End of Summer Re-Reading

After starting and putting down a small stack of underwhelming books this past week, I have decided to deliberately to only re-read for the rest of the week and over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Taking along a beloved favorite would prevent (the horror!) being stuck at a long soccer practice or at the pool all day with a dud. Once I made this decision, I cheerfully picked up a stack a wonderful, thrilling, books to take along (or, in one case downloaded onto my phone to listen to) on my end-of-summer adventures.

journey to munich coverThe Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

I am a huge fan of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Winspear and this most recent book was one of her absolute best: moving, thrilling, rich in historical facts, and gorgeously highlighting the novel’s beloved heroine’s strength and intelligence. Follow Maisie Dobbs undercover into Hitler’s pre-war Munich for a glimpse into the Third Reich before it started World War II. This time around I am listening to the (amazing! talented!) narrator Orlaugh Cassidy read Journey to Munich and finding it even more engaging than the first reading. I highly recommend both the series and all books narrated by Orlaugh Cassidy. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/1159/

The Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraithcuckoos calling cover

I am well aware that I am constantly talking about this series of three murder mysteries by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for JK Rowling) but for good reason. They are all wonderfully written thrillers that are solved by the fantastic private investigative duo of Comoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. Not to be missed…and best enjoyed in order: The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the series; followed by Silkworm, and then Career of Evil. http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1l, http://wp.me/p6N6mT-B

career of evil cover

Takedown Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovitchtrick 22 cover

As silly and ridiculous as this book is (it is the 22nd book in the Stephanie Plum series), I find that not only it is 100% readable but it lends itself perfectly to re-reading on a hot summer day relaxing poolside. Follow bounty hunter Plum and her hopeless associates as they track down a prankster whose tricks have turned deadly. The novel’s lack of seriousness makes it exceptionally easy to put down while you go for and swim. http://wp.me/p6N6mT-3x

the fever coverThe Fever by Meghan Abbot

I read and thoroughly enjoyed this novel when it came out in 2014 and came across it at the library and picked it back up for a re-read. The story centers on a small town that is suddenly thrown into chaos when a group of girls become sick with a bizarre and terrifying illness. A full blog post is in the works…stay tuned.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)

By J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

AUTHORS NOTE: As a long-time super-fan of the Harry Potter (HP) books, movies, and indeed the entire world surrounding them, I am very aware that writing about this book before fans have had a chance to read it for themselves is risky. I do not want in any way to spoil the story (which I have gone out of my way below to avoid, so much so that the post seems incomplete) or to in any way dampen the enjoyment of readers who are still waiting to complete it. JUST IN CASE, SKIP THIS POST, SUPER-FANS!

Before I discuss my thoughts on Cursed Child, I would like to make the case for not reading the book at all, even though it was enjoyable to once again be allowed inside the magical world of HP. If you are a patient fan, please consider waiting to see if Rowling releases a novelization of the story, because the lengthy stage notes and production information included in the text of this book greatly interfere with the story, almost to the point of complete distraction. Furthermore, if you are both a theater enthusiast and an HP fan, wait (and save up your money as tickets in the UK are going for thousands of dollars each!) and go see this stage production live! The book contains not only the story, but all of the stage directions as well, which will surely dilute the magical spectacle that the play will no doubt be. AGAIN, YOU CAN STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO RISK ANY SPOILERS!

 

platform 9 34Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place nineteen years after the final chapter of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; its opening scene parallels exactly the epilogue “Nineteen Years Later” from Deathly Hallows. From here, the play picks up the stories of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny and, now, their children, who are beginning their own years at Hogwarts. From this opening scene on Platform 9 3/4, the story sets off on its wild, winding, path filled with plenty of familiar components to please fans, including familiar characters, locations, spells, and plot lines. Somehow, despite the fact that all of the elements of the HP books are present, nothing quite seems to come together and that breathless wonder of the original books is missing.

 

hogwarts express

Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios, FL.

