Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Man Who Died Twice

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (2021) 355 pages

I am grateful to the colleague who recommended the Thursday Murder Club Mystery series. What a lark as four retired seventy-somethings—Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim—have quite the mystery set in their British laps. Douglas, a man from Elizabeth's past, slips a letter under her door inviting her to visit. As it turns out, he made a miscalculation when he broke into the home of a man who acts as a banker for major crime gangs. Douglas was caught on camera and ID'd, and with 20 million pounds worth of diamonds missing—diamonds belonging to a mafia member from New York—his life is in danger. Douglas asks that Elizabeth and her friends help keep him safe until the fuss shakes out.

The friendships and character development are excellent: for the four septuagenarians, police officers (Chris and Donna) whom they got to know during the events that were covered in the first book of the series, and even for some of the minor characters. The point of view changes with each chapter, and I have to say that Joyce's chapters are quite the trip! Elizabeth is more serious; her career experience with MI5 has kept her level-headed and calm. Ibrahim is a somewhat nervous psychiatrist. It's harder to describe Ron, but suffice it to say he's always game. Even when things sometimes look bleak, humor lightens the mood, and the strong bonds of friendship are heartwarming. I do want to read the first book of the series, as well as the later ones, but popping into the series in the middle didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Silence of Bones

 


The Silence of Bones by June Hur, 336 pages

This young adult historical mystery takes place in 1800 Joseon (Korea). Seol is an orphaned teenager, indentured to the capital's police bureau. As men are forbidden from touching women they are not related to, damos like Seol are used to investigate crimes against women. She gets involved in the murder investigation of a noblewoman found with her throat slit, and forms a friendship with the lead investigator, Inspector Han. But the murder of the woman is only the first, and both Seol and the inspector have secrets in their backgrounds that may or may not have bearing on the case.

June Hur's prose is beautiful, and I loved all of the period detail she put into this novel. I had no idea that Korea had such advanced techniques for solving crime in 1800, and about how the introduction of Catholicism from China influenced many of the events during this time period. It really shone a light on a place that we do not study here in the West, and I always appreciate broadening my historical knowledge. I really liked that Seol is the narrator of this story, and we can hear her thoughts and observations of the world around her. I actually cried at the end (and not just because the book was over). I have two more of June Hur's books at home to read, and am really looking forward to being immersed in Joseon-era Korea again!

The Q


 The Q by Amy Tintera, 352 pages

You're probably thinking--why in the world would I want to read a novel about a horrible pandemic right after a horrible pandemic? Well, I love dystopian science fiction, so that doesn't bother me. However, if you do not want to read about people getting sick and dying, skip this one for now!

This young adult novel takes place in what used to be Austin, TX. It is now known only as "The Q," the quarantine zone where a horrible virus first started spreading, and the United States reacted by walling everyone in the city inside. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The citizens inside who survived the virus have limited immunity, but most of them stay alive due to artificial organs. The main characters are Maisie Rojas, a daughter of the family who controls the South Q, and Lennon Pierce, the son of the Democratic nominee for president. He is kidnapped and dropped into the middle of the quarantine zone at the beginning of the book, and Maisie is tasked with helping him cross the North and escape through the only exit.

This novel was fast-paced, sometimes violent, and blessed with two likable main characters. I especially liked Maisie and her fiery personality. The world they inhabit is not black-and-white, but there is always a reason behind their actions. I'm also a big fan of banter in my young adult novels, and this one had some great moments. I actually would have liked for it to be longer, because I wanted to know more about this place and these characters, but the ending was satisfying. If you are a fan of young adult dystopia, then give this title a chance!

Magnolia Flower

 


Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise, 40 pages

This is a gorgeous adaptation of the folktale by the beloved Ms. Hurston. National Book Award winner and bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi adapts the tale for young readers, aided by the lush artwork of Loveis Wise. This picture book tells the story of Magnolia Flower, the daughter of an escaped slave and an indigenous woman who fled the Trail of Tears. After the Civil War, a man of letters comes to their community, and Magnolia falls in love with him. However, her father does not approve and so the couple run away, only to return many years later.

What is unique about this tale is that it is told by the River that Magnolia grew up around. It is a tale of love and resilience, and the connection between the land and the people. It also shows the connection between Black and Indigenous people--how some of them were able to build community together, in spite of the United States trying to destroy and subjugate them. And the illustrations! This book is large, and I was so glad because the pictures needed that space. The art bursts with life and color, and I think children will want to stare at them for hours. Highly recommended for all ages!

Gibberish


Gibberish
by Young Vo, 40 pages

This adorable picture book is about Dat's first day of school in a new country. His mother warns him that he won't be able to understand anyone because of the language difference. This is quickly proven to be true, as all Dat hears is gibberish! He feels very isolated, until a girl in his class decides to befriend him. She uses pictures in order to teach him English words. The day ends on a high note, as he introduces his new friend to his mom after school!

