Rules of Prey by John Sandford

I recently read Rules of Prey by John Sandford, and I am officially now hooked and trying to track down the rest of the 23 books about Lucas Davenport. I currently have #17, so I hope they don’t have to be read in order.prey01splash

Lucas Davenport is a Minneapolis cop who gets put on a case to track down a serial killer who identifies himself as the maddog. From the start, the reader is thrown into the maddog’s head and experiences the stalk and attack, and the panic the maddog has when he makes a mistake and fails to kill one of his victims. Davenport enters the scene after the mistake, trying to catch the killer based off of this one slip-up. The maddog is cunning, calculating, and efficient, which makes it hard for Davenport to collect any clues, let alone discover his identity. Davenport realizes that the maddog is playing a game and tries to bend the rules so the maddog will make another mistake, hopefully leading to his capture. This book is fast-paced and intricate, and reveals just enough clues so that while I was reading, I wanted to tell Davenport what I was learning through the chapters so he could catch the psychopath sooner!

My only critique about this novel is that while some chapters are told from the maddog’s perspective, we never really learn about his background. Occasionally when he’s attacking the women he seems to have flashbacks to a ranch and to another woman – his mother? A sister? The reason behind his hatred for women was never explained, and these flashbacks were never truly developed. But, as this is the first book in a long series, maybe the maddog will resurface at some point and my questions will be answered.

I equally loved and was creeped out by scenes which were situated in familiar places to me. Growing up in Minnesota, I could relate to retreating up to the north woods for a break from it all, and I could picture the landmarks and neighborhoods Sandford described. I haven’t read a mystery in a very long time, and this was a great way to get back into it. I think back in junior high I read almost all of Mary Higgens Clark’s novels, a good chunk of Agatha Christie, and a lot of Harlen Coben…and then I had just had enough of mysteries. Apparently my obsessions come and go in cycles because I’m hooked on this police procedural series. If you’re easily scared and have a hard time sleeping after hearing about crime – I dare you to read this book.

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First post in over a year?!

Yup, that’s right. If you scroll down you’ll notice that my last blog post was in January 2013. Yikes. I promise I’ve read a lot of books since then…

So in May 2013 I graduated and I now have one of those things called a job. And I started grad school. And I moved out. One of my good friends called me a yuppie and I realized that about summed up all the change and the whole experience of living in the city. And then somehow 2014 rolled around and I was thinking about how I haven’t written a review in a long time. And then I had a fantastic coffee date with a cousin who told me I should post again – and here we are!

I promise I won’t start any more sentences with the word “and.”

One of the books I’ve read recently that I loved is Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. This a beautifully written book about the German occupation in France and one girl’s tangle with a soldier that affected her whole village. Framboise, the main character, narrates the story of her nine-year-old self from years in the future. She has returned to the village she grew up in and hides her identity from her neighbors, knowing that if she revealed who she was and who her mother was, the village would turn against her. Five Quarters of the Orange

Framboise spends days pouring over her mother’s old recipe book, which doubled as a cryptic journal through which Framboise pieces together events that she did not understand as a young girl. During the German occupation, Boise and her brother and sister befriended a young German soldier who gave them sweets and trinkets in exchange for what the children believed was harmless information about other villagers. In order to sneak out and meet the soldier, Tomas, Boise hides pieces of orange peel around the house, which provoke debilitating headaches for her mother. Boise is almost malicious in how she treats her mother, who suffers migraines and episodes where she blacks out. But Boise is determined to take advantage of every opportunity to meet Tomas, who she seems to fall in love with. Tomas usually visits all three children by the river where they are away from adult eyes, and Boise becomes obsessed with getting him alone to herself. Tragedy strikes when Boise finally meets Tomas alone, and her silence about the circumstances causes a terrible string of events to occur, resulting in the villagers driving Boise and her family out of town.

Throughout the story of her childhood, Framboise also narrates her present life. She struggles with learning the truth from her mother’s book and hiding it from the rest of the world when her nephew and his wife threaten to expose her, blackmailing her for her mother’s coveted recipes. She explores her own memories of her mother and realizes the similarities they shared in their personalities, and how those traits affect her own children and grandchildren. This story weaves together past and present and contains dark elements of mystery intertwined with the naivete of childhood love. The story will make you want to turn the pages fast, but the prose will cause you to slow down and savor the words that make up the story.

Here are some other great books I’ve read recently if you’re looking for some quick ideas:

Man Walks Into a Room, Nicole Krauss (another beautiful book about memory loss and redefining self)

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, Veronica Roth (this whole YA series is fantastic)

Hold It ‘Til It Hurts, T. Geronimo Johnson (an Iraq veteran tries to find his missing brother after Hurricane Katrina – an amazing book but not one for the faint of heart)

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (a bit lengthy but a classic about growing up in poverty in Ireland)

Switch, Chip & Dan Heath (“how to create change when change is hard”)

Peace Like a River, Leif Enger (a father and siblings’ quest to find their renegade brother who runs away after a murder trial)

Sister by A. Manette Ansay

It's a smaller picture but it's all I could find!
It’s a smaller picture but it’s all I could find!