The story quickly establishes itself as frantic and fragmented, veering wildly from story to story, crisis to crisis, profound to mundane. The end result is a series of stories that struggle to be compelling because they are all competing with one another and with the lengthy and intrusive stage directions. Even though the writers have tried to give us another HP story, Cursed Child feels more like a distant relative to the original books than the next generation. Indeed, I struggled to find much of JK Rowling’s signature voice in the story at all. Rather, it seems that she has lent her stories and imagination to the other authors, who attempted to craft a story in her style. According to a review by Kristina Grosspietsch on Mashable.com, “Whether you loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or wanted to stab it with a basilisk fang, it’s obvious right off the bat the tale is not really J.K. Rowling’s.”

All of those criticisms aside, I enjoyed reading the story. However, I did not enjoy reading about the story in the form of a play script; it was distracting and seemed to lessen the excitement of the story to see the “behind the scenes” information, not to mention that the format serves to steal the back-stage magic for fans who will be lucky enough to see the stage production in the future.

The bottom-line is this: for a family of super-fans, it seemed next to impossible not to read this book; we all agreed that it would be unimaginable to pass up a chance of reading about these beloved characters one more time. Despite the things we disliked about Cursed Child, my husband, children, and I decided that we would, as my son put it, “take what we could get,” as we are unlikely to be able to afford tickets to the stage production if it ever makes its way to us.

hogwarts below view

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios, FL. All pictures taken by my family on our vacation in January 2016.

Read Kristina Grosspietsch’s fhttp://mashable.com/2016/08/17/harry-potter-cursed-child-female-characters/#u44nU9lgQGqz

 

 

 

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016)

I’ve just finished reading the newest novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty, and I found it to be as wonderful and satisfying as I do all of her novels. However, while the book touched on all of the themes that she so wonderfully delves into in her books — including marriage, mental illness, parenting, and friendship — this novel had, overall, a much more serious and somber tone that her books generally do. This book found Moriarty writing a much more subdued novel than usual (certainly more so than her funny, wonderful, wild Big Little Lies) which noticeably less melodrama and much more….well, drama.

As always, Moriarty introduces us to characters that are well-drawn, relatable, and whose internal and external struggles feel very familiar, as accurate and intense as ones we too might experience. Here, we meet Clementine a professional cellist and married mother of two whose career is struggling under her familial demands. Her husband, Sam, is a modern father and husband, happily sharing the raising of her daughters with Clementine even if he does like to lord over his wife his superior brand of parenting. The couple has long-term but very intense relationship with a woman, Erika, who was a de facto foster child in Clementine’s home growing up. Erika and Clementine have a relationship based shared past peppered with deep veins of distrust and envy. Erika and her husband Oliver play a strange role in the lives of the Clementine and her family, something less like friends and more like acquaintances who share, sometimes unwillingly, private moments together.

As is her practice, the author tells the story out of order, weaving together past and present events from the points of view of all of the stories narrators; telling the story of how dramatic events can bring some people together and tears others apart. Also of note, are the book’s tender and nuanced portrayals of the complex and terrifying realities of mental illness. In this particular book, it is not only two female characters who struggle, but also one of the male characters as well.

Just as her books always do, Moriarty’s stories feel so possible, as if our lives, too, are just one afternoon — one moment — away from changing forever. The stories are so real that they are unsettling because readers can always see themselves in at least one, if not all, of her characters. It is impossible to read her stories and not think “what would I do? would my marriage survive? would I survive?”

 

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (2016)

wilde lake columbia md

Image of the present day Wilde Lake in Columbia, MD.

This novel seems to exists both within and without of three different genres. Wilde Lake is not a murder mystery exactly (although there are two murders that factor in the plot), nor is it a legal thriller (although the law does play a role in almost all of the story’s sub-plots), nor is it strictly a family drama, despite the fact that the primary story linking all the rest together is about one family’s decisions to keep secrets from one another, no matter the cost. The end result is a book that is is well-written and interesting, but not exactly satisfying to read. The author’s decision to remain vague about what type of primary story she is trying to tell means that the book feels simultaneously incomplete and too long.

