Friday, October 31, 2014

US by David Nicholls

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have to admit that I was a bit lukewarm on ONE DAY.  I just didn't connect with it.  I think Nicholls' caught me at just the right moment with US.  Doug Petersen has a pretty decent life.  He has a good job, a wife he adores, a comfortable home, and an almost-grown son.  Through his 17-year-old son Albie is bit moody and unpleasant, he is about to leave for school and Doug has planned one last family trip of a Grand Tour around Europe.  Right before the trip, Doug's wife Connie wakes him up and tells him she doesn't want to be married to him anymore.  The pronouncement shakes Doug's world and he decides that the Grand Tour will now be a trip to reconnect with and save his family.

Although I still have awhile to go before I am Doug's age, something about his story really connected with me. Since I also have an only child who is a son, the story made me wonder what the future holds for my child and my relationships. As we follow Doug and his family on their disastrous trip, the story manages to be both humorous and heartbreaking.  Doug must confront facts about his family and who they really are and must take ownership of his own failings as a husband and father. Even so, you can't help rooting for this family to weather the storm and survive.  There were moments when I laughed out loud and others that nearly brought me to tears. Told in both the present tense and in flashbacks, the reader gets a clear idea of who these people are and the stresses of family life that led Doug, Connie and Albie to this point. I found it incredibly moving and well done.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. This may end up being one of my favorite books this year.  A wonderful story about a family in distress against the backdrop of European travels.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

UNBECOMING by Rebecca Scherm

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Grace is a chameleon. She is a master at fitting in and becoming the person that others want her to be. In her current incarnation, she is hiding out in Paris working in a business that repairs antiques.  She is hiding from the two most important men in her life who have just been released from prison. Grace grew up in small-town Garland, Tennessee where she was the girlfriend of the town golden boy, Riley.  Grace secretly marries Riley when they are in college in a move to maintain her position in his family. Soon after the marriage, she finds herself attracted to his friend Alls. In a desperate attempt to escape from Garland, the group of friends decides to rob a local historic home.  Alls, Riley, and their friend Greg are caught. Grace escapes to Europe with a valuable painting.  Now, her husband and lover have finally been released from prison and Grace is afraid that they will track her down and force her to confront not only her past but also who she has become.

I have seen this book compared to everything from GONE GIRL to Tartt's GOLDFINCH to Highsmith's TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. I did not think of any of those novels when reading UNBECOMING. The only real connection to GOLDFINCH is that of a stolen painting.  It is probably closest to TALENTED MR. RIPLEY simply because of Grace's attempt to play roles and become whoever she needs to be at any given moment. I really loved the idea of the book and the backstory. Grace is an interesting character and I loved reading about how she came to be in Paris.  The disappointment came with the ending.  It did not make any sense to me. The build-up was so good but the ending fell flat and didn't seem believable. There are hints about who Grace is at her core and this might be the closest connection I can make to GONE GIRL.  Grace's lack of a true core and sense of self is a little reminiscent of a certain character in GONE GIRL.  The reasoning behind this lack of self doesn't really work for me.  And I did not buy the transformation of Alls' character AT ALL.  It was a very nice, well-paced read until the ending and then it completely fell flat.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. Interesting characters and a good concept but the author failed to follow through with a plausible ending.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I love a good scary story.  Especially at this time of year.  But I am very particular about my scary stories.  I like suspense and chills but I do NOT like explicit violence.  When the buzz started up among my library colleagues about this book, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. It sounded like the perfect Autumn read.

Ever since he almost drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter has been afraid to leave his home in a small coastal Maine town. It is implied that Jack Peter may have something akin to Asperger's which further isolates him and his family.  Jack Peter's only friend is Nick. Nick was there the day the two boys almost drowned and they share a special bond even though Nick is beginning to want to distance himself from Jack Peter. Jack Peter begins to draw monsters and it seems like those monsters are taking on a life of their own. Strange appearances begin to happen in the small town and Jack Peter's mother, Holly, begins to hear strange noises.  She turns to a local priest for help.  His housekeeper tells her about local shipwrecks and ghosts and convinces Holly that her family may be experiencing a haunting. Jack Peter's father, Tim, tries to find a rational explanation for the strange appearances but cannot find an explanation. While Holly, Tim, and Nick try to make sense of what is happening, only Jack Peter knows the truth.

This is such a hard book to describe!  Especially without giving away spoilers!  The story is very atmostpheric.  It takes place in the winter when all of the Summer people have fled for the season. This makes the town feel isolated and remote. The descriptions of the apparitions are chilling and the reader is forced to try and make sense of what is happening.  Are these truly the ghosts of shipwrecked souls?  Why are they plaguing this one family?  The majority of the book gives the reader a feeling of unease and uncertainty.  What exactly is going on here?  There is less overt horror and more the suggestion of frightening things.  It isn't until the very end of the book that Donohue turns everything on its head.  When I read the last page, I yelled, "GET OUT!"  I did not see the ending coming. 

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  I think Gaiman fans will find a lot to like here.  The book is spooky without being grotesque and violent.  The M. Night Shyamalan-style ending will delight readers and make them want to start the whole book over again.  The perfect read for cold evenings by the fire.