Reviews: Books 93-100

Read: 100
To Go: 0

Book List:
91. The Beryl Coronet — Arthur Conan Doyle
92. The Copper Beeches — Arthur Conan Doyle
93. La Seduction — Elaine Sciolino
94. Enemies Within — Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman
95. Public Secrets — Nora Roberts
96. The Hidden Child — Camilla Läckberg
97. 101 Uses for a Pug — Willow Creek Press
98. Feminist Ryan Gosling — Danielle Henderson
99. Holidays on Ice — David Sedaris
100. Defending Jacob — William Landay

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Finished reading: December 18, 2013

In La Seduction, Elaine Sciolino, the longtime Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, explains her theory that, for the French, seduction is a way of life, and crucial to how they relate to each other: not just in romance but in how they elect politicians, conduct business, enjoy food and drink, and have intellectual discussions.

If I don’t say this I’ll regret it: Sciolino’s book utterly seduced me. (And yes, I can hear your loud groaning from here.)  La Seduction provided delightful insight into the uniquely French practice, and how it plays out in almost every facet of their culture. Sciolino points out that for foreigners, the process can seem confusing, and it’s true: as I was reading I kept thinking that in friendships and relationships, and even just in casual conversation, it must be such a complicated practice to seduce but not to make the seduction obvious (that would be in bad taste). I think I might be too flat-footed and blunt for that.

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Finished reading: December 22, 2013

In Enemies Within, two Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporters investigate one of the most sensitive post-9/11 national security operations: a rush to prevent a homegrown al Qaeda bomber from executing his attack in New York City. It also delves into the NYPD’s hefty intelligence division, known as the Demographics Unit.

Enemies Within was one of those novels that gets your heart pounding. It kept up an unrelenting pace following in the footsteps of the would-be bomber, with interludes that focused on the major players surrounding the investigation, from the efficient and effective FBI/NYPD joint task force to the rogue NYPD Demographics Unit, which has ridiculous amounts of information and surveillance but nothing that could prevent a terrorist attack and amounted to little more than mass-scale racial profiling. Enemies Within was a fascinating read that kept me glued to the page.

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Finished reading: December 22, 2013

Emma McAvoy has grown up in the limelight, touring the world with her father’s band, Devastation. But despite her very public life, some secrets have stayed buried—like the names of the people who murdered someone close to her in her childhood, a memory she repressed for nearly 20 years. But her past is about to catch up with her.

My mother lent me this book and it was one of her favourites, so I feel truly awful for what I’m about to say. But what a terrible read. My book summary is not entirely reflective of what Public Secrets was about, but I’d need about three more paragraphs to sum it up. This was due to problems with pacing and plot. Pacing is normally something Nora Roberts handles well, but Public Secrets was bizarrely stretched out from Emma’s infancy to her mid-20s, likely to emphasize important moments that would have prominence in the later storyline. However, it would’ve made more sense to highlight those pivotal moments in flashbacks and cut out the frequent waiting time in the narrative. What I mean by that is long passages that were largely filled with platitudes before making an abrupt time shift like “months passed” or “days later.” Aside from a pacing issue, Public Secrets was rife with eyeroll-inducing antagonist caricatures and suffered from extreme plot ambition: there were far too many balls in the air, and quite a few of those plots didn’t deserve even half the prominence they received. With dramatic trimming, this could’ve been a far more digestible novel.

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Finished reading: December 24, 2013

The morning after their wedding, Patrik and Erica make an unusual discovery in their attic: a Nazi war medal, a bloody baby’s shirt, and a set of diaries among Erica’s mother’s former possessions. It prompts Erica to have the war medal analyzed by a WW2 expert in town, and to start reading her mother’s diaries. Elsy Falck was cold and distant while she lived, and Erica always longed to know more about her; these clues offer her a chance to find out exactly who her mother was. As Erica starts to read more about her mother’s life during the second world war, her own investigation dovetails with a murder the Tanum police department is investigating while Patrik is on his paternity leave.

