The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Books to Read During a Pandemic, Part 36)

In the middle of colder days and longer nights, this book was a ray of sunshine and delight.

Osman’s septuagenarian sleuths who meet every Thursday in the Jigsaw Room of their retirement community (hence the name “The Thursday Murder Club’) have become quite adept and tenacious at investigating unsolved murder cases. The members of the group rely on their wide ranging experience; a police officer, a psychiatrist, a nurse, a scientist, a union agitator and one who seems to have many friends in many high places in government, to help untangle these unsolved mysteries.

But when a local developer and his partner are killed under suspicious circumstances, The Thursday Murder Club decides that they will investigate. While their methods are unorthodox and the police are skeptical, this brilliant group begins to make some headway into solving the murders, until another body is discovered.

Osman hits all the right notes. He is witty but never patronizing. His characters are three-dimensional who carry the accumulation of both joy and regret which comes from living long, full lives, but instead of wallowing in the past they are living life to its fullest and finding ways to be both relevant and helpful.

This was a delightful read. I hope we hear more from the Thursday Murder Club!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren and Keith.

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

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The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

Books about spies and spying always fascinate to me. But there are very few authors who get behind the glamour and illusions into the soul of spying.  John Le Caré is of course at the top of the list and then there is Helen Dunmore’s Exposure that revealed the complicated choices a spouse of a spy might face. Olen Steinhauer’s All the Old Knives was gripping even though the characters were just having lunch together and Mike Herron who writes about the spies who are no longer useful in his Slough House series. And now we can add Charles Cumming to this list.

Trinity sixSam Gaddis, a recently divorced British academic, is in debt and needs tuition money for his daughter’s private school. His only new source for funds is to write a bestseller. Unfortunately his last book on Russia, although well received by academia, did not sell any where close to the volume needed to meet his current financial needs.  In this moment of crises, Sam gets a call from an investigative journalist who he has helped in the past, asking if he would like to collaborate with her on a new book about a possible sixth member of the notorious Trinity spy ring, who included Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. Elated at the possibilities, both academically and financially, Sam jumps at the chance. Unfortunately, within hours of their meeting, and before they have been able to share much information, the journalist is found dead of an apparent heart attack.

Determined to continue the investigation Sam follows the only lead he has -Edward Crane who at age 76 died in London 1992. But who was he and is he really dead, or was his death just a hoax? Following the leads where they take him, Sam travels to London, across Europe and into Russia. But Sam is not alone and “they” are watching his every step, trying to prevent him from knowing a truth so shocking it could upset the balance of power.

Cumming’s is creative, but grounded in reality. His characters are real- the spies are not super heroes or extraordinary, but that is the very thing that makes this book so fascinating. Ordinary people doing some very interesting and dangerous things. The juxtaposition of Sam, a dogged academic, with the work of the spies creates an interesting contrast and allows the plot to move forward. This was a thoroughly interesting and satisfying read!

Brenda Rating: **** (4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Keith, and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format. 

 

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Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Whenever I find a book about interpreters and translators I want to read it. There really aren’t that many novels about this kind of work, but since I was an interpreter and translator, I am always interested in seeing another perspective about what the work they do.

intimaciesOur narrator is an interpreter who has just landed a very important job at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Although unnamed, we quickly begin to know her intimately as she reveals her desire to escape New York and her family and her relief in landing this job. We see her interact with her colleagues and her friend, Jana and as well as her growing attachment to her married, but separated, boyfriend, Adrain. We are also pulled into her work in a courtroom in The Hague where she has been assigned to be the interpreter for a former president who is accused of brutal war crimes.  She came to The Hague to escape, but as she becomes more intimate with Jana and Adrain and when her work reveals the brutality and banality of true evil, she comes to understand that you cannot really escape what is inside, until you are willing to confront and choose the things you want.

