Book Club Review: The Coroner’s Lunch

532720Title: The Coroner’s Lunch
Author: Colin Cotterill
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: December 1, 2004
Pages: 257
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Book #1 of the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series
Where I got the book: Book club leader
Date Finished Reading: January 15, 2019

Goodreads Description: Laos, 1978: Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old medical doctor, has been unwillingly appointed the national coroner of newly-socialist Laos. Though his lab is underfunded, his boss is incompetent, and his support staff is quirky to say the least, Siri’s sense of humor gets him through his often frustrating days.

When the body of the wife of a prominent politician comes through his morgue, Siri has reason to suspect the woman has been murdered. To get to the truth, Siri and his team face government secrets, spying neighbors, victim hauntings, Hmong shamans, botched romances, and other deadly dangers. Somehow, Siri must figure out a way to balance the will of the party and the will of the dead.

My Review: This book was picked by my book club leader. I had never heard of the title or the author, so was a bit skeptical when it was introduced. However, I couldn’t have been more pleased. This book had all the makings of a great mystery with a cast of likable, and at times humorous, characters; a thrilling mystery plot that kept you guessing to the end;  a descriptive setting with a glimpse into life and culture in Laos during the 1970s; and even a little bit of fantasy.

Dr. Siri is one of the most interesting main characters I’ve ever read in a mystery series. He is an aging doctor/coroner, who is not exactly crotchety but just feels that at his age he is too old to be subdued. He often states what he thinks and how he feels without care of punishment from the government. That right there makes him an intriguing character, but then he also shows such love and respect for his staff at the coroner’s office, Dr. Geung and Dtui, that you end up adoring the main character. A little random bit of the story is that the dead victims that he comes across on his coroner’s table talk to him through his dreams. As random as that may be, it somehow is imported into the story perfectly. All it does is add to the plot.

The author does a fantastic job describing the role of the government in the every day lives of the people in Laos and their feelings about the government and the quality of their lives, while still moving the plot along with quite a few intense action scenes. The author makes you feel a bit anxious for the safety of the main character in multiple scenes.

My only complaint, which is a very small complaint, is that the author incorporated a technique that drives me a bit nuts in mysteries, where the authors use a few pages at the end of the book to finish piecing together the mystery. In this case, I don’t think I would have had a problem with that if the author would have used Dr. Siri for this technique, but it was not told from his perspective, even though the rest of the novel was.

However, that is such a minor thing when this was such a spectacular and engaging read. For once, every one in the book club agreed. The best part, is that this is just the first book in a long series, so you don’t have to say goodbye and move on.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

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WWW Wednesdays – January 16, 2019

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

It turns out that taking a break from work and life and spending more than a week on the ocean in the Caribbean, helped me make some progress on my NetGalley backlog and my Winter Reading List. Then I picked up a bit of a cold, which prevented me from reading for a few days.

You will see a lot of Zadie Smith in my upcoming reads as she is the author I am focusing on reading more of in January. (See my 2019 A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge)

Currently Reading

Finished Reading – since my last WWW post (a month ago)

Hunger by Roxane Gay – audiobook ♦♦
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham – book ♦♦♦
The Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik – audiobook ♦♦♦♦
A Christmas Date by Camilla Isley – ebook ♦♦♦
Murder, She Wrote: Murder Never Takes a Holiday by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain – book ♦♦♦
The Library Book by Susan Orlean – ebook ♦♦♦♦♦
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill – book ♦♦♦♦ ½

Reading Next

 

Have you read any of the books mentioned above? What have you been reading lately? Please share your WWW posts!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Book Review: The Library Book

library-book-medTitle: The Library Book
Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Nonfiction History & True Crime
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publication Date: October 16, 2018
Pages: 318
Format Read: Kindle ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date Finished Reading: January 12, 2019

Goodreads Description: On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

My Review: I loved this book for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that it felt like a love letter to libraries with a side true crime story. Like a true nonfiction writer, Susan Orlean dives into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. This helps you visualize the importance of this building as a staple in the Los Angeles community. Then she follows this up by relating the details of the Los Angeles Public Library fire, from interviews with staff, who worked at the library at that time, to the entire process of cleaning up and rebuilding after the fire. Like so many people I have talked to about this book, I was not aware of the 1986 fire, and as far as I am aware, this book is the only literature out there that discussing this historical event in detail. What I found really interesting was the section that described how the water-damaged books were recovered and restored and the methods used to do so. It was somewhat a relief to know that at least some books were saved.

