A Million Things by Emily Spurr

A Million Things

Description

Rae is ten years old, and she’s tough. She’s had to be: life with her mother has taught her the world is not her friend. Now suddenly her mum is gone and Rae is alone, except for her dog Splinter.

Rae can do a lot of things pretty well for a kid. She can shop and cook a little and take care of Splints and keep the front yard neat enough that the neighbours won’t get curious. But she is gnawed at by fear and sadness; haunted by the shadow of a terrible secret.

Lettie, the old woman who lives next door, might know more about Rae than she lets on—but she has her own reasons for keeping the world at arm’s length. When Rae finds out what they are, it seems like she and Lettie could help each other.

But how long can a friendship based on secrets last?

A Million Things is a tender, funny, and heartbreaking story of how we cope with grief.

My thoughts

The story covers 55 days in the life of 10 year old Rae after her mother leaves her alone to fend for herself. Rae knows what will happen if the authorities find out she is alone, so for 55 heart rending days she desperately conceals her mother’s absence from friends, teachers, and well-meaning neighbours while trying to cope with something no 10 year old should ever have to. The only company Rae has is her dog, Splinter. The only person she can rely on is herself. Until her path crosses that of her cantankerous old neighbour, Lettie, who has her own reasons for keeping authorities away. An odd uneasy alliance forms as they each cover for the other in order to protect themselves. Inevitably secrets start being uncovered and Rae feels the day of reckoning drawing ever closer and I found myself feeling her panic and fear right along with her. The suspense is palpable as her life starts to unspool. Rae and Lettie are fantastic characters and this story is utterly heartbreaking in places. I am going to include a bit of a spoiler right here because I was so upset at one point that I want to spare others – the dog survives! This was an emotionally draining read but well worth the tears I shed.

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic

Description

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemí’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

My thoughts

I started reading this expecting a nice, Gothic novel with an “is it paranormal or is someone being gaslighted” slant. Wrong! It’s certainly Gothic, but totally paranormal. Once I was in the supernatural zone I found myself on a wild unpredictable ride with a decent side of horror which makes this a perfect read for those who like to read horror for Halloween. The house alone is one of the creepiest house settings I’ve read in a book, and then there is the creepy and disturbing behaviour of the inhabitants. I’m not a horror fan, and knowing something falls into that genre is usually enough to put me off picking a book up in the first place, so it was a happy accident that I read Mexican Gothic because it was a very enjoyable and entertaining read.

Ellie Dwyer’s Great Escape by Diane Winger

Ellie Dwyer's Great Escape

Description

You’re never too old to run away from home

Ellie Dwyer, 61, is convinced bad luck comes in threes, and not just garden-variety, oh-well bad luck. How many people have to flee not one, but two natural disasters? And in between the wildfire and the hurricane, her husband of nearly forty years suddenly up and left her for no reason she could fathom, disappearing from her life without a clue to his whereabouts.

Determined to reinvent her life, Ellie sets out on a journey across the country – her own “great escape.” Along the way to nowhere in particular, she buys a camper, becomes friends with a remarkable older woman, and starts to believe that good luck might also come in threes.

Or does it? That depends on how she defines good luck.

My thoughts

I chose this because I needed a book with a character with my name for one of The Fiction Cafe Reading Challenge questions. I’m not sure I would have come across it otherwise and that would have been a pity because I loved it❣️

Ellie’s life has really come unstuck since her husband walked out after 40 years of marriage and completely disappeared from her life. A hurricane has destroyed her home and she is living out of the back of her car when she makes friends at a camping ground and discovers the joy of being a permanent RV nomad. Her journey of self discovery and recovery from the tragedies that befell her, with the help of the wonderful people she meets along the way, is authentic and triumphant. I loved reading about the RVing experience, the mistakes and learning curves, the beautiful places she visits, and her personal transformation from careworn to confident.There were some very poignant moments too, and one which left me in tears. But overall the book is uplifting and inspirational and I’m so glad I came across it.

