Tuesday, December 7, 2021

fall reading list

Nine books in the list this time and I'm surprised as it seemed to take forever to get through some of them. I even thought I must not have published the last quarter's list but I did so go figure.

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang – I'm not sure if I liked this book or not. I don't especially like the way it came to an end but then books don't always have to have a happy rosy ending and it was probably more correct than not. The book takes place during the California gold rush and building the railroad all the way to the Pacific. The territory is still wild and the story starts out with 12 year old Lucy and her 11 year old sister Sam, both Chinese and both born in the territory, who set out to find a place to bury their father, stealing a horse in order to do so and they set out into the wilds. We learn that their Chinese father was found as a day old infant on the Pacific coast laying next to his dead parents by a wanderer, that their mother came over with 200 other Chinese in the first import of workers to build the railroad, that the girls think their mother died giving birth to a son, that the family were failed prospectors turned miners. Sam morphs into the son her father wanted. Anyway they wander for three years, crossing the Rockies into the plains, barely subsisting but surviving when they come near a town and Lucy is ready to settle down but Sam is not. Lucy creates a life in Sweetwater coming back to the river every day to check on Sam, bring her food, until one day Sam isn't there. Sam shows up 2 years later and Lucy realizes how false the life she thinks she has is and leaves with Sam. Sam pushes them on back to the Pacific coast and a ship that will take them back across the ocean but the night before they are to leave, the men pursuing Sam finally catch up to her and Lucy makes a decision that saves Sam's life and forces her to get on the ship but irrevocably changes her own. That's the narrative that frames the lives of two Chinese girls living in a land where no one looks like them or thinks of them as having value in and of themselves in a land of Anglos.

The Girl And The Stars *the first book of the ice* by Mark Lawrence – Every four years the four tribes that live on the ice planet Abeth travel to the Black Rock to mingle and to throw their 'broken' children into the Pit of the Missing in an effort to keep the bloodlines strong enough to endure the cold and survive. Yaz, at 16, of the Ictha, who live in the furthest north where the very air freezes during the Long Night, knows she is different and expects to be thrown into the pit this time. Instead, the regulator sets her aside intending to take her with him and the other priests to the Black Rock where they live and trade scarce metal for skins and furs, and it is her younger brother that he throws in the Pit. Yaz, ringing with the injustice, jumps in after him thinking to rescue him. She falls and lands, her brother nowhere to be seen. She is rescued by others of the Broken who have survived the fall and who live in the ice caverns below the surface. Each tribe has members with their own special powers, most rarely the ability to work the stars, round balls of energy that emit light embedded in the ice, and Yaz discovers that she can command them. The Broken aren't the only ones who live in the ice caverns. There are the Tainted, people overtaken by the demons of the black ice, and from the ancient abandoned city below the ice caves where the Broken scavenge for metal, the Hunters, who carry away the Broken. Yaz is determined to rescue her brother, taken by the Tainted. This is the first of a trilogy and it is one fight after another between the Broken and the Tainted, the Broken and the Hunters, the Broken and the Broken in a power struggle for leadership. Yaz has the strongest power, is the central character, and the priests want her back but she has a plan to rescue her brother and friends. I found Yaz's tendency to think she can't do something right before she does it to be a little overused. I may or may not read the next one.

Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda – another quick pick from the library when nothing seemed to grab me. Harper Nash lives in a small quiet neighborhood surrounded by woods across the lake from the college where most of the residents work. When Harper's husband Aiden blindsides her by packing up his things and leaving, 20 year old Ruby Fletcher shows up at Harper's door asking if she wanted some company and never leaves becoming Harper's unasked for roommate. Ruby takes on small jobs in the neighborhood which gives her access to people's houses. Ruby is not a nice person and when the Fletchers are found dead in their bed the assumption is they were murdered, the scant evidence seems to point to Ruby, and the neighborhood joins ranks against her. Ruby is convicted and sentenced to 20 years. A year and a half later Ruby's conviction is reversed and she is released. To Harper's dismay, Ruby returns assuming that she will continue to live with Harper and Harper can't find it in herself to tell her to leave. Small disquieting things start happening and threatening notes start turning up in Harper's house. After Ruby insists on coming to the annual 4th of July pool party she is discovered later that night dead in a lounge chair. When the authorities reveal that she was poisoned, Harper sets out to find out what really happened to the Fletchers and what Ruby was doing there. Eighty five percent of this book is what goes on in Harper's head, her thoughts going over and over the same stuff which I found to be tiresome after a while.

