Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Deja Vu: The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

Have you ever picked up a book, started to read it, and think, "This is vaguely familiar...?" That happened to me today with The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison. Usually, if I can't remember whether or not I have read a book, I will look at Shelfari to find out if I have marked it as such. However, this time, I looked at my blog to see if I had written a review, which I had not. Still, I had deja vu when I read the first chapter.

After checking Shelfari, sure enough! I had read the book October 2013; but, there was no review! That is very odd for me since I usually write at least a few sentences about my impression. In any event, I had read this one. So, I added it to PaperBackSwap and moved on.

The funny thing about The Silent Wife is that is cut from the same cloth as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but is soooo much better. Honestly, I am bewildered by the intense positive reaction to Flynn's book. I read it, enjoyed it, and forgot about it. As usual, it would not have been my choice for Hollywood, but many (many) moviegoers disagree with me.

This book, in my opinion, is hands-down better than Gone Girl. The characters are much more real, and this is a situation that could really happen; probably DOES happen, with regularity. More like a "Fatal Attraction" (realistic) compared to "Basic Instinct" (far-fetched).

Jodie and Todd have been together a long time, and have a very comfortable (common law) marriage. They are both professionals and live well, although Todd regrets having no children. As the summary states perfectly: He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose.

Told in alternating voices, you get a rich understanding of what motivates these two, and how their actions affect one another, as well as those around them. However, even with all of this insight and build-up, the end will leave you breathless. The perfect "I did NOT see that coming" twist.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

In the evocative tradition of Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History , comes this accomplished debut of youthful innocence drowned by dark sins. Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to the placid, isolated shores of the lakeside school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories that will become a living nightmare. Since freshmen year, Jane and her two roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable–studying the classics, performing school girl rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew to meet Lucy’s charismatic brother Matt. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. For in that sheltered, ice-encrusted wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden for more than two decades in the dark depths of Heart Lake. Now pages from Jane’s missing journal, written during that tragic time, have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface. At once compelling, sensuous, and intelligent, The Lake of Dead Languages is an eloquent thriller, an intricate balance of suspense and fine storytelling that proves Carol Goodman is a rare new talent with a brilliant future. From the Hardcover edition.

My take: 3 looks ***SPOILERS***
Interesting book, to be sure. It had the potential of a riveting and plot-twisting storyline, but missed the mark in the end.

20 years ago, there were three deaths. Today, the roommate of the dead girls has returned to the boarding school as the Latin teacher. An intriguing premise; and using Latin words, classic literature and imagery as a thread throughout the story was a nice touch not used commonly in today's mysteries. However, the book was very character-heavy with past students, founding family members, current students, faculty and others. It was very difficult for me to keep them all in line.

In addition to this, the plot was a bit predictable. I knew that there was something nefarious in the relationship between Matt and Lucy, that Albie was trouble, and that Dr. Lockhart was up to no good. The read herrings were used effectively, though. To avoid revealing all here, I will not spoil those rabbit-trails.

In the end, I was not at all satisfied that I had read a full-bodied mystery. I felt as if I has watched an old episode of a television series where, try as they might to draw the characters fully, there is limit to what can be done in the space provided. However, it was an easy read, offered a solid ending, and was entertaining enough for me to recommend as a vacation read.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

My take: 2.5 looks
A harrowing tale of January 12, 1888 in the newly settled US plains. The History Channel website puts it like this:

On this day in 1888, the so-called "Schoolchildren's Blizzard" kills 235 people, many of whom were children on their way home from school, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell nearly 100 degrees in just 24 hours.
It was a Thursday afternoon and there had been unseasonably warm weather the previous day from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Suddenly, within a matter of hours, Arctic air from Canada rapidly pushed south. Temperatures plunged to 40 below zero in much of North Dakota. Along with the cool air, the storm brought high winds and heavy snows. The combination created blinding conditions.

THAT I can understand! However, Laskin takes this story and, instead of making it real to the average reader, bogs down the text with an abundance of technical terms, protracted weather explanations and hard-to-follow story lines. I will take one at a time.

While I appreciate Laskin's desire to educate me on weather phenomena, his use of meteorological terminology did little to boost my understanding of why this blizzard occurred. Instead, reading the reasons, lows, highs, barometric pressures, and such was like swimming in quicksand. I quickly abandoned careful reading and resorted to skimming - something I am sure no author desires from his audience.

The weather causes and effects explained in a careful scientific manner went on and on, bogging me down regularly. That, added to the character-heavy ramblings, and I was thoroughly confused chapter after chapter. There was almost a feeling of "oh, by the way, since I mentioned him, let me tell you his life story."  I would have rather been introduced to a few key families and followed them throughout the story.

Because of the subject matter, and to honor the over 200 people that perished, I really wanted to like this book. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this one.