Anyone who enjoyed Water for Elephants will be sure to enjoy Ape House a Novel. Once again, author Sara Gruen has taken us inside the minds and lives of a species of wild animals. This time, its the bonobos, a great ape found in nature only in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The bonobos are facing extinction due to human predators.

These highly intelligent animals share 98% of human DNA. They communicate complex messages to one another using their own vocalizations, and can be taught to communicate with humans through American Sign Language.

In Ape House, scientist Isabel Duncan oversees six bonobos at Great Ape Language Lab. An animal lover, Isabel considers the bonobos to be her family and interacts with them at a personal level. Tragedy strikes when a militant and highly misinformed animal rights group bombs the lab, seriously injuring Isabel and setting the animals free to roam the streets of a busy city.

As the plot progresses, we follow Isabel in her effort to heal from her own injuries and to first locate, and then rescue her bonobos. Shockingly, she discovers that a pornographer-turned-television-producer has bought the apes and is starring them in a reality TV show. Since bonobos are highly sexually active and one of the few species that practices recreational sex, this show is popular with a certain segment of the population. Although the animals are treated considerably better than if they were in a scientific research laboratory, their living conditions are far from ideal.

John Thigpen, an investigative journalist takes an interest in the situation and joins forces with Isabel and her assistant to solve the mystery of the bombing, and ultimately to rescue the bonobos.

I found this book immensely interesting. Previously, I had not heard of bonobos. I now have a deep appreciation for these intelligent and sensitive animals.

If there is a down side to this novel, I can’t think of what it is. I have read some of the negative reviews on Amazon. Perhaps those reviewers are more insightful than I am — but I thought the book was great.

The Forgotten Girls, an international bestseller by Denmark’s Queen of Crime, Sara Blaedel, is one of the increasingly popular crime novels to emerge from Scandinavia. Set in Denmark, the novel features police investigator Louise Rick as she investigates a startling case of jane doe, a female corpse, found in the woods.

Although the woman apparently died of natural causes, her identity must be discovered. A distinctive scar leads Louise to learn that the newly deceased woman is actually the same woman who had been registered as dead many years ago. The woman and her twin sister were both registered as dying of pneumonia minutes apart. Both had been inmates in a state run mental institution, back in the days when developmentally disabled children were institutionalized as a matter of routine and parents were encouraged to forget about them.

So how can it be that this woman was somehow alive all those years? Where has she been and in what circumstance? What about the other twin? Is she also alive? And how does this tie in with a series of rapes that has been happening in the area? Or does it not tie in at all?

I won’t answer these questions. That would spoil the story for anyone who wants to enjoy it.

I tend to like Scandinavian crime fiction, so I enjoyed this book a great deal.

In my view, its well worth reading.

Protagonist Louise Rick appears in other stories by the same author. I plan on looking them up and enjoying discovering Louise’s earlier life.

Inside the O’Briens, by author Lisa Genova, is about Huntington’s disease, and a family that suffers with it.

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that always ends in death. Caused by genetic factors, the disease is handed down from parent to child. It has no treatment that makes much difference, and no cure.

Many of us have never heard of Huntington’s. I heard about it for the first time by watching the TV series, House. House fans may recall that one of the female doctors in the series was diagnosed with Huntington’s.

Inside the O’Briens shows the effects this disease have on person affected, as well as the impact on family members. Joe O’Brien, a Chicago police officer, a husband and father, and a devout Catholic, begins to exhibit symptoms that cause concern. These symptoms include jerky body movements, disorganized thinking and inexplicable and untypical outbursts of temper. Eventually, Joe receives the diagnosis of Huntington’s. In most cases, the person doesn’t develop symptoms until their thirties or forties. At that point, the disease progresses over approximately twenty years until the inevitable conclusion.

The book outlines the progression of Joe’s illness and his reaction to it as he tries to cope. Joe learns that his mother, who he had been told died of alcoholism, actually died of Huntington’s.

Every child of a Huntington parent has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the disease. Genetic testing can identify those who “won” the HD lottery, and those who didn’t. The genetic test can also be performed on fetuses, so parents can know whether the fetus is carrying the gene, and make decisions around pregnancies.

Each of Joe’s four children made their own decisions as to whether to be tested or not. The book describes the soul searching that went into these decisions and the way the knowledge impacted their lives.

The book is a strongly recommended read, primarily for the knowledge it gives us about this little known disease. I didn’t enjoy the book quite as much as I enjoyed some of Lisa Genova’s earlier books. You may recognize her as the author of Still Alice, Left Side Neglected and Love Anthony.

