Reading the Detectives

I don’t really like putting labels on books, and one of the genres that I find the most difficult to pin down is that of ‘detective’ fiction. I mean, does it have to have an actual detective, or can it include a sleuth of another persuasion–a Miss Marple, if you will? Does  a book in which an ordinary citizen solves a crime count as a detective story? Not to mention all the related genres, from crime fiction to thrillers to mysteries; are the distinctions between them really significant or are these just labels we slap on to sell more books?

Anyway. I’ve been reading two new series this past week that to me both qualify as detective stories, in that they feature a crime and a central character who tries to solve it. Although they are each different in style and setting, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first books in each series and wanted to share them for anyone looking for a good read.

killing-in-the-hillsA Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

Bell Elkins is a county prosecutor living in the small West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap. The divorced mother of a sullen teenage daughter, Bell has her hands full both at home and at work, where she joins forces with the local sheriff as they try to keep the expanding local drug trade from destroying everything they love about their hometown.

I like the character of Bell, who is both brilliant and headstrong, but it’s the strong sense of place that really drew me in and made me want to read more of this series. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians in an rural area with a lot of poverty, and so Raythune County and its problems seemed very real and relatable to me.

cuckoos-callingThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Yes, this is the book that J. K. Rowling published under a pen name, causing a bit of an outrage in certain circles. I personally don’t care that she didn’t reveal her identity right away, although it seems a bit unfair to those who reviewed the book without knowing it was hers (reading excerpts from those reviews made me feel like she was having a bit of a laugh at the reviewers’ expense, however inadvertently). Nevertheless, it’s a good book, and the more classic example of a detective story between the two books mentioned here. Cormoran Strike, the main character, is an ex-Army man turned P.I. who struggles to pay his bills despite having a very famous father. I managed to guess the identify of the killer and their motivation before Strike reveals them, but otherwise the book kept me well entertained and wanting to get to know the characters better.

And now, because it will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day so I might as well indulge myself:

Hope you’re all enjoying this post-Fourth of July Sunday!

The June Wrap-Up

monthly-wrap-upIt’s been several months since I did a ‘Wrap-Up’ post, so I’m going to quickly recap what I’ve been reading since February. The stats for March and April should tell you something about what a stress nightmare those two months were for me. When I’m not reading, something is WRONG.

Things have picked up since school let out in May, and I’m back to reading at pre-nightmare levels once more. All is right with the world again.

Sigh of relief.

Books read:

March – The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

April – Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (audio)

May – The Distance by Helen Giltrow
           The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
           The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes
           The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (audio)

June – An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
           Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
           The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
           Euphoria by Lily King
A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

I might possibly finish another book before the day is out, but I’m not counting on it so I won’t add it in just yet. The best of the bunch was probably Euphoria by Lily King which I was absolutely fascinated by and devoured in less than a day. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is also excellent and a must read for anyone interested in America during the 1950’s and McCarthyism. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but it’s a very impressive book.

I hope everyone had a good reading month in June and that your summer is going along swimmingly. :)

Still here

We ended our school year almost a month ago, but it has taken me this long just to decompress enough to think about blogging again. We also had family in town from France, and then my oldest daughter was off to sleepaway camp for the first time last week. The busyness, it never stops.

I’m feeling pretty good, though, and trying to be okay with where I am right now. In yoga, our teacher is constantly saying things like: “Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.” I’m trying hard to really feel the truth in that statement. I’m a work in progress, but I need to be okay with where I’m at along the way.

I’m reading a lot, which has been lovely (more on that soon). We’re preparing to move house once again in July, as the owner of our current rental wants to put it on the market. The newer house is a bit smaller, which is a good thing for us, and hopefully will be a bit lower maintenance, too. In between packing and organizing, I’ve applied for a few jobs. Fingers crossed that the right thing comes along at the right time.

Most of all, I feel ready to start writing again–hence this post. This is just a first step, but hopefully it will be enough to get me going again.

Currently…

currentlyI’m pretty sure that if I can make it to the end of this school year and still have a blog to speak of (and my sanity intact) it will be something of a miracle. I’m still here, just struggling. But here.

Loving: The fact that I’m about to be on spring break–only four more work days and then a whole week off. We’re going to the beach, and I cannot wait.

Thinking about: How all I wanted for this new year was to find a job, and now that I have one all I want is to NOT have this job anymore. I need to be more self aware and make choices that are not based on pure logic and my perpetual need to do what is “right” instead of what is right for me. I need to listen a little better to my inner voice.

Anticipating: Spring break (yay!). Hopefully getting in some long walks on the beach and spending some quality time as a family.

Watching: ‘Parks and Recreation’. SO MUCH LOVE for this show. Leslie is my new idol. I’m in the middle of season three and she’s just been approached about potentially running for office and even though I know it’s going to wreck things for her and Ben and break my heart, too, I can’t help but be so proud of her for being a role model for strong women everywhere. Yes, I realize this is a comedy and I’m taking it way too seriously, but it’s just that awesome.

