Intelligence

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is the epitome of a suspense novel. It may not be ideal reading for conspiracy theorists at this time, as it involves a biological warfare scheme that Scott Murdoch (code name Pilgrim among other aliases) must unravel. 

Scott’s career in a secret investigative agency is revealed through various flashbacks, but the plot deals with events occurring after his early retirement.  First is the horrific murder of an unidentifiable body in NYC and second (mainly) is the threat from a solitary terrorist dubbed the Saracen whose mission is to unleash certain death to U.S. citizens. 

Scott’s intelligence and support from those he trusts (computer whiz Battleboi and officer Ben Bradley to name a couple) help him along through this page turner. Scott’s foremost mission it to find the elusive Saracen and figure out his plan (thereby saving millions).

Along the way, we discover the Saracen’s background and the events leading him to his sinister plot of destruction. Everything comes together in a masterful way.

This book kept me reading past my bedtime on more than one night. 

Riding North

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins kept popping up in my recommended books list, and I finally decided to dig in!  I’m happy that I did as this is a book I won’t soon forget.

Lydia owns a book store and becomes close friends with her customer Javier, before discovering that he is head of a fierce cartel responsible for multiple murders in their area.  After Lydia’s reporter husband writes a feature article about Javier, everything goes horrifically wrong. 

Lydia and her son Luca are the only survivors when their entire family is gunned down during a party. Now they are desperately trying to outrun the cartel and certain death.  We join them throughout their journey as they jump La Bestia, riding trains to take them from their starting point in Acapulco to their destination: the U.S.  They meet two sisters during their travels, Soledad and Rebeca,  who are also escaping terrible violence.  They join forces through the many obstacles before them.  

Their journey is full of indescribable sadness, danger and horror, but there is also friendship and unexpected kindness.  Every decision is potentially life or death and every person’s strength and determination keeps them moving toward a new start.  This is an amazing read for both plot and its writing!

 

A Different Path

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel is an eye-opening (realistic fiction) look into the world of a transgender child. Claude is the fifth boy in his family, and he realizes before kindergarten that he is much more comfortable in girls’ clothing. 

His parents, Doctor Rosie and writer Penn, come to embrace his inclination. Once they agree to let him wear girl accessories, they run into static at the school and with “friends.” After Rosie has an ER patient, killed for being transgender, she decides the family needs a fresh start somewhere more open.

They move and allow Claude the chance to be Poppy. In doing so, they decide it’s not necessary to let everyone know that Poppy is originally Claude.  All is well until the secret comes out. Poppy withdraws and his mother decides to bring him to Thailand with her while she works in clinic there.   This is an eye-opening experience for both of them; the change of lifestyle provides some clarity as to their next steps.

Throughout the book,  we also get to know the rest of the family’s struggles and eccentricities.  There are nuances to the story that I appreciated, such as Penn’s ongoing storytelling to mimic reality.  Parenting as a team is an important component as well.

Prior to reading this book, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around a child of such a young age going through these feelings and incidents. I left the story feeling more open-minded and so sympathetic to Claude/Poppy’s character and to the parents. Choosing a complicated path littered with disdain/ignorance as the only way to feel authentic and happy is an incredible journey for anyone, let alone a child.  This story attacks this choice in a thought-provoking way.

Pick One

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher hooked me from the start with all of its many problematic possibilities. The narrator, Thursday, excitedly awaits her husband’s arrival. This is her only night of the week with him, so she strives to make it special.  He spends the other nights of the week with two other women. The first is his ex-wife Regina, a highly successful lawyer, and the other his third pregnant, wife Hannah. 

Thursday is fine with this arrangement, or so she thought. She starts becoming obsessed with knowing and meeting both other women. During her investigation, she starts to fear her husband and worries that he may be harming his newest wife.  Thursday may not be seeing everything clearly though.

While the beginning of the story hooked me, events started to jump all over.  It felt chaotic.  This may have been the desired effect, but it didn’t work for me.  Overall, a decent read, but with the potential to be so much more. 

