Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has been working the same job, living in the same apartment, and basically following the same routine since she graduated from college ten years before. The Social Welfare people stop by twice a year and the occasional meter reader, but otherwise she lives a solitary existence and she’s completely fine with that. Until the day when she and her co-worker Raymond are walking home from work and come across Sammy, an elderly gentleman having a heart attack. The duo get help for Sammy and so begins the unlikely friendship between the three. It becomes apparent that Eleanor is not completely fine, but with Sammy and Raymond’s help she may just get there.

I thought this was going to be the story of a socially awkward woman breaking out of her shell. While that was part of it, this is actually the story of an emotionally damaged woman learning to like herself, other people, and begin actively participating in the world around her. You know something is really wrong in Eleanor’s world during her Wednesday evening phone calls with her mother, a woman who seems to be in a criminal asylum and hurtles abuse at her daughter with every word. But Eleanor is a survivor, and this is the story of a woman who lived through a horrific childhood coming to terms with her adult life free from abuse.

This is a trend I’m seeing lately, the story of what happens after. We eventually find out what happened to Eleanor as a child, and how she was coping (or not coping) in her adult life and how the power of friendship helps her actually become completely fine. Another refreshing thing about the book is the purely platonic friendship between Eleanor and Raymond; it was nice to see strong friendship between a man and a woman that doesn’t develop into a love story for a change.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Into the Water by Paul Hawkins

Jules Abbott never wanted to return to the small English town of Beckford; it holds too many bad memories for her. When her estranged sister’s body is found broken in the drowning pool she is forced to return and care for her teenaged niece Lena. Nel, Jules’s sister, was always obsessed with the drowning pool. It is a place that witches were tried and many women have committed suicide. Katie, Lena’s best friend whose body was found in the pool months before, and Nel, are considered just two more women who decided to end their lives in the spot. But Jules is sure that isn’t true. Nel always said if she wanted to kill herself she would never jump from the cliff because there would be a chance she could live. She would fill her pockets with rocks, just as Katie did months before. Nel also always said another thing about the spot, that is was a place to get rid of troublesome women.

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t a fan of The Girl on the Train. I didn’t understand why everyone loved that book so much. Now this book, this book I liked. The only thing good about getting laid low with a cold was being able to read this book in two days between my naps. 

The characters, even the deceased, slowly start to share their secrets and you get to know these troublesome women. It’s a twisty turny tale and you’re not completely sure whodunnit, or why they did it, until the very, very end. If you need a good summer thriller be sure to pick this one up for your beach bag.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Lisa Bellow is the queen bee of the 8th grade. She’s popular, has a boyfriend in high school, and a clique of beautiful friends. Her locker is right next to Meredith Oliver’s. Meredith is not popular, but she has close friends. She does well in school and has a happy home life. Until the day she decides to stop at the Deli Barn on her walk home from school to treat herself to a root beer. The Sandwich Farmer is creating sandwiches for Lisa when Meredith walks in; then the robber comes in wearing a ski mask. He waves a gun at the two girls and makes them lie on the floor while he takes the worker in the back demanding he open the (non-existent) safe. Moments later he comes out alone. He asks Lisa to get up and the two leave; Meredith is still on the floor and the worker is unconscious in the back room when the middle school custodian comes in the store to buy dinner. This isn’t the story of Lisa Bellow. This is Meredith’s story: how does a thirteen-year old cope with being the girl left behind?

A really good choice on audio; the narrator voices the characters well and you can hear the teen angst and emotion clearly. Meredith is suddenly the center of attention, she’s popular for an awful reason, and she’s trying to figure out how to cope with it all. Also, she’s trying to imagine what Lisa is going through. Is she alive? Is she dead? To help assuage her guilt for not running outside and getting the car’s license plate, or at the very least a description of the car, for just lying there on the linoleum for who knows how long, she makes up a fantasy life for her and Lisa where they are in this together instead of both being alone.

While I think it’s impossible to know what would go through someone’s head in similar circumstances I think the author makes a very believable guess at how Meredith could begin to live with the aftermath of that day. 

