Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
The man who calls himself David Loogan is hoping to escape a violent past by living a quiet, anonymous life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But when he's hired as an editor at a mystery magazine, he is drawn into an affair with the wife of the publisher, Tom Kristoll - a man who soon turns up dead.
Elizabeth Waishkey is the most talented detective in the Ann Arbor Police Department, but even she doesn't know if Loogan is a killer or an ally who might help her find the truth. As more deaths start mounting up - some of them echoing stories published in the magazine - it's up to Elizabeth to solve both murders and the mystery of Loogan himself.
I have to admit: the summary of this book didn't seem all that impressive. I read a few pages and see if I liked it, even though I wasn't expecting to, and got so caught up in the story I put everything else aside to read it. Loogan was enigmatic and slightly threatening from the beginning, which is what really drew me in. Plus, I was hoping Waishkey would be the femme-Sherlock Holmes the summary promised.
I'm a little disappointed in how Waishkey turned out. She was a great character and probably is a very good detective, but almost all of the "sleuthing" in Bad Things Happen was just speculation. The leads they uncovered never proved or disproved anything, just added another theory to the list of possibilities. So Waishkey wasn't really discovering any vital clues; no one was. One of my favorite parts of mystery novels is figuring out the importance of new leads, but most of the leads in Bad Things Happen led nowhere. There was absolutely no way to guess who the killer was until the killer was revealed. Almost everyone in the book was under speculation at one point, and the theories were all equally plausible or unlikely.
Normally a plot that corkscrews like that would seem badly planned and ill-fitting for a mystery novel, but it kind of worked for Dolan. It never felt like any of the characters were in all that much danger, barring a few scenes, so the only source of suspense was from not knowing who the killer was. The book was constantly interesting and the plot never dropped off, but I wasn't on the edge of my seat until the end of the book. When the mystery started to fit together, it picked up really quickly and everything started to make sense; Dolan didn't leave any loose ends lying around. Because of that, even without suspense and solid clues, Bad Things Happen was still majorly intriguing. I was captivated from the first page to the last.
The characters in Dolan's book are all subdued but well-depicted. They were likeable, and the bad guys were well-hidden. If they hadn't been, the whole book would have fallen apart, but I didn't figure out who they were until they drew their weapons, so to speak. Loogan's character was particularly interesting, as was his personal mystery. I was not disappointed when his past was revealed.
The biggest disappointment I have with this book is that none of the murders were "echoed stories published in the magazine." One of the killings was based off a murder in a (fake) mystery novel, but none were based on a story published in Gray Streets. I looked forward to seeing how Dolan worked that into the book, but it wasn't there.
On the other hand, the best part of the book was probably the interactions between the characters. The dialogue is witty and smooth, and Dolan doesn't waste a word. I usually find characters who don't give straight answers annoying, but Dolan worded their responses in such a way that it was hard to tell who was lying and who was telling it straight.
Bad Things Happen is a great book simply because it keeps you guessing. There are certainly better mystery novels out there, but I'm satisfied. I might even read the second book in the series.
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
I am coming.
Darkness returns to the Shadowhunter world. As their society falls apart around them, Clary, Jace, Simon and their friends must band together to fight the greatest evil the Nephilim have ever faced: Clary’s own brother. Nothing in the world can defeat him — must they journey to another world to find the chance? Lives will be lost, love sacrificed, and the whole world changed in the sixth and last installment of the Mortal Instruments series!
Curses and Smoke by Vicki Alvear Shecter
When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?
TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.
LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .
When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.
Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.
Blur by Steven James
The isolated town of Beldon, Wisconsin, is shocked when a high school freshman’s body is found in Lake Algonquin. Just like everyone in the community, sixteen-year-old Daniel Byers believes that Emily Jackson’s death was accidental. But at her funeral, when he has a terrifying vision of her, his world begins to rip apart at the seams.
Convinced that Emily’s appearance was more than just a mere hallucination, Daniel begins to look carefully into her death, even as he increasingly loses the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.
What’s real? What’s not? Where does reality end and madness begin?
As Daniel struggles to find the truth, his world begins to crumble around him as he slips further and further into his own private blurred reality.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first "real world" apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.
Oblivion by Sasha Dawn
One year ago, Callie was found in an abandoned apartment, scrawling words on the wall: "I KILLED HIM. His blood is on my hands. His heart is in my soul. I KILLED HIM." But she remembers nothing of that night or of the previous thirty-six hours. All she knows is that her father, the reverend at the Church of the Holy Promise, is missing, as is Hannah, a young girl from the parish. Their disappearances have to be connected and Callie knows that her father was not a righteous man.
