Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan

Cody Swift was 11 years old when his childhood best friends were murdered. A mentally challenged young man was sent to prison and has since killed himself. Now, Cody has decided to investigate the murders. Was the right man found guilty? Or, were there details that were overlooked? Cody and a friend have created a podcast to describe their findings as they return to Bristol and travel to visit people who were involved in the 20-year-old investigation. 

Detective John Fletcher held one of the boys in his arms as he died. He was happy to quickly close the investigation and put someone behind bars. But, now that Cody Swift's podcast is drawing attention and a new body has been discovered in the same area, a new investigation has been opened and he can't help but wonder if there's a connection between the murder of the boys and the newly-discovered, long-dead man. But, there's more to John Fletcher than meets the eye. What happened during the investigation? Was the lead investigator set up? If so, who was involved and why?

Jess lost her son Charlie 20 years ago and it's been a difficult journey, since. Since Charlie's death, she's felt profoundly guilty, but not for reasons you'd expect. On the night of their disappearance, Jess was gone for many hours. She was never a suspect but those hours have not been explained. With Cody digging into the murders, Jess is nervous. She doesn't want her carefully crafted new life upset and the secret she's kept from her daughter exposed. She knows it will upset her husband but, in need of help, she contacts a crafty and dangerous man, the only man who can help her because he knows her better than anyone. Will the truth of what happened that night be revealed?

OK, where to start? I've read 2 out of 3 of Gilly Macmillan's previous books and I liked them. What She Knew was the first, I think, and it shared a detective with Odd Child Out. I'm not sure of the order but I think Odd Child Out was the more recent one. I liked where the author took that detective and thought the second book I read was even better than the first, which was good but uncomfortable. So, I was hoping this next entry, I Know You Know, would continue on with the same detective. It did not. He's not in the picture at all. There's a whole new cast of characters. It took me a little time to adjust to that, but I found the story intriguing and Gilly Macmillan's writing flows nicely, so her books are always quick reads. I enjoyed that about I Know You Know.

I had some problems with this particular title, though. First of all, Fletcher is a confusing character. You know that he held this child while he was dying and later on, at least one police officer says watching someone die and not being able to save them impacts you for life. So, what's revealed about his character is baffling and there were actually some things that made me think, "I don't buy that." How could he do this if he felt that? That was the sensation I was left with. Obviously, what he did that I found suspect is spoiler material, so I have to keep it vague. However, this question stuck with me throughout the reading. If Gilly Macmillan's writing was a little rougher, I might have given up the book because of this particular problem. But, her writing seriously flows and she's good at pulling you in, so I just kept thinking, "Wait a minute," about every 50 pages or so. Weird, but true. Maybe others can shrug it off completely.

There's also the question of the new body. Whether or not it's connected to the bodies of the boys, why wasn't it found 20 years ago? It's found in the same location, just buried a bit deeper. That eventually would nag at me, although it takes some time before that particular murder victim is identified and his story revealed.

Recommended with hesitation - If a few plot holes don't bother you and you're a mystery fan, you might enjoy I Know You Know. But, for me personally, it was the worst of the Gilly Macmillan books. It was her writing and some well set-up questions that kept me going. I wanted to know how the story ended. I was confused about certain elements, but I couldn't put the book down. The ending, however, was terrible and ruined the read entirely for me. As I'm reading, I'm often mentally scoring a book. It was a 5 for a while because it sucked me in, then a 4 when I started to question certain elements, then it bounced between the two for a while. The ending knocked it down to a 3 and if I'd known it would end that way, I'd have ditched it in spite of how the pages flew.

I Know You Know just did not work for me. Having said that, I think readers who are not quite as picky as I am will likely enjoy it. My general feeling as I put it down: kind of pissed off. Worth mentioning: there are a lot of not-nice characters and that actually doesn't bother me but I'd recommend against reading it if you need someone to relate to. I think the ending was meant to be triumphant for one of the characters, but instead it just made me dislike that character even more. So, the ending just flat did not work. However, I've enjoyed Macmillan's writing style every time I've read it, flaws and all. I will not continue reading her work if she lets me down this thoroughly, in the future, but I'll give her another chance.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Death of the Snakecatcher by Ak Welsapar

Death of the Snake Catcher by Ak Welsapar is a collection of short stories with several different translators. Author Ak Welsapar is originally from Turkmenistan, a country I knew nothing about until I read the introduction of Death of the Snake Catcher and followed that up with a little online reading. It is one of the "most restricted places on the planet", with media that's entirely government controlled and "absymal" human rights (I'm quoting the intro).

