Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

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Sometimes, I start a book and don’t finish it. Sometimes, I start a book then put it aside for a while and pick it up later. Usually, I’ll then have to start anew. Not with this book though. I started Nineteen Minutes sometime in December 2016, a library book which I had to bring back before I finished it. Then I didn’t read much and now it’s over a year later, and I finished it – without starting over. The characters just came back to me and the story itself I hadn’t forgotten. It’s haunting, in other words.

Here’s what happens:

Nineteen minutes are all it takes for Peter Houghton to kill 9 of his schoolmates and one teacher. 19 minutes to set up a pipe bomb, enter his school, and shoot a total of 29 people, traumatizing many more in the process.

But what happens after? Peter is still alive and awaits trial. The community of Sterling, New Hampshire is ripped open. Parents are struggling with their children’s mortality, Peter’s lawyer encounters the rage that follows loss, and Judge Alex Cormier has to ask herself what she needs to do to keep her daughter safe: convict a bullied boy who finally snapped, or listen to Josie tell her own story?

This book isn’t an easy read. Considering what happens in the world around us where school shootings are almost common now, and the NRA and their paid-for politicians want to arm teachers, it can’t be. But Nineteen Minutes is not about politics, it’s about loss and grief and also revenge. It’s about a community that struggles to come to terms with a horrible event and its aftermath. Because things don’t end when the perpetrator is in custody, it doesn’t even end with his conviction.

And just as the ending is never in sight, the beginning is just as difficult to pin down. Who started it? Was it the bully who pushed a smaller kid into a locker? Or the kid who then picked up a Glock 17 to make it all stop? Action and reaction, and the dramatic dealings of high school where even some of the cool kids feel bullied by their peers.

There’s a lot in this book, a lot of protagonists, a lot of drama, a lot of stories. Picoult does a great job of keeping it all together, tightly-knit, interesting, exciting. This book won’t let you go and it shouldn’t because Picoult raises many important questions and even gives some answers. Because there is never just one victim or one perpetrator – society creates its own tragedies.

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scrappy little nobody by Anna Kendrick

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If you know me a little, you know I’m obsessed with Anna Kendrick. Not in a I-need-to-know-everything-about-her way, not even in a I-want-to-look-at-her-picture-all-day-long-and-dream-my-life-away way, but in a way where I put myself in a position to enjoy her work. That’s mostly her movies, yes, but, awesomely, also her music, her tweets, and some rare interviews.

Well, and now her first book.

You may wonder: is there nothing sacred to this tiny, loud actress? Does she have to write a book now to make even more money? Apparently, she does, but even she admits that it’s for entertainment purposes only, so it’s okay to be just curious and pick it up.

What does she reveal in her book?

She reveals some insightful stories about how she got to the place she’s at now. She lets you catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman behind the words and then lets her sarcasm and wit make you laugh again and forget, it got serious for a second.

But that’s actually the beauty of it, her own style if you want. She does not dwell on insightful, dramatic, or sad, she just goes on to something more light-hearted or embarrassing.

What doesn’t she reveal in her book?

She doesn’t dish. As she admits near the end of the book, she’s being diplomatic and I appreciate that. If I wanted to read about her co-stars doing bad stuff, I’d read gossip columns. But that’s precisely the kind of stuff I’ve never been interested in. I know that many people are, but I honestly appreciate the work actors put out more than rumors about their personal lives.

She also doesn’t reveal herself, really. As I said, it’s mostly glimpses you get. Yes, she dwells on her flawed personality traits, but she does not become full-on philosophical about the person she is. She tells entertaining stories; mostly, she does on the page what she does in her acting – she’s telling stories, she presents someone, she fills it all with her personality.

I did enjoy this book a lot, it made me laugh, it made me think sometimes. It may just be that it offered me insights into my own weird self. And that’s because Kendrick is relatable. And I guess that’s what the title is really about: her being human, not superstar. The fact that a superstar is only a facade and that behind it, people still need to use the bathroom during award shows.

Kendrick proves that she’s not just a one-trick pony who can put out funny tweets. She’s someone who does a handful of things really well, and adulting isn’t one of them. She remains to be one of my favorites, just because of that, but also because she’s feisty and a fighter and someone who keeps me entertained for hours.

Daughter of Baal by Gill McKnight

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Another one from The Law Game series, and another excellent one. If you’ve never heard of Gill McKnight (and why haven’t you?) I highly recommend her book The Tea Machine, because it may just be one of my favorites.

