Sunday, 17 March 2019

Books, audiobooks and treats on a GREEN morning...

It’s a Green morning in more ways than one.  Most of our snow has melted so you can see the (mostly brown) grass.  You can also feel that Spring is in the air. And it’s St Patrick’s Day!  I’m celebrating all of these things with a steaming cup of chai tea and a double treat of delicious Date Bar and freshly baked Date Bread… yum!
I finished reading Sophie Hannah’s latest novel, The Next To Die, and it lived up to her reputation for writing smart and sassy psychological thrillers.  This novel, the tenth in the “Spilling CID” series, focuses on a serial killer dubbed “Billy Dead Mates”, because he seems to be killing best friends.  So far four individuals have been murdered, not in pairs but separately, shot in the head in their homes after seemingly inviting the killer inside. Each individual had received a little white handmade book filled with blank pages, except for one line of poetry, shortly before they died.  Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck is in the corridor of the cancer ward in the hospital, waiting for her grandmother to die, when she learns of this and realizes that she also received a little book like this at one of her gigs, but that was at least a year ago. When she discovers another of these books after her grandmother’s death, she goes to the police for help, wondering if she will be the next to die, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a best friend.  If the killer is not targeting best friends, what could the motivation behind these murders be? And is Kim, in fact, going to be the next to die? This psychological thriller, featuring brilliant, quirky Detective Simon Waterhouse and his wife, ex-detective Charlie Zailer, as well as the cast of characters on the Spilling CID team, is characteristically wry and smart, with a plot that twists and turns, and there are plenty of red herrings. I found the ending a bit weak, but otherwise, it was a real page-turner.  I liked that it focused more on the development of the case and the people involved in it, particularly Kim, than on the investigating team and their relationships. I haven’t read all of Hannah’s books, but I think I should start reading this series from the beginning. If you like smart British suspense thrillers, this might be the next book for you!
And I finished my book club book for tomorrow night’s discussion, The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware.  I read this last year and blogged about it.  Here’s what I said about it then:
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Ruth Ware’s latest book… but I think she’s found her niche in gothic novels because this was her best yet!  Borrowing heavily from Daphne Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca, this novel tells the story of Harriet “Hal” Westaway, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was eighteen and who has been trying to make her own way in life for the past three years by taking over her mother’s stall on the pier, reading tarot cards and telling fortunes.  And she almost manages to stay ahead of the game, except that she’s gotten into debt with a loan shark who wants repayment NOW. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the money, so when she gets threatening letters and a visit from an enforcer, she doesn’t quite know where to turn. Then a letter arrives from a solicitor informing her that her grandmother, Mrs Hester Westaway, has passed away and she, Harriet, has been named in the will as a beneficiary to her estate.  She is requested to come up to Trepassen House, the mansion where Mrs Westarway lived, for further instruction. Now Harriet knows her grandmother and grandfather passed away many years before, but fearing for her life has made the idea of pretending to be this woman’s granddaughter very appealing. If only she could wipe out her debt and start fresh, her life would be so different. So, scraping together her last few coins, she boards a train to Cornwall, where she manages to get to the funeral of this woman and to make it out to isolated Trepassen House to find out how she might benefit from this mistake.  What she finds, however, is anything but clear, and as she becomes more deeply embroiled in the family dynamics that make up the Westaway family, she begins to uncover decades’ old family secrets, which lead her to fear for her life in an entirely different way. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll just say that I couldn’t put this book down. It ticked off all the boxes for gothic novels, gloomy, isolated setting, family secrets, ghostly presence, damsel in distress, family curse… you get the idea. But while borrowing heavily from other novels, especially Rebecca, this novel still managed to feel fresh and original, and while the “past” in this book is just in the 1990s, the tone of the writing gives the actions from this period the sepia-soaked atmosphere of some long-ago time, faintly remembered by the living and mostly inhabited by the deceased.  It was suspenseful and complex and atmospheric, and the story, while farfetched, was not beyond the realm of possibility for this genre. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to fans of gothic novels. (it was so interesting, I even went out and bought myself a deck of tarot cards - now I just have to learn to use them!)   
I not only bought tarot cards, I bought a copy of the book!  So I was thrilled when this one was chosen as our next book club book and could just pull it off my shelf.  I still enjoyed it, and was able to follow the plot twists even better this time, as I kind of remembered the twisty ending, though not all the details.  It was awesome, and I’m so curious to hear what others have to say about it.
And I finished listening to an audio edition of what I think is a Young Adult book, As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway, which was pretty good, considering I was expecting an adult novel.  It is told from the point of view of an unnamed high school student who is bland and leads a boring life.  He is singled out by mysterious, exotic new Goth girl Anastasia/Anna Cayne, who changes his life forever. Through postcards, shortwave radio broadcasts, and references to obscure music, films and writers, she brings our narrator to life by encouraging him to take an interest in the things in which she herself is interested.  A week before Valentine’s Day, she goes missing, leaving only her dress and a hole in the ice, and the narrator, along with the reader, are given clues in the form of puzzles to help us find out where she has gone. It was well-narrated and interesting, although a bit over-the-top, but I enjoyed it.  It really made me think about my own experiences as a teenager, and wonder if there was one individual who changed my life. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book, but I found it interesting, so if you like to read books about teenagers finding themselves, teen obsessions, quirky characters, and missing persons, then this might be a good one for you to check out.
That’s all for today.  Happy St Patrick’s Day!  Hmmm… maybe my next book should be by an Irish author!
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Book talk on a short day before a long week off…

