The Bookworm and The Case of the Missing Marquess

 The Bookworm by Mitch Silver

Lara Klimpt, ex-chess player, now Professor of Geo-Politics, is quietly given six Second World War dictaphone cylinders to translate into Russian. The voice on the recordings is that of Noel Coward, the well known actor and playwright who was also secretly a spy for the British Government. The information the cylinders contain reveals an ingenious plot to influence Hitler's thinking and will explain why Hitler chose not to invade England but, instead, turned his armies toward Russia. 

Lara's brother, Lev, works at an Alaskan oil field, where he is about to accidently uncover a massive political hoax being perpetrated by Russia and the US. Now he is being hunted by an assassin hired to remove him from the equation. 

The US President is heading for the G20 Summit in Moscow where he plans to make an announcement that will help get him elected for another term, but will leave America heavily dependent on fossil fuels for years into the future, fuels firmly in Russia's control. 

All of this comes together in a well-written, fast-paced tale of historical and modern day intrigue that makes for an entertaining read. This is not a genre I often choose, but I enjoyed it very much and hope to try another by this author.

The Case of the Missing Marquess, An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer

The younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes is worried about her mother who has disappeared. Tired of waiting for her brothers to find answers, she begins her own investigation, getting into all manner of trouble along the way. Part of a series written for a younger reader, I chose it because it was offered as a free audio book. It's not my cup of tea, but I expect it would be quite appealing to young girls and I would certainly recommend it for someone that age. For anyone who's interested, I think there's now a television series based on the novels. 

Never Let Me Go

 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This guy writes the most interesting books! I loved The Remains of The Day, and this one - lightyears away from that in setting, plot, and characters - is equally riveting. 

Set in a boarding school in rural England, students are being prepared for their future role in life. That role is the same for every one of them, for these are not ordinary children; they are human clones, and they are being raised for parts. They will become "donors", giving up their vital organs so that other people, "real" people,  can live better and longer lives.

The first part of the book tells of their school days. They live at the school, never leaving the grounds, their only contact with regular people being with their teachers, the delivery drivers who bring food and other necessities to the school, and Madame. Madame is the elegant, mysterious woman who comes to take away their best artwork for her ''gallery" but carefully avoids any contact with the children themselves. 

At 16 yrs old they are sent away from the school to one of several group-living situations where they work and mature until they begin their training to become "carers". For a time they will look after those who have begun their "donations" and are therefore starting to suffer declining health. They don't know how long they'll be used as carers; for some it's not long at all, for others, like Kathy, it can go on for years. But eventually every one of them will receive notice that it's time for their first donation and then they will be assigned a carer of their own. As donors, their bodies will become progressively weaker with each donation until their fourth and final donation kills them, or, in the words of the designers of the donation system, they "complete". At least donors hope that's what happens - the alternative is unthinkable. 

It sounds nightmarish, but the book is not gruesome to read. Told from the viewpoint of one student, Kathy, who seems to accept her destiny without question, it's quite matter-of-fact in it's presentation of the donor system and how it works. The feeling that something sinister is going on begins to rise on the very first page, but it stays in the background throughout. That's what makes it so quietly horrifying. Kathy recounts their childhoods, adolescence, friendships,  romantic involvements and their time as carers and then donors so pragmatically you could almost accept it as ordinary. Almost. But serious questions remain unanswered and it is the possible answers to those questions that keep the shivers running up and down your back. 

You'll question a society that could allow this to go on, and then wonder if ours would ever do the same. What is a life after all? What is a soul? What is it to be human? To be real? This brilliantly written story will not let you go, not while you're reading it and not long after you think you've finished it.  

Not Even Wrong and 142 Ostriches

 Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins

A few years ago I read Paul Collins' Sixpence House, which was about moving his family to "the town of books", Hay-on-Wye in Wales, where over 40 bookstores thrive in a village of only 2000 or so inhabitants. I enjoyed his writing and so was quite happy to receive this one from a friend and find it a sequel. It's about his autistic little boy and the fun, and fears, that are all part of raising him. As well as the personal stories, he takes us into the history of autism in a way that is never dry as some history telling is, bringing patients and doctors to vigorous life on the page. You'll 
find out who Dr. Asperger was and meet the doctor that Downs Syndrome is named after. And if you've never heard the story of "The Wild Boy", you're really missing something. Paul Collins addresses all these things with warmth and wit, and a conversational style that makes his books a pleasure to read. 

142 Ostriches by April Davila

A story about a young woman trying to run an ostrich farm when everything seems to be conspiring against her. Tallulah Jones was 13 when her grandmother removed her from the care of her alcoholic mother and brought her to the ostrich ranch. She learned the ways of the ranch, the ways of her grandmother, and she learned to love the birds. At 24, she is still living at the farm and helping out, but has plans to go to Montana to fulfill her dream of being a forest ranger. When her grandmother unexpectedly dies and leaves the ranch to her, Tallulah is determined to sell it all and stick with her plan. Then her uncle Steve shows up for the funeral, furious that his mother left everything to her granddaughter and nothing to him. Her mother, Laura, whom she hasn't seen in 11 years, shows up, too, demanding a share and threatening to contest the will. And then, worst of all, the birds stop laying eggs, a problem which, if not corrected soon, will destroy any chance of selling the ranch. 

