Mary’s Guide To Books
* Not good
**** Very Good
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris ***** M FER
Nouf, a Saudi teenage girl soon to be married, has disappeared, and her family suspects that she has run away to the desert. The book opens with Nayir searching for her out in the desert. As a friend of the Shrawi family and a desert guide, Nayir has the skills and motivation for the task, but after many days of searching, he has little hope of finding her alive. Her body is found in the desert by a group of Bedouins, but the surprising news is that she died of drowning. Nayir offers to pick up the body from the medical examiner's office, where the man in charge informs him that the case is closed, the judgment listed as accidental death. While Nayir is still there, Katya, a lab technician, comes in and inspects the body more closely. It seems that Nouf was first hit over the head before she drowned. She was also pregnant. Nayir later learns that Katya is engaged to Othman Shrawi, Nouf's brother. In spite of the many obstacles standing in their way, Nayir and Katya investigate Nouf's death, defying Saudi Arabia's religious law by being alone together while unmarried. This solid mystery is made more enjoyable by learning about the culture of Saudi Arabia at the same time.
Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos **** FIC DOO
If you like Jane Austen fan fiction, then this is the book for you. Thirty-nine year old single mom Chloe Parker has entered what she thought was a Jane Austen trivia contest where the contestants travel to an estate in England, dress up like it is 1812, and compete for a $100,000 prize. Instead, when she arrives, she finds out that it is a reality dating show contest, and to win, she has to get Mr. Wrightman to propose in the next three weeks. Eight women are pitted against each other in tasks like archery, needlepoint, and ink making to earn accomplishment points. Chloe finds out that the younger brother, Henry, is also part of their circle, though he will not inherit the estate. She finds herself drawn to both men in spite of her insistence that she’s there for the money. The show attempts complete authenticity by putting the women in a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing, and each woman has a chaperone who is responsible for making sure the women play by 1812 society rules. It doesn’t take long for Chloe to realize that Lady Grace is out to get her and that, as an untitled American, she is at the bottom of the totem pole. This romantic story is made more substantial by the historical research that went into the details.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline **** SF CLI
In the not-too-distant future, the world is experiencing some hard times, with much of the population on food rations, living in cramped quarters, and wondering if the recession will ever end. The one bright light is the OASIS, an online interactive second life where most people spend their time. When James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, passes away, a video will reveals a worldwide game. He has hidden three keys and three gates inside the OASIS that will lead you to an egg. The first person to find the egg will inherit his billions, including his company. Halliday’s obsession with 1980s pop culture creates a resurgence in that era’s finest TV shows, videogames, and music as people try to decipher the clues to his game. The book is written from the perspective of Wade Watts, a high school student with little family or money. As he participates in the game, he builds friendships and creates powerful enemies that endanger not only his avatar but his life. The thrill of the hunt makes this book a winner, and if you like 1980s pop culture, you’ll enjoy this doubly.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead *** FIC WHI African American
Benji narrates as he looks back on the summer of 1985 when he was fifteen. His family belongs to a unique group of people, African Americans with summer homes in Sag Harbor. As Benji tells the story, it becomes apparent that his family, his friends, and his neighbors are all struggling with what it means to be affluent and African American. His friends are worried about not being “street” enough, while his father worries about appearing weak or cheap. There are awkward scenes with his family, as Benji comes to terms with his father’s violent nature. Whitehead writes this story as if they are his own memoirs, meandering in the telling of stories, picking out small details to highlight, and skipping around in an episodic manner, like someone who is remembering moments rather than a cohesive time period. I would recommend this novel to those who like memoirs that explore racial and class issues.
