Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2017)

magpie murders

After reading several “must- read summer books” lists that included this murder mystery by Anthony Horowitz, I picked up a copy at the library excited to read. Horowitz’s YA books are a staple in my house and I had liked his Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk. However, this book was a vague disappointment and felt throughout that the author was making only a partial effort to tell a story that was engaging.

The premise of the book was quite clever. The first half of the book is a 1950’s cozy mystery — the full text of Magpie Murders, the final book of a fictional mystery series featuring PI Atticus Pund is included, minus its final “whodunit” chapter — once the Atticus Pund mystery has ended, a second modern story begins.

In the second half, we return to present-day London where Susan Ryeland is reading the Atticus Pund book along with us. Our new protagonist is the book editor to a wildly popular author of the Pund books, named Alan Conway. Susan is shocked to find the final chapter of the Magpie Murders is missing, but even more shocked when she learns that Alan Conway has died.

So begins the second mystery story in the book: Susan must work to determine whether or not the author had finished the book; if so, where is the missing chapter? As she delves deeper, it becomes clear that Conway’s death is very suspicious and soon a whole cast of characters emerge who may have wanted the author dead… possibly because the Magpie Murders exposes details of a real murder.

The author did a great job in part one of the book, creating a wonderful character in Atticus Pund and a great Agatha Christie-esque mystery with Magpie Murders. However, part two falls flat with the slightly unlikable Susan Ryeland and a new mystery that should be compelling but simply is not. While the overall effect is passable, it would have been a much stronger book with a more energetic second half.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

lost lake

“There are not a finite number of things that can make you happy.” 163

The women in Eby Pim’s family are cursed. They are unhappy women, constantly furious that they do not have more — more money, more love, more admiration — and every one of them seems doomed to loose her husband while young. Upon these losses, generation after generation of women in Eby’s family come unhinged with grief, with all that they feel has been forever stolen from them, and they do not recover.

Eby, however, grows into a young woman who is steady and calm. When she marries for love, to a man named George who happens to be very wealthy; the jealous, grieving women in her life do everything they can to ruin her good fortune. So she and her new husband do they only thing they can think of: they buy a small set of cabins on a swampy lake in rural Georgia give all of the rest their money away.

“There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.” 6

With nothing to extort from her, Eby’s family disowns her but Eby and George build something better: they build a family made up of visitors and locals who are drawn to the magic of their Lost Lake resort. Lost Lake, run with love, acceptance, and understanding by the Pim’s becomes a place of refuge, happiness, and contentment for those weary souls who visit. Having spent a life of love with her husband, surrounded by so many in need her, Eby remains strong when George suddenly dies. The family curse to be ruined by grief seems to have passed her by.

Fast forward fifteen year, when Kate Pheris — Eby’s grandniece — losses her young husband in an accident, it seems that she may too fall victim to the grieving curse and crumble under her loss. But a rare bit of magic changes the course of her life; she finds a long-lost invitation to join her Great Aunt Eby at Lost Lake and knows instantly it is a place both she and her daughter, Devin, can go and heal.

So Kate and Devin arrive at Lost Lake and find they are welcome to come there to rest and heal, but sadly the resort is open for only one last summer. As the summer passes, Kate and Devin fall more and more in love with the aging, fading resort that has brought them back to themselves and one another, and they are determined to save it…for they know there are many more lost souls still in need of its healing magic.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (2017)

identicals

In The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand cleverly re-imagines The Parent Trap for grown-ups; telling the story of two identical twin sisters who have lived completely separate lives until the death of their father brings them together. Harper and Tabitha Frost were inseparable young girls and best friends when, at the age of seventeen, their parents divorced and made the cruel decision that each parent would take and raise one sister, keeping the girls apart. That decision meant the girls relationship began to fray and by their mid-twenties they had split apart for good. Harper went to live with their father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha remained on Nantucket with their mother; only eleven miles apart but out of each other’s lives for good.

When their father dies, the sisters — along with their cold and controlling mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter Ainsley — are brought back together with maximum drama. All their past hurts resurface, all that they have lost is brought back into focus, and neither woman feels as if the rift between can be bridged.

The universe, however, has other plans for Harper and Tabitha. Both women suddenly desperately need time away from their home islands and their messy lives and a solution presents itself: Harper will live on Nantucket with Ainsley for the summer and Tabitha will live on Martha’s Vineyard and put their father’s estate in order. Just like that the women swap lives and — of course — chaos ensues!

As the two women try restore order to their lives, they both grow stronger and freer in their new roles. Slowly but surely , the sisters begin to build new lives that have room for new adventures, new loves, and for one another. A great summer read!