Just as I am sure it was hard for the author, it was equally hard for the reader to read about the author’s experience burning a book, but the visual was important. I do agree that choosing Fahrenheit 451 was appropriate too. As hard as it was to read about one book being burned, how could anyone set a whole building of books on fire?!!! The author investigates the theories of suspects, as this crime is still unsolved. She gives us background into Harry Peak, who was a suspect, including interviews with people who knew Harry.

She really wants you to care about the Los Angeles Public Library fire and care about libraries in general. The author describes in detail the daily tasks of librarians. No…it is not just shelving books. I learned first hand a few years back when I took a temporary job working in my local public library. Libraries have always been important to me and continue to be a special place that I love to visit. When I received an opportunity to work in one, I couldn’t help but think: “Dream job!”. Like I said though, it was not just shelving books, it was helping members of our community. I spent a lot of time helping library patrons navigate sites on the computer when they were trying to apply for jobs and many other important tasks. We were also one of the first buildings in our community to open up after a hurricane caused tornado and massive flood damage to most of our area. We opened to provide library patrons with computer access to start applying for FEMA aid. I had never had to do such a thing in my life, but I quickly tried to learn how the FEMA system worked, so I could help as many people as possible. Those were such rewarding moments, when you know that you are truly helping people in need. However, my favorite moment in the library was when someone came up to me and asked me to help her find some Jane Austen books. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and I was so excited to get that question. I could then follow-up with a question of whether she wanted works by Jane Austen, books about Jane Austen or Jane Austen inspired fan fiction. My enthusiasm must have been contagious, because the patron smiled and said, “How about all of the above.” That one-on-one relationship and service is so important. Yes…as stated in the book, I also got my share of unusual phone calls. For example, there was an individual who would call the library almost every day, give us a word, and ask us to use that word in a sentence.

Libraries do not just provide books, but they provide services. I am glad that this author brought to our attention a historical event unknown to most of us, that also expresses the importance of libraries. I highly recommend this read!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Review: A Christmas Date

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Title: 
A Christmas Date
Author: Camilla Isley
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: Pink Bloom Press
Publication Date: October 25, 2018
Pages: 231
Format Read: Kindle ebook
Standalone or series: Book #3 of First Comes Love series
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date Finished Reading: January 2, 2019

Goodreads Description: Even Little Miss Grinch, Nikki, a successful and independent woman, must face her bachelorette status at the most horrible time of the year.

December is her personal version of holly-jolly hell: a merry torture made of couples kissing at every corner, forced vacation days, and an inescapable family reunion.

And when her baby sister announces she’s engaged—to Paul, the man Nikki is secretly in love with—and that he’s spending the holidays with them, Christmas starts looking bluer than ever.

Nikki can’t possibly survive an entire week trapped home as the family’s spinster. But she has no time to meet men or to try the newest dating app, she’s too busy working as a video producer for an advertising agency.

So what’s a girl to do?

Nikki has the perfect solution: to hire a fake boyfriend.

Luckily, her job gives her access to an endless catalog of gorgeous actors to choose from.

But Nikki will soon discover that keeping business and pleasure from mixing isn’t so easy, and that she might not be immune to a little mistletoe magic. Especially not when she picked out the perfect man as her Christmas date…

A fun, festive romantic comedy with lots of bad behavior and Christmas spirit. Like a creamy hot chocolate with marshmallows, you won’t want to put this deliciously hilarious novel down. Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Sally Thorne, and Jo Watson.

My Review: A Christmas Date is a holiday romance with some humor. Though it is the third book in a series, you can definitely read this as a stand alone, as I did.

I always enjoy watching and reading rom-coms. If you have seen the movie The Wedding Date, you will see a lot of similarities in Camilla Isley’s A Christmas Date. There are some slight differences though that created some enjoyable scenes. When Nikki hires a man to accompany her home for Christmas, she insists that he moves in with her for a couple weeks prior to the homeward visit, so they could spend as much time getting to know each other, and their relationship would be believable. I enjoyed Nikki’s roommate’s reaction to this plan and her protectiveness of Nikki.

I do wish that there had been less build up to Nikki actually taking her fake boyfriend home for Christmas and more focus on the time spent at home, because I really enjoyed the second half of the book a lot. The scene when Nikki’s sister, Julia, cooks a vegan dinner for the family made me laugh out loud. This scene leads into another great scene between the two sisters. I can totally relate to Christmas family drama.

Overall, I would recommend this fun holiday romance.

My Rating:  ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Bout of Books 24 – Day 4 Update

As I just returned from my holiday vacation, I thought participating in the Bout of Books read-a-thon would help me start 2019 on a good reading note. Plus, I always enjoy the Bout of Books read-a-thons. However, I have not made a lot of progress due to a lovely cold that I picked up on my travels home. I have one of those colds that causes horrible migraines, so reading has been a bit difficult. I have not completed any books yet, but I am hoping that the second half of this read-a-thon will be more productive.
Currently Reading:
Just Started: 
I started this audiobook, as I couldn’t read with my eyes at all yesterday.

