A Book by an Author Whose Last Name Starts with the Same Letter as Your Last Name

2018

From Mary Jo:

Set in 1920s India, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a classic whodunit featuring Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer, who investigates a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah (seclusion). The case takes a murderous turn and we learn more about colonial India, the role (or lack of role) of women in that society, and a little more about the interaction of Muslim and Hindu faiths.

The author, Sujata Massey, has written numerous books dealing with female protagonists in other cultures, and I’m hoping this one develops into one of her series. I’m looking forward to learning more about these early times in India.


A Book From a Genre You Don’t Typically Read

2018

Mary Jo

I don’t typically pick up a young adult novel, but after hearing so much about The Hate U Give, I had to give it a shot.

This book is the story of a teen who is drawn to activism after witnessing the police shooting that killed her friend. The book fits this atypical genre category because it’s classified as Young Adult fiction, not a category that I’m typically drawn to, however, this book can hold it’s own on any adult fiction book.

The themes are heavy, sometimes uncomfortable, and often controversial and I often times thought it was beyond most young adult comprehension. Then I watch the news or pick up a newspaper and am reminded that they face this kind of life and death issues far too often.

I think this would be a great book for a book club and lively in-depth discussions.

 

I don’t typically read romance novels, although I’m not opposed to a romantic theme in a novel, and picked this one up by accident. I was looking for a book that had a similar name and when I saw this one, complete with the touting of the authors, I got it.

Unless you are a fan of pulp romance novels, with their endless unimaginative sex scenes, you can learn from my mistake and pass this one up.

 

This romance novel is one that I intended to pick up to read a genre that I don’t typically read. Danielle Steel is one of the grand dames of romance and this is her 46th book, published about 10 years ago.

Cloning and technology is the subject of the book and it’s interesting to see how technology has changed in the last decade. We’re inching closer, but this was more of a fun romp than a portent of what is to come.

 

A Book That You Would Like to See Made Into a Movie

2018

Mary Jo

I’ve read a number of David Baldacci’s stand-alone books, but this was my first dive into one of his series. This series features protagonists Will Robie and Jessica Reel in situations reminiscent of the James Bond series which means that at times it was a little far-fetched. That’s part of the charm with larger-than-life characters, so I didn’t get too bogged down in the nitty-gritty.

It seems like we’re ready for a new hero, or perhaps a heroic duo, and this combination could transfer nicely to the big screen.

 

I love a good thriller. Something that makes me want to stay up all night reading, something that is so compelling that I can’t put it down. That’s how I felt reading The Woman in the Window.

It wasn’t until the very final dozen pages that I got the hint about the resolution of the issue, and when I thought back on it, all the details and hints were right there in front of me. (I hate it when some fact comes out of nowhere to resolve everything, that’s just too disingenuous.)

This would be a movie that I’d go see, even though I know the outcome.

 

 

If you enjoyed the vileness of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Amanda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), you’ll want to see this book made into a movie.

It’s got all the stuff we love to dish on. And love to hate.

A loving slob. A rich bitch. Someone who needs saving. And someone who just wants to help. It would be a fun romp in the rom-com genre.

A Book That is Set in a Period of History in Which You are Interested

2018

Mary Jo

Pachinko book has been on many “best” lists from 2017, and it finally popped into my library’s ebook availability. After finishing the book, it’s easy to see why this family saga about the Korean diaspora, and the conflict between the people and culture of Japan and Korea, has garnered such laudatory recognition.

The book starts during the years of WWII, a very popular time period for books right now, and is set in Korean and Japan (and later, a brief setting in New York). We follow four generations of a Korean family who have fled, for various reasons, their homeland and are trying to create a new life for themselves in Japan. There is a bit of rags-to-riches toward the end (definitely more rags for most of the story), and a lot of conflict between cultural honor and survival.

