Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What I read on my summer vacation

As regular followers know, I tend to read lighter fare during the summer.  So I will do brief reviews of what I have read over the last few weeks, but for the most part they are not sufficiently deep or complicated to warrant a detailed analysis.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I have deliberately avoided reading this book as I never find books hyped as heavily as this one was deserve that hype.  But I had nothing to read, and this was lying around the house, so I gave it a try.  I will say, I didn't hate it (unlike, for example, The Goldfinch).  At times I was kept on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what had happened, which was of course the author's intent.  I also found the characters interesting, if generally distasteful.  I can't really say much more without giving away the plot, and don't bother reading the book if you know the ending as the suspense was by far the best aspect.  But I will say after anxiously awaiting the ending I was disappointed in it - I think it was probably the right ending given the personalities of the main characters, but that didn't make it any more satisfying.  I suppose I wanted to see justice done as much as all the characters in the book seem to want, but like with them, my wish was not granted.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Like many women my age, I eagerly anticipated Judy Blume's newest adult novel, having been an avid fan since picking up Are You There God, It's Me Margaret in fourth grade.  And the book did not disappoint - no, it wasn't high level literature fit for discussions in university English classes but it was an entertaining read.  The narrative primarily takes place over the course of a year in the 1950s in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  In that year (this part is factual) three planes crashed in Elizabeth while trying to land at Newark airport.  Many lives were lost both on the airplanes and on the ground.  Blume grew up in Elizabeth and lived through this time period so now returns to it to examine the impact it had on the people living there.  Her main character is teenaged Miri who lives with her mother, grandmother and uncle having been born to her mother out of wedlock.  So in addition to seeing how the plane crashes impact Miri we see her struggle with learning who her father is (and meeting him for the first time), her relationship with her best friend (who is so badly scarred by the plane crashes that she develops anorexia), her first love (with an Irish Catholic boy living in an orphanage who is not her grandmother's first choice) and how she reacts when new loves enter the lives of all the other adults living in her home.  At first I was confused by the multitude of characters, but then I got used to why Blume was introducing them (they tended to be somehow involved with the three planes if they were not major players in Miri's life) and I found it easier to follow.  She also did a masterful job at eventually weaving together the lives of seemingly unrelated players.  In sum, I recommend reading this book, particularly if you are fond of Blume's writing.  As an aside, I love the title - derived from the standard airline of safety video - "in the unlikely event of..."

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

Like with Blume, I anxiously await Elin Hildebrand's new summer releases.  They are generally set in Nantucket and are perfect light summer reading fare.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with this one.  In fairness, Hilderbrand wrote it while being treated for breast cancer (and is also a young mother) which is incredibly impressive so I have to give her credit for that.  The premise of the book is how rumours spread in a small town and the damage they can bring to people's lives.  Although, in the end it was actual behaviour rather than rumoured ones that got most of these characters in trouble.  The action centres around Madeline King and her husband Trevor, their son, their friends, Grace and Eddie Pancik and their teenaged twin daughters, Eddie's sister, and a landscape architect working on Grace's property.  There are also assorted other friends or acquaintances who wander in and out of the narrative.  The chapters are written from the perspective of several different characters though it is not hard to follow as this is clearly laid out.  The rumours have Madeline having an affair with Eddie (though the reader knows from the start that this is not the case) but in fact it is Grace who gets into relationship troubles and Eddie who gets into financial and legal troubles.  At the same time the various teenagers get into relationship troubles of their own.  The stories were interesting enough but none of the characters really grabbed me - I didn't really find myself caring who ended up with whom and where.  If you have nothing else to read on a summer's day, this isn't terrible but it isn't great either.  Some of her earlier books would make a better choice.

The Guest Cottage and An Island Christmas by Nancy Thayer

Thayer is another Nantucket writer who writes Nantucket based beach reads.  The Guest Cottage was an entertaining romance with likeable characters.  Her books all follow the same basic formula - woman meets man, they try to resist each other for various reasons and then they realize they belong together (usually a welcomed pregnancy is also involved).  If you're expecting unpredictable her books aren't for you, but if you want sympathetic characters who get the happy ending they deserve, you won't be disappointed.  In this novel, by a series of misunderstandings two different families end up renting out the same beach house for the same summer.  The first is Sophie and her 15 year old son Jonah and 8 year old daughter Lacey.  Sophie's husband has just announced he wants a divorce so he can marry another woman and Sophie decides to use money inherited from an eccentric aunt to take this vacation and figure out what to do.  The second family is Trevor and his four year old son Leo.  Trevor's wife has recently died of a drug overdose and his son is developing peculiar behaviours so he decides to take him on vacation to help him heal.  That puts Sophie and Trevor in the same house together and given what I said above you can figure out what eventually happens.  Though predictable there are some great scenes with the children as well as an elderly man who lives on an adjacent property.  Not a bad way to spend a few summer hours.  Because I enjoyed the escapism of this book, when I needed to download something else for a plane ride I picked up Thayer's Christmas novel, An Island Christmas.  It wasn't as good as the other book but it was okay.  It dealt with the story of two very different daughters who return to Nantucket to spend Christmas with their parents and to celebrate the wedding of the younger daughter.  Again as might be expected the mother doesn't like her daughter's choice of fiance and wants her to marry a high school boyfriend but in the end discovers that her daughter has in fact made the right choice.  There were some very amusing scenes when the mother latches on to a cat to channel her maternal instincts and when the father gets repeatedly injured trying to keep up with his son-in-law to be.  So not a great book but served as a good distraction on an airplane.

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

This is the only book I read which doesn't fit into the category of easy summer reading - though it wasn't a difficult book to read.  This is the story of young Aron, a child trying to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto.  He is a bit of a no good street urchin prior to the war and during the war his smuggling skills and questionable connections do serve to keep him alive.  He eventually ends up living in Janusz Korcak's orphanage and the book fictionalizes the final days of this famous doctor and the children under his care.  The book is written from Aron's perspective so has a very stream of consciousness style which I suppose is intended to represent his youth.  Frankly I didn't like the style that much - while I understand what the author was trying to do, it just came off as poorly written.  Like the book My Mother's Secret, maybe if this book had been hyped as aimed at young adults I would not have been so disappointed.  I thought the story had so much potential, and the book did get good reviews, but I just found it shallow.  There was so much opportunity to explore the impact of the war on a misfit child like this and I just don't think the author got there.  Perhaps a good book to give a young adult reader a different perspective on the Holocaust but otherwise I'm not sure I'd bother.

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