Daughter of Baal is another novella and it’s a good one. It’s set in the 1920s in England. The two protagonists are as different as they could be, but they agree that all the deaths at Clamp House must stop and the killer or killers be brought to justice. How the lady and her chauffeur will go about that, I will not tell.

What I will tell you is that the novella is beautifully written and the characters are charming. The case happens to be quite surprising, and that is an important part of a good mystery. You have it all here. As with Archer Securities, it’s only a little sad that it’s not longer.

If you like a short read, an entertaining read, something to pass the time pleasantly, this is for you. You might also wanna check out the other books in the series as they’ve all been written by very good writers. Now, go get and I’ll be here reading and telling you what to read next.

Archer Securities by Jove Belle

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As you can see, this is part of a series of books from Ylva Publishing called The Law Game. Crime books. I know what you’re thinking: but you’re always saying you don’t like crime books. Well, I don’t and yet I do. Just like with crime shows, some are too predictable. But there are also really good ones, brilliant even.  And some are not even that much of crime books, if all is said and done.

And maybe, I’d like to put Archer Securities into that latter category. After all, there is no murder to solve, no gory description of dismembered bodies, no psychological profiling of a psychopath. It’s about something else:

Laila Hollister is a private investigator whose uncle Samar has asked for her help. The books of his company, Archer Securities, show discrepancies and he wants her to find out who’s stealing from him. Easier said than done, as Laila finds out, because cyber-Robin Hood Trinity Washington re-distributes Archer’s resources so cleverly that she doesn’t leave a trail. And Laila isn’t quite sure who’s the cat and who’s the mouse in this investigation.

It’s a lovely novella. Jove Belle is slowly becoming a favorite for mine. She’s practically sucking you into her worlds, leaving you wanting more. Especially since this is a novella and you really want to read like a whole encyclopedia about Laila and Trinity. They’re wonderful characters, flawed, but so very good.

Belle understands the intricacies of family relations, her characters are never shallow, never one-dimensional. The story she tells is straight forward but never simple or boring. The characters and the plot will keep you chained to your ebook readers and kindles.

This is really a fantastic read and I think you should all go and get it. Only thinking of you here, because it’s really that good. You can thank me later.

The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m no fan of crime books. But I’m also not a stickler when it comes to things I generally love, like books. So, yeah, there are crime books I read, and, hell yeah, Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series is part of that exception. I may think of it as Sachs/Rhyme series, I may think of Rhyme and Sachs as the actors who played them in that one very memorable movie: The Bone Collector, and I enjoy the heck out of my own take on the story.

There are 12 books to date in the series with Rhyme and Sachs also appearing in XO from the Kathryn Dance series (which I also enjoy). The Kill Room is #10 and I’ve read each of the books before it, and the next in the series is already sitting in my book pile. I’m not searching feverishly when the next book of the series will be published, I actually stumbled across these two at the library, but I enjoy this crime series more than any other crime book I’ve read by any other author. Jeffery Deaver writes a compelling team of forensical analysts, two characters I simply love.

That said, here’s what happens in The Kill Room:

An anti-American activist is murdered in the Bahamas. As it turns out, he was on a goverment Special Task Order that has been leaked and prosecutor Nance Laurel wants the men responsible for the murder behind bars – one of them is NIOS director Shreve Metzger who may have tempered with the order to fit his own agenda.

Rhyme and Sachs are helping with the investigation, bringing Lincoln back out into the field and Amelia under the watchful eye of the killer, or one of the killers. Because there seem to be more than one cook in the kill room with a knife.

Since you already know that I like this series, you can guess that I liked this one as well. It’s true Jeffery Deaver, true Rhyme and Sachs. Their personal story intervenes with the investigation, plot twists are happening left and right to divert the reader from the true motive, or the true killer, or the one evidence that turns the investigation on its head. Because one thing a Deaver book never is: boring.

This is the series where you will never be able to follow all the clues. But that’s not the only thing that has me coming back. Amelia Sachs and Lincoln Rhyme, Thom and Sellitto, Pulaski and Cooper, they’ve all become part of a crime fighting family. And the reader, me, you, everybody, is part of that family, too. I often find myself breathlessly waiting for something to happen to any of them, because they’re often in danger, but often just too good at their job to get caught so easily off guard. I tend to mumble threats at anyone threatening Sachs, because she’s my main focus, my favorite character. I just love the series so much. Not in the way that I miss them and eagerly await a new book, but in a way that when, after years of absence, I discover the next in the series I don’t hesitate to buy. Deaver is a safe bet for a thrilling story, and Rhyme and Sachs are his most appealing characters – imho.

