Books Read in 2020: Three-Star Children's, YA, Mystery and Fiction

I know the three-star reviews can read confusingly. I do actually think of three-star books as books that I wouldn't necessarily not recommend to others. It just makes it easier to concentrate on the stuff that I didn't like because if it wasn't a great book then the good stuff - could put a sentence together, characters didn't suck, held my attention reasonably well - sounds kind of boring. Anyway, this post is long, getting through the rest of the three-stars.

Three-Star Children's and YA:

The Tenth Girl by Sarah Faring: Synopsis from Goodreads: Simmering in Patagonian myth, The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist.At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored.One of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi's existence. In order to survive she must solve a cosmic mystery—and then fight for her life. 

I remember telling my friend I was going to see the first Lara Croft movie with Angelina Jolie and she told me not to because it was dumb. My only defense for still going was "well you knew it was going to be dumb going in and you still went to see it. Hearing one person reinforce that it's dumb is hardly going to deter me when dumb was basically my expectation and hope". I actually liked it. About five minutes in I whispered to my friend beside me "I can't stop staring at her lips". My friend whispered back "me neither. Except when I'm staring at her boobs. I feel sorry for guys watching this. Or lesbians". So this book looked cool to me, and then I read a few reviews that said there was a completely infuriatingly ridiculous twist. I didn't disbelieve them, but I pressed on anyway. Aaaaaand  the twist was infuriatingly ridiculous. It didn't exactly ruin the book, but, well, if I had read the spoilers I might have avoided it. Other than that, it's an appealingly Gothic read with a wonderful setting, and the flashbacks are also effective. There's nothing like an all-girls school for some fantastic estrogen-laced tension and drama. It would have been fine to just leave it there. Really. *shakes head*

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough: Synopsis from Goodreads: They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you're a teenage girl, it's hard to tell them apart.Natasha doesn't remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this—it wasn't an accident, and she wasn't suicidal. Her two closest friends are acting strangely, and Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before when she got popular, to help her figure out what happened.Natasha's sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn't try to kill her?

This was actually quite good. The capturing of teen girl angst and the intricate politics is letter-perfect, along with all the fun new ways they can torture each other with modern technology. I felt some of Becca's story pretty viscerally. 

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich: Synopsis from Goodreads: 

Before the birth of time, a monk uncovers the Devil's Tongue and dares to speak it. The repercussions will be felt for generations...Sixteen-year-old photography enthusiast Zoey has been fascinated by the haunted, burnt-out ruins of Medwyn Mill House for as long as she can remember--so she and her best friend, Poulton, run away from home to explore them. But are they really alone in the house? And who will know if something goes wrong?In 1851, seventeen-year-old Roan arrives at the Mill House as a ward--one of three, all with something to hide from their new guardian. When Roan learns that she is connected to an ancient secret, she must escape the house before she is trapped forever.1583. Hermione, a new young bride, accompanies her husband to the wilds of North Wales where he plans to build the largest water mill and mansion in the area. But rumors of unholy rituals lead to a tragic occurrence and she will need all her strength to defeat it.Three women, centuries apart, drawn together by one Unholy Pact. A pact made by a man who, more than a thousand years later, may still be watching.

I keep trying this author and finding her almost great but not quite. She has atmosphere to burn and I am always highly intrigued until about halfway through, and then things start unravelling somewhat. Apparently this is a retelling of Dr. Faustus - did not catch that at ALL. She is probably a little overly ambitious, but I think I will keep trying, because I have a feeling that when she gets it right it's going to be spectacular.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl: Synopsis from Goodreads: Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim - their creative genius and Beatrice's boyfriend - changed everything.One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft - the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world - hoping she'll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim's death.But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she's never going to know what really happened.Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions.Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers... and at life.And so begins the Neverworld Wake.

This author, on the other hand, I felt got it right on the first try (with Special Topics in Calamity Physics) and every subsequent book has had me asking WHY a little bit. Night Film was all promise ('this is going to FUCK YOU UP, man' - narrator: "It did not"). This was interesting - another time-loop special, which you know I'm always up for - but I think I would have preferred a more adult treatment. In a way she gets the promise and exuberance and faux intellectualism of privileged college students exactly right, but in some ways she doesn't put it in perspective so it seems like she is as enamoured of the preciousness of the characters as they are with themselves. And the conclusion doesn't quite do it for me. But I appreciated the effort. That sounds condescending and I didn't mean it to. 

