The Unit, City of Friends, The Woman at Number 24

 

The Unit is a novel I read about in a blog and then found on the new arrivals section in my library so I scooped it up.  A thinking woman’s dystopian, this novel is definitely for fans of Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale,  Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or James’ Children of Men.  The novel tackles issues of feminism, ageism, and the value of the individual in a dystopian setting in which a person’s worth is based upon procreation.  Men who have already procreated express derision for desperate single women trying to “steal their sperm”.  Young girls in a desire to save themselves from The Unit later in life are having unwanted children at 17.  Life on the unit is covered with this facade of luxury and leisure hiding the horror underneath.  A great read!  5 stars.

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope is a celebration of capitalism disguised as feminism.  Heavy handed didactic prose revolving around four women whose petty grievances wouldn’t even cause the average woman to bat her eyes.  One character, trying to reach her young teen daughter writes her a letter about the glory of work, how work will save you, how work is the greatest thing ever….made me instantly feel that the tagline for this book should be “lean in”.    Perhaps I just don’t relate to the issues of the 1%.  I have been trying Trollope because her work is recommended to me based on other women’s fiction that I have read, but it just hasn’t worked for me.

The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton is a quick, fun read.  Sarah is  a recent divorcee, so determined to see the inner beauty in everyone, that she finds herself taken advantage of by everyone, from the now gone Smith, to her ex-husband Leo,  her mother, and her basement dwelling neighbor, Mavis. The strength of this book is the characters and sense of camaraderie the book develops.  It is a book about friendship and family and how a collection of individuals can come together to support each other.  The only negative is that there is one romance novel device that the reader sees through almost immediately, however I still enjoyed the overall story. 

The Seagull, Spider’s Web, & Borderline

 

 

This week, I just finished these three although I started a few others so they will be posted next week.

I received a free ARC of The Seagull  from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.  I was so excited to get an ARC of The Seagull, book 8 in the A Vera Stanhope Mystery series and it was a great read.  When it got towards the middle, I kept putting it down to try to drag it out because I didn’t want it to end!

DI Vera Stanhope visits a prison on the orders of her boss to give a talk to inmates.  Once there she meets up with an old inmate, who strikes a deal with her for information on the location of a body.  This jumps starts an investigation into a twenty year old murder..or two and sets off a chain of events in the current time.  The plot line becomes heavily intermingled with Vera’s, or more correctly her father, Hector’s past.  His “hobby” of bird and egg poaching and the men he associated with are enmeshed in this investigation causing Vera more than one episode of being haunted by her memories.  This novel really shows Vera as a woman, a daughter, a friend, and an intelligent, critically thinking DI, an amazingly well drawn character.

The team of Charlie, Joe and Holly are really well done here, fully fleshed out characters, who are engaging in their own right, not just in the relation to Vera.  I particularly enjoyed the development of Charlie’s character over the course of the series and love that it goes against the stereotype of the older, maudlin, divorced cop who sinks into a puddle of alcohol in despair.  There are other characters outside of the team, who are just as well done, and demonstrate the effect of crimes on the families left behind.

The setting is just as well done, evocative and atmospheric.  There is a highly developed sense of place, which I really love in a book.  The setting is as important as the characters and the plot.  I would highly recommend The Seagull to readers of mystery fiction, to readers who love strong female leads, (particularly ones that are not in their 20s and beautiful), or to readers who just love good books!

I read Spider’s Web, the play by Agatha Christie because I had tickets to go see it performed at Princeton University.  The play was funny, lots of humor, and light-hearted for a murder mystery.  The female lead, Clarissa, was a great character, engaging and making the reader root for her success in all of her machinations. The plot did not feel as complex as some of Christie’s other work and it is my understanding that this play was overshadowed by The Mousetrap and is Christie’s least performed work.   I did enjoy reading it and seeing it performed.

Borderline is an urban fantasy, which is definitely NOT my go-to genre.  My daughter was reading it and I picked it up and was hooked by the first few pages and the lead character, Millie.  Millie is the survivor of a suicide attempt that left her a disfigured face and a double amputee.  She is recruited by the secretive Arcadia Project directly out of the institution in which she has been living. No longer suicidal, she is now dealing with the aftermath of her attempt, borderline personality disorder, and living in a house owned by the Arcadia Project full of other damaged characters and…. magic.