A Safe Place

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. took some time for me to finish. This isn’t my typical read, but I selected it after seeing the title listed on a friend’s post of current reads. I stuck with the book, even though I got bogged down a bit with my reading. 

This book delves into the lives of the extremely wealthy Clark family with special attention to daughter Huguette Clark.  It starts with a “tour” of her three mansions, all sitting empty,  as she lived her final years in a NY hospital room.  The homes are described in great detail.  

 Readers are then taken back in time to discover how Huguette’s father accumulated his wealth (and her life leading up to hospitalization).  Their wealth is unlike anything I can even imagine, gained by shrewd risk taking in the upcoming industries of Clark’s time, copper and railroad to name a couple. Huguette grows up with great affluence, living in France, Butte (I think?) and New York.  She eventually owns mansions in California, Connecticut and three huge apartments in a prime New York building spot overlooking Central Park.  

Huguette has a unique personality, collecting and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into dolls, doll houses, art and music. Not to mention the millions she gives to charity and to those people in her inner circle. Her primary nurse was gifted millions of dollars while taking care of Huguette in her final ten-twenty years or so of life (I forget the exact number). Huguette lived a long (over 100 years) and mostly secluded life with extended family erupting after her death  to fight for an inheritance. 

A standout moment for me is toward the very end of the book. The author recounts a memory of Huguette reciting a French poem about a cricket and butterfly. A cricket enviously watches as a beautiful butterfly flits about. Children chase after the butterfly until eventually catching it and tearing it apart in their desperate need to have it. The cricket decides it is happier in its safe, hidden world. I think this is the perfect lens to appreciate Huguette and her choices.  

People who enjoy true family histories and reading about the lifestyles of the extremely wealthy will enjoy this book.

After the Crash

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano – it may sound odd, but this is a book I tried to savor.  I became immersed in the characters and Edward’s story and wanted to make it last. 

Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash. He was with his brother and parents flying from New York to their new home in California when the plane went down. 

After the crash, Edward goes back to live with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. Edward is numb. Seen as a miracle and an oddity by all, he survives each day in a trance. He is able to find comfort from his neighbor Shay, a girl his age who tells it like it is. Her frank, open company seems to be Edward’s only comfort. 

Years pass before they discover locked duffel bags in his uncle’s garage. These bags hold hundreds of letters written through the years to Edward from family or friends of the plane’s deceased.  All have special messages or requests for Edward on behalf of their lost loved ones. These letters have a profound effect on Edward. They begin to fully awaken him (while ironically allowing him his first real sleep in years). 

Throughout Edward’s story after the crash, readers are given glimpses from during the flight. We gain knowledge of some of the other lives that are lost.  Each character has his/her own unique addition to the story.  These people are rediscovered in the letters.  

The characters and events are interesting and satisfying. It’s hard to even begin to imagine how life could possibly go on after such a traumatic event.  Healing takes time. And breakthroughs can occur in unexpected ways.  

 

Horror and Hope

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a book that I will never forget. 

Lale volunteers himself to go to a working camp as a representative for his family, but he ends up at the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps.  By a strange twist of fate (and there are many), he is chosen to assist the tattooist until eventually becoming the full-time tattooist.  He must tattoo the number on every person entering the concentration camp.  This is a job he does in order to survive.   It is how he first sees the woman, Gita,  who becomes his true love and his reason for pushing on.

Lale and Gita’s relationship might be the truest love story I’ve ever read.  They fall in love amidst the death and horror around them, and their love for each other gets them through terrible years in the camp.  Together, they survive the atrocities that they witness.  

Lale has a powerful personality and charm; I grew to care and admire him greatly throughout the book.  He has intuition of when to be assertive or quiet, when to take risks or not, and a genuine care/interest in helping people that gets him out of near-death situations (more than once).   

Lale and Gita endure three years as prisoners before finally gaining their respective freedom.  It takes some time, but Lale is able to reunite with Gita so that they may live their promise with one another.

