2024 Reading











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Title: Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
Author: Crystal Smith Paul
Length: 13 
hrs and 10 mins / 416  pp
Published: May 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/3
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I liked the premise of this book but the execution of the three narrative threads didn't work for me.  All of the historical sections were vivid.  All of the modern sections were flat and boring.  It shed light on issues that are completely foreign to me, which kept me enthusiastically reading.

From the publisher:
A multigenerational saga that traverses the glamour of old Hollywood and the seductive draw of modern-day showbiz.

When Kitty Karr Tate, a White icon of the silver screen, dies and bequeaths her multimillion-dollar estate to the St. John sisters, three young, wealthy Black women, it prompts questions. Lots of questions.

A celebrity in her own right, Elise St. John would rather focus on sorting out Kitty’s affairs than deal with the press. But what she discovers in one of Kitty’s journals rocks her world harder than any other brewing scandal could—and between a cheating fiancé and the fallout from a controversial social media post, there are plenty.

The truth behind Kitty's ascent to stardom from her beginnings in the segregated South threatens to expose a web of unexpected family ties, debts owed, and debatable crimes that could, with one pull, unravel the all-American fabric of the St. John sisters and those closest to them.

As Elise digs deeper into Kitty's past, she must also turn the lens upon herself, confronting the gifts and burdens of her own choices and the power that the secrets of the dead hold over the living. Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? is a sprawling page-turner set against the backdrop of the Hollywood machine, an insightful and nuanced look at the inheritances of family, race, and gender—and the choices some women make to break free of them.

#52bookclub prompt 3: more than 40 chapters


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Title: The Mystery Guest
Author: Nita Prose
Length
hrs and 23 mins / 304  pp
Published: November 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/9
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is the second installment in the Molly the Maid series.  Molly is a neurodivergent, quirky character that is so lovable!  I liked the backstory that is given in this novel, how the murder victim is not unfamiliar to Molly.  I  hope there are more stories in this series--I want to see which opportunities Molly pursues.  

The audio narration is very well done.

From the publisher:
Molly Gray is not like anyone else. With her flair for cleaning and proper etiquette, she has risen through the ranks of the glorious five-star Regency Grand Hotel to become the esteemed Head Maid. But just as her life reaches a pinnacle state of perfection, her world is turned upside down when J.D. Grimthorpe, the world-renowned mystery author, drops dead—very dead—on the hotel’s tea room floor.

When Detective Stark, Molly's old foe, investigates the author’s unexpected demise, it becomes clear that this death was murder most foul. Suspects abound, and everyone wants to who killed J.D. Grimthorpe? Was it Lily, the new Maid-in-Training? Or was it Serena, the author’s secretary? Could Mr. Preston, the hotel’s beloved doorman, be hiding something? And is Molly really as innocent as she seems?

As the case threatens the hotel’s pristine reputation, Molly knows she alone holds the key to unlocking the killer's identity. But that key is buried deep in her past—because long ago, she knew J.D. Grimthorpe. Molly begins to comb her memory for clues, revisiting her childhood and the mysterious Grimthorpe mansion where she and her dearly departed Gran once worked side by side. With the entire hotel under investigation, Molly must solve the mystery post-haste. If there's one thing Molly knows for sure, it's that dirty secrets don't stay buried forever...

#52bookclub prompt 27: by a neurodivergent author


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Title: The Diamond Eye
Author: Kate Quinn
Length12 
hrs and 51 mins / 435  pp
Published: March 2022
Book Group:  Library
Finished: 1/10
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Finding out this historical novel is based on a real woman is mind-boggling!  What a remarkable story.  It was difficult to read the detailed descriptions of skirmishes but war is not easy to read about.  And World War II on the Russian front was exceptionally brutal on women and children.  

I liked Mila as a rounded-out character.  She was nerdy, independent, and honorable.  I liked that during all the chaos of war, there was still the humanity of relationship building and bonding.  I loved the relationships with Kostia, her second husband, and Alexei, her sniper partner.  Those characters and the intensity and complexity of the relationships were compelling.  

We'll have a lot to discuss at book group!  The audio is very well done.  And the Author's Note at the end was fascinating!

From the publisher:
In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kyiv, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son--but Hitler's invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper--a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.

Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC--until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila's past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.

Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.



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Title: Gone Tonight
Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Length10 
hrs and 9 mins / 352  pp
Published: August 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/12
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is one twisty domestic thriller!  It starts rather slowly but the ending left me with the best kind of WTF feeling!  I am still trying to figure out some of the final things.  The story is told in the dual narrative of Ruth, the unassuming mother, and Catherine, her daughter who thinks she knows everything about her mother.  It starts with Ruth's manipulative attempt at keeping Catherine from fulfilling her dream job.  But the layers unfold and more is revealed.  And then more is revealed.  And then WHAMMO!  The ambiguous ending is killing me!  

From the publisher:
Catherine Sterling thinks she knows her mother. Ruth Sterling is quiet, hardworking, and lives for her daughter. All her life, it's been just the two of them against the world. But now, Catherine is ready to spread her wings, move from home, and begin a new career. And Ruth Sterling will do anything to prevent that from happening.

Ruth Sterling thinks she knows her daughter. Catherine would never rebel, would never question anything about her mother's past or background. But when Ruth's desperate quest to keep her daughter by her side begins to reveal cracks in Ruth's carefully-constructed world, both mother and daughter begin a dance of deception.

#52bookclub prompt 33: an abrupt ending

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Title: The Second Ending
Author: Michelle Hoffman
Length10 
hrs and 25 mins / 336  pp
Published: May 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/13
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

As a fan of reality competition shows, this book about dueling pianists was right up my alley.  Preparing for the competition are starkly different musicians with quirky stories and preparation methods.  Prudence Childs found fame as a toddler prodigy turned jingle writer yet walked away to have an idyllic suburban life.  After all this time, she must know if her talent is real.  Alexei Petrov is an internet wunderkind who questions dedicating his life to his music.

The secondary characters are quirky and well-developed.  I loved that both characters had their own brand of mentor coaching them.  There is a lot of humor and heart in this book. I wanted them both to win the million dollars!  This would be a fun movie.

