Friday, April 20, 2018

BOOKS: Mysteries from Iceland and Australia

I've found two new international mystery series - one from Iceland and one from Australia. My list of series at FictFact.com is getting longer and longer!


Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson (audiobook 6 h 38 min, read by Quentin Bates)
Dark Iceland Series #2

 Iceland with its isolation and the lack of sunlight seems to make it the perfect location for mysteries. I've very much enjoyed the Arnaldur Indridason police series so finding a new series set in Iceland was a major find. Unfortunately I listened to the second book before the first but I'd like to go back and find the first. A policeman is shot, and Ari Thor, another local cop has to look into the people he knows. I always prefer police procedurals, and this one was great. Lots of people with secrets and things to hide, and it is up to Ari Thor to figure out which parts belong to the murder. 
I believe there are 5 written in the series already, but my library doesn't have them so I'll have to look around elsewhere for them.



The Dry by Jane Harper (audiobook, 9 h 44 min, read by Stephen Shanahan)
Aaron Falk #1

I really liked this mystery set in Australia during a drought. A local boy, now living in the big city as an investigator is brought home for the funeral of his childhood friend who has massacred his family, apparently due to debt. Once he gets home, a previous murder from his childhood comes back to the forefront. So a great back and forth in time, with secrets and mysteries from past and present as Aaron Falk deals with his grief and his past. I liked this one so much I've already got the second one, A Force of Nature, downloaded to listen to. This seems like a great series to get in on at the beginning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

BOOKS: Eleanor Oliphant and the 100 Year Old Man

I read two of those 'got to read' books in January and had very different reactions to them. One was the best of the month, and the other was not.


The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, 400 pages

The clever title makes this memorable and maybe I inferred the type of story from the unusual title. I imagined it would be like A Man Called Ove, a touching growth story. I imagined wrong. So maybe my disappointment with the book was based on wrong expectations, and that is on me. The title event happens early and then some crazy, unrealistic things happen. Some of them I found mildly humourous, but most were so ridiculous that it strained credulity. There was an element of Forrest Gump, the idiot who lands in famous situations - here, Allan Karlson meets every major leader of the 20th century, becomes integrally involved in Chinese, American, Iranian, and Russian politics, and always lands on his feet after blowing something up. The story was mainly narrative - this happens, now this happens, now this happens. There was no character development and plenty of deaths. Also it was too long but I finished it without hating it, just a little bored. The title is the best part, along with the elephant.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (audiobook 11 h 2 min, read by Cathleen McCarron)

Again, mixed expectations changed my experience of the book, but this time, in a good way. Eleanor was a complex character, and her back story as it was gradually revealed drew me further and further into the story. Eleanor's sad life and loneliness will break your heart, and then as she gradually makes a friend everything begins to change. Any time a book gets me crying, it moves the book to the excellent pile. Eleanor Oliphant is delightful.
Add this to the loneliness books such as Our Souls at Night and  Eleanor Rigby,

Sunday, April 15, 2018

BOOKS: Nonfiction from March

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (audiobook 7 h 47 min, read by the author)
I don't watch the Bachelor very much but I do like a lot of reality television so this behind the scenes look at 'a very special episode' tell all is right up my alley. Kaufman is  a fan/journalist who covers The Bachelor. 

If you are a fan of the show, or interested in behind the scenes of television shows, give this one a try. I couldn't tell you any specific juicy details, but they were there. Included are short essays by famous super fans who detail what it is about The Bachelor they like. Also, there is content relating to feminism - does The Bachelor series set back women, or are they empowered by making their decisions? Discuss.





I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (audiobook, 9 h 52 min, read by Gabra Zackman)

McNamara died in 2016 (Patton Oswalt's wife) and this book, her life's work of research, was partly written by McNamara and partly put together by the editor and her husband. McNamara was obsessed by a particular killer in California and spent years researching. The parts she wrote are very well done and it's too bad that she won't be able to write any more books. Fans of true crime books will want to read this one.

It was full of stories of break-ins and rapes and murders and I managed to freak myself out one night on the way to bed when I thought I heard someone at the door. I froze, did not answer the door, and didn't listen to it late at night any more. I don't usually get spooked like that; I grew up reading Stephen King! 