The Girl She Was Before by Jess Kitching

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Description

A crime thriller with a brilliant twist you won’t see coming!Powerful, packed full of grueling details that will linger with you long after the book has finished.Nat lives a picture-perfect life, but it wasn’t always this way. A victim of horrific bullying when she was a teenager, Nat will do anything to keep distance between the girl she was before and the woman she is now.But when her best friend is murdered and people begin to point their finger at her, Nat’s new life quickly unravels.To Nat, it’s no surprise the crime happened at the same time as the return of her biggest tormentor, Chrissy Summers. A woman with a violent streak who destroyed lives when she was younger and isn’t afraid to do it again.Face to face with the past she so firmly keeps behind her, Nat’s sanity wavers as her determination to reveal Chrissy as the monster she knows her as rises to dangerous heights.The question is, can Nat prove Chrissy is a killer, or will Chrissy get to Nat and her family before she has the chance?

My thoughts

First up, I am amazed that this is a debut novel as it is so well written. The constant aura of unease and suspense held my attention right to the end and I stayed up late to finish it. The downward spiral that Nat falls into is very sad to read, as only the reader knows and understands how damaged and fragile the bullying has left her. The bullying itself as well as people’s attitudes to it come across as very authentic too. I liked the use of dual time lines. The thing I loved the most was the way the characters evolved throughout the story and I’d love to expand on that at length because it was done so cleverly, but I can’t without risking spoilers. You’ll just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean. You won’t be disappointed!

Dead Mercy by Noelle Holten

Description

‘Hugely confident … harrowing, visceral … recommended’ Ian Rankin on Dead Inside A brutal murder…

When a burned body is found with its teeth missing, DC Maggie Jamieson discovers that the victim may be the husband of one of her probation colleagues.

A dark history…

As the body count rises, the team becomes increasingly baffled by how the victims could possibly be connected until a clue leads them to a historical case that was never prosecuted.

A terrible secret…

In order to catch the killer, Maggie must piece together what happened all those years ago before it’s too late.

My thoughts

One of my favourite police officers, DC Maggie Jamieson, returns in the 5th book in the series and I can see her character growing and maturing. She seems a little mellower and a lot more in control of herself in this book. She’s juggling the demands of trying to find a serial murderer while supporting her brother and figuring out her feelings for someone. It’s all done so well in this very tightly written crime mystery. I love police procedurals and seeing how the cases progress and open up as information new clues are revealed, and Dead Mercy is my favourite in this series so far. I can’t wait for Maggie’s next case and to see what develops in her personal life!

Call Of The Penguins by Hazel Prior

Call of the Penguins

Description

A delightfully feel-good new novel from the No. 1 bestselling author of Away With the Penguins – sure to become a firm favourite with readers!

Meet the heroine everyone’s talking about . . .

Fiercely resilient and impeccably dressed, Veronica McCreedy has lived an incredible 87 years. Most of them alone, in her huge house by the sea. But Veronica has recently discovered a late-life love for family and friendship, adventure and wildlife.

More specifically, a love for penguins!

And so when she’s invited to co-present a wildlife documentary, far away in the southern hemisphere, she jumps at the chance. Even though it will put her in the spotlight, just when she thought she would soon fade into the wings.

Perhaps it’s never too late to shine?

