June 12, 2013
June 11, 2013
Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
2013 HarperCollins Audio
Reader: Robert Petkoff
Finished on 5/12/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
With the evocative power of The Paris Wife and the aching vulnerability of John Irving’s books, Indiscretion is a heady and addictive debut novel, set in the present day, in which the idyllic lives of a wealthy and glamorous husband and wife are upended when they meet an impressionable and ambitious young woman.
Harry and Madeleine Winslow have been blessed with talent, money, and charm. Harry is a National Book Award-winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness and serenity belie a privileged upbringing. Bonded by deep devotion, they share a love that is both envied and adored. The Winslows play host to a coterie of close friends and acolytes eager to bask in their golden radiance, whether they are in their bucolic East Hampton cottage, living abroad in Rome thanks to Harry’s writing grant, or in their comfortable Manhattan brownstone.
One weekend at the start of the summer season, Harry and Maddy, who are in their early forties, meet Claire and cannot help but be enchanted by her winsome youth, quiet intelligence, and disarming naivete. Drawn by the Winslows’ indescribable magnetism, Claire eagerly falls into their welcoming orbit. But over the course of the summer, reverence transforms into dangerous desire. By Labor Day, it is no longer enough to just be one of their hangers-on.
A story of love, lust, deception, and betrayal told through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, a narrator akin to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Indiscretion is a juicy, deeply textured novel filled with fascinating true-to-life characters—an irresistibly sensual page-turner that explores having it all, and the consequences of wanting more.
I first discovered this book after reading Bellezza’s post last autumn. A few weeks later, the ARC arrived (unsolicited!) in my mailbox. As usual, it wound up on a stack of recently acquired ARCs where it sat for half a year. Meanwhile, the audio book appeared on my library listing, so I downloaded the book and finally decided to give it a try even though I had the ARC. I’ve come to realize that I do this quite often: I wind up with a book in which I’m mildly interested, but pass it over for others until the audio version comes along. With that said, I was happy to have both formats, as I found myself wanting to mark passages as I listened.
Bellezza was quite accurate in her assessment of this debut novel. She says,
Charles Dubow explores what happens when we find ourselves discontent with what we have, and pursuing what we think we want, through his novel Indiscretion. It is a visceral novel, compelling from start to finish, as we are unable to pull ourselves away from the relationships between the youthful Claire, the Botticelli-like Maddy and National Book Award winning writer Harry which is told through the point of view of Walt, Maddy's childhood friend.
The novel is steamy, and sexy, but not in a meaningless Shades of Grey sort of way. Every word is intentional, put there to show us the effect of our choices not only on ourselves but on those we love. As my mother has said to me more than once, "Often our lives spin on a hair." She means that one chance encounter, one swift decision, can irrevocably change our lives forever. This novel shows us just that.
Reading (or rather listening to) this novel was like watching the proverbial train-wreck. I could see what coming (or so I thought) and yet I couldn’t pull my eyes (well, ears) away from the impending disaster. I typically spend several weeks listening to a single audio book, but I couldn’t keep from grabbing my Nano, listening at every possible opportunity, and I wound up finishing this book in less than a week! The reader, Robert Petkoff, isn’t one of my favorites and his “whispery” voice for the female characters bothered me early on. Dubow’s compelling narrative, however, was able to keep me fully engaged and I was quickly able to ignore Petkoff’s flaws.
The poet A. E. Housman wrote of the “land of lost content,” and how he can never return to the place where he had once been so happy.
When I was younger, I greatly admired the poem’s sentiment because I was not old enough to realize how banal it was. The young invariably cherish their youth, incapable of imagining life past thirty. The notion that the past is more idyllic is absurd, however. What we remember is our innocence, strong limbs, physical desire. Many people are shackled by their past and are unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence because they not only don’t believe in the future, they don’t really believe in themselves.
But that doesn’t prevent us from casting a roseate glow over our memories. Some memories burn brighter, whether because they meant more or because they have assumed greater importance in our minds. Holidays blur together, snowstorms, swimming in the ocean, acts of love, holding our parents’ hands when we are very small, great sadnesses. But there is much we forget too. I have forgotten so much—names, faces, brilliant conversations, days and weeks and months, things I vowed never to forget, and to fill in the gaps, I conflate the past or make it up entirely. Did that happen to me or to someone else? Was that me who broke his leg skiing in Lech? Did I run from the carabinieri after a drunken night in Venice? Places and actions that seem so real can be entirely false, based purely on impressions of a story told at the time and then somehow subconsciously woven into the fabric of our lives.