I know it’s been a long (long, long, long) time since I’ve posted, but I recently finished this fantastic book and knew I had to post with a review.

I just read Sister by A. Manette Ansay, and enjoyed every page. The main character, Abigail, is expecting her first baby and is sick of her mother’s entreaties to baptize the baby in the Catholic faith. Abbigail remembers growing up in Wisconsin in a small and exclusively Catholic town. The book alternates between memories of the past and scenes from the future, in which she seems passive, almost stuck, waiting to know what to do.

Most of Abbigail’s memories center around her father and brother. Her younger brother Sam had been her best friend, but as they started to grow up, her father tried to make Sam into a man. He forced Sam to drink beer, use tools to build things, and discouraged him from ‘girl’ activities like music, housework, and being creative. Sam seemed to get further and further away from Abbigail, who retreated into the Church and her piano playing. Abbigail focuses on the gender roles that were forced upon her and her brother and the way that they affected their upbringing.

From the beginning, we learn that Abbigail’s father drove Sam into running away from home when he was seventeen. Perhaps he struggled too hard to be the man his father wanted him to be, or just got caught up with the wrong crowd along the way. He was suspected of assaulting a local older woman in their church community, but never returned and was eventually given up for dead. Abbigail’s mom refused to accept the possibility of Sam’s death and never moved from the house, even when Abbigail’s father moved down south. Abbigail started a new life on the east coast and left the Catholic church, causing her grandma to disown her and her mother to call relentlessly to beg her to return to her faith. Abbigail’s mom tries to persuade Abbigail to name her new baby Sam and to baptize him, seemingly to give the run-away Sam a new life and new start.

Abbigail eventually takes a trip to visit her father and put up signs with Sam’s face on them, even though enough time had passed that the likelihood of finding him was almost nothing. Then, a discovery is made, and she and her family must come to terms with the truth about Sam. The books ends with a conversation between Abigail and her mother as they discuss what it means to find grace.

Ansay’s writing is beautiful, and my summary probably didn’t do the book justice since I am out of practice blogging about what I read. But the book is full of description, emotion, and passion, and drives you forward to learn more about Abigail’s story. Although at times I was frustrated with adult-Abbigail for being so passive, the memories she delved through helped me understand her character and why she acted that way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about families and the trials they go through, or anyone who appreciates well-crafted writing.

Book Reviewers for Hire: What does that Mean for Bloggers?

I read an article from the New York Times about a new trend – book reviewers for hire. The article tells the story of Todd Rutherford, a man who started his own business by charging authors for gauranteed positive reviews. For about $500, an author can expect 20 positive reviews, and for about $1,000, 50 positive reviews.

Now, as an aspiring writer myself and a former intern at a publishing house, I know what good reviews can do for a book. It would be wrong of me to condemn this idea wihtout admitting that I hope someday I can have 50 positive reviews of a book that I’m trying to sell. However, I would hope that those reviews would come from real, genuine readers, not some sycophant service.

And maybe calling it that is too harsh, because in terms of business, this was a brilliant idea. There was a need for positive reviews that spanned multiple websites, and Rutherford stepped in to deliver. But as someone who enjoys reading and loves to discuss books – all aspects of them, good or bad – I couldn’t help but shudder as I read about this service.

When Rutherford had too much business to handle, he hired freelancers to write reviews, but most freelancers were taking on so much work that could only read a small portion of every book they reviewed. Nonetheless, they had to give a wildly positive review, or take a pay cut. Rutherford himself called them “‘artificially embellished reviews.'”

To me, that just sounds wrong. But, I guess it eventually stopped working for Rutherford when a customer gave his business overwhelmingly negative reviews because she didn’t get her reviews fast enough. A backward taste of his own medicine?

As a book blogger, I hope to give real reviews, praising the positives but also outlining the negatives in a book. That way, my readers can make informed decisions about what they want to read based on my truthful opinion of the book.

(Speaking of reviews, more will be coming soon. I’ve read so many books lately that my list to review is getting long enough to look intimidating)

What do you think? I encourage you to read the article and even poke around Rutherford’s website, although it looks like the domain name is for sale now.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

There is a reason this book was on the New York Times Best Seller List for 95 weeks. When it came out almost ten years ago I remember the fuss, but I never read it. My sister brought it home about a week ago from a pile of “To Share” books at work and tossed it into my lap.

(I see how it is. You just want to read to the review on here to see if it’s good, then you might read it after that.)

