Five Sentence Reviews : Two Classics and a New Best Seller

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

This is short – my edition was 131 pages including an Introduction and a Forward by Margaret Atwood. It was descriptive, atmospheric, and unsettling, and the beginning is mysterious enough to hook the reader. I can see it’s rightful place as a science fiction classic and also how it’s exploration of science and ethics would make for great classroom discussion. But I can’t summon much enthusiasm for it. It’s pretty bleak and parts of it are very disturbing. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (Miss Marple #3)

Another short book- my paperback was 207 pages- but this one felt MUCH longer. Intriguing premise: a young attractive blond woman is found strangled in a country estate library and of course there are many suspects. Miss Marple didn’t make much of an impression on me here and she disappears for much of the book. The end provides a great twist but it took forever to get there. I love Christie’s other great detective, Hercule Poirot – am I just being too hard on Miss Marple? ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

This was delightful; it reminded me of Elinor Lipman. A baseball player struggling with the “yips” and a youngish widow who isn’t exactly grieving meet when one rents an apartment in the other’s overly big house. Sparks smolder slowly and eventually burst into flames. I appreciated the modesty with which the romantic scenes were written ( I don’t really want a play by play.) This was a cute, smartly written novel about the value of good therapy, true friendship, and two people on the journey to wholeness ( but not co-dependent!) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A request for you Christie fans out there: What is your favorite Miss Marple book?

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The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffith

Publication: March 2019 (US)

Format: Library hardcover

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Reason I Chose It: I love Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mystery series, and two bloggers I follow loved it (FictionFan and Cleo.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this engaging. I finished it in two days and felt like I really wanted to write about it while it was fresh. You may have noticed that I’ve been scarce around here for a little bit. I’m trying to figure out just exactly what I want my blog to look like. I feel like I need to shake things up. I’m really burned out on writing reviews. They’re not fun for me anymore, they’re more like homework that I want to avoid. I’ve got three finished books for the Classics Club that I’m going to try and write some mini-reviews for, but other than that I think my reviews are going on the back burner.

img_4034Anyway, back to the book. It’s told from the perspectives of three characters: divorced mom and English teacher Clare Cassidy; DS Harbinder Kaur, a detective of Indian descent who still lives at home with her parents at age 35, and Clare’s teenaged daughter Georgie, who loves books and writing but hides this talent from her mother. The setting is Talgarth High, a British high school with a so-so academic reputation and a haunted past. The novel opens with a story within the story, one that Clare teaches to her students regularly, “The Stranger,” by R.M. Holland, who long ago lived in the building where Clare now teaches. It’s a ghost story, a horror story, and it elicits chills from students year after year. Clare takes a break from discussing the story with some adult creative writing students to receive some awful news: her good friend and English department colleague Ella has been murdered. There’s a chilling detail: a line from the Holland story is found on a post-it note near her body. As the police seek the killer and suspect someone connected to the school, Clare turns to writing in her diary for comfort. Only one day she sees that an unknown person has written a message to her in her diary: “Hallo Clare. You don’t know me.”

I loved the Gothic atmosphere of this contemporary standalone British mystery. The ghost story within the story is genuinely spooky, and R.M. Holland’s life story adds another creepy element (his wife is said to have committed suicide in the building and supposedly haunts it.) The three main characters are strong and fully realized, each with secrets they keep from one another. Clare and Georgie’s mother-daughter relationship is very realistic, fraught with tension but fiercely loving all the same. DS Kaur and Clare at first are very suspicious of one another but grow into a nice mutual admiration. There are red herrings everywhere, especially after another person connected to the school is murdered. I genuinely had no clue who the killer was until very late in the book. An unexpected treat was Clare and Georgie’s sweet dog, Herbert. He plays a crucial role in the story and in their family, providing companionship and protection. This is also a book for book lovers: allusions to Harry Potter, Georgette Heyer, Shakespeare, and Wilkie Collins abound.

This was a smart page-turner, keeping me riveted and guessing until the very end. Great characters, atmosphere, and mystery. I’ve only read two other 5-star books so far this year, so I’m thrilled to add one more to the list. If you’ve never read Elly Griffiths before, this would be a the perfect place to start.

 

Five Sentence Reviews: Three 2018 Novels

I feel like my reading mojo is returning. I’ve been on a streak of four-star reads lately.

