Friday, February 24, 2017

Few people can imagine the utter devastation that results in losing a child.  The author Stephane Gerson chronicles the life of his family following the death of his son Owen in the book Disaster Falls.

Owen was just 8 years old when he traveled from his home in New York to Utah with his parents and older brother Julian.  The mother of the family, Alison, was attending a work meeting there, and the rest of the family decided to come along and make a vacation out of the trip.  Friends had recommended the rafting adventure down the Green River.  A group of 24 adults, children and guides started out on the rafting trip. When the group assembled at a meeting point after the first day of rafting, Owen was not there.  While his parents searched frantically for him, a guide took a kayak and traced their route back where she found Owen's lifeless body.  Although a helicopter had been called in for search and rescue, it carried so much equipment that there was no room for passengers.  Because they were at such a remote spot, the only option was to carry on with the original plan:  to camp overnight and raft out the next morning.

The first part of the book deals with the first year following the accident.  The family dealt with the loss in different ways.  Stephane, the father, was beset by guilt and lethargy.  His wife became restless and walked constantly.  Their son, Julian, was troubled by losing his brother, but also by having to witness his parents' grief and anguish.  The family is constantly comforted by learning new things about Owen as friends and classmates relate stories that they'd never heard before.  Stephane was also frequently told about losses that others had suffered, which he interpreted as a way for the speakers to unburden themselves.  He also learns more about Disaster Falls, including the many mishaps that have occurred there throughout history and how it got its name.  After the accident, Stephane was dismayed that he hadn't taken more time to learn about the area where he would be taking his family.  Later on in the book, he goes to his family's ancestral homeland, Belarus, with his father (whose parents had immigrated to the US in the 1920s).  Although his 80 year old father had never visited Belarus, this trip served to draw them closer together as they reflected on roots and loss.

The final section of the book, End Stories, deals with the family's lawsuit against the rafting company that conducted the trip they were on when Owen died.  The family had been upset that the dangers of the rafting trip were minimized, that the company's representatives were not fully trained or able to handle a possible death and that there was little communication about what was going on during and after the rescue operation.

This is such a horrible scenario.  Of course there's no easy way to deal with the death of a child, but being forced to remain in an isolated area and wait to inform family and friends of the loss is especially heartbreaking.   At the same time, there were some strange things that caught my attention.  First, it was odd that the family saw nothing strange in sending a young child with no rafting experience alone along a very dangerous stretch of water, and that there was no research by the parents about this area before they went. There was another strange incident mentioned.  Apparently Owen was invited to a sleepover and while he was there, he became homesick and called his parents to come and get him.  So naturally, the parents took him to a child psychologist to find out why he had "separation anxiety" -- at 7 years old!  Of course, now looking back, his father is wondering if Owen someone had some "premonition" that he wouldn't be with his family for long.  It's still a heartbreaking tale of loss and the people that are left behind.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Disaster Falls from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review


Saturday, February 18, 2017

I know we are supposed to feel sorry for Lo Blacklock, the narrator of The Woman in Cabin 10.  Soon after events in the story commence, she wakes up to find a burglar in her house.  She is injured when he slams the door in her face, and becomes terrified that he will return.  While this might be an explanation for her unstable behavior that follows, it doesn't explain why she is already on medication for panic attacks, why she constantly drinks too much, and why she is refusing to commit to her longtime boyfriend, Judah.

Lo has worked for 10 years as a travel writer at Velocity magazine.  Her boss, Rowan, gets all the choice assignments though.  Lo thinks she's finally gotten her chance to move up the career ladder when Rowan goes on maternity leave and Lo is given the assignment to go on the maiden voyage of the luxury cruise ship the Aurora.  The Aurora is sailing from England up to the fjords of Norway on an excursion to view the Northern Lights.  There are only 10 cabins on the ship, and Lo is in cabin 9.  On the first night of the cruise, Lo realizes that her mascara was in her purse that was taken during the recent break-in at her flat.  She decides to see if her neighbor in cabin 10 might have some.  When she knocks on the door, it is eventually answered by a young woman with long dark hair wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt.  She distractedly gives Lo the mascara and tells her to keep it.  When Lo attends dinner that evening, she is introduced to her fellow passengers, but never sees the woman from Cabin 10.