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns has an eidetic memory, a trait that not only proves that a former slave can have superior intelligence but that serves the Loyal League well in her work as a spy for the abolitionist cause. Malcolm McCall is an attractive Scotsman who can charm anyone, a helpful asset in his work as a Pinkerton Detective gathering intelligence for the Union cause. When the two meet at the home of an important Southern senator’s mansion hoping to overhear information that will benefit the Union their roles couldn’t be more different. She is posing as a mute house slave to the Senator’s daughter, he is posing as a Rebel officer there to woo the Senator’s daughter. While sparks fly at their first meeting, Elle is not about to enter into a hopeless relationship, but their work for the Union keeps throwing them together. Will they both, and their love, survive this war?

It was really interesting to read a romance about the love story between a freedwoman and a white man. She is, understandably, wary of his advances and nervous about being seen with him, a situation he is unprepared for but over time begins to understand. These two care for each other, as evidenced by the very steamy scenes between the two, and you can only hope that love will truly conquer all once they settle in north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

Grace is content in her life. She has two small children and a third on the way. She doesn’t have warm feelings towards her husband, but she is hoping things will get better; Gene is a very good provider and he cares for their children deeply. The best part of her life is her daily talks with her neighbor Rosie. But one day everything changes. Gene is off fighting the inland fires when Grace is awoken by her daughter’s screams and the smell of smoke. The fire has turned to the coast and is coming their way. Without a car, or even the ability to drive, Grace manages to get her children as well as Rosie and her children to the ocean where they huddle in the surf with wet blankets over their bodies hoping to survive the flames. They survive, but they awaken to a new world. Grace must try to find work, learn to drive, and take care of her family because Gene is missing in the fire, possibly dead, and she needs to provide for all of them now however she can.

Based on the true events of the fire that ravaged coastal Maine in 1947, this is a dark, bleak look at marriage during the time right after World War II when women were housewives and mothers unprepared to become the provider for the family. This book is Grace’s story, we get to know her and her motivations on every page. I have to admit I didn’t think the book would take as dark a turn as it did, but you’re still cheering for Grace and hoping that her new found confidence will see her through whatever life throws her way.

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film)

The Girl with All the Gifts (Thought-Provoking Horror Film) 

Melanie seems to be a normal child. She attends classes every morning and tries her best, wanting to impress her teacher. But Melanie is not a normal child. She lives in an underground military bunker and is transported to class each morning restrained in a wheelchair. Melanie is infected with the fungus that changed most of the adult population into hungries (read: zombies) but she and her classmates have retained the ability to learn, and unfortunately also the desire for living meat. The doctors feel that Melanie’s brain is key to the development of an anti-fungal and plan on removing her brain tissue that morning. Of course that is the day the fences fail and the base is overrun with the infected. Melanie and a few humans survive and manage to escape, will they be able to reach another base? Is Melanie the key to the survival of humanity? Or is she the reasons for humanity’s demise?

I enjoy twists on the typical zombie movie and this was a heck of a twist. Based on the book with the same name that I’ve been meaning to read it is a great edge of your seat horror film. But you’re not waiting for the next scare or scream, you’re waiting for answers. How things are going to unfold. If humanity is going to survive this. Melanie, the character and the actress, is amazing. She can be scary, funny, a monster and a typical little girl all in a matter of seconds. Even with blood all over her face you can forget that she isn’t one of us. And like most of the movies I like it’s got a great gut punch of an ending.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Billie Breslin drops out of school and moves across the country to New York City to find her way in the world of culinary journalism. She manages to snag a great position at Delicious! an iconic foodie magazine housed in a Federalist mansion mere months before it is cancelled by the corporate owners. She is kept on as the sole employee to fulfill the Delicious! Guarantee -- the magazine will refund money spent on ingredients for any recipes that don’t work out quite right. While exploring the mansion and its library she comes upon a secret room and cryptic card catalog. Following clues she uncovers the letters of Lulu, aged 12, to the legendary James Beard, a correspondence initially started in the quest for tips to make good tasting meals during the rationing of World War II and later developing into a friendship. Throw in family drama, artisanal cheeses and hole in the wall restaurants and you have the recipe for a fun read.

Do not read this book if you are hungry. You will end up at a market spending your paycheck on interesting cheeses. I just talked about this book with my book discussion group and we all had one complaint -- everything fits together too neatly, too conveniently, wrapped with a big white bow. You see the resolution to subplots a mile away and know as soon as he walks onto the page who Billie’s love interest will be in a few chapters. That said, if you go into this one knowing it’s a romance, following the rules of a romance novel, you’ll find a lot to like here. I’ve been reading some dark and serious books and this one was a nice yummy fluffy confection that hit the spot.