Thursday 22 July 2021

Two weeks, two books...

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a post, but I’ve decided that, until I go back to work/school in September, I will write one post for every two books that I read.  I know I’ve got the whole summer off, but it’s amazing how busy things get - I’m actually blogging to the sound of windows being replaced right now! 

I’ve read two books since my last post.  The first is Hostage by Clare Mackintosh, a thriller set on a plane making the very first non-stop flight from London to Sidney, where one of the flight attendants is ordered to assist the hijackers or her daughter will be harmed.  Should she save one life at the expense of more than 300 others?   What would you do in the same situation?  I’ve listened to other books by this bestselling British author, and this one did not disappoint.  It was an interesting setting, perhaps the first thriller I’ve read taking place almost entirely during a flight.  The issues the main character experiences trying to bond with her adopted daughter seemed believable, as well as the issues her husband was facing on his own and in their relationship.  Mackintosh not my favourite author, but her books are consistently well-written and reliably “good enough” to keep me interested right to the last page, and this one has a really interesting ending.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys thrillers, but don’t read it if you experience aerophobia (fear of flying - I just learned a new word!).

The book I finished yesterday is one that we will be discussing next Monday for my Friends book club, and one I’ve read before, What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  I didn’t really suggest it as a selection for the group to read, I merely mentioned that I was interested in rereading it, but people thought it sounded good so that’s how we came to choose it.  Having reread it, I’m not so sure everyone will like it, but it’s too late to change now.  Here’s what I wrote about it in May, 2016: 

“I have a book and an audiobook I want to tell you about today.  The book I read is What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  This is a reread, and it’s a bit of an indulgence for me, as it’s not overly well-written, but it’s a twisty, turny rollercoaster ride through the past 30 years of a woman who claims to be one of the two sisters who were believed to have been abducted from a mall in Baltimore one Saturday afternoon in 1975.  The novel opens with a woman’s confused ramblings as she is driving down the highway.  Her confusion leads to an accident and she is taken to hospital where, having no ID with her, she reveals under questioning that she is one of the Bethany sisters, the younger sister Heather, then refuses to say anything more.  Enter Kevin Infante, a chauvinistic detective who becomes more and more frustrated as he struggles to come up with any leads that might help crack this case.  He consults his former partner, Nancy Porter, who after maternity leave, has joined the Cold Case squad, and together they try to get this woman to open up to them, to give them something, anything, that they can work with.  Unfortunately, all she seems to tell them are vague stories that include details that shift and change according to the situation.  There is also a social worker, Kay Somerville, who becomes involved in Heather’s case, and she approaches her lawyer friend Gloria Bustamante to take on this case and help this woman out.  There are multiple stories intertwined, as lengthy flashbacks fill in the details of the day of the crime, as well as what happened in the intervening years for both of the parents while their daughters were still missing and presumed dead.  It was very confusing, but it’s the kind of book I love to read every once in  awhile, a bit of a “trashy novel” filled with secrets and lies and mystery (I mean "trashy" in the best sense of the word, as in plot-driven as opposed to language- or character-driven).  I didn’t really remember exactly how it ended, but I had some idea, so I could pay attention to the minutiae of the story with that in mind and appreciate the complicated story Lippman created rather than just feeling lost and confused.  All in all, it was a good read, and a change from some of the more literary stuff I usually choose.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about family secrets and doesn’t mind multiple stories and many flashbacks.  As an aside, I loved this part near the beginning of the book, when we meet Kay for the first time.  She is talking about books, and how she prefers reading to engaging with others.  She joined a book group to give her a cover and validate her frequent choices of reading over talking.  But she says she doesn't really like being in a book group, because "talking about the characters in a book she had enjoyed felt like gossiping about friends".  I can relate to that!”

I would say that I feel exactly the same way about it this time around, and really enjoyed the portrayal of the various characters, Kay and Kevin and Nancy, but also the Bethany parents, Miriam and Dave.  I hope it will make for a good discussion.  As an aside, I didn’t realize that I’d read it twice before, so it must rank pretty high in my reading memory if I wanted to read it again for a third time.  All in all, you could do worse than this book, which was truly filled with family secrets.