After dinner, Lo makes her way unsteadily back to her cabin after drinking too much (yet again).  Not only is she affected by all the alcohol, but since the break-in, she's been unable to sleep.  So it's with great weariness that she collapses into bed.  While in a deep sleep, she suddenly is jerked from sleep.  She's unable to tell why, but she has a vague memory of hearing a scream.  As she listens, she hears the veranda door next door open, and then hears a large splash.  She goes to her own veranda to look out, and sees a smear of blood on the dividing glass.   She instantly picks up the phone to report what she's just seen, and a security officer is sent to speak to her.  He tells her that cabin 10 is empty, and even takes her next door to see this for herself.  Although she'd just had a glimpse into the room when the woman lent her the mascara, she'd seen a room in disarray.  Now it's totally empty.  They go and look out onto the veranda, and there's no blood on the dividing screen.

Most people, especially those who had been drinking and were unsure of the circumstances, might have let it go. Not Lo.  She insists on an investigation and continues to ask everyone if they've seen the woman from cabin 10.  She continues to ask questions even when she's warned off by anonymous messages and when evidence of the woman's existence (the mascara and a photo) disappears.  Interspersed with the events taking place as Lo investigates are emails from Judah and news reports that indicate that Lo is missing and hasn't been in contact with anyone since the boat left England.

While the idea of the story is promising, Lo is such an unlikeable, annoying character that I was rooting for the unseen "bad guy" to catch up with her and put us all out of our misery.  She is constantly complaining about how tired she is and how much her head aches, yet she seems to have plenty of energy to drink and pester everyone.  The most annoying thing (out of many) about her is her inability to speak coherently to anyone.  Whenever anyone speaks to her, she begins, "I . . ." and stops to think/reminisce/reconsider.  SHE CAN NEVER SPEAK TO ANYONE NORMALLY! It's beyond maddening.  It's hard to believe that anyone -- boss, co-workers, suspects, fellow passengers -- can take her seriously when she can't form a coherent sentence.  I wish I had read the ebook because I would have liked to search for how many times she said, "I cursed myself for my stupidity."  However many times it was, it surely wasn't as many times as I did.

Final Verdict for The Woman in Cabin 10: ZERO Gherkins, for having a protagonist who was too irritating to live

Thursday, February 16, 2017

DS Nancy Devlin has a secret.  Although she's been awarded a medal for bravery for her work with the National Crime Division, she's spent her entire police career protecting Frank Le Saux, a somewhat shady businessman.  In the 6-part series The Level, Nancy, played by Karla Crome, has to walk a fine line between investigating crime while concealing her own unethical actions.  When Frank calls and asks Nancy to meet him one night, bullets ring out from an unseen gunman, killing Frank and injuring Nancy.  Because she must hide her ties to Frank, Nancy doesn't go to the hospital to treat her own bullet wound.  Things get even more complicated when Nancy is sent to Brighton to investigate the crime.

Nancy grew up in Brighton, where her policeman father, Gil, was abusive to her mentally unstable mother.  This has caused Nancy to become estranged from her father.  Her mother has been hospitalized once again while her mental health issues are being treated and  her medication adjusted.  When Nancy was growing up, her best friend was Hayley Le Saux, Frank's daughter.  Because of her unstable home life, Nancy spent a great deal of time with the Le Saux family and saw Frank as a surrogate father.  This causes her, once she begins her career on the police force, to protect Frank whenever his name comes up in investigations.  Nancy and Hayley lost touch years ago, when Hayley's unsavory boyfriend, Shay Nash, introduced her to drugs and Hayley was packed off to rehab by her parents.  In the years since, Hayley has married a professional footballer and moved to Spain.  When she returns to Brighton for her father's funeral with her two small children, Hayley reveals that she has split up with her husband and will be staying in England.  Frank also has a son, Tate, who is living in a group home for mentally disabled adults.
 