After a while it becomes real.
On the beach:
I know most people find the beach restful and restorative, but some beaches have special healing powers. For me, this is that beach. It is a place I have explored since childhood, and I feel as comfortable here as I would in my own house. I tolerate the occasional intruder the way any host would but am always secretly glad to have the place to myself again. Put me down on a stretch of sand in the Caribbean or Maine, and I will certainly appreciate it, but it’s not quite the same thing. In some places the water’s too cold, or too warm, or too green. The shells are alien to me, the smells unfamiliar. But here it is perfect, and I will come here as happily in January as in August. There are few days I look forward to more than that first warm day when I feel brave and resolved enough to withstand the still-frigid temperatures and the only other creatures in the water are neoprene-clad surfers and the fish, and I dive into numbing, cleansing cold.
I’m surprised this novel hasn’t received as much attention as say, Gone Girl. It’s an addictive read, with a skillfully crafted plot and fully realized characters. The pacing is even, the writing is vivid, and the tension is taut. Although I thought I knew what was about to happen, I was often surprised. I am eager to see what Charles Dubow has next to share with his readers and certainly know I won’t wait so long to pick up his next endeavor. Heading to the beach? Grab a copy of Indiscretion. You won’t be disappointed.
June 8, 2013
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Fiction – YA Post-Apocalyptic
2013 G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Finished on 5/5/13
Rating: 4.75/5 (Outstanding!)
If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans. ~ Stephen Hawking
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, just one rule applies: TRUST NO ONE.
Now it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
From award-winning author Rick Yancey comes a gripping epic of catastrophic loss, unthinkable odds, and unflinching courage.
I don’t read a lot of teen fiction. Other than The Book Thief (which became a widely popular cross-over novel with adult readers and is one of my all-time favorite reads ever), there have been less than a handful of teen novels that have piqued my interest. While I enjoyed The Hunger Games and Twilight, the sequels were disappointing and I quickly grew tired of all the teenage angst. However, I love a good post-apocalyptic story (The Stand, Swan Song, The Road, and The Passage, are just a few of my favorites), so when the ARC of The 5th Wave arrived I knew I wanted to read it, but decided to let my husband have first dibs. I figured he could save me some valuable time, if he felt it was poorly written or not compelling enough. Well, surprisingly (as he rarely ever reads teen fiction), not only did he finish the book, he thought it was very good. And, much to my relief, not filled with a lot of angst.
I dove into the book as soon as I finished The Light Between Oceans (something I rarely do, as I like to have a little break between books, if only a few hours) and was immediately drawn into Cassie and Evan’s stories. Other than a few instances in which I thought that Cassie’s internal monologues depicting her romantic attraction toward another character were beginning to feel overly saccharine, I loved the book. While not as intricate or sophisticated as The Stand or Swan Song, it was highly entertaining and much better than I had anticipated. With that said, I will continue to hold out hope that the second installment (yes, this is the first in a trilogy) doesn’t follow the trend of disappointing sequels.
The 5th Wave is a tautly written page-turner, sure to satisfy readers of all ages and appeal to fans of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I look forward to the next novel in this trilogy, but meanwhile, I plan to check out Rick Yancey’s backlist. Any recommendations?
Go here to read Justin Cronin’s (best-selling author of The Passage and The Twelve) review of The 5th Wave.
June 6, 2013
Still Life by Louise Penny
Armand Gamache Series #1
2006 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Reader: Ralph Cosham
Finished on 5/2/13
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.
Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces – and this series – with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.
I’ve been meaning to return to this series for several years. In all, there are now eight books, with the ninth (How the Light Gets In) due out in August. Since it’s been well over six years since I first encountered Louise Penny’s debut novel, I decided to listen to the audio of Still Life to reacquaint myself with the characters before moving on to A Fatal Grace. Looking back on my original review, I see that my initial reaction was a bit more positive than this second encounter. I gave it an 8/10 (very good) rating and wrote:
It took me a few chapters to settle into this debut novel, but once I got a handle on all the various characters (many of whom were possible suspects in the death of Ms. Neal), I couldn’t put it down, anxious to get back to my reading and trying to solve the crime as I went about my daily activities.Final Thoughts:
Still Life is not a hard-boiled thriller, but rather a gentle “drawing room” mystery in which the chief investigator relishes a warm café au lait and flaky croissant as he ponders the details of the crime, while enjoying the peacefulness of the village as dawn breaks.