From the publisher:
A former prodigy who refuses to believe her best years are behind her and a young virtuoso searching for his passion both get an unlikely shot at their dreams in this sparkling debut about second chances, unexpected joys, and the miraculous power of music.

Prudence Childs was once the most famous kindergartner on the planet. After teaching herself to play piano at age three, she performed at the White House, appeared on talk shows, and inspired a generation of children to take up lessons. But as adolescence closed in, Prudence began to see that she was just another exploited child star, pushed into fame by her cruel grandmother. Prudence ran away—from both performing and her greedy handler—as soon as she was old enough to vote. Flat broke and alone, she took a job writing commercial jingles, which earned her a fortune, but left her creatively adrift.

Now forty-eight, with her daughters away at school, Prudence is determined to reconnect with the artist she once was and agrees to compete on a wildly popular dueling pianos TV show. Unfortunately, her new spotlight captures the attention of her terrible ex-husband, Bobby, who uses the opportunity to blackmail her over a secret she thought she’d buried in the past. If she doesn’t win, she won’t just be a musical failure; she’ll also be bankrupted and exposed in front of millions.

Her on-air rival, virtuoso Alexei Petrov, a stunning young Internet sensation with a massive audience and a dreamy Russian accent, has problems of his own. His overbearing parents’ domineering ways made him a technically flawless pianist but left him without friends, hobbies, or any kind of life outside his music.

As they prepare to face off on stage, the retired prodigy and the exhausted wunderkind realize that the competition is their chance to prove—to their terrible exes, tyrannical family members, and most importantly, themselves—that it’s never too late to write a new ending.

#52bookclub prompt 50: a musical instrument on the cover



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Title: The Whispers
Author: Ashely Audrain
Length10 
hrs and 17 mins / 336  pp
Published: June 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/15
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Four very different women in one bougie neighborhood.  Friends? Frenemies?  There's a fine line.  Secrets, lies, and judgment lie at the heart of this book. Whitney, Blair, Mara, and Rebecca are at various stages of motherhood, and the story revolves around what motherhood means to each woman.  

This is a slow-burn thriller.  The short chapters kept me turning pages as the point of view shifted and the timeline flowed from past to present to past.  A couple of times I got confused about when the story was unfolding in relation to the pivotal event.  There are some difficult parts--from miscarriage, infertility, and verbal abuse--the author gave me a glimpse into situations I know nothing about.

From the publisher:
The Loverlys sit by the hospital bed of their young son who is in a coma after falling from his bedroom window in the middle of the night; his mother, Whitney, will not speak to anyone. Back home, their friends and neighbors are left in shock, each confronting their own role in the events that led up to what happened that terrible night: the warm, altruistic Parks who are the Loverlys' best friends; the young, ambitious Goldsmiths who are struggling to start a family of their own; and the quiet, elderly Portuguese couple who care for their adult son with a developmental disability, and who pass the long days on the front porch, watching their neighbors go about their busy lives.

The story spins out over the course of one week, in the alternating voices of the women in each family as they are forced to face the secrets within the walls of their own homes, and the uncomfortable truths that connect them all to one another. Set against the heartwrenching drama of what will happen to Xavier, who hangs between death and life, or a life changed forever, THE WHISPERS is a novel about what happens when we put our needs ahead of our children's. Exploring the quiet sacrifices of motherhood, the intuitions that we silence, the complexities of our closest friendships, and the danger of envy, this is a novel about the reverberations of life's most difficult decisions.

#52bookclub prompt 10: Told in non-chronological order



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Title: The Various Haunts of Men
Author: Susan Hill
Length14 
hrs and 44 mins / 438  pp
Published: July 2004
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/21
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is an interesting first of a series: the lead is a minor character.  Simon Serrailler doesn't narrate, doesn't feature in the legwork of the procedural, and doesn't interact much with who I consider the main character, Freya Graffam.

The author developed the characters well, each victim's backstory kept me turning pages to discover the why.  I loved learning the workings of Simon Serrailler's family in the community and how they were integral to the story.

I'm curious to read another in the series.

From the publisher:
Having transferred to the small cathedral town of Lafferton from London's "Met," police detective Freya Graffham explores her new community and becomes fascinated by Chief Insp. Simon Serrailler, her enigmatic superior. Though she fits well within the local police force, she finds herself unable to let go what seems like a routine missing persons report on a middle-aged spinster. When yet more townspeople turn up missing, her hunch is verified and a serious police search begins, bringing her into closer proximity with Serrailler at the same time it exposes her to danger.
#52bookclub prompt 16: an omniscient narrator
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Title: The Pure In Heart
Author: Susan Hill
Length11 
hrs and 38 mins / 320  pp
Published: July 2005
Book Group:  no
Finished: 1/13
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



























I can tell that I'll devour this series by Susan Hill.  I find Simon Serrailler a complex and compelling figure.  I liked seeing a vulnerable side to him when he was with his severely disabled sister.  I disliked trying to figure out which storyline was the plot.  There were several characters and incidents and social issues and it was rather like a soap opera (albeit a good one) rather than a crime novel.

From the publisher:
A little boy is snatched as he stands with his satchel at the gate of his home, waiting for his lift to school. A severely handicapped young woman hovers between life and death. And an ex-con finds it impossible to go straight. The Pure in Heart is a crime novel arising from character and circumstances, about the psychology of crime, something more enthralling than plain thrillers or whodunits. In Lafferton, Serrailler's town, Susan Hill has brilliantly created a community with detail so sharp and true to life that readers feel that these people are their own neighbors and friends. But there is terror and evil in their very midst. There are no easy answers in The Pure of Heart, a magnificent novel about the realities of police work and the sometimes desperate humanity of family. Haunting and truthful, gripping and convincing, it is a thrilling achievement.


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Title: The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece
Author: Tom Hanks
Length15 
hrs and 57 mins / 448  pp
Published: May 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/3
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is an insider's movie-making story.  Some sections were a bit overly detailed, but it was a very fun, full-cast audiobook.  I liked the characters and how they interacted with each other, even the full of himself action hero.  

