Book Reviews–March 2019

Welcome!  I have large stacks of books TBR (To Be Read) on my nightstand, plus electronic stacks of books lined up in my Kindle, as well as books on hold at the library.  As I read these books, I love to share my thoughts and opinions of what I’ve read here in this space, because I enjoy sharing my passion for books with others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  (Disclosure I use Amazon affiliate links to help pay for the costs of this website.  Any and all posts on this site may contain affiliate links (which will not affect your cost).  Finally, the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1: 

The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Length: 304 pages).  This novel has such an interesting premise . . . a sleeping disease infects a small college town (called Santa Lora, interestingly enough) in California.  Several people die because it’s an airborne virus that spreads quickly.  The writing in this novel is excellent, almost lyrical in parts, and the author paints vivid portraits of the characters throughout the novel.  However, the plot is a little disjointed, so that may be annoying to some readers.  Overall I found this book to be very readable, and I was satisfied by the ending; however, I do agree with other reviewers that this book feels a bit unfinished.  (Perhaps the author is setting us up for a sequel?)  This quick, fun read is a perfect beach book pick, if you don’t mind a bit of death with your fun in the sun.  😉

From the publisher:

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life—if only we are awakened to them.

Book #2:  

Death at breakfastDeath at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon (Length: 293 pages). I wanted to love this mystery much more than I ended up liking it.  I thought it would center around the two middle-aged female characters who were acting as amateur sleuths at a bed and breakfast.  However, the author goes off on long-winded tangents on every other character, giving short shrift to Maggie and Hope.  Plus, there were two more private detective type characters called in, randomly.  These diversions and extraneous characters made the plot a bit confusing to follow, which is unfortunate.   I may continue with this series in the hopes that it becomes more focused on Maggie and Hope (because this series comes highly recommended and is award-winning), but honestly, there are many other series (such as Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike) that I’d prioritize first in my reading life.  


From the publisher:

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing, More Than You Know, and Gossip comes the first entry in a stylish and witty mystery series featuring a pair of unlikely investigators—a shrewd novel of manners with a dark heart of murder at its center, set in small-town New England.

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.


Book #3: 

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean (Length: 310 pages).  I really enjoyed this non-fiction book!  The author delivers a well-written account of the 1986 fire in the LA Public Library as well as the history of this library, and public libraries in general.  I will say this book is a bit odd in places (for example, she sets a book on fire as an experiment) but it’s incredibly well-researched and very readable.  This book has absolutely increased my appreciation for libraries, which I didn’t think was even possible.  I should have been a librarian! 

From the publisher: 


A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

Book #4: 

FreefallFreefall by Jessica Barry (Length: 356 pages).   This is a very fast, fun read, and sometimes I’m in the mood for a compulsively readable book where I can let my brain run on autopilot.  Definitely a great beach, vacation read!  However, I will say that there are very obvious clues to the mystery which eliminated the element of surprise entirely.  Moreover, there were a few editing/context errors which were very distracting (and rudely interrupted my autopilot reading mode).  For example, a character opens a drawer for an address book and then pulls it down from a shelf.  What?  (Publishers:  I love to edit–call me!)  

From the publisher:

They say your daughter is dead.

You know they’re wrong.

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, everyone assumes Allison Carpenter is dead.

But Maggie, Allison’s mother back home in Owl Creek, Maine, refuses to believe them. Maggie knows her daughter – or she used to, anyway. For the past two years, the two women have been estranged, and while Maggie doesn’t know anything about Ally’s life now – not even why she was on a private plane to begin with – she still believes in her girl’s strength, and in their love for each other.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers about the world Allison has been involved in. What was she running from? And can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a heart-stopping, propulsive thriller about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and the ones they love.


Book #5: 

HeavyHeavy by Kiese Laymon (Length: 257  pages).  Whoa.  This memoir is heavy in more ways than one.  This account of the author growing up as a black boy in Mississippi is gripping, and eye-opening in all of the ways we need right now.  This book is written as a letter to the author’s mother, a brilliant woman in academia who is in the throes of an addiction (that isn’t what you think it is).  Laymon’s weight issues are a running theme throughout, but it’s the author’s brilliant writing that will (and should) make you squirm.  In today’s political, and social climate, this book is a must-read.  

From the publisher:

Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics*

In this powerful, provocative, and universally lauded memoir—winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and finalist for the Kirkus Prize—genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon “provocatively meditates on his trauma growing up as a black man, and in turn crafts an essential polemic against American moral rot” (Entertainment Weekly).

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a “gorgeous, gutting…generous” (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.


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