One By One by Ruth Ware

One by One

This book was recommended by one of my local librarians.

Stats: Published in 2020, Audio – 11 CDs, Narrator – Imogen Church, Print – 372 pages

Blurb: Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?
When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

What I liked: As people started getting picked off “One by One” in a situation where there is only so many people involved in a place where they can’t get away from each other (in a snowed in chalet), I definitely thought of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (which started out with a not socially acceptable – now – title). And Ruth reproduces the feeling of that great Christie story pretty well. You definitely feel like you’re in the chalet. You definitely get the feeling of the different characters (and Imogen Church helps this a lot too), and I didn’t know “who done it” until she tells you. I was listening so I couldn’t really go back and see if she “cheated” at all in how she used the different people’s voices (the different sections are told by different characters), but I trust that she’s a good enough author that she didn’t do that. I also like how the Ware does tell you who the murder is but there is still more of the book to go. The final ski down the mountain was a nasty. I’m not a skilled downhill skier, so it put me on edge for sure.

What I didn’t like: The end was a bit slow and I don’t remember learning with happened to some of the other characters when they split up. I would have liked to know why they didn’t come back in time.

Rating: 4/5

Echo Burning – Lee Child

394715I needed an audio book to listen to and this one was available from my library.

Stats: Published in 2002 this is the 5th Jack Reacher Novel by Child. Print it is 432 pages, audio is 17′, narrator is Dick Hill

Blurb: Thumbing across the scorched Texas desert, Jack Reacher has nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there. Cruising the same stretch of two-lane blacktop is Carmen Greer. For Reacher, the lift comes with a hitch. Carmen’s got a wild story to tell—all about her husband, her family secrets, and a hometown that’s purely gothic. She’s also got a plan. Reacher’s part of it. And before the sun sets, this ride could cost them both their lives.

What I liked: This story was interesting because it had Reacher stumped (and me too). In the typical Child way, Reacher figures things out the only way Reacher can, with his background knowledge of… (I won’t tell you and give away the fun of discovery). As usual, Child’s characters are all so real and the situation plausible (mostly). The setting helps enhance the mood of the story and the child increases the stakes. And in the typical Child way, there are people in the story that you don’t know why they are in the story until toward the end. I always enjoy Dick Hill’s narration of the Reacher stories. He was a good pick for the job.

What I didn’t like: Some of the detail is overdone a bit but that is Child’s style too. Easy to overlook in an audio format.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Magician’s Assistant – Ann Patchett

16055I was given Bel Canto (another Patchett book) from my daughter and enjoyed it so I thought I’d try this one too.

Stats: Published in 1997, 357 pages.

Blurb: Sabine– twenty years a magician’s assistant to her handsome, charming husband– is suddenly a widow. In the wake of his death, she finds he has left a final trick; a false identity and a family allegedly lost in a tragic accident but now revealed as very much alive and well. Named as heirs in his will, they enter Sabine’s life and set her on an adventure of unraveling his secrets, from sunny Los Angeles to the windswept plains of Nebraska, that will work its own sort of magic on her.

What I liked: The story was entertaining. I really enjoyed the magic. It shows Patchett’s skill to make writing about magic entertaining. Her characters are all very real and their actions, emotions, and interactions all believable. The winter in Nebraska sounded more like my home state of Wisconsin but since I’ve never been in Nebraska in winter, I can’t really say how accurate it was. What makes a writer think – ‘I’ll write a story about love and loss and make the main character a magician’s assistant’? Interesting.

What I didn’t like: The ending was a bit disappointing. Not sure what I was expecting but it made me feel… disappointed. That is the best word for it. There was a touch of hope, which saved it but still just… disappointing. It’s interesting how an ending can color your feeling of a book.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveMy husband liked this so I though I’d give it a try.

Stats: Published in 2014, print 337 pages, audio 9’9″, narrator George Newbern

BTW: Ove is pronounced “Uva”

Blurb: A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

What I liked: Pretty much everything about the book. I think we all know someone like Ove and his very real struggles with people and the world he lives in, so I imagine that is why so many people have enjoyed this book. What I find entertaining is that I live in the US and Ove is written about a man who lives in Norway, but the character is recognized in both places. I also thought it was interesting that even though Norway’s social system is touted, it may not always be as wonderful as it appears. Just makes the point that most governments try and get away with things that they probably shouldn’t. Now this is fiction, so it may be bogus. I really enjoyed the narration by George Newbern. All the characters were very distinct.

What I didn’t like: It is a bit slow getting into because of the different style, but easily overlooked.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

The Winter Ghost by Kate Mosse – book review

6450212Another blink library pick.

Stats: Published in 2009, print is 253 pages, audio book is 5 discs – 5.5 hours, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Blurb: In the winter of 1928, still seeking some kind of resolution to the horrors of World War I, Freddie is traveling through the beautiful but forbidding French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. Dazed, he stumbles through the woods, emerging in a tiny village, where he finds an inn to wait out the blizzard. There he meets Fabrissa, a lovely young woman also mourning a lost generation.
Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, Freddie will have unearthed a tragic, centuries-old mystery, and discovered his own role in the life of this remote town.

