Blog

How We Disappeared

Set in 1940s Singapore, How We Disappeared grapples with the tragic history of 'comfort women' in World War II. These young local girls were taken from their families at gunpoint and subjected to years of brutal rape by the occupying Japanese forces. If they managed to survive the war and return home, instead of being welcomed back with open arms, they were often shunned by their family and neighbors.

We follow the story of Wang Di, who was taken from her village by the Japanese army in 1942. Almost 60 years later, she is now an old woman, but has kept her painful past a secret for all this time. Her husband has just passed away and she is struggling with her new lonely life and her overwhelming memories. At the same time, Kevin, a 12 year old struggling at school and home, loses his grandmother. In her last delirious hours, she whispers a confession to him, a secret about her son that she has kept since the war. Kevin is determined to unravel this mystery in the hope that it will help with his father's depression.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019) interweaves several different narratives to create a suspenseful story that also focuses on the beauty of friendship and human relationships.

And Then There Were None

In this classic British standalone mystery by Agatha Christie, eight people are invited to a mansion on an island near the coast of Devon, England. They are greeted by two staff, who tell them that the host has not arrived but has left instructions. One by one, they are murdered like the characters in the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians.

If you are looking for a book that is suspenseful, compelling, and has a baffling, clever plot, check out And Then There Were None.

After reading the 1939 book, check out the excellent 1945 movie of the same name.

This Tender Land

In Minnesota during the Great Depression, the Lincoln School was tasked with "re-educating" Native American children and erasing their culture. Odie and his brother Albert escape the school alongside little Emmy and Mose, all of them orphans. The four children begin their journey in a canoe and set out for St. Louis, where Odie and Albert hope to find their aunt and form a family—but they'll have to put their lives on the line and offer up their souls for salvation first.

Along the way, the kids meet a cast of characters that enrich their travels and strengthen the unifying thread of love and hope throughout the story. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger has touches of Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath and would be an ideal read for someone looking for a new book after finishing Where the Crawdads Sing.

Elevator Pitch

One morning an elevator in a New York skyscraper plunges to the ground, killing four people. The next morning, in a different building, a person dies when the elevator she's riding stops between floors. While attempting to climb out, the elevator jolts to a start, killing her in a gruesome manner. By the third day, when another elevator crashes in a different building, it's clear that these are not accidents, but targeted attacks and no one can figure out how they're happening. With so much of the city only accessible by elevator, New York City comes to a stop. Emergency personnel cannot get to people on upper floors, and many people who live or work on upper floors try to tackle the hundreds of flights of stairs. Many die from heart complications. The mayor's office, NYPD, and a journalist set out to find the terrorist behind these crashes before any more lives can be claimed.

Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is an engaging read for anyone who likes thrillers with interesting twists along the way. Readers looking for political intrigue will also find much to be enjoyed in the conflicts within the mayor's office.

Although not as fast-paced as many thrillers, the compelling cast of characters mixed with a truly terrifying scenario kept me captivated. I found myself being more cautious and a bit uncomfortable riding elevators after reading this. It would make a sensational movie!

Are You Scared, Darth Vader?

Fellow parents and Star Wars fans, this is sure to please! Adam Rex writes this book in a conversational style, so I highly encourage reading in your best Darth Vader voice for an extra fun experience. Parents (and Star Wars buff kiddos) will appreciate nods to the movies and characters throughout.

All in all, Are You Scared, Darth Vader? (2019) is a hilarious book with a special twist ending. So, are you ready to find out if there is actually something frightening enough to scare Darth Vader?

Check out this book in print or digitally via Hoopla.



River of Teeth

In an alternate reality set in the early 20th century, the U.S. government has released wild hippos into the marshes of Louisiana as an alternative meat source. To no one's surprise, it is a ludicrous and disastrous idea.

The main character, Winslow Houndstooth, has lost everything and is driven by one thing: revenge. After the government hires Houndstooth, mercenary and part time hippo-wrangler, to clear the ferals from the marshes, he assembles a ragtag team of degenerates to help him out. Each member has their own specialty, hippo they ride on, and serious issues. The group must set aside old grudges and actively avoid being eaten alive to collect their payday.

This novel is as absurd as the summary makes it out to be, and I loved every second of it. From the first page, you can tell the author understands how ridiculous the story is and embraces it. I never knew I needed hippo-riding cowboy mercenaries in my life until River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (2017) was put in my hands. It's a fantastic mix of classic western tropes with science fiction elements. It's a short novel, only about 175 pages, but it's long enough to fall in love with the characters and keep you laughing.


Boy Swallows Universe

A coming of age story set in the gritty, drug-ridden streets of suburban Brisbane, Australia in the 1980s. Despite the ugly background of criminals, violence, and poverty, this is a beautiful story of a boy finding his voice and destiny.

Twelve-year-old Eli Bell is surrounded by drug addicts and dealers. His brother, August, is selectively mute, his babysitter is an ex-con renowned for multiple jailbreaks and his stepfather Lyle is involved with the local heroin dealing business. Eli has a big dream to become a journalist on the crime beat. He's honing his writing skills by exchanging letters with a criminal in jail and practicing being observant while accompanying Lyle on his drug deals. When everything starts to go wrong, Eli will rely on his skills and contacts to survive.

With secret rooms, heroin deals, a jail break-in and missing people, this book doesn't lack for action. It also shines a light on the strength of parental and sibling relationships. A tough upbringing can result in unbreakable bonds.

Boy Swallows Universe (2019) is an entertaining debut from Trent Dalton, loosely based on some of his real life experiences.