 

Blurred Lines by KD Williamson

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I’ve read so much in January and early February that I needed to slow down a little. Just ticking the ‘read’ box, makes me lose touch with the characters I’m reading about. And with this one, that would have been really bad, because its characters’ inner lives is what Blurred Lines deals with.

It was different in that way from what I had expected. Maybe I watched (and read) too much Rizzoli & Isles, but I thought this would be more of a procedural, a case where cop and doc work together to solve a crime. It was not. Here’s what it’s about:

Detective Kelli McCabe has been shot on the job. During her recovery at the hospital she meets surgeon Nora Whitmore, her partner’s attending physician. The two women connect in a strange but endearing way, challenging each other with each meeting. And suddenly meeting becomes as important as having their morning coffee.

While Kelli is working through recovery (her own and her partner’s), she also has some urgent family problems to solve. Nora, on the other hand, almost loses her job over a sexual harassment accusation. They become each other’s shoulders to lean on, but there is more than just being needed, there’s being wanted, there’s falling in love – and both of them might just run scared of that possibility.

Their journey toward each other and away from convictions of how life should be is at the forefront of this tale. Neither Nora or Kelli are well-equipped to dealing with deep emotions and they need time to figure themselves and each other out. But when they finally do, it’s beautiful and fulfilling.

Williams writes a compelling tale about characters that never feel like characters. They feel like the flawed people we ourselves are, like the people we’re dealing with every day. Relationships are not perfect, some people cover their own shortcomings with drama, things get ugly sometimes. But at other times, you find someone who understands what you’re dealing with, who listens and helps. And that’s where Kelli and Nora start out.

Yes, this novel was different than I expected, but that was actually a good thing. It was also a wonderful start into spring with a love story that doesn’t take itself for granted. And I’m looking forward to reading more about Whitmore & McCabe in the upcoming Crossing Lines.

 

The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart

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This is the 22nd Jane Lawless Mystery. And it’s the first I’ve read. You might wonder why, and having read it, I wonder the very same thing: Why am I only discovering this series now? Whatever the reason, one thing is clear – The Old Deep and Dark won’t remain my only venture into this series.

Here’s what happens:

Jane’s friend Cordelia bought an old theater. Not only is the place historically relevant and haunted, Jane and Cordelia discover a body in the cellar, which once upon a time was a speakeasy. And that’s only the first body recovered, because country singer and friend to Cordelia Jordan Deere is found dead on a jogging path.

Investigating this murder with her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, Jane discovers the truth of an old saying: Everybody lies. And the Deere family turns it into a kind of art and everyone becomes a possible suspect who may not only have murdered Jordan Deere, but also the bodies that keep piling up in Cordelia’s theater.

I’m not going to reveal the murderer, don’t worry. But I’m also not saying that they’re difficult to discover, though Hart sure keeps one guessing. That’s one of the appeals, of course, but it may not be the greatest, because Hart’s writing is wonderful, her characters delightful, and the hints toward solving the crime subtle.

Subtlety isn’t the characters’ best feature, though, and it’s probably luck that the real killer is finally revealed. While Jane is hard-working and committed enough, she’s also distracted by personal problems. Fortunately for her, she has able assistance in finding this serial killer.

Hart’s ensemble of characters is solid and one can read this book – and I would guess every book in this series – as a stand alone. But then, how can one not want to know their complete story? Hints are given throughout that it’s an exciting one and I, for one, won’t likely miss out on more of these entertaining volumes. I’m looking forward to discovering Jane Lawless and her friends, one book at a time.

Legend by Marie Lu

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This book… feels sexy. It does. It’s got a roughened cover and just feels nice. Yeah, I know book cover fetish, but seriously, if you find it somewhere (the Speak edition from 2013): feel it.

And it doesn’t just have a sexy outside, the inside has its own magic you might want to discover. Here’s what’ what:

The North American states (that’s the Republic and the Colonies) are at war. Before this background, June Iparis wants to avenge her brother’s death. Only suspect is Day, a much sought-after criminal, who’s never killed before. But before June even knows that she’s found him, she spent some time with him undercover and (of course) falls for him. Turns out, he did not kill her brother, but others did. And they have more than that one secret to protect.

