Every year I tell myself that I'm not going to get frustrated by the cold dark days of January and February but instead I will take that time to hunker down and read from the piles books I've accumulated, and this year I successfully did that. Here are some of the fruits of those two months.
Before I go to sleep - S. J. Watson
Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories. Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.
That's the publisher's teaser to what turns into a page turner. I'll say no more.
Alternate Side - Anna Quindlen
I’ve found my enjoyment of Quindlen’s books to be spotty but I was captivated by this one from the start. The neighborhood setting was like a Petrie dish for a class study. I found the huge cast of characters hard to sort out and remember who did what so I finally jotted them down - very helpful.
Nora and Charlie live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a brownstone on a dead end street where they had raised their college aged twins. Over the years, the isolation of the street creates a club of sorts between the neighbors. Everyone is a college-educated professional and they are united by their wealth but through Nora’s eyes we see their paths change as they lose their youthful ideals. “The price so many of them had paid for prosperity was amnesia. They’d forgotten where they’d come from, how they’d started out. They’d forgotten what the city really was, and how small a part of it they truly were.”
The lack of honest communication between Nora and Charlie creates huge fissures in their relationship as the empty nest and circumstances in the neighborhood leave them reassessing their roles and directions. One of Nora’s friends quips that “monogamy had worked better when people didn’t live past fifty.” As they finally do get honest with each other, they realize they have been living parallel lives. Nora observes that Charlie is a man from the generation that expected the basic maintenance of his life to be handled by women - his assistant, his housekeeper, and “to a lesser and less solicitous and therefore less satisfactory extend his wife. But arranging things for someone is not he same as loving him. It’s work, not devotion.”
Nora’s fabulous museum job ends at about the same time and she ends up in a new field that has her writing a grant for a computer lab in a school that had relied on old desktops. When the principal began to cry, Nora did too. After all the years of asking rich people for money she realized how much more pleasurable it was to give it away where it truly was needed. Oh, for more Noras. The pace of the book is classic Anne Tyler. At least we see Nora’s character change and grow.
The Great Alone - Kristen Hannah
This wasn’t the book I thought I was reading from the publishers blurb, which would have been about naive back-to-the-land survivalism without adequate preparations in the harshness of Alaskan winters. That would have been wholesome compared to the darkness that unfolded page by page and chapter by chapter to the point I wondered if I wanted to know how it all would end.
But it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit and of friendships that matter, and it is indictment of our justice system that turns a blind eye to spousal abuse. And it’s an indictment of our military/industrial complex that inhales our “youngest and brightest” because after all, war is good for the economy, and then it spits them out at the other end. It’s a rough read and it’s worth it. Weeks later you'll still be thinking about it.
Paris by the book, Mark Helprin
Ian gave me this book for Christmas and while it wasn’t classified as suspense but it was a page turner nevertheless, unique in every way, an absolutely new and fresh novel with an 75-year-old protagonist set in Paris with it’s feet in WWII.
Publisher's blurb: Seventy-four-year-old Jules Lacour—a maître at Paris-Sorbonne, cellist, widower, veteran of the war in Algeria, and child of the Holocaust—must find a balance between his strong obligations to the past and the attractions and beauties of life and love in the present.
In the midst of what should be an effulgent time of life—days bright with music, family, rowing on the Seine—Jules is confronted headlong and all at once by a series of challenges to his principles, livelihood, and home, forcing him to grapple with his complex past and find a way forward. He risks fraud to save his terminally ill infant grandson, matches wits with a renegade insurance investigator, is drawn into an act of savage violence, and falls deeply, excitingly in love with a young cellist a third his age. Against the backdrop of an exquisite and knowing vision of Paris and the way it can uniquely shape a life, he forges a denouement that is staggering in its humanity, elegance, and truth.
Need to know - Karen Cleveland
I am not drawn to thriller espionage fiction but I did love Chris Pavone’s book The Expats and requested a prelease copy from Random House based solely on his recommendation. I think it’s remarkable that the author packed so much into 300 pages, so many twists and turns and then more twists. And then some more.
Vivian is a CIA analyst assigned to Russia. It’s a desk job and in that capacity she comes across some disturbing information that snowballs, threatens her family, threatens her children. Sound like typical thriller genre action? Not really and the further you read the faster you read. The ending. On man, I had to go back and read it three times and then shake my head. There had better be a sequel is all I can say.
Counting my blessings, again
5 hours ago