Since that fateful night, she's been plagued by graphomania -- an unending and debilitating compulsion to write. The words that flow from Callie's mind and through her pen don't seem to make sense -- until now.
As the anniversary of Hannah's vanishing approaches, more words and memories bubble to the surface and a new guy in school might be the key to Callie putting together the puzzle. But digging up the secrets she's buried for so long might be her biggest mistake.
Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
It is Labor Day weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again.
But they don't.
This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other's lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn't belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren't in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play-at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends-and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith.
I was born in Salt Lake City, where almost all of our neighbors were Mormons and sacred underwear hung on the laundry lines. We left when I was still a baby, so I don't remember living there, but my mom's stories about the city and her Mormon friends always interested me. And of course the scandalous history of polygamy was a draw to Ebershoff's book.
The 19th Wife is centered mainly around polygamy (which is a fascinating topic itself), but it also recounts the beginning of the LDS Church and their evolution. Ann Eliza's story is a mixture of praise for the church and scorn for it. Her story offered a really cool look at the beginnings of a religion and life in a theocracy. Jordan's story allows readers a glimpse at modern-day cult life as he revisits the Firsts of Mesadale. The practices of both the early Mormons and the Firsts are controversial today, but Ebershoff points out the flaws in their belief systems without condemning the Mormons.
Both Ann Eliza and Jordan's stories are both well researched, though I'm not sure which of the historical documents included (if any) are real and which are fabricated. Either way, the variety of texts, from letters to diaries to interviews, creates a many-sided and cunningly interwoven story. Jordan's story and Ann Eliza's go together well, combining the historical fiction and mystery dramas. They are both fantastically paced for the most part, although the book begins to drag towards the end. The romance in Jordan's part of the book also felt a little bit forced, but that and a few slow spots were the only major flaws I found.
Right about now you're probably wondering why I read this book when it says right in my Policy that I don't read religious titles as a rule. And here's the reason - Ebershoff manages to write about religion and characters who are extremely devout without shoving the religion's values down your throat. The sermons included in The 19th Wife serve as background to the story, not as incentive to join the Latter-Day Saints. The 19th Wife is more about education than indoctrination, which suits me just fine.
The 19th Wife appeals to many audiences, and it should be equally fascinating to all of them. If you're looking for a historical epic, this is your book. If you want a book with a little murder, mystery, and Mormons, this is your book.
Unnatural Creatures by Various
A collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by Neil Gaiman. The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology.
It's incredibly difficult to write a review for an anthology. There are so many different stories and styles that just can't be lumped together. And of course some of the stories are better than others. Gaiman did a pretty good job selecting stories with monsters that haven't been seen a thousand times, and even the stories featuring werewolves and such were rather inventive.
Some of the stories were more silly than anything, while others sent a chill down my spine. They were all written simply but entertainingly, so both middle grade and high school readers could enjoy Unnatural Creatures. On the whole, the anthology is an interesting and quick read, but it didn't quite live up to expectations for me.
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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Orphaned and penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future. By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.
In an America made colorless by Prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...
Every little kid dreams of running away with the circus at one time or another - and when they do, they undoubtedly envision the canvas-tent circuses that traveled by train. Those circuses always seem more intriguing and exciting than the ones showing in TD Garden.* In Water for Elephants, Gruen revives those long-lost circuses and the performers
Gruen's book is set amid both the grandeur of old-time circuses and the desperation of the Great Depression. The vibrant, dazzling circus acts contrast with the corrupt and dangerous events behind the scenes. The setting draws you in with its combination of historical facts and immersive details, complimented by characters who are just as richly imagined.
The power of Jacob's story comes from both the realness of its setting and the impressive characters Jacob encounters. Every character has several sides to them, ulterior motives and very real emotions. Readers connect with both human and animal characters easily, and no one will be able to resist falling in love with Rosie.
Reading Water for Elephants, it's easy to forget that the characters don't exist off the pages. I found myself wrapped up in the drama and strange politics of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth and couldn't help caring about the outcome of the story. Told from the perspectives of both young and old Jacob, the story contains several layers. A balance of romance, action, suspense, and insight into Depression-era circus life keeps the story interesting and riveting. Although several scenes are somewhat sexually explicit, the book is overall tasteful. The love story in Water for Elephants compliments the plot nicely and is well developed. Fans of suspense, historical fiction, and good books will relish Water for Elephants.
*For those who don't know, TD Garden is a large arena used for basketball games, concerts, and special events in Boston.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.