The Yard

  4W, 4H

Grecian, Alex.,  (c.2012). The Yard. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 422 pages. $25.99.

ISBN #:  9780399149542

Reviews:      The Guardian,  New York Times

Annotation:  

It’s 1889 London. The Yard’s Murder Squad is now faced with an even more menacing threat than the Ripper; the murderer is killing detectives.

Summary:  

Inspector Detective Walter Day has just moved to London to work with the Murder Squad, a department that had been recently formed to deal with the new phenomenon of the serial killer.  Since the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper the year before, Scotland Yard has been trying to regain the trust of the population in an environment that is disease ridden, poor and dangerous.  Day is the first detective on the scene when a member of the squad is discovered in a steamer trunk at the railway station with his mouth and eyes sewn shut.  Along with Dr. Bernard Kingsley, London’s first forensic pathologist and a pioneer in his field, Day sets out to piece together the mystery before more detectives are targeted.  The plot is rounded out with a cast of characters involved in separate events but all of which help contribute to the aesthetics of  a Victorian city rife with murder, crime and an overwhelming distrust of the police.

Evaluation:

Grecian captures the gritty, dank nature of Victorian London and the detectives who were determined to try and keep order in this chaotic environment.  He successfully intertwines historical facts with colorful characters to his story. A gripping and atmospheric read, mystery and history enthusiasts will enjoy the story and look forward to more in the Walter Day series.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Historical

Readalikes:

The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  The Railway Detective by Edward Marston.

Book Discussion Questions:

What is significant about the setting for this novel?

Forensic Science was still too new to trust in solving cases.  What type of evidence did they need to rely on to solve a crime?

Grecian includes several settings in this novel.  Which did you find most intriguing?

Reasons for selection:

I discovered The Yard through the Stop Your Killing Me! newsletter  I receive monthly.   I normally stray from historical mysteries because I feel they get bogged down in the atmosphere and fall short of the plot.  I was pleasantly pleased when I read this novel to find that it was a page turner. I was intrigued by the obstacles faced in solving crimes during this post – Jack the Ripper time frame.

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The Coroner’s Lunch

  4W, 4H

Cotterill, Colin, (c. 2004). The Coroner’s Lunch.  Soho Press.  257 pages , $22.95.

ISBN:  1569473765

Reviews

New York Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Appointed as State Coroner in Communist Laos, Dr. Siri upsets the Party by taking his job seriously, solving politically sensitive murders with his unique style.

Summary:  

Seventy three year old Dr. Siri is looking forward to retirement regardless of the societal upheaval surrounding him in 1975 Communist Laos.  An apolitical, Parisian educated doctor, the Party magistrate appoints Dr. Siri to the position of state coroner knowing that he will be a good communist and tow the party line.  But Dr. Siri is not one to do much towing and finds himself butting heads with his appointees when he decides to take his job seriously and work the cases brought to him.  Along with his two assistants, Siri uncovers the secrets behind three intertwined murder plots much to the annoyance of those in charge.

1970’s Cambodia is brought to life through the sobering and sarcastic observations of Dr. Siri.  He is a realist that enjoys the beauty of his country while he puzzles over the contradictions of ruling power.  The country’s history is eloquently brought in to the story through the power of dreams which helps remind the readers that Cambodia is a country rich with cultural intent.

Evaluation:

Cotterill successfully describes an area of the world that has long been in a tug-a-war for its identity.  Dr. Siri and his colorful assistants are wonderful characters that add three dimensions to a period of time that proved to be both chaotic and predictable.  Effective sleuthing will appeal to the mystery lover and the area and political turmoil that create such vivid imagery will appeal to the history buff.  The combination is effective and makes for a perfect “cozy” read.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill.  Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton.

Book Discussion Questions:

What do we learn in the first pages about Dr. Siri?

What is Laos’s relationship to Thailand? to North Vietnam?

Does the paranormal add to to take away from your enjoyment of the story?

Reasons for selection:

Colin Cotterill was recommend to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed mysteries and stories that took place in other cultures.  Cotterill is a great find and I recommend him to many people who enjoy a light, yet intriguing read with fun, surprising characters.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

  4W, 4H

Adler-Olsen, Jussi, (c. 2011). The Keeper of Lost Causes.  Dutton.  395 pages , $28.79.

ISBN:  9780525952480

Reviews:

 Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

Relegated to cold cases, Chief Detective Morck finds himself intrigued by the five year old disappearance of a prominent politician.

Summary:  

A shooting that paralyzed his partner and should have ended his career has only served to make Chief Detective Morck bitter and unmotivated, a state that is apparent to all in the precinct.  Delegated to the basement, Morck has been assigned to work on the cold cases where he can pretend to stay busy and useful.  However, his recently assigned assistant, Assad, prods him into action and together they take on a five year old case involving a missing politician.  The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are intriguing enough to make Morck shed his aura of indifference and put his detective skills to work to piece together the puzzle.

