books and reading

The Devil of Nanking

I’ve read a few of Mo Hayder’s books in the Jack Caffrey series, starting with Birdman, then The Treatment, then Ritual. I plan on finishing those, but when I discovered this one-off book that also was set in Japan (to fulfill a PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt), I was pretty excited. Someone I follow on bookstagram (here I am: posted it, and thankfully it was 1.99 on Kindle, so I snatched it up.

From Goodreads: Like the thrillers of Thomas Harris and Philip Kerr, Mo Hayder’s riveting new novel animates the dark corners of modern history. The solitary Englishwoman Grey comes to Japan looking for a rare piece of footage that is said to document a particularly monstrous episode of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. Her quest will take her to a reclusive scholar and a wheelchair-bound gangster who clings to life with the aid of a mysterious elixir, and to a handsome American whose interest in Grey may be more sinister than romantic. The result is a work of spine-chilling suspense, masterful historical detail, and otherworldly beauty.

Fair warning that Mo Hayder’s books are graphic, and this one is no exception. My goodness. It’s definitely not for the weak-stomached. That said, it was a great story. I couldn’t put this down. Once Grey stumbles upon some answers, and secrets start being revealed, I was completely sucked in and couldn’t read fast enough to see what the “truth” was. If you can handle graphic content, I definitely recommend this one.

books and reading


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There are a lot of topics I know nothing about. But I don’t know anything about them mostly because those topics don’t interest me at all. I was struggling with the PopSugar prompt about this very subject, so I went to my bookcase and looked around. Between my books and my husband’s, we have a wide array of topics. I found this one and thought it would be interesting enough. And if not, it was only 250 pages, so it would be easy enough to get through.

I knew was CTE was before I started and that it affects NFL players, but that was it. I really didn’t even know what the acronym stood for or how it was discovered. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. It is a fantastic read. The man who first brought CTE to light is a fascinating person. Bennet Omalu is from Nigeria, struggles to fit in in America, even to understand it really, but is vastly educated and, on a whim, decided to take a closer look at the brain of Mike Webster, a former player who had been struggling with mental issues before his death from a heart attack. What Omalu found changed the NFL forever. The story goes on to illustrate other players’ autopsies, the fight Omalu had with the NFL, and how his determination kept him fighting.

Even if you don’t like football, this book is absolutely riveting. What Omalu found and the ensuing battle is something I really had no idea about, let alone the magnitude of the NFL cover-up. This quick read is definitely worth looking into.

books and reading

Monday’s Not Coming

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As I’ve been quarantined, I’ve been riding the stationary bike while listening to a book. I’m usually a podcast person, and I still listen to those when I get a chance, given my kids are in the house and most I listen to are highly inappropriate for kids. But I’m trying to listen to books that are on my PopSugar Reading Challenge and give myself 30 minutes each day of shutting out the world.

At some point, someone online mentioned that this was a book with a made-up language, so I used it for that prompt. The girls in the story, Claudia and Monday, do have a made-up language that only they know, but it’s not a prominent part of the book, but I’m still counting it. This book was really good but very triggering for a lot of people. And it was pretty challenging to listen to because the plot jumps in various timelines- “the before,” “the after,” “one year before the before,” making me really not able to follow *when* things were occurring. Before the before was when Claudia and Monday were friends, living their best middle school lives. The before was when Claudia returned from a summer at her grandma’s to find that Monday is seemingly missing. The after is after Claudia learns what really happened. The multiple timelines are pretty confusing. It was clear when “before the before” was because Monday was there. But the before and the after kept me confused, mostly. Ultimately, the timelines make sense and the full story of what has happened to Monday is revealed.

This powerful book isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of topics that are difficult to read about. However, I also think it’s an important one. Children, too often, go unnoticed. People turn a blind eye to their struggles and voices. So much of Monday’s situation could have been avoided if the right people had done what they could. This book is a cautionary tale, at the very least.

books and reading

Little Heaven

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At some point, Stephen King recommended one of Nick Cutter’s books. I make a point to check out his recommendations when I can. I’ve learned that he is pretty spot-on with his recommendations. And Nick Cutter is for sure a great one. I’ve read The Deep and The Troop and enjoyed them both. The Deep was better, for me, but The Troop is more graphic if that’s your kind of thing. So, when I needed a western for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I knew I had to think out of the box. I don’t like westerns, and I really have no desire to read them. I’m sure some are great, like Lonesome Dove, but I would rather read something Western-ish. I recommend Unbury Carol, if you haven’t read that one. It’s definitely a western but also really great.