What I liked: After you get into it a bit, it’s an interesting story about love and loss. I like how Mosse makes the seemingly unbelieveable, believeable (Freddie joining a feast and meeting a woman he shouldn’t be able to meet. – I won’t give it away by giving any details). I also like the how the letter in the beginning ties the story together.  Julian Rhind-Tutt’s narration is spot on for the women and the men. I forgot I was listening to a narrator and thought I was listening to the character’s themselves!

What I didn’t like: The beginning is too long. Mosse draws out Freddie’s loss (his brother in WWI) and his breakdown for too long. We get the point, move on already. I think it’s convenient how some of the characters don’t answer questions given to them by Freddie that would help him understand what’s happening or Freddie doesn’t keep asking questions until he understands what’s going on, but the story wouldn’t work if those things happened so I tried to let those things slide. It didn’t take away from the story enough to hinder my enjoyment.

Rating: 4/5

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

The Rooster BarThe newest book by John Grisham – why not?!

Stats: Published in October of this year. Print is 352 pages. I’m not sure how many discs in the audio book, which is what I listened to. I couldn’t get past #3.

Blurb: Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right? Well, yes and no.

What I liked: Nothing but the narration (and sorry, I took the audio book back to the library before I wrote down who did the narration, but he did a fine job). I couldn’t get past the third disc. There was no reason for me to continue. Oh, and the cover is nice.

What I didn’t like: Most everything. The characters were so ignorant and they had no goal by disc 3 expect to stop school before their final (yes, final) semester (I told you they were ignorant) to make money illegally in order to try and get out the large college dept they all held. This lack of a story goal this far into the story despite the death of their close friend. But you have to take John’s word on the fact that they’re close, because until you meet him in disc 2, you don’t even know he’s around. (Obviously, this was going to be the goal – avenge their friend’s death. A guy who, like themselves, was swamped in school dept, among other things, so he kills himself. No big mystery there either.) What was Grisham thinking with this book? What was his editor thinking?! And how does this book have an average of 4/5 on Goodreads?!

It’s nice that he is talking about sad story of student dept in this country – and the people who pray on those students, including our very own Sally Mae! But if he doesn’t write a story that makes a person care about the characters, how are they going to care about the dept they are carrying?

Is this a case of the Emperor’s new clothes?!

Rating: 1/5  I wouldn’t bother.

Death Sucks Life Doesn’t Have To by Brea Behn

Did a book swap with the author of this book (one of hers for one of mine). This is my honest review.Death Sucks, Life Doesn't Have To

Stats: Published in 2015, 86 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one. However, when not handled properly, grief can lead to depression and poor health. Death Sucks, Life Doesn’t Have To is the inspirational story of how author and speaker Brea Behn lost her twin at the age of fifteen to an accident with a handgun. The loss of her twin spiraled her into depression and resulted in serious health problems.

In her fifteen year journey she has healed to find peace, joy, and happiness. Brea will share with you how she accomplished this and some great tips and suggestions on how others can too. Also included is a great resources chapter full of suggested books, lists, and websites to help readers personalize their journey of healing.

What I liked: The author doesn’t skirt around the issues she faced and still faces. She is honest about how she dealt with things, which leads more weight to how she made her way out of the situations that faced her. It’s a very honest account of dealing with very difficult and even life threatening issues. The resources in the back of the book are very good and divided up for easier access. Behan admits it’s not an all-encompassing list, but it’s a good start for anyone trying to help themselves or others in similar situations. I think her advice is sound.

What I didn’t like: Not much. As a book editor, there were some editing things that could be addressed but that doesn’t dampen the overall positive appeal.

Rating: 4/5

Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland by Ace Atkins

I needed a short book for a car trip and picked this one.

Robert B. Parker's WonderlandStats: Audio book is 6 CDs, narrated by the actor Joe Mantegna, print is 306 page, published in 2013

Blurb: Henry Cimoli and Spenser have been friends for years, yet the old boxing trainer has never asked the private eye for a favor. Until now. A heavy-handed developer is trying to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach and sends thugs to move the process along. Soon Spenser and his apprentice, Zebulon Sixkill, find a trail leading to a mysterious and beautiful woman, a megalomaniacal Las Vegas kingpin, and plans to turn to a chunk of land north of Boston into a sprawling casino. Bitter rivals emerge, alliances turn, and the uglier pieces of the Boston political machine look to put an end to Spenser’s investigation.

Aspiration, greed, and twisted dreams all focus on the old Wonderland dog track where the famous amusement park once fronted the ocean. For Spenser and Z, this simple favor to Henry will become the fight of their lives.