I can’t really say why I enjoyed this book less than the others. It is well written and well documented, as are all of Genova’s novels. The characters are flawed but likeable, well developed and believable. And, as I said before, its an excellent source of information about a disease that affects too many people.

The Mountain Story, by Lori Lansens, is the story of four people who get lost for five days on a mountain. Its an adventure story, but not truly an adventure story. If you are looking for fast paced adventure, the Harrison Ford leaping off a bridge and landing on top of a train sort of thing, this probably isn’t a good choice for you. Its a story about family and relationships and personal growth and facing adversity with courage. The adventure part is the supporting evidence to showcase the characters. And if that’s what interests you, then you will enjoy this book.

It begins with Wolf, a young outdoorsy type guy who heads up a mountain trail with the intent of leaping off a cliff and committing suicide. His life had had more downs than ups, especially recently, and he was ready to cash it in.

On the trail, he encounters three women who are planning on hiking the mountain to commemorate a special occasion. Wolf sees that they are unprepared, unfit and headed for serious trouble. One thing leads to another, and Wolf agrees to guide them up the mountain. He learns that they are three generations of women from one family — grandmother, daughter and granddaughter.

On the way, one woman panics when she walks into a swarm of bees, and runs off trail into the wilderness. Wolf and the others run after her to rescue her. Instead, they all lose their way.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the group exist without food and water for five days until they are rescued. The events, and interactions and relationships and hidden secrets that come to light during this time are key to the storyline.

I liked this book. It was unusual, not typical. The characters were believably human but likeable, and the ending was a surprise.

Some parts of this novel moved a little slowly, but all in all, its a good read. It can also be a warning to those of us who head off into remote trails. Stuff can happen, even to people who experience and outdoor skills.

China Dolls, by author Lisa See, is a novel well worth reading. Set in California around the time of World War 11, the book tells the tale of three young Chinese women and their experiences as professional entertainers in the Oriental nightclubs that were popular at the time.

The three women, Grace, Ruby and Helen, meet by chance at an audition to dance in The Forbidden City Club. They become fast friends, but over the years, their friendship is sorely tried by various life events. All three women are carrying a secret that they keep hidden from the others.

The occurrence of World War 2 creates social and political challenges that ultimately lead to a huge betrayal — a betrayal that threatens to rip asunder the very seams of their friendship.

Like all of Lisa See’s book, this story is a good read, featuring strong female protagonists who ultimately emerge stronger at the end. Also like all of See’s books, this novel serves to educate us about a particular time in history, and how the Chinese people fared during this historical period.

I would have to say that China Dolls is not my favorite of Lisa See’s novels, but having said that, there is no such thing as a “bad novel” if Lisa See is the author. Its a good read, and it gives us a good perspective on the issues faced by the Asian community during the mid part of the 20th century.

Author Lianne Moriarty’s most recent novel, Big Little Lies, is easily the best book I have read in quite some time. I have read other books by this author, and while they are good, they didn’t capture my interest the way this one did.

Big Little Lies takes place in a seaside community in Australia.  An incident of bullying occurs in a kindergarten class. The little girl who has been hurt names a little boy as the bully who hurt her.

Parents get involved. Teachers and the school principle get involved. Intrigues and small-p politicking run rampant.

Throughout the book, we come to know the woman whose young son is accused of bullying, and the two mothers who become her friends and support her through the incident. We come to know the marriages and the families and the past history of some of these characters. Some we love. Some we do not.

We are also made aware that someone is murdered at an upcoming School Trivia Night. While the author cleverly drops hints and makes reference to this murder, we do not know who the victim is until the very end. We do not know who the murderer is until the end, either.

The writing style is superb. The book is both funny and sad and always, always highly entertaining.

The plot is good and so is the character development.

I suppose a more analytical person than me might have some criticisms of this story, but for me, I have none. I can only say I hope Moriarty’s next book is as good as this one.

 

Saving Grace, by Jane Green, is a great novel if you enjoy stories of family dysfunction and intrigue. The protagonist, Grace Chapman, is living the life that dreams are made of. She has a lovely home, a fulfilling career, a wonderful adult daughter and an almost perfect marriage to a famous author. It would be perfect, that is, if husband Ted wasn’t prone to hateful rages and temper tantrums that cause Grace to live in dread and anxiety.

Into their lives comes Beth, a nondescript young woman who takes the job as Ted’s assistant. Quite, intelligent, well read, and extremely capable, Beth quickly takes over the running of the household quite simultaneously managing Ted’s moods without raising an eyebrow.

