The Keepsake may have been a bit of a lull, and I was 'meh' about The Mephisto Club, but with this entry Gerritsen gets the Rizzoli and Isles series tThe Keepsake may have been a bit of a lull, and I was 'meh' about The Mephisto Club, but with this entry Gerritsen gets the Rizzoli and Isles series to roar back to life. Rizzoli isn't in large swaths of the book, and it turns out that this is exactly what we needed. It's a savvy move by Gerritsen to alternate viewpoints like this because it keeps her series fresh.
Maura heads to a medical conference in Wyoming. She's trying to forget her attraction to the unattainable (or is he?) Father Brophy and quietly resentful of the new family and life Jane has. The conference is a chance to refresh her mind and explore new opportunities, so when she gets an invite to tag along with a group of friends on a ski trip she jumps at it.
Unfortunately, things don't go so well. The group takes that cliched wrong turn and gets lost in a snowstorm, finally seeking shelter in a tiny, unmapped village in the mountains. A village that appears to have been abandoned suddenly. A village that appears to be hiding a violent secret. A village where someone appears to be watching them ... and waiting ...
Gerritsen flirts with horror movie conventions and it works for her. We also get to see Maura's calm demeanor and scientific reasoning challenged in a much more interesting, life-threatening way than we did in Mephisto Club. Turns out she has some wicked survival instincts. Topping off this excellent suspense thriller, Jane and Maura get to face off with a religious cult. We also meet a character who will pop up in the next few R&I books--a character who adds new layers to Maura's character in the same way Jane's unexpected pregnancy did for her.
Man, I really wish I had crossed this one off of my to-read list sooner. You see, I enjoy history, but I"Being part of history is rarely a good idea."
Man, I really wish I had crossed this one off of my to-read list sooner. You see, I enjoy history, but I have a hard time getting into nonfiction books. Most of them are bone dry and deadly dull, in my experience. Wading through the options to find a good one was always excruciating to me.
I always preferred taking a history class with an instructor who had a lot of personality. One of my high school history teachers got so into tales of medieval mayhem that he'd dart back and forth between two blackboards, desperately scrambling to find space to scrawl out more information as he told us about the black death. His enthusiasm and wit made the subject come to life for the first time, and not just be a collection of names and dates. Later, when I took a college history class about the Reformation, I encountered a cantankerous and alarmingly elderly professor. Perhaps due to his age, he sat down the whole class and just told us stories, occasionally lobbing acid barbs at the jocks unsuccessfully trying to hide in the back row. It was captivating. He made Reformation England the best soap opera not on television. It was the first time I thought of history as having a narrative, just like a novel but real. People in the past had personalities! Who knew? The following semester I took a class on the Civil War with a professor who could only be described as a bitchy queen, but that man knew his shit and was hilarious. He could have had an amazing TV show: The Bitchy Queen's Guide to History. It would win every single Emmy, and he'd roll his eyes at least once in every acceptance speech.
Those are the people who made history come alive to me. The reason I'm telling you all this is because you can add Sarah Vowell to that list now. She's droll, witty, and totally sarcastic. I love it. “You know you've reached a new plateau of group mediocrity when even a Canadian is alarmed by your lack of individuality.” Hilarious. So is this: “Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot." But she's also crazy informative and ridiculously thorough. She understands history from all angles. She knows all the competing theories. She knows all the events that caused one thing to lead to another and is capable of conveying that information without giving you a migraine.
Best of all, she has an emotional relationship to history. In this book, Vowell explores the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, and during her quest she makes an effort to understand each of them. What kind of men were they? We're not just looking at how they died, we're looking at how they lived. When she visits McKinley's memorial Vowell remarks that she didn't feel any closer to the former president, but when she visits the plaque commemorating the location where he was fatally shot she is surprised to find herself emotionally overwhelmed. She visits the neighborhoods they called home, the locations where they worked, and the museums that house their belongings, all to get a better sense of who they were.