Although there are very few dramatics events that happen in this slow moving narrative, the internal transformation that our narrator undergoes is quite startling. Kitamura’s prose is gentle yet opaque which can create a dream like quality to some parts of this book, which are then interspersed with sharp and unpleasant doses of reality.  Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for fiction, a New York Times’ Top 10 Books for 2021 and one of Barak Obama’s favorite reads for 2021, this book has some impressive credentials. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend his book to: Marian, Sharon, Keith and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Some books just take you back to another era. They transport you to a time that is just a memory and somehow unlock a door and you are reliving that time again. That is what happened when I read Daisy Jones & the Six. It took me back to the 1960’s and 70’s, to the music, to the clothing, to the spirit of that time. It was extraordinary how many memories came back, how much music I remembered  and how I seemed to reconnect to the young woman I was at that time.

daisy jonesDaisy Jones has an extraordinary voice and wants to sing. The Six, an established band led by Billy Dunne, are just on the cusp of making it big; they just need that special something to catapult them to the top of the charts. The band’s producer thinks Daisy’s voice is just the thing that will make that happen. But art and artists are unpredictable and what looks good on paper and sounds incredible on the radio, can also be threatening and explosive.

Reid uses numerous character’s voices to tell this story of a band on the rise and the unforeseen consequences that flow from their grasp for fame. Although the story revolves around Daisy and Billy, the other band members also contribute their perspective as the bands’ fortunes rise and fall. At times this method of telling the story can get a bit tedious, but overall it captures how two stars who struggle with addictions, jealousy, immaturity and sexual attraction to each other are oblivious to the affect their problems have on the band as a whole, while the other band members feel taken for granted and experience a tremendous lack of control over their lives and futures.

Reid captures the spirit of these times eloquently and pushes the story forward in subtle ways so that it is not until the end that you realize that you have been surfing on a large wave and hope against hope you and the characters in the story can ride the wave safely to shore.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to Marian, Lauren, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in e-book format.

Posted in Beach Read, Books to take on vacation, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

One of the things I have learned is that history told by the powerful, the winners and the the dominant is not a complete history. Unless we hear from the losers, the subjugated, or the powerless, we do not get the full picture of what happened.

There have been a number of books that I have reviewed that tell this kind of history: The Moor’s Account by Lalami about the exploration of the Central and South America, The Investigation by Lee about the incarceration and medical experimentation on Korean and US POWs by the Japanese during WWII, The Sympathizer by Nguyen, a Vietnamese perspective on the Vietnam War, and The Glass Palace by Ghosh about the British invasion of Burma in 1855. Most of these books are about foreign places, but in Beheld, Nesbit takes us to the roots of our own history; the fledgling colony of Plymouth.

beheldIt has been ten years since the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and formed the colony of Plymouth. Although the colony was supposedly founded on the idea of religious freedom, Puritans have imposed strict rules that restrict the settlers from trading with whom they choose, living the way they choose and worshipping the way they choose. Out numbered, the Anglicans in the colony have been marginalized by the more zealous Puritans, so it is with some anticipation and hope that they welcome a new ship bringing more colonists and new directives concerning the management of the colony. Instead the ship and the new colonists bring even more tension and when a murder occurs, the trial reveals the true depths of the moral decrepitude in this seemingly God fearing colony.

The story is told from the perspective of two women-one a woman of some social standing with a pliant deferring personality and the other the wife of the town troublemaker and drunk, who has had to find an inner strength and hardness in order to survive. These two women offer us insights into the lives of women in the colony, the precariousness of life, the trials of motherhood and their powerlessness. As the story unfolds Nesbit explores the ways in which people justify acts that are morally reprehensible or promote injustice. In the process the book raises some important questions: Whose stories get told and become “History;” and what stories are discarded, dismissed or forgotten, and does it matter?

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Sharon, Ken and Keith

Books study worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

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The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I am at an age now where, in liking back on my life I see opportunities not taken, paths not taken and decisions, that although at the time seemed inconsequential, had a major impact on my life. Even though I do not regret where I am now, there are times when I wonder what life might have been like if I hadn’t moved to Washington DC, or had decided to go to graduate school, or hadn’t bought the house I currently live in. Matt Haig’s book, The Midnight Library, explores these paths not taken in a unique and wonderful way which allows us to imagine the possibilities and pitfalls of the lives we never lived.

Midnight LibraryNora Seed is very unhappy and disappointed with her life and wonders if she might be more happy and fulfilled if she had made different choices. Suddenly she finds herself in the Midnight Library, a place where you can check out the volumes of your life where you made different choices than the life you are currently living. When she check out these volumes she begins living those lives, trying them on and seeing if she might want to change her current life for this new one.

Nora is entranced at the possibilities, but as she picks and chooses from the various volumes of her life, with the help of a helpful librarian, she discovers that each life has its own struggles and disappointments. Becoming a well known glaciologist, or not breaking up with an old boyfriend have consequences, too. As Nora experiences her various possible lives, she must decide what makes her life truly fulfilling and worth living, and is surprised by the answer.