I love Camilla Läckberg’s novels for many reasons. One of those is their insights into Swedish life. Paternity leave is, from what I can tell, a common and highly used perk there, and parents in Sweden get an equal amount of time off, should they chose it (16 months). So after having Erica play full-time caregiver for the last year, Patrik steps in to be a stay-at-home dad. It was a neat role-reversal, seeing Patrik finally begin to understand how frustrating the experience could be—and getting so desperate for grown-up social interaction that he would take his daughter for a walk and within an hour find himself at the police station, assisting his colleagues with their investigation. Aside from that, The Hidden Child presents a particularly sad mystery: Elsy Falck, nee Mostrom, was a sweet, happy girl in her youth. What makes her the withdrawn mother Erica remembered is heartbreaking.

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Finished reading: December 25, 2013

This is literally the cutest book I have ever seen (if you follow my Tumblr, you know I have a well-documented, deep and undying love of pugs), and when I found it in my stocking on Christmas morning I screamed to the high heavens with joy. But the reason I counted it in my challenge this year was because by the time I reached book 97, all I wanted to do was give up on the challenge and die. So I will not be reviewing it, for obvious reasons (but I did give it 5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads, and I plan to keep it forever, if that indicates how much I enjoyed it).

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Finished reading: December 25, 2013

Same as above, I wouldn’t have included Feminist Ryan Gosling in my challenge (okay, maybe I would have) if I hadn’t been so absolutely desperate to be done with reading. But I did derive lots of pleasure from reading it, just as I enjoyed the meme in its Tumblr form. Thanks go to my dear friend Mara for a wonderful Christmas gift!

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Finished reading: December 26, 2013

Holidays on Ice is a collection of holiday-themed short stories by renowned funny-man David Sedaris. It was another Christmas present (thanks, Mara!) and, in the holiday spirit, I read it on Boxing Day. It was amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and definitely a little disturbing at times. “SantaLand Diaries,” the longest story about taking a job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s, and “Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”, written in the style of a family newsletter penned by an irate and racist mother in a faux-exuberant tone (with plenty of exclamations marks) got my biggest laughs. I enjoy almost nothing more than excessive exclamation points. (Except for pugs. Pugs trump all.) Some of the stories were a little too offbeat for my taste, but good fun all around.

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Finished reading: December 28, 2013

Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney for two decades, is well respected at work and happy at home with the two loves of his life, his wife Laurie and his teenage son Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a violent crime: a young boy is stabbed to death a park on his way to school. Another catastrophic shock: the accused is Andy’s shy, mysterious son. Andy believes in his son’s innocence, but as damning evidence turns up his marriage begins to falter, and doubt starts to fester in the Barber household.

The reading process I went through with Defending Jacob was similar to what happened with Sutton: I started reading it, skimmed through, and spoiled the ending for myself, and had to put it down for a while. (More evidence that I should really stop skim-reading, but old habits die hard.) But when I was choosing a book to end the year on, I wanted it to be Defending Jacob…mainly because I’d already read almost 200 pages and it would be time-consuming and counter-productive to ignore a half-finished book in favour of reading a new book. All this is a precursor to saying that despite spoiling the ending for myself, Defending Jacob was a thrill-packed page-turner with plenty of ambiguity to leave you wondering long after you set the book down. Jacob’s guilt or innocence is never really confirmed, and though Andy remains convinced to the end I can’t say I’m so sure. It’s a fascinating book, and Landay is a master of surprises.

That concludes my 100 book challenge, and all the reviews! It’s been a wonderful, thought often stressful and frenetic, year of reading, with an overall great crop of books. Thanks for following along with me as I posted sporadic and much-delayed reviews. Check back in the next couple of days for my 2013 Year in Review, complete with lists, visuals, and a big announcement!

– Kelsey

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