The Devil’s Puzzle by Clare O’Donohue **** M ODO
In the small town of Archers Rest, Nell has made a home with her grandmother, Eleanor, helping out at the quilt shop and dating Police Chief Jesse Dewalt. The town is celebrating its 350th anniversary, and Nell has been volunteered to run a quilt show. When a body is discovered buried in her grandmother’s backyard, Nell tries to keep her nose out of it, but implications that Eleanor could have had something to do with the murder draw Nell into the investigation. Nell also starts digging into her grandmother’s past to find out just what happened the summer of 1975 that everyone seems to want to keep a secret. In the meantime, random acts of vandalism threaten the anniversary celebration and distract the police from investigating the murder. This quilting mystery series nicely balances clever plots, talk about quilts, and romance. The series begins with The Lover’s Knot.
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake *** FIC BLA
This historical novel follows several characters from 1940-1941 as Europe is embroiled in World War II. The United States has not yet entered the war, but the question remains present in the characters’ minds. Frankie Bard is an American reporter working in London with such radio personalities as Edward R. Murrow. Her reports of the Blitz are harrowing, but she seeks to tell the story of the Jewish refugees on the continent. Iris James is the postmistress of a small town in Cape Cod called Franklin. Though she was thought to be a confirmed spinster, she has found love with local Harry Vale, who is obsessed with German invasion. Emma Fitch has just married the local doctor, only to have him leave for London to help with the war effort. The book emphasizes the other side of war, the people who are left behind or not fully engaged with fighting. Life goes on in spite of the horrors of war, and death is not limited to combatants. Blake’s story seems disjointed at times, following characters on either side of the ocean, but a patient reader will see the story lines fuse by the ending.
A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch **** M FIN
Set in 1873, this mystery comes with a dash of political intrigue and sailing details. Charles Lenox, a retired detective, is now a member of Parliament, and his older brother asks him to travel to Egypt for three purposes: to meet with a French spy, to create diplomatic relations regarding the Suez Canal, and to keep an eye on his nephew who is to join the navy on this trip. Lenox accepts before finding out that his wife is pregnant. She insists that he fulfill his promise, and he embarks on the two week trip to Egypt. The first night, Lenox is summoned from his sleep to investigate the murder of the second lieutenant, Halifax. Much of the story takes place on the ship, the Lucy, on the way to Egypt. Because Halifax was murdered while at sea, the number of suspects is limited, and they know the murderer is still on the boat with them. Readers of Agatha Christie might enjoy this British historical mystery. I would also recommend it to those who like to learn about something else while reading fiction, in this case, sailing.
Heat Rises by Richard Castle *** M CAS
Nikki Heat returns in the third mystery based on the show Castle. This time, Heat is trying to solve the murder of a priest found in a bondage parlor. Her investigation hits a road block when Captain Montrose cuts off her paths of inquiry, acting very much out of character. She assumes that his new attitude is related to his being investigated by Internal Affairs, but there is also tension because Nikki scored highly on the lieutenant's exam. Jameson Rook is out of the picture for the first several chapters, as he has been out of town doing research for an article. When he does return, Nikki forgives him readily enough for his long silence. The investigation takes a long time to go anywhere, making one wish that the book would reflect the pacing of the television show a little more. Nikki gets herself into a couple of scrapes with seemingly no escape, adding some action to the slow-paced mystery. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy the show and like a mystery mixed with a dash of humor.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka **** FIC OTS
This slim volume packs a wide range of experiences over a long time period with a poetic elegance. Rather than using individual characters, Otsuka tells the story of immigrant Japanese women at the beginning of the twentieth century in the first person plural. It starts with their trip by boat to the United States to marry Japanese men who have been working there for a few years already. After arriving, their experiences vary from working in the fields to working as house maids. The book also touches on the generational gap between the original immigrants and their American children. Finally, the book explores the effects of World War II on Japanese immigrants and their eventual internment. Though billed as a novel, this book reads more like nonfiction history. The narrative style may not appeal to everyone, but I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading historical fiction, specifically regarding the role of women.
