Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blood & Money

Wow. I guess I am on a creepy-murdery-scary story kick right now. While away on vacation this weekend, I finished up our latest book club selection: Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson.

Thompson reels you in by regaling you with tales of Joan Robinson and her scads of men and money. Robinson is the apple of her father's eye, a horsewoman, a little rough around the edges, but quite beautiful. She is at the top of her game when she falls for the quiet plastic surgeon, John Hill.
Storybook magic at work? Not quite. Instead the marriage is plagued by infidelity and dislike. Its rough to read at times. And then, suddenly, Joan is dead. Readers are left puzzling over the presented evidence. Did John Hill poison his wife to get rid of her? That's what Joan's father thinks and with the kind of money that Ash Robinson has, it's an idea that gets planted all around town...even in the D.A.'s office. John Hill has his life turned upside down, goes to trial, is acquitted. Takes two other wives. Lives in the shadow of Ash Robinson's meddling, until one day, after returning from vacation, he is gunned down in his own foyer. A "robbery".

And that is only part of the story.
It is definitely compelling. The ending gets bogged down with too much minutia and the author obviously has a pretty grand opinion of his writing skills. Sometimes it can be a bit much. All in all, however, I was intrigued and look forward to hearing what the other book club ladies thought about it!


Another spooky tale for that happens to be fictionally based on current headlines, bedbug infestations! Ew!! Ben H. Winters definitely preys on our fears with his latest novel, Bedbugs, but he adds his own twist to keep things interesting.

Already I think about bedbugs when we're on vacation. I check for husks and for little bodies. This book was right up my OCD alley; I had to check it out. Once started, I couldn't put it down and found myself scratching bug bites I hadn't noticed before. Ugh!

Susan and Alex find the perfect apartment to rent (too good to be true???) - the top two floors of a Brooklyn Brownstone. It's huge, by NYC standards, and it even has a Bonus Room - a place where Susan envisions herself painting away the afternoons. The previous tenants left in a hurry, but the crazy old lady landlord brushes that off. Susan and Alex are so in love with the place, they don't bother to investigate. Soon after they move in, however, Susan experiences some worries about bedbugs. She gets her first in a series of bites. She hires an exterminator, the best in the business- exterminator to the stars!!...but it turns out that there are no bedbugs in her apartment. Hmmmm.

Susan frets over the situation, researching on the Internet, tirelessly searching out her bedbug nemesis, slowly growing paranoid. More and more bites surface on Susan's body, but still, no one sees the bugs and the place has been cleared by the exterminator. Could all of this be a product of her imagination?

As we rip roll to the end of the story with all of the equally creepy subplots converging, the reader is unsure what to think about our overwhelmed protagonist.
All will be revealed, but can you believe it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Those Across The River

It's 1935 when Frank and his "wife", Eudora, move to the small town of Whitbrow. They've inherited a house from Frank's aunt and since they are otherwise down on their luck, they put aside the letter of warning that came with the inheritance, and set out on their new adventure.

The house is idyllic. Yellow. Sunny. Free. Frank hopes to write upstairs in his office, a book about his deceased grandfather. Frank's grandfather was a slave owner near Whitbrow and was known for being brutal to his charges, but also a brilliant Civil War General. Dora doesn't care for Frank's grandfather or the idea for the book, but she takes on the local teaching job with gusto and gets very involved in the lives of her students.

Just as they get settled in, things in Whitbrow take a turn for the worse. While Frank is out for a walk one afternoon, he sees something that can't be right. He chalks it up to heat exhaustion or a hallucination. Talking to the down drunk about what he saw does nothing to assuage his nerves about the situation, though. What did Frank see?

Christopher Buehlman reels you in with his foreshadowing and his little tasty crumbs and then flabbergasts you with his surprise plot lines. This was intense reading and it went quickly. I liked it and I would read more by Buehlman in the future! Perfect for Halloween.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nothing Daunted

Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden is the non fiction tale of two best friends who leave high society in order to brave the wilderness of Colorado for teaching positions. The two grew up together, went to college together, traveled together, so when life offered them two teaching spots in the middle of nowhere, they accepted together. The year was 1916, but these two didn't let modern conventions stop them. They forged ahead.

For one year, while their peers were marrying and having babies, these two schooled up a group of children from nearby farms and ranches. They bought skirts that buttoned into riding pants and then back into skirts. They hung snowshoes from their horses in case they got stuck. These two simply wanted to change they did.

The history is fascinating, the story is dynamic and sweet. This was a straightforward story about how teaching can make a difference, both to the teacher and the pupil.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This Beautiful Life

