I expected me to read more books this summer. In July I only finished eight – but while I was on my road trip, I didn’t find the time to concentrate on reading. Unfortunately, two books were bad, but I still read to the end. On the other hand, I read a superb thriller set in Istanbul just after the Second World War, and a few more parts of the Murder series around baker Hannah Swensen. Is there any good book you recently read and which you recommend?
G. Willow Wilson: “Alif the Unseen”
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In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground.
When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
I liked the idea of this novel very much. The beginning sounds promising. Alif has real world problems when his girlfriend breaks up with him and his computer is hacked. Then fantasy elements are added. Mysticism plays a big role, and I am fascinated by concepts like jinns. But at the same time the novel loses speed and depth. A western woman who became a Muslim turns up. Although she plays a bigger role, she doesn’t even get a name. The author might have tried to add her autobiographic self here. After all, the book, unfortunately, is shallow and loses its suspense over the course of events. Most of it, but esp. the ending is not satisfactory and most conflicts don’t get resolved.
Mindy Mejia: “Everything You Want Me to Be”
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Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community. It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?
For a long time I suspected many characters to have commited the murder in this novel. Thanks to the plot unravelling, many people had a reason to kill Hattie. There is her official boyfriend, but also her English teacher and his wife. But even her best friend seems suspicious when she spreads rumors about Hattie’s last theater role as Lady Macbeth being linked to her death. The story is told from different perspectives which give the reader much insight into how the different characters think and work. I esp. liked that the real murderer is revealed only at the very end when I already expected a very different ending.
Joseph Kanon: “Istanbul Passage”
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A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has spent the war as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even American businessman Leon Bauer has been drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs for the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of post-war life, he is given one more assignment, a routine job that goes fatally wrong, plunging him into a tangle of intrigue and moral confusion.
Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Leon’s attempt to save one life leads to a desperate manhunt and a maze of shifting loyalties that threatens his own. How do you do the right thing when there are only bad choices to make? Istanbul Passage is the story of a man swept up in the aftermath of war, an unexpected love affair, and a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.
Oh Istanbul, my love. Another book about this amazing city. This novel is set at the end of the 1940s, just after World War II ended. I enjoyed reading Leon’s story very much because the plot is thrilling and the descriptions of the city are colorful. The reader learns much about history and politics back then. I for instance wasn’t aware that jews from all over Europe mainly travelled to Israel via Istanbul. This novel is a big recommendation!
Dominique Loreau: “L’art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less”
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Dominique Loreau is the master in the art of de-cluttering and simplifying. Now her groundbreaking L’art de la Simplicité, a huge bestseller in her native France, is translated into English for the first time. Loreau’s principle of “less is more” is set to change your life forever.
Living in Japan and inspired by Asian philosophy, Loreau takes you on a step-by-step journey to a clutter-free home, a calm mind and an energized body. Free yourself of possessions you don’t want or need; have more money to spend on life’s little luxuries; eat better and lose weight; and say goodbye to anxiety and negative relationships.
This is probably the worst book I have read in years. Even though I am not a big fan of minimalism, the book looked interesting enough to me on the library shelf. Only it isn’t about minimalism really, but the French author, who now lives in Japan, tries to give well-meaning advice on all aspects of life. But I really don’t want to be told that there is only one way of living correctly. I don’t need to throw away everything I own and even live without furniture because that is what people in Japan all do according to Loreau. Other advice include how to make your own facial masks (nothing new here) or that mental health problems are only habits of thought (very dangerous). Her writing is wrongheaded, patronising, and oversimplified. Better save the money and thus have one piece less at home.
I finished another four of Joanne Fluke’s Murder books. I have only two left now of the whole series and am waiting until it is my turn to read them as ebooks from my public e-library. Not all parts are equally good, but I enjoy reading about Hannah, her life as an awesome baker, her cat, her family and friends, and, of course, the murder cases she solves. The more of these stories I have read, the more familiar I feel with life in Lake Eden and the more all characters grow on me.
Joanne Fluke: “Lemon Meringue Pie Murder”
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Hannah Swensen thought she’d finally discovered the recipe for a perfect life. But her sometime beau Norman Rhodes tosses a surprise ingredient into the mix when he phones to tell her he’s just bought a house from local drugstore clerk Rhonda Scharf – which he plans to tear down in order to build the dream home he and Hannah designed.
It seems the plan has been cooking for quite some time, and Hannah is shocked – especially since her ring finger is still very much bare. The good news is that the soon-to-be-torn-down house is full of antiques – and Norman has given Hannah and her mother first dibs.
They uncover some gorgeous old furniture, a patchwork quilt … and Rhonda Scharf’s dead body. A little more sleuthing turns up the half-eaten remains of a very special dinner for two – and one of The Cookie Jar’s famous lemon meringue pies.
Now it’s up to Hannah to turn up the heat – and get busy tracking down the clues. Starting in her very own kitchen.
Joanne Fluke: “Fudge Cupcake Murder”
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Bakery owner Hannah Swensen just can’t keep her hands out of the batter when murder stirs things up in Lake Eden, Minnesota, leaving the sheriff dead, an innocent deputy accused, and a killer still on the loose…
For Hannah, life seems to be lacking a certain flavor. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy teaching a weekly “Potluck Cooking Class” at the community outreach center. Or that she’s not excited about her sister Andrea’s bun in the oven — watching the very pregnant Andrea try to sit on a stool at The Cookie Jar is worth it every time.
Maybe it’s this year’s sheriff’s election that’s got her down. For years, Sheriff Grant’s been the iron hand in town. But now, Hannah’s brother-in-law Bill is giving the old blowhard the fight of his long, dubious career — and Grant’s not taking it in stride, especially once the local polls (and The Cookie Jar gossip) show Bill pulling ahead.
But before anyone can get a taste of victory, things go sour. Just as Hannah’s emptying the trash, she makes a very unappetizing discovery: Sheriff Grant’s body in the dumpster behind the high school where she’s teaching her cooking class. And if that weren’t bad enough, the poor man still has fudge frosting on his shirt from the cupcake she gave him earlier. She’d been trying to find the secret ingredient left out of the recipe. Now she has a more important mystery to crack.
Joanne Fluke: “Cherry Cheesecake Murder”
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Hannah Swensen and her bakery, The Cookie Jar, bask in the glow of Hollywood glamour when Main Street becomes a movie set. And although tensions simmer as the cameras roll, no one expects the action to turn deadly. . .until it’s too late … There’s no such thing as privacy in Lake Eden, but Hannah never thought things would go this far. Everyone has been telling her what to do ever since she got not one but two marriage proposals. Movie mania soon shoves Hannah’s marriage dilemma into the background and even gives her cat a shot at stardom. The Cookie Jar serves as snack central with Main Street rented out for the week. She stirs lots of fresh gossip, whipping up treats for cast and crew, including demanding director Dean Lawrence’s favorite–cherry cheesecake.
Joanne Fluke: “Cream Puff Murder”
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Bakery owner Hannah Swensen has a dress to fit into and a date with her sister, Andrea, at Lake Eden’s new health club, Heavenly Bodies. Dragging herself out of bed on a frigid Minnesota morning for exercise, of all things, is bad enough. Discovering the body of man-eating bombshell Ronni Ward floating in the gym’s jacuzzi? Okay, that’s worse. Nor does it help that there’s a plate of The Cookie Jar’s very own cream puffs garnishing the murder scene.
Trying to narrow the list of Ronni’s enemies down to fewer than half the town’s female population, Hannah has her plate full. Trouble is, when it comes to cookies–and to murder–there’s always room for one more …
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