Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ladies' Night

Finished March 28
Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews

This novel follows Grace as she undergoes a major change in her life. As the book begins, Grace, an interior design blogger, has discovered her husband having sex with her assistant. She reacts in anger, driving her husband's expensive convertible into their pool.
She can't stay in the house with him and runs to her mother, who owns a dive bar, The Sandbox, with an apartment above. She soon finds that leaving her home may have been a tactical mistake, as her husband locks her out of her home, her blog, and her bank accounts.
She is assigned a misogynist judge who doesn't even want to listen to her side of things and assigns her to go to divorce therapy with a specific therapist.
At the therapist, Grace meets a few other women, and one man, who all reacted in anger to provocations by their partners. The therapist's behaviour seems odd to them, and when they go out for drinks to The Sandbox afterward to discuss their impressions, they decide to dig deeper into things to look at both the judge and the therapist more closely. The post-therapy sessions at the sandbox become a regular thing.
Grace, forced to start again, finds a small classic home near her mother's that the owner needs to clean up significantly after bad tenants. She also finds there a new friend in the guise of an abandoned dog that she takes on and names Sweetie.
She also connects with Wyatt, that man assigned to the same therapy group and one who has his own struggles with marriage breakup, and a young son who is sensitive to the emotions involved.
As Grace rebuilds her life both on a personal and a business level, she finds that she wants a simpler life and is willing to fight to take her chance at happiness.
I liked the characters here, each with their own issues and story, and most with some depth to their characterization.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

We Are Not Ourselves

Finished March 27
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

This novel begins in 1951, with ten-year-old Eileen Tumulty living in a small apartment in Queens with her parents, and a lodger. Eileen's father was a laborer who had a certain role in the community of giving advice to other men, setting himself up in a local pub every afternoon. Eileen longs to escape this life and studies hard, going on to get her nursing degree, and eventually her masters in nursing. When she meets Ed Leary, a research scientist, she thinks he will go on to great things and give her the upscale life she longs for. But Ed has different values, and his way leads to a limited academic career.
The couple and their son Connell live in a three family house in Jackson Heights, with the owner and his family members occupying the other two units. Even as things improve financially, Eileen feels limited by her surroundings and dreams of a house in a more upscale neighbourhood. Connell is also studious, doing well in school and gaining a scholarship into a better school in the city. He has a couple of friends in the neighbourhood, but feels out of place, constantly searching for an identity of his own.
As Eileen realizes a move to a new home, Ed's difficult behaviour is uncovered to be a health issue, and everything changes for the family. As Ed's health diminishes, Eileen becomes more and more isolated, living her life in a rotation of work, duty, and sleep that leaves her unhappy and unfulfilled. Connell also struggles, unable to support his father in the way Eileen wants, and unable to see what his own future holds for him.
As this tale takes us through these characters lives, up to 2011, we see the struggles, the dreams, and the hearts of them. It is really about these people, looking into what drives them, what frustrates them and what they feel about their world.
I particularly liked Eileen's venture back to her old neighbourhood near the end of the novel, and her enlightenment as a result.

The Drop

Finished March 25
The Drop by Dennis Lehane, performed by Jim Frangione

This short novel is a mix of genres, all taking place within a small couple of neighbourhoods. Bob Saginowski, a bartender who lives alone in the house he grew up in, hears a noise as he is walking home from work one day. He follows the sounds to a trash can, finding a puppy, badly beaten and left for dead. Nadia Dunn, the woman whose trash can he found it in hears him and quizzes him on what he is doing. After some hesitation, Bob agrees to adopt the puppy and names him Rocco after the patron saint of bachelors, dogs, and the falsely accused among other things.
Bob works at a bar that used to be owned by his cousin Marv, something Marv is still very resentful of. The bar is now owned by Chechen mobsters, who sometimes use it as a money drop for other activities. Bob faithfully attends his local church, but never takes the sacrament. He has something he feels that he cannot be forgiven for.
When Bob is approached by a psychologically unbalanced man, Eric Deeds, who claims the dog belongs to him, Bob is forced to take action, He has developed a tentative friendship with Nadia around Rocco, and feels a hope for the future that he hasn't had in years, one he doesn't want to give up. He also feels a strong connection to the dog and is outraged at the thought of giving him back to the man who beat him.
Meanwhile the bar has become a target for thieves, hoping to hit the bar on a night that it has been chosen to be the drop. The case draws the interest of a cop who attends the same church as Bob and begins to wonder at Bob's reason for not taking the sacrament.
An interesting tale of a number of lonely people, all struggling to find a connection that will make them feel less alone, even if only for a short while.
Frangione provides just the right tone and voice for this story.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Buried Giant

Finished March 24
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This novel is set sometime in medieval England, long after the Romans left, shortly after the time of King Arthur. A small hill warren community has an older couple living in it named Axl and Beatrice. The couple have recently had privileges revoked for reasons they don't understand. Their memories seem elusive, lost in the mist that often seeps over their home. They seem to remember that they should go find their son and determine to make the journey.
The first stop along the journey is a Saxon village where Beatrice wants to seek the advice of a wisewoman there, They also plan to spend the night as a fellow Briton, Master Ivor married a Saxon woman and lives there. When they arrive the village is in a state of great upset. A man has been killed and a youth has been kidnapped. A visiting warrior, Wistan, vows to find and rescue the lad and kill the monsters that took him.
This is a world where ogres, dragons, and other magical creatures are accepted and acknowledged as part of the world they live in, and where the couple find their journey leads them to places they didn't imagine they'd go, and brings back memories both good and bad, testing and strengthening their love as they go.
This is a magical tale with deeper meanings and a sense of timelessness to it. Well worth reading.