My thoughts

I loved Away With The Penguins and although I really wanted a follow up book, when it happened I worried I wouldn’t love it as much. However this is another absolutely charming read. It opens after Veronica’s exploits on Locket Island in the first book became a bit of an internet sensation. Her new relationship with grandson, Patrick, and his girlfriend, Terry, have opened her up to emotions that she thought were long gone. And young Daisy, now holidaying with Veronica to recover from a round of chemotherapy, is also bringing new perspectives to Veronica’s life.
Veronica gets the opportunity to feature in a television documentary and Daisy is included in the trip. The story alternates between Veronica’s, Patrick’s, and Terry’s POV so we get an inside look at where misunderstandings are happening and the consequences. A big part of the story involves Patrick being dispatched to the US to find out more about the man Veronica loved and lost and who was Patrick’s father.
There are some twists and turns in this book which I wasn’t expecting since the first book was so straight forward and charming and funny. They add an extra dimension, but there is still plenty of humour, along with some powerful ecological messages. These did come across as a bit preachy at times, but certainly got the point across.
Veronica is one of my favourite fictional characters. Long may she reign!

These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall

These Toxic Things

Description

A dead woman’s cherished trinkets become pieces to a terrifying puzzle.

Mickie Lambert creates “digital scrapbooks” for clients, ensuring that precious souvenirs aren’t forgotten or lost. When her latest client, Nadia Denham, a curio shop owner, dies from an apparent suicide, Mickie honors the old woman’s last wish and begins curating her peculiar objets d’art. A music box, a hair clip, a key chain—twelve mementos in all that must have meant so much to Nadia, who collected them on her flea market scavenges across the country.

But these tokens mean a lot to someone else, too. Mickie has been receiving threatening messages to leave Nadia’s past alone.

It’s becoming a mystery Mickie is driven to solve. Who once owned these odd treasures? How did Nadia really come to possess them? Discovering the truth means crossing paths with a long-dormant serial killer and navigating the secrets of a sinister past. One that might, Mickie fears, be inescapably entwined with her own.

My thoughts

I wasn’t sure about this book when I first started reading it. The story seemed to be jumping all over the place and without a clear focus on what the main thread was going to be. But it became more coherent quite quickly and I was absolutely engrossed to the last page. Mickie is a unique character with a really interesting back story that is revealed slowly. The suspense factor is well done as it’s just constantly there in the background. I ended up staying up late to finish it because I had to know how everything resolved and tied together.

And, as a side note, I learned that my impression of Los Angeles as a place of eternal sunshine was totally wrong!

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

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Description


Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son’s desperate campaign to help save this one.

Quote

‘Watching medicine fail my child, I developed a crackpot theory: Life is something we need to stop correcting. My boy was a pocket universe I could never hope to fathom. Every one of us is an experiment, and we don’t even know what the experiment is testing.’

My thoughts

I’m going to preface my review by saying that The Overstory by Richard Powers was my wow book for 2019, because I think that may have coloured my expectations going into Bewilderment.

When I think of the story from a bit of distance I think it is fantastic. But when I break it down into components I find myself remembering things that were irking me as I read.

The first thing was the use of italics for Robin’s speech without any use of speech marks. This was quite distracting for me for a short while because I was trying to figure out why only Robin’s dialogue was written this way. Was he dead? Was he a figment of Theo’s imagination? Was Theo remembering past conversations with Robin? And so on. Perhaps I read too many mysteries because until it was clarified that Robin existed and this was just a particular writing quirk employed by the author I was busy speculating on the meaning behind it. This feeling of distraction early on interfered with me bonding with Robin’s character, who was actually a sweet, caring, sensitive soul.

[WARNING: THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH IS A SPOILER!!!] The second thing, which became a huge issue for me, was the discussion of Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes early in the book. Immediately I knew how the book was going to go. I was hoping the author would at the very least keep things ambiguous until near the end if he was going to follow that route, but he didn’t so I missed out on the elements of anticipation and suspense while reading. If I could change one thing about this entire book it would be that Flowers For Algernon had not been mentioned at all. Yes, those who have read that book would have picked up on the similarity – but not until much, much further on in the book.

The above probably makes it sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. A lot. I think it was quite brilliantly done. Some of the more scientific nitty gritty went over my head, but I didn’t feel that it was information I needed to be able to enjoy or understand what was happening. I could feel Robin’s bewilderment and frustration over the environmental destruction being wrought on the planet, and Theo’s helplessness to provide Robin with the answers he needed and his despair and fear as he fought to retain control over the management of his son’s condition as he thought best.