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Jennifer Nobel: Synopsis from Goodreads: Emmy's dad disappeared years ago, and with her mother too busy to parent, she's shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England. But right before she leaves, a mysterious box arrives full of medallions and a note reading: These belonged to your father.

Just as she's settling into life at Wellsworth, Emmy begins to find the strange symbols from the medallions etched into the walls and stumbles upon the school's super-secret society, The Order of Black Hollow Lane. As Emmy and her friends delve deeper into the mysteries of The Order, she can't help but wonder—did this secret society have something to do with her dad's disappearance?

Lunch-time school library read. Very good. Establishes Emmy's very real dysfunctional relationship with her mom as well as the more showy mystery regarding her dad early on. Her friendships with other classmates at the school are the best part, but the mystery is fun too. Will be recommending this to students if I ever see any again.

Three-Star Mystery:

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager: Synopsis from Goodreads: No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen's new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story—until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.Searching for the truth about Ingrid's disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building's hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

I read Riley Sager's first book (Final Girls) soon after I had learned about the concept of the final girl, and I was disappointed. I can't really explain why I went back for more, but it actually paid off in a couple of instances. Not this one, to be honest. This was fine but it doesn't do anything new. On the up side, I have now been well and truly warned that if someone offers me a swanky apartment cheaply (and asks if I have any family that might miss me if I suddenly dropped out of sight) I should probably not move in. Hey, maybe I'll write a book where someone is offered a swanky apartment for cheap and moves in and... just lives a great life. That would be a twist. I also watched a movie on this subject just recently. What was it? Ah yes, this one, because it was on a list of good horror movies. Again, good but not great. It's absolutely fine to use a common trope, but you have to put some kind of particular spin on it, don't you think?

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly: Synopsis from Goodreads: 

Terry McCaleb, the retired FBI agent who starred in the bestseller "Blood Work," is asked by the LAPD to help them investigate aseries of murders that have them baffled. They are the kind of ritualized killings McCaleb specialized in solving with the FBI, and he is reluctantly drawn from his peaceful new life back into the horror and excitement of tracking down a terrifying homicidal maniac. More horrifying still, the suspect who seems to fit the profile that McCaleb develops is someone he has known and worked with in the past: LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly: Synopsis from Goodreads: For Jack McEvoy, the killer named The Poet was the last word in evil.Think again, Jack.Jack McEvoy is at the end of the line as a crime reporter. Forced to take a buy-out from the Los Angeles Times as the newspaper grapples with dwindling revenues, he's got only a few days left on the job. His last assignment? Training his replacement, a low-cost reporter just out of journalism school. But Jack has other plans for his exit. He is going to go out with a bang — a final story that will win the newspaper journalism's highest honor — a Pulitzer prize.Jack focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer from the projects who has confessed to police that he brutally raped and strangled one of his crack clients. Jack convinces Alonzo's mother to cooperate with his investigation into the possibility of her son's innocence. But she has fallen for the oldest reporter's trick in the book. Jack's real intention is to use his access to report and write a story that explains how societal dysfunction and neglect created a 16-year-old killer.But as Jack delves into the story he soon realizes that Alonzo's so-called confession is bogus, and Jack is soon off and running on the biggest story he's had since The Poet crossed his path years before. He reunites with FBI Agent Rachel Walling to go after a killer who has worked completely below police and FBI radar—and with perfect knowledge of any move against him.What Jack doesn't know is that his investigation has inadvertently set off a digital tripwire. The killer knows Jack is coming—and he's ready.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly: Synopsis from Goodreads: FBI agent Rachel Walling finally gets the call she's dreaded for years, the one that tells her the Poet has surfaced. She has never forgotten the serial killer who wove lines of poetry in his hideous crimes--and apparently he has not forgotten her.Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch gets a call, too--from the widow of an old friend. Her husband's death seems natural, but his ties to the hunt for the Poet make Bosch dig deep. Arriving at a derelict spot in the California desert where the feds are unearthing bodies, Bosch joins forces with Rachel. Now the two are at odds with the FBI...and squarely in the path of the Poet, who will lead them on a wicked ride out of the heat, through the narrows of evil, and into a darkness all his own..

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly: Synopsis from Goodreads: The hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back in the new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly. Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar--until now.Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he's ever encountered.McEvoy investigates---against the warnings of the police and his own editor---and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. But his inquiry hits a snag when he himself becomes a suspect.As he races to clear his name, McEvoy's findings point to a serial killer working under the radar of law enforcement for years, and using personal data shared by the victims themselves to select and hunt his targets.Called "the Raymond Chandler of this generation" (Associated Press), Michael Connelly once again delivers an unputdownable thriller that reveals a predator operating from the darkest corners of human nature---and one man courageous and determined enough to stand in his way.