I wish my words could properly capture my response to this book.  It’s a story of the concentration camps during WWII, a love story, a survival story, a story of terrible loss, horror and hope.  It’s everything.

Manipulation

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena is built around the idea of how well you can really know someone.  Tom and Karen Krupp have a seemingly perfect marriage until the night Tom comes home to find Karen missing. She ends up in a terrible accident that night in a bad area of town.  Afterward, she has no recollection of why she was there in the first place.  Tom is happy that she survived the crash, but now he can’t help but feel uncertainty toward his wife.  What was she really doing?

All would end up fine except that a man was murdered during the time frame of Karen’s accident.  Most concerning is that there is evidence tying Karen to the murder scene.  Tom begins to find out that Karen isn’t exactly who she claimed to be. The murdered man is in fact someone from her past who she would have reason to kill.  Tom must come to terms with Karen’s past while also dealing with their odd neighbor Brigid; she is someone Tom has had his own encounters with before meeting Karen.

Brigid hasn’t been completely honest either. She obsessively watches Tom and Karen from her home across the street. She has ulterior motives for wanting Karen to be convicted as a murderer.  Ultimately,  Karen and Brigid have met their match in each other. Both have unpleasant secrets, they are out for themselves and they are determined not to let anyone get in their way.

There are hints of the movies Single White Female and Sleeping with the Enemy in this book, but there are plenty of differences to keep things interesting.  

Twisted Paths

Run Away by Harlan Coben includes everything I love about a book. It kept me turning pages (I finished it in two days); it’s action packed with interesting characters and surprising twists.  

Simon Green is sitting in Central Park when he sees his apparently homeless/drug-addicted daughter playing music for money. She is dressed shabbily and is clearly not doing well.  He attempts to approach her, but her boyfriend intervenes. All goes horribly wrong. He needs a lawyer for the fallout after punching her boyfriend Aaron, which goes viral almost immediately (“wealthy man punches homeless man”).  Meanwhile Paige gets away. Readers will gradually find out how Paige ended up in this situation in the first place. 

Some time passes after this incident before Aaron turns up viciously murdered. The police are looking at Simon and his wife as suspects. Meanwhile, a private investigator from Chicago ends up crossing paths with Simon. Both are searching for missing people connected by Aaron.  They begin working together (as Simon’s wife recovers from an almost fatal gunshot wound) to investigate the whereabouts of their missing people.

Readers will be taken down the crazy paths of murder and missing people investigations while also switching to follow the actual murderers.  Discovering the motives behind the multiple murders along with various family secrets all bring readers to the ultimate destination: answers.  And it is quite the trip.

Making Music

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid recounts the rise and fall of the famous, seventies rock band of the same name told through a series of interviews.  The quick switches from one character to another threw me off a bit at first.  Once I settled into the format, it was as though I was watching a rock documentary, along with all the craziness and drama you would expect of a typical rock band.

The band is founded by brothers Billy and Graham Dunne as The Six, which included Warren, Karen, Pete and his brother Eddie.  Meanwhile, Daisy was making a name for herself in California.  Her incredible beauty and charisma gave her lots of attention in the music industry.  Once The Six move to California, their musical paths cross.  Daisy collaborates on a chart-topping song with The Six.  It’s at this point that they decide to combine their acts.

Seven people trying to work together provides the drama you would expect.  There are power struggles between multiple band members, sexual tensions along with drug and alcohol abuse.  Through all of this the band creates a groundbreaking, memorable album together.  Even though Billy is married to his long-time sweetheart Camila, the chemistry between Daisy and him is undeniable.  Readers will follow the roller coaster ride of this band, and find out what made them break up in the middle of an extremely successful tour.

The author perfectly captures the voices and essence of what it might feel like to be part of the music industry.  All the song lyrics at the end add an impressive touch.  This group and its members feel as real as can be.  Anyone into making and/or listening to music will enjoy diving into the lifestyle through this book.