On this chilly Monday morning, I'm thankful that Daylight Savings' Time fell at the beginning of March Break this year, so I have a whole week to get used to the clocking springing ahead one hour. I'm taking advantage of this week off and writing my post a day later than usual, which gave me a chance yesterday to go out for a yummy breakfast and also to finish a second book.
The two books I want to tell you about are both page-turners, but in very different ways. The first is a book I’ve been eagerly waiting for ever since reading In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware’s first novel. I had a hold on her second, The Woman in Cabin 10, at the library and was thrilled to get notification that it was ready for pickup. This novel is set in the North Sea and is told from the point of view of Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel journalist who is hoping to advance her career by covering the maiden voyage of the Aurora, a small Scandinavian luxury liner with just a handful of cabins. Days before she sets off on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, someone breaks into her flat and locks her in her bedroom, where she is stuck for hours until she manages to escape. Her boyfriend is away at the time, and she fumbles through the next few days until he returns, but just hours after he comes home, she must set off on her assignment. She is less-than-impressed with the voyage right from the get-go, disappointed with the size of the ship, the rooms, and the decor. She is also still suffering from mild PTSD from the attack in her flat, and is experiencing claustrophobia and insomnia as a result. She copes with this by taking advantage of the well-stocked minibar in her room, and stumbles through the first day and evening in a bit of a drunken stupor. As she prepares for the first dinner, she realizes that she has left her mascara at home, but hears someone in the next room and knocks on the door, hoping to borrow some from a fellow passenger. She manages to rouse the woman in cabin 10, who reluctantly gives her a spare tube, but refuses to engage in idle chatter. This is fine, because Lo manages to have plenty of that later on, as she runs into a number of other journalists she knows in the dining room, including an old boyfriend. She continues to drink alot of champagne, and stumbles back to her room at the end of the night, where she is plagued by nightmares, and she jolts awake to the sound of what she believes is a body being dumped over the side of the ship from the balcony in the room next door. But when she gets the security man to have a look, she discovers that there is no evidence of this crime, nor is there anyone missing from the ship - all passengers and staff are accounted for. Was it a dream, or is she in danger as the only witness to this crime? Stuck on this ship, with no one to help, she must decide whether to pursue her investigation or let it go and possibly save herself. I was so excited to start this, and found it to be a real page-turner, an Agatha Christie-like mystery that reminded me of And Then There Were None. But I soon lost my enthusiasm, and finished simply because it was a quick read, but in my opinion, the story lost its credibility soon after Lo witnessed the crime. I found it really difficult to identify or sympathize with her, and felt that it was not nearly as good as Ware’s first novel, leaving me with a sense of relief when I finally reached the last page.
I also read Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst, a novel that was recommended by a friend who works at my local public library. Told from alternating points of view, this novel tells the story of the Hammond family and their experiences with an alternative camp in New Hampshire. Alexandra and Josh have two very different daughters: 11-year-old Iris is the “neurotypical” or “normal” one, the one who behaves the way most other kids do, while 13-year-old Tilly presents one challenge after another. After trying many different schools, including a private school designed to help deal with children who need special education, they are at their wits’ end. Tilly is on the autism spectrum, but is high-functioning and has moments of insight that astound the other family members. Along comes Scott Bean, a self-proclaimed parenting guru whose charisma and compassion finally break down Alexandra’s resolve, and she convinces Josh to give up their life in Washington DC and move to New Hampshire to help Scott run Camp Harmony, a camp designed to give families with “difficult” children new opportunities. There they become involved with other Core Families who are also helping to set up the camp, and we see how one’s freedom and integrity can be slowly broken down and eroded by desperation. We know disaster is bound to happen, but what form it will take is the slow, quiet mystery that makes this novel unputdownable. Iris’ chapters offer insight into the world of the family from her perspective as both daughter and sister, the “normal” one, the “good” one, the one who tries to please and sometimes feels left out because she doesn’t need special treatment. Alexandra’s chapters offer the backstory, the history that led one family into the disastrous situation they ended up being involved in, a situation we are told, right from the first page, that she “would never get mixed up in... End of story.” And yet she does, they all do. Tilly also has intermittent chapters, set in an unspecified date and time, speculating on the possible future of the Hammond family and suggesting what could have been. I would never have found out about this novel if it hadn’t been for my friend’s recommendation, so I want to thank her for pointing this one out to me - we often enjoy similar books. This book reminded me of We Need to Talk About Kevin a bit, but in a much gentler way. Kevin was severe and unrelenting in its intensity, while this story has humour and compassion as well as insight. If you enjoy fiction that explores the cult phenomena and family dynamics, or novels that explore families with special needs children, this may be the book for you.
That’s all for today. I’ve got a few books that I’m hoping to read during this week off work, including the book we will be discussing next Monday for my Friends’ Book Club, Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. But there are plenty of other things to keep me busy this week, too. So if you are also off, keep reading and "Beware the Ides of March!" (I couldn't resist adding that last bit!!)
Bye for now…