November Road by Lou Berney

Title: November Road, Author: Lou Berney November Road. Finished 10-22-19, 4.5/5 stars, thriller, 299 pages, pub. 2018

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.  A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is “don’t stop,” but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.
 It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.  from Goodreads

I’m always intrigued by stories set around the Kennedy assassination and was excited to see this one available to review for its paperback release today.  The killing of the President is the impetus, but the characters and their stories quickly take over.  The chapters alternate between Guidry, a likable mobbed up man on the run, Charolotte, a woman who has been nowhere and is trapped in a bad marriage, and Barone, a fixer.  As the three make their way from Texas westward I was completely hooked.  The pages turned fast and I was sad to see it end.  Guidry saw a future fraught with hope and Charlotte became her own woman by making one hard decision after another to get her and her daughters where she wanted to be.  I loved her.  The story was mainly Guidry’s and his arc was perfect.

I didn’t realize until I read the interview with the author at the end of the book that Carlos Marcello was a real New Orleans mob boss and that this is one possible way the author sees the Kennedy story playing out for real.  Kennedy enthusiast or thriller fan, this is a winner.

If you still need convincing the blurb on the cover is from Stephen King, “When people say they want to read a really good novel. the kind you just can’t put down, this is the kind of book they mean.”  I concur.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for the book and the hours of enjoyment they sent my way 🙂

 

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver, Author: Lois Lowry The Giver. Finished 9-8-19, YA classic, 4.25/5 stars, pub. 1993

The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.  From bn.com

Jonas lives in a world with no violence, no poverty, no starvation, but also no passion, no color and no choices.  The Elders decide what your role in the community will be.  They may take your interests into consideration but the decision is theirs, not yours.  Jonas, has had a few instances of something otherworldly happening to him and is assigned one of the most honored positions in the community, but it comes with a heavy price.

I loved the world building and character development in this slim book.  Lowry managed to paint a stark picture and tell a cautionary tale while making it the perfect size for children.  I’m excited to read this one with Gage.  I admit that I didn’t care for the ending, but I understand there are two more books after this one that continue the story.

I watched the movie years ago when it came out but don’t remember much about it so I’m looking forward to watching it again now that I know the story.

This is the 1994 Newbery Medal winner and  my 28th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

 

I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant

I Had Seen Castles I Had Seen Castles, 4.5/5, YA, 128 pages, pub. 1993

John Dante is seventeen when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and he wants to fight for his country. But then he falls head over heels for Ginny Burton, who is against all war, and his beliefs are suddenly questioned. Rather than be judged a traitor or a coward, though, John enlists–a decision that changes his life forever.   from Goodreads

I picked up this book last month because of the length and the fact that I could add it to my Classics Challenge so I really didn’t even know anything about it.  I was so moved my this novella.  It was so engrossing and really pulled the heartstrings.  If you are talking to kids about war or the military this would be a great read, as long as you are okay with one sex scene and one drunken night.

It’s Pittsburgh in 1939 and there’s a war going on but when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor all the boys, including 17 year old John Dante, know that signing up is what they must do.  John has to wait until he turns 18 and during that time he meets Ginny, his first love, who is against war of any kind.  They don’t let that keep them apart and until the day John ships off you are hoping love prevails.

This book runs the gamut of the realities of war and the validity of it: the all consuming patriotism after an attack, the pressure to join the military, the feeling of being a hero, the bloody reality of war and the aftermath when you learn to live with what you’ve done.  And to Rylant’s credit she also brought to light what happens to the women.  John’s mom goes to work and he resents it and his sister was perhaps the most interesting character to me and I won’t say more.  I would read her story in a heartbeat.

Obviously a lot of love for this one.  This was my 26th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Fangirl. Finished 7-5-19, 4.5/5, YA, pub. 2013

Unabridged audio read by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield.  13 hours.

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.  from Goodreads

I really got sucked into this book and was actually looking forward to my time driving Gage around for summer camps!  Cath was so very real, meaning that I identified with her and I wanted to shake her at the same time, as were all of the characters.  She and her twin sister were once very close, but the differences between them grew and now they are barely speaking.  Cath is not doing so well being thrown into the college life alone.  Good thing her roommate Reagan feels this way, “I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”

Cath was a popular fan fiction writer for a series that is loosely based on the Harry Potter series and excerpts from these stories was interspersed throughout the book.  I have to admit that was my least favorite part of the story, but I imagine if you like fan fiction it would be refreshing.  She is a talented writer, but thinks she needs the world already created for her.  Her professor tries to get her to spread her wings.

There were so many on point aspects to this young adult novel.  Being a social misfit, alcohol abuse, mental illness, plagiarism, friendship, and forgiveness just to name a few.  And did I mention there was a boy?  There’s a boy and he’s wonderful.  This was my first Rowell book and I can see why she’s so popular.

Pleased To Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are by Bill Sullivan

Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and t… Pleased To Meet Me. Finished 8-7-19, 4.5/5 stars, 335 pages, pub. 2019

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for asking me to participate and apologize for not getting this up last week when I should have.

Why are you attracted to a certain “type?” Why are you a morning person? Why do you vote the way you do? From a witty new voice in popular science comes a life-changing look at what makes you.