There There by Tommy Orange. This one made me cry. I’d never read a novel told from the perspectives of urban Native Americans before (Sherman Alexie’s reservation-centric stories 36692478were my only reference.) So many characters occasionally had me reaching back to the beginning to get my bearings. And the ways in which the characters all intersected in the end felt just a wee bit too tidy. But the passion and emotion of the writing kept me invested and makes me want to read Orange’s next book. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A sample: Only those who have lost as much as we have see the particularly nasty slice of smile on someone who thinks they’re winning when they say, “Get over it.” This is the thing: if you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. What fun! This classic-style mystery with Gothic flare kept me turning pages so quickly I didn’t even take notes. You’ve got a crumbling, spooky estate, an inheritance at stake, family secrets and intrigue galore.51yGj5z3JtL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ Plus, a menacing, Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper looming around every dark corner. Highly entertaining – Ruth Ware is becoming one of my go-to mystery writers.             ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A sample: Then she turned the handle of the door and pushed.

Nothing happened.

Hal felt her breath catch in her throat, and her heart seemed suddenly to be beating painfully hard.

The bolts. The bolts on the outside.

But no – it wasn’t possible. She would have heard. Surely she would have heard? And who – why?

Transcription by Kate Atkinson. One of my very favorite authors, Kate Atkinson’s last two books utterly wowed me. This novel, a story of a young, inexperienced woman named Juliet who is recruited to be a spy for MI-5 in the early days of WWII Britain, 37946414wasn’t as magnificent in scope or in emotion as those. But it was typically Atkinsonian in that it was an entertaining mix of heavy and light, serious and witty. It reminded me a lot of one of her earliest novels, Human Croquet, in tone especially. Fans of Atkinson should definitely read this. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A sample: The brooding landscape they were currently traversing, the lowering sky above their heads and the rugged terrain beneath their feet, were all conspiring to make her feel like an unfortunate Brontë sister, traipsing endlessly across the moors after unobtainable fulfillment. Perry himself was not entirely without Heathcliffian qualities – the absence of levity, the ruthless disregard for a girl’s comfort, the way he had of scrutinizing you as if you were a puzzle to be solved. Would he solve her? Perhaps she wasn’t complicated enough for him. (On the other hand, perhaps she was too complicated.)

Thoughts on any of these? What makes the difference for you between a four-star read and a five-star read?

More Five Sentence Reviews: The Radium Girls, Ongoingness, and The Janus Stone

I hope everyone is having a good week so far. It’s August! It’s hot. I just saw the new Mission Impossible movie yesterday and it’s terrific! Non-stop action. I’m currently reading books 16 and 17 from my 20 Books of Summer list, taking my time especially with George Saunders’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline because it’s dark. Very good, but dark. And, in this current political hellscape,  I can only deal with so much dark at once. Plus I’m still trying to savor short story collections rather than blazing through them quickly. But I’ve got a stack of overdue reviews, so here is another batch of Five Sentence Reviews.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. 51GLNSdDDqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Young American women considered themselves lucky to have jobs painting illuminated watch and clock dials in the 1910’s-1930’s. They licked the brushes, dipped them in radium-mixed paint, and painted, over and over again all day. When they started falling ill, the companies who employed them disavowed any responsibility. I’m so glad the stories of these brave women (who fought back against the companies despite grave illness and horrific injury) are finally being told. But important as that is, I felt like the narrative was disjointed and repetitive – and also very sad. (3 Stars.)

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso. A 95-page memoir and exploration of the keeping and letting go of a meticulous daily diary, full of meditations on identity, motherhood, the passage of 81aIlYK3KLLtime, memory. I marked many passages, especially once Manguso became pregnant and had a child. I related to so much of what she wrote. “Before I was a mother, I thought I was asking, How, then, can I survive forgetting so much? Then I came to understand that the forgotten moments are the price of continued participation in life, a force indifferent to time.” (3 Stars.)

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway mystery #2.) I barely took any notes on this one, I read it so quickly. This mystery series is the perfect mix of realistic and cozy – not too gruesome for me to handle, but not too precious or 51+aKyKRIeL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_cutesy to be believable either. In this one forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called to investigate a child’s bones found at the demolition site of a former Catholic children’s home and, before that, a private residence. Someone is trying to frighten her off the case, of course, and she continues to work with the attractive (and married) DCI Harry Nelson. Their bond continues to be complicated, and I am really enjoying this series. (4 Stars.)

So how has your August in books been so far? Still going with 20 Books of Summer? Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think?

(These three books are numbers 10, 11, and 12 from my 20 Books of Summer list.)

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (20 Books of Summer #3)

Beyond her front garden with its windblown grass and broken blue fence there is nothingness. Just miles and miles of marshland, spotted with stunted gorse bushes and criss-crossed with small, treacherous streams. Sometimes, at this time of year, you see great flocks on wild geese wheeling across the sky, their feathers turning pink the the rays of the rising sun. But today, on this grey winter morning, there is not a living creature as far as the eye can see. Everything is pale and washed out, grey-green merging to grey-white as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly desolate and Ruth has absolutely no idea why she loves it so much.