Gamache is a likeable character, reminding me a little bit of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport (although, not quite the womanizer and much more well-read). I have a feeling Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir will become another favorite duo and I look forward to Penny’s next installment (Dead Cold), due out next spring.
I have a couple of books that I’m anxious to read in the next few weeks, but I won’t let much more time elapse before I pick up A Fatal Grace (aka Dead Cold). I’m eager to see why this series has become so popular among mystery lovers.
Have you read any of Louise Penny’s mysteries? Which is your favorite?
June 5, 2013
June 2, 2013
Last week I was in Oregon helping my mom celebrate (belatedly) her 80th birthday. It was a wonderful trip and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my parents, as well as catching up with my three brothers and their families. Unfortunately, my husband (who rarely ever gets sick!) came down with a killer head cold and wound up staying home. We were all disappointed that he couldn't join us, but we managed to enjoy ourselves, in spite of his absence.
Next up, Seattle!
Little Whale Cove
Little Whale Cove
Next up, Seattle!
May 29, 2013
May 18, 2013
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Finished on 4/24/13
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)
An extraordinary and heart-rending book about good people, tragic decisions and the beauty found in each of them.
~ Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief
The debut of a stunning new voice in fiction—a novel both heartbreaking and transcendent.
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the Western coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the winds. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
M.L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinary compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer.
Do you see that? A 5/5 rating! It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had one of those and Stedman’s debut novel deserves nothing less! I’m not even going to knock off any points for the slow start, because that could easily be attributed to my fatigue from an exhausting week at work. Once I got a few pages in, I was hooked and could barely set the book aside. I even read a few pages while fixing dinner!
On a violent ocean:
There are times when the ocean is not the ocean—not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.
On the persistence of the passage of time:
The wind had kept up its sullen howl. The late-afternoon sun continued to shine in through the window, laying a blanket of bright gold over the woman and her almost-baby. The old clock on the kitchen wall still clicked its minutes with fussy punctuality. A life had come and gone and nature had not paused a second for it. The machine of time and space grinds on, and people are fed through it like grist through the mill.
Anyone who’s worked on the Offshore Lights can tell you about it—the isolation, and the spell it casts. Like sparks flung off the furnace that is Australia, these beacons dot around it, flickering on and off, some of them only ever seen by a handful of living souls. But their isolation saves the whole continent from isolation—keeps the shipping lanes safe, as vessels steam the thousands of miles to bring machines and books and cloth, in return for wool and wheat, coal and gold: the fruits of ingenuity traded for the fruits of earth.
The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, on time, one rhythm—the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you’re wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.
The Light Between Oceans is the type of book that could easily be read in a few days, but I took my time, slowly savoring the lyrical prose, dreading the turn of that final page. However, as the conclusion drew near with an ominous sense of foreboding, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the words, holding my breath as the tension mounted. Each of the characters faced a moral dilemma with no perfect solution; the heartbreak of both was inevitable. And yet, in spite of this tragic story, I came away from it with a feeling of satisfaction.
An outstanding debut that is sure to be a winner among fans of literary fiction and book clubs alike. Stedman’s vigorously evocative narrative, along with a strong sense of place, depicts the powerful isolation and ultimate desperation of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his family. The author’s skill in crafting a thought-provoking and gripping tale, peopled with fully-realized characters (who in spite of their flaws, will win over even the harshest of critics), is more characteristic of a seasoned writer than one fresh to the world of bestsellers. I anxiously await her second endeavor and meanwhile, I plan to listen to the audio version of this remarkable novel. Kudos, Ms. Stedman!
May 15, 2013
Summer in April?
First green smoothie
(soymilk, berries, kiwi, mango, honey and kale!)
Could've been worse.
Variety is the spice of life.
I picked Orb!
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Nanny and granddaughter bookclub choice.
Rod's birthday gifts from our sweet girl.
Porch-sitting in spring.
Neighbor's gorgeous tree is bursting with blossoms.
First scoop of the season!
May 11, 2013
Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff
Finished on 4/14/13
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
A bright June day. A split-second distraction. A family forever changed.