It's not just the presidents who get this treatment, it's also the men responsible for their deaths and others who were affected by them. She visits the location of the barn where John Wilkes Booth was killed after law enforcement caught up with him. She checks in on the Grammercy Park statue of Wilkes' brother Edwin, who was a celebrated actor in New York despite his infamous sibling. She hangs out on the decaying pier in Long Branch where President Garfield was taken to die. She periodically checks in on Robert Todd Lincoln--Abraham's eldest son, who was present at all three assassinations covered in this book. She even takes a jaunt to the Dry Tortugas off Key West (and gets seasick in the process), just to see where Dr. Samuel Mudd--who may or may not have been a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination--was held.
The sense you come away with, beyond the knowledge of the assassinations, is the sense that history is a living organism, continuing to be shaped and molded every second of every day. As a New Yorker, I just so happen to live in one of the cities she frequently mentions. I actually noted each of the locations in case my path ever crosses the historical markers. Best of all was when she mentioned the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Republican party of Garfield's day did a lot of its wheeling and dealing. It was located on 5th and 23rd St.--the very same corner I work on. I was almost late for work because I had to run across the street and scout out the location I thought she was talking about (I was right! The building where Eataly is stands there now). I spent my lunch break walking through Madison Square park to find the statues of Chester A. Arthur and Roscoe Conkling that she mentioned. I have a completely new sense of the space I work now--I understand something of the history of my place, what is here now and what was here before, and it's exciting!
That's what is so great about Assassination Vacation--it brought out the history nerd in me, which has been relatively (sadly) dormant ever since I finished reading Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic. It actually took me longer to read than it should have because I kept stopping to do internet research for myself to find out more or to see what Vowell is describing for myself. And I cannot wait to pick up another one of her books to do it all again.
This is the first installment of the Rizzoli & Isles series that I just couldn't get into. It starts out promisingly enough, as much as you can usThis is the first installment of the Rizzoli & Isles series that I just couldn't get into. It starts out promisingly enough, as much as you can use that term when it starts out with a woman's brutal murder and the word "peccavi" scrawled on the wall in blood (it turns out to be Latin for "I have sinned").
Maura has the spotlight in this adventure, as the investigation quickly focuses on the titular organization--a mysterious, ancient club with elite, highly educated members and curious ties to evil. It's basically Mensa for Agatha Christie fans, and dear Dr. Isles seems to fit right in--even though she isn't sure the Mephisto Club is on the up and up. As the body count rises, Maura finds herself getting drawn into the heart of the Mephisto Club, and perhaps facing down evil incarnate.
I think the reason I don't respond to this installment very much is that it tries to bring a mystical interpretation of evil into the mix, and I'm not sure it has any place here. Just like how the Dexter books jumped the shark a bit when they tried to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger as a mystical demon that had attached itself to our protagonist, it feels off to have Maura grappling with metaphysical dark forces. Yes, it could be interesting to have the scientific Maura forced to think about a more faith-based interpretation of good and evil, but let's face it: Mulder and Scully already trod this ground, and they did it very well.
Still, if you're dedicated to the series this is one you'll have to be familiar with because it introduces a character who will continue to intrigue Maura in books to come.
For more Rizzoli & Isles, check out my blog post comparing the book series and the TV series. ...more
“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”
Gillian Flynn's dizzying, addictive thriller wants to ask you a question: h“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”
Gillian Flynn's dizzying, addictive thriller wants to ask you a question: how well do you know the person you're married to? Are you confident you actually know what they're capable of?
Maybe you should keep some protection close by. Just in case.
Something terrible happens on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth anniversary. Amy vanishes without a trace, leaving behind evidence of a struggle in their home on the Mississippi River. What happened that day gets teased out slowly as the narrative shifts between Nick's narrative of the investigation and Amy's diary entries leading up to the fateful day. Nick publicly claims to be innocent but can't help coming across the wrong way to the police and media who descend on the scene. It doesn't help that he admits (to the reader) to keeping secrets from the police and his family. Nick definitely isn't who he is trying to appear to be, but is Amy?
Appearances are very important in Gone Girl--how we may present different versions of ourselves to the world depending on the circumstance, and especially how they can be dangerously misleading. Marriage (specifically as a long-term relationship) is also key. Of course, Gone Girl takes a common problem (how do you keep the magic alive after the courtship is over?) and takes it to an extreme (how far are you willing to go to get revenge on someone who stopped trying/stopped pretending?), but that's the nature of a thriller.
