Fiction

Book 64 of 52: Winterkill by C.J. Box

I was joking with a friend that I am a stereotypical Dad sometimes. When I was in England, I went to the Churchill War Rooms. Over the Christmas Holiday, I caught up on and fell in love with the Reacher TV series. And my last book of 2023 is from a very popular series with Dads: Winterkill by C.J. Box.

In this, the third Joe Pickett book, our Wyoming game warden has a battle on two fronts. First, someone kills a U.S. Forest Service employee and he (of course) is the one who finds the body. Second, the biological mother of his and his wife’s foster daughter, a girl they’ve been trying to adopt, comes back for her. The mother is part of a caravan of Sovereign Citizens who set up camp in a nearby U.S. Forest.

It gets real messy real fast. I read the book in two days.

There’s a few reasons for that. Of course, the book is good. C.J. Box knows how to write page turners. COVID is raging again, so it’s not like I’m going out. But I also took this week between Christmas and New Year’s to just…rest. I’ve been through a hell of a […]

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Book 63 of 52: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I finally got around to Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus at the very end of the year. It wasn’t a bad book to sink into during this wayward week between Christmas and New Year’s, but it wasn’t perfect either.

It’s about Elizabeth Zott, a chemist who chafes against what it means to be a woman in the 1950s, especially a woman in science. She manages to claw her way into a job that is beneath her knowledge and ability, which is also where she also falls in love with a chemist who himself is branded a genius. As a bonus, he also understands her, and believes in her brain power at the same time seeing how unfair she’s treated.

Because the story opens with Elizabeth as a single mother, we know something happens to that relationship, but I won’t spoil it here. But that does inadvertently lead her to becoming a famous TV chef, because she applies chemistry to cooking, which she calls serious business. Which, as anyone who cooks can tell you, it is.

I enjoyed most of Lessons in Chemistry, but it all started to fall apart in the last 100 pages. There were too many coincidences, too many […]

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Book 62 of 52: Murder She Wrote, Death on the Emerald Isle by Jessica Fletcher and Terrie Farley Moran

Tis the end of the year, and so I dipped back into the Murder, She Wrote literary universe with Death on the Emerald Isle by Jessica Fletcher and Terrie Farley Moran (yes, they still giver her a bio and put the fictional character’s name on the cover, along with a picture of Angela Lansbury’s head photoshopped on someone else’s body).

In this installment, which just came out in paperback, Jessica heads to Belfast to accept an award on behalf of a writer friend who broke her leg and can’t travel. She also agreed to deliver her friend’s grandfather’s paintings to relatives who lived nearby.

As you can imagine, someone is murdered. Jessica just so happens to come across the body first (while on a bike ride — Jessica Fletcher, as always, focuses on physical fitness!) And she, of course, also helps solve the mystery of who killed him.

All of this is pretty standard for these books, but one thing stood out. I always assumed that Jessica Fletcher was British and had lived in America for most of her life. That was certainly the case for Lansbury, who fled to America in 1940 with her family to escape the blitz. […]

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Book 61 of 52: Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan

My dad gave me a copy of Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan as one of my Christmas presents last year. And while it looked interesting, the over-saturation of the holiday that I feel around about December 27 meant I wasn’t keen on reading it then. So I put it aside, and didn’t really look at it again until this month. Why not, I thought, since it once again ’tis the season.

The novel starts with Nora and Simon, a married couple who run an independent bookstore in the Cotswalds, a rural part of England. The shop, which Nora inherited from her mother, is struggling. She hasn’t told Simon how bad it is because of a recent health scare, despite everyone — including his doctor — saying he was doing perfectly well.

Simon gets the vibe that the shop is not doing well, but he shies away from asking Nora to see the full truth. But, one night in the run up to Christmas, he posts on the store’s social media pages, asking for suggestions of who could use a bit of cheering that holiday season. They’d then give away six books to six people they chose.

The rest of […]

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Book 60 of 52: It Happened One Fight by Maureen Lee Lenker

It Happened One Fight by Maureen Lee Lenker is romance novel set inside the full on glamour (and grit) of 1930s Hollywood. It’s also a classic “enemies to lovers” story, which isn’t my usual fav, but I enjoyed it here.

Our protagonists are Dash Howard and Joan Davis, two mega watt movie stars who have been paired up in a series of movies, even though they profess to hate each other. It turns out they’re also married — to each other — after they were married in a movie by a real clergyman, and Dash jokingly addressed a copy of their marriage certificate to be mailed to City Hall.

In order to undo what they both call this disaster, the movie they’re shooting is re-located to Reno, which was famous at the time for granting quickie divorces. Should be easy: in six weeks, they’ll shoot the movie, and then end their mistake marriage, so Joan can marry her fiance, who she swears she’s totally in love with.