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris (2017)

Cass Anderson is driving home one dark and stormy night, taking an isolated country road, when she sees a woman sitting in a parked car. Cass stops thinking to offer her assistance but sensing that the situation may be more sinister than it appears, drives off without helping.

When she awakens the next morning, Cass learns that the woman in the car has been found murdered and that she may have unknowingly been the only witness to the crime. So what stops her from reporting what she knows to the police? Her deep mistrust of herself.

Suffering of late from short-term memory loss and anxiety, Cass’s memories are often foggy and incorrect and her mistakes regularly lead to problems with her husband and friends. As a result, Cass has learned not to trust things she sees or thinks she sees; so she keeps her information to herself.

The guilt at withholding information from the police causes Cass great stress and her memory problems begin to worsen. Soon, Cass finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding the woman’s death and she becomes increasing convinced that the murderer may be after her as well. The only problem is that no one believes that anyone is after her, only that her mental problems have become so severe that she is delusional.

As the story progresses, Cass finds herself more and more isolated and vulnerable, to the point that she alone must prove that her fears are real — that she does have information about the murder that is putting her in danger — or to accept that she has lost her mind completely.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)

seven husbands of evelyn hugo

In her newest, non-traditional romance novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid, writes a story about a former Hollywood starlet’s famously scandalous life told as a series of flashbacks that center on her seven widely publicized marriages to similarly famous men. Filled with behind-the-scenes glimpses into the machinations of Hollywood, the novel highlights the ways in which the rich and famous may consider marriage something to maximize their box-office potential; and where love, passion, and compatibility means little.

Evelyn Hugo, once Hollywood royalty, one of the most sought-after and beautiful movie stars of the 1950s and 1960s, in the present day is a reclusive millionaire who is rarely seen and never gives interviews. So when Evelyn reaches out to staff writer Monique Grant at the fictional Vivant magazine, offering the young woman the chance to interview her for the first time in years, Monique jumps at the chance. She digs deep into the press surrounding the actress’s decades-long career and her seven marriages and thinks she has a sense of the woman she will be interviewing. Everything she reads leaves her feeling dazzled by Evelyn’s beauty, fame, and wealth.

However, when Monique arrives to meet Evelyn she is shocked to find that the woman is not interested a magazine piece about a charity event, but rather in finally telling the world the true story of her life. Without preamble, Evelyn asks Monique to write her biography, a no-holds-barred account of every betrayal, every scandal, every lie of the actress’s life.

Shocked at the request, Monique insists she is unqualified for such a task and is uncertain how Evelyn has singled her out from all the other writers in New York City. She knows this is a golden ticket, that a book about the real life of Evelyn Hugo would bring her fame and fortune almost overnight, yet Monique still hesitates. Should she tell her boss? Is this too big of a task to handle? Should she offer the chance to write this book to a more seasoned writer?

Monique reluctance angers Evelyn, who tells her the it is time for her to learn that the most important lesson in becoming a success is taking opportunities as they come; without considering others feelings and without guilt. And so begins the relationship between the two women.

Evelyn tells her story, and as promised, she leaves nothing out. She tells the real history, not the fabricated version concocted by agents and movie studios, but the gritty one about a woman who would do anything, hurt anyone, tell any lie, to become a star. What follows is not just a story about the secret life of celebrities and how truly tawdry Hollywood is off-screen (although it is that), but about a woman who passes up chance to be with the real love of her life in order to “protect” her career.

A bond forms between the woman as they work. As she reveals her secrets to Monique, Evelyn also teaches the young woman several important lessons about standing up for yourself, not apologizing for taking opportunities at work, and for not accepting any relationship that is not making her happy.

Although the writing is a bit dry at times, and the story feels less lively that its subject matter perhaps could be written about, the story is interesting and engaging…with a few twists that keep you guessing until the end.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)

Dave Eggers’ The Circle is a near-future dystopia where one super-tech company (think Google + Facebook + Amazon) is attempting to integrate the entire human experience into an online sphere, where everything you do, buy, wear, and think is shared in a continuous stream with the entire world; with the ultimate goal to erase anonymity and make privacy obsolete.

The story’s main character, Mae, is a young woman, newly recruited to work at a tech company called The Circle, a dream-job for her. Mae is dazzled by the extravagant campus — gyms, pools, restaurants, a hospital, shopping, theaters, and more — and cutting edge tech at the company. While Mae expected to be part of a highly competitive and extremely hard-working group, it quickly becomes clear that working for The Circle is not a career but a lifestyle. Mae must not only meet her work deadlines and commitments, but become part of the social structure of the company: dedicating nights, weekends, and countless hours online during her days and nights connecting — endlessly — with her co-workers.

