Tuesday, December 1, 2020

fall reading list

Time for my fall book reviews.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding by Alexander McCall Smith – The further adventures of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe more or less solves a case of cattle killing and gets a surprise, mechanic apprentice Charlie unhappily thinks he is the father of twins, and Mma Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti finally get married.

No Exit by Taylor Adams – had I known that this story featured a sociopath that delighted in cruelty, I would not have checked it out. I was about a third of the way through when I could have put it down because I figured that I knew how it would end but I wanted to see how she kicked their asses at the end so I kept reading. So... Darby, first year college art student leaves for college with bad blood between her and her mother and wasn't planning on going home for winter break or Thanksgiving when big sister texts that their mother has pancreatic cancer and is headed to surgery so Darby jumps in her car trying to make it home to Utah before the big blizzard hits. She fails and has to pull into a rest stop with no cell phone signal and a failing battery (because of course she left her charger in her dorm room) to wait it out. There are 3 other vehicles in the parking lot and four people already there...Sandi and her cousin Ed and two other young men, Ashley and creepy Lars...waiting for the snowplow that will arrive in the morning. On one of her excursions outside to try and get a cell signal Darby discovers an injured young girl in a dog kennel in the back of the van and manages to break in and discovers she has been kidnapped and Darby realizes she must rescue her. She enlists the aid of Ashley and discovers too late that the car she thought was covered in snow is actually the dumpster and Ashley and Lars are brothers. Things rapidly go downhill from there. Darby does manage to rescue Jay but it is a long drawn out affair and she loses two fingers and nearly her life. Don't bother.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Fifteen year old Lakshmi is forced to marry a man in a nearby village when her parents can no longer afford to feed her, after her father, fallen from grace as a teacher in a large school for his participation in India's resistance movement to the British Raj, is sent to teach at a small village school. In her two years with her abusive husband who beat her every day for her childlessness, Lakshmi learns herbal healing lore from her much loved mother-in-law and at 17 deserts her husband and runs away to Agra where she paints henna for the prostitutes in a brothel and uses the herbal lore to insure no children are born. There she meets Samir Singh who entices her to move to Jaipur to become a much sought after henna artist and also to provide Samir with the means to make sure none of his mistresses give birth. Through his wife Parvati, Lakshmi is introduced to high society and becomes successful enough to afford to build a house for herself which is almost complete when her 13 year old unknown sister, Radha, and Hari, the husband she fled, show up at her door. Just as Lakshmi has engineered an introduction to the royal Maharini, her grand plans are destroyed when Radha comes up pregnant by Samir's son who Lakshmi just brokered a marriage match for. Things unravel quickly when her benefactress Parvati turns on her. I'm not going to tell anymore because it's a good story, well written, and moves along. There's a list of characters in the front and a glossary at the end of Hindu words sprinkled liberally through the book as well as a history of the caste system of India, the story of henna, and a couple of recipes of foods from the book. It's a good story, well worth the read.

Devoted by Dean Koontz – I pondered this book twice before at the library and then put it back and I like Dean Koontz mostly. I don't know what put me off, a boy and his dog story. But I finally brought it home. It's another of his 'becoming' stories, an idea he's gone to before. In this one, two things are happening, or becoming. One is the blooming of intelligence in dogs and their ability to communicate telepathically with each other, an evolutionary path undertaken when they paired themselves with humans, and is coming into fruition. The other is Shacket, an escapee from a secret private lab's explorations into 'improving' humans gone awry moments before the imminent firestorm triggered by the contamination of a DNA altering agent, who is now in the process of 'becoming' and the results aren't pretty. The boy, Woody, is the 11 year old autistic genius who has never spoken, son of a man who worked for the rich man behind the research facility and who died in a helicopter crash, who in his grief has found his way to the Dark Web and a murder for hire site and his father one of the victims. During his attempted escape to Costa Rica Shachet gets distracted by an obsession with Woody's mom Megan. And so two different evils are bearing down on them, Shacket and the men from the Dark Web. The dog is Kipp, a 'special' golden retriever whose companion, Dorothy, knows about Kipp's intelligence but is dying of cancer and gives over Kipp's care to Rosa, the woman who is caring for Dorothy. The boy draws the dog to him, the dog awakens the boy, and brings Rosa and Ben. Add in the medical examiner of the county, and the group stands against the inevitable encounter with the evil that men do. Straight up Dean Koontz.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – the library had a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale on their new arrivals shelf but since it's been a long time since I read it that I decided to delve into the stacks and find something else by her. Another America-has-gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket situation with unemployment worse than the great depression and roving gangs of thugs and uncertainty everywhere. Stan and Charmaine have both lost their jobs and then their house and are now living in their car, their only income the pittance Charmaine makes as a bartender when Charmaine sees an ad on TV at the bar about a new community with a house and a job guaranteed and they are accepting applications. So Stan and Charmaine apply along with two young women turning tricks at the bar. The concept of the community Consilience is that all residents will spend alternate months as civilians and as inmates of the Positron prison where they also have jobs. While residents are doing their month in prison, an alternate couple will occupy the house so essentially two couples live in the same house though not at the same time and everyone who signs on signs on permanently, once in, there is no escape or return to the outside world. All information, news, music, TV, etc. from the outside world is restricted and everything inside is controlled. Everything is fine at first but then one changeover day after Stan has already left to turn himself in at the prison, Charmaine is tidying up the house and is startled to see the man who will occupy the house in her absence and they start a torrid affair, once a month on changeover day. Things start to fall apart after that while Stan and Charmaine are unknowingly manipulated by a secret faction intent on smuggling out the information about what is really going on in Positron prison and drawn against their wills into the scheme to reveal to the outside world the horror of organ and baby blood harvesting, sex robots, and a technique to make people love and sex bond to the first person they see upon awakening.