The Flatshare

After Tiffy breaks up with her boyfriend, she is finding it hard to locate somewhere to live in London on her limited budget. She decides her best option is to share a flat with a man named Leon. Leon, with his job as a palliative care nurse, only needs the apartment from 9am-6pm weekdays, since he spends weekends at his girlfriend's house. This arrangement suits Tiffy perfectly with her job as an assistant book editor at a small publishing house. Even though they are never at the flat at the same time, their lives begin to intermingle as they learn about each other through their possessions and notes to each other, which are at first pithy and humorous, then turn caring as they get involved in their respective lives. Soon, both Tiffy and Leon realize they have feelings for each other. Will they end up as more than just flatmates?

Beth O'Leary's The Flatshare (2019) is a light, fun debut novel similar to Jojo Moyes and Jenny Colgan.



The Murder Pit

Arrowood and Barnett investigate cases in the shadow of Holmes and Watson but never seem to live up to their high standards—and certainly do not attract the high-level clients of the latter pair.

In The Murder Pit, the former pair represent an untruthful couple who say they want to rescue their recently married, mentally deficient daughter from her aggressive in-laws. A murder occurs and the victim's body is not easily found, but the A & B pair sleuth on through covert and sometimes violent occurrences to resolve the matter.

The Murder Pit (2019) is the second book by Mick Finlay to feature Arrowood and Barnett. Check out Arrowood for the pair's first mystery.



Such a Perfect Wife

Crime reporter Bailey Weggins, the spunky protagonist in this mystery, will stop at nothing to find out what happened to a young mother who disappeared while jogging one morning. Bailey is tenacious and constantly sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong. All small towns have secrets, and Bailey just keeps trying to dig them all up.

Such a Perfect Wife (2019) by Kate White is an entertaining page-turner! And it's part of a series, so you can check out Bailey's previous adventures.

The Stationery Shop

Set in 1950s Tehran, this ill-fated love story features teenagers Roya and Bahman. Roya's favorite place is Mr. Fakhri's stationary shop and she goes there every Tuesday after school to indulge her love of novels, poetry, and everything stationery. It is here that she meets Bahman, a young political activist and, despite parental disapproval, class differences, and Iran's political unrest, their love blossoms.

The story actually begins 60 years later in Boston. Raya has spent her adult life in America as an immigrant, always wondering why the love of her life never showed up to their rendezvous in a city square amidst a violent coup. Out of the blue, she discovers that Bahman is a resident in a nursing home nearby. Will visiting him finally give her the answer? Has their love lasted a lifetime?

I really enjoyed this romantic tale by Marjan Kamali, who writes very evocatively of the 1950s streets of Tehran. Her descriptions of Persian food had me looking up recipes, especially for the cooling melon ice that she mentions multiple times in The Stationery Shop (2019). I went out and bought some cantaloupe the next day and it was just as refreshing as I imagined!



The Spies of Shilling Lane

When Mrs. Braithwaite is ostracized by the community because of her recent divorce and her bossiness running the local Women's Voluntary Service, she decides to travel to London to see her daughter, Betty. When Mrs. Braithwaite arrives where Betty is staying, she discovers that Betty is missing. With help from Betty's landlord Mr. Norris, Mrs. Braithwaite finds herself involved in quite an adventure to bring Betty home.

Mrs. Braithwaite also discovers her life and herself changed forever for the better amid wartime London. The Spies of Shilling Lane (2019) is a delightful read, much better executed than Jennifer Ryan's debut, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. A great readalike for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.



The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Harriett (Hal) Westaway is at the end of her rope, emotionally and financially. At 21, she is mourning the sudden and violent death of her mother and trying to make ends meet as a tarot card reader. She borrowed money from the wrong person and is now receiving threats. She is skeptical when she opens a letter from a law office, but it turns out to be a request for her presence at the reading of the will of her grandmother, Hester Westaway. There is a slight problem: Hal's grandmother was Marion and she died before Hal was even born. She couldn't help speculating. This could be the ticket out of her current mess, if she could get away with it and IF her conscience would let her get away with it. A few thousand pounds could get her back on her feet and the loan sharks off her back. Surely, a wealthy family wouldn't miss that amount of money.

When she arrives at the rundown estate and meets her "family," she begins to wonder if the money is worth the risk. She finds herself enjoying being part of a family, but this family has a tragic history and a few secrets hidden away where no one was supposed to find them. Hal finds herself uncovering secrets that involve her more than she could have imagined. This suspenseful plot and intriguing characters will keep readers spellbound until the very last page of Ruth Ware's The Death of Mrs. Westaway (2018).



City of Girls

This racy read begins in 1940 when 19-year-old Vivian Morris is thrown out of Vassar College. Her parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a crumbling theater. Vivian meets the charismatic and sensual theater players, embarking on a wild adventure.

Elizabeth Gilbert captures the fictitious Vivian's life from her wild-child teenage years through her 80s. The story covers WWII, family tragedy, unexpected friendships, and self-discovery. City of Girls (2019) has a strong sense of place, with New York City featured as a character. This lively, sensuous, and interesting novel showcases one life in the 1940s and 50s.


Someone Knows

Allie Garvey was only 15 years old when she, and four other teenagers, played a prank in the woods that went horribly wrong. The teens never tell anyone. For twenty years, the dark and horrible secret eats away at Allie, both physically and in her relationships with others. Now, Allie wishes to uncover the truth about what really happened that night—and hopefully be released from her own self-inflicted life sentence.

Someone Knows (2019) is greatly entertaining and told from several points of view. You might lose a couple of nights' sleep, as this book is quite hard to put down. Lisa Scottoline really knows how to get into the heads of characters.