I found the characters compelling – I really cared about what happened to them – and was willing to overlook a few story arcs that ended a bit too neatly (e.g., And then he died.) I cringed at man’s inhumanity frequently, raged at what I perceived to be antiquated cultural concepts that got in the way of progress and was saddened by the loss of familiarity. Several generations lost not only family, but their country.

The story runs from the WWII era, through the Korean War and the division of Korea, and tiptoes up to the Vietnam War. Along the way, the characters (and readers, too) confront issues of birth and death, grief and joy, loyalty, organized crime, sexuality, AIDS, religion, abject poverty, organized crime, and great riches. The labyrinth in the story is as addictive as those on a pachinko machine.

The ending was abrupt and left me unsatisfied. I don’t know if there’s a sequel opportunity there, but I feel like the story is not yet finished.

The book comes with a set of questions for book group discussions. Lots of thought-provoking topics. I’ll be recommending it to my book group.



I can’t seem to escape the lure of so many great books written around a WWII theme. This is another that I devoured and have recommended to many friends.

There’s no getting around the discomforting theme – the abhorrent medical experimentations in the Nazi concentration camps – and Lilac Girls is often difficult to read. Knowing that it is based on a true story makes it even more difficult.

Still, I’m glad that I kept at it, trying to find some redemption from an otherwise abysmal period of history. We are not doomed to repeating it.

Another book set in the WWII era, this time, however, focusing on the Manhattan Project.

Set in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which became known as Atomic City, The Atomic City Girls showcases the secrecy, isolation, and uncertainty of the work done in this city created by the government. It’s a viewpoint that I haven’t seen in novels before and was a look at what was being done “here at home” to further the war efforts.

This is the story of Russia during the era of the Tsars, told from the point of view of Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas II, mother of Alexander II, and mother-in-law of Empress Alexandra. I was a Soviet Studies major in college (yes, it was that long ago when it was still the Soviet Union) and this period of its history has always fascinated me.

The historical era is conveyed through the eyes of Maria, from her days as a young, but impoverished, Princess in Denmark through the exile and eventual assassination of Tsar Nicholas II (and family). It’s told as a novel but incorporates historical accuracy, and it rekindled my interest in this time period.

I visited St. Petersburg a few years ago, so I’ve been to the palaces and churches that are referenced. I visited the Tomb of the Tsars where all of the previous tsars are buried and where  a separate room is set up for the tombs of Tsar Nicholas II, Alexandra, and the royal family (although some bones have yet to be interred as a dispute over repatriation continues).

If you are fascinated by this period in history, and Russia’s place in history, you’ll enjoy this read. The author has written several other books in this same style, also dealing with historical characters, so I’m going to try one of her others books to see if it’s her writing that I found compelling or if it was merely the time frame.

A Book That Inspires You to Make a Change

2018

Mary Jo

It seems like the first of the year I read a lot of motivational, self-help, and similar genres. Most of the time, I’m pretty disappointed. The Big Leap came highly recommended and I thought it delivered a little bit more than the usual trite patter. While the author has a whole lot of takeaways, my biggest one was about discarding activities that don’t really make me happy in order to focus on those that do. He has catchy descriptive names like zone of incompetence, zone of competence, zone of excellence, and zone of genius.

The book has motivated me to make some changes – some already in place – and while not life-changing like it’s been for some, I’ve been inspired to make some additional changes.

A Book With a Purple Cover

2018

Mary Jo

Pardonable Lies is the third book I’ve read in the Maisie Dobbs series, one originally recommended to me by a local librarian. The female protagonist is a 20-something nurse who survived WWI, but with far too many friends and colleagues who did not. The author does a tremendous job of detailing emotions from that era (a nice change of pace with all of the WWII books), and her detailing of fashion, place, and home furnishings transports me back to the era. (This would be a great Masterpiece Theater series ala Downton Abbey.) There are occasional gaps in plotting, and sometimes things tie up a bit too neatly, but I read this more for the feeling of women’s role in this era than for the actual crime solving angle. The title derives from the concept that sometimes the kindest thing we can do, and the one that brings the most fairness, is to tell a pardonable lie.

