Recent Reads and Recs: December 2013 Edition

Brief thoughts on books you may or may not want to explore on your own.

Care to chat with me more about these books or others? Leave a comment or find me on Twitter – @ProfeJMarie.

In spite of how busy December can be, I found lots of time, especially at the end of the month, to read a whole bunch – and many very different things, which made for a fun way to end my year in books. If you are interested in a view of all the books I read this year, you can check out my “Year in Books” on Goodreads.



cover At Night We Walk In Circles At Night We Walk In Circles, by Daniel Alarcón

This novel pulled me in with the odd choice of narration and the ultimate mystery of what has happened to the central character, Nelson, who is an actor that joined as a third participant in a trio of a traveling theatre troupe. Nelson isn’t really sure of what path to take in his life, including making some missteps in his love life, so when a playwright he reveres accepts him in the traveling show, it comes at just the right time.

Things go off the track when they take an unplanned detour to the town where Nelson’s mentor’s former love was born and they find that the family never knew of this lover’s death from many years before. The mother, who seems to suffer from Alzheimer’s, mistakes Nelson for her dead son and Nelson is coerced into staying and acting the part for a bit. From there, we get closer to the mystery of Nelson’s fate.

The narration of this story is an odd mix (and I do mean mix vs. alternating) of third person omniscient and first person point of view, and all with a primary focus on the characters that surround Nelson. For that alone I was intrigued, but the story needed a little something more to lead into the ending.


Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It, by Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan cover Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It

This novel is the first in a crime series akin to the TV show, Bones. There are several differences, of course, but if you know the show, I’d tell you that the primary ones are that the anthropologist and investigative characters’ genders are reversed and both are quite socially adept.

Trooper Leigh Abbott works as a homicide detective and upon finding a single human bone, she decides to convince Dr. Matt Lowell, a forensic anthropologist, and his team of students to help determine whatever they can about who the bone belongs to and where they might find the rest of the skeletal remains. In so doing, they uncover a series of remains, indicating a serial killer that ultimately puts both of them in danger.

The story is rich with detail without being tedious or otherwise slowing down the plot. The characters are likeable and compelling. In an early introduction to Abbott there is emphasis on sexism with her being the only female detective in her division, and I was worried that this well-worn theme would permeate her character, but happily, it did not take over and further treatment was realistic. Danna and Vanderlaan easily show us that Abbott and Lowell will be a romantic pair in a satisfying way. Probably the only issues I had with this novel came on the back end – the “villain” over-explained his motives and the wrap up lasted a bit too long – in fact, so much so that I almost thought there would be another twist. I look forward, however, to future installments of this series.


cover Firefly Lane Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah

This book reminded me very much of the movie (and novel, though I haven’t read it), Beaches in that both stories share a female friendship where one woman is the unstoppable force and drive for fame and success with the other holding a much quieter ambition. Tully comes from a tougher background with a mother who struggles with addiction and has neither the inclination or ability to take care of her daughter whereas Kate grows up in a humble, but stable family. Tully is determined to be the top journalist and lets nothing get in her way. Kate follows her until she finally finds the gumption to admit that she does not want the same things as her best friend.

The novel follows their friendship and lives through three decades and I read the first half feeling like the story was compelling in its own way, but also predictable. The rift that hurts the friendship (because you know there has to be one in this story) ended up not being what I expected (and I’m really glad, too), which helped raise the value of this novel for me and I ultimately enjoyed it. (I also ended up reading it rather continuously and finished within a 24-hour time period, which might have its own effect, too – on the positive side.) 


The Truth, by Michael Palin cover The Truth

I’m not entirely sure what made me pick up this book from the library other than it was on the employee rec shelves, which I always check out when I visit. Maybe it was this part of the opening lines on the book jacket: “…witty story of an everyman, a tantalizing offer, a journey to India, and the search for the truth.” Witty and a journey – why not?

Keith Mabbut is a former journalist that covered environmental issues in his past, but because of how much of the truth he shared, he made enemies, of a sort, and eventually turned to writing more for sustainability than ethics. A recent offer from a publishing house, however, convinces him to pursue a humanitarian and environmentalist that has managed to evade all other biographers and reporters. In searching for this man, Mabbut not only finds a return to his roots in exposing real truths, but finds personal truths, too.