That’s all for today.  The window people have gone for lunch and it’s finally quiet, but they’ll be back soon so I should take advantage of this stillness to get some reading done.  Enjoy the lovely day and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Thursday 8 July 2021

Two books, one post...

I think this is the first time I’ve missed a post, so rather than wait until next Sunday, I've decided to write about the last two books I’ve read this morning.  It’s cool and rainy, and I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a delicious date bar, and it’s the first full week of summer holidays for me, so it’s the perfect time to write this post.

My book club met last Saturday to discuss the Young Adult novel Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.  I chose this book to add to our list because I usually have at least one YA novel, most often during the summer, and this was one a teacher at my school had read and really enjoyed.  This novel tells the story of sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes and her friends Daisy and Mychal, three young people who are determined to solve the mystery of a billionaire, Mr Pickett, who went missing in the wake of a fraud investigation and claim the reward money.  Aza suffers from OCD and is constantly worrying about contracting an infection, specifically C. diff.  She is also grieving the loss of her father, so when Daisy and Mychal drag her into this adventure, she reluctantly agrees to participate.  She and Pickett’s son, Davis, knew each other in elementary school, so they use this connection to their advantage.  Davis and his younger brother Noah are surrounded by people who work for their father, but no one who is truly family.  Add to this the fact that their father, upon his death, is planning to leave all his money to his tuatara, which he believes holds the key to increased longevity, and you’ve got two very confused and lonely boys. This motley group search for clues to help locate Pickett, but along the way they encounter other challenges, particularly related to relationships, friendships, and familial responsibility.  Everyone seemed to enjoy this book.  They felt that Green wrote from a female perspective convincingly, and wondered how he could understand Aza’s mental health issues unless he’s lived it (he has).  They thought Daisy was a foil, a bit of comic relief from the more serious explorations into mental health issues.  Green did a good job of including social media as a form of communication, one that is so prevalent with young people.  This book explored the topics of absentee parents, the not-always-great relationships between parents and children, and self-harm.  We discussed the relationship between Aza and her mom, and her mom’s own fears of “losing someone else”.  All in all, it was a great discussion.

And since I’m off for the summer, I have already finished reading Alex Michaelides’ second, much-anticipated novel, The Maidens.  I loved his first book, The Silent Patient, so I think I had unrealistic expectations for this one, and unfortunately I was somewhat disappointed, although clearly the book was gripping enough that I managed to finish it in three days.  Tara, a student at St Christopher’s College, Cambridge, goes missing, and Mariana, a psychotherapist specializing in group therapy, gets a distressing call from her niece, Zoe, who is also a student at St Christopher’s, as well as the missing girl’s best friend.  When Tara’s body is found, the victim of a seemingly frenzied attack, she leaves her busy practice in London and heads to Cambridge, where she reluctantly becomes involved in the investigation, despite the remonstrations of the lead investigator as well as the main suspect, Edward Fosca. Fosca is a Professor of Greek Literature who regularly meets with some of his most intelligent students, a group of young, beautiful women he calls “the maidens”, a cult-like reference to the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone.  Tara was part of this group, but the police don’t seem to be taking Mariana’s concerns seriously, so when another girl, also a “maiden”, is murdered, she is determined to stay in Cambridge and prove that Fosca is guilty.  Mariana, still grieving the loss of her husband Sebastian, has a tendency to run away and hide from the truth, but she finds new purpose in helping Zoe and decides that it is her duty to protect her.  Can she solve the mystery before Zoe becomes the next victim?  You’ll have to read it to find out.  There were plenty of potential suspects, plot twists and red herrings, and it was written well enough, so I don’t quite know why I was unable to really lose myself in this story.  I guess I couldn't really identify with Mariana, and some of her decisions were questionable at best. Still, you could certainly do worse than this thriller, so if I were to use Kirkus' rating system, I would say “Borrow it”, as opposed to “Buy it” or “Skip it”.  

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and pick up a good book.

Bye for now…