Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I've been reading: December 2014

Well, it's that time again. We're nearly at the end of the year, but I don't know that I'll get any additional titles finished by the time the clock strikes 12 tomorrow night. So here's my wrap up for my 2014 Reading Challenge!

A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It came to my attention recently that I hadn't read any Sherlock Holmes, ever. And I needed to remedy that. I started at the beginning, of course, when Watson meets Holmes and the two begin to work together on a mystery of murder most foul. Highly entertaining, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more Holmes stories in the future.

The Sweetshop of Dreams, by Jenny Colgan. If ever there was a season for some light reading, for me, the holidays are it. Light, fluffy, sweet and funny--this novel from Colgan fits the bill, a mix of chick lit and foodie fiction. Rosie's life has hit a wall. She has a steady job in nursing, has a steady boyfriend she's shared a flat with for years. Everything is fine, if a bit boring. Until, that is, her mum calls and guilts her into helping out a distant relative out in the English countryside, her elderly great aunt Lillian, whom Rosie hasn't seen in years. The sweetshop Lillian used to run has been closed due to Lillian's poor help, and Rosie takes on not only the care of Lillian, but also the restoration of the business to its former glory. The small village she finds herself in is full of odd characters and long-buried secrets, pulling Rosie into a web of intrigue, and romance, much to her London boyfriend's consternation. Lovely and entertaining.

The Christmas Cookie Club, by Ann Pearlman. In the vein of looking for some light reading around the holidays, I picked up this title with high hopes. The premise, a group of friends who get together to share food, wine, stories and cookies at the beginning of every December in preparation for the holiday season, seemed promising. Unfortunately, I found the cast of characters (thirteen main characters, each with a lengthy back-story of her own) seemed to blur together, and I forgot who was who fairly often. I listened to this on audiobook, so there was no opportunity for me to flip back a few pages and remind myself of the details. Perhaps it would have been easier in print? Sadly, I finally gave up on it with about three discs remaining--I just wanted to move on to something else. Not recommended.

The World's Most Haunted House, by William J. Hall. In this unprecedented work, the story of the 1974 Bridgeport, Connecticut poltergeist is at last revealed. A crowd of more than 2,000 onlookers gathered. National media reported jumping furniture, floating refrigerators, and attacking entities. Decades after the publicity quieted, more than 40 hours of never-before released interviews with police officers, firefighters, and others tell the story as it actually unfolded. Hall does a brilliant job providing a journalistic accounting of the haunting, which I think actually helped keep the book from becoming too scary to read before bed. Fascinating stuff, especially for readers with an interest in local history or the paranormal.

The Secret Place, by Tana French. Something I love: A book in a series that stands alone brilliantly. This absolutely fits the bill. Nearly a year after a boy was murdered on the grounds of a girls' boarding school in the suburbs of Dublin, a photo of the boy is pinned to a school board with the caption "I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM". The case, which had gone cold, heats back up as Detective Stephen Moran brings this photo to the lead detective on the old case, Dublin Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway. Moran has been working away in the Cold Cases division for years, waiting for his chance to work in the Murder Squad. And Holly Mackey, the girl who found the photo and brought it to him, has given him just the opportunity, whether the unpopular Detective Conway likes it or not. The novel is told in two parts--one part follows Conway and Moran as they work the case, re-interviewing students and running down new leads, and the other part following Holly Mackey and her friends over the previous school year, leading up to the murder of Chris Harper. The pace of this novel was relentless, the characters distinct and vibrant. I loved it desperately, so much so that I picked up the next title in my list...

In the Woods, by Tana French. Which is the first Dublin Murder Squad novel, following a different pair of detectives, this time Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, each with only a few years experience in the Murder division. When a missing twelve-year-old girl, Katie Devlin, turns up murdered, her body posed on an ancient stone altar in an archaeological dig in the Dublin suburb of Knocknaree, Ryan and Maddox begin their investigation. However, it's only Maddox who knows that in 1984, in that same small community, Rob Ryan was known as Adam Ryan, and that he and his two best friends, all twelve years old, also went missing. Only Adam was ever found, his friends still missing twenty years later, and Rob still has no memory of what transpired that afternoon in the woods. It is paramount to him now, though, to work this case, even as memories surface from long ago. Absolutely chilling and a deeply moving novel to boot.

Rooms, by Lauren Oliver. Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his old farmhouse full of rooms packed with the collections of a lifetime. His estranged family—alcoholic ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and bitter daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance. But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long-dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb. It is only after the will has been read that the secrets held by the house and its inhabitants begin to surface, with cataclysmic results. This book is one to read carefully, as it is woven with snippets of clues from the very beginning. Intense and amazing.

A Quilt for Christmas, by Sandra Dallas. One last holiday book for me before the season passes altogether. It's 1864 and Eliza Spooner's husband, Will, has signed up to fight with the Kansas volunteers for the Union, leaving Eliza home to care for their two children and farm in his absence. She spends the lonely months sewing him a special quilt to keep him warm, a quilt for Christmas, sending it to him at the front. When the unthinkable happens, she must figure out how to move forward, even as she and her neighbors help each other through life's turmoil. It's when she is asked to house a runaway slave that Eliza finds a new purpose for her life. I love Dallas's eye for detail in telling a story, though occasionally I thought the story felt a little clunky. An easy read for a winter's night, though.

And that's eight titles for December, bringing my total for 2014 to 82, seven beyond my original goal of 75! I'm trying to decide whether I'll do another challenge for 2015. What about you, my fellow readers? Anyone inspired to start a reading challenge in the new year?

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