Sunday, March 1, 2015
winter reading list
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom - A mother tells her daughter that her father's wife has died and so they would go see what was in it for them. That's basically the first sentence of the book. Eva's mother abandons her to her widowed father and her older sister Iris. This is the story of Eva and Iris, sisters who share the same father, both motherless. Iris's mother has died and Eva's has run off without her. The sisters form a bond of sorts as Iris leaves home, with her younger sister in tow, in the mid 1940s for California so she can follow her dream of being an actress. She is a rising star but it's cutthroat out there and just as she has fallen, their father shows up. With their father and a favorite Hollywood make-up artist, Eva and Iris head back across the country to New York and job opportunities there. Even though it seems Iris is the star, it's really Eva's story, told from her point of view mostly, of family and those who become attached, become family as they try and make their way. I don't want to tell too much. It grabbed me right away, it's a good story and well written and an easy enjoyable read and not too long, 230 pages or so. I liked it a lot.
The Watcher: a novel by Charlotte Link – this is a murder mystery set in Scotland. Two older women who live alone and isolated are murdered weeks apart. A painfully shy 30ish man, Samson, who lives with his brother and his wife, fills his days spying on certain women in his neighborhood to pass the time after he gets fired from his job. Gillian, a woman who is having a troubled relationship with her young teenage daughter and who feels unimportant to her husband and also feels isolated in their community because she has trouble finding common ground with the other women starts an affair with her daughter's ex-detective tennis coach with a murky past in Scotland Yard. When Gillian returns home late one night after a failed attempt to meet with her lover, she finds her husband has been murdered and her daughter is hiding in the attic. Samson quickly becomes the prime suspect by the police and goes into hiding. When her lover becomes convinced that Gillian was the intended victim instead of her husband, he starts his own investigation but he's afraid he won't solve the crime in time. A decent read.
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – In this alternate world story, Elantris is a beautiful city inhabited by benevolent beautiful beings that seem to glow with an inner light and who use their god-like powers for the benefit of all the people of Arelon who have built their cities around Elantris. These beings were once human but were transformed, chosen by no rhyme or reason, by the Shoad. Once transformed, they became citizens of Elantris. Ten years previous, some disaster has put an end to the magic and Elantris died and although the transformations still take place, they become leper-like and are banished by the people of Arelon to the dead city. The people crown the richest merchant as king of Arelon at the end of the riots and destruction that followed the death of Elantris. The crown prince, a week before his political marriage to the princess of a neighboring country to forge an alliance to ward off the impending invasion of a religious army intent on taking over the world, wakes to find he has been taken by the Shoad and banished to the dead city. Here follows political, palace, and religious intrigue when the prince's 'wife' arrives unexpectedly and makes herself at home in the palace. Meanwhile, the prince is doing what he can to make life better for the Elantrians and tries to figure out what went wrong. It's a good story and I enjoyed it but I wish these authors that make up worlds and names would stop making them with weird combinations of vowels and consonants as to make them unpronounceable. Like Fjordell, Hrathen, Raoden, Teod.
White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – another Pendergast novel. In this one, Pendergast's protege, Corrie Swanson, has left her goth image behind (but not her impulsiveness) and is working on her thesis project which takes her to an extremely wealthy ski town that had been founded by silver miners. Corrie's attempts to examine the bones of miners who were 'killed by a bear' lands her in jail with the prospect of a ruined career before she even gets started. Enter Pendergast who springs her from jail, getting the charges dropped, just as one of the mansions goes up in flames killing everyone inside. Corrie's continued examinations and discovery of what actually killed the miners and her aforementioned impulsiveness puts her in danger from the people who have been trying to keep the secret secret.
The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman – For three hundred years, the Sparrow women have had only girl children and they are always born in March. On their 13th birthdays, they wake with a new talent, always different. Their forbear, Rebecca Sparrow, appeared out of the woods at the edge of a small town and is eventually taken in by the washerwoman. When Rebecca turns 13, the town discovers she can no longer feel pain and so start the events that lead to her death but not before she gives birth to her daughter. Generations later, Elinor, who can smell a lie, and her daughter Jenny, who dreams other peoples dreams, are estranged. Jenny left the family home with the boy her mother knew was a liar and a cheat at 17 and it isn't until her own daughter Stella turns 13 that circumstances take her back. This is a lovely novel about mothers and daughters and their relationships as well as their relationships with the men in their lives and love and the history of an unusual family. I enjoyed this one a lot though there were times when I would put it down mid-sentence as it waxed esoterically about these issues.