The Library Book

32/318 (10%)
Starting Soon:
These are the three books I really want to complete by the end of Bout of Books 24. Wish me luck! Are you participating in the Bout of Books read-a-thon? If so, how are you doing? What are your goals?

 

Happy Holidays: A Year in Review 2018

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As the holiday season is in full swing, and we are getting ready to go on vacation, we wanted to put together a note to let all our friends and family know what we have been up to in 2018.

We continue to build and grow our lives in Houston. It has been a bit of a struggle to grow accustomed to life back in the States after living in Italy for a few years, but we feel that we are finally adjusting.

Earlier this year, Sarah left her position at a local public library to become a Grants Administrator at MD Anderson Cancer Research Center. After nine months at this position, she is thriving and really enjoying her work. MD Anderson has been named the top cancer hospital in the United States and, as of this year, can also boast of having a Nobel laureate as one of the faculty members. The work that MD Anderson does is very important in caring for patients with cancer and researching a cure for all cancer. This summer, Sarah realized first hand how important this work is, as her aunt passed away from lymphoma cancer.

Aunt JoAnn meant a lot to us. We have been fortunate enough to have spent quality time with her in Arizona, Texas and when she visited us in Italy. We shared many wonderful moments and laughs with her. We admired her love of life, family and friends. We love her and miss her every day.

Greg had a lot of traveling this year to exciting locations like Paris France (see pictures below) over the summer (the absolute best time to get out of the Houston heat) and Sao Paolo Brazil, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.  He also had a trip to Cincinnati, so not all of the travel is to somewhere exotic.  Fall 2018 was his first semester teaching undergraduates, and he had 130 students in an intro to physics course.  It went well overall, and every week was able to get a laugh during class (which means the students were awake).  The reviews aren’t back yet, but the students probably learned something!  He’s been doing research with two really good students on neuroscience and the physics of the cytoskeleton as well.

While Greg did travel a lot for work this year, we didn’t travel collectively for fun that much, mostly because of Sarah’s new job. We did visit Greg’s brother and sister-in-law in Ohio for a weekend, but that was our only real travel adventure this year. As we are big adventurers, we had to rectify this, so after spending time with Sarah’s family on Christmas, we will be heading on a Caribbean cruise. We are looking forward to island-exploring, basking in sun, and lots of rest and relaxation.

I hope you all have an enjoyable holiday season! Feel free to drop us a line below to let us know how you are doing. We love you all!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

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Weekend in Columbus, OH – October 2018

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I have not had a lot of adventures this year, but I was fortunate to visit some family for a weekend getaway in Columbus, OH this Fall. We were blessed with some sun and warmish temperatures. Also, the trees were turning colors, which added to the beauty.

As a booklover, I had to visit a local independent bookstore called The Book Loft in the German Village. The charm of the outside is matched by the extensive collection in the inside. If you are looking for something specific, I would highly recommend picking up a map at the front register – yep…that is how big it is!

If you have amazing weather like we did, I would recommend a nice walk along the Scioto River (see picture at the top of the page). The Scioto Mile was developed just a few years ago with beautiful walking paths lined with trees and flowers. If you want to take a break from your walk along the river, you can stop in the COSI – Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry museum.


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Ohio is rich with Native American history. If you find yourself in Dublin, Ohio, make a stop at the Leatherlips Monument (pictured on the right). Leatherlips was a Wyandot Native American leader that was executed in the early 1800s.

There are so many great places to eat and have a few drinks in the Columbus area. A great place to get a drink and have some fun with friends is the Pins Mechanical Co. There are three locations in the Columbus area. Here you have a lot of drink choices, including a20181018_102740 large selection of draft beers, while you play a round of duck pin bowling or some pinball or other fun bar games. Some of the places we ate include Valter’s at the Maennerchor (German restaurant in the German village), which serves a nice weekend brunch, and Cap City Fine Diner, which is a wonderful diner with fantastic food and service. If you are from the Midwest or have a love of frozen custard like I do, you must stop and have some frozen custard at Whit’s Frozen Custard (see picture on the right). So amazing!

I am very fortunate to have family in Columbus now. It is a fun town with lots to do and lots of places to eat. If you are there and confused by the sea of red and white, Columbus is most well known as the home of the Buckeyes of THE Ohio State University. Don’t forget that Columbus is also the capital of Ohio (see picture of the capital building below). If you have any suggestions of things to do or places to eat in or around Columbus, feel free to let me know via the comment section below, as we hope to go back for another visit there soon.

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