Tom Hanks can tell a story.

From the publisher:
Part One of this story takes place in 1947. A troubled soldier, returning from the war, meets his talented five-year-old nephew, leaves an indelible impression, and then disappears for twenty-three years.

Cut to 1970: The nephew, now drawing underground comic books in Oakland, California, reconnects with his uncle and, remembering the comic book he saw when he was five, draws a new version with his uncle as a World War II fighting hero.

Cut to the present day: A commercially successful director discovers the 1970 comic book and decides to turn it into a contemporary superhero movie.

Cue the cast: We meet the film's extremely difficult male star, his wonderful leading lady, the eccentric writer/director, the producer, the gofer production assistant, and everyone else on both sides of the camera.

Bonus material: Interspersed throughout are three comic books that are featured in the story--all created by Tom Hanks himself--including the comic book that becomes the official tie-in to this novel's major motion picture masterpiece.


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Title: Starter Villain
Author: John Scalzi
Length: 8 
hrs and 5 mins / 336  pp
Published: September 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/5
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I don't know where I saw this recommended--but I'm so glad I picked it up.  It's not my usual genre but it's not a too-far-out-there sci-fi.  It's actually quite funny.  I liked the first-person narrator, Charlie.  He's a sadsack and out of his element and very amusing.

From the publisher:
Inheriting your uncle's supervillain business is more complicated than you might think. Particularly when you discover who's running the place.

Charlie's life is going nowhere fast. A divorced substitute teacher living with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell, all he wants is to open a pub downtown, if only the bank will approve his loan.

Then his long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie.

But becoming a supervillain isn't all giant laser death rays and lava pits. Jake had enemies, and now they're coming after Charlie. His uncle might have been a stand-up, old-fashioned kind of villain, but these are the real thing: rich, soulless predators backed by multinational corporations and venture capital.

It's up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyperintelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.

In a dog-eat-dog world...be a cat.


#52bookclub prompt 36: has futuristic technology.


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Title: The Borrower
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Length: 8 
hrs and 45 mins / 324  pp
Published: June 2011
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/7
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a book about the transformative ability of books to shape who you are. It's a story about figuring out who you are and who you're meant to be.  The main character and narrator, Lucy, is in her early twenties and doesn't know who she is.  The other main character, Ian, is ten years old and is being molded by his parents to conform to their idea of masculinity.  It's a coming-of-age story for both characters.  

I loved that both characters are obsessed with books.  The secondary characters were very fun--Lucy's father was great.  It was a charming, fast read that tackled some societal issues.

From the publisher:
Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?
#52bookclub prompt 43: about finding identity.
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Title: The Accomplice
Author: Lisa Lutz
Length11 
hrs and 38 mins / 368  pp
Published: January 2022
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/9
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

To be honest, I'm "meh" about this book.  It's a mystery/thriller examining found family--the bonds of friendship that become family.  And I was on board for that.  I didn't like the main characters, Owen and Luna.  Owen is kind of a privileged slacker and Luna is self-centered.  There are some interesting twists that I didn't see coming but they don't outweigh my dislike of the characters.

From the publisher:
Everyone has the same questions about best friends Owen and Luna: What binds them together so tightly? Why weren't they ever a couple? And why do people around them keep turning up dead? In this riveting novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Passenger, every answer raises a new, more chilling question.

Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they begin forming a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible--Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen--and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.

Years later, they're still best friends when Luna finds Owen's wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds some light on long-hidden secrets, but it can't penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she's spent her whole life burying.

The Accomplice examines the bonds of shared history, what it costs to break them, and what happens when you start wondering if you ever truly knew the only person who truly knows you.

#52bookclub prompt 45: chapter headings have dates.
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Title: My Murder
Author: Katie Williams
Length: 7 
hrs and 52 mins / 304  pp
Published: June 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/10
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This genre-bending book is really quite something!  It's speculative fiction, sci-fi, mystery, and thriller rolled into one intense plot.  I admit it took a few chapters for me to get into it but then I couldn't put it down.  There is commentary about motherhood and identity, and how we trust in relationships.  It's really a rather mind-blowing book.

From the publisher:
What if the murder you had to solve was your own?

Lou is a happily married mother of an adorable toddler. She's also the victim of a local serial killer. Recently brought back to life and returned to her grieving family by a government project, she is grateful for this second chance. But as the new Lou re-adapts to her old routines, and as she bonds with other female victims, she realizes that disturbing questions remain about what exactly preceded her death and how much she can really trust those around her.

Now it's not enough to care for her child, love her husband, and work the job she's always enjoyed--she must also figure out the circumstances of her death. Darkly comic, tautly paced, and full of surprises, My Murder is a devour-in-one-sitting, clever twist on the classic thriller.

#52bookclub prompt 26: hybrid genre.

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Title: Take A Hint, Dani Brown
Author: Talia Hibbert
Length10 
hrs  / 400  pp
Published: June 2020
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/11
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a charming second book in the Brown Sisters series.  I read the first book in 2020 and I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read this one.  I'm glad I did.  I liked the romantic characters and their witty banter.  

From the publisher:
Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral...

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his... um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

#52bookclub prompt 28: a yellow spine.


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Title: The Last Thing He Told Me
Author: Laura Dave
Length8 hrs and 49 mins / 320 pp
Published: May 2021
Book Group: School
Finished: 2/12
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This was a re-read for my school book group.  I liked it better this second time around, even after watching the Apple+ show.  I think we'll have a lot to talk about.  I wonder if I would be an amateur detective like Hannah was.

From the publisher:
We all have stories we never tell.
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.


Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.



#52bookclub prompt 19: a buddy read.


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Title: Luckiest Girl Alive
Author: Jessica Knoll
Length: 11 
hrs and 47 mins / 350  pp
Published: May 2015
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/16
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was the author's debut novel and it's been on my TBR for quite a while.  I'm glad I picked it up, it was dark and twisty.  Certain plot points made my eyes bug out!  I didn't care for Ani FaNelli, she was rather unlikable.  But the reinvention process she went through fascinated me.