What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas  288 pages

While reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I never felt the desire to walk a long trail, but this one in Spain almost intrigued me. Maybe it was because the author decided to walk it after she turned 50. Or because she (accidentally) organized a group of women to walk with her. Mostly because it is a huge tourist trail, with hostels and accommodations all along the trail and it sounds very relatively civilized.

Most of the story revolves around how a group of women followed Christmas to Spain thinking they were a group and that they were organized. They weren't; they all had different goals and expectations in going. I felt a little bad for them in that the author did not make them sound very good and mocked them a bit (with pseudonyms). So, when did she decide to write the book - before or after the two month hike?  However, the story was good and my book club, a group of 50 something ladies, all enjoyed the book. 






Tuesday, March 20, 2018

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books On My Spring TBR


It's been a while, but looks like it is time for a Top Ten Tuesday again. The topic this week, Books on My Spring TBR, is one I like to make each quarter. Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl and topics for each week are available there. Check out the site for all the TTT posts of the week. My list is a mixture of books I've bought, books I've requested at the library, trying to add a few nonfiction, and then I check out my FictFact for a series book or two to add.



Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt




Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante


Saga by Brian K Vaughan


I'll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara



The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt


Sovereign by CJ Sansom


Sunday, March 18, 2018

UPDATE: Tournament of Books reads

The Tournament of Books 2018 is occurring now at The Morning News, a literary response to basketball March Madness. Every now and then, a longlist of a competition comes around where I've read a few books already, and more are a) easily available and b) books I am interested in reading. Thus was the TOB this year and I have read six of the fourteen books in the first round. Here are my thoughts and reactions to the first round results. 



Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (audiobook)

The brilliance of the idea and execution are clear, but there is still something lacking in this book. The judge in this one thought the audiobook might have been better, since it was a cast recording but I thought the paper book might have been better because it was hard to know who was talking.  
Verdict after round 1: Lincoln in the Bardo lost in the first round to Fever Dream and I was okay with that though it seemed like an upset, what with it already having won the Booker Prize.


Day Two was The Idiot v White Tears and I know nothing about either of them. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (audiobook)

Manhattan Beach was the next book that I had read. This was okay. It was historical fiction without the grand epicness that it seemed to need. I listened to the whole thing, and it was good, but it didn't have the epicness or specific history information (unless you were into diving during WW2; I wasn't) that I'd like in a large book. I just wasn't as interested in who and what the book was about. It was still readable but I wasn't surprised that it lost in the first round to Dear Cyborgs, which was also considered a huge upset. 

Day Four was The End of Eddy v Lucky Boy. Again I am not familiar with either of these.

Sing, Unburied Sing by  Jesmyn Ward (audiobook)

The next book in the competition that I had listened to was Sing, Unburied Sing and I was rooting for this one. The characters, story and writing really appealed to me and even with the ghosts and supernatural elements which can be hit or miss with me. I liked the family and the kids and it was heartbreaking and real. Even the horrible mother, when given the chance to tell the story from her point of view, was if not still horrible, at least she became understandable. Definitely my favourite in the TOB this year so I was very glad to see it move on, against The Book of Joan.


Pachinko by Min Lee Jin (audiobook)

As I was listening to Pachinko, another grand historical fiction, I was continually thinking about Manhattan Beach and how much I was preferring Pachinko. This one followed a Korean family through several generations but also has themes of immigration, and family lies and what makes a family. Apparently Koreans can live for generations in Japan and never be considered Japanese. Even after Korea is now two different countries and there is absolutely no where to go back to. I liked how characters kept coming back into the story, and the family. Just a little more epic in scope and interesting in plot. Pachinko won its round against So Much Blue.

Finally a match-up of two books I have read! Well, I am reading The Animators now.

Exit West by  Mohsim Hamid (audiobook)

Has anyone described Exit West as The Underground Railroad but for immigrants? That was my reaction and I liked Exit West better than The Underground Railroad. The different doors and the different immigrant experiences worked quite well.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

I am only a third of the way into this one but I am enjoying it. The judges verdict hints at some twists that are to come, so I am looking forward to reading what happens. 


I had no problems with either book in this pairing moving on, and was not surprised to see it was Exit West.





The last match up of the first round is Goodbye, Vitamin v  Idaho. 

