Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#22: 14th Deadly Sin (James Patterson)

I am getting closer and closer to being current with the Women’s Murder Club series and I am looking forward to settling into a slower pace of reading these Patterson novels. Having said that, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed 14th Deadly Sin. In this installment, Lindsey and the SFPD are plagued by a string of robberies and murders that are being committed by a band of masked bandits wearing police windbreakers. Who can be trusted if police officers are now committing crimes against the citizens of San Francisco?

Yuki leaves the District Attorney’s Office in order to work for a not-for-profit firm that defends the poor who are being treated unjustly. Her first case pits her against her former boss as she sues the city in a wrongful death suit. A young African-American boy was arrested when he was found fleeing the scene of a massacre in a drug factory. Although circumstantial evidence pointed to his guilt, during the sixteen hour interrogation, the youth maintained his innocence and provided viable alibis. When promised his freedom if he would only confess to the crime, this intellectually-challenged boy confessed — and then found himself locked in a jail cell awaiting his trial. The trial never came — the boy was murdered while in custody. Yuki’s case hinges on the wrongful arrest and interrogation. Could this case possibly be connected to the Windbreaker Bandits?

Joe finds himself without a job, so he begins to unofficially investigate a string of stabbings that have occurred for the past 5 years on Claire’s birthday. As he pieces together what seems to be a connection, Joe quickly finds himself moving deeper into a realm of darkness and danger.

As you can see, 14th Deadly Sin keeps the reader turning pages in order to stay on top of the interwoven story line. The novel ends with a threat to Lindsey and her family that should influence the plot line of the 15th novel in the series.

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#21: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (Matthew Sullivan)

My latest novel took me to a used bookstore that is a home-away-from-home for its quirky employees and eccentric patrons. The book’s opening scene features Joey, one of Bright Ideas’ most regular customers, dangling from a noose. His body has been discovered by Lydia, the lovable and loyal bookseller. As Lydia lower Joey’s body from the rafters, she discovers a photograph in Joey’s pocket. Is this a clue to the reason for Joey’s suicide? No….it actually raises more questions because the picture was taken at Lydia’s 10th birthday party — and was one of the last times she saw her friend Carol before she was tragically killed. Why does Joey have this picture? He and Lydia first met a few years ago…..long after her birthday celebration.

Lydia’s story is not without complication as well. As a young girl, Lydia was having a sleep over at Carol’s home on the night that their world would be turned upside down. While playing in a blanket tent in the living room, Carol and Lydia witnessed a stranger enter the house with a hammer in his hand. As the girls heard the sounds of Carol’s parents being murdered, Carol raced to aid them and lost her life in the process. Lydia found a hiding place under the kitchen sink and escaped the Hammerman’s violent rampage. The criminal’s identity has remained a mystery ever since the murderous night and has crippled Lydia in the process.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore weaves together the two mysteries of Joey’s tragic suicide and the Hammerman mystery into one story effortlessly. It is an exciting read that will keep the audience glued to its pages until the final revelation is made in the closing chapter. Thankfully, the violent scenes were not explicitly graphic and a welcome change of pace for my reading adventure.

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#20: Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

Cutting for Stone can only be described as a lush novel filled with rich language and mesmerizing characters. Narrated by Marion Stone, the twin brother of Shiva, the story follows Marion and Shiva’s relationship from its earliest beginnings in Ethiopia to its conclusion on the East Coast of the United States. Together, the twins experience many ups and downs as they struggle with issues related to love and personal identity while dealing with their own feelings of abandonment.

Marion and Shiva are the children of Thomas Stone, a renown surgeon, and Sister Mary Joseph Praise. The two boys were conjoined twins — connected by a stem from their heads — and were quickly separated after birth as their mother died in delivery. In his grief, Thomas Stone abandons his newborn children and the boys are raised by friends of their mother. The lives that began with desertion and loss are destined to have a painful existences.

As the novel reaches its climax, a series of coincidences lead to the boys separation…..as well as Marion’s reunion with figures from his past……and ultimately with his entire family. As the reader looks back on pivotal plot points, they seem inevitable in the course of events. However, the appearances of these plot twists are surprising and shocking, yet entirely believable. 