From the publisher:
HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?



#52bookclub prompt 12: title starting with the letter L.



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Title: Here For It
Author: Melanie Jacobson
Length
hrs and 7 mins / 274  pp
Published: February 2022
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/17
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I finished this fun Mardi Gras romcom with a smile on my face.  I liked the main characters and wanted them to get together.  I loved the hipster vibe of the record store in New Orleans setting.  I loved learning more about Mardi Gras' history, too.

From the publisher:
This laugh-out-loud romantic comedy sizzles with chemistry and the magic of a Mardi Gras backdrop in an adorable opposites attract story from USA Today bestseller Melanie Jacobson! Sparks fly when LA glitz meets New Orleans grit . . . When Anneke flits into town between high fashion shoots to help her best friend open his new jazz club, the last thing she's looking for is a reason to stay. She'll explore the city, make her appearances, and then she's off to the next adventure. Until she realizes that her massive online crush is the proprietor of a dusty old record shop in town . . . At twenty-nine, Jonah has already been there, done that, and he's over it. Fame and fortune? Ha. Keep it. He's had a front row seat his whole life to the way it changes people. Not even the flirty supermodel he keeps crossing paths with can change his mind . . . Until Jonah discovers that Anneke is the woman he's been half in love with for months already. But . . . she's everything he's never wanted. Isn't she?

#52bookclub prompt 40: set during a holiday you don't celebrate.


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Title: The Women
Author: Kristin Hannah
Length14 
hrs and 57 mins / 480  pp
Published: February 2024
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/20
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a powerful book.  Sometimes difficult to read, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes inspiring.  What an important story to tell.  Women in Vietnam were overlooked for far too long and this book should be the antidote.  The main character, Frances "Frankie" McGrath experiences the layered and complex world of service during wartime:  the massive loss of life, the misinformation about what actually happened, the brutal toll on civilians, the camaraderie, the glimmers of "normal" life, and so much more is woven into this story. 

The story of women is layered and needs to be told.  I couldn't put it down.  The audio is powerfully narrated.

From the publisher:
Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over- whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.


#52bookclub prompt 52: published in 2024.



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Title: Community Board
Author: Tara Conklin
Length
hrs and 57 mins / 272  pp
Published: March 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/21
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I was disappointed with this novel.  The premise is great--posts and messages from a community board that flesh out everyday life in a small New England town.  But I never connected with Darcy, the main character.  She's fell flat.  This book is a major meh.

From the publisher:
Where does one go, you might ask, when the world falls apart? When the immutable facts of your life—the mundane, the trivial, the take-for-granted minutiae that once filled every second of every day—suddenly disappear? Where does one go in such dire and unexpected circumstances?

I went home, of course.

MURBRIDGE COMMUNITY MESSAGE BOARD

FREE: 500 cans of corn. Accidentally ordered them online. I really hate corn. Happy to help load.

REMINDER: use your own goddamn garbage can for your own goddamn pet waste. I’m looking at you Peter Luflin.

REMINDER: monthly Select Board meeting this Friday. Agenda items: 1) sludge removal; 2) upkeep of chime tower; 3) ice rink monitor thank you gift. Questions? Contact Hildegard Hyman.

Darcy Clipper, prodigal daughter, nearly thirty, has returned home to Murbridge, Massachusetts, after her life takes an unwelcome left turn. Murbridge, Darcy is convinced, will welcome her home and provide a safe space in which she can nurse her wounds and harbor grudges, both real and imagined.

But Murbridge, like so much else Darcy thought to be fixed and immutable, has changed. And while Darcy’s first instinct might be to hole herself up in her childhood bedroom, subsisting on Chef Boy-R-Dee and canned chickpeas, it is human nature to do two things: seek out meaningful human connection and respond to anonymous internet postings. As Murbridge begins to take shape around Darcy, both online and in person, Darcy will consider the most fundamental of American questions: What can she ask of her community? And what does she owe it in return?

#52bookclub prompt 31: includes a personal phobia.



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Title: An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good
Author: Helene Tursten
Length
hrs and 12 mins / 178  pp
Published: January 2013
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/22
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Caution: do not mess with this elderly lady!  This series of stories has unusually dark humor and I was all for it.

From the publisher:
Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

#52bookclub prompt 15: part of a duology.

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Title: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed
Author: Helene Tursten
Length
hrs and 52 mins / 261  pp
Published: October 2020
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/22
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book is more linked stories of the eccentric elderly lady.  And there's plenty of dark humor.

From the publisher:
Everyone’s favorite octogenarian killer is back in this new collection of stories by Swedish crime writer Helene Tursten that is sure to have you in stitches.

Eighty-eight-year-old Maud is never looking for trouble, but it always seems to find her. First, a woman in her building met an untimely end: tragic. Then, just recently, a dead body mysteriously appeared in her very own apartment, prompting an investigation by the local Gothenburg authorities. Such a strange coincidence. When it seems suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is, Maud decides to skip town and splurges on a trip to South Africa for herself.

In these six interlocking stories, memories of unfortunate incidents from Maud’s past keep bubbling to the surface, each triggered by something in the present: an image, a word, even a taste. When she lands in Johannesburg at last, eager to move on from the bloody ordeal last summer, she finds certain problems seem to be following her. Luckily, Maud is no stranger to taking matters into her own hands . . . even if it means she has to get a little blood on them in the process.

Don’t let her age fool you. Maud may be nearly ninety, but this elderly lady still has a few tricks before she’s ready to call it quits.

#52bookclub prompt 30: picked without reading a blurb.


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Title: Act Your Age, Eve Brown
Author: Talia Hibbert
Length10 
hrs and 51 mins  / 400  pp
Published: March 2021
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/23
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This spicy finale of the Brown sisters series features neurodivergent characters who are on the autism spectrum.  The witty banter between the romantic leads was funny.  I wish there were more to the series.

From the publisher:
In Act Your Age, Eve Brown the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It's time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she's not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.

#52bookclub prompt 37: palindrome on the cover.


