Friday, June 15, 2018

June 2.0

The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland
You know those books that sweep you into the characters' lives, that make your heart ache and your brain think? Yep, this is that kind of book, the kind that I did not want to put down at night, no matter the time. The story begins when Loveday, a young woman who works in a bookstore, finds an abandoned book on the street and posts a note in the store window. Nathan, the owner of said poetry book, invites Loveday to a poetry reading...the story unrolls from there. Through the eyes of Loveday, we revisit the past: family life at a small seaside town, as their lives unravel; life in foster care; a violent relationship; and the small cadre of loyalists who surround Loveday and help her to heal from her past. Loveday has a wickedly British sense of humor, with hilarious asides to you, the reader, as she relates the story of her life. For those of us who love life in a book shop, who love complicated characters, who love exploring how the past impacts our present, who loves smart writing, this book is definitely for you. This is a feel-good, there-is-hope-for-a-better-tomorrow, and books-matter kind of novel.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall
Susan Crandall is a master of tales of the south, dysfunctional families, heroic children, and satisfying endings. Her previous two books, Whistling Past the Graveyard and The Flying Circus, were some of my favorites, and her latest is a worthy member of her collection of Southern stories. This time around we are introduced to the James family, living in Mississippi in the 1960's: the father, a history professor who suffers from bi-polar disorder; the mother, completely uninterested in being a mother; Gran, who wants to believe in the old elegance of the south and her aristocratic family; Griff, the oldest boy trying hard to outrun his embarrassing family; the twins, Dharma who is desperate for attention, and Warner, who just wants to be loved; and Tallulah, the narrator, a smart, compassionate, courageous, independent young cuss of a girl. The story moves from California in the hippie era, back in time to Tallulah as she tries to repair the broken threads of her family, and forward to 1972 as the family tries to save one of its own. My one complaint is the ending is a bit saccharine, but then again, we all need hope, especially in the face of tragedy. This book will make you cringe, remind us of hard times past, and eventually warm your heart.

The Possible World by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz
This book is good, and I mean really good. Reminiscent of authors Jodi Picoult and Kate Morton, Schwarz is able to pull together different time periods, characters, and plot lines, weave them into a panoramic view, and then pull it all together in the end. First the characters: Lucy, an ER doc, struggling with her marriage, the crazy hours, and the emotional turmoil of incoming patients; Clare, an elderly patient in assisted living, looking back at her Depression-era childhood and the direction life took her; Leo, a young boy, given away by his mother, and in need of a home where he is loved; and Ben, a young boy, traumatized after a horrific murder scene, and scared speechless. Somehow, Schwarz pulls these disparate people together, creating a book one cannot put down, and reminding us of the power of love, the pull of our past (in every way), and the ways strong women can choose to direct their lives. In other words, Schwarz is a very talented storyteller.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
I loved her first book, Behind Closed Doors, and liked her second book, The Breakdown, but it is never a good sign when one laughs at a thriller, and wants to throw the book across the room when the last page turns. The premise was promising. British male character, Finn, pulls into a roadside rest stop in France to use the bathroom. When he returns, his young girlfriend, Layla, has disappeared. Twelve years later, good ole Finn is engaged to Layla's sister, Ellen, has just completed a big lucrative financial deal, and Layla rears her mysterious head. Ellen and Finn hear find Russian nesting dolls everywhere (it's a 'thing' with Layla), Finn receives multiple emails, and Ellen believes she sees her. As this mystery unwinds, we go back to the past to see the beginning of their relationship and it throws in what perhaps the author perceives are intriguing red herrings, but really, they're just stinky dead fish (I mean, the hermit-like neighbors next door?? The childhood friend he beats terribly??). And seriously, the ending had me shrieking with laughter, with the complete implausibility of the entire 'mystery.' B.A. Paris is waaaaaay better than this.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell
I was quite intrigued by the idea of this book - an author recounts her many near-death experiences, and waxes on philosophically about the meaning of life. Not a bad idea. However, the actuality of it was just not my cup of tea. By the fourth 'near death' miss, it just got a bit repetitive. Besides, how many times can one be that stupid? Some of it was just bad luck, but some incidences were like...really??? The philosophical part of life was occasionally provocative and thoughtful, but in general this short book was not short enough for me.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry
Yes, I read weird stuff, and yes, this is one of those. This was a reaaaaallly long listen on Audible, that had super interesting spots and then other dry spells where my mind wandered. It gives an extraordinary history of American medicine - the lagging behind Europe, the big minds of the day, the rise of proper medical schools, etc. And yes, I found that stuff fascinating. As it starts to tell the tale of how the Spanish flu pandemic originated on U.S. military bases, and the shockingly grotesque errors the government made that allowed this disease to spread throughout the world, killing millions before it died out, I could not pull myself away. However, some of the small details of the research to find a cure and the obscure scientists who looked for it became a bit mind-numbing. However, I would definitely recommend this to anyone thinking of going into medicine, and who likes to listen to long books (reading it would be a bit of a chore). And yes, John M. Barry really knows his material.

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
This is a fascinating and twisty thriller that I highly recommend listening to rather than reading. The narrator is Dylan Baker (google him - trust me, you'll know him. He always plays brilliant crazy people on television). His voice is amazing and kept me quite occupied as I walked my dog. The premise of the story is unique: Jenny, a sixteen year old girl is brutally raped and while at the hospital is given a drug to make her forget the actual hours of the rape. At the time, it seemed like a good solution to Charlotte and Tom, her parents, yet this 'forgetting' has some traumatic outcomes as memories are never truly gone. As the psychiatrist-narrator relates the story, he delves into the secret lives of Charlotte and Tom, as well as another patient of his who also was given the drug after an violent incident in the Middle East war zone. Be forewarned - there are some graphic violent details of the rape, as well as a few sex scenes.

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