I loved the character of Millie and her portrayal of Borderline Personality Disorder.   She has been taught coping skills at her stay in the institution and through her the reader learns a great deal about BPD, in a straightforward, no pitying or wringing of hands, kind of way.  This is a fantastic example of a protagonist,who is both physically disabled and dealing with mental illness.

My only issue with the book was that I felt the ending seemed a little rushed and I don’t want to say anything else and give spoilers.  Definitely recommend this one, even if, like me, you are not a big reader of urban fantasy.

Die of Shame & The Luckiest Woman Ever

 

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham is a book club read this month at the English Kindle Mystery Club on Goodreads.  This story centers around a rehab group of six that meets in Tony, the counselor’s, home.  One of the members is brutally murdered and the book reflects on the happenings before her murder in the group, Tony’s notes and his personal life as he deals with his patients, and the current investigation.  I have read another Mark Billingham book and quite enjoyed it, but for some reason I had difficulty staying with this one.  It is organized with dual time lines and a great deal of flipping back and forth.  Also, none of the characters, including the detective really grabbed me so I ended up reading about the first third and then skimming and  reading the last 50 pages or so.

The Luckiest Woman Ever by Nell Goddin is the second book in the Molly Sutton series. Molly, an ex pat American, has moved to France and opened a small bed and breakfast after a disappointing divorce.  In this book, it is winter and she has invited a friend to come over the states and keep her company. They stumble on the murder of a thoroughly unpleasant old lady and Molly begins to stick her nose in to the investigation.

I am really enjoying the entire setting of this series.  It really comes to life with Nell Goddin’s writing.  I also like the character of Molly and her interactions with the townspeople.  I did have a little difficulty with the resolution, but overall I enjoyed the book and will read more in the series.

Books so far this week…

Six books read so far this week.  3 were for book clubs, The Redbreast, Buried Crimes and The Beekeeper.  

The Redbreast is book 3 in the Harry Hole series.  It is a well known, popular and award winning piece of crime fiction.  It was selected by my IRL book club to represent Nordic Noir.  I don’t usually like skipping to the third book in the series, so I did read The Bat earlier in preparation for this.  (I didn’t like that book really either so I did skip book 2)  I really did not like this and only one other person in the book club persevered and finished.  Everyone else quit, some relatively early on (first 100 pages).  The storyline is convoluted and time switching is rampant.  Characters are introduced willy nilly all over, with name changes. There is a pretty eyebrow raising coincidence involving a female police officer and the cases they are working on.  Harry Hole is your typical alcoholic with issues police detective.  The book spends a great deal time on the historical (WWII) piece and it bored me to tears.  The resolution is tied up by a series of diary entries basically retelling the book and it is over 500 pages long…

Buried Crimes and The Beekeeper are this month’s reads over at the Kindle English Mystery Club on Goodreads.  Buried Crimes was quite good.  It involves a somewhat cold case, bodies are discovered buried in a garden and they had been there for quite  a while.  The crime centers around two children who slip through the safety net and no one knows what happened until their bodies are found in the garden of Finch Cottage.  There is quite a bit going on in here as the case is investigated and connected crimes are discovered.  The characters are not always what they seem and DCI Sophie Allen is a competent and sympathetic investigator.

The Beekeeper was another read for the English Kindle Mystery Club.  I think the characters were interesting and somewhat quirky.  I just felt that it was blatantly obvious about who was doing the killing and even pretty much why.  It was so obvious I thought it had to be a red herring and kept reading expecting the outcome to have a twist, but no, it was just that obvious.

Missing Pieces is my second book by Heather Gudenkauf.  I recently read Not a Sound and enjoyed it.  That is why I picked this one up.  Sarah and her husband return to his home town because an elderly relative is seriously injured.  Once they are there, Sarah discovers that her husband has a whole mess of secrets.  Everything Sarah thought she knew about him was not true.  Sarah starts receiving messages from the killer and decides to try to uncover the truth and figure out who she is married to.  Well written mystery.  I preferred Not a Sound, but this was good as well.

Guiltless has been on my kindle for a while and I finally decided to read it.  The story follows two plotlines, present with Nora and Henrik and their impending divorce, and past,  with Thorwald and Kristina and their childhood.   This is really a story of “the crimes of the father being visited upon the sons”.  Nora discovers a body in the modern setting and in the course of the investigation links to the past point to the motive.  This was at times a very creepy thriller.  The pacing was good and both storylines were equally compelling.  Recommend for Nordic and domestic Noir fans.

