Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

While choosing a few books at Amazon Brazil’s website last year, there was a buzz about the book “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins. So I decided to check it out!

Different from many other times I’ve chosen a book to read, the cover (Brazilian edition) did not attracted me at all. And the title wasn’t very attractive either. But as I read the book description, I decided to give it a try for two main reasons.

The first one was because, based on its description, it looks like a girly book. Who is close to me knows that, eventually, I like to read this kind of book. Besides, I strongly believe it is good for women to do some girly things once in a while. And I had some memorable experiences with this kind of book before.

The second reason was because it was classified as a psychological thriller. And again, this is a book (or movie) genre I enjoy a lot reading (or watching). The psychological appeal while reading the book description was considerable. So I decided to give it a try and buy it (with four other books – one already reviewed here).

A few weeks later, as soon as I arrived in Brazil, among all the four books I’d bought, I chose to read this one. I was feeling thirsty to read something that could mess up with my mind. But, unfortunately, this wasn’t the case…

The book tells the story of Rachel, Megan, and Anna. They are not friends, but their lives are, somehow, intertwined.

Rachel is the main character. She takes the same train everyday to go to work. And while traveling, she observes the houses near the tracks, as well as their residents. Rachel pays especial attention to the couple that lives at 15 Beckett Road. She imagines how their lives could be, their routines, their occupations, their likes… She even names them “Jess and Jason,” and feels jealous about their perfect romantic life. She also pays attention to a house next to theirs, the one that used to be her house when she was married, a few years ago.

Megan is probably the youngest of them. She describes her life as an incredible mess, and has regular sessions with her psychologist. She is married to Scott and has a big secret. But, more importantly, she is “Jess”, the woman Rachel observes from the train everyday.

Anna is married to Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband. And they seem to have a perfect life, except for Rachel, who chases them day and night. Not only Rachel has drinking problems, but she is also completely obsessed by them, calling Tom constantly, even trying to abduct their child once!

However, Rachel’s psychotic routine changes when she sees “Jess” kissing a guy that is not “Jason”. Feeling the urge to do something, she decides to stop drinking and go after them. And this is when “Jess,” or rather, Megan, is given as missing. Trying to help Megan’s husband (Scott) to find out what happened, and having some messy memories in her mind, Rachel embarks on what should be a psychological thriller. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that’s not completely true.

Despite all the girly books I’ve ever read, this one is not completely predictable, which is good. The organization is interesting too, since the story is written in a way that makes us travel through the suspense under different circumstances. It goes back and forth in time, and shows the main events from the perspective of the three women. I liked that. I also liked the descriptions. It was easy to visualize all the scenarios.

However, for me, this book is nothing but cold. And how can a thriller be considered a thriller if it is cold? I missed the affliction and agony that this kind of story should make us feel. I was expecting more of it. More importantly: I was expecting more from Rachel, the main character.

Rachel is obsessed and looks like she has no life of her own, which is OK for me. But despite of her obsession, she does not seem to be alive. She is dull, apathetic. And it must have been this apathy of Rachel that dictated the rhythm of the whole story. Especially its end, which was very frustrating. It was completely superficial, going against the passion and the obsession Rachel presented almost the whole book. Even when big things happened, she acted in a very impersonal and cold way.

Given that people usually don’t have plenty of time to waste, and there is an infinite number of better books to read out there, I don’t recommend it.  The reading wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t enjoyable either. Maybe if somebody decides to read it, just considering as a fiction book, it could be a acceptable reading. But I was expecting more.

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Review: Murder with Macaroni and Cheese by A.L. Herbert

In the beginning of July, a good friend and his parents came to visit us from Brazil for the first time. And among all the places we planned to take them was, obviously, the library.

During our visit, as we walked between the mystery shelves, a book immediately caught the attention of all of us, not only because of its cover, but also because of its title: “Murder with Macaroni and Cheese,” by A. L. Herbert. Again, without thinking too much, I grabbed the book and brought it home to read ASAP.

At home, giving more attention to it, I observed the book is part of a series called “Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery”. Immediately I reminded from another book I saw many times there when I was volunteering, Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles, from the same author. After checking it was possible to understand the second book in the series, without have read the first, I began my reading.

Halia, the owner of Sweet Tea, a restaurant that serves soul food, was invited to cater a reunion for her former high school classmates. The meeting was being organized by Raynell, one of them, a person difficult to deal with and that was find dead by Halia the morning after the meeting. Believing she was murdered because of her temper, Halia and her cousin, Wavonne, decide to investigate the supposed crime by themselves.