In the chapters where Lippman’s novel focuses on present day, it follows the story of widowed state’s attorney Luisa Brant who lives and works in Columbia, Maryland and is set to try a murder case against a homeless man. As she gathers evidence and prepares her case for trial, she discovers connections between the murderer and her family. However, because these chapters are told in the present tense, the story feels cold and two dimensional, since the main character is not able to infuse any background or history into her actions. As the reader, I found the present-day story had no sense of urgency or anticipation, despite being about a murder and the trial of the accused.

In the alternating chapters, Lippman tells the story of the same town, showing it to readers both how it was originally conceived in the 1960’s– as an idealized, utopian suburb free from racial or religious divides — and introducing readers to the Brant family as they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Luisa was a young girl living with her teenager brother, AJ, and their father Andrew Brant, then a prominent lawyer and politician. These chapters have more energy and life to them, and serve to introduce the readers — albeit very, very slowly — to the circumstances that will link the Brant family as they were in the late 1970’s to the murder case Luisa is trying in 2016.

Overall, the novel is enjoyable and Lippman’s writing is interesting and readable, but it falls short of being an exciting or thrilling read. Despite its listing as “mystery fiction,” in the end it seems more of a morose family drama, and a history of the town of Columbia, than a mystery or legal thriller. Good, but not quite as advertised.

 

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (2008)

“Fiction is the craft of telling truth through lies. This story saw history as malleable and tried for a different kind of truth about my little village on the lake, one filled with all the mystery and magic that I was surrounded by in my childhood.” Lauren Groff in her Author’s Note at the start of The Monsters of Templeton.

Lauren Groff writes a bizarre but beautiful novel, unlike anything I have read before. She tells the story of a place, the people who have inhabited it, from the time it was empty wilderness and the summer home to Native Americans, through its days of early settlement, its evolution through wars and recessions, all the way up through the present.

The town, Templeton and its Lake Glimmerglass, are fictional, but they are shaped very much after the author’s beloved hometown of Cooperstown, New York and by the writings of its famous former resident, James Fenimore Cooper. Blurring the line between truth and fiction, Monsters seems autobiographical at times and at others entirely imagined. Groff grounds the book in fact, but mismatches and distorts events ever so slightly so that nothing is as it seems but still seems utterly real. In her introductory Author’s Note, she writes, “I wanted to write a love story for Cooperstown. The more I knew, the more the facts drifted from their moorings. They began shaping themselves into stories in my head. I slowly began to notice that I wasn’t writing about Cooperstown anymore, but a slantwise version of the original.”

The stories Groff tells paint a vivid picture of what the lake and the town were like in each of its past phases, each one layered on top of another, the past invisible but still somehow still effecting the lives of Templeton’s modern residents. Many of the book’s characters are the descendants of the town’s “founder” and, in their own words, tell their stories of the town, the lake, and its shadowy secrets. Stretching forward and backward in time, Groff shows the readers the changes to Templeton over time: animals and plants once plentiful, now extinct; people once certain they were building a metropolis, people who “would have said that Templeton would certainly by a bustling, important city in 150 years, not the insular village it is now.”

The present day story follows the life of Willie Upton, a young PhD student who has fled her studies in California after a disastrous affair with her dissertation advisor and returned home to Templeton, New York and her family’s ancestral home. “The day I returned home to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass .” And so the stories of Willie Upton and the monster — “Glimmey” –unfold together.

As she rides out the scandal, Willie begins to research her family tree and discovers writings and artifacts that reveal the secrets and scandals of her many relatives; as well as provide her with glimpses of the lake monster as it was known to her ancestors. The monsters referred to in the title relates not only to the lake’s mysterious inhabitant, but also the men and women of the town — both past and present — whose actions were often cruel and, well, monstrous.