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
is a thinker. We start out with a lovely family - wife, husband, son who is on the verge of 16, adopted daughter. Everything is normal and nice. The mom may be slightly neurotic, but - hey - who isn't?
The son, Jake, goes to a party one night and has a drink or two. He makes out with a younger girl, but realizes his mistake and ends it before it goes too far.
The next day the girl sends him a graphic video just to prove that she's not too young, as he said the night before when he walked away.
Jake, not sure what to do and feeling awkward, forwards the video to his best friend...who forwards it to a few friends...who do the same. Soon this video is viral.
The school suspends Jake. Folks lawyer up. The perfect little family unravels under the stress and scrutiny. Jobs are lost. Innocence is definitely lost.
The conundrum, when reading this - is who is really at fault? Everyone in the book is tarred and feathered. Lives are changed. But the girl made the video - unsolicited. Jake forwarded the video to one person. Is Jake responsible? Is the friend? The friends who view it and are over 18 - are they involved with a minor and pornography? Oh, my head hurt when trying to figure out the situation.
And the worst thing is that, in this day and age, nothing is confidential. How do we teach this to our kids - who sometimes aren't good with logic? Very carefully we have to impart integrity, honor, respect and be very careful about our actions. Schulman doesn't let anyone off the hook in this novel. Oooohhh...a lot to think about.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Family Fang

This book is hysterical in that weird, slightly awkward way that the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" owns.
The Fang Family has grown up creating "Art". Their art is what I would call staged chaos - candid camera style. No one else knows what's going on, but the Fang's do. They watch situations that they've engineered fall apart or blow up, taking pride in their work, filming it, then exhibiting it.
Admittedly, it's an odd way for kids to grow up and these two siblings definitely have some issues. They are full of quirky statements and hilarious ideas. However, when their parents come up missing and the authorities suspect foul play, Buster and Annie just know that this is a new Fang project. They have to unravel the truth or else face the facts - their parents might be dead.

Odd ball funny paired with good writing, Kevin Wilson hit a home run with the Fang's.

The Lantern

The romance was a whirlwind and then Dom & Eve found themselves living together at Les Genévriers in France - a place perfect for lovers with rich gardens, statues, country living charm. But the story unfolds giving us a chilling view of who the previous tenants were and what really happened at Les Genévriers. The story must be told, but who is compelling it? The lantern is the only go between this world and the one of the past, and as the past resurfaces, Dom and Eve find themselves torn apart over the things they don't know about each other.

I may not be doing it justice here, but this book was a surprise for me. I couldn't put it down. I wanted to finish it find out just what exactly the truth looked like. It was scary, mysterious, Gothic, and it definitely made me want to work in a lavender field.

I give this one a gold star!

The Lantern
by Deborah Lawrenson

Before I Go To Sleep

I read that some big names were wanting to get involved in this movie project and after reading it, I can see why. Dang, this book is creepy and scary, and it kept me reading until I finished it at 1am...then unable to sleep because it was so haunting.

Because of her accident, Christine wakes up every single day not knowing who she is. She is shocked to look in the mirror and see an aging lady instead of someone she imagines is in her 20s. She doesn't know the guy she wakes up next to, Ben, though he claims to be her husband and pictures taped up in the bathroom prove they have a life together. Christine works through all of the details and by the days end, she feels comfortable again...but she wakes up a blank slate the next day. She has begun to see a doctor to help her with her memory. He has suggested journaling to help her remember. When she wakes up each day, she can read through the journal to help her work through what she can't recall.
So when she wakes up one morning and reads DON'T TRUST BEN, Christine has no idea what to do - who she can trust - or where to run.

This one is darn good!
Click here to watch this book trailer and read more.

The Reservoir

John Milliken Thompson, I like the way you think. Your book was creepy and had just the right amount of "will he get caught" to keep me turning the pages.

The year is 1885. A woman is found dead & floating in the town's reservoir (darn it, now we have to drain this thing and start over so the town's water isn't contaminated - major pain in the a$$). She is pregnant - oopsie. There are a lot of questions about this death - was it murder or suicide? Of course the reader knows right off hand, but the motivation is missing. As we read on, the narrator trips up, becomes slightly unreliable. Did she slip, did he push her? We know he didn't want her or the baby...but what really happened that cold night at The Reservoir? Part of Thompson's genius...he leads you down the path, then muddles things up, then returns to the path. Man, what do I believe about what happened?
I'm still not sure, but I do believe that this is a pretty decent "unravel the mystery" book.

Click here to watch a book trailer and enjoy an interview with the author!

Then Came You

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner was a book club selection that I wasn't quite looking forward to, but one that pleasantly surprised me. I didn't expect to like it because I thought it would be predictable, a romance novel, etc...but four different women come to the table with different fertility issues and it gets interesting really quickly.
I did think the end got a little muddled. A kid doesn't need that many care takers and, my LORD, can you imagine trying to explain the whole quadrangle to the poor child? Some things might be better left unsaid.
On the whole, however, it was a quick read that got me in the gut at least one time.

The Paris Wife

Oh, Hadley Richardson...why did you have to go and marry Ernest Hemingway, the scalawag, and then suffer through the last part of five years only to get divorced. Wasn't your life hard enough?

I have to admit that reading Paula McLain's fictionalized account of the first Hemingway marriage was kind of difficult. I felt bad for Hadley - then mad that she didn't stand up for herself more - then mad that they would just add a child to that mix(who was grossly cared for by a nanny for no reason, as Hadley didn't work) - then disgusted that she didn't leave - then sad that she did leave. And as for better be glad I didn't meet her in the street. What a messed up little knot of people, ahem, "artists". was also fascinating to imagine yourself in a time and place such as Paris during the 20s. Wow. What a life. That I wouldn't want. :) Overall, I'm glad to know what the hype is all about. Worth reading.