Working as a pair of police investigators, slowly and in a very charming, funny, and captivating way, they bring together the first clues, create a list of suspects and dismiss everyone who has an alibi. All this happens while Halia keeping working at her restaurant, receiving the suspects for meals and drinks. And here is the most delightful detail about the book: Halia shares the recipes of the foods she serves in her restaurant! Most of them created by her grandmother.

Despite it is considered a mystery, in my opinion it is also a funny book! Halia and Wavonne are extremely charismatic characters. Notably Wavonne, with her way of talking everything that comes to her mind, without feeling ashamed. Even Halia’s mother appears sometimes, playing an amusing role only mothers can play, trying to find her daughter a date and asking for grandchildren, without being overwhelming.

While investigating the crime, the way the main characters organize their thoughts make the story very clear, linear, logic, and easy to follow. And unlike many mystery books I have read before (like this case), I have the impression A. L. Herbert knew exactly where to go. All the conclusions are very well tied with facts that occurred previously. Some of them even went unnoticed during the reading and became a welcome surprise showing up again in the end.

I recommend this book. I think it provides a good reading, anytime and anywhere, since it is very relaxing and enjoyable. In my opinion it has it all: mystery, fun, and even recipes! How common do we find books like this? And to share a little bit of my experience, here is the recipe of the famous Macaroni and Cheese created at Halia’s kitchen, a classic American dish.*

 

Halia’s Macaroni and Cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese – Picture: A. L. Herbert

 

Ingredients
1 pound large elbow macaroni
8 slices of bacon
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
1 pound softened cream cheese
1 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
3 tablespoons melted butter

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Boil pasta with a pinch of salt for 7 minutes, or according to package directions. Drain. Set aside.
  • Fry bacon in a large frying pan until crispy. Remove bacon from pan, blot with paper towels, and chop into thin strips. Set aside.
  • Add three tablespoons bacon grease to large saucepan. Add minced garlic and sauté over medium heat for 1 minute. Slowly add flour while constantly stirring mixture until a roux or paste forms.
  • Add milk, half-and-half, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Continue stirring until sauce thickens (8 – 10 minutes).
  • Remove pan from heat and drain sauce through sieve (to remove any lumps) into large glass or metal bowl. Add cheddar and cream cheese. Stir until sauce is smooth.
  • Add cooked pasta and blend. Transfer to well-greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
  • Mix bread crumbs with butter and chopped bacon and sprinkle over macaroni and cheese.
  • Bake until bread crumbs are crispy, about 30 minutes.

Eight Servings

* I would like to thank A. L. Herbert for allowing me to share the recipe here in the blog and for sending the picture.

 

Review: The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnár

Last year I bought a few books at Amazon Brazil’s website. It was the first time I used it. However, despite my willingness to buy some books,  I didn’t have anything in mind, so I decided to scour the site looking for interesting titles in Portuguese.

Since Amazon Brazil is fairly new, it isn’t very common to find plenty of books with reviews to decide which one to read. Fortunately, sometimes (actually, most of them) I choose books because of their covers, and sometimes because of their titles. And that was the case with The Paul Street Boys,” by Ferenc Molnár.* **

While I was browsing the site, the book cover caught my eyes immediately. Here I need to explain that since I was using a Brazilian site, the cover that attracted me was the Brazilian one, showing a few children smiling and playing around some old place. First I thought it could be a children’s book. But after some research I found out that despite the fact that maybe it can be considered a children’s book, the story was interesting enough for an adult too.

Giving myself sometime to think about it, while researching for more books, I could not forget its title… The Paul Street Boys… How in the world a book with this name could not be amazing? So I decided to read more about it and found out it is a Hungarian novel written in 1906. And again I had another reason to read it: I love the 20th Century. Truth be told, it was a very interesting century, with its discoveries, wars, and considerable changes in lifestyle. Without thinking of anything else, I bought it! It took me one year to finally start to read it. But as I started, it took me only 8 days to finish it!

The story is about a group of Hungarian boys (the Paul Street boys)  that spend their time between the school and the grund, a free lot they use to play and hold meetings after school. Since this is the last free space in their neighborhood, when another group of boys called the Redshirts, that have their meetings ate the local botanical garden, decide to take over the grund, a “war” is declared between both groups.

The main characters are Boka, the smart and honored leader of the Paul Street boys and Nemecsek, the smallest one and the only soldier of the group. But it is during the battle that Nemecsek shows he could be the bravest one despite of his size.

The book is well-written (in this case, the translation to Brazilian Portuguese is well-done). I could feel all the emotions. As a first-time (and brand new) mother, I suffered with Nemecsek as if he were my own son (I could never forget his adorable tiny feet). All the characters are so interesting, and all the descriptions are so detailed, that it is impossible not to be dragged by the story. Its literary strength is epic!