I’ve already got the next in the series, Messenger of Truth, on request at my library.


The next in the Stone Barrington series, Quick & Dirty is just that – a quick and dirty read, perfect for lounging poolside. Many Stuart Woods fans have become dismayed over formulaic plots and characters, but I still enjoy this series.

The plot of this installment deals with art, art forgeries, and theft. I learned a little something about it all despite the expected twists, turns, and ultimate resolution.


The seventh installment in the Maisie Dobbs series, The Mapping of Love and Death brought resolution to a few storylines while leaving some threads to pick up (or not) in the next book.

This New York Times bestselling series feature is set is post-WWI England and has been enjoyable to read.

A Book Recommended by a Friend

2018

Mary Jo

Origin continues Dan Brown’s novels about the adventures (and misadventures) of protagonist Robert Langdon. This one is set in Spain, primarily Madrid and Barcelona, and attempts to reconcile the conflict of faith and science and the questions of where did we come from and where are we going. Yes, this one comes with many of the typical flaws of his other novels. Just don’t zoom in too closely and enjoy the story as a whole, rather than picking apart the inconsistencies and errors. As someone who struggles with issues of religion and science, this hit a home run with me philosophically.

 

 

This is the 8th book in the Maisie Dobbs series, a series recommended to me by a librarian (and a librarian counts as a friend in my book).

The series features Maisie as what we would consider a private investigator and is set in the post WWI era. While there is always something to be solved, the attraction of the series for me has been the way the role of women has been incorporated into the plot lines. Post-WWI England was a very different place than it is now, and it’s interesting to see how a strong female lead navigates the difficult gender stereotyped land of that era.

A Book That Takes Place in Your Country of Origin

2018

Mary Jo

This is a sweeping family saga, full of dysfunction, joy, and even death. It’s the fourth in the series about the Quinn family, and although I haven’t read the previous books, the story stood as a stand-alone book. The Quinn family seems like a composite of my family, my in-laws, and the family of a few friends all rolled into one. With a little effort, you’ll probably recognize a few of these characters as members of your own family. I had to wipe away a tear or two at the end.

Winter Solstice is set in Massachusetts, between Boston and Nantucket. I’ve been to Boston, but never out to the islands, and now I’m convinced I need to make a visit.

Mary Jo

I read The Life She Was Given for a book club. It good fit in any number of categories, but I decided to put it here. It was set in the U.S.

At its core, this is a book about family secrets and how they influence our lives over generations. I can’t say too much more without giving away the numerous plot twists, so I’ll leave it that the book was a reminder of both the brutality and triumph that exists amongst families.

 

 


I picked this up after binge-watching Big Little Lies (based on a book by the same author). I didn’t find Truly Madly Guilty as compelling, but the popularity of the author made it hard to pass up.

It was “just okay.” Not worth spending a lot of time with, but good for a vacation read (and so many people are looking for just that right now).

 

 

I read this book for a book club discussion and was the only one who didn’t love it.

Mrs. Fletcher didn’t shock as much as seem a self-indulgent look at sex, love, and identity in the cultural wars of the ’10s. It felt a little too been there, done that throwback to the 1960s.

It did provoke some lively group discussions, which means it was aptly chosen for the group, and I was alone in finding it pedantic.

 


I read The Immortalists for a book club and there was a good discussion around its premises – how would you live your life if you knew precisely the date you would die.

This is a family saga, covering three generations, and the way destiny and choice became all balled up in the way four siblings lived their lives. Full of good discussion points for a book club.

 

I haven’t read one of Lisa Scottoline’s books in a while, so I loaded this one up on my Kindle for a day at sea read while on our Viking Ocean cruise.

