Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Campbell's Kingdom

Finished September 3
Campbell's Kingdom by Hammond Innes

This is another novel I picked up used. It was written in 1952 and set roughly at the time.
Bruce Wetheral is working for an insurance company in England following WWII. He has just received some unsettling news about his health that has him questioning his future, when he gets a visit from his lawyer explaining that he is the heir to his grandfather, who passed away a few months earlier. Bruce only met his grandfather once, when he accompanied his mother as his grandfather was released from jail and took him to a ship bound for Canada. His childhood was one of deprivation, and when his mother passed away while he was still at school, he had no thought of other family.
Bruce doesn't have a lot of money or a lot of time, and he knows that his grandfather was written off as a dreamer when it came to discovering oil in the Rocky Mountains, but when he thinks on it, he decides he wants to see this land he now owns for himself, before he sells it to the eager buyer.
The easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to get where he wants to go is to emigrate to Canada, and so that is what Bruce does, committing himself fully to his new venture.
Once in Calgary, he again meets with a lawyer, but when aware of a ride towards his destination he snaps it up, and sets out. The logistics of getting to the small town of Come Lucky up in the Rockies is a complex one, and the locals aren't entirely friendly. They blame his grandfather's enthusiasm for oil for their own lost investments. Now, with a dam project offering jobs, they don't take kindly to his refusal to sell the land that will be flooded when the dam gets operating.
Bruce is determined to drill up there in his land, and when he finds questionable conduct among those set to thwart him, his determination grows.
Bruce is an interesting character, seemingly out of his element, but we are constantly reminded of his "war record". He is not the only one with war experience, but the personal experience of being found guilty of something draws him to his grandfather, and moves him to try to fulfill his grandfather's dream.
I enjoyed this book for the interesting plot, the suspense, and the character of Bruce.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Breakdown

Finished September 1
The Breakdown by B.A.Paris

I'd read her first book Behind Closed Doors, and found it a real page-turner, so I was interested to read this one. It was just as good. Great psychological thriller, with a fascinating plot. I guessed at some things, but not at all at others.
Cass is a school teacher, married nearly a year, and starting to think about children with her husband Matthew. Cass's dad died relatively young in an accident, and her mother died just a couple years ago from early onset Alzheimer's. Cass had left her teaching job to look after her for the last couple years of her life. Imagine Cass's surprise to find out that her parents, despite living a penny pinching life, had actually had quite a large nest egg. Cass is a nice woman who likes to give people thoughtful gifts, and now she can do things like that. She is excited to think about her best friend Rachel's upcoming 40th birthday this fall and the look on her face when she finds that Cass has bought her the French cottage that she fell in love with. No one knows about that surprise, not even Matthew, but that's partly because he doesn't seem to really like Rachel all that much.
Cass has made friends at the school she now teaches at and is at the leaving party to celebrate the end of the school year as the novel begins. It's a stormy night and she decides to not go on to the after party at her friend's house, but to go home instead. When she phones her husband to let him know, he tells her that he's got a migraine and is going to sleep in the spare room, but to be careful on the way home, and he emphasizes that she shouldn't take the short cut through the woods, in case of downed branches or other issues. Cass intends to follow his advice, but the traffic on the motorway is so bad that she makes a sudden decision to take the shortcut after all. The road is clear, but she is nervous, and she is surprised to see a car stopped in a layby. She only gets a glance of the woman driver through the rain and car windows, but she stops ahead of it to see if the woman needs help. Nothing happens, so she continues intending to call the police about the woman when she gets home, but a text from Rachel distracts her, and she forgets.
When the woman in the car is found murdered the next morning, Cass is freaked out. She doesn't want to admit she took that road after all, and she didn't see anything anyway, but she's still scared because of how close to home it happened. When she begins forgetting things, small things, but also important things, she gets scared that she's getting the same disease as her mother.
As we follow Cass's descent into fear and uncertainty, we see the people around her that don't know the whole story not understand her issues. She moves into a world of oblivion to get away from her fears, but in a way that is worse for her.
This is a story of manipulation, of unreliable characters, and of betrayal. A fantastic read.
And an extra element is an interview with the author at the end of the last disc.

On the Beach

Finished August 29
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

I picked this up in the general store waiting for the ferry to Thetis Island and found it a fascinating read. First published in 1957, the novel is set in 1963, a year after the end of a short but terrible war. Over the first few pages, the reader learns of the extent of the war. It would appear that the war started with Albania, turned into an Israeli-Arab war, then a Russo-NATO war, then a Russo-Chinese war, and involved many nuclear weapons including cobalt bombs. Most of the northern hemisphere seems to be affected as no one responds to contacts the surviving American ships try to make. The ships' most senior officer gave the order to sail into Australian waters and place themselves under Australian command.
The main characters are mostly Australian, beginning with Peter Holmes, a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Australian Navy and his wife of two years Mary. They have an infant daughter, Jennifer.
An American atomic-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion, survived the war and is now in Melbourne harbour, and in early 1963 Peter is asked to join it as a liaison officer. The captain of the Scorpion is Commander Dwight Towers, also a fairly young man, with a wife and two children back home in the US.
The reader gradually learns of the situation, the fuel shortage, the radioactive dust moving in the atmosphere, the expectations for the future. We see into the lives of Peter and his family, Dwight, and the young Australian woman Moira Davidson that the Holmes invite to help entertain the American when he visits the family on shore leave. We also see the young scientist John Osborne, a radiation specialist assigned to the submarine, and learn of his dreams.
Everyone had a life they were in the middle of living and we see how they adjusted to their new reality, how they changed as time went on, and the truth began to sink in.
In this time of war rhetoric and unstable leaders, it didn't seem like that outlandish a plot.

