Book Reviews by Susan Harsha

Susan is a Hudson resident, avid reader, and Book Chat enthusiast. Join Book Chat on the 4th Thursday of the month at 10:30am, January through October, to get Susan’s take without waiting for us to publish it here.

(Special Holiday edition of Book Chat is December 2nd, at 10:30am.)

From Susan, herself:

I hope that you are enjoying these book reviews.  As Jenny mentioned, I am a Hudson resident and an avid reader.  I can thank my parents who were avid readers themselves and encouraged my sisters and I to read whatever caught our fancy, no matter the subject matter.  As a child I eagerly read the “Childhood of Famous Americans” biography series in the school library.  In high school I discovered Agatha Christie and am a mystery lover to this day!  But over time I learned to enjoy most all genres including history, sci-fi, memoirs, and whatever else catches my eye at the library or book store.  Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day so I could read more!  But while I love talking about books, I also relish hearing about what other people are reading so come join us at Book Chat!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I read this book for the History Book Club sponsored jointly by the McLean County History Museum and Bloomington Public Library.  The book is fiction, but based on a sliver of truth:  in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, died, that Lincoln was so grief-stricken he went to the graveyard after the burial to hold his child’s body one more time.  From that, this author creates a world – a strange purgatory – in which spirits mingle, gripe and quarrel every night but are required to return to their “sick-boxes” (we’d call them coffins) each morning.  Within this transitional state – called The Bardo according to Tibetan tradition – Willie Lincoln becomes a central character, as the other spirits try to help him. . .

This book was very different, but surprisingly easy to read and thought-provoking.

The Lost and Found Book Shop by Susan Wiggs

After the sudden death of both her mom and her boyfriend in a tragic accident, Natalie Harper takes over both her mom’s (seriously) financially-challenged gook store, and the care of her grandfather, whose health is suddenly and mysteriously declining.  To her surprise, her time of mourning turns into an unexpected journey of discovery, finding priceless artifacts hidden behind the book shop’s walls to knocking down the walls she’d created in her own heart.  Fun to read and would make a perfect Hallmark movie. 

The Rule of Law by John Lescroart

Dismas Hardy’s ever-dependable secretary, Phyllis, has disappeared unexpectedly for a few days and is then arrested for aiding and abetting a murder that occurred on the first day of her disappearance.  Adding to the mystery are Phyllis’ brother, who is just out of prison, and the new District Attorney, who despite San Francisco’s status as a “Sanctuary City,” is committed to putting away ANY criminal he can find – or create – including, possibly, even Dismas Hardy and his associates. 

A ‘Dismas Hardy’ story but complete by itself.  Good!  Quick to read and an engrossing story. 

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Drue Cavanaugh, spoiled, rich, former friend of Daphne Berg, plus-sized Instagram Influencer, breezes back into Daphne’s life years after the falling-out that ended their friendship, asking for a giant favor.  Drue wants Daphne to be the Maid of Honor at her upcoming wedding.  At the rehearsal dinner, Daphne meets a mysterious guy, (her feelings are so strong she wonders if he might be “the one”), and then witnesses Drue and her dad having a serious argument about money.  On the day of the wedding Daphne wakes up to find her guy gone and Drue’s dead body!  She begins a quest to 1) clear her own name from suspicion; and 2) find out what kind of person Drue Cavanaugh really was. 

Deadly Cross by James Patterson

Gorgeous socialite and former wife of the Vice-President, Kay Willingham, and her lover, Randall Christopher, founder and principal of the Harrison Charter School are found brutally murdered.  Alex Cross knew both victims and his kids go to Harrison, so the case is personal for him, as is the case of a recently murdered girl from his neighborhood.  His investigation takes him to Alabama and back to Washington DC as he tries to find out if – or how – these cases are related. 

Fast-paced and engrossing with another minor – but interesting – storyline thrown into the mix.

