Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer's End

Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty has become a favorite, brain-candy author...and I don't mean that as an insult.  On one hand, I am not in awe of her 'pretty' writing, yet she is a very good writer.  What I most admire about her is that she has the ability to write some rather long books (both here are well over 400 pages), but in such a way that no extraneous pages exist.  Moriarty writes a story that is truly obsessive to read, as in you cannot put it down, and that is a true talent, as far as I'm concerned.  I read The Husband's Secret while on vacation and gave it a rave review, so when her newest book, Big Little Lies, came out this month, my favorite library-loaning friend sent me home with it.  The story begins with a group of PTA parents, standing on a balcony at the elementary school, staring down at a dead body.  It then catapults the reader back in time, six months previously, as you meet the pivotal cast members of this quirky, intriguing, and sometimes annoying parental clique who lives in a beach community outside of Sydney.  We have the overly-obsessed mothers who believe their children are all geniuses, you have the perfectly coiffed PTA leadership group, you have the marital cheaters, heavy drinkers, PMS-challenged crazy women - in other words, Moriarty has captured the extreme sides of parenthood and then mixed in a murder to pique one's interest.  I read obsessively, never figuring out who the dead body was or how the murder occurred, until revealed n the final chapters.  Definitely five stars and would be fun to talk about in a book club.
I was so impressed with the first two I read, I decided to download What Alice Forgot, her first book that really hit it big.  Again, I read it obsessively.  This story begins with Alice, waking up from a fall off her bike, as she's madly 'biking' in her gym class.  As people rush around helping her, and an ambulance transports her to the hospital, Alice is worried about her first pregnancy, what she's doing in a gym in the first place, and how she got so thin.  As she discovers that ten years have disappeared on her, she's the mother of three children, and is in the middle of a nasty divorce, Alice has to reevaluate everything in her life.  As Moriarty unfolds the mystery of those lost years, we begin to see how Alice got to the place in her life where she now resides.  I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of emotion, and the ideas about life choices and marital growth that it brought up, particularly in the end.  This was a thought-provoking book, as well as just an obsessively good read.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski
This is a challenging book review for me to one hand, I was in awe of the beautiful writing of Leganski, the magical setting of post WWII she created down in Louisiana, and the intriguing characters who reside in the small town.  On the other hand, I felt like she had a bit of a political/religious agenda that at times intruded itself on the pleasure I found in her book.  The main character, young Bonaventure, is born to a young woman, just experiencing the loss of her much loved young husband.  As the baby grows, we see that Bonaventure is a pretty special young man, who has no physical voice but who's inner voice is strong.  His home is filled with the ghost of his father, his mother and grandmother, and the housekeeper with secrets of her own.  Throw in a religious zealot as his other grandmother and Bonaventure's uncanny ability to hear everything, as in he hears the beginning of the world, when a star is born, and when a rock was held, and you've got a very compelling read.  You do have to divorce yourself from reality in this book, but Leganski weaves a beautiful southern tale about lost love, secrets kept, and a special little boy that is rather unforgettable.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker
I would never have picked up this book on my own.  First, it's vicious long, as in almost 700 pages.  Second, the cover is hideous (let's be real...covers can be a siren call, or a detriment) and the title is fairly trite.  Last, it's a translation from a French writer, selling over a million copies in France along, and I sometimes like to avoid the 'crowd.'  However (you knew that was coming), I understand now why it's been such a huge international juggernaut.  I haven't woken up at 5 AM to finish a book since Harry Potter #7, but this one was un-put-downable.  Here's the plot premise:  thirty years ago, fifteen year old Nola, the pastor's daughter, disappeared.  Fast-forward to today and her body has been found and young, fabulously successful author, Marcus Goldman's old mentor and famous author, Harry Quebert, has been fingered for the crime.  As Marcus tries to find a plot idea for his new book, he also plays detective as he tries to clear Harry's name.  This is a serious roller coaster ride, giving the reader all kinds of ideas of 'who-dunnit' with the plot twisting every which way.  I can't even say the book is too long, as I didn't find any wasted story line.  Is it pretty writing?  No.  Who cares - it's obsessively good.  I cannot recommend this one highly enough:)

S Street Rising:  Crack, Murder, and Redemption in Washington, D.C. by Ruben Castenada
While it seems like just yesterday we were watching the constant news stories about the gangs, the killings, and crack epidemic around our country, it was actually about 25 years ago.  Castenada, a reporter for the Washington Post, tells a compelling story about this city in the midst of crisis.  The added twist to it all is that Castenada himself is a crack addict and alcoholic, who contributes to the crime on S Street while he covers the police beat.  I found myself less interested in his own demons, than in the life he paints of a broken city, the pastor who builds a church in the middle of the 'slingers' and drug lords, the heroic homicide detective, and the battles fought with the corrupt D.C. police department, and the twisted and immoral mayor, Marion Berry.  At times, the writing is a bit scattered, jumping around from place to place, but the picture he paints of Washington D.C., as it becomes the murder capital of our country, is quite fascinating.  It is definitely a nice change from fiction, while adding a piece of knowledge about a history that is easy to ignore.

The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian
Grecian is back to the form of his first novel, The Yard, as he returns to the story of Jack the Ripper and the murderous tailor, Cinderhouse, in jolly ole England.  The men of the murder squad in Scotland Yard, in the final decade of the 19th century, are unique, likable, and fascinating, all at the same time.  Inspector Day, son of a pastor, who shockingly wants to work on the seamy side of London, is still haunted by the inability to catch the Ripper.  While his lovely young wife, Claire, labors to deliver their first child, Day is compelled to leave her side and try to round up the escapees from a huge prison break.  His mentor, Inspector March, insists on being his partner, which leads to some tight spots from which they must expel themselves.  Day's loyal soldier, Constable Hammersmith, seems to be indestructible, as he has escaped death numerous times in Grecian's previous two books, and seems to be well on his way to courting his own demise once again.  Add in a couple super creepy bad guys from The Yard, as well as a group of aristocratic men who lock up and punish criminals in their own twisted manner, and you've got a compelling book.  If you like a dark, gothic murder mystery, that has some light moments as well, this is a great read, whether you've read the first two in the series or not.

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