The podcast. Books in the Freezer, mentioned Little Heaven as a horror/western, so I went with it for my selection. This book, however, took me a while to get through. I try to read while I wait in the pick-up line for my kids. I get a good 30 minutes of quiet reading time. And even with that time, I just didn’t connect to this book. Then the quarantine happened, and my reading got all out of whack. I couldn’t figure out where to fit reading into my day with all the homeschooling I’m doing now. So, this book went on the back burner for a bit. Once I picked it back up, I got sucked into it.

The story is told in two different time periods, 1960s and 1980. We start in 1980 where Micah’s daughter has been led away from their house by an entity. Micah immediately knows what it is, and then we switch to the back story. Micah, Minerva, and Ebenezer have been hired by a woman to go to a remote part of a forest to retrieve her nephew from a cult. Sounds easy enough, but they soon learn this forest is also inhabited by some mystery. As the cult dissolves, the mysteries rise.

Even though it took me a while to get through this one, I did enjoy it. I would recommend his other books first, though. They captured me from the beginning, and I flew through them. He writes a great horror novel, though, and I look forward to reading more from him.

books and reading

The Devil in Silver

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For the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I had to read a book with “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” in the title. Thankfully, I have all my books either on Kindle or logged into the Bookpedia database. I searched through both of these things and didn’t find a single book with those words in the title. I then went to my Amazon wish list and found this one. Head to the library website, and I downloaded the ebook. Whew.

Given the world today, and the fact that my kids are home and needing to be homeschooled, I haven’t had much time to read, so this one took a while. That said, I think I would have made it more of a priority if I had enjoyed it more. This book was very reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, taking place in a mental hospital, but this one has a supernatural element to it.

I felt like this one wandered more than it should have. There’s this mystery about “the Devil” that is presented early on, but it’s semi-abandoned halfway through for a bit of a love story, which seemed un-authentic. The book didn’t really know what kind of book it should be, I guess. Is it a horror book? A dramatic book? A realistic book? It just seemed to wander between all of them. I appreciate when books can pull off more than one genre, but those genres should be present from beginning to end. Not just one here, one there, back to the first. I think with some heavy edits, this book would be a lot better.

books and reading

The Bermondsey Poisoner


I’ve read six books in this series, now. Some have been really good, some have been just okay. Part of my opinion is based on some of the recurring plot points and how interested I am in them. The overall murder mystery of each book is always interesting, but some of the ongoing plot points aren’t as good as others. However, this one hit the mark on all points.

Right now, there are eight books in the series, with the ninth on the way at some point in the near future. My Kindle Unlimited runs out on March 14, so I am trying to finish these last two before then. Fingers crossed I can do it! This one finds Penny investigating a serial murder, a Black Widow! A woman has killed a number of previous husbands, but there are other people who seem to be suspects, as well. Penny, of course, teams up with James from Scotland Yard to try and solve these murders.

I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, and I really don’t know whether there are anachronisms or not. And the characters in the books don’t evolve much, but I’m not looking at these as “fine literature.” I like Penny. She is interesting and dynamic and wants to make a difference in the world. She’s the reason I keep reading. I was glad to find that one of the books in this series fit into the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge with a book title of at least 20 letters.

books and reading

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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So, maybe that’s one of the longest titles in literature. Or one of the best. In any case, don’t let the title steer you away. Because this one is an absolute must-read. Ari and Dante will be with me for a long time. I know I will find myself thinking about them as my boys grow up. I will put myself in their parents’ shoes, trying to understand my boys, doing the best I can, and hoping more than anything that my sons grow up to be as amazing people as Ari and Dante.

I downloaded this from my library to listen to while I walk around the local indoor track and was surprised and overjoyed to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice through my earbuds for 8 hours. Told from Ari’s perspective, the summer of 1987 is a rough one. He has no friends, lives in El Paso with not much to do, and really struggles with his family. He loves his parents, but his dad is a Vietnam vet, his brother is in jail, and his sisters are much older. Ari loves his mom, but, well, she’s a mom. She pesters and nags and is just a typical mom who loves her son. Ari meets Dante at the local pool, and they hit it off. Dante loves books and wants to be an artist. He doesn’t have many friends either because people think he’s weird. Ari doesn’t have friends because he thinks regular teenage boys are annoying. Friendship forged.