Life is good for Maura Corrigan. Married to her college sweetheart, Pete, raising three young kids with her parents nearby in her peaceful Chicago suburb, her world is secure. Then one day, in a single turn of fate, that entire world comes crashing down and everything that she thought she knew changes.
Maura must learn to move forward with the weight of grief and the crushing guilt of an unforgivable secret. Pete senses a gap growing between him and his wife but finds it easier to escape to the bar with his friends than face the flaws in his marriage.
Meanwhile, Maura's parents are dealing with the fault lines in their own marriage. Charismatic Roger, who at sixty-five, is still chasing the next business deal and Margaret, a pragmatic and proud homemaker, have been married for four decades, seemingly happily. But the truth is more complicated. Like Maura, Roger has secrets of his own and when his deceptions and weaknesses are exposed, Margaret's love and loyalty face the ultimate test.
Those We Love Most chronicles how these unforgettable characters confront their choices, examine their mistakes, fight for their most valuable relationships, and ultimately find their way back to each other. It takes us deep into the heart of what makes families and marriages tick and explores a fundamental question: when the ties that bind us to those we love are strained or broken, how do we pick up the pieces?
Deeply penetrating and brimming with emotional insight, this engrossing family drama heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
I’ve had Lee and Bob (ABC NEWS anchor) Woodruff’s dual memoir, In An Instant, on my shelves for several years, but haven’t gotten around to reading it, in spite of strong initial interest. When Lee’s debut novel hit the shelves, I knew it was something I wanted to read, even before I read the publisher’s blurb on the back cover. Yes, I’m a sucker for attractive cover art.
I quickly became engrossed in the narrative: Woodruff’s smooth writing pulled me in from the opening pages, and I wound up reading late into the night on more than one occasion. However, I never felt fully invested in this family’s sad situation. I found myself comparing Woodruff’s story to that of Anna Quindlen’s, in her unforgettable novel, Every Last One. While Quindlen’s book had me sobbing as though I had a personal relationship with her characters, Woodruff had me feeling somewhat apathetic and blasé. This is not to say that Woodruff’s writing is poor or boring, but she wasn’t able to make me care about any of her characters. Maura, Pete and Roger never captured my heart or sympathies, and I felt as if they were constantly held at arms-length from the reader. I wanted to like June’s mother, Margaret, but I felt her characterization never rang true. Her behavior and general attitude about life is depicted like that of an older, pragmatic woman (or perhaps a woman living in the Fifties or Sixties) rather than one in her early 60’s. She is stoic in her grief and somewhat of an insecure prude with a mean, manipulative streak, when faced with her own demons.
Margaret thought about how you could spend your life trying to stay well, buckling your seat belt, eating organic food, wearing sunscreen, and then bad things could still rise up out of nowhere. Senseless things. She shook her head and pushed those thoughts away. She needed to make the marinade and get dressed for bridge.Surprisingly, this is the only passage I marked in this book of 300 pages. Even more surprising (at least to me) is that I never once shed a tear. I find myself wondering if I’ve become numb (or immune?) to stories of loss or if Woodruff misses the mark when it comes to relating the intricacies of grief. I guess I won’t know until I read another book about the death of a loved one.
Did I say I liked this book? ;) I really did, but it wasn’t as remarkable as I imagined it would be. Who knows. Maybe her memoir will knock my socks off.
May 6, 2013
The 5th Wave hits the shelves tomorrow morning!
I plan to post my review in the next few days, but wanted to let you know that it is, in a word,
Better than the Twilight trilogy.
Better than the Hunger Games trilogy.
Better than The Passage trilogy.
Imagine a mash-up of Ender's Game, The Road and The Hunger Games.
Don't care for teenage angst and silly romantic head games? Not to worry.
Oh, and, my husband thought it was great, too!
The Twelve by Justin Cronin (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy)
Fiction (Horror; Post-Apocalyptic)
2012 Random House Audio
Length: 26 hours, 23 minutes
Reader: Scott Brick
Finished on 4/8/13
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
In The Passage, Justin Cronin constructed an unforgettable world transformed by a government experiment gone horribly wrong. Now the scope widens and the intensity deepens as the epic tale continues with The Twelve.
In the present day: As a man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos, desperate to find others, to survive, to witness the dawn on the other side of disaster. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother; Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver”; and April, a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a minefield of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.