The Extraordinary Life of Lara Craft (not Croft)

Finished March 20
The Extraordinary Life of Lara Craft (not Croft) by Lola Salt

This send-up of chicklit is written by the duo Becky Wicks and Sarah Alderson under the pen name Lola Salt.
Lara, an attractive 24-year-old British woman, has recently been dumped by her boyfriend Carlos, a performer in the Cirque de Feteesh-Folie, Dumped for a contortionist. And then she is fired from her job with the circus.
Lara lives in a room in the apartment of her best friend Lucy. She hasn't got any money saved up, and is worried about the upcoming rent payment.
She has a date set up with a childhood friend Jamie that she hasn't seen in years. Her mother has told her that he does something in IT. She envisions him as a geek, but is pleasantly surprised when she meets him that evening. Unfortunately she both drinks too much and has a bad reaction to the food, which makes her evening memorable in an unpleasant way. Jamie does however refer her to a guy who runs a concierge company for a job.
The concierge job leads Lara to a wide variety of places around the world, from a California amateur filmmaker to an Australian cowboy to a Dubai prince, she meets a number of interesting people, makes a new friend or two, and finds that what she really wants isn't what she thought.
The writers made a couple of youtube videos of characters in the novel. One from California is shown here  and one from Bali here.
Humorous and surprising, this novel is a light-hearted read that will keep you amused throughout.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Fates Will Find Their Way

Finished March 16
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

This novel is very unusual.
The unnamed narrator speaks for a group of men who all went to school together. When they were in high school a female student at the school, Nora, disappeared and no sign of her was ever found. Part of the novel tells of the effect this had on the boys, and the adults in their lives. The girls don't seem to really play into this narrative. There is one girl who hangs out with the boys that is mentioned in the beginning, one girl that never marries that get mentioned more for her sexy mother than herself, and there is Sissy, the younger sister of Nora, who reappears throughout the novel. The girls in high school barely get a mention, and the ones that end up as wives of these men don't even get named.
The narrator talks about "we" as the group of boys react, grow up, get married, have kids. He talks about some of the boys/men by name telling their particular stories.
You get a sense of their lives, the regular get-togethers of these guys, their group obsession with Nora and her fate, their lives moving on in ordinary mundane ways.
The other part of the book is about the boys'/mens' fantasies about what happened to Nora. Did she get lured away or did she leave on her own? Did she drive away with someone or go to the airport and fly away? Was she pregnant when she left or not? Did she marry? Where did she go? There are occasional "sightings" of her, some of them caught on camera, but the men can never agree if it is really her they saw.
I'm not sure what I really think of this book, as I find it is taking me some time to process. The nature of the narrative, the vagueness of the setting, the uncertainty of Nora's imagined life, make this a cross between everyman and an unnatural obsession with a girl they don't even know very well.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Nightingale

Finished March 17
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This novel is set mostly in France during World War II, but as a memory of that time by a woman looking back from 1995. You aren't sure who the woman is until near the end of the book.
As the war begins Viann Mariac is living in the Loire valley with her husband Antoine and her daughter Sophie. When Antoine gets called to go off to war, Viann is upset. Her father had gone away to fight in World War One, and came back a changed man, no longer interested in being the father she and her younger sister needed. When her mother died shortly after, her father abandoned the two girls in this country house. Viann found her best friend Rachel, and Antoine, but Isabelle didn't settle and Viann was too caught up in her own life's issues to take care of her in the way she needed. Instead Isabelle was sent off to boarding school, bouncing from one school to another as her behaviour caused her to be sent away. And that is her situation as the war begins, once again sent home to Paris and her father from a boarding school. This time her father sends her to Viann again, but she is caught on the road during the mass exodus from the city, and struggles to reach the village in the Loire valley.
Isabelle's temperament doesn't suit her life of living in a quiet village doing what she is told, and the German occupation doesn't leave room for her outbursts without endangering Viann and Sophie. So when an opportunity to do something meaningful comes her way, Isabelle takes it, and Viann assumes she is doing something silly and impetuous once again.
As the war continues, both sisters find that circumstances throw them into the path of difficult decisions and risky actions, and as different as the two women are, they both resent the German presence strongly and hope for an end to the war that will let them live lives of happiness with those they care about.
I enjoy books of this time period, particularly those with strong female characters such as these. The plot was good and I liked the way the story was set up as a woman looking back on this time in her life.