Sugar Rush by Donna Kauffman *** FIC KAU
Leilani Trusdale’s life turns upside down when her former pastry chef boss and crush of many years, Baxter Dunne, brings his cooking show to the small town of Sugarberry, where she’s just opened her very own cupcake shop. Leilani, or Lani for short, left the restaurant in New York City, where she’d worked closely with Baxter, because the staff tormented her with gossip about her “relationship” with Baxter. The irony was that nothing ever happened between them in spite of her feelings for him. The first time Baxter comes to see Lani in her cupcake shop, he reveals that he has moved his show on the road specifically to spend time with her because he has feelings for her. It takes some time to work out their past and current feelings, but they come to the conclusion that, though they have feelings for each other, a relationship wouldn’t work because his career is in New York City while hers is in Sugarberry. Much time is spent rehashing her career as a famous pastry chef in New York and how much she loves Sugarberry after her misery in the big city. Their decision to keep their relationship professional doesn’t last long. Kauffman’s romance is fun, though sometimes the dialogue is beyond corny, especially when dialogue isn’t necessary at all. The book could be much shorter if they did not have to have the same conversations over and over about why they can’t be together. If you’re looking for a light, fluffy romance, give this a try. Recipes for some of the cupcakes appear in the back.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda **** FIC GED
Fabio Geda met Enaiatollah Akbari at a book presentation for his for his first novel, and this book is based on Enaiatollah’s life. Geda writes the narrative from Enaiatollah’s voice with occasional moments when they interrupt the narrative to talk to each other, as if this novel is the transcription of a long interview. Enaiatollah was born in Afghanistan and spent the first 10 years of his life in a small village called Nava. The story starts with his mother sneaking him into Pakistan and abandoning him in a rundown hotel to avoid his being enslaved to pay off a family debt or tortured by the Taliban for being Hazara. From there, Enaiatollah finds his own way, taking whatever jobs he can find, eating whatever food he can find, and sleeping wherever he can. After a while, he leaves Pakistan for Iran, where the work is better but the police are more brutal to illegal immigrants. From Iran, he makes a harrowing journey to Turkey, and from there he goes to Greece. After a brief stay in Greece, he makes his way to Italy, where he currently lives. At the age of 15, Enaiatollah has experienced more than most people twice his age. Throughout the book, we see his struggle to better his life in spite of prejudice, poverty, and blind brutality. We also see moments of extreme generosity that give us hope in the human race. Pick this up if you are interested in the conditions of Central Asia or the condition of immigrants.
Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close *** FIC CLO
This novel reads more like a series of loosely connected short stories, all about women in their twenties and early thirties looking for love. The character that appears most frequently is Isabella. We see her fresh out of college, starting her career in New York and dating a man named Ben, even though they fight constantly. Other women are friends of Isabella, and they all seem to have depressing stories about either being in a relationship with the wrong man or breaking up with someone. Lauren dates a guy she doesn’t really like but is devastated when he goes home from a party with another woman. Ellen pines after a man none of her friends like and then marries him and never talks to them again. Mary is attracted to a partner at her law firm and makes a fool of herself over him. One might say that Close is trying to break the myth of the traditional romance story by accurately portraying real relationships. The last quarter of the book starts to become more cohesive, focusing on just a few characters. I would recommend this book to someone who is tired of predictable romances and enjoys short story collections.
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths **** M GRI
Dr. Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, makes another appearance in this well-written British mystery series. Ruth, who had a one-night stand with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson in the first book (The Crossing Places), has her daughter, Kate, at the beginning of this book. Harry wants to be involved in Kate’s life, but he doesn’t want his wife to know that he was unfaithful. Harry and Ruth are thrown together again when six bodies are discovered on a beach in Sea’s End. The bodies are from World War II, and Ruth suspects that they are of German origin, which would indicate a long-buried war crime. When Harry and Ruth question the Hastings family members, they learn about the Home Guard in the 1940s. Unfortunately, someone has been killing the only men who still remember what happened. Griffiths expertly mixes history with mystery, building on her solid series.
February 4, 2012