A hundred years in the future: Amy, Peter, Alicia, and the others introduced in The Passage work with a cast of new characters to hunt the original twelve virals… unaware that the rules of the game have changed, and that one of them will have to sacrifice everything to bring the Twelve down.
I listened to Justin Cronin’s amazing novel, The Passage, last fall and loved it, giving it a near-perfect rating of 4.75/5. When it came time to read The Twelve (Book Two in the trilogy), I debated as to whether I should listen to the audio or read the ARC. I opted once again for the audio, as I had so enjoyed Scott Brick’s narration of The Passage and assumed that listening to him read this follow-up would be just as enjoyable. And, of course, my Nano is much more convenient than lugging such a chunkster around with me, not to mention the fact that I can listen to close to 2 hours every day while working on various projects at work before the store opens.
I should’ve chosen the ARC.
Listening to the audio version of such a weighty epic is quite the challenge. Cronin’s narrative is far from linear and, from beginning to end, new characters are introduced, old favorites discarded, storylines intertwine, and time and location shift relentlessly. With a printed edition, the reader is able to discern these shifts with visual cues on the page, whereas the audio only allows for a brief pause in narration. I found myself listening to many chapters more than once and whined to my husband (who was reading the ARC at the same time as I was listening to the book) about the need for a timeline, list of characters and a map to keep track of the comings and goings of the huge cast of characters. Ha! Lo and behold, at the back of the book there is a “Dramatis Personae,” to which I referred on several occasions. I was even tempted to tear it from the book and carry it with me as I listened, but decided to keep the ARC intact. With that said, I will definitely keep it handy when it comes time to read the final installment in this trilogy. I may even read a few chapters to refresh my memory before diving into The City of Mirrors, which is due to hit the shelves sometime in 2014. Or, better yet, I’ll peruse Cronin’s website and check out the forum posts and discussions.
Not as solid as The Passage, but entertaining nonetheless. It took me close to a month to listen to the 26+ hours of narration and by the time I finished, I wasn’t sure what to think of the epilogue (my husband was no help either, as he was just as confused as I was!), but I was happy to have completed the book and look forward to the final installment… which, by the way, I plan to read rather than listen to. I’ve learned my lesson!
May 4, 2013
April 29, 2013
The Shadow in the Streets by Susan Hill
A Simon Serrailler Crime Novel (#5)
2010 Chatto & Windus, London
Finished on 4/8/13
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Simon Serrailler has just wrapped up a particularly exhausting and difficult case for SIFT – Special Incident Flying Taskforce – and is on a sabbatical on a Scottish island when he is recalled to Lafferton. Two local prostitutes have vanished and are subsequently found strangled. By the time he gets back, another girl has disappeared. Is this a vendetta against prostitutes by someone with a warped mind? Or a series of killings by an angry punter? But then one of the Cathedral wives goes missing, followed by another young married woman, on her way to work.
Serrailler follows lead after lead, all of which become dead-ends. The fear is that more women will be killed, and that the murderer is right under their noses; meanwhile the public grow more angry and afraid. It is only through a piece of luck, a chance meeting and a life put in grave danger that he finally gets a result…
Susan Hill has a genius for evoking atmosphere and suspense, and her characters are so real that the reader is caught up not only in the mystery but in the drama of their lives.
Susan Hill’s novels and short stories have won the Whitbread, Somerset Maugham and John Llewelyn Rhys awards and been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She is the author of over forty books, including six other Serrailler crime novels (The Various Haunts of Men, The Pure in Heart, The Risk of Darkness, The Vows of Silence, The Betrayal of Trust and A Question of Identity). Her most recent novel is The Beacon. The play adapted from her famous ghost story, The Woman in Black, has been running on the West End stage since 1989.
I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, which kept me on the edge of my seat (and reading late into the night) for most of the second half. Hill kept me guessing and it was only at the very end that I finally sorted out the clues, threw out the red herrings, and worked out the identity of the killer. I rarely ever read a series out of order, but I had this book in my stacks and decided to give it a try without realizing there were four others leading up to this one. My only complaint is that the lack of substantial backstory forced me to flip back and forth between the early chapters, trying to piece together the relationships among the main characters. The introduction of new characters throughout the mystery also added to my confusion, making me stop and question their importance to the narrative. As I’ve discovered in other crime novels I’ve recently read (especially those set specifically in Great Britain and Ireland), I came upon quite a few abbreviations (PC, DCD, DI, DS, DCS, DCI, CID, OIOC), but eventually was able to sort them out, pretty much in time to realize their lack of importance. However, initially their presence disrupted the flow of the narrative. I guess that’s more than one complaint, but they’re very minor quibbles and I’m quite anxious to read the other titles in this series, as well Hill’s stand-alones.