This dark and gritty narrative successfully shows the detailed workings of a cold case juxtaposed to the victim’s horrific plight and the horror endured while the detectives methodically work there way to the answer.  Interspersed with wit and colorful characterizations, Adler-Ollsen explores the dark side of human nature and leaves us wanting more out of Department Q.  This is the first book in the series.

Evaluation:

For fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Keeper of Lost Causes hits the mark.  Set in Denmark, Chief Detective Morck wants to give up on life but circumstances won’t allow him that luxury.  Partnered with the ultimate optimist, Assad, Morck finds himself fascinated with the challenges of solving a relatively recent cold case.  The story is compelling, horrific and humorous which is not an easy mix to accomplish but the author succeeds on all levels.

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological Suspense

Readalikes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Alex by Pierre LeMaitre

Book Discussion Questions:

What makes Carl Morck’s character so believable?

Describe the relationship between Morck and Assad?

Despite the horror of the crime, there is comic relief throughout the story.  How big a part in the story does it play?

Reasons for selection:

I found this in NoveList as an Author-Readalike for Stieg Larsson.  It is the first in the Dept Q series and does not disappoint.  I was hooked from the beginning and managed to get through the pretty grisly parts.

The Last Runaway

  4W, 4H audio

Chevalier, Tracy, (c. 2013). The Last Runaway.  Penguin Audio. 8 discs (10 hours) , $32.99   Read by Kate Reading.

ISBN:  9781611761412

Reviews

The Guardian, Oprah.com

Annotation:

Immigrating to America in 1850, Honor moves into pre-Civil War Ohio where she must establish roots while not losing her sense of self.

Summary:  

Honor Bright travels with her sister from England to help her get settled with her new husband in Ohio.  It’s 1850 in America and Honor, a young, quiet Quaker woman, finds herself stranded in this foreign land when her sister dies on the journey.  Befriended by a milliner, Honor’s sewing skills help Belle with her business until Honor must leave to settle with a Quaker family in the neighboring town of Faithwell.  But Belle’s brother, Donovan, has taken an interest in Hope which does not bode well for Belle’s other business, that of helping free slaves through the underground railroad.  Donovan is a slave hunter and a good one at that.  His unwanted attention raises questions in Faithwell and puts Honor in a precarious position with her new family.

But Honor is true to her faith.  She understands the danger involved yet she becomes part of the underground railroad, helping slaves on their journey to freedom.  As she tries to fit in with her American family and avoid Donovan and his baffling appeal, Honor strives to do what is best until she is pushed too far and she can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

Evaluation:

Beautifully written, Chevalier creates a story that captures an element of american history from the perspective of a reluctant immigrant who sees America and its challenges with fresh eyes.  The struggles of the “slave issue” in the free state of Ohio are just as intense as elsewhere with Honor’s character having to battle with the moral ambiguity of helping to free innocent people and protecting her own family.  A great work of historical fiction. brought to life with the reading  by Kate Reading whose different voices, inflections and accents created a vivid picture of life in America as seen through the eyes of Chevalier’s characters.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction

Readalikes:

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Book Discussion Questions:

Quilting is significant to the main character.  How does it enhance the story?

Which character(s) would you have liked to see more developed?

How is Honor “flawed”?  Are there aspects about her character that you find difficult to comprehend?

Reasons for selection:

This book was chosen for one of our class’s book discussion selections.  I listened to it thinking that I might not be able to get into it by reading the print version due to the pace of the story (an assumption).  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and found myself intrigued by the story and wondering how Chevalier was going to effectively bring all the pieces together.

The Age of Miracles

  4W, 4H

Walker, Karen Thompson, (c. 2012). The Age of Miracles.  Random House.  288 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9780812992977

Reviews:

New York Times,  The Washington Post

Annotation:

As the earth’s rotation slows, nothing is as it used to be.   Julia is turning 12, coping with a new world and her new self.

Summary:  

Julia lives in San Diego, California and is on the brink of becoming a teenager when something out of the ordinary starts taking place.  The earth’s rotation has started to slow down significantly.  The scientists are at a loss as to its cause and can not predict if or when the slowing will stop.  So like everyone else, they watch their days and nights get longer affecting every aspect of the human.  But Julia’s world continues to be that of an average pre-teen where she is surrounded by uncertainty with friends, family, popularity and boys.  Her environment which is changing around her just adds to the weirdness of it all.

This beautifully written coming-of-age story will capture your imagination and leave you wondering about an existence with bright nights and dark days and living life with the overriding knowledge that the future is not a guarantee.

