Sunday, January 31, 2021

House of Correction by Nicci French


The setting is Okeham England, a little coastal village where Tabitha Hardy lived as a child.  She returned to start life anew, buying a fixer upper and hoped to put her dreadful past behind her.

This starts out with Tabitha arrested and jailed for murder.  She doesn't think she's done it but she has memory losses. The evidence points to her as a body was found in her shed and she is covered in blood. 

The dead man is Stuart Rees and he sexually abused her when she was fifteen years old; he was her teacher. There is certainly motive but on further investigation there were quite a few people Stuart alienated and screwed over in the small village.

This is hard book to review. As I start to write my opinions, I stop and think....did I like this book? There was a question posted on Goodreads by someone who abandoned it yet wanted to know the ending because she was curious. I was never tempted to abandon it.

Tabitha is hard to like. She has a caustic personality yet I kept reading because you could understand why she was so closed off to people.  She was bullied as a child and teen, she was taken advantage of by a trusted teacher, one who gave her some of the only positive attention in school and that turned out poorly. The descriptions of the correctional facilty will chill you as you read about the cells, the awful food and officers who can make your life a misery.

I'm really selling this book, huh?! LOL The story is divided by the prison life, the upcoming trial and defense then the epilogue. Tabitha represents herself as her court appointed attorney suggests she plead guilty to manslaughter to get a lesser sentence.  Yes, the evidence is overwhelmimg but hang in and watch as Tabitha researchs the case and finds flaws in the investigation.  Not loopholes, but a sloppy investigation and, in my opinion, flawed crime scene info.  It was clear the authorities just felt it was a slam dunk conviction.

This was written by the English husband and wife team Sean French and Nicci Gerrard. I prefered the Frieda Klein series to this novel but I will read more by these authors in the future.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves
{Book 6 in the Vera Stanhope series}

The book starts with a murder on a stalled Metro train. The setting is northern England,  Christmas time, snow causing delays for all the travelers.  Sgt. Joe Ashworth is trying to get home with his daughter when the train stops. The lights go out and in that short time an elderly woman is murdered - it's Joe's young daughter Jess who discovers the body as she tries to awaken the woman.

I like the character Joe Ashworth and am pleased how his role is developing in this series. Vera is not an easy woman to work for and has some annoying traits but she is mellowing. 

The investigation begins on Harbour Street where the murdered woman lived and through the questioning, it appears there are shady connections with residents of the street. There is another mystery and murder which will  relate to an unsolved case from decades prior.

This is book 6 in the Vera Stanhope series.  I love the detective Vera for her flaws, for not being the well dressed, elegant beautiful detective star so many series have.  Vera can be ill tempered and impatient, a loner who imbibes too much some days, a woman who exudes confidence yet is scarred by her father Hector's verbal abuse when she was a child. That's a side she never shares publicly. 

Onward to the last three in this series and I will be caught up.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dispatches by Michael Herr


This is an incredible accounting of a time period about the Vietnam War, told with such descriptive clarity by journalist Michael Herr.

The journalist conveyed the horror using such descriptive language you could smell the fear, feel empathy for these children who wore the uniform of of military. He descrobed the young men as young but their eyes were old, old before their time having witnessed horrors no one should ever see.

He rode in choppers that were under fire and those filled with bodies of dead marines. He had humorius stories about the converstions with the men and frightening moments when they were targeted by incoming missles. Drugs, drink, death and sadness.  

I went through that thing a number of times and only got a fast return on my fear once, a too classic hot landing with the heat coming from the trees about 300 yards away, sweeping machine-gun fire that sent men head down into swampy water, running on their hands and knees towards the grass where it wasn’t blown flat by the rotor blades, not much to be running for but better than nothing.

Herr didn't have to be in Vietnam and soldiers and Marines who realized this were gob smacked.  One Marine stated once he was back in the States his own mama could be sent over and he'd never come back.

It took him years to write the book Dispatches as he came home with crippling depression. Writing this was probably theraputic.

The Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out. 
 This is for the category Wartime Experiences.

 Check out the sign up post and info HERE. The challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2021. You can join in anytime!

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Guest List by Lucy Foley


In a nutshell: A surplus of self entitled rich people, the setting a remote and eerie Irish island (the destination wedding for handsome Will and beautiful Julia) plus a plethora of stereotyped school bullies now in their late 30's. What's not to like? Well, there's a bit not to engage you at first grows on you. There are a few characters I liked very much and wish their stories had continued.

This book is very similar to her previous novel The Hunting Party.  There are quite a few characters in this novel and multiple points of view; I found myself intrigued by the back stories and wondered who would end up murdered.  I hoped for one of the shallow creeps but no spoilers from me here.

In addition to the remote location, one which requires a boat to access, there is an old ghostly cemetery and peat bogs which can (and do) pull a person in just as quicksand would. Lots of danger, secrets and suspects. 

The setting is very well described and you can picture the crashing waves against the shore, feel the cold winds and imagine the insidious bogs which nearly claimed one wedding guest.

I will read more by Lucy Foley but I have to say that The Hunting Party was a better book, in my opinion.  Again, it's a similar template to her previous book but by the end of The Guest List, it was hard to have empathy for many of the characters. For what it's worth, I liked Hannah and Olivia very much so if you read this one, let me know your thoughts on the major players.

Also, last but not least, I personally did not figure out the murderer's identity until it was revealed.  I saw a few reviews where the reader stated they did but I was not one of those :-)

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

When Hannah met Owen she wouldn't have any reason to think he was hiding a secret.  They had a good marriage and while it was a challenge to get his daughter Bailey to warm up to her, life was good.  Then a young girl from Owen's school arrives at Hannah's home with a note from Owen which simply stated, Protect Her. A mysterious note and big bag of cash for Bailey sets us off on a mystery of sorts.