This is not a syfy or fantasy book, which seemed to confuse and disappoint some Amazon reviewers.  Rather the idea of the Midnight Library is used to explore the existential questions on the meaning of life in a way that is both whimsical and insightful. Haig is a delightful writer whose creativity makes this heavy theme accessible and non threatening, allowing the reader to ask those same “what if” questions for their own life.

Brenda’s Rating: **** (4 Out Of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren, Keith and Sharon

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

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Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer

Stories that intertwine are always fascinating, but often encounter difficulties in their execution. Not only do the stories need to intertwine in a way that makes sense but they need to show that the intertwining has a purpose. Often authors will fall short on the latter, but not Doer, who masterfully, unspools storylines that span more than a thousand years, from the fall of Constantinople, to a small town in Idaho some five hundred years later and on to the not so distant future. Using a manuscript to tie these disparate stories together, Doer dedicates his book to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.”

cloud cuckoo landOmeir, a farm boy, was conscripted by the invading army, along with his beloved oxen, to carry the machines of war to the walls of Constantinople. In the aftermath, his oxen dead and traumatized by the horrors of war, Omeir begins his journey back to his village. Along the way, he literally runs into Anna, a thirteen year old orphan fleeing the city. He soon finds that she is carrying with her pages from an amazing book about Atheon who longs to be turned into a bird so he can find utopia in the sky. Omeir is entranced by the story, but knows that the villagers who do not know how to read will not understand such magic. Fearing for Anna’s life, they hide the book carefully in the an old tree and only get it out occasionally to share with their children.

Five hundred years later, an elderly man named Zeno, has been carefully translating a book about Atheon. The Greek manuscript has only recently been discovered and Zeno who learned to read and write Greek while a prisoner of war, has found the exercise of translation calming and soul satisfying. Encouraged by the librarian, he has passed on his excitement for this story and for translating to a group of five unruly children who visit the library regularly. In fact Zeno helped them write a play based on his translation and they had plans to perform it. The only problem is that a troubled teen named Seymour has planted a bomb on the shelves of the libraryto protest the new development on the outskirts of town which is destroying the forest and the natural habitat of his beloved owl.

Konstance lives with her family on the interstellar ship, Argos. She has never lived on earth and only knows things about it because of the vast digital library on board the Argos. There she can access incredible amounts of information about earth; its history, and culture and the living things that inhabit it. But after a health emergency causes her to be isolated from everyone on the ship, Konstance, begins to see anomalies in the library as she searches for a book about Atheon, whose story her father used tell her.

Doer uses the story of Atheon to bind these disparate pieces together, but never loses sight of his characters, developing each one fully. Doer has definitely grown as a writer. Although, All the Light We Cannot See, won the Pulitzer Prize, I think this book is more soulful and meaningful. The themes of knowledge, history, and redemption are stronger and more poignant, while the plot line drives our attention and interest more strongly. This is a must read!

Brenda’s Rating: ***** (5out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Books study worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction, Prize Winner, Prize winner | Tagged | 1 Comment

Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon

Sometimes you just bond with an author and their characters. I did that many years ago when I read the first in Gabaldon’s series, Outlander, and every time I  read one book I look forward to the next book. So even though this is book nine in the series and it was over 900 pages long, I savored every bit of it. If this seems like too big of a commitment or the length of these books is too intimidating, I can highly recommend the TV series based on these books that is being shown on Showtime and Netflix. They do a great job in getting to the essence of the story and the actors have done remarkable job in bringing the characters to life!

tell the beesThis book is set in 1779, during the revolutionary war. Claire and Jamie have been reunited with their daughter, Brianna, her husband,  Roger and their children after they made the perilous journey through the stones and away from dangers they encountered in the 20th century. Although Frasers Ridge, where Jamie and Claire have settled, is located in the back country of North Carolina, the winds of war are sweeping closer and closer. Meanwhile, not too far away, William Ransom, Lord John’s heir, is trying to come to terms with the knowledge of his real father’s identity.

As the drumbeat of war sounds ever closer, William must decide where his loyalties lie and for who he will fight for, while Jamie, Claire and her family must find a way to survive the war while fighting off the ever present dangers that war brings- starvation and disease.