I'm just going to lump all four of these together. I read The Poet years ago and remembered really liking it - it was a different protagonist than Connelly's usual Harry Bosch. Then I found that somehow I had missed a second Jack McEvoy book, and now there was a third coming out. So I reread The Poet in preparation for reading the next two and it wasn't quite as great as I remembered. The beginning was still really cool, but I think Connelly's writing is just a bit too noir for me - although I just looked up the definition of 'noir' and it actually means that right and wrong are less well-define, so maybe I mean hardboiled. The dialogue is pretty spare and characterization is pretty thin - which obviously works for a lot of people who don't want pesky things like emotion and nuance getting in the way of all the carnage and casual sex? I also caught up on the Terry McCaleb books because of Blood Work, which I also remember really liking and am not going to revisit because why would I do that to myself? And now I am wishing these books well and considering our acquaintanceship at an end.

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier: Synopsis from Goodreads: This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who's been searching for the truth all these years . . .|When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.But fourteen years later, Angela Wong's remains are discovered in the woods near Geo's childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he's something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo's first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela's death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it? 

This was not quite what I was expecting, or it was and then it wasn't. It was sort of a hybrid - dark, warped thriller mashed into Lifetime movie. I'm not even mad at it, honestly - kept me reading, writing was quite good - just a bit bemused by the unevenness in tone. I found the bits about Georgia adjusting to prison life well-done, and then having to learn how to live in society again. The parts about the susceptibility of an adolescent girl to a strong, destructive male personality struck me as pretty realistic too. 

Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar: Synopsis from Goodreads: From the bestselling author of If You Knew Her comes this harrowing tale of suspense—a story ripped from today’s headlines—of a tight-knit English community, who’s rocked by the murder of a mother and the mysterious disappearance of her daughter, and the secrets that lie concealed beneath a carefully constructed facade.A small town’s beloved family.A shocking, senseless crime—and the dark secret at the heart of it all.Everyone in Ashford, Cornwall, knows Meg Nichols and her daughter, Grace. Meg has been selflessly caring for Grace for years, and Grace—smiling and optimistic in spite of her many illnesses—adores her mother. So when Meg is found brutally bludgeoned in her bed and her daughter missing, the community is rocked. Meg had lived in terror of her abusive, unstable ex, convinced that he would return to try and kidnap Grace…as he had once before. Now it appears her fear was justified.Jon Katrin, a local journalist, knows he should avoid getting drawn back into this story. The article he wrote about Meg and Grace caused rifts within his marriage and the town. Perhaps if he can help find Grace, he can atone for previous lapses in judgment. The Nichols’ neighbor, Cara—contending with her own guilt over not being a better friend to Grace—becomes an unexpected ally. But in searching for Grace, Jon and Cara uncover anomalies that lead to more and more questions.Through multiple viewpoints and diary entries, the truth about Grace emerges, revealing a tragedy more twisted than anyone could have ever imagined.

"Ripped from today's headlines" - what does that ever even mean? Well, I know now what this means for this one, and I probably would have skipped it if I had known. I didn't figure it out early, though, so I guess it had that going for it. My favourite parts were from Cara's point of view, although I always do enjoy a good 'tormented journalist chasing a story that is likely to just fuck up his life further' tale. 

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid: Synopsis from Goodreads: In the center of historic Edinburgh, builders are preparing to convert a disused Victorian Gothic building into luxury flats. They are understandably surprised to find skeletal remains hidden in a high pinnacle that hasn’t been touched by maintenance for years. But who do the bones belong to, and how did they get there? Could the eccentric British pastime of free climbing the outside of buildings play a role? Enter cold case detective Karen Pirie, who gets to work trying to establish the corpse’s identity. And when it turns out the bones may be from as far away as former Yugoslavia, Karen will need to dig deeper than she ever imagined into the tragic history of the Balkans: to war crimes and their consequences, and ultimately to the notion of what justice is and who serves it.