The setting in the California desert contributes a lot to the story and is beautifully described, but what I really loved was getting to see how ostriches behave and what is involved in raising them. I'm drawn to stories that set me in times, places, or surroundings I'm not familiar with, and in which the author gives the setting a major role. I knew nothing about ostriches, not even that they were raised domestically, so it was fascinating to learn what makes these unusual birds tick. With good writing, strong characters, and an interesting plot, I have no hesitation recommending this one.   

E-mails being Discontinued

Hello readers. I need to let you know about an upcoming change to this site. If at some point you signed up to follow Ordinary Reader by email, I'm sorry to say the site is discontinuing that feature this month. As a result you will no longer be receiving e-mails notifying you of  my posts. I'm sorry for this inconvenience, and I do hope you'll continue to stop by. 

Thanks for following,  


Dept. of Speculation, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Atlas Shrugged, and Beartown

 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Narrated by "The Wife", it's written in short paragraphs that felt disjointed and a sometimes a little...well...weird. She and 'The Husband" fall in love, get married, have "The Daughter", have marriage troubles, etc. Along with some astute observations about life, love and marriage. there's a lot of navel-gazing, reading less like a novel and more like a diary where the entries would mean more to the writer than the reader. 
I read it, and I'm not sorry I did, but I can't say I liked it.  

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

This sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of Queenie, the woman Harold was walking across England to see. Both are good, but to me this is the better book. Queenie is writing down her story while she waits for Harold to arrive: how she met him, the friendship they developed over time, and the secret she's kept from him all these years. In a nursing home now, she knows she is failing with little time left and she very much wants to confess it all if Harold will only get there in time. 
While Queenie's history is good reading, what I found most meaningful was her present day experience in the nursing home. The characters are vivid and relatable and can make you want to laugh and cry on the same page. This part of the story pulses with life; it moved me, and is still with me two months after finishing the book. The reality of life at that stage is tragic and funny and sad and wonderful all at the same time. But in this finishing time there can also be acceptance, a certain peace that comes with knowing it is done, settled, and needs nothing more from you. This book celebrates that. And it's beautiful.  

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

On my Guilt List for over 10 years, I had read reviews and figured I was in for a real good read. What a letdown. I quit a couple of times and each time went back because I thought I must not be putting enough into it to get out of it what others did. I did finish it, more or less kicking and screaming, but I do not see the "greatness" in it. The philosophies of life being offered here are shallow and meaningless to me. There is no truth, beauty or anything else that makes it worth reading. Besides that, it's boring. Flat characters, dull dialogue. To say I didn't like puts it too mildly. I actively disliked it from a few pages in, and so, wouldn't recommend it to anybody. 
Now, I realize these words will seem like blasphemy to some, and those opinions are also valid. I've been called all manner of unpleasant things for disliking highly regarded books before so I do ask one thing. If you leave comments, tell me everything that's wonderful about the book and why you love it, just, please, be civil.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Seventeen year old Kevin Erdhal is the star player of a small town hockey team, and as such gets away with a lot.  But when Kevin is accused of rape, the team and the town begin to fall apart. Truths are hidden, sides are taken, and the town's dreams of winning the championship and getting a new arena look less and less like coming true. 

The rape victim is fifteen year old Maya, daughter of the team's General Manager. While the team and management are all behind Kevin - not so much because they believe he's innocent but because they're counting on him to win the final game just days away - Maya's dad, Peter, defends his daughter. Most of the town believe Kevin's denial because they're desperate; without a win, without a new arena, it's a town without much of a future. 

My only experience with this author was A Man Called Ove so I was expecting something a little lighter. What I got was a deeper, and in some ways darker story, a more serious examination of how loyalty, commitment, and strength of character endure or falter when life gets hard.   

The only thing I didn't like was the way it was structured in the last few pages. As he was bringing everything together and wrapping up loose ends, there would be a paragraph about one of the characters followed by a profound statement. Then on to the next character and profound statement. Then another, and another, till everybody was accounted for. It was great to read the stories of what happened to each one; it's the repetitious format and the attempt to be profound on every page that I found tedious. In spite of that, I loved the book. 
And I read it during the Stanley Cup playoffs which made it that much better. 

Very, very good. 

On an entirely different subject, can anyone tell me why the spacing is so difficult to get right on this site? You can see the extra space between the two top books compared to the rest. I spaced them all equally when writing the post but it adds unwanted space once it's posted. This happens a lot and makes the formatting look sloppy, so I thought I'd ask if anyone out there has a solution they could share. I'd be grateful for your thoughts.