You get a sense of what it's like to live in such a closed, somewhat terrifying regime from some of the stories, although they're not all set in Turkmenistan. The author, after being declared an "enemy of the people", eventually had no choice but to escape and has lived in Sweden for decades. Some stories felt to me like they could happen on my home turf, with perhaps a few minor alterations, and some were a little too foreign for me. At least one made very little sense to me because the traditions and expressions were a little too far from my own understanding. But, the book was worth reading for the few that really made an impact and the introduction left an indelible impression on me, as did my favorite story.

A few of the stories:

"On the Emerald Shore" - A mist envelops the sea and the locals believe it to be the work of the drowned. Several people have recently drowned in the area. One is missing and presumed dead, another has washed ashore. In the nearby bar, people play billiards and discuss the drownings, wondering about how they may have occurred, especially to the most recent victim, who was muscular and fit.

"Love in Lilac" - My personal favorite, the story of a young man named Arslan who spots a "beautiful, fair-skinned girl" sitting amongst the lilacs in a Moscow park. He approaches her awkwardly and eventually they fall in love. But, it's forbidden to interact with foreigners and she's a student from Sweden. After falling for her hard, he is one day removed from class.

He was picked up by the KGB with a sickening lack of ceremony. 

What follows is one of the most intense sections of a short story that I recall reading since the days when I used to read a lot of Richard Matheson's short stories. I don't want to give it away, but it is an understated sort of menacing experience in which the tension ramps up because of what doesn't happen but could -- and Arslan knows it. I've recently seen comments that some Americans are unconcerned about the possibility that we could become an authoritarian regime. This story should make anyone who made such casual remarks have second thoughts.

"One of the Seven is a Scoundrel" - Another menacing story (the tense stories were my absolute favorites). Seven men are returning home in a horse cart from a hard day's work harvesting and talking about how some nearby villagers have been sent to Siberia when their path intersects with that of some soldiers. The soldiers have a quota of men to take to prison but one has escaped, so they need one more. Who will end up being taken away, not for doing anything wrong but to fill a quota? Who will be the scoundrel who turns him in?

Recommended - The title story, "Death of the Snakecatcher" is another favorite. I recommend Death of the Snakecatcher particularly to short story lovers and people who enjoy reading translations. While there were times I felt like I needed some sort of explanation -- a glossary, an introduction to a particular story, etc., to make sense of specific traditions -- the stories that I liked best were so thought-provoking that I had to put the book down to let a story roll around in my head for a day or two. That has always been the sign of a phenomenal short story to me, not being able to get it out of my head until I've given it some thought or wanting to talk to everyone about it.

Two vocabulary words I learned from this book:

Albescent - (adj.) white or tending toward white. From this passage:
On the third day, a mist enveloped the sea. Albescent, rising up off the water, it launguidly wrapped around the shore, then the town, little by little covering the entire surroundings. 

~from "The Emerald Shore"

Takyr - (n.) meaning "smooth, even, or bare", is a type of relief occurring in the deserts of Central Asia, similar to a salt flat in the southwestern United States. From this passage:
The sweltering summer heat seemed intolerable to the men lying on the horse cart moving along the dried mud takyr path, some holding their coats and some their sheepskin hats under their elbows.

~from "One of the Seven is a Scoundrel"

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher - from Penguin Random House for review

Only one book! I'm improving at the self-control thing. My mailbox is sad, but I'm okay with it.

Books finished since last week's Twaddle:

  • When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer
  • Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett, illus. by Mike Lowery

I had mixed feelings about When Elephants Fly, a YA about a young woman whose paranoid schizophrenic mother once tried to throw her off a rooftop and who is now involved in trying to save the life of a newborn elephant. So, I wrote my immediate thoughts at Goodreads and put them behind a spoiler barricade, just in case I'd given anything away. I'm not sure if I did, but I'll have to think about how to write about it carefully, here. 

Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover is goofy fun for middle grade readers. I loved it. It's the first in a series and I wish the publisher had sent #2 along. 

