Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Historical Fiction

When Charlotte (Charlie) St. Cloud arrives in Europe with her mom in 1947, the only thing on her mom's mind is an abortion for her daughter. Charlie has a different agenda. Her best friend and cousin went missing during World War II and Charlie is convinced she is still alive even though no one has heard from her. She started tracking her cousin down while in New York and was given one name: Evelyn Gardiner. Charlie abandons her mother and shows up on Eve's door, who is blind drunk and threatens to shoot Charlie. Eve is dealing with her own demons.

As Eve learns that Charlie's cousin worked for the same restaurateur and profiteer that Eve did, she reluctantly agrees to help. We learn about Eve in WWI and how she was a spy in France, serving Germans at a local restaurant. Eve carries so much guilt and hatred with her and Charlie slowly starts to chip away to learn about Eve and what a hero she is.

The last female-driven war novel I read was The Nightingale, which I loved. This one has a different tone with post-war time mixed with WWI. The description of the spy network and the stress involved with running and participating in such an operation was very interesting, especially from the female perspective. This is definitely the strength of this book.

Charlie and her romance was the weakest part of this book. She could be a little whiny and annoying at times and the romance was completely predictable, and way too easy to help her get out of the predicament she was in with being an unwed future mother in the 40s.

Overall a pretty good book, but I would still put The Nightingale ahead of this one.

Rating:
(4/5)

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Mystery/Thriller

In the third and final book of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. We are wrapping up the Lisbeth Salander story. She was last shot and left for dead, but Mikael Blomkvist found her and got an ambulance called. Salander has a bullet in her head but it's operable and the doctors think they can save her. Even if she's saved though, the police still plan to prosecute her for a variety of charges. It's all a smear job and Blomkvist thinks he can help her save herself.

It has been a while since I read the first two books in the series so I was worried I would have forgotten too much to have this make any sense. The book does a good job of reminding what happened where the last book left off though, so I wasn't feeling lost. It revolves completely around Lisbeth's upcoming trial and attempting to save herself. Overall it seemed like a long book where not a whole heck of a lot happened (like why did Erika leave the paper and come back? How did that really drive the story forward?), but it was still interesting. I'm glad to be done the series but not sure I'll continue on with the other similar books.

First Line: @Dr. Jonasson was woken by a nurse five minutes before the helicopter was expected to land."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Gone by Mo Hayder

Mystery

In book 5 of the Detective Jack Caffery/Flea Marley, there's a carjacker on the loose. In the car, there was a little girl and the girl is still missing. Was the criminal after the car or the kid?

Flea is still struggling over covering for her brother killing his girlfriend and her whole team is getting tired of her attitude. Vowing that she's going to change, this case is her first in new mind set. Flea is convinced that the kidnapped girl is in an abandoned tunnel, putting herself and her team in danger. Past books have discussed more the way that Flea's dive team works and how they find clues hidden in the depths of water. There was less of that this book. It was more about Flea's emotional state and trying to bring herself back to normality. I hope next book we get back to more of how she works, but it worked well in this book.

Caffery, on the other hand, has very little character development, which is ok. He's trying to chase down this carjacker/kidnapper and realizes that the criminal may be closer than expected.

I don't mind the Caffery series, but I think Hayder is at her best with some of the more perverse mysteries like Pig Island.

First Line: "Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of Bristol's Major Crime Investigation Unit spent ten minutes in the centre of Frome looking at the crime scene."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Fiction

David is a twelve year old boy that's just lost his mom. David's father eventually moves on with a new woman, Rose, and they have a child together. David feels left out and forgotten. He turns to books to pass his time, and finds that they whisper to him from their shelves. Slowly the characters start to come out of the books and David in to them. Eventually David finds himself within one of his books and needs to find the King to figure out how to get back home.

This is a coming of age story, mixed with fairy tales that don't end up the way we all think they do. David learns that "happily ever after" actually means "eaten quickly". David finds out he's a very brave boy and learns what is really important to him.

This book was a bit slow to get in to because it started off very cliche. A boy who hates his step-mother, how many times have we read stories like that? But once David got in to the book, I was much more interested in the story and really enjoyed the different takes on fairy tales. Snow white was a good one. This was a fun read, with a lot of extra (and unnecessary) bits at the end about the fairy tales used.

