118. Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
Gerry Anderson is a bestselling novelist who recently moved back to Baltimore to care for his ailing mother who passed almost as soon as he made the move. A freak accident in his new apartment leaves him bed ridden and wondering if he’s also starting to succumb to the same dementia that plagued his mother as he’s now receiving mysterious communications from a woman claiming to be the character in his most famous novel Dream Girl.
This was an excellent psychological mystery. I have a few quibbles with the initial set-up because the whole plan never gets set into motion in the way it unfolds if Gerry doesn’t become bed ridden, but if you look past that I very much enjoyed the way all the past stories from Gerry’s life eventually inform what is happening in the present. I give it a 7 out of 10.
117. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson is a famous artist who is now locked in a mental institution after shooting her husband five times and then refusing to speak another word. Now years later a psychotherapist is determined to get her to talk and reveal what actually happened on that fateful night. This was a good psychothriller that kept me engaged and the end of which I did not see coming though in retrospect I feel like I should have. I give it an 8 out of 10.
116. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
This is the first in what I gather will be a series of books in which the Bronte sisters become detectives. After a neighbor in a nearby manor goes missing leaving behind a huge pool of blood they set out to solve the mystery of what happened to her. It was fine but nothing I found to be exceptional. I haven’t read much by the Bronte sisters and didn’t really know much about their backstory, so I suspect there were a lot of Easter eggs for people who know more than I do. I also didn’t feel like lacking that knowledge really impacted my enjoyment of the book at all as I felt like the protagonists could have been any set of sisters from that time period instead of the Brontes. I give it a 6 out of 10.
115. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Desiree and Stella are identical twins who grew up in a small town in Louisiana where African-Americans have settled and are very much obsessed with keeping the people in the town light skinned. At 16 the girls run off together to New Orleans where their lives diverge. Desiree eventually marries a dark man who abuses her and she returns to the town with her dark daughter in tow. In attempting to get a job Stella discovers she can pass for white and leaves her family completely behind in order to enter the white world. Their stories are told over the course of decades with a chance encounter between their daughters being what eventually brings them back together.
I saw so many rave reviews of this book that I expected more from it. I thought the premise was more interesting than what it delivered on. I didn’t think the racial dynamics were explored as much as I thought they would be and I never really felt like I connected to the characters or their motivations that much. I give it a 6 out of 10.
114. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
The Bellweather hotel was once a grand resort but has long since seen better days with the annual statewide music competition for high schoolers now its biggest event of the year. This year it falls on the 15th anniversary a murder-suicide in the hotel in which a new bride killed her husband and then herself. With a snow storm bearing down the hotel things seem to be repeating themselves with a young musical prodigy found hanging in the exact same room where the bride was found hanging years earlier.
The description for this book mentions that it’s The Shining meets Glee, which sounds like a bizarre combination but which is actually a pretty apt description. The characters, though some of them somewhat of a caricature, were engaging and I was interested in what happened in the mystery. There were a few things I thought were a little rushed at the end, but everything had a nice build-up. I read it for a book club and everyone really liked it. I give it a 7 out of 10.
113. The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
Lydia and Freddie have been together since they were teenagers and now a decade later they are finally planning to be married until a tragic accident leaves Freddie dead. But through some strange pills Lydia discovers she can enter an alternate world in which Freddie is still alive. Lydia becomes torn between staying in her real life and escaping to this alternate life where Freddie is still alive but other things are not quite right. This was a cute little kind of Sliding Doors type story, though I wish that they had better developed her new love story. It never really felt like they connected in that way well enough to make the ending make sense to me even though you knew that’s where it was going. I give it a 7 out of 10.
112. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
After deciding that her current life isn’t worth living Nora is transported to the Midnight Library where she is presented with an infinite number of books each containing variations of her life based on different decisions she made along the way. She is presented with the opportunity to enter these lives to see if there is one that she wants to stay in instead.
It’s a clever idea and it was an enjoyable read. I do wish that when Nora entered a new book though that she was given the memories of her life there. She was constantly having to fake her way through her life in each of the books because she didn’t know who people were and what she had actually done in her life. That always made it seem like that was a big reason why she didn’t like those other lives rather than what was actually entailed in them. I give it a 7 out of 10.
111. Leave the World Behind by Alum Rumaan
Amanda and Clay head to remote Long Island for a week’s vacation with their teenage children, but it is interrupted when a black couple claiming to be the house’s owners show up in the middle of the night asking to stay there after they claim something mysterious is happening in New York City part of which includes a large blackout. With no cell service and the tv suddenly out Clay and Amanda have no way to verify what is happening. As it becomes more clear that something is indeed happening but it is still unclear what the couples must figure out how to rely on each other.
I had mixed feelings about this book. To some degree it’s well written. The author is one of those writers who is very good about making keen observations about the ways people act and live that I always appreciate. He is also very good about building tension. There last half of the book is like nothing but tension.
Some readers may be annoyed that you never in fact find out what happened. I get why the author didn’t ever explain because it was rather beside the point. It was really about the characters’ actions rather than what terrible thing had actually happened.
I was also very annoyed that the characters never turned on a radio to see if they could find out what was going on that way. If they had at least done that and it was out just like the tv was then fine, but the fact that even when one of the characters is driving around for at least an hour he never turns the radio in the car on. I was really annoyed for a good portion of the book by this fact and it did take me out of the story as a result.
I give it a 7 out of 10.
110. The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through the War by Delphine Minoui
French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui stumbled upon a photo of two young men in Syria surrounded by books in what seemed to a windowless library. It led her to discovering the library created by Syrian rebels in the town of Daraya which was cut off from the outside world for four years. Using WhatsApp and Facebook she learned about the library and the lives of men who created it and used it. The men collected books they found in destroyed buildings carefully cataloging where they came from in hopes that one day they might be able to be returned to their rightful owners. It’s a wonderful book about the power of the written word as well as a glimpse into a world that few of us know much about. I give it a 9 out of 10.
109. Swipe Right by Stephie Chapman
Fran and Ollie meet at a group interview and are both hired to fill the position because the company was so impressed by the way they worked together. They initially view each other as competition, but eventually realize that they can be really good friends. Everyone else thinks they are something more but they are both involved with other people and committed to keeping their relationship platonic. This was a cute rom-com. I liked the characters and there was lots of fun banter, which is one of my preferred things in a romance novel. I do wish that they held delved more into Ollie’s relationship with his girlfriend. It was never really clear why he liked her or why he would stay with her given the way she was written. Whenever it sort of came up he would always say that she was his rock, but that was never really explained. In what way? But that was a minor nitpick with the book. I found it to be a fun read. I give it a 7 out of 10.