Listening to: Coldplay. I borrowed the latest one from the library and really liked it, which led me to realize that I had actually bought the one before the last one and never listened to it. Huh? So I’ve been breaking it out in the car.

Eating: Anything and everything to try and keep up my energy levels. I’m probably snacking way more than I should be.

Wishing: That there were more hours in the day. That I could somehow do everything that I need to do and everything I want to do, too. That weekends could last a little longer…*this is basically a repeat from my last currently post, but it’s still so very true*

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend as much as I am!

Review: Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

among-the-madLength: 319 pages

Publication: January 1st, 2009 by Picador

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:
It’s Christmas Eve 1931. On the way to see a client, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. The following day, the prime minister’s office receives a letter threatening a massive loss of life if certain demands are not met—and the writer mentions Maisie by name.

After being questioned and cleared by Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yard’s elite Special Branch, she is drawn into MacFarlane’s personal fiefdom as a special adviser on the case. Meanwhile, Billy Beale, Maisie’s trusted assistant, is once again facing tragedy as his wife, who has never recovered from the death of their young daughter, slips further into melancholia’s abyss.

Soon Maisie becomes involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict death and destruction on thousands of innocent people. And before this harrowing case is over, Maisie must navigate a darkness not encountered since she was a nurse in wards filled with shell-shocked men.

 What I thought:
I love Maisie Dobbs so joining in a tour for any of the books in this series is a treat. Among the Mad is the latest one I’m reading, but there are many others that precede and follow it. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Maisie through reading about her adventures, and this one was no exception.

Beyond the setting of the interwar period in Britain (a particular interest of mine), the character of Maisie is fascinating as she represents such a strong, honest, and yet deeply empathetic woman, an unusual combination. She consistently puts others’ needs before her own even as she remains staunchly her own woman and doesn’t let others take advantage of her.

In this novel we see Maisie working with her Police Inspector as well as Scotland Yard and even the Prime Minister’s office as they attempt to prevent an act of terrorism. Winspear’s writing is as enjoyable to read as ever, and I found myself checking out the next book in the series from the library even before I’d finished this one.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction set during the interwar period or anyone who likes a well-written detective story that will appeal to the mind as well as the heart.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

tlc book tours

Spotlight & Giveaway: Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen

Scent of ButterfliesLength: 282 pages

Publication: January 7th, 2014 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:

Such audacity she has, Soraya, a woman who dares to break free of the diamond-studded leash of her culture. A woman who refuses to accept the devastating betrayal her husband has perpetrated. A woman who refuses to forgive her best friend.

Soraya turns her back on Iran, fleeing to America to plot her intricate revenge. The Shah has fallen, her country is in turmoil, her marriage has crumbled, and she is unraveling. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Los Angeles.

Yet the secret Soraya discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of unexpected events that will leave the reader breathless.

 Giveaway:

I’m giving away one copy of Scent of Butterflies to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

tlc book tours

 

Review: The World’s Strongest Librarian

Format: Hardback

worlds-strongest-librarianLength: 291 pages

Publication: May 2nd, 2013 by Gotham

Source: Library

What it’s about: 

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7″ when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

What I thought:

You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you read just the right book at just the right time? That was what the experience of reading this book did for me. I finished it a few nights ago and I actually cried when it was over because I was so relieved to have found it now. I’d heard good things when the book first came out in 2013, but now was exactly the right time for me to read it.

My oldest daughter was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome earlier this year. It was something I’d suspected for a while, but having the official diagnosis made it real in a way that I’m still struggling to accept. I’ve been reading nonfiction books about TS and looking for more information online, but reading a memoir of someone with the disorder who writes about his experiences with such earnestness and humor gave me something that all the medical books and articles couldn’t–a sense of peace.

That may seem strange considering just how hard Hanagarne’s life has been because of Tourette’s. He doesn’t pull any punches (literally), and I read about his experiences with a mixture of sadness and admiration for how he persevered in spite of being dealt a tough genetic hand. I think part of why I found the book comforting was that despite the extreme nature of his Tourette’s condition, he manages to eventually carve out a fairly normal life for himself. He has a good job, friends, a wife and son, and perhaps most importantly he doesn’t seem bitter about all that he has had to endure.

The biggest factor in Hanagarne’s success seems to have been a very loving and supportive family, and that gives me hope that our daughter’s outcome can be the same. I want more than anything for her to be accepting of herself and proud of all that she can do, none of which having Tourette’s can take away from her. I want her to find a sense of peace with her diagnosis, too, and to know that no matter what, her family will always have her back. She’s still very young and I don’t doubt that there are harder days ahead, but Hanagarne’s story gives me hope.

Highly recommended.