I enjoyed this novel more than I first thought I would, and ultimately I think what I liked best was the authentic blend of realism and idealism that many of us battle with throughout our lives. In the end, Mabbut makes the reader feel okay about it all.


cover The Best Laid Plans The Best Laid Plans, by Tamara Mataya

If you want a steamy read, then this book definitely fits the bill. The characters were likable with interesting and powerful backstories. However, the plotline overall that supported those backstories felt weak, to me. Both characters have overcome high school years where they were isolated and/or bullied (in Malcolm, the male protagonist’s case, bullied to extreme, physical measures). They both have something to prove, and in Malcolm’s case, he initially tries to seduce the female protagonist, Jayne, in order to break her heart later because he blames her for unwittingly initiating one of the most severe bullying incidents in high school. Jayne does not remember or recognize Malcolm, who has changed a lot as well as the name he goes by.

Their 10-year reunion comes up and that, of course, is when all will be revealed. Both the nature of the reunion and Malcolm’s original plan (which of course goes awry as he falls in love with Jayne, instead) felt immature. It’s possible that I am 10 years beyond remembering what that first high school reunion was like (and I didn’t have as traumatic of an experience as these characters did), but I feel like this book missed an opportunity to explore the characters’ shared experiences (powerful ones – it’s one of the strongest parts of the story) and subsequent success stories instead of re-living a high school moment.


Believe It Or Not, by Tawna Fenske cover Believe It Or Not

I think I have mentioned in the past that I discovered I shouldn’t read two romances in a row, but I determined that I would finally read some of these ebooks that I own from authors that I follow and since I was on vacation and inbetween the onslaught of books on hold at the library, I broke my own rule. In this case, I had some higher expectations, though, as I knew Fenske to produce witty writing.

This novel is a snappy romance in that it doesn’t shy away from what kind of novel it is. We meet the protagonists right away and the sexual tension comes into play right away. The characters are confident, smart, and stable. In that way, this novel is fun. Violet is in town to help take care of her mother’s psychic services business after her mother takes a fall down the stairs. The next door business neighbor is Drew, who owns a bar. If not for me agreeing with Drew that the psychic services is all a sham, I’d have liked the plotline a whole lot more. The characters and peripheral storylines are fun and slightly on the eccentric. On the whole of it, it’s a light-hearted story that you’ll be happy to not take too seriously.



cover Faking It Faking It, by Cora Carmack

I think this was published before the New Adult genre started to emerge as a genre, but I’d place it there now and probably under romance, though it may not fit neatly into that category. It is a love story under the trope of a “pretend” relationship for the sake of Max’s parents, who disapprove of most of her choices in life and especially of her boyfriends. Max calls upon Cade, the innocent bystander sitting alone in the coffee shop to help her out. He is the kind of “nice guy” that Max doesn’t usually date, but the attraction builds anyway. Though the conflict is predictable, Max’s backstory gives the story leverage and I really enjoyed the chemistry between the two main characters.



 We Were Here, by Matt de la Peña cover We Were Here

I learned about this author from an NPR article and added him to my TBR list right away. This was the first book of his that I could get my hands on and was definitely worth the time. Miguel has been sentenced to one year in a juvenile group home for a crime that we don’t learn about fully until the end of the book. He is closed off, determined not to get comfortable in his new situation or become chummy with any of the other members in the home. He does his assigned chores, then spends the rest of his time reading. He gets into a confrontation with another kid in the home, Ming, who then later convinces him and Rondell, Miguel’s roommate, to escape.

Their escape is meant to be one to Mexico, but it ends up being a journey that changes them all, ultimately helping them come to terms with who they are and what their new future looks like. What I really loved about this book was not just the theme of self-discovery, but that along the way, each character remained true and realistic to who he was. Miguel is like so many teenage boys who are tough on the outside and while they may also be tough on the inside, it isn’t all of what rests inside of them. Miguel loves his family, has compassion, is intelligent, and wants to do the right thing. The narration is from his point of view, via his journal – great reflection of what he sees, feels, and experiences.


cover Racing Savannah Racing Savannah, by Miranda Keanneally

Savannah, her father, and her father’s pregnant girlfriend have just moved to Tennessee to work for a family that raises and trains racehorses. Savannah meets one of the owners, who also happens to be her age and attending the same high school. The help is not supposed to mix with the upper echelons, but there is an obvious attraction, which leads to secrecy that Savannah has a hard time navigating as she is also under the spotlight when this same owner (Jack), has her start racing one of his horses.

I enjoyed the characters in this book – especially the peripheral ones. There’s some fun dialogue, which is one of Keanneally’s strengths and the scenario as a whole worked for me with a strong female protagonist. The relationship between Savannah and Jack, unfortunately, always seemed a little off and I think because the idea that they should get along so well and easily right from the start rushed things. I would have been happy to get more development on the front end.


Bottom-line recs of “must-reads”: We Were Here

Currently I am reading A Mercy, by Toni Morrison

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next? Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Leave a comment or send me a shout out on Twitter – let’s chat!

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