Monday, September 14, 2015

More Fall Reading

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Frederik Backman
Last year one of my favorite books was A Man Called Ove; I wondered if Backman could repeat the trick of making me laugh and cry, all at the same time.  He did.  The main character, Elsa, is a seven year old girl who doesn't quite 'fit in' at school.  She deals with bullies, believes in a fantasy world called 'Almost Awake, ' and is smarter than most of the grown-ups around her. A busy working mother, fortunately for us, leaves Elsa with Granny quite a bit...and Granny is a hoot.  A former doctor who has now devoted her life to her grandchild, Granny is incorrigible; she breaks into a zoo to help Elsa get over a bad day, escapes religiously from her home and drives a car illegally, and sasses everyone in sight.  I howled over Granny and Elsa's conversations.  Unfortunately, Granny has cancer and as Elsa comes to find out, she's got people who are owed an apology from her; it is Elsa's job to do this after Granny's death.  The book ultimately becomes a journey, as Elsa discovers the people in Granny's past and finds redemption and acceptance not only for her grandmother, but for herself. I loved, loved, loved this book.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight
Each night Catherine Ravenscroft, an award-winning BBC documentary producer and happily married woman, reads a book left for her in her office.  As the pages turn, she begins to realize the story is of her own life, of an incident buried long ago.  Once the secrets begin to pour out, we become a witness to the implosion of Catherine's world.  Told from a dual perspective, the voice of the past wraps the reader insidiously in this world of mystery and we hear Catherine tell her side of the drama as well.  Numerous red herrings will be thrown in your path as you try to decipher the truth.  Did Catherine destroy another couple’s life?  Did she cheat on her family?  Did she ruin her son willfully?  This is a taut, psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last chapter.

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly
If you like historical fiction, this book literally has it in the author threw in every historical figure known to man in the 1500's.  The story begins when Princess Elizabeth, as in Henry's daughter, is taken away from her plague-ridden country by her famous (and factual) tutor, Richard Ascham.  They journey through far away lands until reaching Istanbul, home of Suleiman the Magnificent, his web of spies and castle intrigue, and the site of the most famous chess tournament that ever occurred.  Countries from around the  continent have sent their best and brightest, but a murderer is in their midst as well.  Ascham puts his fearsome mind to the task of investigating the murder, which brings him into the harem, the underworld of the cisterns, and into the vicinity of the harem girl-turned-queen.  And all the historical characters thrown in willy nilly?  Well, there's Ivan the Terrible, a young man whose chess champion is a rather unpleasant boy; Michaelangelo, the great sculptor who designed the silver and gold chess pieces; Ignatius from Loyola, the educated Catholic priest who will soon begin the order of the Jesuits; and Suleiman the Magnificent, the last great sultan of the Ottoman empire.  It's a campy romp through history, with a little mystery thrown in.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
A lifetime ago, sixteen year old Tessie was thrown into a grave filled with murdered young women and black-eyed Susan flowers, left for dead, but unexpectantly rescued.  Fast forward eighteen years later and the man convicted of the crime is set to be executed on Texas' death row.  Due to trauma and memory loss, grown up Tessa, mother of a fourteen year old daughter now, is no longer convinced the man is guilty.  This is a well-written, page-turner of a thriller that takes the reader back and forth through time. We are part of Tessie's sessions with her psychiatrist of long ago, trying to help the hysterically-blind young Tessie to see again, to remember the night in question, and to prepare her to testify against the accused in the upcoming trial. In the adult Tessa's life, we see her fear explode as black-eyed Susans are planted under her kitchen window, she visits the convicted man on death row, and she continues her search for her best friend, Lydia, who disappeared two weeks after the conclusion of the trial.  Heaberlin draws out the tension and the mystery with each progressive chapter, leaving you guessing until the end.  If you are the lover of mysteries, this is a solid choice.

The Gilded Life of Matilda DuPlaine byAlex Brunkhorst
In a story embedded with Gatsbyesque allusions, in the rich and famous world of modern-day Los Angeles, secrets live and ordinary folks merely peek into the windows of the wealthy and entitled magnates.  Thomas Cleary, a poor Harvard graduate from the Mid-West (yep, think Nick Carroway and his obsessive curiosity of all things 'Gatsby'), steps into an antique store run by the daughter of a famous Hollywood studio mogul...and his life is forever changed.  Drawn into the decadent world of the rich, Thomas is willingly used and manipulated.  He sees his career skyrocket, yet risks it all when he falls in love with a mysterious young woman.  As the secrets are slowly unwound, we see the underworld of this fairytale lifestyle, and much of it is not pretty.  Brunkhorst is a truly beautiful writer; not only does her story bring back memories of the tale of the Great Gatsby, but her writing style is also reminiscent of Fitzgerald, with beautiful sentences that linger long after you have turned the page.  I hope other people discover this gem of a book with its complex characters and provoking thematic ideas - I thought it was fabulous.

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