I love McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan books. Is it possible, do you think, to love one series by an author and then be okay with it when they switch to another? It's the same writer, why would it not be equally as enjoyable? And yet I almost always find that if I like one series, I am not only resistant to another, I actually do like it less when I try it. Although the funny thing is that with this series (Inspector Karen Pirie) I adore the investigator and just don't care much for the mystery, whereas I find the Hill/Jordan books are far superior mysteries and I still like the investigator characters. The mystery/ main plot here was just kind of meh. Not that I don't care about the troubles in the former Yugoslavia, I just don't care that much about some epic romance set against that backdrop, and the skeletal remains thing was pretty obvious. Then the ending. Honestly, the ending might be the death knell for my association with this author altogether because, no. I refuse. As the author you are God, and if God behaves irresponsible or with capricious cruelty, I stop reading God's books. 

Trace of Evil by Alice Blanchard: Synopsis from Goodreads: An IndieNext Pick!"Gripping...Blanchard keeps the tension high." - Associated PressFrom Alice Blanchard, the author of the New York Times Notable mystery novel Darkness Peering comes Trace of Evil, first in an evocative new series about a small New York town, its deeply held secrets, and the woman determined to uncover them, no matter what the cost.There’s something wicked in Burning LakeNatalie Lockhart is a rookie detective in Burning Lake, New York, an isolated town known for its dark past. Tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of nine missing transients who have disappeared over the years, Natalie wrestles with the town’s troubled history – and the scars left by her sister’s unsolved murder years ago.

Then Daisy Buckner, a beloved schoolteacher, is found dead on her kitchen floor, and a suspect immediately comes to mind. But it’s not that simple. The suspect is in a coma, collapsed only hours after the teacher’s death, and it turns out Daisy had secrets of her own. Natalie knows there is more to the case, but as the investigation deepens, even she cannot predict the far-reaching consequences – for the victim, for the missing of Burning Lake, and for herself.

I probably would give this three and a half stars if I was rating it based on my memory of it. It was a good, solid mystery with the tropes of the small town and tangled interpersonal relationships used to good effect. 

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley: Synopsis from Goodreads: Everyone's invited...everyone's a suspect...For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

There's a funny thing with British mysteries. Sometimes their British-ness makes them darker - something about the 'stiff upper lip'-ness, or the country being so much older than ours, or all the bad weather. Sometimes it just makes it seem like this terrible stuff is happening and people are still just... being too polite. This is not exactly what I want to say, but we just found out that Angus needs a negative Covid test before he crosses the border again and we are all scrambling. I also find it funny how British people say they are 'called' something instead of 'named' something. Like 'he's called John' - it always makes me feel like they're using aliases, like his name is something else but we're calling him this. Anyway, this was fine, nothing really special except the setting, which was what drew me to it. 

The Fourth Monkey by J.D. Barker: Synopsis from Goodreads: For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

Serviceable, nothing really bad, nothing really new. The one 'twist' about Sam Porter was extremely obvious and would have been much more effective if it was not.

Three-Star Fiction:

The Last Piece by Imogen Clark: Synopsis from Goodreads: A sudden departure. A story decades in the making.The chaotic but happy equilibrium of the Nightingale family is thrown into disarray when Cecily—whose children can’t remember her ever being remotely spontaneous—disappears to a Greek island with no warning or explanation.Her reasons for doing something so out of character are a total mystery to her three daughters, high-powered executive Felicity, unfulfilled GP Julia and organised mother-of-five Lily. What connection could she possibly have with Kefalonia?But Cecily has gone to continue a story she thought ended decades ago—one that could have a huge impact on her family. And when she returns, she’ll have to tell them the truth.Will Cecily be able to hold her family together once she reveals her big secret? And might she discover that she’s not the only one with a story to tell?

For my fiftieth birthday, a friend gave me a three-month subscription to Once Upon a Book Club, where you get a box containing a book and several wrapped gifts corresponding to a certain page number and passage in the book - I know, insanely cool, right? When I got this one, I guess he also got the notification of what book it was, and he said his daughter looked it up and said "sounds like a 'wine moms book club' book". She was not wrong. There's nothing bad about that - generally I read stuff with a little more edge, but this was actually quite a lovely story, both about Cecily and her other family members. There was nothing really shocking, but it was a nice reminder that sometimes you just tell a story without any bells and whistles, and that is just fine. Side note: I just skimmed the synopsis and realized I had accidentally switched it with the plot of The Secret of Black Hollow Lane - THAT would have had you all good and confused. 

