Monday, January 25, 2016

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart

Claire Prescott is a young woman at a crossroads. She is
Mr. Darcy
currently attending a Jane Austen seminar for her (pregnant) schoolteacher sister who needed to present an important paper and is not well enough to travel to Oxford. Claire begrudgingly attends on her behalf. Claire’s sports fanatic boyfriend barely notices her departure, she has recently lost her job managing a doctor’s office and for the first time in a long while Claire is reevaluating what she has sacrificed since her parent’s untimely death. While she contemplates true love in this romantic storybook setting Claire meets a fellow classmate that unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. Simultaneously she befriends an old woman in the park who may be a little crazy or may hold a long lost forgotten Jane Austen manuscript that could be worth an enormous sum. Between the rain and the tea and usual English charm I was once again lost in the world Beth Pattillo lovingly creates. It simply amazes me that there is anything left to fictionalize about Jane Austen but this author creatively fills one page after the next with this heartwarming tale about sister’s, honesty and leaving your eyes open wide enough to find your true to life Mr. Darcy. Thoroughly enjoyed this read, like a bit of sunshine on a cloudy day. Just an easy, fun delicious novel.

The Guest Room

When Richard Chapman, a successful investment banker, offers
to host his younger brothers bachelor party he is thinking some beer, chips and maybe go out on a limb with a stripper. His wife Kristin and their beautiful young daughter spend the night at her mother’s in the city and plan a fun weekend to follow. When Kristin’s phone rings in the middle of the night she knows it cannot be good news. Richard is at the police station. His party has turned into a nightmare and their magnificent home is covered in blood. And so unexpectedly turns their idyllic, normal life into a made for tv movie including Russian gangsters and young sex slaves. Richard’s immense guilt is compounded by his “almost” sex with one of the “entertainers” and his initial honesty may destroy his marriage, it may destroy his life. This absolute page-turner is expertly written by one of my favorite authors Chris Bohjalian. The very fine line between what is right and what is definitely illegal is easily crossed and Richard’s conscious will not allow him to walk away from what is probably one of America’s most accepted escapades, that of a bachelor party. He faces the truth about his relationship with his brother, his wife and bizarre characters that surround this horrifying situation. I could not put down this electrifying read, like watching a train wreck. Highly recommend this suspenseful thriller that will have you thinking about these characters long after you are finished reading!

The Past

Three adult sisters, and their brother return to their
The Past Tessa Hadley
granpee’s home in the English countryside for a summer holiday. The home is the crumbling sort that holds years of memories and idyllic beauty. Their mother grew up in this home and their grandfather was the preacher at the church next door. The children come back to discuss the possibility of selling as it is falling apart and would be very expensive to repair. Half of them agree it is too much money to even begin such projects and the others cannot imagine life without the annual gathering in the countryside and the precious memories they would walk away from. Harriet, the eldest was always the caretaker. Alice forever disappointed in the acting career that never materialized. Fran arrives with her two rather mischievous children and Roland with his exotic third wife and teenage daughter Molly. They immediately revert back to childhood ways and hurt feelings, hidden secrets and sharing dreams but always the love and connection the siblings hold is timeless and unwavering. This short trip down memory lane is partly painful but often helpful because your siblings may be the only people on earth you can be your true self with and they accept you for better or worse, no matter what. Even though I just finished The Children’s Crusade (by Ann Packer) with a very similar theme, I found myself entranced in the story of these intelligent characters who are thought provokingly chaotic and very much filled with love from a mother who sadly left them much too young. Highly recommend this easy quick read that is both enjoyable and extremely well written.

My Name is Lucy Barton

Lucy Barton is recovering in the hospital from a
My Name Is Lucy Barton
surgery that left her very ill for an unexpectedly long time. The doctors have it under control but Lucy is beginning to despair. As a young mother, she misses her two girls and her husband, their home and the life she so desperately created after escaping an emotionally tumultuous childhood which the reader learns about in bits and pieces. Like following a trail of breadcrumbs the reader follows through Lucy’s eyes slowly and carefully. Shockingly, her mother, whom she hasn’t spoken to for years visits for a few days and literally does not leave her side. They reconnect through an invisible bond that Lucy had almost forgotten existed. Lucy creeps back to the past through local gossip. It is a connection to come across memories they share in detail and striking to discover some that could not be more different. Lucy is astounded to realize through her mother’s eyes they told a completely different story. Is it guilt or shear desperation that pushes people to selectively choose how they live their life and which experiences they care to take along for protection from the past. This is a short read but cannot be read quickly as author Elizabeth Strout’s words are poetic and flow like you are reading someone’s mind or heart. I have to admit I wasn’t the HUGEST Olive Kitteridge fan (although the mini series came alive thanks to the incredible Frances McDormand) but this Lucy Barton, I COULD NOT PUT DOWN, not for a minute.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Alienist

The year is 1896 and John Schuyler Moore, a New York reporter
is summoned by his old Harvard friend Theodore Roosevelt, the police commissioner. Roosevelt is trying to change the pattern of corruption that is rampant throughout NYC and crime is at the top of his agenda. He enlists Moore and another old Harvard pal Dr. Lazlo Kreizler to solve a string of murders. Young boys who cross dress and offer services at disreputable brothels are found dead. These young boys are not only killed but severely mutilated and a pattern seems obvious only it is quite suspicious that the police are covering it up. Kreizler, Moore and police secretary Sara Howard along with two astute detectives secretly begin to study and unravel the clues to solve this mystery. Kreizler is an alienist, which at the time is what they call psychiatrists, those who treat the minds of mentally ill especially those with violent histories. This novel is long and it is slow and as unappealing as that may sound - it is a good solid story. It is interesting and extremely well written with many fantastic historical characters. In addition to the clues and history, the investigation of techniques, that are new at the time, fingerprints for instance, is quite interesting. Also fascinating are Kreizler’s theories of childhood abuse that leads to adult violence which we understand much better today than 100 years ago. I recommend this novel if you are a fan of mysteries and history. It led to an excellent book club discussion.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Children's Crusade

It is said that the one thing you never recover from is your
The Childrens Crusade
own childhood. For better or for worse we take this with us wherever we go.

In 1954 Bill Blair, a young physician, falls in love with a magnificent piece of land in what is now known as Silicon Valley. He buys the land and dreams of the day he can build a home there and fill it with his future family. After he marries Penny, a sweet, pretty, simple girl they begin to live Bill’s dream. Beautiful home and three children later Bill could not be happier but Penny is becoming restless. The days melt together in a blend of children’s needs and household duties. After she unexpectedly becomes pregnant with their fourth child, she is at her wits end and resolves to find her true self as soon as she can capture an ounce of freedom to so. As the children grow Penny spends more and more time down in the shack on the end of their property. It becomes her art studio and the beginning of the end of their somewhat happy home. Thirty years later, Robert, the eldest and a physician; Rebecca the psychiatrist and Ryan the schoolteacher are faced with the homecoming of James, the non “R” sibling, the youngest, who has led a wandering and distant life. Their beloved father has passed away and the children have to face the possibility of selling their home which years later is extremely valuable. They face each other in a going down memory lane standoff. They relive the pain of their mother’s abandonment emotionally and physically, and are forced to take responsibility for their individual futures. This novel is filled with the grace and beauty of Ann Packer’s magnificent writing. A simple, yet intense look at family life draws the reader deep into the hearts of these characters. Highly recommend this story of love, family and self.