Just what the doctor ordered! With a book you will never be bored, at least in my opinion. My plan for 2017 is to read great books. I am off to a good start. I have read 12 according to Goodreads, but I know that's not quite accurate.
I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame, is not completed. I was not in the right mindset to finish it, so back to the TBR shelf it goes.
50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go: Includes Budget Tips, Online Resources, & Golden Days, was prep for my trip this past summer to Italy. So, that will be counted as reference and I'll never actually finish that one, but continue to refer back to it.
Selected Short Stories of Thailand was sent to me by Trip Fiction to read and review for them. I read the majority of the stories. Some I enjoyed, most I did not. I will post my review when I am able to get to Thailand to showcase the book in the destination it takes place in as they do on their website:
Last is Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan and while I've read the majority of the short stories contained within, I still have a few more to finish. This is a book that intend to savor. Each story is a gem and I want to spend more time enjoying them. I had posted my review on Amazon, but now I see it's no longer there! I guess more of the new rules of Amazon book reviews!
That leaves me with the following completed books & reviews posted to Goodreads:
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Canon: *** 1/2-****
I felt this was between 3.5-4 starts. It checked off two boxes for me, historical fiction dealing with the time of WWII (although this is just after the war) and espionage, but for some reason the story just didn't grab me as I thought it might. I think part of it was that I do need to read up a bit more on post WWII Berlin, because I do not fully understand all the segments of the city and how the various citizens of Berlin were able to move around them. The story focuses on Alex a young, Jewish writer who was incarcerated during the war, but makes his way to America where he has been living in exile with his wife and young son. His return to Berlin is due in part to McCarthyism, but we find out right away that Alex is there as a spy. His cover is that he has been invited to help restart the cultural side of Berlin and at the same time spy on his old friends. Things escalate quickly as one of Alex's first contacts gets gunned down in the street and Alex must get away without seeming to be involved. Friends and old loves from Alex's past turn up at various points of the story. It's hard for him to know who to trust, even as he is asked to spy on his old flame Irene. If Alex is successful he will be able to return to his son with the black mark of McCarthyism cleaned away. The author's descriptive writing captures the stark reality of post WWII, Cold War Berlin. The city comes across as bleak, gray, and desperate.
Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown *****
I had this book on my radar for quite sometime and was finally able to start it over the holidays. It was a truly special story following Dottie Krasinsky and her mother Rose during the pre-WWII years in a New York City. Dottie is a young Jewish girl living at home with her parents, working as a bookkeeper and trying to enjoy her "modern" life, having drinks with friends, listening to jazz music, and going steady with her boyfriend waiting for him to pop the question. Her mother Rose is an immigrant who arrived from Russia, married and almost immediately began a family. The story spotlighted what it must have been like to live in the Lower East Side, in a Yiddish speaking neighborhood, where there were certain unspoken values. One mistake by Dottie one night almost ruins her whole life, but we find out how tough Dottie really is as she is pushed to the brink. Rose seems to be getting bored after 20 years of marriage and raising kids. She slowly begins to make her way back to social activism that was a large part of her life as a young woman back in Russia. Both women's story was completely believable. I even hoped there was a sequel, so I could find out what happened to Dottie and Rose.
The Murder Game by Julie Apple (pseudonym for Catherine McKenzie) *****
I read this book after reading Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Julie Apple is the pen name for Catherine McKenzie and The Murder Game appeared in Fractured as part of the story with Julie being a main character. It's quite a clever idea! Either can be read as a stand alone. The Murder Game begins with prosecutor Meredith Delay being assigned to a murder case. It turns out the case involves an old law school friend and his defense attorney is Meredith's old love interest.This is great legal fiction and I found myself choosing sides. The book contains two time periods, the law school days and the present courtroom case, but flipping back and forth is handled well and each give just what the story needs at that moment. We get the background on how the four law school friends came up with the idea for The Murder Game as they called it, but did anyone really think they would actually act upon it? You'll have to read to find out.
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan *****
Perfect for those readers who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. The story is told through the diary entries of teenager Kitty Winthrop, journal entries of Mrs. Tilling, town nurse, diary entries of Polish/Jewish refugee child, Silvie, letters between Venitia Winthrop (a young lady on the cusp of adulthood) and her friend Angela Quail (working in London in the War Office), and letters between Miss Edwina Paltry (town midwife) and her sister Clara. The story enfolds with WWII underway and nearly all the men of the village off fighting. The vicar wants to discontinue the choir due to the lack of men, but the feisty ladies of Chilbury decide to carry on with the help of music teacher Primrose Trent. They begin practicing, but there's plenty of turmoil between members, and as the story progresses we see the choir pull together to support each other in more ways than one. It's a great illustration of the "pull yourselves up by your boot straps" mentality that existed at that time in history. The story gives a snapshot into the life of a small English village and the author was able to tie in real historical events to create authenticity. I cheered on the characters, shook my head incredulously at some, and shed a few tears for others. This was a lovely, warmhearted tale.
Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen *****
My second book by Renee Rosen has cemented her shelf space as a favorite author. Windy City Blues dealt with an era that I knew very little about. I new little about the music, the blues, that was at the heart of this historical fiction story, I knew little about the history including segregation and racism, and the book left me wanting to know more. I found myself checking You Tube during my reading of the book, because I wanted to hear the songs that were sited in the story. I found myself Googling and checking Wikipedia to get more information on pieces of history from the book. Who would have thought that two, Jewish, immigrant brothers from Poland would be the powerhouses behind the record label that gave so many blues musicians their start? Ms. Rosen effortlessly wove the real story of the Chess brothers into an amazing piece of historical fiction, adding in Leeba Groski neighbor of the Chess Bros., who worked for Chess Records, her romantic interest Red Dupree, an up and coming blues guitarist who in the story works with Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Etta James as a contracted musician of Chess Records. As Leeba/Leah and Red's relationship grows, they marry and face discrimination as a mixed race couple. I shed tears when Leah & Red head south as Freedom Riders and they faced the angry mob along with other civil rights supporters including Martin Luther King Jr. I think this book will be in my top ten for 2017!
The Killing Forest by Sara Blaedel ****
I really enjoy Scandinavian mysteries and thrillers and so when I saw Sara Blaedel's name pop up in one of my book newsletters, I immediately added her books to my TBR. The publisher was kind enough to offer me two to read and review for my blog. I am looking forward to getting to know the characters more in upcoming installments, but don't feel you need to start at the beginning to enjoy. I was easily able to sort out the characters and relationships by coming in the middle of the series. The Killing Forest is part of the Louise Rick series. She is a detective in the National Police Department in Denmark. It seems they are in a smaller town outside Copenhagen. Louise gets involved in the case of a missing 14 year old boy who comes from the town where she grew up. It appears there may be a connection to the death of Louise's boyfriend many years ago and a tie in to a type of religious cult. The problem is everyone is keeping quiet about everything and Louise has to work extra hard to unearth the clues to solve both cases. Ms. Blaedel offers a multilayered story with lots of bits and pieces, but expertly ties it all together for a satisfying ending.
The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel ****
My second book in the Louise Rick series and I cannot wait to read them all! I was lucky enough to get an ARC for this from the publisher and I highly recommend Ms. Blaedel to anyone who enjoys Scandinavian mysteries. Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larssen fans will appreciate this series. A housewife in England ends up dead. The victim of a shooting with a hunting rifle as she stood innocently in her kitchen. It turns out the victim is a Danish citizen reported missing many years ago. She was the girlfriend of Louise Rick's partner (both personally and professionally) Eik. Eik takes off to England and ends up in jail while trying to pursue the case himself, leaving Louise to wonder if she really knows him as well as she thought. Slowly the story enfolds, more seemingly unrelated people end up dead, all by high powered rifle. Louise, Eik, and Louise's journalist friend all try to find a connection before another person ends up dead. Ms. Blaedel again weaves a dynamic story loaded with plenty of surprises. This was a thoroughly interesting mystery and a great way to tie in a controversial, hot button issue in the telling.
Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan *****
This was such an interesting story. As I started, I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but the story kept building until I was emotionally wrapped up in it. I really LOVED James Hernandez. I would date James Hernandez! He seemed like such a wonderful friend, colleague, boyfriend, and lover. I think that's why I felt so upset about the things that happened to him. Much of story is about unconventional relationships. James is an English major/aspiring novelist from Ann Arbor Michigan where he still lives and works, his best friend Rob is in finance, and is living in NYC on the path to making it big. While on a visit to NYC to see Rob, James meets Lou, Rob's girlfriend. James sees Lou as the epitome of everything he's looking for in a woman. She's perfect, but she's Rob's girlfriend and soon James finds out she'll become Rob's wife. James struggles in his relationship back in Michigan with a fellow professor. They are happy, but there's no spark, there's no racing heart. Rob's job begins to erode his marriage and soon he and Lou separate. Lou turns to James for understanding and sympathy, but soon they find they have made matters worse. I have to say that Lou frustrated me, but I know sometimes having a character you dislike can make the story even better. At this point it seems that nothing is working out for James, his novel is stalled, his job is unsatisfying, and he's alone. Something unconventional happens to shake up James world and I was completely surprised how it helped James become whole. I cried, no I did not just shed a few tears, I was sobbing after chapter 26 and I continued to cry off and on until the end. Often the tears blurred the words on the page, but the unconventional life was James' savior in a sense. He found all the things I wanted for him and felt he deserved and the funny thing was, they were there all along. Thank you to the author and publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.