I enjoyed these vignettes exploring the denizens of a small (fictional) town in Massachusetts. The characters were realistic and relatable. Taking usI enjoyed these vignettes exploring the denizens of a small (fictional) town in Massachusetts. The characters were realistic and relatable. Taking us back and forth in history, we get glimpses of life through the eyes of one of the older citizens of Exeter, Riordan. A retired attorney, Roirdan loves telling stories and regales us (well, a young lady from the town, but really, she's us) with tales of Dan and Chris, of his love Becca, of one of the first difficult cases he took on, of the Boston mob presence in the small town. The exciting, dangerous elements are toned down, though they are very much necessary to show how these characters came to be where they are in life, how their past influences the decisions they make in the present. Coughlin's writing is crisp, well paced and she manages to make you care about these characters. They become your friends.
All of these stories link to All That is Necessary, Jennie Coughlin's first novel based in Exeter. That is reviewed separately. ...more
This was quite the excellent take on a mystery thriller. Our protagonist Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents her froThis was quite the excellent take on a mystery thriller. Our protagonist Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents her from forming new memories from day to day, along with some retrograde amnesia so she can't remember much of her past. These are both real conditions,caused by trauma or disease, but the former is less well known. Christine wakes up every day with a huge chunk of her life missing, thinking she is still in her twenties or younger and not recognizing her home or her husband. Her husband spends every morning explaining who he is, how much time has passed and what happened to make her this way. This is her life, day to day, for years with no hope of getting better. But then things start to change, a doctor sets out to study Christine's condition and help recover some of her memories. She begins keeping a journal, which aids her in piecing together her life and events that led to the brain damage that has made her forget most of her life. It is this journal that we are reading, Christine's memories for the day before they are wiped away as she sleeps.
As time goes on we begin to distrust the narrative, there are discrepancies that we can't completely dismiss. However, we don't know if the problem is with Christine, who can't remember anything and may be making things up to fill her empty past, or if there are more sinister forces at work trying to prevent her from remembering. The narrative is compelling, and though we may be tempted to yell at Christine for her sometimes blind trust in others, we need to remember (ha) that she has no basis for making judgments about people she has effectively only met that day.
The plot is a little predictable, but the viewpoint we are given, of someone who lives each day as a more or less blank slate, is compelling. The questions that arise, the reasoning that drives her actions day by day are incredible. What would any of us do if we couldn't remember the last 20 years of our lives, and knew that tomorrow we wouldn't remember today?
First, I would like to point out that there are supposed to be more Exeter stories coming, so don't let the ending throw you!
That being said, this isFirst, I would like to point out that there are supposed to be more Exeter stories coming, so don't let the ending throw you!
That being said, this is a wonderful story set in the small, fictional town of Exeter, Massachusetts. The characters are realistic, with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws. The story centers around an event in the past that comes back to haunt everyone when a long-absent denizen returns to Exeter. 13 year old Rick left, unwillingly, when his father was arrested and convicted on several counts related to his role in the Bostonian mob presence in Exeter. Growing up away from the small town, Rick never believed his father was guilty of the charges and blamed his former best friend, Dan. Rick is trying to make a decent life for himself, but he also has unanswered questions and quite a bit of residual anger on his own behalf as well as his father's.
Dan, for his part, has tried to move on with his life after Rick's father tried to murder him, and did murder his uncle. Those events did affect the way Dan lived his life afterward, the choices he made to be out as a gay man in a small town and to live his life the way he wanted. Now Dan has to deal with Rick's return, which brings up old memories and records that raise questions about the past as well as new events in the present. His husband Chris (who stars in a short story in Coughlin's collection Thrown Out: Stories From Exeter), his best friend Evan, and Dan's other friends and family are all affected by Rick's return to Exeter.