First Line: "Once upon a time - for that is how all fairy tales should begin - there was a boy who lost his mother."

Rating:
(4/5)

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Teen

Cadence is part of the group of Liars. Her family gets together each summer on their family's exclusive island and Cadence hangs out with the other Liars, her two cousins and one of their friends of a same age. When she was fifteen, Cady had a horrible accident and hit her head while she was out swimming. She can't remember anything so can't explain why she was in the ocean by herself and where her clothes were. Her mother keeps her away from the island the next summer but Cady wants to remember. The second summer Cady returns to the island hoping to find answers.

The family are rich and entitled. They have their own island with four cottages to spend the summer and the grandfather with all the money is getting old. All the sisters are fighting each other for the money and using their grandchildren to try and manipulate the father. Reading it makes you feel dirty and sad knowing that this shit is happening somewhere for real. The drama was a bit over the top for me though. I don't mind good family drama, I've read my share of Jodi Picoult books and enjoyed them, but this was on a whole other level. There wasn't really a character to ground the drama either. Cady was whiny and ridiculous and the other Liars weren't in the book enough for us to understand who they really were.

Plus, we never found out why there were called the "Liars"?

First Line: "Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Bug by Ellen Ullman

Fiction

Ethan Levin is a programmer, responsible for the interface of new database software. This is 1984 and it's the first software of its kind where databases across a network are talking to each other. Many investors are involved in this company and pushing for this software to launch quickly. Berta is a QA tester and one day, by moving her mouse a fraction below an open menu, the entire program freezes. This is a critical level one bug and it happens to be from Ethan's code.

While Ethan tries to find what is causing this bug, he's also having problems at home. His girlfriend leaves for a trip to India with a mutual friend and Ethan is pretty sure she has cheated on him. Work is consuming him and he isn't making any time to fix his personal life.

This book speaks about a technical world, but in language that non-technical people can understand. That said, if you have absolutely no interest in tech, I'm not sure there's enough in this book to be appealing. The story moves forward very slowly, which usually I find boring, but I really enjoyed Ullman's writing style which was enough to keep me engaged.

Having been a developer in the past, the interactions between programmer and QA were pretty spot on. It's always the other person's fault. How many times has a developer said "user error" to a QA tester? And though I've never been there myself, I've seen that bugs can absolutely consume people. Everything about Ullman's writing felt authentic to me.

First Line: "A computer can execute millions of instructions in a second."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Fiction

When Jack enters the small town of Salem Falls, he's just looking for a fresh start. Just released from jail for sexual assault on a minor, a crime he did not commit, he wants to be in a place where no one knows about him. Jack ends up finding a job as a dishwasher at the local diner, run by Addie. Addie herself has a pretty bleak past, with her daughter being the product of a rape and then dying at an early age. The two become friends quickly, then lovers, and they learn about each other's past.

Others in Salem Falls are not happy that a convicted rapist is in their town and set out to scare him away. Jack ends up in pretty much exactly the same situation he was when he was charged with sexual assault, in this story of what happens when you are wrongly accused and convicted of a crime you did not do.

Picoult's stories always have good character development and lots of drama. I hadn't read one of hers for a while, so it was a nice break from the other books I've been reading, but I find that I can never read too many of her novels close together because there is so much drama. This book, like all her others, was very easy to get in to and had me completely engaged. I was frustrated for Jack and the injustices he was experiencing. There was a good twist at the end that I didn't see coming, but that made complete sense.

First Line: "Several miles in to his journey, Jack St. Bride decided to give up his former life."

Rating:
(4/5)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Children's Literature

Bo and Prosper are brothers that have run away after their parents died and they found out their aunt and uncle only want to take in the younger brother, Bo. To stay together, they escape to Venice and fall in with a bunch of other homeless kids in an abandoned movie theater, lead by the thief lord. The kids steal small items to pay for food, but the thief lord comes back with much more expensive items to help out. When Bo and Prosper find out that their aunt has come to Venice and hired an investigator to find them, they are on high alert. The thief lord is presented with a contract to steal a wooden wing for a few million lire. The children work together to figure out how to steal this item while trying to stay out of the private investigator's way.

Having just come off reading Funke's other book Inkheart, which I didn't enjoy all that much, I was surprised that I really enjoyed this one. The characters were cute and enjoyable, including most of the adults. Many of the characters want what they can't have, but somehow find ways to get what they want. All that, topped with a great ending. It's a fun book!

