In the Woods by Tana French
(Penguin, 2008, 468 pages)
In the Woods was the winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It is the first of three books written by Tana French set in the Dublin police force. This first is about detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox and involves two mysteries, a missing person’s case from Rob’s past and a current murder of a 12 year old girl in the same neighborhood. When Rob (then Adam) was 12, he and two friends go out to the woods to play but only Rob is found and he has no memory of what happened to his friends. Now a detective, he is called to a case where a 12 year old girl is found dead in the same woods. As Rob and Cassie go about trying to solve the current case Rob has to delve into his past for a possible connection. Not only a murder mystery, In the Woods also explores Rob and Cassie’s relationship and how Rob’s past effects his present.
French has great pacing and the novel moves along at a satisfying clip. At first I was disappointed in the ending but overall it is a great read and I would recommend it to someone looking for a good mystery.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
(Crown Books, 2010, 384 pages)
When someone makes an important contribution to science, they are usually recognized and praised. The woman behind the HeLa cells, which were responsible for the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and advances in cancer research to name a few, has finally gotten the recognition that she and her family deserve more than half a century after she died.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of Henrietta’s life, her family, and her immortal cells. Henrietta died in 1951 of cervical cancer but before she died, her cells were taken as a sample and became the first human cell line to continue to grow and multiply outside of Henrietta’s body. Her cells were used to make many medical advances and participated in a variety of different types of research, including being flown into space to see how human cells would react in that environment. Although Henrietta’s cells, known as HeLa, were and still are making many advances in science, her family was not aware that Henrietta’s cells were still alive and making a profit until almost twenty years after she died.
This is a great read and Skloot provided lots of information on the incredible advances that the HeLa cells have made, but I found myself much more interested in the story about who Henrietta was and her family’s life now. It’s saddening to realize how far we’ve come because of Henrietta Lacks, however her children and family are still suffering without health insurance today.
Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans by Jane Green
(Broadway, 2000, 384 pages)
I remember friends reading this novel when it first came out about 12 years ago, but I obviously didn’t pick it up until now. Jemima Jones lives in the London area, is overweight, and has a super crush on her coworker, Ben Williams. The novel really delves into weight issues and how people perceive beauty, which was a little thought-provoking. Ben gets a new job, where he becomes a famous TV personality, while Jemima starts to work out and lose around 100 pounds, almost at an alarming rate. They lose touch, and she flies to LA to meet up with a guy, Brad, whom she met on the Internet. Interesting twists and turns eventually lead Jemima back to Ben or, rather vice versa. Overall, I found the novel enjoyable, though towards the end it felt like the author was running out of steam and needed to tie up the book. I would recommend this to those who love an “ugly duckling-to-swan” story.
To Have and To Kill by Mary Jane Clark
(William Morrow, 2012, 368 pages)
Again, another read to facilitate my Nook reading! This is a fun, murder-mystery novel surrounding struggling actress Piper Donovan. Piper lives in the Manhattan area, but is moving in with her parents who live in New Jersey because her soap opera character was killed off. After moving in with her parents, she helps out in her mom’s bakery, only to discover that her mother is losing her eyesight. The murder comes into play when she goes to an auction benefit that one of her former co-workers is involved in and the auctioneer suddenly collapses on the floor—dead. The novel moves extremely fast, though it is not an in-depth story, it is light and an enjoyable read. This is the first in the series, with the second title being The Look of Love, which you may see a review about soon.
Alaska Twilight by Colleen Coble
(Thomas Nelson, 2006, 310 pages)
So, I just got my Nook Color and was perusing the ebook collection at the public library and stumbled across this title. I read the synopsis and thought I would give it a whirl as I desperately wanted to try my new Nook! The novel revolves around the life of Haley Walsh, a photographer, who has gone to Alaska to shoot for a wildlife TV show about bears. While she is there, it is her goal to resolve issues surrounding her sister’s death when they were young and to make peace with her parents who died in a fire that we find out was set intentionally. As we go along Haley’s journey, she meets Tank Lassiter, who becomes her love interest. Overall, the mystery of why her parents died and Haley learning to come to terms with the past provide for an interesting story. However, my only complaint was that it felt like some of the plot development as to why her parents died was hurried and that the focus was more on her relationship with Tank. I would recommend this book for those who like a quick read and like Christian fiction.
