Sunday 16 June 2019

Post on Father's Day...

It’s Father’s Day, and I hope dads everywhere are being treated to something special today.  I’m enjoying a few treats myself. I have a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, a delicious Date Bar from City Cafe, and the first of our local strawberries - yum!  I’m also using a new mug made by a local potter, and so far it fits all the criteria required to make it part of an enjoyable tea-drinking experience.
Before I start this post, I wanted to mention that I may not be writing a post next weekend, as I have a busy day on Saturday and I’m going out of town on Sunday to visit my elderly aunt, which will make it difficult to find time to write.  I’ll see what I can do, but if you don’t see or receive a post next week, that’s the reason.
Last week I read a great British mystery-suspense novel, What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan.  Recently divorced Rachel Jenner and her eight-year-old son Ben are walking in the woods with their dog, Skittle, one Sunday afternoon, as is their routine.  Ben asks if he can run ahead to the swing, and Rachel reluctantly says yes in an attempt to allow him a bit of independence. When she reaches the swing, Ben and Skittle are nowhere to be found, and it takes Rachel just a few seconds to realize that her son has been abducted.  When a massive search through the woods by police and concerned citizens results in the discovery of the dog but no Ben, Rachel is frantic. The case is given to Detective Jim Clemo, who is keen to take on a high-profile case in an effort to prove himself to his boss, DS Fraser.  He recommends his girlfriend, DC Emma Zhang, as the Family Liaison Officer, and together they gather information from Rachel that may help find Ben as quickly as possible. What they hope will be a quick result ends up taking far too long, and with too many suspects and not enough firm leads, this case has devastating psychological impact on many of the key players, including Clemo and Zhang.  Complex plot twists and red herrings abound until the final satisfying conclusion to this taut thriller that kept me wondering to the very last page. I listened to the second book in this series, Odd Child Out, not long ago, so I knew that Clemo had issues with the way he handled this case. This may have skewed my reading a bit, as I was mostly concentrating on how he was messing up rather than taking the novel as a whole.  It was written from the points of view of Jim and Rachel, as well as including transcripts of Jim’s post-case sessions with the department psychologist, which suggests that Clemo has been deeply affected by the outcome of this case.  The text also includes posts from an online blog concerned with finding Ben, offering the reader insight into ways that online media can affect an investigation and influence the public opinion of the parent of a missing child. It was a bit overlong, but it was cleverly crafted, the characters well-rounded and the scenarios credible.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys psychological suspense novels involving missing children or family secrets.
And I listened to an audiobook last week by Mel McGrath, Give Me the Child, which turned out to be surprisingly good.  Child psychiatrist Dr Caitlynn/Cat Lupo and husband, games designer Tom, are sound asleep after a rather drunken evening when a knock on the door awakens them.  What they find waiting for them on the other side of the door is Ruby, an eleven-year-old girl who is the result of a fling Tom had years earlier, when Cat was pregnant with their daughter Freya and experiencing a bout of prepartum psychosis.  Ruby’s mother is dead, the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, and Tom is listed as the next of kin. This comes as a total shock to Cat, but she realizes that she must adjust her initial response and welcome this child into her home.  This becomes more difficult when unusual things begin to happen in the household and the behaviour of Freya, initially welcoming towards her half-sister, begins to alter in negative ways. She suspects that Ruby is the cause of these occurrences, as well as the negative influence on Freya, but she has no way to prove it and Tom refuses to acknowledge the problem.  Instead, he accuses Cat herself of having recurring mental health issues and threatens to have her committed if she continues to suggest that Ruby is anything but a well-adjusted young girl. Are Cat’s suspicions real, or is she being paranoid? Is Ruby showing signs of psychopathology or are her actions merely the result of her difficult early childhood and the recent death of her mother?  And does Tom really not see what is happening, or is he hiding something? This was an awesome psychological thriller that asks us to consider what could happen when a child displaying psychopathological traits is left untreated. Think We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Defending Jacob - not a bad combination at all!  I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, and felt that the author managed to offer an ending that tied up all the loose ends without feeling contrived.  Great book and interesting narrator, too.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the day, but make time to read, too!
Bye for now…

Sunday 9 June 2019

Short post on a warm summery morning...