Also startling, is the lack of privacy she must adapt to: her medical records accessed and used to monitor her health; her entire online past uploaded and shared with the entire company; video monitoring her all day and night; and the constant reminders from her superiors that she is being watched and judged. All of this, she reasons, is the price one pays to work for the largest company in the world and to be at the fore-front of the tech revolution.

The Circle beings to announce more and more radical products and services — including hidden cameras stashed that can be bought and placed (undetected) anywhere in the world to send a constant video feed to the Internet — in becomes clear that the company plans to force the world to adapt to The Circle’s ideas of democracy, privacy, and accountability…without asking government for permission.

Two characters emerge as foils to devotion the employees of The Circle’s maintain: Mae’s high school boyfriend who is a critic of the direction The Circle is taking the world, and a mysterious co-worker, Kalden who Mae starts an illicit affair with and who shows her a different, darker side of The Circle. But Mae is in too deep, she agrees to “go transparent” and wear a camera and recording device 24/7 to ensure her complete honesty and makes her lack of privacy utterly complete.

Eggers has created a richly imagined and greatly detailed world and presents it to readers in such a straight-forward manner that it seems like an entirely plausible near-future. However, the book has some drawbacks that distract from the story; many of which seem to stem from a stereotypes about women that the author — perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not — renforces in this book. Among these flaws are the unevenness of his main character Mae, who Eggers tries to portray as a a woman smart enough to quickly become a star employee and charming enough to be quite popular, but is also naive, selfish, incompetent, and back-stabbing. It is unclear whether these are character flaws that stem from her personality, or from the fact that she is a woman. Furthermore, Eggers does what so many male writers do with their female characters by oversexualizing Mae’s character in ways that are out of step with women in general, and this character specifically.

Also of note is the fact that the author feels the need to repeatedly, and at length, lecture readers about the finer details of the plot. Instead of relying on his readers to deduce what dastardly things the company is getting up to, or allowing us to use plot clues to make sense of the dangers of a world without privacy might present, he uses character monologues — almost everytime it is male characters who are “mansplaining” to Mae what is going on at the company or in the world — once again suggesting that his female character is unable to comprehend on her own complex ideas and therefore must be to force fed them by her male counterparts.

This combination of gender-stereotype flaws are wearisome by the middle of the book, and seem practically condescending by the end of it, overshadowing some of the books more interesting ideas.

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane (2017)

since we fell

In this new thriller, Dennis Lehane has written a novel that is really two books in one. The first part of the book is the tale of Rachel Childs, a woman trying to make her way in the world following series of devastating events. The second part of the book is a story about whether or not Rachel can rebuild herself after yet another enormous set-back. Together the two parts make for a well-written and thrilling story, with a strong and resilient main character that you cannot help but root for.

As a young girl, Rachel Childs was raised by a single mother after her father abandoned them. This abandonment left Rachel emotionally fragile and her mother filled with rage and bent on controlling and manipulating her daughter, determined to make it so Rachel would never be able to leave her mother to search for her father.

As she grew, Rachel found academic and professional successes, but remained haunted by her father’s desertion and her mother’s emotional abuse. When her mother is killed in a car crash, Rachel becomes determined to find her father once and for all. Along the way, Rachel finds that her mother had lied throughout her childhood, and many — if not all — of the truths she had relied on were never real. News of her mother’s betrayals leave Rachel unsteady and unsure of who she really is, but Rachel is determined to build a life that has all of the things she felt were denied her: stability, love, and honesty.

Flash forward several years, when we find Rachel living in Boston and fast rising through the ranks at a local televisions station as their star reporter. Married to a fellow news reporter, a man who is admires Rachel’s beauty, her success, and her drive but not the wounded woman within; he does not give her what she needs emotionally, but does give Rachel the sense of normalcy after such a tumultuous early life.

When the Haitian earthquakes hit, Rachel is given the chance to become an international reporter for a larger network. Initially, her reporting on the crisis win her acclaim and promotion, but soon the despair of the Haitian people and the horror that she faces while there begin to wear Rachel down. She has an on-air break-down that leads to her being fired, her reputation completely ruined, and her marriage dissolving.

Without the safety net of her job and husband, Rachel descends into the worst mental health breakdown of her life. Now panic attacks, crippling anxiety, and agoraphobia mean she lives like a shut in, unable to complete even the most basic tasks.

Against all odds, Rachel meets and falls in love with a man who promises to restore her life. Brain cares for her, accepts her mental health challenges with love, and helps her build a world where she feels safe… or so she thinks. When a series of strange events happen, Rachel is forced to look at her life — a life she wants to believe is finally perfect after all her past heart-aches — she must decide whether or not her husband has been lying to her, making her crippling fears worse not better, and using her mental state on control her.

And that is just part one of the novel. The rest is a thriller filled with twists and turns, lies, and murder. A wonderful book, perfect for summer!