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Title: Death Below Stairs
Author: Jennifer Ashley
Length
hrs and 28 mins / 336  pp
Published: January 2018
Book Group:  Library
Finished: 2/25
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This book was described as Downton Abbey meets Murder She Wrote and that's pretty accurate.  A fun cozy mystery set within the intrigue of life below stairs in Victorian England.  The narrating character, Kat Holloway, is a feisty cook in her first week of a new position.  I liked that her backstory is glimpsed and hinted at and the author sets up more installments with a promise of revealing more--of both Kat and Daniel McAdam, the mysterious man in her life.

I think my book group will enjoy this.  And I want to read more!

From the publisher:
Victorian class lines are crossed when cook Kat Holloway is drawn into a murder that reaches all the way to the throne.

Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.

Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

#52bookclub prompt 32: time frame spans a week or less.



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Title: The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Woman's Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home
Author: Katherine May
Length: 8 
hrs and 34 mins / 304  pp
Published: October 2021
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/27
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Although there were times I wondered why she continued on the trek it was a fascinating adventure book--about discovering yourself.  It definitely turned me off of trekking any kind of distance, but it made me contemplate my place in the world and how I relate to others.

From the publisher:
A life-affirming and perspective-shifting memoir of one woman's walk in the wilds as she comes to terms with an Asperger's diagnosis.

In August 2015, Katherine May set out to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path. She wanted to understand why she had stopped coping with everyday life; why motherhood had been so overwhelming and isolating, and why the world felt full of inundation and expectations she can't meet. Setting her feet down on the rugged and difficult path by the sea, the answer begins to unfold. It's a chance encounter with a voice on the radio that sparks a realisation that she has Asperger's Syndrome.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing tells the story of the year in which Katherine comes to terms with her diagnosis. It leads to a re-evaluation of her life so far - a kinder one, which finally allows her to be different rather than simply awkward, arrogant or unfeeling. The physical and psychological journeys become inextricably entwined, and as Katherine finds her way across the untameable coast, she also finds the way to herself.

This book is a life-affirming exploration of wild landscapes, what it means to be different and, above all, how we can all learn to make peace within our own unquiet minds.

#52bookclub prompt 51: related to the word "wild."


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Title: The Teacher
Author: Freida McFadden
Length: 9 
hrs and 35 mins / 402  pp
Published: February 2024
Book Group:  no
Finished: 2/28
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My jaw actually dropped at the end of this book.  To say I didn't see the twists coming is a great homage to the author.  This is my first time reading Freida McFadden but I will be picking up more when I'm in the mood for a psychological thriller mystery.  Hot dang!  What a story!  

The school setting was very well done--with the mean girl and teacher grind.  I liked the short chapters that kept me turning pages.  It's so twisty with twisted characters.  I was curious to know who was reliable and what was true.  I couldn't put it down.

From the publisher:
Lesson #1: Trust no one.

Eve has a good life. She wakes up each day, kisses her husband Nate, and heads off to teach math at the local high school. All is as it should be. Except…

Last year, Caseham High was rocked by a scandal involving a student-teacher affair, with one student, Addie, at its center. But Eve knows there is far more to these ugly rumors than meets the eye.

Addie can’t be trusted. She lies. She hurts people. She destroys lives. At least, that’s what everyone says.

But nobody knows the real Addie. Nobody knows the secrets that could destroy her. And Addie will do anything to keep it quiet…

#52bookclub prompt 13: an academic thriller.

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Title: Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America
Author: Michael Harriot
Length15 
hrs and 42 mins / 462  pp
Published: September 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/2
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This thought-provoking analysis of American History inspired me to re-evaluate my approach to racial history discussions.  And I'm ripe for the challenge of revamping how I present information of less represented voices.  It's like when I incorporated the history of slavery in Maine and blew the minds of my students who had never considered that there was a history of slavery in Maine.

The tone of the book made it easier to focus on the difficult and challenging nature of Black history in the US.  The primary resources give me a place to start researching for my own students.  I'm glad I listened to it although I will order a physical copy for my classroom.  It is an excellent resource.

From the publisher:
From acclaimed columnist and political commentator Michael Harriot, a searingly smart and bitingly hilarious retelling of American history that corrects the record and showcases the perspectives and experiences of Black Americans.

America’s backstory is a whitewashed mythology implanted in our collective memory. It is the story of the pilgrims on the Mayflower building a new nation. It is George Washington’s cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin. It is the fantastic tale of slaves that spontaneously teleported themselves here with nothing but strong backs and negro spirituals. It is a sugarcoated legend based on an almost true story.

It should come as no surprise that the dominant narrative of American history is blighted with errors and oversights—after all, history books were written by white men with their perspectives at the forefront. It could even be said that the devaluation and erasure of the Black experience is as American as apple pie.

In Black AF History, Michael Harriot presents a more accurate version of American history. Combining unapologetically provocative storytelling with meticulous research based on primary sources as well as the work of pioneering Black historians, scholars, and journalists, Harriot removes the white sugarcoating from the American story, placing Black people squarely at the center. With incisive wit, Harriot speaks hilarious truth to oppressive power, subverting conventional historical narratives with little-known stories about the experiences of Black Americans. From the African Americans who arrived before 1619 to the unenslavable bandit who inspired America’s first police force, this long overdue corrective provides a revealing look into our past that is as urgent as it is necessary. For too long, we have refused to acknowledge that American history is white history. Not this one. This history is Black AF

#52bookclub prompt 39: nonfiction recommended by a friend.


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Title: Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide
Author: Rupert Holmes
Length14 
hrs and 13 mins / 389  pp
Published: February 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/4
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a funny, weird book.  It's more wordplay than a handbook for murder.  The three main characters are McMasters school students with unique reasons to want their employers dead.  Fortunately, Cliff Iverson must keep an account of his studies so plenty of stories and experiences are reported.  I don't know what to say that won't spoil the book.  I want a second volume.

The audio is a real treat--narrated by Neil Patrick Harris and Simon Vance.  So. Much. Fun!

From the publisher:
Who hasn't wondered for a split second what the world would be like the object of your affliction ceased to exist? But then you've probably never heard of The McMasters Conservatory, dedicated to the consummate execution of the homicidal arts. To gain admission, a student must have an ethical reason for erasing someone who deeply deserves a fate no worse (nor better) than death.

