is my favorite of the ones I've read so far. It has all the classic Christie touches -- village setting, lots of quirky, intriguing characters, hidden identities, several red herrings, and a lovely chatty summing up by la Marple in the final chapter. What more could you want?

In addition, this entry in the series has a strong emphasis on the post-WWII society emerging at the time. Several characters comment on the fact that the world is changing, with "new people" and new ideas making life less secure and predictable than it was before the war. In fact, that new unpredictability is a major part of the book's story line. Just how well do any of the villagers really know their neighbors? Or their close friends? Or even members of their own families? Well, since this is Agatha Christie, we know we're in for some big surprises and unexpected twists. That's why she's the best-selling novelist of all time.

Rating: ★★★★

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Vintage Murder, by Ngaio Marsh

Inspector Roderick Alleyn #5
First published 1937
Jove paperback, 1978; 272 pages

In Vintage Murder Chief Inspector Alleyn is vacationing in New Zealand (Ngaio Marsh’s homeland), and finds himself traveling with a group of English actors touring the country with their latest play. Alleyn thinks their company intriguing and slightly amusing, until one of the group is rather gruesomely murdered. Naturally, the New Zealand authorities are delighted to find the famous policeman in their midst and all but beg him to aid them in their investigations. At first, he's reluctant to join in, but of course cannot keep his nose out for long.

Not my favorite of the Roderick Alleyn mysteries. Lots of long discussions about how the murder was committed and the various relationships among the actors in the company. Not a great deal of action. And I missed the presence of stalwart Sergeant Fox and Alleyn's artist friend Agatha Troy. But it was nicely plotted and did keep me guessing the identity of the murderer right up to the final few chapters. So definitely worth a read -- any Inspector Alleyn is better than no Inspector Alleyn, after all.

Rating: ★★★

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