Although I’ve loved it, I don’t think the book should be considered for children, because of all the life lessons it tries to teach us. It is important to remind that the book was written in a time of major changes in Europe. Many countries were undermined and had serious problems in building their own identity. Based on this reality, I believe the author wrote this book to praise the friendship, bravery, loyalty and courage necessary to build and preserve a country at that time. And those are the main characteristics of these boys. They fight for the place they love in a way  grown-ups should fight for their countries. But this is not everything…

The book also shows that despite all our bravery, sometimes even when we “win a war”, it could be possible that our whole fight was in vain. And because of all its complexity (but without being annoying and overwhelming) I strongly recommend this book. Not for children, that’s for sure. Not even for teenagers. But for open-minded adults, who are willing to expose their feelings. Willing to laugh and cry without regret.

*in Brazilian Portuguese: “Os Meninos da Rua Paulo.”

** according to Wikipedia, there is a 1969 American-Hungarian co-production film, directed by Zoltán Fábri, called The Boys of Paul Street that was based on the book.

Review: Finding Rebecca by Eoin Dempsey

In May 2016 I bought my first Kindle. While I was setting it up, I was introduced to the Kindle Unlimited technology (allows you to read as much as you want for $9.99 a month). Feeling completely amazed by it, I decided to give it a try and use its free trial to read some adult fiction.

Using my Kindle Unlimited for the first time made me feel kind of lost. But reading descriptions and looking for interesting covers, soon I found a few books, some with the audible version, which helped me with the pronunciation of words I’d never heard before. And the first book I chose to read/listen was Finding Rebecca,” by Eoin Dempsey.

The story takes place on an island called Jersey, considered Great Britain’s territory . There lives Christopher, a German guy, and Rebecca, a Jewish girl, that are childhood friends and fall in love when adults, during WWII.

And it is during the war that, together with other Jews, Rebecca is forcibly removed from the island, leaving Christopher desperate. As he finds out that she was probably sent to a concentration camp, he manages his own way to become an SS officer, with the sole purpose of finding Rebecca. And by this point, for the first time the book turns into a very interesting story. Unfortunately, this is the only time it happens.

While Christopher manages to find her, he has to be extremely careful not to be discovered as a traitor, specially because he uses the Nazi money (stolen from Jews) to bribe the people he needs help from. At some point, I even managed to feel distress, as if I were Christopher himself. It is also during this part of the book that we could live the horror of the Holocaust with very well-written descriptions about the concentration camps and the treatment Jews received from the Nazis.

But the main point of the book, Christopher and Rebecca’s love story, is not very attractive. The connection between them is poor and their romance is described in such a cold way that it is impossible to feel thrilled by the end of the book. Considering all the sadness in a book that talks about the Second World War, I expected a happier ending. Maybe even some tears of emotion.

Despite of this, I recommend this book, giving it 4 stars at Goodreads. But only because of its good descriptions and the involving historical approach, since the main part of the book seems a little neglected in my opinion.

Review: Hiss and Hers – an Agatha Raisin mystery by M. C. Beaton

By July 2014, I started to volunteer at the Champaign Public Library. Basically my “job” was to help my supervisor to decide what to do with the donated books they received periodically. But inside this seemingly simple function, there were many steps I had to do and some of them required a few walks in between the shelves to find some books.

As a person that always loved books, having to do something surrounded by them and not reading them wasn’t something easy for me. It was something very pleasant though. So I figured out my own way to deal with this “problem”. Between one and another task, I was always looking around trying to find something new to read.

Most of the time I was interested by a book because of its cover and sometimes because of its title (yes, I know probably this is not the smartest way to choose a book to read, but we will get there in another post). Since I didn’t have time to borrow it while volunteering, I usually used a small piece of paper to take notes on the book’s title and author and put the paper in my pocket until I finish my turn and could borrow it. But, as I explained before, it wasn’t easy for me to read adult fiction when I first arrived here. And the books I was working with were mostly adult fiction books. Thus for some of these books the closest I have ever got was making this note.

This was the case with M. C. Beaton’s books. Every time I was volunteering at the mystery shelves, it was common for me to come across one of her books. I don’t remember for sure but  I believe there were at least two of her books I’ve taken notes hoping to read sometime. Needless to say, it never happened.

After Celso was born this February, I didn’t have time even for me, forget about reading! But when he was 3 months old, I decided to visit the library more regularly with him. In one of my firsts visits I saw “Hiss and Hers,” an Agatha Raisin mystery displayed with other recommendations from the librarians. Immediately I recognized the author’s name and without giving to much thinking I brought it home, along with some baby books for Celso.

As I said before, my criteria for choosing books is not very strict. But since this author was present at the mystery section of the library all the time, I was expecting more of her. I have to admit that after reading it, I read many reviews saying that from all of Raisin’s mysteries, this was probably the most uninteresting. Given that, I’ll begin my review.

