Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Recently at a dinner with friends, we were talking about books (naturally) and someone brought up The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  She went on and on about how good it was so that evening I added it to my library reserve list.  I was surprised at how quickly it came in and got started on it right away.  I know I have mentioned before my usual dislike of anything I would consider "chick lit", but this one I enjoyed.  Perhaps other people would argue with the "chick lit" label, but the fact that it isn't too "chicky" could be why I liked it.

This is one of those fun books that begins with three different story lines that all eventually converge into one story.  It begins with one woman finding an old letter addressed to her from her husband to be opened in the event of his death.  She is pretty shocked by this and so calls her husband who happens to be out of town and asks him about it.  He tries to brush it off as sentimentality written down in the wake of the birth of their first child, but she senses it is something more.  She agrees not to open it, but the curiosity about what it could really be gnaws at her.  In another story line, a husband informs his wife is in love with someone else and in the third story line, an elderly woman is grieving the death of her daughter nearly three decades previous.

This was a perfect quick read that kept me turning the pages.  It would be wonderful for a book club discussion because there is plenty to debate and it is sure to allow plenty of secret sharing opportunities.  It was funny and sad and shocking in all the best ways.  I especially loved that the epilogue tidied up any loose ends and even allowed the reader to see what could have been.  It ends with this wonderful paragraph:

None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken.  It's probably just as well.  Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever.  Just ask Pandora.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

I picked up Tara Conklin's The House Girl at our library's wonderful book sale after having previously seen it labeled a "Book Club Pick" at Target.  I really enjoyed The Kitchen House and this looked like it might be similar.  Told from the point of view of two women living one hundred and fifty years apart, this book is about the lives and losses of slaves in the antebellum South and the reverberations of those actions still felt today.  In 2004, Lina Sparrow is a lawyer in New York City building a lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of former slaves.  She comes across the story of a young slave who may or may not be the actual artist behind some of the time's most beloved portraits.  In 1852, Josephine is that young woman and she is desperate for escape from her terrible conditions.  In the short term, painting provides a kind of salve for her pains, but it isn't long before running is her only option.

While I did enjoy this book, I was disappointed that it wasn't more readable.  It was very slow and some of the story lines felt unfocused.  I love a good historical novel and this one contained plenty of research.  I also felt that just when I became invested in many of the characters, their stories abruptly ended.  This was at times frustrating.  I know that an author is not always going to make the decisions I would like her to make, but Ms. Conklin seemed to consistently take characters in a direction I did not like.  That is completely subjective on my part and I fully admit it, but I feel I must include it in my review.

I am interested in reading more books of this time period exploring slavery and the Underground Railroad.  Do you have any suggestions for me?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan is the third book in the Sky Chasers trilogy along with Glow and Spark.  In this final installment, Waverly, Seth and Kieran are now working separately to try to salvage the disastrous mission of the two ships making their way to New Earth.  Their previous home, the Empyrean has been destroyed and they are now all crowded on to the New Horizon and hoping to repair the emotional damage done by the actions of both crews.  Unfortunately, no one can be trusted.

This book reminded me why I don't like to get involved with a series until it has all been released.  I read the first book, Glow, two-and-a-half years ago and the second book over a year ago.  For me, that is just too large a gap between readings for me.  I had forgotten many of the details, though the major plot points came back to me fairly quickly.  I considered a quick re-read of the previous books, but I just didn't want to spend the time.  In the end, it turned out not to be too much of an issue although I'm sure the story would have felt richer.  

Overall, I really liked this series.  These weren't the best books I've ever read, but they were exciting and provided an opening to an interesting debate about where power should lie, whether in the hands of government or in religion.  It also allows the reader to imagine what would be necessary to begin an entirely new society and if in so doing the problems of the past would be resolved or if they would simply follow.  A little science fiction, a little social commentary, these books make for good reading.  I hope you'll give them a try.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

First, I feel I must begin with some sad news:  my book club is dead.  After nearly everyone moved out of town, it became too difficult to conduct the group via Facetime or Skype and the two or three members left in town weren't able to keep up the motivation.  We thought briefly of adding new blood to the group, but we agreed that is a difficult thing to do.  I can't really tell you how sad I am.  The good news is that I have found a new book club on Facebook and hopefully it will introduce me to books I might not have read otherwise.  It won't be the same, but it will be something.  Book clubs are a delicate thing, I think.

And now to this post:  Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz is the first book I am reading for this new online book club.  It definitely qualifies as a book I wouldn't have picked up if not for book club.  I used to love Dean Koontz.  In middle school, I devoured his books.  "Middle school?" you're asking.  "Isn't that a little young for some of his material?"  Why, yes.  Yes it is.  I don't remember how I got into it, but I loved it.  Until I didn't.  At some point I just decided that his books had become too formulaic for me.  I always knew that some traumatic event would occur at this certain point in the story.  Then about three quarters of the way though, the reader would think she had it figured out, then with two pages left, a startling reveal.  So it was with Odd Thomas.

Odd Thomas is the first and last name of the main character. He sees dead people.  He can't speak with them because they don't talk, but he has regular interaction with the spirits of people who have passed.  As the book opens, Odd solves a murder when one ghost leads him to her killer.  As the day progresses, however, Odd becomes aware that something truly terrible is about to happen.  He grasps on to every aspect of his gift to understand what will happen and how he can prevent it.

I really like the concept of a character having access to the knowledge of the recently departed.  I enjoyed the scenes when Elvis visits.  I just don't care for the horror genre as a whole.  A ghost leading him to her killer is one thing; I just don't really want to read about every minute detail of her terrible death.  And why do Koontz's books always seem to have a violent sex scene?  I realky don't want to read about that.  Thankfully it was very minor and in flashback in this book.  I kept reading because it was such a page turner.  I wanted to know what would happen, but all the way through the book I couldn't quite decide if I was enjoying reading it.  Having tried it again after so long, this is likely my last in this genre.  I just don't care for it.

How about you?  Are there certain genres or authors you avoid?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

I think it says a lot about a book when the reader notices that she is about halfway through the novel and is already sad that it is almost finished.  That is how I felt about The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness.  As soon as I noticed I was at 50% (I read this on my Kindle), I started thinking how I couldn't stand for this series to come to an end and that I knew I would need to reread it soon.  I have really enjoyed the All Souls trilogy and its wonderful characters.  By this final installment, there is a large cast of characters and at times it takes a little effort to remember how each person fits into the story, but once I was fully into the book that was no longer a problem.  

As this is the last book in a series, I am reluctant to share too much.  There must be an insane amount of pressure on an author to finish a series in a way that will both satisfy her readers and also fulfill her own vision of the story.  Ms. Harkness did a wonderful job with the finale.  There were plot lines that I wish were more fully resolved, but perhaps those are best left to the reader.  I cannot recommend this series enough.  This is a series that I will most certainly re-read.