Dark Places is about Libby Day, a woman in her late twenties whose family was brutally murdered when she was only seven. Her older brother, Ben, then only fifteen, is serving a life sentence for the crime, based largely on Libby’s testimony. Libby’s life is filled with anxiety and depression and loneliness—she has nothing left, having driven away her remaining extended family and having used up almost all of the money she received from well-meaning strangers who heard of her story. Things are shaken up when Libby gets contacted by a member of “the Kill Club,” a group that meets to discuss and solve old mysteries. They think that her brother, Ben, is innocent—and they’re willing to pay Libby a lot of money to help them figure out what really happened on that night.
It’s pretty unusual, I think, for books with a lot of buzz to live up to the hype. Or really, for books that are more literary to gain mainstream popularity. There are some, of course–books like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen come to mind–but generally I find that the books that everyone seems to be reading aren’t that appealing to me. Wild is absolutely one of those books–it’s popular for a reason, because it’s spectacular.
When Will There Be Good News? is the third in the Jackson Brodie series (although I’m reading it last) and was definitely my favorite of the four. Atkinson likes to take seemingly disparate storylines and weave them together, to show how lives overlap in unexpected ways, and that can often get unwieldy and be unsatisfying for the reader, as she creates these connections with varying degrees of success. This was by far the most cohesive of the series, and it worked better than any of the others for that reason.
As always, it’s difficult to discuss a mystery without giving much away. To give a basic plot summary: Jackson Brodie finds himself, once again, at the center of a web of mystery and violence after his involvement in a deadly and devastating train crash. His life is saved by Reggie, an orphaned sixteen-year-old, who has her own problems to deal with: Dr. Hunter, her beloved employer, has gone missing, and no one seems to care. Also involved is Louise Monroe, who played a large role in the previous book; she’s trying to keep tabs on two murderers, while dealing with her less-than-satisfying new marriage–and her lingering feelings for Jackson.
Every Day is the story of A, an undefined entity/being/soul that wakes up every morning in a new body, basically supplanting the being that the body belongs to. It has always been this way, since A can remember–A has no body of its own, no family, no true identity. A does, however, have its own thoughts and feelings and even its own email address that it uses to keep track of the bodies its inhabited and the things it has experienced. For the most part, A just floats along and does its best to not disrupt the lives of the people it inhabits, until one day it wakes up as Justin, a teenage jerk who just happens to have a beautiful, near-perfect girlfriend, Rhiannon. A falls in love with her, and the rest of the novel is its attempt to preserve that relationship and keep her close while still shifting from body to body.
Well, I’ve officially found my favorite book of the year! This also just might have earned a place on my all-time favorites list, too–it’s just that good.
Loosely based on Jane Eyre, Rebecca is the story of an unnamed young woman who, while working as a companion to an older woman in Monte Carlo, meets the handsome and mysterious Maxim deWinter, a recent widower. After a whirlwind romance, he marries her and brings her to Manderlay, his estate home, where she soon finds that Rebecca (his deceased wife) is still very much alive in spirit and still manages to influence the household from the grave.
I’d heard rave reviews about Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a collection of columns written by Cheryl Strayed for a feature on “The Rumpus” called “Dear Sugar,” and had a gift certificate to a bookstore burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to give it a shot.
Strayed kind of revolutionized the advice-column genre with “Dear Sugar.” Her responses to the letters published in the collection–some of them dealing with trivial topics, some of them dealing with the deepest of sorrows–are pieces of literature in their own right, containing both advice and insights into Strayed’s own life and past experiences. Her stories (some more obviously relevant to the issue at hand than others) are heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny and make this book one to be cherished and read over and over again.
Catching up on reviews again! Below are the links to reviews #39 through #43.
#39: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (3 stars)
The first in the Narnia series, the world-building prequel that sets the stage for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the books.
The disturbing story of Celeste, a young and beautiful schoolteacher who is–just below the surface–a sociopath and pedophile obsessed with prepubescent boys.
A look into the bizarre, beautiful world of orchids, and the people who love them.
#42: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (4 stars)
The second book in the Jackson Brodie series.
#43: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (4 stars)
A collection of interconnected short stories dealing with love and loss in the life of Yunior, a young Hispanic man.
I’d heard some buzz about this book on a couple of book-related blogs, and then my dad came home from a business trip gushing over it and told me he’d read the whole thing on a plane ride. I immediately got it at the library and finished it within a few hours–it’s that good.
The narrator of The Dinner is Paul, a seemingly typical middle-class man out to dinner with his wealthy brother (a rising star in the Netherlands’ political scene), and their respective wives. Their sons are connected by a dark and violent secret, one that brings the two couples together for dinner: the goal of the evening is to discuss what happened and to decide what to do. Paul peels back the layers of deception and denial surrounding the situation over the course of the evening, . Cleverly, the action is broken up according to course/phase of the meal, starting with the aperitif, ending with the tip. Of course, flashbacks and inner monologue are used extensively to flesh out the real-time action.
Jolie Hoyt is the cautious and reserved daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, living in Hendrix, a tiny town in rural Florida. On the night before her best friend, Lena, leaves for college, Jolie gets set up on a date with Sam Lense, an anthropology student at the University of Miami doing research on the racial makeup of the community. Uncharacteristically, she begins a passionate love affair with him, despite his outsider status in her tight-knit town; their relationship ends abruptly and violently when Sam is discovered to have delved too deeply into the town’s–and the Hoyt family’s– checkered past. Years later, they find themselves pushed together once more by a curious stranger, and they must revisit their relationship and Hendrix’s ugly history.
I’m so bad about posting (and linking to) my reviews. Links below to reviews 27 through 36.