On life after loss:
Ordinary things, Cat thought gratefully. Washing up the coffee cups. Making a lamb stew. Chopping vegetables. Ordinary life. That’s what saves us.
Final Thoughts: Susan Hill, where have you been all my life?! I loved this mystery! Readers who enjoy Tana French and Mo Hayder will likely concur.
April 27, 2013
All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie
Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Series #2
1994 Charles Scribner’s Sons
Finished on 3/26/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Murder strikes where Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid least expects it. Coming home to his Hampstead flat after working all night on a case, Kincaid finds his terminally ill friend and neighbor, Jasmine Dent, has passed peacefully away in her sleep.
Kincaid quickly discovers, however, that Jasmine’s death may not be as straightforward as it seems. Margaret Bellamy, a young friend of Jasmine’s, tells him that Jasmine has asked for her help in committing suicide, but had changed her mind at the last minute. When autopsy results reveal that Jasmine died from a lethal dose of morphine, Kincaid must discover whether Jasmine killed herself, or if someone else ended her life prematurely.
Why, he asks, would someone kill a woman who had only a few months to live? Did Jasmine’s younger brother, Theo, need his inheritance to keep his small antique shop afloat? Did her nurse, Felicity Haworth, indulge in a spot of mercy killing? Or did Margaret Bellamy’s unscrupulous boyfriend, Roger, decide he couldn’t wait for Margaret to come into her share of Jasmine’s money?
With help from Sergeant Gemma James and Jasmine’s own journals, Kincaid explores Jasmine’s life from her childhood in India to the final months of her illness, discovering a hauntingly beautiful young woman, secretive and ambitious. Somewhere in her past may lie the key to her murder….
I read this second installment in the Kincaid/James series in a little over a week. As with some of my favorite current TV shows (House of Cards, Justified, Homeland), I know I enjoyed the mystery, but the specific details have since escaped my memory. Please don’t ask me who killed Jasmine!
Final Thoughts: Entertaining, albeit forgettable? No notes or quotes to share, but I’m ready to dive into #3 (Leave the Grave Green).
April 20, 2013
Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
2010 Random House
Finished on 3/15/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.
So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.
They met over their dogs. Both writers, Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (the author of Drinking: A Love Story) became best friends, talking about everything from their shared history of a struggle with alcohol, to their relationships with men and colleagues, to their love of books. They walked the woods of New England and rowed on the Charles River, and the miles they logged on land and water became a measure of the interior ground they covered. From disparate backgrounds but with striking emotional similarities, these two private, fiercely self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen.
Rich with the joys of raising dogs and the rivalries of competitive sports, their friendship helped them define the ordinary moments of life as the ones worth cherishing. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
With her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion and grief in this moving memoir about treasuring and losing a best friend, and about coming of age, in the middle of life. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a celebration of life and of the transformations that come from intimate connection—and it affirms, once again, why Gail Caldwell is recognized as one of our bravest and most honest literary voices.
I love a good memoir—especially one to which I can relate—whether it be about marriage, raising children, cooking or, in this case, women’s friendships, dogs, and grief. After reading Wendy’s glowing review for Let’s Take the Long Way Home, my interest was piqued and I was happy when I stumbled upon a copy in a used bookstore. Taking a break from my self-imposed March Mystery Madness challenge, I went to my shelves in search of something that might be quick to fall into. Caldwell’s memoir fit the bill, as it was both quick to start and held my interest from cover to cover.
I should forewarn you, dear reader, that this post is quite heavy on quotes. Feel free to scroll to the bottom for my final thoughts, if you prefer not to read the passages I was compelled to record.
This passage brings to mind my dear friend, Bellezza. While we’ve never met in person, we share a passion for biking, as well as for being out on the water in kayaks or canoes. If we lived near one another, I know we’d spend a lot of time together on the trails and lakes.