Four Souls by Louise Erdrich
(Harper Perennial, 2004, 240 pages)
I love Louise Erdrich’s writing and her story-telling ability, so when I saw a title I hadn’t read on the shelf, I had to pick it up. Told from a number of different perspectives, the primary focus is on Fleur Pillager as she sets off to seek revenge on the man who stole her land. As she works her way into his life, instead of killing him she gets him to marry her. From this union a son is born who will eventually play a key role in Fleur’s efforts.
We also hear from Nanapush, who serves as a father-figure to Fleur. He helps provide the back-story to Fleur’s adventures. He also turns some of the focus to his marriage to Margaret and how despite wanting to grow old with her and keep her by his side, he can’t help doing things that push her away.
As with all Erdrich’s novels in the unofficial Love Medicine “series,” the stories and characters are all interconnected. I enjoyed listening to this novel – it made me want to go back and reread some of her other titles.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
(Ecco, 2011, 320 pages)
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but it was a unique story. Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists – they make live art by forcing people to experience unexpected public events. They have two children, Annie and Buster, who have been involved in helping them make art all their lives. Needless to say, it wasn’t your typical childhood.
Annie and Buster moved out as soon as they could. Annie left to become an actress and Buster went off to write, publishing two novels that didn’t get him too far. After unexpected events force both Annie and Buster to return home (which they are very hesitant about) they are quickly brought back into the chaotic world they are raised in. Not long after returning, Caleb and Camille “disappear” and Buster and Annie inadvertently find themselves back in the midst of a Fang “performance.” They just aren’t sure if it’s real or not and it’s not clear how they should best handle themselves.
This was a creative novel that I ended up enjoying. I appreciated that I never knew where the story was going to go or what I wanted the final outcome to be.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010, 562 pages)
The characters that narrate Freedom seem like a normal functional family from the outside. Joey is defiant and fiercely independent, especially towards his parents. His mother, Patty, has a strong competitive nature. Her husband, Walter, is concerned with overpopulation and the balance of nature. Richard is Walter’s best friend and a gifted musician. But inside they are all dark and twisted because they are lost in their lives and with each other.
I enjoyed this read even though I never found myself liking any of the characters. This is really a story about being lost and trying to find your way, even if it takes years or many hurt feelings to do it. Those are sometimes the hardest to read, but the resolution the characters find makes it worth it.
The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
(Grand Central Publishing, 2008, 336 pages)
Yes, I do admit that I put off reading this book until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation that came out earlier this month. But Sparks again successfully hooks his reader by keeping them guessing till the very end about the future of his characters.
The Lucky One is about marine Logan Thibault who finds a picture of an unknown woman which becomes his good luck charm while in Iraq and after he returns home. Logan feels compelled to find the woman in the picture and repay her for the luck she had brought him. The only problem is he doesn’t know her name, where she lives, or how to explain to her why he has her picture. Simple right?
There is of course a love story that develops and twists that made me wonder if Logan and his mystery woman were going to end up together in the end. It was a very fast read and I’m glad I chose to read it before I saw the film, which I am putting off seeing.
All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell
(Scribner, 1992, 416 pages)
I became a fan of Cornwell after the two books I read last year. I bought a few more from our annual used book sale. This book is one of the early ones in the Scarpetta series. The main characters are Kay Scarpetta, Virginia chief medical examiner, and Pete Marino, a detective in the Richmond Police Department.
The story starts with a missing couple; the case is soon connected to four other couples murdered over the past few years. The challenge here is that all the bodies were found after they were degraded and the cause of death is difficult to determine. The pressure to solve the case is intense when the mother of the latest victim is a high-profile politician. This book has a good plot with unexpected twists and an ok ending. I enjoyed it.