Second Life

Finished August 24
Second Life by S.J. Watson

This novel is one of psychological suspense. I loved his first novel Before I Go to Sleep, but this one didn't grab me in the same way.
Julia Plummer, that central character here, and the narrator, is a photographer. She had a difficult childhood, with her mother dying young, and her father an alcoholic, making her the chief caretaker of her younger sister. She struggled with addiction, and then left home for love of a boyfriend, but ended up back home in England again, rebuilding her life.
An exhibit including one of her photographs has just gone up, and as she warily goes to see it, she is taken back mentally to the life she was living when she took it. It is a photo of the young man she was in love with at the time, near the end of their relationship.
She returns home from the gallery to hear news that her younger sister Kate, who has been living in Paris, and supposedly putting her own life back together, is a murder victim. Many things are going on inside Julia with this news: guilt at not being there for her sister when she was needed; relief at not having to fight her sister to keep custody of her sister's son Connor, now 14, whom Julia and her husband have raised; anger and sorrow at the loss of her sister; and a deep sense of vengeance to find out who is behind her sister's death.
As Julia reaches out to her sister's roommate Anna for more information, she also tries to keep what she is doing from her husband Hugh who is trying to shelter her. Their relationship is a complicated one, and only gets more so. Julia follows her sister into the online world of cyberdating, and finds herself caught up in the new persona she has taken on.
This is a tale of escape, of the past coming back to haunt us, and of secrets kept.

Like Family

Finished August 20
Like Family by Paolo Giordano, translated by Anne Milano Appel

This short novel is told by a young married father and centers around a woman who first came into his life when his wife had a difficult pregnancy. Mrs. A is recommended as a housekeeper, and she quickly grows close to Nora, the narrator's wife who is home on bedrest. When the baby is born, Mrs. A. naturally takes on the role of nanny to young Emanuele, even though she has no prior experience with that type of job, not even having had children of her own.
The narrator is a research scientist, who is not entirely happy at his current job. He had won a spot at a university in Zurich, but circumstances made it difficult for him to accept, and he is now almost resigned to the stagnant status of his career.
When Mrs. A. suddenly quits, each family member takes it differently. Nora is begging to get her to come back, and Emanuele is confused about the sudden loss of a woman who was a second mother to him.
While the narrator tells the story looking back at events that have already happened, we only gradually understand the true nature of the Mrs. A's motivation, and the complicated relationship that she has with the family.
A very thoughtful book.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

More Than a Lover

Finished August 18
More Than a Lover by Ann Lethbridge

This Edwardian romance has young Caroline Falkner managing a home for reformed prostitutes. The home is owned by her friend and patron Merry Tonbridge and her husband Charles. Caroline has portrayed herself as the widow of a soldier, but the truth is more embarrassing. She was wooed by a young officer just as she was coming to be a marriageable age, and then left pregnant when he went to war never to return. Both his parents and hers turned their backs on her and she moved forward as best she could to make a life for her and her child Tommy.
Tommy is around five and adventurous and confident, but Caroline guards the truth about his father closely, and is worried that his father's parents would try to take him from her. When the Tonbridges hire Bladen Read, illegitimate son of an earl and a man recently discharged from the army to protect Caroline on her journey from London back to the home, and then to provide protection at the home against those who would like it to fail, she is uncertain. She doesn't want to be reminded of Tommy's father, but she is drawn to this man, who has lost his arm in the country's service.
Read is also torn. He thought Caroline beautiful when he saw her being courted years before and still admires her. But he has always felt the status of his birth to be a mark against himself, and has a reputation as a ladies man.
The drama between the two main characters is well set, and we are introduced to the society of the times, including the ways of the upper class. A love story between two passionate people each with something that makes them wary.

Matchup

Finished August 18
Matchup edited by Lee Child, read by Laura Benanti, Dennis Boursikaris, Gerard Doyle, Linda Emond, January LaVoy, Robert Petkoff, Jay O. Sanders, CJ Wilson, and Karen Ziemba

This collection of thrillers pairs male and female authors and also their characters. I found it great fun to see how they brought the characters together for the stories, and thoroughly enjoyed the plots the authors came up with. Here are the author pairs included:
* Sandra Brown and C.J. Box
* Val McDermid and Peter James
* Kathy Reichs and Lee Child
* Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry
* Gayle Lynds and David Morrell
* Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta
* Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross
* Lisa Jackson and John Sandford
* Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice
* Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille
* J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader
Lee Child introduces the collection as well as each story, giving information on each author and how the pair came up with the plot and an overview of the writing process. There were definitely interesting matchups and a wide variety of situations. Some authors I hadn't read before, and others I was very familiar with.
A great collection of characters and plots.