Young Vo took a creative approach to illustrating what it is like when you cannot understand anyone around you. The gibberish is written in a Wingdings font, and everyone except Dat looks like a Cuphead-like monster instead of a human. They are also in black and white, whilst Dat is in color. I think this is a unique way to show how isolated Dat feels, which will spark empathy in the children who read this book. I know the author took his personal experience moving to the United States as a child to write and illustrate this book. Definitely share with your kids!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mr. Perfect on Paper

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer (2022) 399 pages

Dara is a matchmaker: she has spent the better part of her 34 years coding matchmaking programs to help Jewish singles who want to marry other Jews. Dara, who is quite wealthy, would love to find and marry a Jewish man herself, but she has spent most of her life dealing with generalized anxiety disorder. She has strategies for handling it during work, but dating is another story.

Meanwhile, Chris is the host of a daytime television program that hasn't been doing so well. He already uprooted his 11-year-old daughter to move her to New York two years ago when his wife died, and he's feeling stressed about the prospect of another move if his show fails.

When Chris (who is not Jewish) and Dara meet, it's for a segment of his television program showcasing her successful matchmaking business. She has brought her grandmother Miriam along, and Miriam steals the show when she produces a sheet of paper on which Dara once wrote the qualities of a man she would like to find. Chris - who finds himself attracted to Dara - pitches the idea of his team finding her dates and filming them. It's a win-win, helping his television program and helping Dara, while also promoting her matchmaking business. Will Chris be able to find the perfect Jewish date for Dara, and will he hate it if he succeeds? Read this and find out!


Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, 377 pages

Between 1945 and 1965, Mimi Galvin gave birth to 12 children (10 boys, and then 2 girls) while her husband, Don, climbed his way up the military ladder, eventually scoring a prime position at the Air Force headquarters in Colorado. From the outside, their family was picture perfect, with sons who excelled in sports and music, while remaining devout Catholics. But as the children grew up, the Galvins began to experience problems that were unlike almost any other family in the world: six of the Galvin boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia, while the remaining six children and their parents tiptoed around the situation, attempting to maintain normalcy, whatever that meant.

By focusing on a family that provided medical researchers with a wealth of data on schizophrenia, this fascinating book gives insight into the changing world of mental health diagnosis and medical research, as well as the humanity of those who have schizophrenia and the impact of the disease on their relatives. Through it all, Kolker treats the Galvins and the medical researchers he profiles with respect and honesty.

(Trigger warning: this book discusses sexual abuse, suicide, and physical violence.)

Counterfeit

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen, 274 pages

Ava Wong is the mother of a screaming toddler, the wife of a workaholic surgeon, and a lawyer who stepped away from the job when the baby was born and wants to go back to work, but can't see that happening anytime soon. When her old college roommate, Winnie Fang, re-enters her life with a moneymaking scheme involving counterfeit designer purses, Ava's hesitant — after all, she's never done anything illegal before. But she's also desperate for some cash, so she reluctantly agrees to the scam.

This is a fast-paced book that is compelling from a character standpoint while also offering a look inside the world of high-priced luxury counterfeits. It's fascinating, and makes me want to learn more about this particular type of crime. Thankfully, Chen has some excellent reading suggestions in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. (Also: how great is that cover???)

January totals!

Byron: 2 books/824 pages

Hammy: 2 books, 632 pages

Jan: 5 books/1780 pages

Kara: 11 books/3114 pages

Karen: 5 books/1244 pages

Kevin: 1 book/176 pages

Regan: 13 books/3549 pages

Shannon: 2 books/756 pages

TOTAL: 41 books/12,075 pages

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Hotel Nantucket

 The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand (2022, 416 pages)

An abandoned, run-down hotel on Nantucket Island is renovated by a billionaire to impress two women. One is a famous, anonymous hotel influencer. His goal is to get the coveted fifth "key" from her, who has famously never given a hotel a rating of five out of five keys before. The other woman is a mystery to all but himself. Little does he, or any of the new staff, know it's haunted by a 119 year old ghost, who gives the narration a cute mixture of 1922 and 2022 culture. The plot follows along the luxury hotel's first summer open through the perspective of the daily life of staff, guests, and island residents.

The book has an elements of mystery, romance, and historical fiction. The boy doesn't always get the girl, but there's no sad or sappy endings! There's a cute aura about the book, with chapters from the perspective of the charming ghost. I love the relationships represented -- it feels like a cozy beach romance read, but it has complex, fun, cute, (mildly) queer, and drama-filled relationships (platonic and romantic) without the forced aspect of Nicholas Sparks like stories. I feel like the pacing of the book is perfect, and everyone gets what they deserve.

Thank you Jeff for recommending it to me!