So, fun first round this year with so many books I could have an opinion on. I enjoy reading the judgements and what reasons the judges have. It's even fun to go back into the archives and read about other books I have already read. Pairing these with actual March Madness basketball games, and March is a very exciting month.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads Vol 3

Hey look at this - three female detectives in some great historical fiction. All very different in their eras and style.


Urn Burial by  Kerry Greenwood (ebook) 201 pages
Book #8

Set in 1920s Melbourne, nobody kicks butt like Phyrne Fisher.  She has enough money to not care what anyone thinks and is progressive enough to upset everyone around her. A Chinese lover? Don't dare tell her it is not acceptable. Plus she is smart and fearless. Quite amazing heroine.









The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley 9 h 53 min,  narrated by Jayne Entwistle, Book #9

Flavia deLuce is back in 1950s England and her sidekick Dogger is looking out for our teenage busybody.  The series seems to be back on track after a few weird outings.







Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, 320 pages
Book #2 

This second volume is the series is based on a true story of a lady cop as she tried to solve crimes in 1910s New Jersey. She still has a sheriff who believes in her, but there are some other problems, like an escaped prisoner on Constance Kopp's watch. I didn't think the follow up was quite as strong as the first book, Girl Waits With Gun but I will try another one for sure. I particularly like the other two sisters and enjoy seeing how they interact with Constance. 




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads Vol 2

Some times you get in a little run of great books. My problem is I read them too fast because I am so engaged in them, that I don't get to prolong the experience. These three were all pretty covers and fabulous reads! 


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, 15 h 56 min
narrated by Caroline Lee

Usually when I see an audiobook that is 15 parts long, I shy away. For some reason, probably knowing the TV show (I haven't seen though) is supposed to be very good, I gave it a try. I burned through this book in probably 3-4 days - I could not stop listening! Such a great story - funny, topical, suspenseful, and great characters. The three main characters were strong women. The back and forth, before and after an unknown crime has occurred, the comments by community members was just so well done. I'll be looking for more Moriarty novels in the very near future. Fun, fun read!



The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, 288 pages
Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017

Two cranky neighbours, each unhappy in their own ways, are forced to get along. Sounds pretty usual, but setting the book in South Africa with a white and black neighbour adds a few more layers. Besides the apartheid background, the novel focuses on the marriages and expectations the women had for their lives. Easy to read with characters that while not likable, are understandable. As the layers peel back, much of their motivations come clear. Solid, enjoyable read, it's the kind of under-the-radar book I like passing on to friends.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 12 h 31 min
narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I loved this book the first time I read it eight years ago. I don't often re-read the books my book club picks, but I knew the audio version was raved about as an example of a great audiobook (Cassandra Campbell as narrator explains this!) so I decided to listen. Again, such a great book. So frustrating to see how ignored her family was, and how hard they tried to get their mother some recognition. Actually, all her poor family really wanted was some health care. (Get your act together US republicans, it's not that hard) Skloot does a wonderful job of getting to know the family and while she's been criticized for inserting herself in the story, it makes the reader feel like they are with her, discovering this great injustice.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads, vol 1

I read 12 books in February. After my great last year of reading nonfiction, I only managed one this month, and it was a re-read for my book club. Half my reads were audiobooks, probably because a number of the paper books felt like they took forever to finish. Today I'll review some of the slower and problematic reads of the month. Some other categories I hope to get to include my favourite reads of the month, some continuing series books, and a few featured on the Tournament of Books at themorningnews.


The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder, 363 pages

I read and loved Hayder's Jack Caffrey series. Jack was a great if troubled police detective, and the books veered into super creepy. I tried this stand-alone that revolves around the Nanking Massacre from the 1930s. Two stories occurred in two time periods and I could never decide which if either, story I was liking more. If I thought the Caffrey series was creepy, Hayder ventures into new taboo areas. I continued reading even while it was a very slow set up because I have liked Hayder's writing. I'll give Hayder another chance.




Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, 150 pages

How such a short book could take so long to read was very disappointing. I liked the Jane Eyre book, I really liked the movie, and I also enjoy reading women writing about their love of Jane Eyre. I missed this whole oeuvre in my younger days and I wanted to read this prequel of sorts, the story of how Rochester's first wife ended up the crazy woman in the attic.
Mostly set in the Caribbean, it was slow, the writing didn't flow for me, and the characters did not evoke any attachments for me. I didn't get a good sense of what the point of the book was, even though I did know. It picked up a bit when Mr Rochester arrived, but not enough to explain to me how she ended up in the attic.

Planet of Exile by Ursula Le Guin (4 h 30 min)

After the death of LeGuin, I looked for an audiobook that was available and fairly short. I'm not a huge fan of science fiction, but I have read some famous ones that I have enjoyed. Two tribes of people have lived for generations on a planet. They stick to their traditional ways, but of course, some one is trying to change things. There's a battle. I know now that general sci-fi is not for me. Sorry fans of Ursula K LeGuin.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 288 pages

I finally read this multi-award winning book for young adults. Then in the next month, Alexie gets called out for very bad behaviour. I also read and enjoyed Al Franken last year. Stop ruining good reading experiences by being assholes, guys.
This was an easy read, but frustrating at the same time as the narrator deals with racism and trying to take control of his life. Being a teenager isn't easy, and one living on a reservation has extra problems. Alexie writes a thoughtful and engaging book with a great narrator.

Monday, March 12, 2018

BOOK: The Lumberjanes, Vol 6 and Vol 7

Lumberjanes Vol 6:  Sink or Swim

The campers of  Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types are having another adventure, this time on the sea. New counsellor, Seafarin' Karen is battling some selkies and the girls must work together to deal with these magical creatures. Graphic novels are quick reads (for me) and as usual, my favourite part is the exclamatives based on famous women, some of whom I have to look up. But any book that gets you researching is probably a good book.

Annie Edison Taylor - American school teacher, went over Niagara Falls in a barrel

Ching Shih - Chinese pirate in early 19th century

Grace O'Malley - lord of the O' Maille dynasty in west of Ireland, in 16th century

Gertrude Bell - English writer and traveller, archaeologist

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz - first woman to sail single handed around the world




Vol 7: Bird's-Eye View
I like the mix of supernatural that happens at the camp and that everyone just accepts, after freaking out somewhat. The High Council is coming to inspect the camp, the neighbour campers have kittens  but they are not your ordinary kittens. Hijinks ensue. I feel like I missed a few of the famous women exclamatives but these were three very good ones!

Agatha Christie - wrote mysteries

Katie Sandwina - circus strongwoman from Austria

Valentina Tereshkova - first woman to fly in space, Russian


Monday, February 5, 2018

UPDATE: January Fiction Reads

I feel I was all over the place in my January reading. Paper books are taking me longer and longer to read, yet I can zip through an audiobook in a few days. I realized in my end of the year recap that I hadn't read many/any short story collections, and I usually enjoy short stories. Somewhere, once upon a time, I marked some books at Goodreads from a list of connected short story collections, so I hope to find some of those this year.

Emerald City by Jennifer Egan is not one of those books.  I don't think. But some of the stories have the same type of characters (con men, models, daughters of adulterers) enough that made me question whether they were the same characters. None of the stories are happy, everyone has something to hide or reveal. I like short stories that are a little diabolical.
(5h 32 min, narrated by Richard Waterhouse, Madeleine Lambert, Charlie Thurston)


A couple of graphic novels series I have been following are the Lumberjanes and FBP (Federal Bureau of Physics)
FBP Vol 3: Standing on Shoulders by Simon Oliver is a science fiction world where something is happening on earth that defies the laws of physics and the FBP investigators. The series is only four long I believe, so I'm getting near the end. Each so far, besides detailing some of these black hole/dark energy issues, backstories the main investigators. Now that all of them have been thoroughly introduced, the final edition should be a doozy.

The Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim by Shannon Watters was, as usual, excellent. I've got Volume 7 out from the library, so will review them together next month.




There are some classic novels I have no interest in reading, like The House of the Seven Gables, or Ulysses by James Joyce and there are some that seem intriguing (and short. That helps.) Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is one of those classics that seems worth reading. I was pleased that it ended up being a free YA Sync book last summer. It was readable, and a guy actually woke up turned into a giant bug. His family has to figure out what to do with him. It's the kind of book that makes me go look up Sparknotes to find out about themes and motifs and such.
(2h 12 min, narrated by Martin Jarvis)


While I'm getting better, I still get pulled in by books that win awards or get lots of praise. There has to be more than just prize-winning (in this case,  Booker Prize) to make me get it. I've read George Saunders' short story collection, Tenth of December so was predisposed to like him. Then, Lincoln in the Bardo was selected as one of the Tournament of Books. The cast of narrators is much too large to name, and it's more of a cast recording, so I chose to listen to it.