The 7 1/2 Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – a man wakes up one morning in a dense forest with slashes on his arm and the vague memory that someone had tried to kill him and one word. Anna, he calls out and he has no memory of who he is or who she is. He sees a woman being pursued and calling for help, loses sight of them and then hears a gunshot. An unknown person comes up behind, places a compass in the man's hand and whispers east. He makes his way to a mansion on whose grounds he woke and is met by people who know him, he is Dr. Sebastian Bell and he is one of many guests of their hosts, the Hardcastle family at Blackheath House, for a Masquerade Ball oddly set on the same day as a similar ball 19 years ago during which one of the Hardcastle children was murdered. Later that day he meets a mysterious man dressed as a plague doctor who gives him a task...if he wants to leave this place he must discover who murders Evelyn Hardcastle, daughter of the house and he must do it before 11 PM. He has 8 days, all the same day and Evelyn dies every night, but each day he will occupy a different host, a different person in residence at Blackheath and he will retain his memory of the previous hosts. If he fails he will start over with no memory of the previous loop. There are two other people trying to solve the murder and watch out for the footman who is trying to murder your hosts. And so while the whole place relives the same day over and over, Aiden (for that's his real name) must discover all the secrets of Blackheath, and there are plenty, and it's occupants and solve the mystery. It's a good story. There's a lot more you learn about the characters and the place and their relationships with each other and it takes a turn here and there. Fortunately there is a list of family and guests at the front which was helpful to me to keep track of who was who and also a map of the grounds.

The Book Of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult – Prologue: Dawn is on a plane, it crashes and she is one of only 36 survivors. When the plane is going down it is not her husband or her daughter that she thinks of but Wyatt, the man she abandoned 15 years earlier in Egypt when she was studying Egyptology in her third year working on her dissertation on The Book Of Two Ways, one of the Ancient Egyptian Books of the Dead with the team from Yale and her rival and then lover Wyatt. The story opens with Dawn arriving Egypt to seek Wyatt out 15 years after she left and unfolds in both Egypt, the water path, and Boston, the land path, her life with Wyatt and her life with Brian and their daughter Meret, her own book of two ways, each path alternating while we learn her past with each man and up to the present moment. At the end, they merge and we are back to the plane crash in the prologue and the conclusion (in which the author cops out leaving the reader to fill in their choice on the very last page). I enjoyed this book a lot because so much of it is in Egypt at an archeological site and there is a lot of information about ancient Egypt which has fascinated me since I first became aware of it as if I have a connection there. But I also like the story itself of a woman who has slowly come to realize that her marriage is maybe not what she thought it was when a potential crises of infidelity rises and again when the genetic test Brian had given their daughter Meret for her birthday comes back and obviously excludes Brian. Dawn, who is a death doula, leaves to carry out a promise to one of her clients which takes her to London but instead of returning to Boston afterwards, she books a flight to Egypt bringing us full circle and then to the plane crash. It's the story of a woman who loves two men.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – Piranesi, the Beloved Child of the House, lives alone in the labyrinth except for the weekly visits from the Other who is conducting a search for secret knowledge and depends of Piranesi's knowledge of and ability to navigate the labyrinth to conduct his rituals. The House is all that exists in the world, built on a gigantic scale, endless vestibules leading to endless corridors leading to endless massive halls all lined in tiers with endless marble statues, each one unique. The Lower Halls are inundated, which provide food from the ocean, and the tides regularly flood, to one degree or another, the Middle Halls where Piranesi lives. The Upper halls are encased in clouds and fog which provide fresh water along with the rain. The East Halls are ruined. This is all Piranesi knows. We learn of his life through the entries in his journal. Piranesi believes he is the 15th Child of the House as he has found 13 skeletons in his explorations and he surmises that there will be a 16. One day the Other (14, as Piranesi believes he lives in other more distant halls) warns Piranesi that if he should see another person in the House he should avoid him at all costs as he is an enemy and would drive Piranesi insane. Piranesi assumes this other person is 16. One day he catches a glimpse of 16 and watches her from hiding and in his curiosity he discovers that what he though of as his first and second (of 10) journals are actually #21 and #22 of a life he can no longer remember in a different world altogether. When he realizes that a massive flood is about to occur, he goes in search of 16 to save her and it becomes an event that changes his life in ways he could never have imagined. I have left out so much trying to entice but not reveal the story.


  1. Thanks for the book reports. I now have four new books to look forward to reading.

  2. I read Evelyn Hardcastle, and I liked it OK, but I found the premise a little tiring by the end. We just bought Piranesi for the library -- a student has it out now.

  3. I'll have to check out a few of these - but my list of "to read" is kind of ridiculous now.

  4. Stop, stop....I will add to my list but will I live long enough to read all that I want to?


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