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, revolves around a man named Eddie. Eddie is old and grumpy. His wife is dead, he never got along with his father, and he hates his job as a maintenence worker at Ruby Pier, an amusement park that he has been stuck at his entire life. He checks the rides every day and occasionally makes balloon animals for children who ask. One day, one of the rides breaks and Eddie tries to save a little girl who is underneath the falling car. When he wakes up, he is young, full of energy, and can run around this new world that he discovers is actually someone else’s heaven.

In the afterlife, Eddie travels to other peoples’ heavens…specifically five people that had a great impact on his life. The first is the Blue Man, one of the ‘freaks’ in the Ruby Pier show of Eddie’s childhood. The Blue Man explains some of the rules of heaven – how Eddie will travel and what he can expect. He also learns the first lesson of the afterlife: that everyone is connected somehow. He continues traveling and meets the four other people that had the greatest impact on his life. There’s his formy army captian,  and Ruby (who teaches him about his father), then his late wife Marguerite, and finally a young girl named Tala who was killed during World War II while Eddie was a soldier. Each person he meets along the way has a new lesson for him and plays a part in Eddie’s understanding of his life. He must come to terms with everything that happened over his lifetime before he learns whether or not he saved the girl from the ride at Ruby Pier.

This book was a fantastic read, and I think anyone who picks it up will truly enjoy it. It shows that everyone is connected somehow, in some way, and that every action in life has some sort of a consequence.

The School of Essential Ingredients

I’ve never read a book about cooking before, except, you know, a cook book, but The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister was a fantastic read. The prose was beautiful, elegant, and rich. I know this sounds like it’s leading to a terrible metaphor comparing cooking and the elements of a story (mix them together, blend gently, folded into the story…) but I really loved this book.

Lillian owns a restaurant and teaches cooking classes on Monday nights once a month. There are eight students, and each chapter revolves around one of the students. The book opens with Lillian’s story, explaining why she loves to cook. As she grew up, she used cooking to connect with her mom and draw her out of her shell, guided by Abuelita, who is a neighborhood shop owner who teaches her certain cooking lessons. Much of Lillian’s “training” comes from experiments she does on her own. She learns to cook without following recipes but going with her intuition and mixing ingredients based on what emotions she wants to create.

Each following chapter then takes one of the students and digs deeper into their story. There is a young girl trying to define her life, a mother who doens’t remember who she is without her children, and a man who lost his wife to breast cancer, to name a few. The stories begin to intertwine with each other as the classes continue and the students get to know each other. A romantic relationship forms between two of the students and unlikely friendships develop.

The interesting thing about the classes is that Lillian doesn’t actually teach her students how to make meals. She splits up tasks and sends them off with vague instructions, leaving them to become comfortable with their own intuition – how long the wine needs to simmer for the sauce, or how long the butter and sugar need to be blended for a white cake.

I would recommend this book to those who like cooking, reading about cooking, or just want to read something beautiful. This book made me wonder if any of the cooking instructions could be followed based on Bauermeister’s description…

Sophomore Switch

Sophomore Switch, by Abby McDonald, was a quick, enjoyable teen read.

 Dubbed “chick lit” by some, this book followed two sophomore girls in college who switch places through an exchange program to try out new lives. Emily, the studious control-freak from Britain, trades places with Tasha, a girl recovering from partying too hard in California. Both girls were accepted at the last minute into the program, and neither received the school they were expecting.

Emily tried to escape a bad break up and an overbearing father, and although she was disappointed not to have been placed at an Ivy League school, she was ready for a chance to loosen up in California. She was placed in all of Tasha’s classes and although she thinks being a film major is not challenging in the least, she is surprised to find herself enjoying writing scripts and directing a movie for a class project. Her partner for the project happens to be a very cute boy…who is her new roommate’s ex-boyfriend. She tries to navigate the California dating scene and on the way, learns how to follow her own dreams, not the pressure from her family.

Tasha was a crazy partier in California, running away after an embarrassing incident caught on camera with a teen celebrity. She feels like she’s in a different world in Oxford and must learn how to navigate heavy textbooks write essays in a single day. Under the guidance of a professor who, if you’re lucky, will give you a C, Tasha joins a group on campus to save the local women’s center. Her cute tutor helps her in classes and she starts to find her own way in this foreign world, discovering that maybe she doesn’t always need a boy at her side or a party on Friday night to look forward to.

In the end, the emails exchanged between Tasha and Emily bring them together at the end of their semesters to talk about how much they’ve changed. They both have learned more about who they want to be, and look forward to their next years in college.

This book was a quick read and fun to follow. Although there was not a lot of depth and the story was fairly predictable, it was a good summer story. I would recommend this to anyone who likes teen fiction and stories about changing in college.