What I liked: I liked listening to Joe Mantegna. His voice was perfect for the New York area characters. The story fit the area as well. I have never read any Robert Parker so I can’t say how close Atkins is to Parker’s style, but I did enjoy the humor of Spenser’s character – note: Ace Atkins is apparently trying to write in Parker’s style, though I don’t know if he is using Parker’s outlines or why it’s titled Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland since Parker is dead and Atkins wrote this story. The story itself is entertaining enough though not one in which I couldn’t wait to get back in the car to listen to. The subplot of Spenser and his sidekick “Z” is semi-interesting and adds a bit more depth  and humor to the story, so that was helpful.

What I didn’t like: The real story takes a while to take form. It starts out with Spenser helping a friend with an issue related to his condo being bought from underneath him. Not anything that makes you particularly interested. Atkins throws in some tough guys beating up on each other, but still, it doesn’t peek my interest. When this finally uncovers the real things that are happening – the political involvement, the gambling interest, the dead guy in the trunk – it starts to get a bit more interesting, but the story kind of just plods along. It’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either.

Rating: 3/5

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell

After listening to a couple known authors, I’m back to trying some blind library audio book picks.

The Annunciation of Francesca DunnStats: Published in 2004, discs – I think there were 8, print is 336 pages. The audio book was narrated by 4 different people: Tyler Bunch, Dristen Kilian, Beth MacDonald and Mia Pitasi.

Blurb: (from Goodreads) Told from the viewpoints of four unforgettable characters, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn is the story of an ordinary girl who is believed to be a modern-day Holy Virgin. At the heart of the story is Francesca: a shy and moody teenager hungry for her absent father’s love, she is frightened and intoxicated by her sudden elevation to the rank of divine. Chester is a visionary homeless man who first ‘discovers’ Francesca and makes himself her protector. Anne is Francesca’s no-nonsense mother, whose religion is Darwin and biology. Sid is Francesca’s troubled friend, who keeps a few secrets of her own.

What I liked: I liked the 4 different points of view, especially the homeless man who initially “discovers” Francesca’s divinity. Listening to what is happening from these 4 different characters read by 4 different people allows the reader to understand how something like this could happen. Hallowell even makes you wonder if the child really does have this divinity, which is a real trick, I think. As odd as things can get in the world these days (or maybe it’s just that we get to see the oddity more because of the internet and media), this story’s premise isn’t that far out there.

What I didn’t like: The supposed intellectual mother of Francesca is conveniently unaware of what is going on until it has gotten way out of hand. Hallowell makes her out to be self-centered and so much into her own life and work that she ignores what is going on with her daughter – which is plausible, but it’s a bit hard to believe when they are living under the same roof. I also didn’t believe that this very independent woman runs to her ex when things get really bad. This too, seems unreal given the way the author has portrayed her up to that point.

Rating: 4/5

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets of EdenI had been hitting the reject button for the last three audio books I picked up at the library lately, so when I say this one, from an author I have always liked, I went for it.

Stats: Published in 2010, Audio book is 11.5 hours/9 discs, narrated by Mark Bramhall, Susan Denaker, Rebecca Lowman and Kathe Mazur. Print is 370 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) “There,” says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going home to the husband who will kill her that evening and then shoot himself. Drew, tortured by the cryptic finality of that short utterance, feels his faith in God slipping away and is saved from despair only by a meeting with Heather Laurent, the author of wildly successful, inspirational books about . . . angels.

Heather survived a childhood that culminated in her own parents’ murder-suicide, so she identifies deeply with Alice’s daughter, Katie, offering herself as a mentor to the girl and a shoulder for Stephen – who flees the pulpit to be with Heather and see if there is anything to be salvaged from the spiritual wreckage around him.
But then the State’s Attorney begins to suspect that Alice’s husband may not have killed himself. . .and finds out that Alice had secrets only her minister knew.

What I liked: Every book of Bohjalian’s that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed, even though not all of them have been great. Mostly this is because of Bohjalian’s skill at writing. There was a section or tow of this that was a bit slow and I’m not sure why they were included, but it didn’t make me want to stop, just because I enjoyed the writing. I also did enjoy this story, however. It wasn’t hard to figure out, who did it, so to speak, and I’m sure Bohjalian knew this, but there was a slight twist at the end, so I’m sure that’s why he wrote it as he did. Along with that good writing is the author’s skill at character development – most notably the Reverend, who starts out this book. And having Mark Bramhall narrate his voice (I always enjoy listening to Mr. Bramhall) really made it that much more entertaining and believable. The other narrators did fine as well, by the way.

What I didn’t enjoy: As mentioned, there was a section or two that was too long, but not enough to make me want to stop. It was a bit unbelievable the way the daughter – Katie’s – reacted to her parent’s deaths, but again, not so much that it ruined the story. It was a bit more unbelievable the State’s Attorney’s reaction. I won’t say more as not to give anything away.

Rating: 4/5