I've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark - I wanted a quick easy entertaining read and while I usually avoid authors whose books take up two or three shelves of space in the library, Mary Higgins Clark knows how to tell a good story. This is sort of a double murder mystery...Laurie's husband was murdered in front of their three year old son and the killer, who was never caught, promised to kill him and his mother and a famous 20 yr old unsolved murder of the socialite wife of a wealthy man on the night of the big graduation party given in honor of her daughter and three of her friends. Five years after her husband was killed, Laurie, a TV show producer who needs a hit show, proposes a series on unsolved crimes with the 'Graduation Gala' as the first episode. Her boss gives her the go ahead and the four friends, who each have a motive for the murder and the widower agree to recreate the night and submit to interviews about the unsolved murder. When the recently released from jail killer of Laurie's husband learns of the upcoming filming he decides that perhaps this is the perfect time to carry out his threat.
The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – A.J. Fikry is a depressed, bitter, and brusque widower who has not recovered from the death of his very loved wife and has managed to alienate just about everyone in the small town on Alice Island which in turn has his bookstore suffering the worst sales since they opened. His one treasure, a rare first edition of Poe's first published book, worth a quarter of a million dollars and the only retirement account he has, is stolen from his apartment above the bookstore one night while he is passed out cold drunk. He reports the theft to the police and is further sinking into a pit of misery when one Friday evening he discovers that a small child has been abandoned in the book store with a note explaining that the mother has nothing to offer her, that the child is very smart, and that she has picked A.J. to care for her because she believes he will do right by her. Several days later, the body of a young black woman washes up on the beach, obviously the mother of the child. Because he finds the child late on Friday, Social Services won't arrive to take possession of the girl, whose name is Maya, until the following Monday. By the time they arrive, A.J. finds that he cannot part with the child. Maya transforms his life. I don't want to say too much, it's a sweet little book about love and loss and becoming who we are, not sweet like all sugar and roses and happy stuff but in the sense of a story well told, about 250 pages. Each chapter starts with a title of a short story pertinent, in a way, to the following part of the story, with A.J.'s comments about it to his daughter as he recommends the story for her to read. I didn't stop and read the recommended short stories, as they weren't readily to hand, but I imagine that it would add to the enjoyment of more literary minded readers. Or maybe that's just artspeak on my part only about writing. Anyway, I really liked this one and recommend it to everybody.
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein – Trevor gets his first look at the massive legendary family mansion, Riddell House, the summer of his 14th year. His parents have separated and his father, Jones, takes Trevor back to the family home where he grew up and was sent away at 17 by his father, Samuel. The two have not spoken since. The family is now destitute and Samuel is sliding into dementia and Serena, Jones' sister, wants to sell the extremely valuable property for the wealth that they should have inherited if their founding fortune timber baron great great grandfather, Elijah, and great grandfather and father had not either given it away or spent it. The house itself is crumbling from disrepair. To say that this is a dysfunctional family with secrets is putting it mildly. When Trevor sees and talks to the resident ghost of Elijah's first and treasured son who died suddenly and mysteriously, he learns that Elijah made a promise to let the land return to natural and untamed forest in penance for the millions of trees he cut down. In Trevor's explorations of the rambling mansion with it's secret doors, tunnels, and rooms, he discovers all the secrets of the family history, a history he knows nothing of because his father refused to talk about his past. It's a good story, a good book and I suppose it ends the only way it could.
The Fever by Megan Abbott - Deenie and her brother, Eli, live with their father Tom, who teaches at the local high school. She has two BBFs, Lise and Gabby though Lise and Gabby are connected mainly by being friends with Deenie but lately Gabby seems to be pulling away from Deenie, spending more and more time with a fourth, Skye, a bohemian new age type, Gabby's new BFF. Confused yet? So one morning Lise has a seizure at school and then a heart stoppage at home that results in her cracking her head open on the table when she fell, rendering her unconscious. She slips into a coma. The next day, Gabby falls victim to a similar event only she is sent home without being admitted to the hospital. Two days later, another of their friends fall victim. Then more and more fall to what becomes a collective hysteria, parents panic, the police and health authorities start to investigate. Only Lise though shows toxicity. Eventually Gabby cracks and confesses and Deenie corners Skye and she learns that Gabby has only mainly been her friend because she has been in love with Eli, the brother, since she first set eyes on him. One day Skye tells Gabby that she saw Eli and Lise getting it on in the bushes and the two girls conspire to drive the dark energy away. Skye makes a concoction out of jimsonweed and Gabby puts it in Lise's thermos. Lise eventually comes out of it and recovers. There's more going on that confuses things like mandatory HPV vaccines, a polluted lake, losses of virginity, and a father who doesn't seem very confident in his role. I told you the story because I don't really recommend it. It was OK but nothing to write home about. And really, the only reason I picked this book up was the author has the same name as my niece.