To say anything more about the plot would do the reading experience a great disservice. Gone Girl is a book that depends on its twists, and this is the rare case when an author manages to pull off every single one of them. Best of all is that she knows when to stop. I've read far too many mystery/thriller authors who just can't resist having one last surprise (*cough*MICHAELCONNELLY*cough*), and it almost always makes an otherwise good book ridiculous. Not so with Gillian Flynn.
If I were still working in a bookstore this would be my book of the summer. Without a doubt. Going to the beach? Need something to read on the plane? Want something fun to read that isn't completely brainless? Depressed that the 50 Shades of Grey books have become so ubiquitous? Just looking for something good to read? This is the book for you. Now go get it. Go. Now.
PS Upon finishing this, a friend told me that none other than Reese Witherspoon has acquired the film rights and is going to star in the movie version. She was disappointed (she pictured Charlize Theron), but I'm really excited about it.
"This is what I know: people's hopes go on forever."
I'm going to be blunt here: if This is How You Lose Her isn't already on your reading list, add it"This is what I know: people's hopes go on forever."
I'm going to be blunt here: if This is How You Lose Her isn't already on your reading list, add it. Immediately. Mark my words, it will be appearing on numerous top ten lists for 2012--which is exactly where it belongs.
This is How You Lose Her is luminous. Tremendous. Basically, if you can think of a positive affirmation that ends in '-ous,' it applies. In it, Junot Díaz returns to the short story form of his first book, Drown, spinning tales of love and (mostly) loss in a transcendent style that lays bare the longing, the hope, and the weaknesses of the human heart. And it's funny, too.
I first discovered Junot Díaz when The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was released back in 2007. I was astounded. It was fantastic, and Díaz was so different from any other writer out there. His voice, his characters ... to say that they're like a breath of fresh air is like saying that a glass of water might be nice after a jaunt through the desert. It's not that there aren't any other good writers out there (Hilary Mantel and Jennifer Egan come to mind), it's that Díaz is capturing a point of view that is criminally under-represented in fiction--and he's doing it with panache. Yes, authors like Jhumpa Lahiri have tackled the immigrant experience, and well, but these are not the emotionally repressed, Ivy League-educated denizens of a Lahiri story. These are fiery inner city residents who live and love and curse and screw up with astonishing ferocity and frequency.
Fans of Oscar will be glad to know that Yunior--a young Dominican man born in the DR but raised in New Jersey (perhaps a stand-in for Díaz himself)--is back, framing all but one of the stories in this collection. Through the course of these nine stories we meet Yunior's family, profoundly experience the pain of losing his brother to cancer, and learn about his hopes and dreams even as he hopelessly screws them all up. The chronology of Yunior's life doesn't always add up (in one story his brother Rafa is still alive when Yunior is 17, in another Rafa dies much earlier, for example), but it doesn't matter much. Each story is almost dreamlike anyway, so you just go along for the ride and enjoy. Just like you can't help but love Yunior despite his foibles. Haven't we all, at some point in our lives, not wanted to be a bad guy even as we've actively screwed things up?
Díaz continues to be in top form on every page. I actually ended up reading this collection three times: the first time slowly, to savor every sentence; the second time with an almost manic determination to relive the experience; then I actually went back a third time, armed with a pen to write down my favorite lines on an index card (I ended up needing two of them, despite my ridiculously tiny handwriting). There's so much that is funny and profound, and often at the same time. Describing the Dominican Republic, Yunior remembers mosquitoes that "hum like they're about to inherit the earth." Then he recalls a lost love whose posterior "seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans." On family: "My mom wasn't the effusive type anyway, had one of those event-horizon personalities--s___ just fell into her and you never really knew how she felt about it." On family legacy (destiny?): "Maybe if you were someone else you'd have the discipline to duck the whole thing, but you are your father's son and your brother's brother."
I recommended the hell out of Oscar Wao when it first came out and I'll be doing the same for this book (it's times like these I really miss working in a bookstore). This one would probably be easier to sell, too. Oscar was never exactly a book club type of book, I guess, and most women I know who read it were a little confused. This is How You Lose Her should be a lot more accessible for all audiences.
I wasn't kidding when I said that you should put this at the top of your reading list. So what are you waiting for?