Coughlin's writing is clean, crisp, and fairly well-paced. The plot jumps between the present and flashbacks of events that take place 20 years previous. Each chapter and interlude give another piece of the puzzle, highlights another aspect of one of the characters. None of the perspective characters are black and white, though some of the off screen or mostly off screen characters are not very well developed. I'm unsure if they will be fleshed out in future stories or not, but hopefully more of the Exeter characters will be rounded out. There isn't a lot suspenseful action, or a huge conspiracy or world-ending events, but there are people. The sheer humanity is beautiful, and I am very much looking forward to the future stories from Exeter. ...more
The story of a Japanese family sent to the American internment camps, this is a touching and thoughtful book. The family is never given names, makingThe story of a Japanese family sent to the American internment camps, this is a touching and thoughtful book. The family is never given names, making their story both more distant and closer, as it could have been any family, anywhere in America that this happened. In fact, the father's chapter seems to speak for all Japanese (and some Korean) men who were taken away, imprisoned, and questioned just for the offense of being Japanese, no matter their citizenship status. They were the enemy, guilty by race and birth, and were imprisoned without trial or representation under the excuse of war. Ripped from their home, and even though the camps were mostly depressing rather than dangerous, the family (especially the children) are forever scarred by the experience. As is the neighborhood they lived in, and America in general. The attitudes and unease to which the family returns to their abused home will never truly disappear, and they will never again be as trusting of their neighbors. Event though the family is reunited, they are broken by the experience.
The reason this slim novel is not five stars is the slowly paced middle portion which kind of derails the rhythm of the rest of the story....more
Another book in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist in a Floating World, this is also the story of an old man reflecting on the series of events inAnother book in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist in a Floating World, this is also the story of an old man reflecting on the series of events in his life that led him to where he ended up. However, the cultural differences of the authors shows quite clearly, and this is a good novel all on its own. There are some slow parts, but over all this is an engaging story of a young boy growing up and questioning the events in his life that led to his father's abandonment of his family and his own need to live quiet and alone in his old age. Beautifully written, you find yourself sucked into the story that if I were to describe it here would seem boring. But it's not, it's life, and therefore interesting....more
An amusing read, the overtones of the book may seem a little heavy, but all in all this is basically a romance with a ghost in it. Josey is self-conscAn amusing read, the overtones of the book may seem a little heavy, but all in all this is basically a romance with a ghost in it. Josey is self-conscious with low self-esteem and a crush on the mail delivery guy. She lives with her overbearing mother and does not hold out hope for herself beyond the next candy raid on her bedroom closet. But the ghost in her closet has different ideas. Forcing Josey out into the world and beyond her comfort zone opens Josey's eyes to the what she had been missing in her life. The life of Della Lee was much darker, but we only get a few glimpses of that sadness. Overall, this was a sweet (pun not intended) story with a mostly happy ending. ...more
This was an interesting exploration on the effect that the free-wheeling, dangerous life of a charming chameleon has on other people in his life. TheThis was an interesting exploration on the effect that the free-wheeling, dangerous life of a charming chameleon has on other people in his life. The brother that spends way too much time chasing him down, the left behind lovers and friends and partners, all have their lives changed by this familiar stranger. Many of the changes are for the worse, and the people find themselves at a loss when the jack of all trades abandons them. Which he does, repeatedly.
(view spoiler)[Of course, this may not be his fault, there is mention of schizophrenia. Which we never find out if is real, or if he is just an extraordinary con man. He does fall into each of his characters quite easily and deeply. The ending reveals the sad result of what may have been the only true relationship of Hayden's life, which may or may not be a product of his schizophrenia, or may have triggered ever worsening episodes. (hide spoiler)]
We never get a satisfying ending where everyone's story is neatly wrapped up. In fact, no one's story is ever completed, but left hanging in limbo. This bothered me quite a bit, because I like to know at least what direction the characters lives might take. Ah well, it was still an interesting read.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Despite uneven writing, this book had a fairly interesting story line. Particularly since shortly after reading it, in real life, a girl was found aftDespite uneven writing, this book had a fairly interesting story line. Particularly since shortly after reading it, in real life, a girl was found after being kidnapped for 18 years. http://abcnews.go.com/US/jaycee-lee-d...