6688087Elly Griffiths came to my attention through a couple of bloggers I follow, Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books and Fiction Fan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews.  I love a good mystery, especially one set in the UK, and this one was right up my alley. The Crossing Places has a great sense of atmosphere, a likeable heroine in forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, and even a bit of believable romantic tension. I’ve mentioned before how mysteries are my bookish “palate-cleanser” and my go-to escape genre, and this one was an absorbing read that made me eager to read more in the series. I read it in two days!

From Goodreads: When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.
      The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. 

Besides the descriptive sense of atmosphere, where the Norfolk-area marshy landscape is practically a character in the book, I liked that Ruth was a fairly level-headed, smart, competent woman, late 30’s, good job, happily living with her cats in a fairly isolated area. The only thing that bothered me really were a couple of comments about her weight. She discloses early on that she’s 12.5 stone and I Googled that – being an American I have no clue what a stone is! It translates to 175 pounds, which IS NOT THAT BIG. It certainly wouldn’t preclude a woman from being able to fit in a car or being able to walk a couple of miles to a marshy crime scene without being out of breath (both little comments made in the story.) I’m sensitive about this issue, I admit, but honestly I don’t think she’s big enough to even make mention of it for character development’s sake. Oh well. One good thing is that it didn’t seem to stop her from enjoying the attention of men – thank goodness for that! (There are a couple of men interested in Ruth – I won’t spoil anything but things do get a bit messy and I’ll be interested to see how things develop in later installments!)

Not much in-depth analysis of this one, really. I didn’t mark many places as I read  – I was turning pages too quickly! It was a realistic feeling mystery that wasn’t too gory or gruesome – a delicate balance in this genre, I find. Appealing characters, absorbing mystery, and I didn’t guess the “whodunnit” until very late in the game. I have the second in the series, The Janus Stone, checked out and sitting on my bedside bookshelf. I don’t know when I’ll get to it but I may make it one of my two remaining “Reader’s Choice” picks for 20 Books of Summer.

Have you read anything by Elly Griffiths? Do you like your mysteries on the cozier side or the more realistic side?

(This is the third book I’ve written about so far from my 20 Books of Summer challenge list.)

 

 

 

 

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Lacey Flint series #2)

Jesus, what was I thinking? I had no idea how to be an undercover officer. SO10 trained its officers rigorously. The programme was tough and not everyone who applied made it through. Whilst it wasn’t unusual for run-of-the-mill detectives to go undercover, they were rarely sent into situations that lasted any amount of time. Besides, I’d joined the Met to work on serious crimes against women. If I spent the next few months off the grid, I could miss the chance to transfer to one of the specialist units. Why had I agreed?

Like I needed the answer to that one. I was doing it for Joesbury.

13120860Here is a mystery series on which I have become good and hooked. S.J. Bolton knows how to write a page-turner. Dead Scared is set in the academic world of Cambridge, where an alarming trend of grisly apparent suicides and suicide attempts has set the University on edge. Most of the victims are attractive young women, and DC Lacey Flint is recruited to pose undercover as a student. The police think that perhaps someone is encouraging these vulnerable young women to end their lives, perhaps on an online chat room. What Flint uncovers is much darker than she ever imagined.

As with the first in the series, Now You See Me, Bolton includes some nice misdirection; I was sure that a certain character, to whom Lacey feels attracted, had something to do with the deaths. There is also an interesting secondary character, a professor named Dr. Evie Oliver, head of student counseling, who forms a bond with Lacey and is the only person on campus who knows that she is a detective. She’s treated some of the young women involved and feels a great interest in the investigation.  While Lacey is trying to settle into the routines of academic life, including a frightening episode of hazing (which actually disturbed me a great deal) involving a bucket of water on a cold night, Dr. Oliver is dealing with creepy things going on in her university-owned home. Pinecones (which hold significance for her) being left in a neat line in her driveway and in a pile on her dining room table, a wind-up “bone-man” going off in an upstairs closet, threatening message left in the steam of her bathroom mirror. But the police, for various reasons, don’t seem to exactly believe her. Things get scary for Lacey as well, as she deals with her feelings of inadequacy in the academic environment and starts having some vivid, terrifying dreams that feel all too real.

There is a tremendous sense of menace throughout this novel. While reading at night, I had to put the book down in a few places and wait to read it the next day in the safety and bright lights of my workplace break room! And I will warn you, the apparent suicides and attempts are very dark and gruesome. I normally don’t really go for stuff like that, but this series is so well-written and the relationship between the two main detectives, Lacey and DI Mark Joesbury, is so full of complicated and repressed attraction that I can’t help but be drawn in. I would say that if you’d not read the first in the series, you could still jump in with this one and be fine; there’s just enough allusion to the backstory that you’d feel up to speed and the plot is so engrossing you wouldn’t care. If you like British mysteries and can tolerate darker plot lines, I recommend you give these a try.