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.

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!

Dark Sky by CJ Box

Dark Sky by CJ Box

Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s job is not the only thing on the line after the new governor gives him the thankless task of guiding a young tech-baron on an elk hunting trip. . .  Joe finds that his life, and that of the whole hunting group is in peril from a family who know the mountains better than Joe, and blame someone in the group for their own devastating loss.  Nate Romanowski is back too, teaching Joe’s daughter Sheridan about falconry. . .  All seems calm with Nate until he and Sheridan realize that an outlaw falconer is in the area trapping bird for a smuggling operation.  The tension in this book with these inter-related stories starts immediately in Chapter 1!!

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

The story of Clementine Hozier from the time she meets future husband, Winston Churchill, to the end of World War II in Europe.  While fictional, this book contains lots of fascinating details about life – aristocratic life – in England from before World War I, as well as details about Winston’s political rise, fall, and rise again during World War II.  There are also interesting tidbits about other personalities including multiple British Prime Ministers, Joseph Stalin and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Missing and Endangered by JA Jance

Missing and Endangered by JA Jance

Sheriff Joanna Brady’s daughter Jennifer’s college roommate, Beth, has a new boyfriend.  But Jennifer is worried about her roommate’s naiveté as she was both home-schooled and technology-deprived due to her ultra-religious parents.  Meanwhile Sheriff Brady is dealing with an officer-involved shooting that left a young man dead, one of her officers severely injured and two small children in the care of their mostly negligent mom who may – or may not – have had something to do with the incident. 

A Joanna Brady novel, but complete by itself.  These storied are always fast-paced and interesting with realistic and enjoyable characters. 

The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz

The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Former Police Detective Daniel Hawthorne is brought in as a consultant by the police to help solve the murder by wine bottle of celebrity divorce attorney Richard Pryce.  Hawthorne calls in author Anthony Horowitz to keep track of the investigation for a book series about his (Hawthorne’s) work.  There are plenty of suspects – Pryce’s husband, the former wife of his last client, that last client, and many others.  Horowitz skillfully mixes fiction and fact in this absorbing and entertaining story. 

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Dawn is married to Brian and has a daughter, Meret.  When she’s one of the few survivors of a plane crash, she begins to wonder about the choices she’s made in her life.  Using ancient Egyptian cultural death practices, including “The Book of Two Ways,” her own experiences as a death doula, and quantum physics Dawn contemplates her own life, and potential death, what might have been, and what could yet be . . .

Very interesting and thought provoking.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

A Cormoron Strike novel.

Strike and his partner, Robin Ellacott, are asked to take on a 40-year old missing person case.  Despite the very slim chance of success, they take the case, and while working on it – as well as their regular work load – they find themselves dealing with the death of a beloved family member, relationships, unwanted attention, tarot cards and astrological signs and meanings, a serial killer, and witnesses who can’t be trusted.  Engrossing . . . .  But 900 pages; however on reflection I’m not sure what could have been eliminated.  There is a good sense of the time Strike and Ellacott have been given to work in the case, and their frustration at how slowly the case is going.

Win by Harlan Coben

Win by Harlan Coben

Windsor Horne Lockwood III has been a peripheral character in prior books by this author as a friend to Myron Bolitar.  In this book, he is brought into an FBI investigation as a possible suspect when a priceless Vermeer painting – stolen years ago from his family – and a suitcase with his monogram are found in the apartment of a mysterious murder victim.  As he seeks his own answers about the painting and suitcase, Win also must consider how/if the murder victim is related to the 20-year old kidnapping of his cousin, murder of her father, and a mysterious radical group involved in domestic terrorism. . .

I didn’t want to put this down!

Death in the Haymarket:  A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age Chicago by James Green

Death in the Haymarket by James Green

A very readable non-fiction story of the events leading up to the Haymarket Bombing in Chicago, the trial and results of both.  At time heartbreaking, the author paints vivid pictures of all the essential actors in this real-life, little-known drama. 

Two interesting tidbits:  1) Local labor leader/historian Mike Mateyka was mentioned in the acknowledgements and a guest at the History Book Club discussion; and 2) Labor Day is celebrated on May 1 in the rest of the world, but not in the US primarily due to negative associations with this date in the United States related to the Haymarket Bombing. 

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Dannie Kohan is strait-laced, organized and focused on her personal five-year plan including job at a top law firm and engagement to her long-term boyfriend David.  But on the night she interviews for the job and accepts David’s proposal she falls asleep and wakes up five years in the future in an apartment she’s never seen with a man with whom she feels an intense connection, but doesn’t recognize.  She falls asleep and hour later and wakes up in her own familiar apartment with David by her side.  As time passes she continues to work on her career goals, but then she meets the mystery man – and he’s the newest boyfriend of her very best friend! 

This was a sweet, sad, but ultimately hopeful story.

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer (Picoult’s daughter)

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

A Young Adult story.

Delilah hates school, has only one friend, and loves books, especially a first edition fairy tale she found in the school library.  But Delilah’s mom and her only friend Jules, begin to worry about her when she spends all her free time in the book, especially when the borders between fantasy and reality begin to blur as Delilah searches for a happy ending for herself. . .