First Line: "It was autumn in Venice when Victor first heard of Prosper and Bo."

Rating:
(4/5)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Children's Literature

Meggie is a 12 year old book enthusiast, spurred on by her father who repairs books for a living. One night, a mysterious man appears outside their house and Meggie's father, Mo, invites him in. He turns out to be an old friend who knows much more about Mo's past than Meggie. Stating that the two are in danger, they pack up their belongings and move to Meggie's great-aunt's house. Elinor is even more of a book enthusiast than Meggie and Mo, as her only friends are book and she is completely surrounded by them in her house. Unfortunately danger finds them there too.

Meggie soon learns that her mom did not die when she was young, but that her father is able to read characters in and out of books. One night when Meggie was young, Mo read out some bad characters to Inkheart and accidentally read her mother in to the story. Now those guys are after Mo.

What is a very unique idea for some reason didn't pan out for me. It started pretty slowly, with Mo and Meggie spending way too long at Elinor's house as the author tries to build up that character, but it adds very little to the main plot. Then the characters kept repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again. By the end, I was tired of their antics rather than routing for them and didn't really care what happened.

I won't be continuing in this series.

First Line: "Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain."

Rating:
(2.5/5)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz

Thriller/Mystery

Allison was orphaned at the age of 7 and shuffled around a bit before she wound up in the care of Dr. Capello. She quickly came to love both him and the other children under his roof, including young Roland who she had a crush on. However when Allison was pushed down the stairs of Dr. Capello's house, her aunt came to get her and take her away from that home. She never heard from the family again.

As an adult, Allison is going through a breakup when a package comes from a name she recognizes. Roland has sent her a package asking that she come back to say bye to Dr. Capello, who is dying. Allison is hesitant to go back to the house where she knows someone wanted to hurt her, but wants to see the family she loved.

When Allison returns to her foster family, it's been more than 10 years since she has last seen them. She's unsure about who tried to harm her so you'd think there would be some hesitation from her part to completely open up to these people while she tries to figure out what happened. Instead, the dialogue picks up like she had been living with no break. The dialogue in the book was a bit off for me the entire story, with everyone treating each other a lot more closely than you would have expected in that circumstance.

Getting past this, the book is a light, quick read. To me, this is a perfect summer beach novel. Something that isn't too heavy (though there are some pretty serious parts of the book) and can be finished quickly. I was turning the pages because I wanted to know who was responsible for pushing Allison down the stairs and was a bit surprised by the outcome. I love being surprised by books like this!

First Line: "All Allison wanted was for this conversation to be over."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari

Biography

Haleh was born in Iran to an Austrian mother. She moved to the USA to teach with her husband and got American citizenship, but returns to Iran frequently to take care of her elderly mom. At the end of her most recent visit, she says good bye to her mom and heads off to the airport when her taxi is run off the road and she is robbed. The robbers take both Haleh's Iranian and American passport plus all of her belongings but don't touch anything of the taxi driver's. As Haleh determines what is required to get new passports re-printed, she soon learns that's the least of her worries. The Intelligence Ministry has decided that Heleh is trying to organize a revolution in Iran and interrogate her. Nothing she says can deter them from these thoughts.

Weeks turn in to months as Heleh answers these questions. The academic work she has done in the USA is very suspicious to the Ministry. They keep asking her the same questions over and over. Heleh has a few contacts that try to help her and she finds out that two factions within the government are in disagreement about her. One wants to let her go, one thinks she's hiding information. The latter wins and Heleh is put in solitary confinement in jail. Her husband, back in the USA, launches a full-fledged media offensive. If the information Heleh is providing isn't enough to get her released, the perhaps pressure from other influential people will.

As Heleh explains what happens to her, some background on Iran's history also needs to be provided to explain how the country got to the point where it's accusing dual citizens of revolution. While this information is helpful and necessary to paint the picture, Heleh provided way too much of it. There was about 35 pages at the beginning of the book describing Heleh's past and Iran's past. It was pretty dry and I found myself skimming.

What happened to Heleh, how she overcame it, and the impact to her family is the meat of this story. It's a shocking story about how an innocent grandmother can be treated.

First Line: "The early hours of December 30, 2006, began for me like any day when I would depart Tehran for the United States."

Rating:
(3.5/5)