Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Every day when she’s on the train into London Rachel watches a young couple (she calls them Jason and Jess) lounging outside their home and wonders what it must be like to be them. Her train frequently gets stuck at a signal by their house and this gives her ample time to ponder and day dream about what their lives must be like. But things haven’t been going well for Rachel. She is divorced, has a drinking problem, and has little to look forward to in her life.  When Jess, whose real name we find out is Megan, disappears Rachel is noticeably upset and soon finds a way to meet Jason (actual name Scott) and stumbles deeper into the disappearance than she’d like to be. (Or does her involvement give her a reason to get out of bed in the morning?)

Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train has been touted as the next Gone Girl. Like that recent hit there are twists and turns all over the place, but I actually preferred Hawkins’ novel to Gone Girl. Rachel is an unreliable narrator due to the blackouts she frequently suffers when she drinks. She has trouble piecing together what happened the night before. Despite, or maybe because of, her knack for making bad decisions, I found her fascinating to follow and even a sympathetic character to some degree. With Gone Girl the main characters were frequently unlikeable and seemed to become shallow whenever it suited the novel’s plot. Girl on the Train on the other hand succeeds as a page turner and a character study.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel by Katherine Reay

If you are looking for a gentle read about the importance of family, Lizzy & Jane has all the right elements.

Named for the famous Jane Austen characters, sisters Elizabeth & Jane could not be more different. Estranged since their mother's death, they even live on opposite sides of the country. Elizabeth is a chef at an exclusive restaurant in New York and Jane is an artistic stay-at-home mom in Seattle.

When an illness brings the sisters back together, it is very difficult for them both. Both women are in rough, unknown places in their lives, and they really need each other. But do they know it?

With the Seattle restaurant/market scene as a back drop, this novel will be a big hit with all of the foodies out there as well. Plus the added bonus of many, many references to the great books of Jane Austen.

A lot to offer with this title.


Read alike author: Barbara O'Neal

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valerie Solanas by Breanne Fahs

Valerie Solanas was best known as the woman who shot Andy Warhol in 1968. In fact, there was a film made in 1996 starring Lili Taylor titled I Shot Andy Warhol about that very incident. In her biography Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote Scum (And Shot Andy Warhol), Breanne Fahs attempts to tell Solanas’ whole life story.

Despite being abused during her childhood and giving birth to a son in her teens (who was later taken away from her), Solanas still managed to graduate from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in psychology. She wrote for her college paper and after college began writing her best know work, the SCUM Manifesto. Valerie began the manifesto with the following:  “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex.” This obviously wasn’t what you would find in Reader’s Digest back then.  Solanas also wrote a bizarre play around the same time as her SCUM Manifesto. These two writings were at the center of feuds she had later on with Warhol and the publisher of Olympia Press, and there are those who have wondered if the shooting of Warhol was Solanas’ way of putting ideas from the SCUM Manifesto into action. Solanas was declared insane when she shot Warhol and was eventually released after stays at several mental health facilities. She suffered from varying degrees of schizophrenia for large portions of her life and her mental health seemed to deteriorate to an even greater degree during the seventies.

Fahs’ biography has some shortcomings, mainly a complete lack of information about various periods in Solanas’ life. These gaps are due to Solanas’ vagabond lifestyle (she spent many years semi or completely homeless) and her mother’s attempt to protect the family’s name. (Her mother burnt a box of Valerie’s things shortly after Valerie’s death.) Between her time at Maryland and when she shot Warho,l Valerie’s relatives believed she was attending graduate school somewhere. However, no documents have ever been found showing where she was enrolled. The holes in her life story result in Valerie Solanas focusing mostly on the time right before and right after the shooting. Fahs biography is a look at someone who truly spent much of her life far outside of mainstream culture. It is also an intriguing if ultimately saddening look at the thin line between revolutionary brilliance and madness.


Monday, February 9, 2015

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins

Rachel's life is not in a very good place. Recently divorced and recently fired due to a very big problem with alcohol, Rachel spends a lot of time on the commuter train going back and forth into the city. And after awhile, commuters know that you begin to see the same things on your trip. Same homes, businesses, cars, and of course, people. The same people, doing their morning or evening routine. The same people, living their lives. The same people, day after day. After awhile, you feel you know them. You may even make up stories in your head about them.

But what if, one day, you witness something different. Maybe even something bad. What do you do?

This is exactly what happens to Rachel. Poor, wretched Rachel. She knows something is very wrong, but no one will believe her. After all, she is a pathetic drunk.

Did she imagine this? Or was she too drunk to know exactly what she witnessed?

Find out in this tense, psychological drama. Hard to believe that The Girl on the Train is a first novel. Cannot wait for more!


Read alike: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Murder on the Ile Sordou by M. L. Longworth

A murder mystery needs a dead body without an obvious killer, beyond that, it’s all in the presentation. M. L. Longworth recaptures the things I loved in my favorite (now dead) British authors: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. The settings are contemporary to the author’s time; there is a murder, but no grisly description of its occurrence; the characters, especially the sleuths, are well developed and believable. Longworth’s Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet are so appealing I want to join them for a glass of wine and/or dinner!

In their fourth adventure, the pair is on a holiday on an island in the Mediterranean where a decades-abandoned luxury hotel has just reopened. Owners Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have invested everything in restoring the Locanda Sordou and it is vital that the first season be a success. When one of the small group of guests is murdered, Verlaque’s and Bonnet’s holiday ends. To add to the adventure, a major storm cuts off all outside contact. Murder on the Ile Sordou has everything I enjoy in this genre: a beautiful setting, good food and wine, clever conversation, and a murderer to catch. Très agréable.

Try the other Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Make It Mighty Ugly by Kim Piper Werker

If you like to create or consider yourself a creative type, chances are you’ve hit a creative block before. Kim Piper Werker wants to help you kick start your creativity in Make It Mighty Ugly. She defines different creative demons and has ideas on how to battle each of them. Exercises throughout the book help you identify those creative demons and work through them.

I picked up this book on a whim. I thought it looked interesting, and I ended up really enjoying it. The ideas seem really helpful, and Kim is a very entertaining writer. She’s funny, and keeps the discussion lighthearted. The illustrations are silly, and I think that just lends to the fun, creative aspect of the book. I liked the book so much that I’m going to get my own copy to refer back to whenever I’m fighting those creative demons.

If you liked this book, you might also like Creative Block by Danielle Krysa.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Her by Harriet Lane

Her is a slow moving psychological thriller that leaves more questions than answers.

The book begins with successful, poised, well off artist Nina catching sight of exhausted, poor, overwhelmed Emma. A flood of very bad memories hits Nina, but she befriends Emma (who does not recognize her) anyway. Of course, Nina's way of befriending Emma is quite different than you would expect. The word that comes to mind is menacing...

Tension builds as the novel continues, until the reader understands that something very bad is going to happen. But we just do not know why.

Told from both Emma's and Nina's perspectives, the past unfolds in little snippets in each chapter.

If you have a lot of patience, you may enjoy this novel.


Read-alike: The Playdate by Louise Millar