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A place for everyone

Britt-Marie Was HereBritt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Britt-Marie in another Fredrik Backman novel. I didn’t particularly like her in “My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry” because we mostly saw her fastidious busybody side, but there were a few hints of her big heart. It’s the heart that wins in this sequel. Britt-Marie has left her cheating husband and taken a job as caretaker of a soon-to-be-closed rec center in a dying town. Everything is crumbling around her so badly that she makes friends with a rat as her dinner companion. There are real threats like drugs and unsupervised children, but somehow Britt-Marie straightens it out the same way she rearranges messy silverware drawers. Ya gotta love her.

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We would never elect a psycopath president, would we?

 

Blowback: A ThrillerBlowback: A Thriller by James Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Patterson is the best and this is a lots-of-twists thriller with believable characters. An autocratic, rules-don’t-apply-to-me president has decided the enemies of America must be punished so he sets up his own CIA operations, foreign and domestic, without messy approval of congress or cabinet. He’s about to burst into World War III but since we all survive we know somebody, somehow stops this maniac. The details in his operations are amazing. The believability is part of what makes it so scary.

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Who? dunnit

 

The Thursday Murder Club (Thursday Murder Club, #1)The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are moments — comments from the retirement home heroes, or the interaction between the romantically attracted investigators — when this book is spot on. Too funny for words. But as a puzzle mystery this tale fails all the tests. There are plenty of twists and turns, just when you think it’s all resolved there’s another turn and then another. The ultimate culprits are least suspected, which is always good, but the motives are related to secrets that are not revealed until way too late. It’s as if the murders happened in another book and the reader only hears about it second hand. Mystery readers long for that ah ha moment when they realize the clue was right in front of them all along not when the writer pulls out back story in the final scene that was never hinted at before. And the humor is Sooo British like a confession during a chess match when both players are more interested in the game moves than reacting to life and death revelations.

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Southern Charmer

Wishful SinfulWishful Sinful by Tracy Dunham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This murder mystery oozes Southern stereotypes faster than kudzu swallowing a white picket fence, but all the bourbon and honeysuckle have an addictive charm. The drunkard protagonist Tal Jefferson spends too much time overthinking everything. Her sassy assistant Jane makes up for it with punchy comebacks. The plot certainly has plenty of twists and turns. A Peyton Place of illicit relations is ratcheted up with boundless blackmail schemes, a big money real estate deal, and the shadow of a national military scandal from the past. The protagonist is a little slow figuring out the real killer, with her co-characters (and probably most readers) realizing she is misplacing her trust. But the story moves fast and is entertaining.

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The times, they are repeating

The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American MonarchThe King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a writer myself, I admire the art of Miles Harvey as he tells the story of James Strang, Mormon prophet and self-proclaimed King of Heaven and Earth. A history professor, Harvey weaves Strang’s strange tale into the history of the time, such as Strang’s coronation on Michigan’s Beaver Island following soon after the well reported coronation of Queen Victoria. Or Strang publishing a history of the island the same year P.T. Barnum published his biography and later how Barnum’s bankruptcy seems to mirror Strang’s downfall. Every life is a part of the times in which they lived and that is so clear in this well-documented telling which includes many newspaper reports of the day, even from the paper in the town where I live in Michigan. But just as a person’s life reflects the times that they lived I couldn’t help hearing echoes of current false prophets and true believers in the words of Strang. When he exaggerates the size of his congregation it sounds so much like the reports of the “largest ever” 2016 presidential inauguration. Strang’s complaints about his mistreatment and the lies of his betrayers sounds awfully familiar too.

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Watching the world implode

The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican PartyThe Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party by Dana Milbank
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump columnist Milbank follows a well documented trail of Republicans repeatedly choosing winning at all costs, abandoning truth, honor and the American Way.
Unfortunately it’s not the party that has been destroyed, as the title implies. The party may well continue to win leaving the destruction of the country in its wake. I remember every event listed here, from the lies about Vince Foster’s suicide to Trump calling newspapers the Enemy of the People. I never really thought how the Gingrich name calling strategy and all the other lies worked together to create a party that celebrates liars like Trump. As Milbank points out, Trump doesn’t create the lies he simply tells people what they want to believe.

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Living the Fairy Tale

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved Backman’s previous novel “A Man Called Ove” and this has a lot of similarities. Both books are about the interactions of a community of people. This story is from the point of view of 7-year-old Elsa whose seemingly crazy grandmother dies leaving the girl with a series of letters to deliver. The recipients are characters in the fairy tales Grandma has been telling the girl but it turns out all the characters in the fantasy are people in the building where they live in Sweden. I found the fantasy too convoluted so I kept skipping chunks when the girl would try to relay the fantasy so perhaps I missed a little of the foreshadowing but I read enough to get the gist. The pace really picks up at the end with a lot of real danger and an unfortunate demise. Elsa is a tough talking kid, wise beyond her years. It’s impossible not to love her.

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Make my day Elmore Leonard

 

The Hot Kid (Carl Webster, #1)The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love Elmore Leonard. This is the first book in the Carl Webster series so I’ll need to find the rest. FBI agent Webster is the ultimate good guy who doesn’t want to take advantage of criminals. He always gives them a chance to surrender before he blows them away. Sort of a Dirty Harry of the Depression. And he has Sherlock Holmes power of observation and deduction. All the characters are so well drawn you can smell them and see the glint in their eyes.

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Home is where the hurt is

The Dutch HouseThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The danger of listening to a really good book on audible while driving is that I almost ran out of gas. The trip went so fast! Ann Patchett is a great story teller and Tom Hanks did a fantastic job bringing the scenes to life. This story of a fabulous Pennsylvannia house and the people who lived there over about a century is told from the point of view of Danny Conroy whose mother leaves him and his older sister Maeve in the care of their real estate mogul father after he gives her a fantastic 1922 mansion that she despises. She’d rather help the poor and heads to India. An evil step mother soon enters the scene with daughters of her own. Before you know it Dad is dead and Danny and Maeve are kicked out with little more than a trust for Danny’s education. The siblings develop a close bond, spending hours year after year sitting outside their former home and remembering better times. Although the tale generally follows a chronological timeline, it is being told by the grownup Danny hitting his memories so things get out of order sometimes or he jumps ahead and divulges his divorce from Celeste before he’s even revealed their marriage. This bugs me a little but I suppose it adds to the realism of Danny telling the story. The house casts such a huge shadow over all these lives even extending into the next generation. You can see it in your mind and hear the voices and imagine the train rides. Very well done.

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Not exactly a Waltz in WWII

 

The Angel of ViennaThe Angel of Vienna by Kate Hewitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book because I was headed to Vienna on vacation and I thought this might put me in the mood. Of course, we all know WWII was no vacation. Nevertheless the author creates a very real, complex tale of a nurse and a Catholic nun who try protect disabled children from being killed in the hospital where they work. I love the details she uses to flesh out the personality of Hannah Stern and her estranged half brother who pays for her training and gets her the job in Vienna, on the condition that she watch over his disabled son, Willi. She and the boy build a bond but hospital rules don’t give them much time together. There is Karl, a love interest, but Hannah is hesitant. She discovers that children are being selected for elimination and joins a shady group sneaking them to safety. The action is fast paced, but there are a few pleasant side tracks when the characters are able to forget the war for few pages, go for a swim and let friendships develop. Even the final scene holds a surprise or two.

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