Fallen by Linda Castillo – this is the third book I've read in the Kate Burkholder series. Kate is the chief of police in a small town with an Amish community where she grew up as Amish but left for for an 'English' life. She is called to the scene of the brutal murder of Rachael Schwartz, savagely beaten to death in her motel room the night she returns to Painters Mill. Rachael, raised Amish, was an unapologetic rule breaker, far too spirited to remain Amish, often seen as a selfish user who didn't care who she hurt, and eventually banned from the community and moved away. As an adult, Rachael became even more of who she was making enemies both Amish and English. No one in the community knew that Rachael had returned, not her parents who turned their backs on her as a teen or her childhood best friend. As Kate begins to investigate the murder, long buried secrets of Rachael's life begin to surface and Kate nearly loses her own life at the hands of the murderer desperate to keep them secret. I enjoy these books. They are well written and move along.

The Survivors by Jane Harper – Kieran, suffering from survivor's guilt, and Mia return to their home town on Tasmania where Kieran's parents still live 12 years after the unprecedented storm that took the lives of his brother Finn, and Toby, the brother of one of his best mates when their catamaran overturned in an attempt to rescue Kieran who was caught and trapped by the rising water on the cliff face above the caves from which Kieran barely escaped. Also lost during the storm but whose body was never recovered was Mia's best friend, 14 year old Gabby. Kieran and Mia have returned from Sydney with their infant daughter Audrey to help Kieran's mother pack up their house and assist with his father who is suffering from dementia. Two days after their arrival, Bronte, an art student working on her summer project is found dead on the beach behind the cabin she shared with Olivia, Gabby's older sister. In the course of the investigation, old secrets are dredged up, the town is on edge thinking that one of theirs is the murderer, and evidence is discovered that changes the story of when and why Finn and Toby were on the water that day. Kieran eventually puts two and two together and goes to confront the person he believes killed Bronte and why.

Legacy by Nora Roberts – I was looking for a light quick easy read and Nora Roberts never disappoints. Instead of the first of a trilogy as much of her work is, this book is complete in three parts (and only two sex scenes only one of which was very descriptive). Adrian saw her father for the first time when she was 7 when he tried to kill her and her mother Lina but it was he who ended up dead in the attack. Adrian's mother Lina, only one of a very long list of starry eyed coeds, had an affair with her literature professor in college. When she escaped his attempt to beat her into a miscarriage, Lina went on to form a very successful yoga and fitness empire. When Adrian was 16 she started her own brand of yoga and fitness videos produced by her fellow nerds at the private school she attended. Soon after her first successful DVD Adrian started getting poems, one a year, threatening her with death. As the years went by and Adrian's success grew and she balanced home life, love life, and career, the poems became more frequent spurring her mother Lina to hire a private detective who uncovered a string of murders, all women who had had an affair with Adrian's father. Adrian felt she had taken enough precautions to keep herself safe until the murderer turned up at her house.

Peony in Love by Lisa See – let me just say up front, don't bother. And I like Lisa See, have enjoyed her other novels I've read. Peony is on the cusp of turning 16 and her father has arranged for a three day event of the opera, The Peony Pavilion, which Peony is obsessed with, as a birthday present. The opera is about a lovesick maiden who starves herself with longing for a man. As a Chinese daughter of an important family, Peony, who has never set foot outside her family compound, has been betrothed since birth to a man she has never met. She slips out during the first night of the performance and unexpectedly has an encounter with a strange man who convinces her to meet him the other two nights as well and they fall in love. With her marriage impending, she writes a commentary on love and the opera and falls prey to lovesickness and starves herself to death. On her deathbed when it is too late to survive she learns that her handsome stranger is indeed the man she was betrothed to. She spends the entire rest of the book as a ghost mooning over love and the opera and her should have been husband and his next two wives. I skimmed over page after page constantly asking myself why I was still reading this book.