This story is just so heart-wrenching, yet simultaneously heart-warming. I grew to love Ari and Dante and rooted for them to stay friends, find love, and for Ari to make peace with who he is and what his family is. I selected this one for the “Bildungsroman” prompt for the 2020 PopSugar reading challenge and am so thankful that I did. I don’t see many coming of age stories from a boy’s perspective, let along ones who are thoughtful and kind and sensitive and struggling with what it means to be a man, not a teenager. There are several boys I would have given this book to, back when I was teaching. It’s definitely a model for how to be different in an unforgiving world.

books and reading

The Handmaid’s Tale

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I first read this one ages ago. Maybe over ten years. After I read 1984, I devoured dystopian books. I still do, but I’m starting to run out of options. I definitely have burned through the classics in this genre. Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Giver, We, Anthem, and Animal Farm all come to mind. And I remember being just baffled by this book. I loved it, but it was so horrifying that I could hardly wrap my brain around it. I wanted to revisit this before I read The Testaments, and thankfully, this passes the Bechdel test, so I’m using it for the Popsugar Reading Challenge.

The story follows an unnamed woman, but we know her as Offred. Meaning she’s “of Fred,” essentially she belongs to this man, Fred. She’s a Handmaid, specially selected to birth his children. Most women are barred, so Handmaids are very important to the society of Gilead (formerly somewhere in the US, probably in New England). Offred is expected to participate in a Ceremony where both Fred and his wife are present, but Offred is raped. She is a Handmaid to live. She doesn’t like this role. She doesn’t have a choice, though. She has a husband and daughter but is unsure of their whereabouts or even if they are alive. Margaret Atwood wrote this back in the early 80s (published in 1985), and it’s really shocking how prescient she was. Of course, we aren’t close to living in a world like Gilead, but there are eerie hints, for sure.

Then Hulu produced the amazing series, and I got sucked back into Offred’s world. The first season is much like this book. I couldn’t think about Offred without imagining the brilliant Elisabeth Moss. Of course, a few changes were made, and a few characters were more developed in the book, but the season is a really well-done, faithful adaptation of the book. I’m curious to see what The Testaments brings, once it finally gets to me on library loan.

books and reading

The Shining

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This book is the first Stephen King book I read, over 20 years ago. I sure did start out with a bang! Since I have yet to read Doctor Sleep, I wanted to revisit The Shining to refresh my memory of the Torrance family. This book is one where you can’t compare it to the movie at all. They are vastly different. It’s pretty well-known that King isn’t a fan of The Shining movie, calling it “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie just never really captures the terror presented in the book.

We first meet the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy, and five-year-old Danny, after Jack has stopped drinking and is applying for a job as the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. High up in the mountains, the Overlook closes from Sept-May. Jack’s drinking troubles have ceased, but the memory of him breaking Danny’s arm lingers. Wendy loves her husband but is wary. And Danny is a great kid but an unusual one. Danny can see things before they happen. Once they get to the Overlook, Danny meets the head chef, Dick, who can also see things before they happen. This skill, Dick says, is called “the shine.” Dick knows the hotel isn’t harmless and is nervous for the family. He tells Danny to call him, mentally, if he needs him.

Slowly, the hotel begins to take possession of the family. Jack is the easiest to turn because he’s mentally troubled with his alcoholism. Even though the place is dry, the instability he has previously suffered makes him an ideal candidate for going crazy. The hotel also tries to get Danny into its grips by showing him horrifying things that have happened there. Wendy is the strongest, but she is at the mercy of her husband and son.

The ending of this book is nothing like in the movie, and giant chunks of the plot were altered, which was unnecessary. The book really is great as is, no adjustments needed. Aside from the end, the book is only graphic in a few spots but is really more of a psychological horror than anything else. I’ve read dozens of his books, and this one really does stand out as one of his best.

books and reading

Spoon River Anthology

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I don’t have a ton to say about this book, but I do want to mention it because it’s really creative, and I think a lot of people would be interested in it. The story is of the town of Spoon River, but the story is told via epitaphs.

The writings on the gravestones are written as if the person who died was writing it for him/herself after death. So, each one is written from the third person and tries to explain something about the person’s life, death, or both. A lot of accusations are made in one person’s epitaph which are resolved in another person’s. Explanations about divorce, murder, and the like fill the gravemarkers and, through these, you get a good idea that Spoon River isn’t the greatest place in the world, nor are its inhabitants.

Published in the early 1900s, the stories are much dated, but that really doesn’t matter because they are still salacious. And while I ultimately enjoyed the book, it was just so long and so many graves to keep up with. I found my brain wandering and skimming a lot. So, I recommend this book for its uniqueness and value in literature, but I can’t say I’ll pick it up again. But one more PopSugar Reading Challenge knocked out. Clearly this fit the “anthology” category.