The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton

Mixing fact and fiction, Darnton considers some lingering questions about Charles Darwin:  why he waited so long (20+ years) after his voyage on the Beagle to publish his masterwork, On the Origin of Species; who was Darwin’s secret rival; and why Darwin was nearly incapacitated by mysterious illnesses for most of his later life.  To do so, Darnton travels back in time to Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, to letters Darwin’s daughter Lizzie wrote trying to understand her father, and he utilizes a couple of modern-day Darwin researchers (fictional) to try and resolve these questions.  The book provides some interesting possibilities as to by whom, and when the theories of evolution attributed to Darwin really originated. 

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewel

Shortly after her 25th birthday, Libby Jones gets an official letter informing her that she’d inherited an old mansion, and that she’d been the baby found in the house along with the bodies of her parents and a mysterious stranger.  Also, her siblings had mysteriously disappeared along with the other people living in the house at the time of her parent’s deaths.  Using multiple viewpoints, and points in time the author builds suspense as she describes Libby’s efforts to unravel the mystery of her parent’s odd death . . . It almost seems to resolve very neatly, but then there is a twist at the very end that made me rethink a few things about the story.  A very engrossing psychological thriller. 

Paris for One, and Other Stories by Jo Jo Moyes 

In the first story from this collection, Nell finds herself in Paris – supposedly for a romantic weekend with her boyfriend – but in reality all alone when he’s unable to make the trip with her at the last minute.  As an inexperienced traveler, in a strange country where she doesn’t speak the language, Nell is about ready to turn around and go home.  But instead she changed her mind, and her decision to stay may have changed her life!  The other stories are also good. . . 

This author has a knack of capturing feelings/emotions in her characters that I think we’ve all had at different points in our lives.

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

It is early 1918 and WWI is still raging – with no end in sight, as is the world-wide pandemic of Spanish flu.  While serving near the front lines in France as a nurse, Bess Crawford comes across the body of a family friend, who appears to have been murdered, rather than dying from battle wounds.  But before Bess can tell anyone of her concerns, she is suddenly stricken hard by the flu, so by the time she recovers, he’s already been buried, and the only other person aware of her concerns has committed suicide, or has he. . . Narrowly avoiding being killed herself, Bess doggedly pursues the truth in this fast-paced and enjoyable story. 

A Bess Crawford mystery, part of a series, but complete by itself. 

A Gambling Man by David Baldacci

World War II veteran Aloysious Archer is headed to the promised land of California in hope of obtaining a job with Very Private Investigator and former FBI Agent Willie Dash.  While enroute a brief stop in Reno and some good luck provide him with some cash, a FABULOUS car and would be actress/dancer/singer, Liberty Callahan, as a travelling companion.  Somehow bodies start stacking up around them and things don’t change once they actually arrive in Baytown, California.  In fact, as Archer and Dash investigate why – and by whom – a popular mayoral candidate is being blackmailed, the investigation leads to local brothels, drug operations, and long-held secrets of old money, and even more bodies. . .  This is a great period piece, fun to read and what a fabulous car – look it up on Google (It’s a French Delahaye if you just want to see the car.).

Toxic Toffee by Amanda Flower

An Amish Candy Shop Mystery. Candymaker Bailey King has been recruited to construct a giant toffee rabbit to be a focal point at Harvest, Ohio’s Easter celebration. At the display rabbit farmer, Stephen Raber, keels over dead! But it’s not a heart attack as everyone suspects. . . He was eating poisoned toffee! Bailey, and her boyfriend Deputy Sheriff Aiden, dig deep into clues in an effort to find the killer at large in their quiet Amish community.

The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver

Tracker Coulter Shaw has found two young men accused of a hate crime but his attempt to bring them to the authorities goes tragically awry. His search for answers lead him to – and into – a mysterious “grief support” group but the more Shaw learns about the group he finds that the organization and its charismatic leader are far more dangerous, and deadly, that they first appear. 