Triptych by Karen Slaughter – a murder/detective story, homicide detective Michael Ormewood is called to the scene of a gruesome rape and murder of a prostitute and has agent Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation assigned to the case who is tracking a series of similar gruesome rapes of young teen girls. Fifteen year old John Shelley, successful junior high student, was led down the wrong path into drugs by his cousin Woody and his life fell apart. He invited a girl he had a crush on to a party at his cousin's and just when he thinks she won't show up she does and after rejecting a pass by the cousin, they leave and she sneaks John into her bedroom because she wants to try some cocaine. John snorts fingernail full, a bomb goes off in his head and he passes out, wakes up before dawn to find himself in a blood soaked bed next to the girl's dead body and is sent to prison at 16 for her gruesome rape and murder. Twenty years later he is released on parole and the assaults Trent is working on began. Agent Trent and vice cop Angie Polaski have a troubled relationship but soon start to put the pieces together and while John is brought to their attention, the killer is closer to home. A complex multi-layered story that kept me engaged.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr – There are three main story lines, five main characters in all, intertwined and spread out over modern day Idaho, 15th century Constantinople, and a 22nd century starship all tied together by an ancient book, Cloud Cuckoo Land written by Antonius Diogenes around the 1st or 2nd century CE who claimed he found the 24 folios in an ancient tomb upon which was written Aethon: Lived 80 Years a Man, 1 Year a Donkey, 1 Year a Fish, 1 Year a Crow in a chest upon which was written Stranger, whoever you are, open this to find what will amaze you. In Idaho in the public library 80 year old Zeno is helping 5 fifth graders rehearse a play of the story Cloud Cuckoo Land which Zeno has spent his life translating. At the same time autistic teen Seymour is planting a bomb in the library with the intent to damage the sales office next door as a protest for cutting down the forest behind his home. In Constantinople, orphaned 10 year old Anna lives in a monastery devoted to embroidering priests' vestments. She finds the leather bound folios while scrounging for something valuable to sell and reads to her dying sister. Outside the walls of Constantinople as the Sultan's army conducts a siege is young Omeir, a village boy conscripted in the army with his oxen, his and Anna's paths destined to cross. On the generational starship Argos heading to a new planet and away from the ruined Earth, 14 year old Konstance writes down the stories from Cloud Cuckoo Land that her father told her. All these lives are connected by the story of Cloud Cuckoo Land and this novel is essentially about how a book survives through the centuries as told by the lives of the people touched by it. I really liked this book, really liked it.


  1. Okay. I've been wondering about the Doerr book. I'll read it.

  2. Ooo - I might have to check out Cloud Cuckoo Land! I've read two of the others (Nora Roberts & Karin Slaughter). I'm hooked on the Will Trent series - I think I might be on book 6 now?

    I've read a lot of the books in the Castillo series, but I don't think I've read this one. I have to take breaks because the person who does the audio narration is just SO DRAMATIC about EVERYTHING. Makes me crazy. I guess I could just read the actual books instead, but that's crazy talk!

  3. I love reading your list of books. Makes me wish I had an attention span that would let me read something longer than a newspaper news story or a blog post. Those days are long gone, but I sure do like when you share your list.

  4. I'm wallowing in no-book land at the moment, so I too need to go to the library.

  5. I enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land a lot too! I found the trick was to just keep reading and not try to keep track of the different stories because after awhile they all came together for me. Terrific!

  6. I think you must be an incredibly fast reader! Thank you for these reviews. There are several titles here that have intrigued me.

  7. Ooooh, I love Jane Harper and I didn't know that book existed! I'm glad you liked Anthony Doerr's newest one, too. I've heard mixed reviews.

  8. Ellen,
    I have read your blog a long time, but when you switched fonts I couldn't read it anymore. Is there any way you could go back to the standard font you had in black? It would be helpful to us that have eye problems like me.

    1. Ask and ye shall receive. I have switched back to Comic Sans. So sorry you were having trouble.

    2. Thank you so much. I really enjoy your blog and the beautiful art you do!


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