Cutting for Stone is not a novel that was read quickly. Instead, I found myself getting lost in the rhythm of Verghese’s language and lounging in the beautiful settings he described. Although much of the novel is set on the plains of Africa, the story does not feel “foreign” at all. Instead, it is a universal story of family, love, and loss. Cutting for Stone is definitely a novel not to be missed!

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#19: Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue)

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is the 2017 selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The novel tells the story of Jende and Neni, Cameroonian nationals that have recently come to America, and their two children, Liomi and Timba. The novel is a family saga. It is an exploration of the modern American Dream. It is a chronicle of the difficulty of immigrants in the major cities of the United States.

Jende is a simple man. He has not completed a degree at a University. He has no marketable skills. He is living in New York and needs to provide for his wife and young child. (Timba is born while the couple resides in the United States about halfway through the novel.) Since he does not have a green card, Jende accepts a job as a chauffeur for the Edwards family, a upper crust Manhattan family led by Clark — a Wall Street mogul. Life is good for Jende and his family until the housing crisis hits and leads to the desemation of the Edwards family, which results in Jende losing his job. Without employment and without a green card, Jende finds himself facing a new struggle — the threat of deportation.

Struggling to keep his family fed, Jende begins to dream of returning to Cameroon. Neni, however, has no desire to see herself or her children leave the American Promise that she has now found. She turns to religious organizations for help. She considers divorcing Jende and re-marrying an American citizen for a few years in order to stay in this country, continue her education, and follow her dreams of becoming a pharmacist. Ultimately, Neni must accept the fact that the country she loves does not want her family to stay.

Behold the Dreamers is much more than a simple story about a Cameroonian family. The immigrant family is constantly contrasted with the the Edwards family and their struggles and successes as an American family. The reader learns much about the inner workings of ICE and the federal government’s expectations of immigrants. America is portrayed as a land of hope and opportunity, but also as a place that keeps those dreams just out of reach of all but the most elite. The novel, while beautifully written, is a challenging read that forces the reader to pull back the curtain and take an honest look at American immigration in the 21st century.

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#18: Unlucky 13 (James Patterson)

The Women’s Murder Club continues to excite in the 13th novel of the series. Lindsey and Conklin are searching for the criminal that is using “belly bombs” to terrorize San Francisco by hiding delayed-reaction bomb capsules into the ground beef used by a popular burger chain. Cindy is hot on the trail of a lead that will result in the headline story that will define her career — if she doesn’t get killed first! Yuki and Brady are enjoying an Alaskan cruise for their honeymoon until the ship is attacked by pirates. Yuki is one of the first “volunteers” to be executed if the cruise line doesn’t come up with the demanded ransom.

Unlucky 13 is another page-turner in Patterson’s series, but this novel doesn’t feel as though it is using the same formula employed in many of the earlier books….and it is a welcome change. Our quartet of women are finding more adventure away from the Hall of SFPD and the authors continue to develop each lady’s personal story. I’m very happy to say that I am once again fully enjoying the Women’s Murder Club novels and looking forward to continuing the adventure.

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#16: Harmony (Carolyn Parkhurst)

 This week, I returned to novels with Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst. I decided to pick this one up based on a review I heard on the podcast “All the Books.” I liked the fast-paced writing and the intricate story, but I found myself getting annoyed with the novel as I got closer to the end. Once I was within 100 pages of the end, I was just ready for this reading experience to be over.

Harmony tells the story of the Hammond family. Josh and Alexandria Hammond live in metropolitan Washington, D.C. with their daughters Iris and Tilly. At first glance, everything appears normal, but something is just not quite “right” with Tilly, the older of the girls. Her intellectual skills are far superior to those of her peers, but her social skills are the cause of much harassment at the hands of her classmates. Tilly is obsessed with vulgarities, constantly requires precise explanations of mundane daily occurrences, and will often be found licking various surfaces. While she does not exhibit the traditional symptoms, medical and psychological professionals place her condition on the autism spectrum.