One of the things we loved about rowing was its near mystical beauty—the strokes cresting across the water, the shimmering quiet of the row itself. Days after her death, I dreamed that the two of us were standing together in a dark boathouse, its only light source a line of incandescent blue sculls that hung above us like a wash of constellations. In the dream I knew she was dead, and I reached out for her and said, “But you’re coming back, right?” She smiled but shook her head; her face was a well of sadness.On being fortysomething, a lover of both books and dogs.
I had just navigated my own crossroads. I was in my early forties, at an age when the view from the hill can be clear and poignant both. The imagined vistas have become realized paths, and I think you may live in the present during those years more than any time since childhood. I’d spent my thirties in a big-city newsroom where adrenaline and testosterone were as pervasive as deadlines, and I’d recently given up a stint as book review editor to go back to my ordinary job as book critic for The Boston Globe. This transition, as well as the recent shifts in technology, allowed me to work from home and hang around with the dog, who quickly learned that reading was my equivalent of chewing on a bone. I had long thought that the gods had handed me work tailor-made for my idiosyncrasies: I was too opinionated to be a straight news reporter, too gadabout to be an academic. I was dreamy, stubborn, and selectively fanatical; my idea of a productive day, as both a child and an adult, was reading for hours and staring out the window. It was my good fortune that I had found an occupation requiring just these talents; now, with Clementine, I could spend whole days in near silence, reading or writing or speaking in the simpler, heart-sure vernacular of human-to-dog.On grief:
The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course. Until Caroline died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity. I would move as though I were underwater for weeks, maybe months, but those first few days between the death and the memorial service were a dazed cascade of tears and surprises. A part of me went through the appropriate motions with frightening alacrity: finding the poem to read at the chapel on Friday morning, practicing it aloud. But another part of me had the simple conviction that I wouldn’t be able to get from point A to point B—that giving her over, in spirit and in public, was as perplexing and unfathomable as string theory. My old friend Pete, out of town when she died, called from Ohio to see how I was. I told him what I had been afraid to say. “I don’t think I can do it,” I said about getting through the service the next day. “I don’t know how to do it.”and
He was quiet for a minute, and then he said something of such consolation that I will hear him saying it forever. “You know, Gail,” he said, “we’ve been doing this as a species for a long time. And it’s almost as if—it’s like the body just knows what to do.”
The ravages of early grief are such a shock: wild, erratic, disconsolate. If only I could get to sorrow, I thought, I could do sorrow. I wasn’t ready for the sheer physicality of it, the lead-lined overcoat of dull pain it would take months to shake. Whatever I thought I knew about loss—what I had anticipated about the After Caroline state, when the fear would be over, the worrying ceased—I had no inkling that it would mean deliverance into a new, immutable world. I lived in the reality of Caroline’s absence all the time, it seems, and yet sometimes the fact of it would nearly knock the wind out of me. One night a couple of weeks after the service I tried to make dinner for two friends, and I managed to get about half a meal together before I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. They sat there kindly before their Spartan plates of chicken and rice—I had forgotten to make anything else—and I excused myself and went into the kitchen and held on to the counter. She’s dead, I thought. The word itself was brutal. I had always disliked the euphemisms the culture embraced for dying: “gone,” “passed on,” “passed away.” They seemed avoidant and sentimental, a way to bleach the concept of death of its declarative force. Now I knew why we’d diluted the vocabulary. She’s dead.and
Hope in the beginning feels like such a violation of the loss, and yet without it we couldn’t survive. I had a friend who years before had lost her firstborn when he was an infant, and she told me one of the piercing consolations she received in her early grief was from a man who recognized the fierce loyalty one feels to the dead. “The real hell of this,” he told her, “is that you’re going to get through it.” Like a starfish, the heart endures its amputation.On old dogs:
Old dogs can be a regal sight. Their exuberance settles over the years into a seasoned nobility, their routines become as locked into yours as the quietest and kindest of marriages.
Final Thoughts: I never felt quite as invested in Gail’s story about her friendship with Caroline as I had hoped, but I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read the passages about her grief. I must admit I remained dry-eyed as I read the details about Knapp’s final days, but almost sobbed as I read about an attack on Caldwell and her dog. A beautiful and evocative memoir by a talented journalist who reminded me of the importance of friendship, both past and present. I’m anxious to give A Strong West Wind a read.
“Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a book which will stick with me. For those readers who are not afraid to open their hearts and immerse themselves in another person’s pain, but also their joy, this book is a must read.” (Wendy, from Caribousmom) Go here to read Wendy’s review in its entirety.