Evaluation:

Walker defines the pre-teen part of our lives as “The Age of Miracles” and her story is a celebration of the human instinct to focus on self at this time of change even in a world that is slowly coming to an end.  The story will capture your interest from the first page and keep you hooked the entire time.  A beautifully written tale of relationships, uncertainty and inevitability as the characters cope with an ever-changing landscape while trying to keep their lives as normal as possible.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction/Science Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice: Adult Fiction for Young Adults 2012

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens 2012

Readalikes:

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.   Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.

Book Discussion Questions:

Why are “real-timers” seen as a threat?

What makes this story and premise believable/not-believable to you?

What is the rest of Seth’s story?

Reasons for selection:

This is a selection for our class book discussion groups.  I found the novel to be very thought provoking and believable as to what would take place if our world did start slowing down.

Chasing Harry Winston

Book Jacket  2W, 3H

Weisberger, Lauren, (c. 2008). Chasing Harry Winston.  Simon and Schuster. 288 pages, $23.99

ISBN  9781410407306

Reviews:
New York TimesEntertainment Weekly

Annotation:

Experiencing different levels of dissatisfaction in their love lives, three college friends decide to make life-altering changes as their 30th birthdays approach.

Summary:  

Three best friends from college make a bet  to spend the next year going against their instincts in an attempt to find true happiness in their lives.  Emmy, Leigh and Adriana, all living in Manhattan, are completely different from each other and in distinctly different circumstances.  Emmy has been dumped by her no-good boyfriend, Leigh is in  a relationship with the “perfect guy” and Adriana is challenged by the concept of monogamy.  With their 30th birthdays approaching they decide that something must be done to turn things around so a pact is made that changes the course of their lives.

As they stumble from Paris to the Hamptons and ultimately to Los Angeles, the three friends work to figure out what makes life worth living,  culminating in the final celebratory dinner to assess their past year.  Filled with romance, broken hearts and an over-the-top, sassy South American, this book will take you away in laughter if not in plot or character development.

Evaluation:

If you are a fan of Sex in the City, then you will enjoy Chasing Harry Winston as a good way to pass the time while on a flight or better yet, by the pool or beach while on your vacation.  Although the character development is relatively shallow and the plot lines predictable, the appeal is in those very features making it a great chick-lit, no-nonsense read.  For those who prefer steamy romance, this is not going to satisfy in that sense.  But, it will definitely appeal to those who enjoy fashion references, posh lifestyles and women characters who ultimately take control of their circumstances while hanging tight to their sense of self.

Genre/Subgenre:

Chick Lit

Readalikes:

Four Blondes by Candace Bushnell.  Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

 Book Discussion Questions:

Which character made the most/least growth in their year?

How were the men portrayed in this chick-lit feature?

How many of you had to Google “Harry Winston” to understand the title?

Reasons for selection:

This was mentioned in our Chick-Lit discussion group as a fun and light read.  Once an avid fan of romance, I certainly see the appeal here and can recommend it to the right people.  Even in my “romance” days, I probably would not have picked this up because, yes, I did have to Google “Harry Winston” because I’m just not that interested in high-fashion and all that it represents.

The Return Journey

  2W, 2H

Binchy, Maeve, (c. 1998). The Return Journey.  Delacourte Press. 214 pages , $18.65.

ISBN:  0385315066

Reviews:
Publishers Weekly  Vulpes Libris blog

Annotation:

In fourteen short stories, relationships unfold around what can or cannot be during different journeys.  The characters are realistically flawed yet always redeemable

Summary:  

This compilation of short stories moves between Ireland, Europe and the United States, introducing characters with different backgrounds, situations and motivations.  All the stories revolve around some aspect of travel where relationships and discoveries can either be built up or destroyed.  There is the young couple, secure in their knowledge that they are in a perfect relationship until they shop for suitcases for an upcoming journey, discovering how different they really are.  One story tells of the dedication of a property manager whose life gets happier as others’ lives spiral into slumps.

Maeve Binchy, known for her heartwarming stories, manages to fold fourteen separate scenarios into one volume.  The characters’ motivations develop quickly moving the each story quickly to its end.  And not all the endings are completely predictable, just as life is never completely predictable.

Evaluation:

This is a quick and light read for those that enjoy short stories and leisurely paced writing.  Although some of the scenarios are dated and admittedly, slightly annoying, Binchy has produced an enjoyable series of stories where women and men must question their motivations and ultimately live with the consequences.

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Short stories

Readalikes:

Snow Angels by Fern Michaels. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver.

Book Discussion Questions:

Which was your favorite story and why?

Besides travel, did you notice any other common themes throughout the stories?

Why do you think the action of taking a journey can be symptomatic of the health of a relationship?

Reasons for selection:

I found this book by just browsing through the stacks at one of the library branches where I was killing time  in between meetings.  I hadn’t read much of Maeve Binchy and I normally do not seek out short stories so I thought I’d give the compilation a try.  I found myself enjoying the vignettes of life portrayed in each scenario and the endings that always left the reader wondering about the character’s next steps.