Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This was the last author I needed to read for my project (reading all the 154 bestselling authors my library system gets automatically from our distributor).  This is the best known of all Shriver’s novels so I figured it would be a good pick.  I definitely ended my project on a high note, albeit a deeply disturbing one.

The novel is told in a series of letters Eva writes to her estranged husband about her life now that their son Kevin killed a number of people on that Thursday, the day he killed eleven people.  In her letters she reflects on her past, present and future, but it is the view into the past and how she felt about her firstborn child that is the crux of her writings.  She wasn’t really sure about having a child, and Kevin was hard for her to accept.  She knew from the very beginning that there was something wrong, “off” in a way, about her boy.  Her husband refused to acknowledge it, in fact berated her for her misgivings about Kevin.  And Kevin, naturally, pushes them apart.  To help out her marriage, she hopes, she gets pregnant again with wonderful little Celia.  This happy, cautious, little girl is the opposite of her brother in so many ways.  But what is it about his family life that pushes Kevin to murder his classmates at age fifteen like so many other school murderers?  Or was Kevin just born with the capacity and will to kill?

Eva is not a perfect person.  She has many faults as a wife and mother.  But her honesty in her retelling of the not so great things she did and thought in her life really brings us into her mind and helps the reader puzzle out alongside her what could have happened with Kevin to make him the person he is.  Gripping, disturbing and thought provoking this is a hard read but one that makes you think.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

Benedict Arnold’s wife Peggy is the titular wife and if you believe Pataki the force behind Arnold’s treasonous ways.  Frankly, if I was married to her I would have asked for a post far, far away from her, but Arnold was from all accounts (fictitious and real) smitten with the lady.

The narrator is Clara Belle, ladies maid to Miss Peggy Shippen of Philadelphia, daughter of Judge Shippen a prominent and neutral party during the American Revolution.  Peggy is not as neutral as her father.  She revels in the galas and balls hosted by the British officers and is in love with one in particular, until the rebels are upon the city and he retreats with the rest of the British army and breaks her heart.  But Peggy is not a girl to be kept down, or out of new gowns.  She instantly finds a new man, the best of the lot of rebels, one General Arnold.  The rest as they say is history.

Clara is a smart and resourceful young woman who grows into her post and becomes an accomplished and staunch revolutionary.  Pataki takes a lot of liberties with the story (including the creation of Clara) but she points all truths and untruths out in the afterward.  I’m glad she chose Clara as the narrator; a steady mind was needed because Peggy is truly a force to be reckoned with.  Frankly, I felt a little bad for Benedict Arnold after reading this book both for his treatment by the revolutionary army (financially anyway) and for being married to Peggy.

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

The French military attaché to Poland in the late 1930s is actually running spies on the side and through his side business discovering information which could be crucial to France’s strategy when war, which seems inevitable, breaks out.  If only those in power would listen to the intelligence he has gathered.

This was a well-written but frustrating spy novel.  I enjoyed getting the how-it-may-have-went behind the scenes perspective, especially knowing how things turned out.  The main character is convinced that Germany is going to simply go around the Maginot Line (through the Ardennes in Belgium) with a huge amount of tanks.  The powers that be refuse to believe such nonsense despite the growing intelligence pointing towards the route of attack.  We all know what happens and watching this one man’s frustration build, and rightly so, was the source of my frustration, but in a good way.  I felt for him, and France and Poland, knowing what was right around the corner.

An interesting way and time period in which to write a spy novel, and I would read another when I need my spying fix!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

This is the story of a year in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor in the little sleepy town of Black Swan Green in 1982 England.  Things seem fine in town and school but as we follow Jason through the seasons we see the changes, as he witnesses them, in his family and the world around him.

The time period was what made this so enjoyable for me.  His character and I are close in age and it was interesting to see what the highlights of his life as a teen and the pinnacles of pop culture in England were in the early 1980s.  (There was some overlap between America and England as far as pop culture goes, but some musical bands he was in love with in 1982 I don’t think I even heard of until college.)  The war in the Falkland Islands was a major event in the book affecting many of the town residents and Jason often reflects on what an important war it is and how no one will ever forget it was fought.  How many people today remember?  And how many school aged children have heard of an event that was at the center of Jason’s childhood?

This is a wonderful listen.  The reader sounds like a British teen and when he reads the adult parts he deepens his voice.  The slang just rolls off his tongue and because of his reading you know exactly what he means even though you (probably) didn’t grow up in England.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

John, the middle son of the Berry family, narrates the story of his family and the three hotels (all called the Hotel New Hampshire) they own through the years.  The book starts with the romance of John’s parents in the early forties and the book ends in the late seventies.  Through the story the five Berry children face the joys and pains of life.

The eccentric family and the lighthearted style of the storytelling made me think the book would be very different than it was.  This is my first Irving book, and after reading some reviews, if I was a fan I would have been better prepared.  This book is tragic.  The gang rape of one of the Berry’s, and her life dealing with the emotional turmoil of the rape, is the central storyline of the book.  However there are other bleak storylines: the unrest after World War II in Vienna (the location of the Second New Hampshire Hotel), a woman so defeated by her ugly appearance she hides away from the world as a beast, and a small woman who just wants to grow in any way possible.  Love and violence go hand in hand in all their lives.  Death is also around every turn of the page.  The family unit of eight we grow comfortable with is diminished by four by the end of the book.

While I enjoyed the writing style, the lightness of the tone was the only reason I could finish this sorrow full tale.  One line will stay with me: You have to keep passing the open windows.  However, I think this will be my first and last Irving novel.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Eden in Winter by Richard North Patterson

Eden in Winter by Richard North Patterson

Benjamin Blaine fell to his death from a cliff on Martha’s Vineyard.  Was it an accident or was he pushed?  Adam Blaine, the deceased son, returns from his job in Afghanistan for the inquest.   Through less than honest means he discovers that his brother will likely be indicted for murder.  Adam delves into family secrets and makes shady deals to make sure his innocent brother stays free.

This was good choice on audio because the reader reads Adam’s parts devoid of emotion, which is true to character (and we find out why).  Emotion does start to enter his voice as the story, and Adam, grows. 

If you enjoy dysfunctional family stories, the Blaine family is one of the most dysfunctional ones ever.  The author does keep you guessing how things will work out for all the members of the family but this is not a mystery; you know what happened to Benjamin quite early on in the story.

Kill Shot by Vince Flynn


Kill Shot by Vince Flynn

Mitch Rapp is an assassin for the CIA targeting terrorists, a task he is more than happy to perform after losing friends in the Pan Am Lockerbie attack in 1988.   The next name on the list is a Libyan diplomat who has ties to a terrorist organization but when Rapp delivers the kill shot men break into the hotel room and start shooting at Rapp.  Who were the heavily armed men after Rapp?  How did the advance team and Rapp miss the fact that the diplomat had bodyguards?  Is something else sinister going on in Paris?

While this book was published in 2012, the events take place in the 1990s when cell phones are just becoming readily available and their use is still novel.  It’s also interesting, knowing what happens about ten years later, to see what terrorism looked like in the world at the time.  I would suggest this for those who enjoy fast-paced spy thrillers with a human element.  Good both on audio and reading the print (I alternated between both).