In reading the reviews many complained that there was very little action in the first half of the book and that it seemed a bit dry and lacking that spark that was in previous books. I have to agree with that in part, but it didn’t bother me too much. I felt like this was staging book, anticipating what might come in the future, but it certainly could have been edited better if that was the intent. That being said, I was overjoyed to be once again immersed in a world with Jamie and Claire. By now they feel like old friends and watching them grow old together has been a wonderful experience!

Brenda’s Rating: ***1/2 (31/2 Stars Out of 5)

Recommend this book to: Lauren and Marian

Book Study Worthy Yes, but only for fans of the series

Read in ebook format.

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The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

There seem to be a steady stream of books that place the main character, mostly female, in dangerous, disorienting situations not of their own making. It is a clever plot line, but one that can quickly become hackneyed if not carefully thought out and scripted. In this case, Dave almost achieved that goal, but not quite. This is also the second time I have been disappointed by a Reese Witherspoon Book Club choice, which may mean that I need to stop using that as a source for choosing books in the future!

last thing he told meHannah Hall had almost given up on love and then she met Owen Michaels. They quickly fell in love and got married and although Owen’s, teenage daughter, Bailey, was not thrilled with her as a stepmother, Hannah felt that in the last year they had made some progress or at least had entered a detente in their relationship.

The one day everything changed. As news began breaking that her husband’s company was under investigation and raided by the FBI, Hannah is unable to reach Owen. Instead she receives a note in her husband’s handwriting that says “protect her!” Instinctively Hannah knows that he means Bailey, but is uncertain as to who she needs to protect her from. Besides, Bailey, confused by what has happened and by the disappearance of her father, is uncooperative to say the least.

Pressured from all sides-by Owen’s former boss, the FBI, and a US Marshall who shows up unexpectedly, Hannah must figure out who she must protect Bailey from and what past her husband was running from.

The pieces of a great book are here they just don’t mesh very well together. Dave does a good job in developing Hannah’s character, but Bailey comes off as a stereotyped teen character who keeps putting herself and Hannah in danger. The past that Owen is running from doesn’t seem very plausible and there are some major unanswered questions which are glossed over. However, there is plenty of suspense and drama to allow you to suspend your inner critic and hang on for the ride.

If you need something to read while sipping margaritas on the beach, this might be perfect!

Brenda’s Rating: ***(3 Stars Out of 5)

Recommend this book to: Sharon

Book study worthy? Unfortunately not.

Read in ebook format.

Posted in Books to take on vacation, Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged | 1 Comment

Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley

The sounds of the surf and the feel of the soft, warm sand of vacation are now just a memory and I am back home to a cherry tree in full bloom and the bulbs I planted in the fall, beginning to emerge from the cold winter ground.

perestroikaNew life is also the topic of Jane Smiley’s new book Perestroika in Paris. This is a lovely book-almost a novella at just 270 pages, but she packs in so many thoughts and ideas in those pages that it feels much longer.

Perestroika, Paras for short, is a race horse. One evening, when she finds the door to her stall open, she decides to explore the grassy verge just past the fence of the racecourse where she has lived her most of her life. She nibbles her way past the lush grass on the verge and then smells something intriguing and hears a rustle in the woods, finds a stream and with one thing and another, she finally finds herself in the city of Paris!

Paras eventually finds a lovely “pasture” in the middle of the city where a large metal structure towers above the grounds. With the help of an opinionated raven and a German shorthaired pointer named Frida, who is wise and knowledgeable about the ways of the city, Paras finds a safe place to stay in the park right next to a pair of nesting ducks.

During the early hours of the morning Paras often finds her way into the nearby cobbled streets and explores the city while it is sleeping, until she meets a young boy named Etienne who lives with his 100 year old grandmother in an all but forgotten house with a walled yard. There Paras and Etienne learn and discover from each other what it means to be free and how sometimes new life can begin under the strangest of circumstances.

Smiley is a master of the understated description, giving you just enough to create that picture in your mind without overwhelming with distracting details. Simply, and without any rush, she lets the the story unfold and its themes of love, goodness and hope just wash over you. Given the circumstances of our world right now, Perestroika is exactly the antidote we need!

Brenda’s Rating: ***** (5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in  format.

Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction | Tagged | 2 Comments

On Vacation

I hope to have a new review next week. In the meantime, please enjoy this lovely scene from the beach!

Mayan Beach- to the beach

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