Marrying the Mistress by Joanna Trollope is about divorce and the ripples of devastation that it can cause in a family.  My daughter came in while I was reading this and asked what was the matter.  I told her the plot to the book and so she just said, “So, you’re rage reading.”  That about sums it up.

Guy (60s) is married to Laura (60s) and has been for 40 years.  For the last 7 he has been carrying on an extensive affair with Merrion (31…younger than Guy and Laura’s kids), now he has decided to divorce Laura and ride off into the sunset with his child bride.  Laura is written is such way to ridicule her and her plight, the plight of many 60+ year old women who are dumped after many years of marriage and family.  Laura’s kids make nice with Guy and Merrion basically being completely disloyal to her.  Her son, Alan, in particular is glib and has a completely patronizing attitude (someone needed to take him out behind the woodshed and tan his behind).  The only other older female character is Gwen, Merrion’s mother, who is horrified by what Merrion is doing and she is also treated with dismissal.  The characters and the book totally ignore that as a 60+ woman, who has been a stay at home mum for basically her whole life allowing her husband to advance his career significantly, the outlook for her in divorce is bleak.  One of the characters actually suggests Laura go off and do a pottery class….what?!?  How patronizing?

Anyway- that is my rant over, I could keep going but I’m sure you get the idea.  On the plus side no one writes the details of domestic life like Joanna Trollope.  She does this beautifully and in such a way to make them utterly absorbing, but without any sappy sentimentality.

 

 

 

What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

31544900

This was a book I noticed on a couple of blogs I follow, so I picked it up from the library.  The story is centered on Ella Nygaard, a young woman with severe PTSD and no memory of early childhood as  result of her mother’s murder.  She has spent her youth in foster care and now has a young son herself.  As a result of her symptoms, she is being judged as unable to care for her child and he is being placed in foster care now (repeating the cycle).  Ella panics and takes her son back to the place she was from.

This is very different from the usual Nordic Noir police procedural.  It is really about Ella rediscovering her past, trying to figure out who she is and in the process protect her son and perhaps move on from the tragic event that has dominated her life.   The character of Ella is realistically drawn.  She is a fascinating woman with many flaws. but a deep sense of love and a need to protect her son that drives her.  This was a captivating  read and I finished it in one sitting!

Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

35009611  I received a free signed copy of Mrs. from BEA in exchange for a fair review.

This is an interesting look at wealthy society in New York  mainly through the lenses of the women, the Mrs.-es.  The story spirals between three women Philippa, Minnie and Gwen and how their interactions have repercussions beyond what they could imagine.  The novel explores themes of feminism and marriage, secrets,  Protestant work ethic, motherhood, greed, sexual violence/power,  insider vs. outsider, and justice.

I found it difficult to get into this book initially, perhaps some reverse snobbery on my part?  The problems of the whinging wealthy don’t really resonate with me, however as more of the character’s stories are revealed I was drawn into their lives.  There is some foreshadowing of the ending that was very well done and shows the thought put into the plotline of the novel.  One character’s connection to every single other main character seemed to stretch the disbelief a little and I found that somewhat problematic.  Perhaps this was purposeful, to demonstrate how small the world of the wealthy is?  Everyone knows everyone else?

Overall, a good read that touches on many powerful themes.

 

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

34007977  I received a signed copy of Best Day Ever  from BEA in exchange for a fair review.  **spoilerish review**

2013-02-20-utopia-spoiler

 

This is an excellently written, scary as hell book.  Glimpse into the mind of a narcissistic psychopath, Paul Strom,  and the chaos that he wreaks on those he encounters. It is fascinating to have the book written from his warped point of view.   He is a character I will not soon forget. An excellent example of an unreliable narrator and having the story told in a countdown method (every hour accounted for) are aids to building the tension.  The resolution is very realistic as most people know few of these types of people end up prosecuted.

THE PROBLEM…  The blurb and the reviews on the back of the book basically gave it all away.  The reviews on the book itself tell you he is an unreliable narrator, he is delusional, that he has “something” planned for his wife, etc.  The blurb talks about the couple not being able to trust each other, betrayal destroying a marriage or  duh, duh, duh…life.   So, I began reading knowing the husband was a psycho, knowing he was an unreliable narrator, knowing he wants to kill his wife.  Basically ruined the book and disrupted what would have been a tension filled and suspenseful thriller.  The book is so well written and the hints to his delusions and his wife’s “illness” are sprinkled liberally throughout, it would have been fun to discover the story for myself.