But back to the book. The shifting viewpoints and sometimes conflicting memories shared by the characters surrounding the kidnapping demonstrates the truths, falsehoods and guilt that we all weave to create our self-identities. Trim out the slow/clumsily written parts, and perhaps make the "twist" at the end not quite so obvious, and this would be a pretty good book. ...more
Not too much to say about this one, other than it is described as a "dark comedy". Yeah. A lot of dark, no comedy. The people in it are terrible and uNot too much to say about this one, other than it is described as a "dark comedy". Yeah. A lot of dark, no comedy. The people in it are terrible and unsympathetic, and the elements that would have made this a good book (ala Sharp Objects) were underdeveloped. Blah....more
Another wonderful novel by Toni Morrison. The characters, good and bad and everything in between, are very very human. It's this humanity that MorrisoAnother wonderful novel by Toni Morrison. The characters, good and bad and everything in between, are very very human. It's this humanity that Morrison brings to her characters that makes this novel positively sing. The frustrations, the want, the need of our protagonist to change the circumstances of her life and her failure to do so hits us like a fist to the stomach. It's incredibly raw and visceral, and memorable. I'm at a loss to continue waxing poetic on this subject. So, highly recommended!...more
Another disturbing book club pick, this one is less likable than Sharp Objects. The twists and turns that this novel takes keeps it from becoming tediAnother disturbing book club pick, this one is less likable than Sharp Objects. The twists and turns that this novel takes keeps it from becoming tedious, though some places are rather slow. It is a psychological thriller that does interest and titillate. It ends with a not-unpredictable twist, but one that does fit with the setup and execution of the story. I won't spoil it, go read it!...more
Gillian Flynn's debut novel is amazing. A warning: this book is not for the squeamish! There are very disturbing elements and scenes throughout the boGillian Flynn's debut novel is amazing. A warning: this book is not for the squeamish! There are very disturbing elements and scenes throughout the book. I don't want to give spoilers, but this is a well-written novel with well-developed characters that one can connect with, even though they are all screwed up in major fashion. A daughter's exploration of her family and hometown brings crashing back memories, while at the same time there is a mystery to be solved. How much is actually connected and how much in the protagonists mind is part of the fun of reading this. Hightly recommended (for those with a strong constitution)....more
I don't normally choose books with wedding themes, but this was a book club pick and I'm not sorry to have read it. The characters were varied and quiI don't normally choose books with wedding themes, but this was a book club pick and I'm not sorry to have read it. The characters were varied and quite human, as opposed to the expected stereotypes. Viewpoints of the wedding from everyone from the staff to the bride made this interesting and sympathetic. It's not a heavy, dramatic story, but light and fun with a few serious moments that are met with civility and humanity by the characters. ...more
I was surprised how much I liked this book. Sweet and disarming, yet leaving you feeling breathless with the daring of the women, this novel practicalI was surprised how much I liked this book. Sweet and disarming, yet leaving you feeling breathless with the daring of the women, this novel practically sang with heart. There were some pacing problems, and some of the characters could have used a bit more development, which is the only thing that keeps this from all five stars. If you are looking for a big revolution, or daring do, this isn't the book for you. This is just the story of a few black maids and one white girl writing a taboo novel of the lives of black maids in the south. For the women writing the novel this is extremely daring, because the risk they take that risks not only their jobs, but the jobs of their husbands, and possible violence. The characters are pretty lovable, for the most part, and there is a nice amount of humour. ...more
A sort-of sequel with just as much oomph as the first novel, Tana French hits us hard and low with this story. The first novel, In the Woods, is not nA sort-of sequel with just as much oomph as the first novel, Tana French hits us hard and low with this story. The first novel, In the Woods, is not necessary to have enjoyed The Likeness. Following Cassie Maddox as she is drawn into an undercover operation that she says she doesn't want to participate in, yet she can't seem to help herself when the opportunity is offered. A young woman is murdered, and she is a dead ringer for Cassie. She even has one of Cassie's alter identities from when she was undercover. Now Cassie moves into this girl's life to try to figure out who killed her. But it's not that easy - Lexie was not who she said she was, and her home life was a combination of loving friends close as family and creepy almost cult-like rigidity in following the rules.
This is a story of the need some people have to belong, to surround themselves with family. But when their own family fails them, they build another and keeping together becomes their obssession. ...more
This was a very good novel, and very disturbing. The lives of the students of Hailsham seem idyllic, if a little weird. As the book continues throughThis was a very good novel, and very disturbing. The lives of the students of Hailsham seem idyllic, if a little weird. As the book continues through a series of flashbacks from the point of view of our main character (I hesitate to call her a heroine, as she doesn't do anything heroic), we are treated to a view of a possible future gone very awry. The students of Hailsham have been raised in this skewed wordview, so indoctrinated in it that they don't even question their role until very late in their lives, and even then their attempts at deferring their inevitable fate are halfhearted at best. This novel showcases the very unAmerican idea of acceptance and making peace with something that these characters cannot change. It is heartbreaking as well, as Kathy is the last of her friends to undergo the process (which I am trying to avoid detailing to avoid spoilers for those who have not read this) and can only mourn her loss while awaiting her turn. ...more