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

It’s 1961 and thirteen-year old Frank Drum has his younger brother, Jake, sons of the local preacher experience a fateful summer, complete with loss, love, and death.  As the adult Frank reflects on that summer of forty years ago, he recalls a world that seemed to be falling apart, the high price of wisdom and that by the “grace of God” miracles can happen.

This was an incredibly moving and satisfying book by one of my favorite authors. 

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson

On Christmas Eve Alex Cross is called to the scene of a hostage situation – a prominent attorney has taken his ex-wife, their kids, her current husband and other Washington DC notables – hostage in his former home.  Meanwhile, Washington is experiencing an incredible snowstorm, with snow falling faster than it can be cleaned up.  Once Alex saves the day with regard to the hostage situation, he comes home for an all too brief holiday celebration with Grandma Nana, Bree and the kids.  But he is called out again later on Christmas Day; this time a wanted terrorist has been spotted at Union Station, and the FBI think she’s carrying a bomb. . .  But the reality is much, much worse.

Fast-paced, predictable, but still engrossing.

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Van Diemen’s Land – later Tasmania – was part of the British Colonial Empire and this book tells the fact-based story of Mathinna, an Aboriginal orphan, taken by the Royall Governor as an experiment:  to see if this “savage” can be civilized; and Evangaline, a young British governess sentenced to prison in exile for the crime of getting pregnant after being seduced by her employer’s eldest son, and Hazel, barely acknowledged by her midwife mother sentenced to prison in exile for stealing so she could eat. 

This is a moving story about opportunity, friendship, prisons in colonial lands, and what really constitutes crime.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Beautiful Alicia Berenson is a famous artist, married to an in-demand fashion photographer.  But her idyllic life falls apart when she murders her husband, Gabriel, one night when he comes home late from work.  Her refusal to speak about the crime – or anything else – causes 1) the value of her work to skyrocket; and 2) her to be sent away to a private psychiatric hospital, where she is still residing (and continuing her silence) when a new psychotherapist joins the staff.  Theo is convinced he can help her to speak.  His efforts to do so will take him well beyond the normal doctor-patient boundaries . . . 

This psychological thriller was engrossing, easy to read and provided an unexpected (to me anyway) twist at the end.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

In 1993 Mallory Blessing inherits her aunt’s beachfront cottage on Nantucket Island.  Later that year she hosts a bachelor party for her brother, Cooper, at which her best friend Lee makes a surprise appearance.  Cooper’s childhood friend, Frazier – “Fray” – Dooley, is there as is Coop’s college friend Jake McCloud.  As the lives of these friends become intertwined, the reader visits these characters once a year for the next twenty-eight years, to see how the various loves stories are progressing. 

This is a sweet story and a perfect beach read.

Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen

All retired Miami State’s Attorney investigator Mick Stranahan wants is peace and quiet in his little house on the water.  But as the year starts off with someone trying to kill him, he’s got to figure out who, among his many enemies that could be.  Suspects include a full-of-himself TV journalist, whose producer is really the brains of his show, a dermatologically-challenged hit man and a fumbling, rich and ruthless plastic surgeon. 

As usual Hiaasen creates a hilarious, yet scathing indictment of twin Floridian obsessions – getting rich and looking beautiful. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Something is NOT right with Eleanor.  Even, though she’d been working at the same firm for years, her lack of social skills and highly structured life have resulted in her having no friends, no family and no social life.  But when she inadvertently steps out of her comfort zone to help a stranger in distress, she finds a co-worker with whom she can begin to learn how to REALLY be completely fine. 

A Reese Witherspoon book club selection.

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

In 1914 Michael Clifton is mapping the lad he’s just purchased in California.  As he’s returning home to Boston, war breaks out in Europe and since his father is British, Michael enlists in the British Army and is later declared missing in action. . .  Then in 1932, his remains are discovered in France, and his parents have hired Maisie to find the unnamed nurse whose love letters were found with his body.  As she begins her investigation, Maisie must deal with the likelihood that Michael was murdered, her own bittersweet memories of wartime romance, and the impending death of her mentor, Maurice Blanche, and find out who attacked Michael’s parents. 

A Maisie Dobbs story, but complete by itself.

Carte Blanche 007 by Jeffery Deaver for Ian Fleming

A modern spin on James Bond who in this book is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and working for the Overseas Development Group.  The goal of this agency is to protect the British realm by any means necessary.  In this story a mysterious intercepted signal suggesting casualties in the thousands puts Bond on the track of a killer . . .


The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah

In 1921 Texas, life is good for everyone but Elsa Wolcott, a 25-year-old spinster ignored by everyone, including her family.  But then she meets Rafe Martinelli and her life takes a completely different turn after she becomes pregnant and then moves to the Martinelli farm.  By 1934, the Great Depression has devastated the economy and a multi-year drought has ravaged the land.  Elsa’s choices are all bad – stay in Texas to fight for the land she’s grown to love, or head to California, along with thousands of others, in hope of creating a better life for her family. 

This book vividly portrays the harsh realities of the Depression as well as the strength of the human spirit. 

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.