Then, slowly, things start to feel wrong to Grace. Incidents start to happen that cause Grace to question her sanity and wonder if she is doomed to develop the same bipolar disorder that plagued her late mother. With every day that passes, Grace finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of confusion and despair. And, with every day that passes, Beth becomes more confident, more sure of herself, better dressed, more in charge of the home and lives of her employers.

Without giving away the rest of the plot, I will comment that this story addresses such issues as mental illness and society’s attitudes towards it, as well as emotional abuse within and outside of a marriage.

In short, we get an unforgettable look at how becoming victim of a sociopath can have such devastating effects on the victim’s mental health, self worth and well-being.

I enjoyed the book tremendously. I will be looking for more titles by Jane Green in the future.

What Alice Forgot, a novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, is another book that starts out slow but captures your interest bit by bit, until finally you are hooked and cannot put it down.

The book begins when Alice wakes up in a hospital following a fall and head injury. She discovers that she has completely forgotten the past ten years of her life. During that ten years, it turns out that Alice has given birth to three children, separated from her husband Nick, acquired a new boyfriend, found new friends and discarded some of the old ones, and become a driving, organizational force in her community and in her kid’s school.

The only problem is that she doesn’t remember any of it and is still madly in love with her separated husband.

Things progress. Alice’s memory returns, bit by bit.

The question big is, who is Alice now? Is she the gentle, casual Type B personality Alice from ten years ago, or the focused, busy, organized Type A personality from today? Other questions in need of answers are, who are these new people in Alice’s life and are they positive influences or not? How has her widowed mother come to marry a totally inappropriate man? Why does sister Elisabeth act so unfriendly? Why is the lovely old lady next door shunning Alice? Who are these three children that call her mom but whom she doesn’t remember?

You will have to read the book to find out. Its good, despite a rather slow beginning.

I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

Mother, Mother, authored by Koren Zailckas, is a novel about family dynamics. While it could be said, probably without exaggeration, that all families are dysfunctional to one degree or another, this family wins the Dysfunction Sweepstakes.

To the outsider, it appears that the mother of the family, Josephine has an idyllic life. Her husband is a computer guru in a high position at a technology company. She has two gorgeous, popular and talented daughters and a brilliant twelve year old son. To top it off, the family lives in a wonderful historic mansion.

But behind the facade of perfection lurks a family with secrets.

The story begins with the mid child, sixteen year old Violet, being taken away by police for allegedly stabbing her twelve year old brother William. William who suffers from epilepsy and Asperger’s Syndrome, experienced a seizure at the time of the attack. The oldest daughter, Rose, we are given to understand, has run away from home and is keeping her whereabouts a deep secret. Periodically, she visits the family in secret to commit acts of vandalism and destruction.

The man of the house is a highly-employed computer geek who escapes the drama in his home through work and through excessive drinking of beverage alcohol. He may be having an affair. Mom Josephine keeps everything running on a tight schedule by micro managing the family and controlling every aspect of her children’s lives, and of her husband’s life when she is able.

In the beginning, I found the book and the writing style a bit tedious and considered abandoning it in favor of a more exciting read. However, as time went on, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued with the events taking place in this family. By the end, the book was downright scary and I couldn’t put it down.

If you enjoy reading stories about family dysfunction, then you will appreciate this book. The only complaint I have, other than the slow beginning, is that the main protagonist, Violent appears far too wise and knowledgeable for a sixteen year old, especially a 16 year old coming from such an environment. Few adults would have Violet’s wisdom and maturity.

The book has a satisfactory ending, in that at least two family members are involved in personal healing. However, the book is honest enough to let us know that the problems are far from being over. There could well be a follow up novel to this story.

I wonder if the author has that in mind.

Anteater of Death, by Betty Webb, is said to be the first in a series of murder stories featuring protagonist Teddy Bentley. Teddy is a zookeeper and dedicated animal lover. When a man is found dead in the enclosure of Lucy the Giant Anteater, Lucy is suspected of the killing. However, forensics discovers that the man was dead, murdered most likely, before Lucy attacked him.

Teddy goes to work to solve the case, and of course, in the end, she succeeds. It’s what happens in the meantime that makes the story interesting. We have another murder, a gangster on the lam, a budding romance between Teddy and the sheriff, friction between Teddy and her rich, socialite mother and much more.

If you’ve read Betty Webb’s series of books featuring Lena Jones and the sister-wives of the Utah Mormons, you have an idea of what to expect. This is standard Webb, and for fans of murder mysteries, its a good read.

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