The campus of this "Poison Ivy League" college-its location unknown to even those who study there-is where you might find yourself the practice target of a classmate...and where one's mandatory graduation thesis is getting away with the perfect murder of someone whose death will make the world a much better place to live.

Prepare for an education you'll never forget. A delightful mix of witty wordplay, breathtaking twists and genuine intrigue, Murder Your Employer will gain you admission into a wholly original world, cocooned within the most entertaining book about well-intentioned would-be murderers you'll ever read.

#52bookclub prompt 20: a revenge story.


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Title: Scandal Above Stairs
Author: Jennifer Ashley
Length
hrs and 45 mins / 309  pp
Published: July 2018
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/6
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This second book in the series focuses on and introduces secondary characters who will undoubtedly play roles in upcoming books.  Where the first book focuses on Kat and her budding relationship with the mysterious Daniel, this time she is befriended by Lady Cynthia.  I've got the third installment ready to go!

From the publisher:
Priceless artwork has gone missing from the home of a wealthy baronet, and his wife stands to take the blame. When Kat's employer asks for help in clearing her friend's name, Kat trades her kitchen for the homes of Mayfair's wealthiest families. Soon antiques are disappearing not only from the extravagant households of connoisseurs and collectors, but from the illustrious British Museum.

As the thefts increase in frequency, Kat calls upon her friend Daniel McAdam, who has already set himself up in a pawnshop on the Strand as a seedy receiver of stolen goods. When a man is murdered in the shop, Kat must use all of her wits to see that the thieves are caught and justice is done.

#52bookclub prompt 22: a plot similar to another book.


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Title: Wild and Distant Seas
Author: Tara Karr Roberts
Length10 
hrs and 32 mins / 304  pp
Published: February 2024
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/9
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This debut novel is a great concept, building on elements of Moby Dick (although you don't have to read Moby Dick to appreciate this book).  It's about an obsessive search for the elusive figure--this time in human form.  I liked the intergenerational narrative threads and how the author intertwines a pod of whales as an interlude between sections.  The magical elements distracted me.

From the publisher:
Evangeline Hussey’s husband is dead—lost at sea—and she has only managed to hold on to his Nantucket inn by employing a curious gift to glimpse and re-form the recent memories of those around her. One night, an idealistic sailor appears on her doorstep asking her to call him Ishmael, and her careful illusion begins to fracture. He soon sails away with Ahab to hunt an infamous white whale, and Evangeline is left to forge a life from the pieces that remain.

Her choices ripple through generations, across continents, and into the depths of the sea, in a narrative that follows Evangeline and her descendants from mid-nineteenth century Nantucket to Boston, Brazil, Florence, and Idaho. Moving, beautifully written, and elegantly conceived, Wild and Distant Seas takes Moby-Dick as its starting point, but Tara Karr Roberts brings four remarkable women to life in a spellbinding epic all her own.

#52bookclub prompt 8: features the ocean.


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Title: Taste
Author: Stanley Tucci
Length
hrs and 50 mins / 291  pp
Published: October 2021
Book Group:  Library
Finished: 3/11
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A typical celebrity memoir is about glamorous tales.  This is about food!  Stanley relates stories of his upbringing that explain how food shaped his world, including the recipes.   His delightful anecdotes are filled with gatherings around a table.  And he uses meals as memories.  He openly discusses his battle with cancer and describes how his relationship with food has been forever altered.  His name-dropping is fun, I loved hearing about his celebrity network.  His audio narration makes it even better!

From the publisher:
From award-winning actor and food obsessive Stanley Tucci comes an intimate and charming memoir of life in and out of the kitchen.

Stanley Tucci grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the kitchen table. He shared the magic of those meals with us in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, and now he takes us beyond the savory recipes and into the compelling stories behind them.​

Taste is a reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. Each morsel of this gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes, is as heartfelt and delicious as the last.


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Title: No Two Persons
Author: Erica Bauermeister
Length
hrs and 54 mins / 314  pp
Published: May 2023
Book Group:  School
Finished: 3/13
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'm not the biggest fan of re-reading books.  I originally read this book about six or so months ago and remembered that the linked stories share some characters, which works nicely here as a plot device.  Some of the stories I liked more than others.  But that's natural--just as some characters I like more than others.  I think my book group will have a LOT to discuss.

Here's my original reaction to the book plus the publisher's note:
This is a book about a book.  I love the premise that no two people experience a book the same way.  We follow a different character in each chapter--and they are linked by the shared experience of reading the book, Theo, written in the first section.  No two characters experience Theo the same way although it profoundly affects each.  Any of the vignettes could have been an entire book that I would have enjoyed.  I was fascinated by the collection of people: a publishing assistant, an actor, an artist, a free diver, a bookstore employee, an abandoned town caretaker, a homeless teenager, a coordinator, and a publishing agent.

The story of Theo is never revealed nor do we learn why the book has such a profound effect on each reader.

I loved it.

From the publisher:
One book. Nine readers. Ten changed lives. New York Times bestselling author Erica Bauermeister’s No Two Persons is “a gloriously original celebration of fiction, and the ways it deepens our lives.”

That was the beauty of books, wasn’t it? They took you places you didn’t know you needed to go…

Alice has always wanted to be a writer. Her talent is innate, but her stories remain safe and detached, until a devastating event breaks her heart open, and she creates a stunning debut novel. Her words, in turn, find their way to readers, from a teenager hiding her homelessness, to a free diver pushing himself beyond endurance, an artist furious at the world around her, a bookseller in search of love, a widower rent by grief. Each one is drawn into Alice’s novel; each one discovers something different that alters their perspective, and presents new pathways forward for their lives.

Together, their stories reveal how books can affect us in the most beautiful and unexpected of ways—and how we are all more closely connected to one another than we might think.

#52bookclub prompt 7: at least four different POV.