Daylight Savings Time begins today, so we lose an hour, but I can’t complain because it’s also the start of March Break, so I’ll be off for a week.  I foresee many opportunities to drink tea and tackle the pile of library books I have waiting for me! But on this mild, rainy morning, I have a steaming cup of chai tea, a delicious Date Bar, and a freshly baked Morning Glory muffin as a treat while I write about the book I read last week.
I read the newest Michael Robotham mystery, The Other Wife, the latest book to feature clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin, and I found it to be just ok.  Joe’s wife passed away in the last book, Charlie is away at school, so he’s doing his best to raise twelve-year-old daughter Emma on his own.  She suffers from anxiety, and with a recent move to London and switch to a new school, life is even more difficult for her to navigate. When Joe’s father, celebrated surgeon William, is admitted to hospital as a victim of a vicious attack, Joe springs into action and races to the hospital, only to discover that the woman sitting by his father’s bedside, claiming to be William’s wife, is not Joe’s mother.  Young, beautiful Olivia Blackmore has been having an affair with William for the past twenty years, and she is convinced that she has as much right to participate in the decision-making surrounding William’s fate as his “real” family members, his wife Mary and his adult children. When this secret life is revealed, everyone denies the reality of it, but in their search for the identity of William’s attacker, they uncover much more than they ever anticipated.  While the police are content to cut corners and accept the obvious and easy solution, Joe continues to dig until all is revealed, changing his perspective of his father, “God’s-personal-surgeon-in-waiting”, forever. I can’t divulge any more details, as part of the drive behind finishing this book is discovering new tidbits along the way. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with the novel. Complex plot and familiar characters aside, it felt to this reader as though Robotham was throwing in every twist he could possibly manage without ensuring that it all made sense or were necessary.  Too many things were left unexplained, and some of the action was totally implausible. (There were also many major typos - not just letters missing, but whole words! - which really irked me and added to my "so-so" response to the book). There were some good parts, don’t get me wrong. It was compelling enough to keep me reading so that I finished it in just four days, but, as with Peter Robinson’s most recent books, this novel, too, left me feeling that perhaps it’s time to give up this series and write something different. I was just looking at some reviews for this novel (most were very positive - was I missing something?!), and it appears that this is, in fact, Rootham’s last “Joseph O’Loughlin” novel. I hope he will undertake some standalones.
That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Because it’s so rainy and tempestuous outside, I’m looking forward to staying in and possibly finishing Sophie Hannah’s new novel, The Next to Die, which I will tell you about next week.  Enjoy the rest of this short day, and keep reading!    
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Book club highlights on a bright, chilly morning...

It’s so lovely to see the sun this morning, after the strange, wild weather we had last week.  It’s a perfect morning for a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar - yummy and cozy.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss JoJo Moyes’ runaway bestseller Me Before You.  You are probably already familiar with the plot, having either read the book or seen the movie, but here is a brief summary.  In a small English tourist town, where the main feature is the castle, twenty-seven year old Louisa is quite happy working at a café and continuing in her long-term relationship with personal trainer boyfriend Patrick.  She lives at home with her mom and dad, her granddad, her sister Treena and Treena’s toddle son Thomas. It’s cramped, but it’s home, and she is completely content… until the café closes and she must find another job to help support the family, since her father is always fearful that he may lose his job at the furniture factory.  After several non-starters, she finally takes a job as a carer for the Traynor family, looking after thirty-five year old Will, a quadriplegic who is entirely dependent on others for his daily survival. Two years earlier, Will was living a good life as a high-powered company executive, taking exotic vacations and going on extreme sporting adventures, until he is hit by a motorcyclist on his way to work one day.  Will has given up the desire to live in this reduced state, and has agreed to give his family six more months, but then has booked an appointment at Dignitas, an organization in Switzerland that offers assistance for those who wish to end their lives with dignity. Unbeknownst to her, Louisa is hired to help change Will’s mind by changing his attitude and outlook on life and restoring his will to live.  I’ll say no more, because it is the uncertainty of her success that keeps the story going. I had four members who came out yesterday, and three had read this novel before. It came out in 2012, and since then, Moyes has written two more books following up on this story, which two of my group members have also read. They loved it. They loved Louisa’s character, her quirky family, the situations they found themselves in and the ways they reacted to them.  Everyone thought they seemed very “real”, and they felt that the ways Louisa grew and changed throughout the novel was moving and inspiring. We discussed the title, who was the "me" and who was the "you", and came up with some very interesting interpretations. We talked about Will, but less so than Louisa, and we discussed his family dynamic as well, his mother and father, and his relationship with his sister. We discussed his attitude towards his current situation, and agreed that he wasn’t really making much of an effort to adapt, that he has pretty much given up on things ever improving (and not just physically, but in terms of outlook and mindset).  I am the only one who did not enjoy the book, and am, coincidentally, the only one who focused more on Will than Louisa. I couldn’t help comparing his situation to the true account of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former Editor-in-Chief of French Elle who was stricken with sudden and total paralysis, or a type of stroke known as “locked-in” syndrome, where he could only blink his left eye.  And yet, he still managed to write a memoir of his life before this trauma, as well as what it was like to be “locked-in”. This brief memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was brilliant and moving, an inspiration to live life to the fullest, because everything could change in an instant.  Compared to that, in my opinion, Will was a pathetic character who gave up too easily and too quickly. While reading this book, I had to remind myself that he’s just a fictional character whose main purpose is to change Louisa’s life.  It was a good choice for a book club, and a great discussion, and it forced me to read something I would never have read otherwise.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
Bye for now…
Julie