Tilly’s behavior becomes more challenging for her family and teachers. In an act of desperation, her mother seeks out the advice of a child-rearing guru, Scott Bean. Alexandria does her best to vet Mr. Bean before buying into his advice entirely. Her initial description of Scott Bean expressed ideas that I have longed hope people would understand:  “He has training in education and speech pathology. Your [Alexandria’s] age, but he doesn’t seem to be married or have kids of his own. Which raises a couple of question marks for you, but you’ve met enough good childless teachers (and enough bad parents) to know that raising kids isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for understanding how they work.” (Harmony, 106) For the record, that is where any similarity between me and the character Scott Bean ends!

Scott becomes a valued resource for Alexandria as Tilly’s behavior spirals downward. Ultimately, Scott recommends that the Hammond family join him at a new camp in rural New Hampshire that he is establishing for families in crisis. The Hammonds sell off their possessions and make the journey to New England, removing themselves from society’s reach while living off the land in an effort to commune with nature. Camp Harmony, as Scott has christened the plot of New Hampshire woodland, at first appears to be a mix of a camping experience and commune. Quickly, it becomes clear that something unusual — perhaps sinister — is happening in the woods surrounding the camp….and Tilly and Iris are in the thick of it.

Harmony was a great exploration of the vastness of autism and the impact the illness can have on families. The book’s strange mix of family drama and thriller felt contrived to me at times. I will not spoil the ending, but I will tell you this….I HATED the ending and wanted a clearer resolution to the issue of Scott Bean. And that’s where I struggle with this review…..I was fascinated with the book until the plot began to wrap up. By that point, I was invested in the characters and felt that Parkhurst whimped out without giving the reader the satisfying conclusion they deserved.

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Update: Titles 13 & 14

This summer has not seen regular blogging from me on any avenue. Now that I’m finally getting over nasty sinus infections and regaining strength in my hand, I’m hoping to get back to normal and return to blogging and reading.  Here’s what I’ve read most recently.

#13: Chasing Fireflies (Charles Martin). A young boy is found next to a rural railroad track while the car he was traveling in burns in flames, the casuality of an apparent suicide. The child has suffered horrible trauma, marked by the lashes on his back and the evident malnourishment he has withstood. Is it any wonder that the child does not speak either? The only question is if he is incapable of talking or simply choosing not to. Chasing Fireflies is a beautifully written story about the healing power of love, our search for identity and belonging, and a fresh look at what it takes to make up a “family” in our modern world. This is definitely a story to read when your faith in humanity needs to be restored.

#14: 11th Hour (James Patterson). It was time to return to the stories of the Women’s Murder Club series. In this installment, drug dealers are being taken out systematically throughout the city. It seems as though their killer has personal knowledge of them and their movements. When the SFPD realizes that the murder weapon is a missing gun from the evidence room, the force must face a frightening reality — one of their own uniformed brothers has gone rogue! Every member of the vice squad as well as homicide that had access to the evidence room is a suspect. Lindsey is putting more on the line than just her own life, too….she must think about the child she is carrying while trying to repair the strain that her new marriage to Joe is already facing. Patterson returns to true form with this intriguing and engrossing story. My hope for the upcoming stories in the series is finally being restored.

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#12: Most Wanted (Lisa Scottoline)

Lisa Scottoline is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors when I’m looking for something interesting and fun to read. Every Fifteen Minutes was one of my favorite books that I read in the spring and Most Wanted certainly lived up to my expectations. Not only was the story fast-paced and told quite well, but the novel also raised issues that have been discussed and debated for hundreds of years.

Christine and Marcus have struggled to have a child since the earliest years of their marriage. Since Marcus’ health issues are discovered to be the problem, the pair decide to use an anonymous donor in their insemination procedure. Now that Christine is carrying a healthy child, the couple has become very excited for their new arrival. 

Christine’s happiness is marred in the blink of an eye. While attending a baby shower, she catches a glimpse of a man in a CNN news report that looks strangely familiar. The good looking blonde man has been arrested in connection with a series of murders of nurses in the area. Why does he look so familiar? Christine finally realizes that the serial killer bears a striking resemblance to the donor photograph that was provided by the sperm bank. 

Most Wanted follows Christine’s turmoil as she attempts to determine if the prisoner is truly the biological father of the child she is carrying. Are the serial killer’s violent tendencies something that will be passed genetically to her unborn child? Can she protect the baby from an uncertain future just by loving him? Will Christine and Marcus ever be able to see the baby as anything other than the child of a psychopath? Scottoline weaves a fascinating thriller with a loving look at the modern “family” in all of its forms while exploring the “nature vs. nurture” debate as well as the role of science in modern society.