It actually felt like summer is on the way this weekend, but alas, more rain and cooler temperatures are in the forecast for the coming week.  *sigh* So I’ll write this short post then get outside to enjoy as much of this lovely day as possible.
I finished The Alice Network on Friday and it was great!  Despite the rather predictable ending, it held many surprises and gave me a sense that I was really learning something about the roles and functions of spies during and between the wars.  I preferred the “Eve” sections over the “Charlie” sections, but I can see why there had to be both to make the structure work. In the "Afterward", Quinn explains how some of the situations in the book reflected situations women and men faced during this time, giving us historical context.  I would recommend it for any book club, and I think both male and female readers would appreciate and enjoy this novel.
And I finished a so-so audiobook last week, The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian.  I have never read anything by this author before, but the premise of this mystery sounded intriguing so I thought I’d give it a try.  Cassie Boden has been a flight attendant for many years, and this flight to Dubai should be no different from the hundreds of others she’d been on before.  She follows her usual pattern of drinking too much and hooking up with a man for a “casual encounter” in his hotel room, after which she plans to go back to her own hotel room to get some sleep before her return flight in the morning.  But this time, after getting “black-out” drunk, she wakes up next to a dead man, his throat slashed and his blood soaking into the mattress. Did she do it? She can’t be 100% sure that she’s not guilty of murder, so she flees the scene, erasing as much evidence as she can of her presence in the room.  Over the rest of the novel, she tries to avoid being charged with the murder, while also trying to find out who did it. It was interesting enough to keep me listening to the end, but I couldn’t really relate to Cassie at all, nor did the details of the story as it unfolded seem credible. And I was reluctant to download this novel because it had multiple narrators, something I usually dislike. I’m not quite sure why they did that for this book, as I don’t think it enhanced the listening experience at all; rather, I found that it was quite jarring whenever a different narrator took over, making the story seem disjointed.  Anyway, it was OK, but certainly not great, and based on this experience, I doubt I’ll seek out other books by this author.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunny day before the rain starts!  
Bye for now…

Sunday 2 June 2019

Book club highlights on a cool spring morning...

I have a cup of steaming chai tea and a yummy Date Bar as I sit down to write this post, but they are more of a “coffee and dessert”, not the main meal.  As I was cooking and preparing my lunches, I was feeling quite hungry, so I made a toasted tomato sandwich for breakfast, and it was so delicious! It brought me right back to childhood, when I used to have these quite regularly.  I think I'm going to start making them more often.
I decided to finish The Au Pair last weekend, and it was every bit as good in the last section as it had been up to the point when I wrote last week.  The story was complex, the premise believable, and the ending offered a plausible yet surprising conclusion, and while everything was wrapped up, it didn’t feel contrived.  Emma Rous did an outstanding job, especially considering this was her debut novel after eighteen years working as a veterinarian. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys gothic novels or books centred around family secrets.
I started reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn on Monday night, and was both delighted and disappointed that I got sucked into the story almost from the first page; delighted because I didn’t think I would enjoy this  historical novel, and disappointed because it meant that I wanted to read every word and couldn’t just skim it in order to prepare for my book club meeting yesterday. I’m only halfway through, but I’ll give you a summary of the book and the highlights of the discussion.  Based on an actual network of spies during WWI, this novel is told in alternating voices, one narrative set in the middle of WWI and the other set just after WWII. Charlie St Clair is a nineteen-year-old American girl from an upper-middle-class family who, in May 1947, is being brought to Switzerland accompanied by her mother to take care of her “Little Problem”.  She is not sure how she feels about her condition, but she has agreed to the Appointment because she’s arranged to travel via England, where, instead of remaining with her mother for the last leg of their journey, she heads off on her own with no money and no experience, armed only with an address on a scrap of paper and her grandmother’s pearl necklace. She is off to find her French cousin, Rose, who disappeared during the war and has not been heard from since.  Two years older than Charlie, she is like the big sister she never had, and since she was unable to save her older brother James from killing himself after returning from the war, she is determined to try to save Rose. She travels to meet Evelyn Gardiner, a drunken, cantankerous woman in her mid-fifties who may have some knowledge about Rose's last known location. When she hears about Charlie’s quest to find Rose, her interest is piqued by something Charlie says and so she reluctantly agrees to travel with Charlie, but only if Charlie pays.  We are then introduced to Evelyn/Eve Gardiner, a young British woman who, in 1915, is singled out by Captain Cameron to join a network of female spies who are tasked with collecting information about the Germans. Eve speaks English, French and German, and at twenty-two, looks seventeen. She is slight and speaks with a stutter, so is thought by most to be not very clever, an error in judgement that serves her well. When she goes to work at a restaurant in Lille where German officers are known to frequent, she is able to gather significant intelligence to pass on to the head of the network, Lili/Alice Dubois, who then passes it on to Captain Cameron.  Eve, as the shy, stuttering serving girl Marguerite, is required to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to gain further access to information about the Germans, and it can only lead to horrific consequence. This is as far as I got, about halfway through the book, but I’m sure disaster lurks in the coming pages and chapters. There were just three of us at the meeting yesterday, and only one of us finished the book, the other member having read about two thirds so far. The person who read the whole book said she loved every page, but that there were parts when she just had to put it down and take a break. When I told her I was really enjoying the book, she said that if I thought the first half was good, I would probably find that the second half was even better.  We agreed that Quinn did an excellent job of interweaving the stories - I think one member described the storytelling structure as “layers upon layers, and these layers are also overlapping”. We felt that we learned alot about female spies and spying, which was very different from the stereotypes we had in mind. We were shocked at how much these women were required to sacrifice in the name of duty, and the limited choices women had at the time to serve their country and help the war effort. All in all, it was a successful meeting and an excellent book selection, and I look forward to finishing this novel in the next day or so.
I will not have time to read the book for tomorrow night’s meeting, and I can’t even skim it, as The Mandibles is not the type of novel that lends itself to skimming.  *Sigh* I’ll just have to accept that, in this case, there really were too many books and too little time.  
That’s all for now.  Enjoy the rest of the day, whatever you do.
Bye for now…