Of course it’s not so simple, and I enjoyed following along. I picked up some of the historical cues, which Lenker outlined at the back of the book: that Joan Davis is based on […]

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Book 59 of 52: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is one of those books where I ask what could I possibly say about something that has already been so widely acclaimed (and turned into an Apple TV+ series)? Well, I’ll try.

Pachinko is a multi-generational epic about one family, starting in Korea in 1910, then shifting to Japan before World War II, where it mostly stays through 1989. It’s about the immigrant struggle, and also racism and discrimination against Koreans there. I clearly am not the person to make any kind of commentary about this, so here’s the author talking to NPR.

I’ve had this on my shelf for a while (I found a copy in a Little Free Library, the newer versions don’t have a Junot Diaz blurb on the cover), and kept skipping it because it’s a long, dense book, and thought it would take me weeks to get through. Nope, just about one. The story is so engrossing, and moves that fast. My one caveat is that I don’t know if the story felt like it flagged a bit as it got closer to modern day, or I just read so much in a short period of time that […]

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Book 58 of 52: Inheritance by Nora Roberts

It’s been a while since I read a new Nora Roberts book, not because I don’t love her (I DO!) I loved her romance novels, which she has been focusing on less and instead writing more thrillers, and hers usually aren’t my bag.

Given the title of Inheritance, the soft colors of the cover, and it being part of a “Lost Bride” trilogy, I thought she’d dipped back into romance.

Whoops! Another instance of me not looking beyond the cover. There is romance in this book, but it’s not a Romance Novel in the traditional sense of there being a hero and a heroine who get their Happily Ever After by the final page. Their loves tory is not the focus of Inheritance.

What is? Here’s a pretty good summary of what happens in the first 100 pages, per a quote from our main character’s love interest: “You found out a few weeks ago that your father had a twin brother, separated at birth, who died and left you a big old house on a cliff, a big pile of money—not to mention antiques and art. Only hitch is you’ve got pack up, move, and live in the big old house where […]

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Book 57 of 52: Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly

It’s November, which means it’s time for a new Michael Connelly book!

If you’re new here, I embarked on a project a few years ago to read all of Connelly’s works, most of them focused on his main character, Harry Bosch, a now retired LAPD detective. Resurrection Walk is about him and his half brother, Mickey Haller, the so-called Lincoln Lawyer (and even though it’s billed as a Lincoln Lawyer novel, it’s a pretty even split).

They’ve teamed up for two reasons: first, Bosch needed health insurance and to enroll in a clinical trial to treat his cancer, which Haller could provide. And second, the book opens with Haller having a conviction overturned. His client does what he calls a “Resurrection Walk” out of jail (hence the title of the book). Bosch’s job is to sort through all the requests Haller subsequently got from inmates after, to see if there was any promise in those pleas for help, in sort of a two-man Innocence Project.

Bosch finds one: a woman who was sent to jail for killing her husband, who was in the LAPD. But the facts don’t add up. I won’t say more because the plot spoilers happen early, but it’s […]

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Book 56 of 52: The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan

Another book from another country, though not in the language of that country: I bought The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan at the San Francisco Book Company, an English language bookstore in Paris.

The Queen of Dirt Island focuses on one family of women, starting with the birth of Saoirse. Her mother got pregnant out of wedlock, for which she is spurned by her family, even though she married the father — who was killed the day of Saoirse’s birth. His mother moves in, and the story of these women go from there, as told in short bites which each “chapter” between a page and a half to two pages long.

My takeaway was much like that of The Guest by Emma Cline: I didn’t get why I was reading about this family. I didn’t find myself caring about them (either liking them or not, because a novel can certainly be about not liking the characters). Their story wasn’t telling or related a bigger one than “being a woman is hard,” but one told by a man. I also didn’t like how he wrote one of the few women in this story who did not have children, […]

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Book 55 of 52: The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

I left on this trip with only one book — gasp I know! But that’s because I knew I would want to pick up something along my travels to read. That ended up being Richard Osman’s The Bullet That Missed, the third in the Thursday Murder Club Mysteries series. And while my last book had nothing to do with England, this book is about as English as it gets.

It’s about a group of senior citizens in a retirement home — the Thursday Murder Club — and the latest murder they’re trying to solve: that of a young female journalist whose car was pushed off a cliff just as she was about to break a big story. It involves getting into the weeds of local British television, including the pecking order of news readers and presenters (of which Osman is one in real life), and also wound back to the murder from the previous book.

Osman fixed a problem he had with that last one, The Man Who Died Twice. You really needed to remember what happened in the first book (called The Thursday Murder Club) to understand the second, which was annoying. The Bullet That Missed doesn’t have […]

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