It was sad and devastating story, but ultimately left me unmoved.

Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan by Christopher Martin

Chasing Alexander: A Marine's Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan

Description

A haunting, fast-paced war memoir, Chasing Alexander is Christopher Martin’s account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A failing college student obsessed with Alexander the Great, Martin enlists in the US Marines to become a different sort of man, a man like Alexander. From his difficulty at boot camp to his disappointing deployment to Iraq, Martin fears he may never follow in Alexander’s footsteps.

Then, after a strategy change, Martin and his unit arrive in Marjah, “the bleeding ulcer” of Afghanistan. There he faces heat, fleas, and a hidden enemy. As the casualties mount, Martin struggles to control his emotions and his newfound sense of power. Chasing Alexander looks unflinchingly at the seductive side of war, and its awful consequences.

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book firstly because of the reference to Alexander the Great as he is a historical figure whom I have always admired for his tactical skills. The other thing I liked about the sound of the book is that it is the experience a Marine on the ground – a ‘grunt’ – rather than someone at a safe remove from the hardships of daily living and the repercussions of poor decision making.

Martin has a style of writing that is easy and informative without needing to go into great detail. He gets descriptions and messages across economically and effectively. I could very clearly envision boot camp, as well as the compounds and terrain where he was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the feelings of fatigue, heat, restlessness, adrenaline, power, and fear. He writes of his personal triumphs and failures unflinchingly.

I don’t think it was clear what the passages about Alexander were to correlate with. Whether they were intended at face value because the author’s postings were places that Alexander journeyed to and conquered, or because the author’s initial desire to become a Marine was driven by his admiration of Alexander and he felt he was now following in his footsteps as a warrior to some extent I am not sure. There were other connotations I felt could have applied also, to do with the differences in tactical warfare used by Alexander and the U.S. and those of the enemies they were fighting, but those passages about Alexander were interesting and didn’t interfere with the main narrative.

This is a very interesting read which doesn’t glorify the life of a Marine but is almost like a diary of the author’s tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, giving us a glimpse into the frustrations and daily slog as well as the morale-boosting moments that validated his decision to become a Marine.

I also publish my reviews in the Facebook group The Fiction Cafe Book Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe

The Story Of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Melissa Dalton Martinez

Revised, Newly Illustrated Edition

Description

In this first book in the beloved, magical childrens’ series, the origins of the remarkable Doctor Dolittle are revealed!

With 33 all new illustrations of the quirky Doctor and his animal pals…

…this classic story with an updated magical twist, is sure to be a family favorite!

When Doctor John Dolittle’s love of animals scares away his human patients, he finds himself on the verge of bankruptcy. Luckily, his parrot, Polynesia, has a solution—she teaches him to talk to animals.

Using his new skill, Doctor Dolittle becomes a veterinarian, and his reputation soon spreads in the animal kingdom. With it, come requests for help from animals all over the world.

Sailing off with his band of animal companions, Doctor Dolittle seeks to help all he can while facing fierce storms, vicious pirates, angry kings, and more.

Take time with your family today and join Doctor Dolittle for the adventure of a lifetime!

My Thoughts

I have not read the original book on which this version is based, or even seen any of the film adaptations so I don’t have anything to compare this version with. The extent of my knowledge of Doctor Dolittle is that he is a doctor who can talk to animals.
This book is simply written and would be ideal for reading aloud to children. The sentences are simple and the action moves quickly, which I’m sure will keep children interested. Reading what others have said this book changes some of the wording in the original book, written 100 years ago in a different time, and makes it more appropriate for today’s audiences. It also simplifies the story.

This version is a nice tale with lovable characters, both human and animal, and the illustrations are adorable. It would make a nice addition to a child’s bookshelf.