Damaged is a legal thriller, one of my favorite genres. It addition to the usual legal maneuverings, this did a fine job of laying out the legal issues regarding education for special needs children. When a thriller encompasses law in an accurate portrayal, it gets my thumbs up.

 

 

I love a good legal thriller, so discovering this new-to-me author of Lie in Wait (and others in the series) was a treat.

The premise is simple, a young woman babysitting the children of a prominent local attorney involved in a controversial case, is murdered. The unraveling of the whodunnit and why, however, is a lot more convoluted. I had a hint about before the full reveal, but it took sorting through a lot of red herrings and misdirection to get there.

 

I’m a recent Elin Hilderbrand fan, and this was the third books of hers that I read this year.

There are always multiple emotional storylines going on, usually surround family issues. It’s enough for the plot and emotions to ring true, but not so heavy that it bogs down with needless details.

This is a good beach or plane read.

A Book That Tells an Alternative Story of a Historical Event

2018

Mary Jo

It took some time for me to get through this book about what might have happened on the final flight of the Hindenburg, after all, we all know that it ends badly. But soon I was caught up in the lives and stories of the passengers and crews as they made their way from Germany to the United States, unaware that lives would be forever changed by the trip.

In writing Flight of Dreams, the author remains true to part of the story – the name and history of people on the voyage, the names and duties of crew members, and a working knowledge of the zeppelin itself. Upon those basic facts, the stories become layered with “what ifs” as a way to posit backstories and possible reasons that the Hindenburg may have exploded when it attempted to land in New York. She weaves in espionage and possible treason, a plan to escape from the rising Nazi influence in Germany, family dynamics, a budding romance, and lots of behind the scenes personality issues aboard the ship.

Could it have happened this way? Maybe. The record of investigation is full of holes, undetermined issues, and possibilities. Or maybe not.

But as I said, we all that the trip ended badly. And so did the book. The author stayed true to the end, there was no change in who survived and who didn’t. For more information on the passengers and crew, this website provides a full list and explanations of who survived and didn’t. I had to go here to read more after finished the book as I wasn’t quite ready to let go of these personalities.

Mary Jo

I read a second book that fits into this category, Before We Were Yours, which was based on the real-life life adoptions scandals from the 1930-40s. It was, at times, painful to read knowing that this was a “factionalized” version from that era.

It’s hard to decide whether the story has a happy ending or not – there were too many loose ends that left me feeling unsettled – but that probably means it was close to the truth. However, it does end on an uplifting note, an understanding that families are a complicated and messy thing, but a place where you can find joy is a wonderful thing.

A Book with a Type of Plant in the Title

2018

For my second book in the challenge, I selected The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton.

This book was published in 1962, concurrent with other simple stories of family and human nature, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Joy in the Morning. With all the craziness in today’s world, the idea of going back in time to a simpler era is appealing.

There are those who feel this book is an unsung hero. At just a few pages in, I can attest that it is a loving depiction of the “ordinariness” of living that many of us who grew up in a rural setting will recognize. Perhaps its quiet and unassuming impression was overshadowed by more intensity in its peers.

So far, The Moonflower Vine is a lovely, gentle read, reminding me of the magical days when one could spend an afternoon lying in the grass gazing up at a summer sky and then awakening to find several decades have passed. Life feels so much like that at my age now.

Mary Jo

I chose this book for two reasons. One, I was looking for something that fit the challenge, and while Heather is a girl’s name in this book, it is also a plant so it fits. And two, it’s a debut novel from the creator of Mad Men. I had high hopes for it because of the latter.

To call Heather the Totality a novel is a stretch, in my opinion, it’s more of a novelette or a long short story. I was disappointed in it, perhaps more of a reflection on my expectations rather than the story itself. I was expecting some of the Mad Men wittiness and vibrant repartee. Instead, it was a reflection of two parents obsessed with their daughter and a dangerous stranger who becomes so as well.

There are probably some good discussion points for a book group, though, and perhaps his second outing will be a winner.