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Title: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
Author: Matthew Dicks
Length: 7 
hrs and 17 mins / 216  pp
Published: September 2015
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/15
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've read a few novels by this author but somehow missed this one.  Its quirky characters are believable, relatable, and endearing.  I keep thinking of the word comeback and "snappy retort" was one of the first things that popped into my head.  Then I considered how snappy retorts sometimes come to me after needed, leaving me feeling tongue-tied at the moment.  And I thought of a comeback as "a return, " which also applies to the plot.  Getting lost in the word comeback is an example of how this book made me think.  It's a simple yet complex premise: events from childhood shape us in adulthood. 

From the publisher:
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset-wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.

Caroline's outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback...some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It's the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more.

#52bookclub prompt 14: a grieving character.

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Title: The Word Is Murder
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Length
hrs and 2 mins / 400  pp
Published: August 2017
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/16
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed this mystery and want to read more!  It's gritty but humorous.  The humor comes from the narrator's tone--his somewhat inept effort at being a serious detective's sidekick.  

From the publisher:
SHE PLANNED HER OWN FUNERAL. BUT DID SHE ARRANGE HER OWN MURDER?

New York Times bestselling author of Magpie Murders and Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz has yet again brilliantly reinvented the classic crime novel, this time writing a fictional version of himself as the Watson to a modern-day Holmes.

One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper – the wealthy mother of a famous actor - enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.

A masterful and tricky mystery that springs many surprises, The Word is Murder is Anthony Horowitz at his very best.



#52bookclub prompt 47: self-insert by an author.


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Title: The Secret  Hours
Author: Mick Herron
Length12 
hrs and 48 mins / 384  pp
Published: September 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/21
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Although this is billed as a stand-alone, it seemed as though I was missing a lot of backstory on who's who.  Which didn't dampen my enjoyment of the book but I felt as though I was missing out on some elements.  Although it took a while to get used to, the timeline is fascinating--it's set in Berlin just after the reunification, in the early 1990s.  The realpolitik was tense and exciting.

I was surprised by the witty banter between the characters. 

From the publisher:
Two years ago, a hostile Prime Minister launched the Monochrome inquiry, investigating "historical over-reaching" by the British Secret Service “to investigate historical over-reaching.” Monochrome’s mission was to ferret out any hint of misconduct by any MI5 officer—and allowed Griselda Fleet and Malcolm Kyle, the two civil servants seconded to the project, unfettered access to any and all confidential information in the Service archives in order to do so.

But MI5’s formidable First Desk did not become Britain’s top spy by accident, and she has successfully thwarted the inquiry at every turn. Now the administration that created Monochrome has been ousted, the investigation is a total bust—and Griselda and Malcolm are stuck watching as their career prospects are washed away by the pounding London rain.

Until the eve of Monochrome’s shuttering, when an MI5 case file appears without explanation. It is the buried history of a classified operation in 1994 Berlin—an operation that ended in tragedy and scandal, whose cover-up has rewritten thirty years of Service history.

The Secret Hours is a dazzling entry point into Mick Herron’s body of work, a standalone spy thriller that is at once unnerving, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny. It is also the breathtaking secret history that Slough House fans have been waiting for.

#52bookclub prompt 48: the word "secret" in the title.


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Title: The Fury
Author: Alex Michaelides
Length
hrs and 8 mins / 298  pp
Published: January 2024
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/23
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This wickedly twisty tale is structured like a Greek tragedy emphasizing relationships of all sorts: soulmates, besties, romantic, parental, and rivals.  The unreliable narrator tells you how unreliable he is which is a twist on that trope.  And none of the characters are especially likable.  But all of this adds to the fun of this unputdownable locked-room mystery set on a remote Greek island.

The narrative thread is non-chronological exploring the chaotic days up to the murder.  My only complaint is that some of Elliot's recounting is of inner thoughts of the characters that he would have no way of knowing.  But that's minor.  I loved the author's nod to his previous works in the epilogue.  I also appreciated that Elliot's cheeky asides were sometimes like a Greek chorus.  And the title's reference to the Furies in mythology adds another layer.  I really liked this book.  The audio is fantastic.

From the publisher:
This is a tale of murder.

Or maybe that’s not quite true. At its heart, it’s a love story, isn’t it?

Lana Farrar is a reclusive ex–movie star and one of the most famous women in the world. Every year, she invites her closest friends to escape the English weather and spend Easter on her idyllic private Greek island.

I tell you this because you may think you know this story. You probably read about it at the time ― it caused a real stir in the tabloids, if you remember. It had all the necessary ingredients for a press a celebrity; a private island cut off by the wind…and a murder.

We found ourselves trapped there overnight. Our old friendships concealed hatred and a desire for revenge. What followed was a game of cat and mouse ― a battle of wits, full of twists and turns, building to an unforgettable climax. The night ended in violence and death, as one of us was found murdered.

But who am I?

My name is Elliot Chase, and I’m going to tell you a story unlike any you’ve ever heard.

#52bookclub prompt 1: locked-room mystery.


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Title: The Lonely Hearts Book Club
Author: Lucy Gilmore
Length: 11 
hrs and 7 mins / 352  pp
Published: March 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/23
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


This light fiction is a book about how books bring people together.  Belonging to multiple book groups I could relate to the ins and outs of what goes into a lively discussion.  The narrative threads offer each character's backstory and how they all fit together.  And I like the found family vibe.  I like the misfit nature of how the characters come together.  And I love Sloane's ability to wrap Arthur around her finger.  

From the publisher:
Sloane Parker lives a small, contained life as a librarian in her small, contained town. She never thinks of herself as lonely...but still she looks forward to that time every day when old curmudgeon Arthur McLachlan comes to browse the shelves and cheerfully insult her. Their sparring is such a highlight of Sloane's day that when Arthur doesn't show up one morning, she's instantly concerned. And then another day passes, and another.

Anxious, Sloane tracks the old man down only to discover him all but bedridden...and desperately struggling to hide how happy he is to see her. Wanting to bring more cheer into Arthur's gloomy life, Sloane creates an impromptu book club. Slowly, the lonely misfits of their sleepy town begin to find each other, and in their book club, find the joy of unlikely friendship. Because as it turns out, everyone has a special book in their heart—and a reason to get lost (and eventually found) within the pages.