The Final Twist by Jeffery Deaver

Coulter Shaw grew up as part of a survivalist family . . .  His dad had wanted to go off the grid to protect his family from a corporation ready to go to extreme lengths to protect itself. Shaw finds himself following mysterious clues left by his now deceased (murdered?) father to find a missing courier bag that contains evidence that might bring down the corporation or lead to governmental catastrophe. An unexpected person from his past comes back into Shaw’s life complicating his search for answers. 

Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

Beekeeper Holly Jensen has plenty to keep herself busy – her possibly hypochondriac mom, the two little boys of recently widowed neighbor Archie, and her bees (to whom she tells all that is going on in her life). But Holly’s life gets much more interesting – and complicated – when her older sister, Leslie, leaves her husband Charlie (who now wants to be called Charlene), and when Archie starts dating a local dentist who seems to care little for Archie’s kids, whom Holly has grown to love. The bees in the pink hive seem to listen to Holly most attentively, perhaps they will save the day . . . .

This is a great summer read, light, with fun characters, and the beautiful low-country of South Carolina as the locale.

Judge and Jury by James Patterson and Andrew Gross

Aspiring actress Andie DeGrassie ends up as Juror Number 1 in a major case against mafia don Dominic Cavello, aka “The Electrician.” Since he’s been pursuing Cavello for years, FBI Agent Nick Pellisante is confident that finally enough evidence has been accumulated to put this monster away for good. But Cavello has been pulling strings from lock-up and orchestrates a move that allows his escape and changes Andie’s life forever. Eventually Andie and Nick team up, vowing to find Cavello – to bring him to justice – even if it takes them to the ends of the earth. 

This is an older (2006) Patterson but typical, fast-paced and interesting.

Cross My Heart by James Patterson

As Alex Cross searches for a serial killer and a kidnapper, a criminal genius is planning to “take down” Cross using his kids, his wife and his Nana Mamma as weapons. This mastermind believes that the deaths of these people closest to Alex Cross will break him. But will it? 

Fast-paced, easy to read, and this book really leaves the reader waiting for the next book in the Alex Cross series.

The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal

In December 194 Maggie is in London defusing unexploded bombs, but she’s also smoking, drinking too much, and driving her motorcycle far too recklessly. But helping her boyfriend, Detective Chief Inspector James Dirgin, in cases involving a serial killer and a stolen Stradivarius violin force – or enable – Maggie to confront the demons causing her rash behavior while she also grapples with her roommate’s husband’s PTSD.

A Maggie Hope story, part of a series but complete by itself.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

Non-fiction and Wow! This is the incredibly moving true story of 9/11 – when American airspace was closed and many of the planes already en-route were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Not only did the small community of around 10,000 open up public buildings as shelters for the over 6500 passengers and crew that landed there, but they opened their homes – and hearts – to those fearful people. The author tells small stories about some of the passengers’ encounters with Gander natives, each more heart-warming than the last. As he put it, “They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return . . . If the terrorists had hoped their attacks would reveal the weaknesses in Western society, the events in Gander proved its strength.”

Crooked River by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston

The tranquility of Sanibel Island, Florida is shattered when dozens of identical shoes come floating in on the tide one day, each one containing a crudely severed human foot. FBI Agent Pendergast reluctantly visits the scene and then, intrigued, joins the investigation. He finds clues leading to Asia, Central America and to the heart of some of the worst gangs in Florida. Interesting characters, including Pendergast’s ward, Constance Green, reluctant partner Coldmoon, and even a haunted house, add to this suspenseful story.

This is a Pendergast novel, part of a series, but complete by itself and hard to put down.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Amber Patterson – plain, a “nobody” in the exclusive community of Bishop Harbor, Connecticut – is jealous. Socialite Daphne Parrish has everything Amber wants – beauty, jewels, designer clothes, a gorgeous, and rich, husband – and successfully manages a philanthropic foundation formed to honor her deceased sister. As Amber and Daphne become friends, Ambers’ plan to make Daphne’s life her own might be successful, unless secrets, past and present, ruin everything.

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Selection.