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman: Synopsis from Goodreads: The award-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the To the End of the Land now gives us a searing short novel about the life of a stand-up comic, as revealed in the course of one evening's performance. In the dance between comic and audience, with barbs flying back and forth, a deeper story begins to take shape--one that will alter the lives of many of those in attendance.In a little dive in a small Israeli city, Dov Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his prime, is doing a night of stand-up. In the audience is a district court justice, Avishai Lazar, whom Dov knew as a boy, along with a few others who remember Dov as an awkward, scrawny kid who walked on his hands to confound the neighborhood bullies.Gradually, as it teeters between hilarity and hysteria, Dov's patter becomes a kind of memoir, taking us back into the terrors of his childhood: we meet his beautiful flower of a mother, a Holocaust survivor in need of constant monitoring, and his punishing father, a striver who had little understanding of his creative son. Finally, recalling his week at a military camp for youth--where Lazar witnessed what would become the central event of Dov's childhood--Dov describes the indescribable while Lazar wrestles with his own part in the comedian's story of loss and survival.Continuing his investigations into how people confront life's capricious battering, and how art may blossom from it, Grossman delivers a stunning performance in this memorable one-night engagement (jokes in questionable taste included).

Can't say I enjoyed it reading overmuch, or that I really understood what the author was going for. On the other hand, the writing conjured extremely vivid imagery, and at one point the narrative becomes almost unbearably propulsive to the point where it's pretty much impossible to stop reading. So I have a large measure of respect for the work, even if I didn't technically 'like' it. I like the expression I heard a comedian say once, which is "the truest humour comes from pain" - that's almost what we're getting here but not quite, because I feel like I'd have to be demented or have a truer understanding of what it means to live in the fallout of the Holocaust to find anything really funny here. It does, however, capture how laid bare someone is when they take a microphone and get up in front of an audience whose basic demand is "entertain us". So the three stars here is brutally honest, but it's probably a better book than that suggests.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles: Synopsis from Goodreads: In this classic work of psychological terror, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture--and the ways in which their incomprehension destroys them. The story of three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa, The Sheltering Sky is at once merciless and heartbreaking in its compassion. It etches the limits of human reason and intelligence--perhaps even the limits of human life --when they touch the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert.

I remember watching this movie - with John Malkovich (I feel like this is wonderful casting) and Debra Winger, but I don't think I watched the whole thing because I don't remember the later parts at all.

** mild spoiler alert ** I respect this book's place in the canon, but I'd be lying if I said I really liked it or thought it was amazing (and not because it was "too much" for me, which criticism I've seen leveled at other negative reviews). It's well-written for what it is and certainly does render the desert landscape's pitiless vastness vividly. It also reads very much like a white man talking about another white man's existential despair which, fair enough, and a woman's harrowing experience which, less so. The whole falling in love with her rapist thing? Garbage take. Kit's voice is taken away to the point where she's basically considered unrecoverably insane by the end. I don't think that men can never write female characters, but this instance I felt was a big miss. Along with the caricature Australian characters and the casual racism, the whole thing left me feeling like it's aged rather badly.

My Brilliant Friend by Elana Ferrante: Synopsis from Goodreads: A modern masterpiece from one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante's inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.

I've had such a hard time separating my actual reading experience of this book from the hype and the wretched, wretched cover. I dislike the whole schtick of the 'mysterious' or 'anonymous' author, so that was already one strike. The first chapter, combined with the cover, gave me Judith Krantz vibes, and then when it all took a hard left turn into grinding poverty and sexism and hardscrabble childhood in Naples in the fifties I had a hard time settling in. That being said, I did find it to be a vivid and moving portrayal of those things once I got into it. Not sure if I'll read the rest of the books. We read this for book club, and some people did read the rest, and said they were good but even bleaker, so pretty sure I won't go there until some time after Covid has subsided.


I TRIED to read My Brilliant Friend but couldn't get into it, maybe I should try again. I'm putting a few of these on my list, thank you!
Tudor said…
I think I've told you before that I go through your lists with an OPL window open, adding books to my "For Later" list (or, if there are LOTS and LOTS of people waiting, I request the download). Then, sometime in July, I get notification that there's a dark mystery waiting for me - it's a nice surprise!

I'm finishing my own first attempt at writing a mystery (although it's a very cozy middle grade mystery), but I think I need to wait to read any of these until I'm done writing it.
Ernie said…
13 minutes. Black hollow lane. Trace of evil. These books sound like good picks for Curly. She hasn't decided if she loves reading, but I think mysteries are her favorite. She has to read 10 books for school which she is all bummed about. When she is done, I will see if she will agree to try one of these. Fingers crossed. Thanks.
StephLove said…
We read My Brilliant Friend in book club several years back. I liked it, but apparently not enough to read the rest of the series.

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