#52bookclub prompt 9: a character-driven novel.


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Title: Never
Author: Ken Follett
Length23 
hrs and 58 mins / 802  pp
Published: November 2021
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/28
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Ken Follett's historical fiction works--Pillars of the Earth is one of my top ten favorite books of all time, and I've read plenty of his thrillers.  But it's been a while since I've read one.  I got sucked into the exciting plot threads and was pleasantly surprised at the number of strong females in leading roles.  The characters are individuals caught up in a web of world events.  I like how he does that.  

I didn't like that these carefully crafted intelligent, strong women were consumed by love.  It detracted from the immediacy of the international entanglements.  Plus there is mansplaining.

So, I don't really know how I feel about this book.

From the publisher:
In the Sahara Desert, two elite intelligence agents are on the trail of a powerful group of drug-smuggling terrorists, risking their lives—and, when they fall desperately in love, their careers—at every turn. Nearby, a beautiful young widow fights against human traffickers while traveling illegally to Europe with the help of a mysterious man who may not be who he says he is.

In China, a senior government official with vast ambitions for himself and his country battles against the older Communist hawks in the government, who may be pushing China—and its close military ally, North Korea—to a place of no return.

And in the United States, Pauline Green, the country's first woman president, navigates terrorist attacks, illegal arms trading, and the smear campaigns of her blustering political opponent with careful and deft diplomacy. She will do everything in her power to avoid starting an unnecessary war. But when one act of aggression leads to another, the most powerful countries in the world are caught in a complex web of alliances they can't escape. And once all the sinister pieces are in place, can anyone—even those with the best of intentions and most elite skills—stop the inevitable?

Never is an extraordinary thriller, full of heroines and villains, false prophets and elite warriors, jaded politicians and opportunistic revolutionaries. It brims with cautionary wisdom for our times, and delivers a visceral, heart-pounding read that transports readers to the brink of the unimaginable.

#52bookclub prompt 24: a cover without people on it.


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Title: This Bird Has Flown
Author: Susanna Hoffs
Length12 
hrs and 35 mins / 368  pp
Published: April 2023
Book Group:  no
Finished: 3/30
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I'm pretty sure this is the debut novel by the lead singer of the Bangles, Susanna Hoffs.  So the look into the music world rings with insider vibes.  I liked that the main character, Jane, doesn't whine about her one-hit-wonder status.  I liked the secondary characters although I wanted to know more about Jane's brother.

I liked the rom-com meet cute and I liked the premise.  It could have used more editing because it was draggy and some phrases were repeated too frequently.

From the publisher:
Jane Start is thirty-three, broke, and recently single. Ten years prior, she had a hit song—written by world-famous superstar Jonesy—but Jane hasn’t had a breakout since. Now she's living out of four garbage bags at her parents’ house, reduced to performing to Karaoke tracks in Las Vegas.  Rock bottom .

But when her longtime manager Pippa sends Jane to London to regroup, she’s seated next to an intriguing stranger on the flight—the  other  Tom Hardy, an elegantly handsome Oxford professor of literature. Jane is instantly smitten by Tom, and soon, truly inspired. But it’s not Jane’s past alone that haunts her second chance at stardom, and at love. Is Tom all that he seems? And can Jane emerge from the shadow of Jonesy's earlier hit, and into the light of her own?

In turns deeply sexy, riotously funny, and utterly joyful,  This Bird Has Flown  explores love, passion, and the ghosts of our past, and offers a glimpse inside the music business that could only come from beloved songwriter Susanna Hoffs.

#52bookclub prompt 38: published by Hachette.


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Title: End of Story
Author: A.J. Finn
Length13 
hrs and 16 mins / 408  pp
Published: February 2024
Book Group:  no
Finished: 4/8
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a mystery lover's mystery.  Throughout, there are references to classic mysteries and elements of plots.  I wasn't quite sure what I was reading, if I'm being honest, and also not sure if I enjoyed it.  Until the last twists were revealed.  It's a slow burn, for sure.  There were a few secondary characters that were unnecessary to the plot and were annoying.

From the publisher:
“I’ll be dead in three months. Come tell my story.”

So writes Sebastian Trapp, reclusive mystery novelist, to his longtime correspondent Nicky Hunter, an expert in detective fiction. With mere months to live, Trapp invites Nicky to his spectacular San Francisco mansion to help draft his life story . . . living alongside his beautiful second wife, Diana; his wayward nephew, Freddy; and his protective daughter, Madeleine. Soon Nicky finds herself caught in an irresistible case of real-life “detective fever.”

“You and I might even solve an old mystery or two.”

Twenty years earlier—on New Year’s Eve 1999—Sebastian’s first wife and teenaged son vanished from different locations, never to be seen again. Did the perfect crime writer commit the perfect crime? And why has he emerged from seclusion, two decades later, to allow a stranger to dig into his past?

“Life is hard. After all, it kills you.”

As Nicky attempts to weave together the strands of Sebastian’s life, she becomes obsessed with discovering the truth . . . while Madeleine begins to question what her beloved father might actually know about that long-ago night. And when a corpse appears in the family’s koi pond, both women are shocked to find that the past isn’t gone—it’s just waiting. 

#52bookclub prompt 4: lowercase letters on the spine.


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Title: Something Wilder
Author: Christina Lauren
Length:
hrs and 27 mins / 384 pp
Published: May 2022
Book Group:  no
Finished: 4/11
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is billed as an Adventure Romantic Mystery and I'll say that's accurate.  I liked the main character, Lily, a lot--she's strong, feisty, and goal-oriented.  I also liked the male main character, Leo, who's highly intelligent without being overly nerdy.  Their second-chance romance was interspersed with adventure and mystery.  The secondary characters deserve their own books!

I am not an outdoorsy type but I really got sucked into the adventure hunting.  The legend and lore surrounding Lily's dad were fun.

From the publisher:
Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession… or much money in the bank. But Lily is nothing if not resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness—and leave him there.

Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.

But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.

#52bookclub mini-challenge prompt: desert you.