There’s much more to this story, naturally. This is a different North America from what we know, but it’s not Suzanne Collins united version, either. The Republic is a sinister place where the lines between rich and poor are quite severe. Much like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, there is a Trial children have to go through – this one is to rid the gene pool of its bad apples.

Day is such an apple. Even though he had a perfect score in The Trial, he was told he failed and was given over to experimentations (while the public thinks, children who failed The Trial were send to labor camps). But he survived and he wants revenge on a corrupt system. June is a prodigy of the system. She also had a perfect score, but because she was born to rich parents, she started training for the military, following in her brother Metias’ footsteps. But her family has a secret of their own, and as she finds out about it, her loyalties are tested until they break away.

I already compared this to The Hunger Games and Divergent, and it’s not far fetched. And yet, Legend is also different. Lu decided to break the book into two distinct voices, June and Day’s. Both are equally important, both are the main characters, and also I-narrators. I think she solved the problem I had with Divergent (or rather its sequel Insurgent) cleverly – giving Day his own voice, keeps this book from being about Day in June’s voice, while June is free to explore her own story.

Yes, there’s quite a bit of romance between the two characters, and I must confess, those pages bored me a little. But the story is so well written, so well thought through, that they were the only moments I did not entirely enjoy. It also made apparently clear to me how much I yearn for a story like Legend, or The Hunger Games with a queer protagonist (or two queer protagonists).

Legend is a really good book and it’s part of a series, followed by Prodigy and Champion, which I will probably read soon and will probably tell you about. I honestly hope Legend will get made into movies, and I also hope that these movies will not white-wash Day who is half-Mongolian. In fact, Legend lends itself perfectly as a series that could bring more Characters of Color to a ‘whitened’ genre.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

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The problem is this: in Germany, we don’t get to see movies in the English original, unless there happens to be a movie theater near that offers to do that. They didn’t offer Carol and I’m loath to watch the German dubbed version. What did I do? I bought the book.

The Price of Salt (the original title when it came out in 1952) has been on my reading list for some time, but as it always goes, I hadn’t come to it yet. The movie put the book in my local bookstore and there you go. I bought it, and I’m not sorry I did.

Here’s what Carol is about:

19-year-old Therese Belivet works in a department store over the holidays. Carol Aird is a customer looking for a doll for her daughter. Their eyes meet and from that moment on they yearn to be together. They try to be friends, but on a trip they take together they finally succumb to their desires. Waterloo is their downfall. But Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband has sent a private detective after them and their affair doesn’t stay undetected. The price of salt being the custody of Carol’s daughter.

Lauded as the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, this lauding took away the surprise of the ending. Because one could not help being surprised at a happy ending for a novel that seems melancholy. The love between the two women seems doomed and thus I had the feeling at the end that the ending doesn’t quite fit.

This however does not take away from the beauty of the novel. Told from Therese’s point of view, but not in the first person, it is a story of youthful awkwardness and misunderstandings. But it is a story of growth in a human being, maybe even more so than a love story. Through her love for Carol Therese grows into an adult. While Carol is certainly a guiding person, she is far from perfect. Her mood swings sometimes dramatically, and the audience – together with Therese – can only wonder at her attraction to the young woman. But it’s there, it is just hidden because Carol knows better than to fall for a woman again.

The book is an emotional roller coaster, and while one does not always understand Therese’s feelings or actions, they make sense for her. The same goes for her misunderstanding of Carol who remains a mystery for most of the tale.

Throughout the read, I kept underlining passages that are so beautifully written they took my breath away. While the book is of spartan discription, the inner musings are philosophical, sometimes poetic. The love falls in front of a cold backdrop, it being winter and even Therese wishing her feelings had fallen into spring. But love does not wait for the perfect backdrop, it just happens. And the book never doubts that it did happen for Therese, she’s not shy to even confess to them before she even knows that Carol feels for her too. These feelings overwhelm her, they’re too powerful to doubt them.

CarolThe Price of Salt – is a beautiful book, it’s an important book, it’s the book you should read in 2016 if you haven’t read it yet. I still can’t quite put my head around it, but it’s a great read, an emotional one too. It’s not a pleasant summer read, but it’s worth your time.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.