“I can’t believe I just said that.” “What possessed me to do that?” “What’s wrong with me?” We’re constantly seeking answers to these fundamental human questions, and now, science has the answers. Clever, relatable, and revealing, this eye-opening narrative from Indiana University School of Medicine professor Bill Sullivan explores why we do the things we do through the lens of genetics, microbiology, psychology, neurology, and family history. From what we love (and hate) to eat and who we vote for in political elections to when we lose our virginity and why some people find drugs so addicting, this illuminating book uses the latest scientific research to unveil the secrets of what makes us tick. Filled with fascinating insights–including how experiences that haunted our grandparents echo in our DNA, why the bacteria in our guts mess with our minds, and whether there really is a “murder gene”–this revolutionary book explains the hidden forces shaping who we are, pointing us on a path to how we might become our best selves.   from Goodreads

There is so much to unpack in this book.  First, I need to mention that it’s written with a lot of humor to make it more readable, especially the first half or so.  Second, any book that tells of the Kenny Rogers Seinfeld episode has already won me over.  Just so you know there is a scientific reason why I agree with Newman that broccoli is a vile weed.  Third, there’s a lot of information in here that I think women should be aware of BEFORE they get pregnant.  For reals, I felt that I failed Gage in so many ways just by what I ate or didn’t eat in pregnancy.  And lastly, this book attempts to make scientific studies fun and does a really good job.

I love when mainstream books make the gut-brain connection and that showed up here.  Your gut is your brain people.  This is an issue that I’ve studied quite a lot for Gage.  Many kids on the spectrum have compromised guts and healing them can go a long way in their future diagnosis.  And autism isn’t the only brain condition that this applies to, so I was glad to see it featured.  Grumpy old men is a real thing – who knew?  There was an interesting idea on the Chicago violence (hint-lead).  In the last bit of the book he talked about politically leanings and I was intrigued.  Just by looking at someone’s brain scan they can predict with 72% accuracy their political leanings.  (hint-conservatives scare more easily than liberals)  But both sides, once entrenched find it almost impossible to change because of the way our brains work.  Interesting stuff that explains a lot of what’s happening today.

This is a fun book with something for everyone.

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

Title: How It Happened, Author: Michael Koryta How It Happened. Finished audio 5-31-19, 4.5/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio read by Robert Petkoff with Christine Lakin.  11 hours.

Kimberly Crepeaux is no good, a notorious jailhouse snitch, teen mother, and heroin addict whose petty crimes are well-known to the rural Maine community where she lives. So when she confesses to her role in the brutal murders of Jackie Pelletier and Ian Kelly, the daughter of a well-known local family and her sweetheart, the locals have little reason to believe her story.

Not Rob Barrett, the FBI investigator and interrogator specializing in telling a true confession from a falsehood. He’s been circling Kimberly and her conspirators for months, waiting for the right avenue to the truth, and has finally found it. He knows, as strongly as he’s known anything, that Kimberly’s story—a grisly, harrowing story of a hit and run fueled by dope and cheap beer that becomes a brutal stabbing in cold blood—is how it happened. But one thing remains elusive: where are Jackie and Ian’s bodies?   from Goodreads

“When you kill someone, you have two choices. The first one is to try to hide how you did it, which is what almost everyone does, and almost everyone gets caught. The second one is to show exactly how you did it – and then prove it couldn’t have happened that way.”

Rob Barrett got the confession he wanted.  For all the good it did him since it the evidence showed it to be a lie.  But Rob knows who did it and it doesn’t matter if he gets demoted and sent away to an FBI outpost he will find his way back to Maine and the truth.

I liked Rob’s backstory and his connection the the small Maine town and I was kept guessing, maybe not as much as who did it but how.  Not all things wrapped up happily, but enough to satisfy.   Koryta always comes through for me with his thrillers.

Run Away by Harlan Coben and meeting the man himself

Title: Run Away (B&N Exclusive Edition), Author: Harlan Coben Run Away. Finished 3-30-19, 4.5/5, thriller, 367 pages, pub. 2019

You’ve lost your daughter.

She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.

Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.

You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.

She runs.

And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head on.    from Goodreads

Harlan Coben is always a treat.  One of only a few authors who have gotten me to read all of their books.  I love the Myron Bolitar series best, but some of his standalones, like this one, stand out to me too.  What parent can’t relate in some way to the horror (or fear) of losing a child to the street and drugs?  As always, Coben always seems to have his hand on the pulse of what’s happening in current affairs.

I am not going to give away anything but the ending, lol.   The ending, while twisty, bothered me in so many ways.  These ways have nothing to do with his writing, but with my own feelings.  Jason just finished it and didn’t have the same reaction and he liked the cult storyline.   Have you read it?  Did that last twist affect your view of the whole book?

IMG_0282Harlan came to town and my mom and I went to the filled 600 seat stage that our central library has for the big time authors.  The event was happening on the first weekend of March Madness so it’s a real testament to his appeal that he was able to get so many men to come hear him speak.  As much as Jason loved him he told me it would be okay if I wanted to take my mother, haha.  So, I left him in peace and took my mom.  This is my second Harlan meeting, the first being in Houston about a dozen years ago.  He is always a witty delight.