The story is about a private detective (Agatha Raisin) that fell in love with her gardener (George Marston), who was mysteriously and brutally killed. As she started to investigate the crime (moved by her passion and also because she was hired by the George’s sister), she found out that he had many affairs with many different women all around the city, which immediately turned them into suspects. So, basically, the whole book is about Agatha and her team trying to investigate the lives of these women.

In my opinion, Agatha Raisin is an annoying and superficial main character. In the beginning, she acts like a desperate woman trying to flirt with George (who gives no attention to her). After the murder, she keeps interfering with the police investigation the whole book, which in my opinion does not make much sense. Despite the fact that the book is a mystery, most of the time the story only deals with regular situations involving Agatha and her team. I was expecting something more engaging and exciting, that would make me read the whole book without stopping, trying to find out who the killer was, putting together clues and unraveling little mysteries. But this never happened.

As Agatha, all the other characters were incredible shallow. Most of them were there for no reason. Another problem was the number of characters. In my opinion, they were too many, tiring the reader without necessarily increasing something interesting in the story. The ending is predictable, which was disappointing considering the book is a mystery.

Summing up, I do not recommend this book. After reading other reviews at Goodreads I decided I’ll give Agatha Raisin (and, consequently, M. C. Beaton) another try. Specially because I saw many reviewers saying that the earliest mysteries of Agatha Raisin were good. Hopefully in the future I’ll write another post recommending one of Agatha Raisin’s books.

 

The Library…

I have to admit: first time I’ve heard about the Champaign Public Library I didn’t give it a lot of credit. But I can’t blame myself. In Brazil libraries (usually) aren’t considered fun places. It is not even very common to have libraries that aren’t part of a university, college or school. Given this, libraries there are used more as places to research and study (kind of boring places in my opinion).

So when I arrived here in 2014 many people told me to go there and borrow movies or books for free to have some entertainment. And considering my Brazilian experience with libraries, I wasn’t very excited about it. Actually I was reluctant and postponed my visit there for months. But during that Summer a friend invited me to go there with her and as I arrived at the library’s parking lot my mouth opened… Contrary to all my expectations, the building was beautiful!

And as we entered the building my soul immediately became restless and all my bad expectations were immediately buried. The library was even more beautiful inside, packed with lots of new, beautiful and well cared books, more and more shelves of DVDs and huge teenagers and children sections. And all this only in the first floor.

By the second floor even more books (which were released over 6 months). And by books I mean ALL kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, romances, sci-fiction, mystery, biographies, pocket books, large prints and graphic novels. There is also the place where they also keep the computers for the patrons, magazines, newspapers and lots of tables and couches.

Using an ID and a proof of residence I apply for my library card (for free!). And for a whole new experience of using a library like I’ve never seen before. No need to say that since then the library became my preferred  place here.  It is not only a place for borrowing or reading books, magazines or newspapers. But also a place to spend some good time with friends and family, to enjoy their events, to have a coffee or to buy a used book at the bookstore. And even more important (for me, at least) an amazing place to volunteer. But this is subject for another post…

Welcome to Champaign! Let’s read!

In 2011 my husband (that was my boyfriend at that time), told me that his dream was to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and that he would try to do his best to achieve this dream. Knowing him, I had for sure that he would make it. In March 2013 he was accepted as a PhD candidate of the economics department and we started to pack our things and our lives to our new city: Champaign.

He arrived here in August 2013 and I arrived in February 2014. Since then, our lives have changed considerably. When I left my hometown in Brazil I had two jobs there. Arriving here as a dependent on his student visa I couldn’t work or study without going into a lot of trouble and costs. Because of this I decided to volunteer at the city’s public library: the perfect way to practice English, make new friends and do something with my plenty of time. Besides, I would be surrounded by my whole life passion – books!

At the beginning I had a lot of difficult trying to read in English. Not that my English was that bad, but I wasn’t used to read fiction books which generally use a more informal language, with everyday expressions and idioms. So I started to borrow books from the children/teenagers section.

Now things are a little bit different. I feel more confident reading and also writing about those adult fiction books that I couldn’t easily read 3 years ago. Reading is one of the few things I can do with my free time after having a baby (I had to stop volunteering at the library but I’m planning to go back soon). At least once a week I take my baby boy to the library (they have activities there for babies of all ages) and that’s the time I have for me. There I borrow some new book to read or I visit the bookstore and buy one bag of used books for one dollar.

And this blog will talk about these books. My objective is to review them to keep a memory from everything I’m reading nowadays (in my opinion, a good way to keep this passion I have for reading alive and who knows help other people to develop this passion too or at least to decide or not to read a specific book).