May 2020–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The HoldoutThe Holdout by Graham Moore (Length: 336 pages).   My mom told me about this courtroom drama, knowing I’d enjoy reading it, and she was right.  This is a fun, fast-paced novel, a la 12 Angry Men.  This is so well-written, which isn’t surprising as the author won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the movie The Imitation Game.  In this novel, the characters have depth, the plot is very well-crafted and it keeps you reading until the end (which I love!).  The mystery at the center of this legal drama is a bit predictable, but there is enough of a twist to be interesting.  And, as a lawyer, I was happy to discover that most of the courtroom activities are actually legally accurate, which is pretty rare.  This is absolutely a great summer beach/poolside read!  

From the publisher:

It’s the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school, and her teacher, Bobby Nock, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, is the prime suspect. The subsequent trial taps straight into America’s most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It’s an open-and-shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed—until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock’s innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all their lives forever.

Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jury, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence—by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.

As the present-day murder investigation weaves together with the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out—with drastic consequences for all involved.

Book #2:

Us Against YouUs Against You by Fredrik Backman (Length: 449 pages).  I adore this author, and I adore this book!  This is the sequel to the amazing Beartown, and yes, you should read that novel first to really understand and appreciate this one.  I was surprised to find this sequel to be just as good, if not better, than the first.  The plot, the characters AND the setting are all very well-drawn (a trifecta!).  The setting is very dark and gloomy, appropriate for the forest setting in which Beartown resides.  The conflict between two small towns in Sweden: Beartown and Hed, is central to the plot and gives structure and a central theme to the various subplots within this novel.  Some new characters are introduced (I adore the new female A Team coach in Beartown) and existing characters are more fully drawn out with interesting arcs.  While it is a bit slow to start, this is a MUST READ.  Backman’s writing is exquisite–he has so much empathy for his characters (good and bad) and for society in general.  I think this would be an excellent choice for a book club, IF the members have already read and discussed the first novel.  Let me know if you adore this book as much as I do!

Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did.
Have you ever seen a town rise? Ours did that, too.

A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that Beartown ice hockey might soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives who gives Beartown hockey a surprising new coach and a chance at a comeback.

Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.

Here is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that give form and color to our communities. With immense compassion and insight, Fredrik Backman—“the Dickens of our age” (Green Valley News)—reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.

Book #3:

The PassengerThe Passenger by Lisa Lutz (Length: 321 pages).  This is a psychological thriller that is a super-fast read.  I picked it up on a super Kindle sale, not knowing what to expect.  I will say that if you need to like the characters in a novel, this is NOT the novel for you.  The narrator is both unreliable AND unlikeable.  I think it’s human nature to want to try to find the good in everyone, and boy, I had a difficult time with the main character in this novel.  She is running from her past, and is literally on the run during the entire novel, with many changes of identity throughout.  Having said that, the writing here is really strong.  The character development is not very deep, but I think this was purposeful on the author’s part to preserve the mystery at the center of the plot (ie, WHY the narrator is running from whatever happened when she was 18.)  There is quite a bit of violence, even some committed by the narrator, but if you remember that you as a reader are not supposed to like the narrator, the violence doesn’t feel too exploitative.  The plot is like a freight train, however, so it’s difficult to put this one down.  It is a fun read, and I would recommend it for sure!

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid in the twenty-first century, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret. From heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, we are left to wonder…can she possibly outrun her past?

Book #4:

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (Length: 316 pages).  This is another psychological thriller centered around the plot of a baby being kidnapped while its parents are next door at a dinner party hosted by their neighbors.  (A la Madeleine McCann–the child who disappeared in Portugal while her parents were nearby in the resort).  There are lots of twists and turns in this novel.  Good writing, but this novel is very plot and not character driven.  This is another fast read that you won’t want to put down.  I didn’t see the mystery resolve the way it did, which I appreciated.  However, I found the ending to be very abrupt and a bit out of the blue based on what the author reveals about the characters.  (My question–who called the police at the very end?)  Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read this one!

It all started at a dinner party. . .

A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night, when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately lands on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Book #5:

On the IslandOn the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves (Length: 334 pages). First things first, the premise of this novel is pretty cheesy: a tutor and her pupil are stranded on a deserted island somewhere in the Maldives after their chartered plane crashes into the ocean thanks to the pilot having a heart attack.  This is compulsively readable thanks to the plot (I adore reading about how people survive on deserted island!).  The writing, however, is very basic, from the dialogue, the scenery descriptions, to the character development.  But given this is the author’s first novel and she self-published it, ultimately landing on the NY Times Bestseller, overall, I’m pretty impressed.  It’s a cute, quick beach or vacation read but don’t expect a literary masterpiece.  

Sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. With his cancer in remission, all he wants is to get back to his normal life. But his parents insist that he spend the summer catching up on the school he missed while he was sick.

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher who has been worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere. To break up the monotony of everyday life, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring T.J.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahans’ summer home, but as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens: their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, and as birthdays pass, the castaways must brave violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the worst threat of all—the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. With only each other for love and support, these two lost souls must come to terms with their situation and find compaionship in one another in the moments they need it most.

Book #6:

The Last days of nightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Length: 370 pages).  Since I really enjoyed The Holdout (reviewed above), I was excited to pick up this historical fiction novel based on actual people and events.  This is a part legal thriller, and part suspense, both genres that I enjoy reading.  This is SO well done!  Moore’s writing is excellent, which helps to make this historical account of who really invented the light bulb even more interesting to read.  While all of this novel is based on fact, the author did compress the timeline and manufactured a few scenarios (as well as much of the dialogue) to make the narrative work well.   I didn’t know this before reading, but it didn’t matter.  This is a must read for anyone who enjoys history and historical fiction.  

From Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, comes a thrilling novel—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

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