Filled with magic, mystery, ghosts, scandals, murders, and romance, this book tells historical and modern day stories that are equally compelling. With its experimental writing style and mythical qualities, it was easy to spend hours reading at a time. I highly recommend it.

Cooperstown aerial No acc# NBL

Cooperstown, New York. Aerial view, with Lake Otsego.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts (2013)

During the hot, hectic days at the end of summer, when my whole family is transitioning from summer camp and pool days into shopping for school supplies and finishing up summer homework, my life goes into temporary overdrive (A feeling I am sure mothers everywhere knows well. Author Gretchen Rubin calls Back to School time one of the “primary events in the Mommy Olympics.”)

While I am rushing around getting us ready for school, I need to briefly set aside deeply engrossing and heavy novels in lieu of light and easy re-reads. Not unlike the weeks before Christmas, at the end of summer I need books that are easily assimilated into days where I am rushed, exhausted, and constantly interrupted. Enter Whiskey Beach, a well-worn paperback that I have read at least three times and I happily just finished once again. Not unlike a favorite movie, books like Whiskey Beach are an important part of my reading arsenal because they can be started from any page, ended at any point, picked up and put down infinitely, and even fallen asleep in the middle of with nothing missed. Just what the doctor ordered when the temperature is over 100 degrees and the chores and errands seem endless.

In this novel, the best of Robert’s most recent novels (stand alone or otherwise) readers get all of the elements of a great beach read: suspense, murder, scandal, sex and — as a bonus — a search for a lost treasure. Eli Landon is a gorgeous bachelor who has retreated to his family’s beachfront mansion to ride out the scandal associated with his late wife’s murder. While there, he begins a friendship with a sexy neighbor who soon becomes more and together the two of them are drawn into a murder mystery that may or may not center on a centuries-old family legend about a missing treasure.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the perfect end of summer read, courtesy of one of the best romance writers ever.

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty (2004)

Sydney-Harbour-Bridge-in-the-backgroundof Opera House.jpg_backup

Last night I picked up Three Wishes, the debut novel by Australian author and queen of the juicy melodrama Liane Moriarty, and was instantly addicted. Now, since I have read all of her other novels I should have known better than to start one of her books at 9pm, but I could not help myself. Like in many of her novels, her book begins with the climatic ending (or almost-ending) and then works backward, in starts and fits using all three primary narrators interchangeably, to fill in the events leading up to the opening chapter. In a matter of a few pages, I was drawn into the deliciously scandalous story and could not stop until my husband finally begged me to turn out the lights at 1am. I woke up and immediately finished!

Three Wishes tells the story of the three Kettle triplets — Lyn, Cat, and Gemma — and is filled with all of the witty, sexy, naughty, and shocking plot twists that Moriarty is famous for and employs almost all of the themes that frequently appear in her novels, including adultery, infertility, divorce, domestic violence, familial tension, and — of course — desperately romantic love. Each sister takes us through her life, past and present, and gives us a glimpses at the messy, complicated moments that have filled the thirty-four years the sisters have been alive.

At the center of the story is the exploration of the tremendous, and at times terrifying, power that the people we love have over our lives. In an instant, one shocking revelation of a secret kept and the ground can shift beneath our feet. The lives we believe we have been living are stripped of meaning and the people around us can seem like strangers. Decades of events can, if not evaporate, but become instantly drained of happiness. Each sister must grapple with betrayals great and small and try to adjust to their “different realities.” With each secret reveled, they must reflect backward on the events they thought defined them, “What would happen to their stories now? Would it be like they never happened? Would they have to rewrite all of their histories?”

The very same people who have the power to disrupt our lives also have the power to restore us through love, compassion, and humor. While the story tells of a family tested by the traumatic events, it also tells of their amazing capacity to support, love and forgive one another as well. The result is a novel that is deliciously scandalous,  heartbreaking, funny, and deeply moving all at once.