 

 

 

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Title: Lethal White (Cormoran Strike Series #4), Author: Robert GalbraithLethal White. Finished 5-3-19, 4.5/5 stars, mystery, pub. 2018

Cormoran Strike #4  (1-The Cuckoo’s Calling, 2-The Silkworm, 3-Career of Evil)

Unabridged audio read expertly by Robert Galbraith.  This man has become Strike for me and I will continue with the audios of this series for as long as he’s reading them.  22+ hours of listening.

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.     from Goodreads

I love Cormoran Strike and Robin too, mainly because of his feelings for her.  At the end of the last book (my least favorite of the series) Robin marries the easiest man to hate I’ve come across in a while.  I understand that they’d been together a long time, but she knew, we all knew, that he was not for her.  The fact that this book took place a year later and they were still married was perplexing, but I think it took that long for Robin to be strong enough to admit her mistakes.  Anyway, it’s a year later and she’s married and Cormoran has a very nice girlfriend.

The thing I love about Rowling’s mysteries (is there anyone who still doesn’t know that Galbraith is JK Rowling?) is that they are all so layered and complicated.  Strike can pull clues from all around and eventually put them altogether with help from Robin, who managed to go undercover a few times in this go round.  Actually Robin’s undercover activities were some of my favorite parts of the book.  Eventually, we think we know what happened, but there’s more.  All major loose ends were handled and the book ended perfectly.

I’m glad to see this rebound.  I gave the first two in the series 4.5 stars but the third only 3.5, so she’s back on track with this one.  I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Cormoran and Robin!

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin and meeting the man himself!

IMG_E5464Last month Ian Rankin came to town and on a cold, snowy night and he had a packed house with fans that came from as far as Pennsylvania and New York.  I must again give a shout out to our library system, who always brings in the big names (this month I’m seeing Harlan Coben and next month Stephanie Evanovich and Heather Morris).  Anyway, I loved Ian’s first Rebus book and really wanted to spend an evening with a legit Scottish accent.  So my mom and I went (he is signing her book here).  He was delightful.  He spoke for about an hour and took a lot of questions, some very serious ones about current affairs, like Brexit, and managed to educate and entertain.

Title: Hide and Seek (Inspector John Rebus Series #2), Author: Ian Rankin Hide and Seek. Finished 3-7-19, 4.5/5 stars, mystery, 272 pages, pub. 1990

Book #2 in the Inspector Rebus series (1-Knots and Crosses)

A junkie lies dead in an Edinburgh squat, spreadeagled, cross-like on the floor, between two burned-down candles, a five-pointed star daubed on the wall above.

Just another dead addict – until John Rebus begins to chip away at the indifference, treachery, deceit and sleaze that lurks behind the facade of the Edinburgh familiar to tourists.

Only Rebus seems to care about a death which looks more like a murder every day, about a seductive danger he can almost taste, appealing to the darkest corners of his mind …    from Goodreads

So, Inspector Rebus is back.  I looked back at my thoughts on the first book and saw that I was concerned about how much alcohol everyone drank.  Well, I’m happy to say that Rebus, at least, was a bit more restrained.  It’s a year later and he has no contact with his family and his girlfriend is gone and he seems…okay?  He gets an invite to the big boys club and he takes it, if a little unwillingly.  He needs to sign off on an overdose and move on to a more cushy job, but he just can’t let it go.

When we met Ian I mentioned how much my mom enjoys dead bodies and he said that his series had a low body count.  That may be true later in the series (it’s over 20 now) but this one seemed to have its fair share of corpses.  All well deserved in my opinion.

As with the first book I love the Edinburgh setting and the often surly Inspector Rebus.  The plot will keep you reading, I promise.  I can’t wait to continue with this series.  And if you get a chance to hear Rankin speak, take it!

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Title: Still Me (Me Before You Trilogy Series #3), Author: Jojo MoyesStill Me. Finished audio 2-14-18, 4.5/5, fiction, pub. 20118

Unabridged audio read by Anna Acton, 13.5 hours

Third in a trilogy  1- Me Before You 2- After You

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She has been hired by the superrich Gopniks—Leonard and his unhappy, much younger second wife, Agnes—and finds herself amid a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. But Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and this very privileged New York life.

As Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets—not all her own—that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?     from Goodreads

Louisa Clark is one of the best heroines in the last few years.  I fell in love with her infectious spirit and have loved seeing her grow into a confident career woman following dreams she didn’t even know she had.  The Louisa we cried with in Me Before You still had me shedding a tear or two in this one, but I’m left with all good feelings about her journey.

This one opens with Louisa moving across the pond to the Big Apple and taking a job as an assistant to a wealthy wife.  She is well suited to the job.  For some reason she thinks she can keep her boyfriend through the move, but the distance proves problematic.  This was no surprise, of course, and it did take the shine off Sam for me.  Alas, our girl is a little too good at her job and is fired.  And did I mention that she met a Will look-a-like who is interested in her?

I loved it and am sad to say good-bye to Louisa, even if we are leaving her in a good place.