Marie’s Reading: “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason

three gravesWhile working on his property, landscapers uncover human remains in Jason Getty’s yard.  Jason is horrified, but also confused–neither of these bodies are the one that he buried himself.

Years before Jason committed a murder.  He never reported it, and he buried the man at the edge of his property.  He thought he’d covered for himself pretty well.  But now detectives are swarming, and Jason just knows they’re going to find the third grave eventually.  So he has to decide what to do before his crime is uncovered.


There’s also the mystery of the identities of the two bodies eventually found in Jason’s yard.   A team of detectives, Bayard and Watts (along with faithful dog Tessa), are working to figure out what happened to them and why.  Watts and Bayard were my favorite characters in the book–they both come across as dedicated, kind guys who are good at their jobs and have great instincts, as well as being great friends with each other.  Their interactions are great to read.

Jason is fascinating as well.  I like how Mason crafts his mindset.  It takes a while to discover how off-kilter he really is, and it’s a nice build.

Three Graves Full reminded me of a darkly comic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with some police procedural thrown in.  It’s a fast-paced read with entertaining characters and really well-done action sequences.  If you like mysteries with a slightly different angle with lots of threads that come together at the end, you should give this one a try!



Marie’s Reading: “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley” by Hannah Tinti

twelve livesLoo and her dad have lived an unsettled life.  Always moving from place to place.  Loo’s dad, Hawley, has a mysterious past, represented by twelve different scars all over his body–all from bullets.  At last, when Loo is a teenager, she and her father settle in Loo’s late mother’s hometown in Massachusetts.  It’s not an easy adjustment, however–Loo has a lot to learn about navigating the world, and she also has to confront the not-so-warm welcome she and her father get in Olympus.

The story goes back and forth in time.  One part of the book focuses on Loo trying to get her footing in her new town, and her attempts to uncover her family’s secrets.  The novel also explores her father’s criminal past, one chapter for each bullet he took.  Tinti structures the novel very well.  The past sections are interspersed at precise moments in the story to either illuminate or to underscore what’s happening in the present.  And when the past finally catches up toward the novel’s climax, the storylines merge.

I really enjoyed Loo as a character.  She’s tough and maladjusted, as you’d expect.  Yet her relationship with her father is the absolute center of her universe, for good and bad.  The revelation of his past misdeeds seems to come as no surprise to her, and certainly doesn’t shock her.  Instead, there’s the sense that there’s a new depth and understanding between them.  As the story unfolds you realize that Loo and her dad are deeply flawed and not entirely sympathetic–but at least they’re deeply flawed together.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a great mix of coming of age tale, crime story, and exploration of a father/daughter relationship.  Tinti’s style is very descriptive, and she puts together scenes for maximum effect–whether it’s thrilling, frightening, or, sometimes, sweet.  The sense of place is amazing, whether describing a shootout at a hotel or the woods of New England.  If you like gritty books where characters aren’t always good but have their own brand of morality, you might enjoy this one.  Fans of Donald Ray Pollock should take a look, too!


Marie’s Reading: “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage

all-things-cease-to-appear-1Quick one for today, post-gorgeous holiday weekend.  It’s a blend of suspense, mystery, ghost story, and family story told with rich prose and a haunting tone–All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

At the beginning of the story, George Clare finds his wife murdered in their old farmhouse in upstate New York.  He’s the immediate suspect, but his parents manage to bail him out, and the police can’t get enough evidence to bring a case against him.

From there, the story goes back in time to show the backstory of the Clares and the story of their marriage, and how the murder is just the latest crime in a string of them.  We also learn the story of the Hales, who owned the farm before the Clares moved in.  Soon the story shifts to more of a “how-dunnit” than a “who-dunnit,” blending with the story of a poor small town and the people who try to survive there.  There’s also just a hint of the supernatural, but just enough to add another dimension to the story and characters.

The sense of place and the atmosphere is wonderfully evocative–the whole book feels cold, a little desperate, a little bleak.  The intense moments sneak up on you.  This is a very rich, well-crafted story, with strong characters and a good dose of atmosphere.  The pace is slow, but the characters and the mystery keep the story going.

If you enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, or the slightly-otherworldly intricate suspense of Jennifer McMahon, give this one a try!


Simply Books! March Meeting

Credit to Paul Shinn over at "Look What I Drawed."
Credit to Paul Shinn over at “Look What I Drawed.”

Simply Books!  turned three years old in March!  We’ve had just about the same core crew since the beginning.  Along the way we’ve picked up new members who each bring something unique to our table.  The Simply Books! crew, to a one, is friendly, intelligent, hilarious, warm, and, of course, well-read!