Ghosts surrounding Abraham Lincoln's son after he died tell lots of stories. Distractingly, real quotes about the person or event are included. I had to look up "op. cit." which was just a bibliographic reference to a book that had been previously quoted. I actually think the paper edition might have been better for me as I didn't recognize hardly any of the famous voices, and all the real quotes didn't help my listening. Parts dragged, but parts were humourous and interesting. Overall, Saunders created a unique style to tell a story, and for those interested in American History. I can see why it won the Booker Prize.


And finally, two books to round it out will get their own reviews later. 
The Dud: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and 
The Best: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (audiobook)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

UPDATE: January Nonfiction Reads


Still keeping a good percentage of nonfiction books into 2018. A couple of perfectly fine memoirs that  were engaging and entertaining and made me look up information as I read.

Lion by Saroo Brierly, which the movie was based on covers a little boy who gets majorly lost in India, and eventually adopted in Australia. He uses what little he remembers to eventually search for his family in India. So many good people in this one, very hopeful and the author maintained such a good approach to life even after surviving as a five year old on the streets of Calcutta.
(7 h 29 min, narrated Larry Buttrose)



Similar to Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the story of Nike. It's hard to believe that Nike was once considered an underdog. A tad too much business information and money battles, but it was fascinating to see how an empire was built based on a few guys and a dream. I remember when the waffle sole sneaker came out in the late 70s. The afterward addresses somewhat the sweatshop factories in Asia.
(13 h 22 min, narrated by Norbert Leo Butz)




Two books were carry overs from 2017, and still took a long time to finish.

Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben was okay. Wohlleben's love of trees was clear, but the anthromorphication of their behaviour was a stretch for me. (They feel pain? They send messages? Not buying it. All I could think was what will the vegans eat?) I felt like I had read some of this before; maybe from Lab Girl? I guess it mainly felt too long, and repetitive. I get it, trees are amazing.
(288 pages, library)




Thunderstruck by Erik Larson also needed a bit of editing. I got it for the Marconi/radio story but it bored me far more than it should have. Larson does impeccable research and seems to not want to leave out any minor fact after learning it. The parallel story, about a murder in London was much more interesting. I could not figure out why the stories were paired, but once I realized (far too late - editing!) it was a very good pay-off.
Poor Erik Larson - the first book I read was by far his best (Devil in the White City) and each time I read another one of his, (Dead Wake, In the Garden of the Beasts) am slightly disappointed.
(480 pages, own book)




My final nonfiction was Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, a real gut-wrencher. Gay writes heart-breakingly about when she was raped as a teenager, and the subsequent weight gain, so she could feel unapproachable to men. She is brutally honest and it was a difficult read, but seeing inside someone's head is always an aware-making experience. The stream of consciousness style led to, for me, some contradictions. Is everyone looking at you and judging you, or are you invisible and not paid attention? Clearly can be both on different days but still felt weird. I will read more Gay.
(320 pages, read on e-book)




Tuesday, January 23, 2018

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About


This is my first week participating with Top Ten Tuesday now that it is hosted @ThatArtrsyReaderGirl. This topic was easy to research - I looked up my top rated books at LibraryThing, and found ones that I liked, but I could barely make a one sentence plot summary. Certainly not enough to rave about it to someone, but I know I liked them all. Some I consider my favourite authors - how can I forget books I loved? Do you remember any of these better than me?

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
something about a family

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
OWEN TALKED LIKE THIS

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
young kid, 80s England

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
teens at a boarding school, maybe dystopian

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry
was funny and touching about something at Christmas

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
it's the story of how the painting came about, 1500s Belgium

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
chasing books in Barcelona

Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos
there was tile being broken, and laid

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
maybe a newsman has a breakdown? 
I know I read two of her books in a row because 
I like one so much and both were very good

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
it's a classic, maybe time travel