Hannah and Bailey find common ground while searching for Owen. They both love him but it's clear he kept a part of his life a secret from them both. 

This story has multiple timelines which adds to slowly revealing the story.  There is an FBI investigation, tensions and a slow develpment of the main characters.

This is more of domestic suspense, not an action thriller. I don't read reviews until I have finished a book but I see now most readers were very positive and seemed to love the storyline.  While it was interesting to me I did not find myself all that engaged with the characters and would lose my train of thought.  Clearly I am in the minority here.

Publication date is 4 May 2021; the genre is women's fiction.    Much thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  I was not compensated for my review and opinions are mine.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Wine Reads: a literary anthology of wine writing

 Jay McInerney compiled an anthology of wonderfully written stories with wine as the starring feature.  I am a wine enthusiast and enjoyed the collection.  Right now I can say I picked a hellava time to stop drinking my beloved vino with the insurrection that's going on aross our country. Oh well, I will continue to abstain a bit longer :-)

One of my favorite stories in this book was by Roald Dahl describing a wine tasting at a simple dinner party.  It was a challenge by the host to stump guest Richard Pratt, a famous gourmet and president of Epicurus. 

The bets were always high stakes; a case of expensive wine or use of a country estate.  This time the host, Mike Schofield, was so sure he had Mr. Pratt at a loss that he impulsively bet his 18 year olf daughter's hand in marriage. The wine tasting and discussions (and arguements from Schofield's wife and daughter) were funny and alarming all at once.

Contributions are from Kermit Lynch, Biana Bosker (from her great narative Cork Dork), Bill Buford and more.  Some stories are very funny and others are educational. 

This is the shared with ShellyRae for the Nonfiction 2021 challenge.
 Category: Essay Collection

The Nonfiction Reader Challenge is hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.  Check out the sign up post and info HERE. The challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2021. You can join in anytime!

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn has done it again.  If you liked her novel The Alice Network you will fall in love with this novel.  It's detailed, informative and has me yearning to know more about the men and women who worked in secrecy for their goverment to help break codes during WW II.

This historical fiction centers around Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. You will go back and forth between London and the Bletchley Park during the years 1940 and 1947.  The three main characters are Olsa Kendall, a high society debutante who is dismissed as a silly rich girl, yet is fluent in German and French and is an ace code breaker.

Mab Churt is a dynamite 5'11" woman with a mission to better herself from her poor east London childhood.  She has a few secrets which are slowly revealed. Mab is also recruited to break German codes.  The third woman is Beth Finch and I can tell you ahead of time, you are really going to hate her mother! Beth starts off as a wallflower but her skills and dedication are astounding.  

Three women from such different backgrounds who would never cross paths otherwise form an interesting friendship.  To complicate their very complex lives comes the discovery of a traitor in their agency. It's a surprise, how it all works out. 

The Enigma codebreakers worked tirelessly to serve ther country and can't talk about it to anyone.  All the workers recruited, both military and civilan, signed an oath of secrecy.  They couldn't talk to one another about what they worked on if they were assigned to different departments or Huts.  As you can imagine, this would create problems in their personal relationships outside of Bletchley Park. 

The characters were very well developed; the supporting characters included Prince Phillip (before his betrothal to Elizabeth), the mathmatical genuis Alan Turing and many historical figures woven into the storyline. 

This advanced copy of The Rose Code was provided to me from LibraryThing and I was not compensated for the review.  I loved this book.  Be sure to look for a copy when it's published  by Harper Collins on June 18, 2021.

Linking up with Marg at The Intrepid Reader for the 2021 Historical Reader Challenge and Joy for British Isles Friday.

Happy  reading!

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O'Neal


This setting for this novel is Devon England and focuses on four generations of Fairchild women.    Lillian is a famed mystery author living in an amazing old mansion which overlooks the sea.  She is the mother of Poppy, grandmother to Poppy's daughter Zoe and great grandmother to Isabel.  The story is told from all four women's point of view.

It's interesting to read their chapters and see their perspectives, unique from one another based on different experiences. Lillian reveals she wanted to travel and have adventure in her youth but having a child (Poppy) kept her on the homefront. Their relationship is explained throughout from both women and how they view one another.  Lillian is in her 80's and starting to have a slow mental decline. Poppy is 60 something.

Poppy's story starts out from her daughter Zoe's observations. She left 7 year old Zoe with Lillian for a month long visit and didn't return.  This obviously hurt Zoe and shaped her upbringing.  Could you ever forgive your mother if she disappeared from your life, sending only letters and occassionally calling?
Zoe is now 39 and has returned to England from her home in New Mexico.  Her best friend Diana  has been missing for 2 weeks and she came back to help, also to assist her grandmother Lillian.  An added benefit is a change of scene for her 15 year old daughter Isabel as she is working through a traumatic event. 

Isabel is an amazing young woman who was subjected to serious bullying and more.  It's the "more" that she doesn't share with her mother or counselor until near the end of the book and I tell you, your heart will go out to her.  As a mother I would be out for blood if anyone damaged my child this way spoilers here.  It's lovely to see Isabel blossom as she explores Devon and lets her guard down. She loves her mother and great grandmother very much and finally meets her grandmother Poppy. Awkward situations ensue.

There is love, reflection and redemption in this book. I am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

  The beginning of the story unfolds in Carricklea, Sligo in western Ireland. Our main characters are Connell and Marianne and they are you...