It really is an honor to facilitate this group.   It occurs to me that our members are always thanking me and saying how great the group is.  Which warms my heart, don’t get me wrong!  But they really should be thanking themselves.  It’s every member together that makes a book group fantastic.   Along with that certain “It” factor.  Whatever “It” is, Simply Books! has it in spades.

So thank you to every single member of Simply Books!  I look forward to the fourth Saturday of the month like you wouldn’t believe. Talking books with all of you is one of the highlights of my professional life.  Here’s to another three years!

All-righty then, on to the good stuff!  This month I’ve decided to keep intact the list that I send by email to group members.  Most of these descriptions are in their own words.  It gives you a nice idea of what we cover at a meeting.

Here’s the list for March 2014:

cherishedCherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost
A collection of essays about the loss of cherished pets.  Wonderful tone, poignant but joyous. A book for small doses, given the subject. But still, as you read, you’ll weep, laugh, and rejoice.

inthefallIn the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
A novel about a white Civil War veteran and his wife, an escaped slave, set in Vermont.  It’s a story that spans three generations and revolves around a family secret.  Very character-centered and character-driven, with lyrical and engrossing writing.  Every character feels real.

house at seas endThe House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
This is the third in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and is absolutely delightful!  Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, England, who turns her expertise about bones into a turn for solving crimes.  Funny, with thin mystery plots that are secondary to the fantastic style and flawed (but always entertaining!) realism of the characters.  (this is a series you can join anywhere, but the first is “The Crossing Places” if you wanted to start there)

outsmarting catsOutsmarting Cats: How to Persuade the Felines in Your Life to Do What You Want by Wendy Christensen
This is a very informative and pretty much all-encompassing book about how to “train” the seemingly untrainable housecat.  A good read for cat owners, or anyone who would just like to know more about how a cat ticks.  A bit repetitive, but overall a good read.  The takeaway is: “Your cat does what it does because it works for it.”

siddharthaSiddhartha by Herman Hesse
A re-read (in the original German), and worth it!  Quite beautiful, with many wonderful moments.  It’s the story of a spiritual journey, with Buddhist sensibilities.  A simple tale, but lyrically told.

robert redfordRobert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan
The authorized biography of Redford (and yes, there are pictures!).  The writing is pedestrian, but Redford’s life was quite amazing.  His energy, environmental interests, film work, and athleticism all really come through.  The one down side is that, as it’s an authorized biography, you don’t know what they’re leaving out.

willpower instinctThe Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
Kelly McGonigal

This book was the culmination of McGonigal’s research as well as of her extremely popular 10-week class at Stanford.  It’s not wordy or fluffy, but rather very focused with a scientific and modern perspective on the nature of will-power.  It includes discussions of the myths of will-power, as well as about mindfulness.  Check out McGonigal’s TED talks for more.

formal feelingA Formal Feeling by Zibby O’Neil
A beautifully rendered story of coming to terms with grief.  Anne is a 16 year old girl who has recently lost her mother.  Her father has already remarried, and Anne is home from boarding school for the holidays.  The story revolves around Anne’s grieving process, and finally allowing herself to grieve.  It’s a sophisticated young adult story with writing to match, tactile and evocative and filled with symbolism and imagery.

tigersTigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
A novel about dysfunctional families, secrets, and coming of age, this story spans about twenty-five years and the stories of five different characters.  At the center of them all is a dangerous teenage sociopath and a crime he has committed, and through the points of view of the other characters his background and upbringing are brought to light.  Very evocative of upper-class New England in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

the woman upstairsThe Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
This novel centers on Nora, a schoolteacher in her thirties who considers herself a forgotten and overlooked “woman upstairs.”  She makes a connection with a student and his family, an obsessive connection which has disastrous
consequences.  Nora is a compelling narrator, one you identify with…until she crosses that line into insanity with a line or a thought.

crime and punishmentCrime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The classic novel of crime and its aftermath, as well as into the mind of a killer who seems perfectly normal.  The reader mentioned especially how the reader is drawn into the minutiae of the protagonist’s life, of how creepily everyday the narrative is, when all the while he is plotting a gruesome murder.

I realized only after I’d sent the email that I’d totally forgotten to include the book I shared!  Ooops.  It was Hild by Nicola Griffith, and if you click this link you can read my blog post.  I said pretty much all the same things.

If this post makes you curious about what Simply Books! is like in person, please come join us in a couple weeks!   Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 26th at 2pm, in the Jean Picker Room.