Currently reading:

  • The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson
  • Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson

I'm still only about 1/3 into Sons and Soldiers but I hope to focus on finishing that, this week. The Birds of Opulence is the September selection for author Wiley Cash's new online book group. I can't recall the name of the book group but you can find out about it by going to Wiley's website or following him on Facebook, if you're interested. So far, the book is excellent. So is Sons and Soldiers. It's just one of those nonfiction titles that's taking me longer to read because I need breaks from it. Even when it isn't stated, you know many of the family members left behind in Germany by the Jewish boys who escaped must have been killed, so it's emotionally exhausting. But, it's also very well written and yet another perspective on WWII that I've never read about, so I'm enjoying the learning process, even if I find the story somewhat painful.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Not a big week because I was tired after having visitors (and I missed them after they left).

In other news:

No shiny new things to report. No movies, just a little of the same old things we've been gradually watching. We're on Season 2 of 800 Words and Torchwood, Season 4 of Doc Martin, I think. How was your week?

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fiona Friday - If it fits . . .

. . . I sits.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

In Saving Winslow, Louie loves animals but he hasn't had the best of luck keeping them alive. Now, his father has brought home a premature newborn miniature donkey. He's brought the donkey home to keep it comfortable till it dies. But, Louie is determined to make sure the donkey survives. Louie names the donkey Winslow and then sets to work feeding him, keeping him warm, and letting him know he's safe. Louie won't let anyone around him say anything negative about Winslow's chances.

As Winslow grows bigger and stronger, his chances also grow. But, he's still fragile. Louie was born prematurely, himself, so he knows a tiny newborn can survive. Will Louie be able to keep little Winslow alive long enough to get past the dangerous newborn stage?

Highly recommended - I love Sharon Creech's writing but Saving Winslow is something special. I love the way Creech connects Winslow's premature birth to Louie's, the way Louie keeps faith in spite of relentless negativity (everyone wants Louie to be prepared, in case Winslow dies), and the way Louie's confidence begins to rub off on everyone around him until even the biggest skeptics want a part in help caring for Winslow. There is one neighbor who can't bear Winslow's squawking but eventually an event occurs that brings the neighbors together and enables them to understand each other. There's also a sweet friendship with a little girl and tender affection for Louie's big brother, who is in the military and sorely missed. A lovely, touching, uplifting story for middle-grade elementary readers.

Saving Winslow is scheduled for release on September 18, 2018.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday Twaddle

At least one of these kitties is sad about the fact that our granddaughter just left for the airport. The other is probably happy to emerge from her hiding space, after several days (Isabel). Fiona was captivated by our little munchkin and followed her everywhere.

No books arrived, this week. Not one. So, no "recent arrivals" column.

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan
  • Never Too Young by Aileen Wientraub and Laura Horton

Currently reading:

  • Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson
  • When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer

I decided I'd waited too long between readings, so I restarted Sons and Soldiers and am around 94 pages in. Enjoying it just as much as I did the first time I started it and I'm looking forward to some quiet reading time, after a few days of chaos and very little reading.

When Elephants Fly is YA about an 18-year-old whose family has a history of schizophrenia. Lily's working on keeping her life calm, trying to avoid becoming schizophrenic, as well. But, as an intern at the local newspaper, she's become involved in events at the local zoo. A baby elephant has been born and been rejected by her mother, who tried to kill her. Lily can relate because her mentally ill mother tried to throw her off a roof (thinking she would fly). What will happen to baby elephant Swift Jones? Can Lily stay calm and sane until the 12-year time period in which diagnosis is most likely to occur ends?

Posts since last Malarkey:

Last week was Children's Week, so all of the reviews were reviews of children's picture books. I had all my posting finished by the time our visitors arrived and they got to indulge in a pile of freshly reviewed books at bedtime. I didn't ask about all of the titles they read but I found out I was correct in predicting that How to Feed Your Parents would be a giggle-inducing hit.

No other news, today. I'm sort of exhausted from having an indefatigable 3-going-on-4-year-old around, so I'm too sluggish to even remember if we watched any movies. I don't think we did! One episode of Endeavor is all I can recall. We did a lot of coloring and playing with toys, plunking on the piano, clicking on the typewriter, and chatting with cats. There may have been a wee bit of bouncing on the bed, as well. Pray for my recovery. :)

Happy Tuesday!

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Fiona Friday - Approval rating

 New guest room rug is Izzy and Fiona Approved.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.