This book is fascinating and certainly one that should not be missed! Great read!

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Books #9 and #10

When finals hit this week, I felt as though I finally had more of my own time back. What did that mean? READING! Here’s a quick summary of the two books that I finished this week.

#9: Lit-Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives (David Denby). I started reading this fascinating book while in Albuquerque over Easter break. Denby explores sophomore English classes at three schools in New England to discover how they encourage students to become lifelong readers. Much of the focus is spent with Sean Leon’s class in New York City’s Beacon School. By departing from the traditional reading lists (with the blessings of his administrators), Leon challenges students to discuss important issues while realizing that literature continues to speak to our modern situations regardless of how “old” the story might actually be. Students read the expected authors — Hawthorne, Huxley, Orwell, and Faulkner. What is surprising is the inclusion of Plath, Hesse, Vonnegut, Dostoevsky, and Sartre among others. Mr. Leon’s students didn’t just “read” these works either; they struggled with the themes and entered into the settings and wrestled with the authors’ messages for contemporary society.

I found Lit-Up fascinating. When I first began my academic journey, I seriously considered pursuing a career as a high school English teacher. Looking back, I realize that the decision was triggered by my conflict with music professors who I refused to allow to have the death grip they were maintaining over my life. Thankfully, I saw the light and found my way back into the music field. However, my passion for literature and literacy remains. Do I think this model would work for every student? Probably not. However, I do think that Lit-Up reveals the impact a gifted, passionate educator can have on a group of students when they are given the academic freedom to follow the unscripted path that is dictated by the class’ interest and understanding. I’m tired of hearing about teachers being forced to “teach to the test.” Our students do not fit a nicely-formatted pattern; neither should their curriculum.

 

#10: The 9th Judgment (James Patterson). As the end of the week rolled around, I realized that I needed a physical book to hold in my hands, but it also needed to be a novel that I could finish before returning to Arkansas for the summer. I made a impromptu trip to the Unger Library and decided to return to my reading of the Women’s Murder Club series. I flew through this episode because I simply could not put the book down. This installment of Patterson’s series focuses on the Lipstick Killer that is haunting San Francisco with his mysterious messages of FWC and the realization that his targets are mothers and their young children. Claire, our strong medical examiner, recommends that the women of the city arm themselves in order to assure their safety while Lindsey finds herself as the only member of the police force that the lunatic serial killer will communicate with. This page-turner will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the read and ends with a cliff hanger that will force the audience to quickly dive into the next book in the series. (I’m already planning a trip to the library as soon as I get home…..because I’ve got to know what happens next for Lindsey!)

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#8: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)

My reading life has been a bit slow so far this year, so when I found myself with some free time to dive into a novel, I wanted to make sure that I found something that was well-written and moving. That means I returned to My Library Shelf project and began reading Please Look After Mom, a touching story of love, loss, and family.

As you might guess from the cover art and the author’s name, the novel is set in South Korea. Mom and Dad are country people whose four children have moved to urban areas to pursue their careers. As the parents travel to Seoul by train, the two become separated in the busy train station and Mom is lost. The novel now revolves around the family’s efforts to locate their missing mother in this massive and fast-paced city.

As each child participates in the frantic search, the children reflect upon their relationship with Mom as well as numerous interactions with her throughout their lives. How did they fail to notice that she was becoming sicker with each passing day? Why did her questions frustrate them? Were they ashamed of her? Did they view her as an inconvenience and a nuisance instead of a treasure and source of wisdom?

Please Look After Mom came into my life while I was already struggling with being separated from my own parents. The novel’s messages have continued to resonate with me in light of my mother’s health challenges in the past week. (Thankfully my family was not facing that crisis while I was reading the novel; I’m certain that would have sent me over the cliff!) Shin’s novel is not an easy read. The English translation can sometimes be cumbersome while attempting to maintain as much of its distinctly Korean aspects as possible. Despite its occasional awkwardness, Please Look After Mom was a beautiful story of love, regret, and hope that is common to all families and will definitely stay with this reader for many years to come.

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