As Nancy begins investigating Frank's death, her boss DCI Michelle Newman assigns her to work with Gunner Martin.  Not long afterward, her colleague and almost boyfriend, Kevin O'Dowd, is sent down from London to also help with the investigation.  Not only must she attempt to hide her personal involvement with Frank, she must also investigate his death while her gunshot wound is causing her a lot of pain.  The crime scene technicians soon discover a 5th bullet at the crime scene.  This bullet is discovered to have DNA that doesn't match Frank's, so the police know there was a missing witness with Frank when he died.  Frank owned a haulage company, and when he had his clandestine meeting with Nancy before his death, he mentioned that he was in trouble and also that he was working on a deal that was a "gold mine."  Before long, Shay Nash contacts the police because he had a shipment on one of Le Saux's trucks that has gone missing.  As the police attempt to trace the shipment, they realize that one of Frank's trucks is unaccounted for.  Meanwhile, another thuggish Brighton businessman, Duncan Elliott, who owns Eagle Repairs has appeared on the scene.  Elliott is very interested in purchasing Frank's business, and he's not a man you say no to . . .

Nancy certainly can be forgiven for playing fast and loose with the rules of professional behavior when she is allowed to get away with so much.  With her superior Michelle Newman's knowledge (both before and after the fact) she commits several crimes that are brushed under the rug.  Nancy grows suspicious of her colleagues when various pieces of evidence are unaccounted for during the investigation.  It's a game of cat and mouse to try to figure out which of her fellow cops are "bent" and working with the criminal elements of Brighton.  As the investigation continues, Nancy has reason to suspect almost everyone. 

Viewers who love British TV will recognize many famous faces in The Level.  Although his appearance is brief, Philip Glenister makes an appearance as Frank Le Saux (although he does get rather a lot of screen time as a corpse!).  Michelle Newman is played by the former Carol of EastEnders, Lindsey Coulson.  Nancy's London colleague O'Dowd will be instantly recognizable as Robert James-Collier, whom many of us loved to hate as the wicked yet oddly endearing Barrow on Downton Abbey.  It's great to see these fantastic actors appearing in new roles.  Beautiful beach side Brighton also adds atmosphere to the series and reinforces the idea that no matter how idyllic the location, bad things can still happen.

The 2-disc set also includes bonus behind-the-scenes featurettes with the actors, writers and directors discussing how the series came into being, why people are fascinated with murder mysteries and even the quality of catering on the set!  It's an interesting look at how much work goes on to create a series and how many people are involved that don't appear in front of the camera!
 
Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Level from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pity poor single mom Louise. She goes out for a night at the pub and engages in a little flirtation and kissing with a hot guy.  Soon afterwards, he's introduced as her new boss. AWK-ward!  Unfortunately, things rapidly get more complicated that even that situation would suggest in the new novel Behind Her Eyes.

Louise's ex-husband has been remarkably generous.  He continues to pay most of her bills and participates in the shared custody of their son, even though he's remarried.  This allows Louise to live in London (although in a small apartment) and only work part-time as a secretary for a psychiatrist.  Once David, her pub guy, joins the practice they quickly rekindle their relationship.  Of course, it's not long before Louise is able to confirm her suspicion that David is married.  His wife is willowy, blonde and beautiful.  Soon after she takes up with David, Louise is nearly knocked down when a woman runs into her (literally) outside her son's school. Improbably, David's wife, Adele, has collided with her.  To apologize for their mishap, Adele suggests they go for a coffee.  Louise admits that she is David's secretary, and while the two women enjoy a nice chat, Adele asks that Louise not mention their meeting to David.  The two women hit it off and are soon seeing more of each other, even going to the gym together.  All this puts Louise into an odd position:  she's having an affair with her new bestie's husband, but he has no idea the two women know each other.

The chapters alternate between Adele's past and present, as well as shifting the present narrator from Adele to Louise.  When Adele was a teenager, David (whom she'd always had a crush on) rescued her from a fire that killed her parents.  Although the death of her parents left her wealthy, Adele was unable to cope with the tragic events and spent some time at a rehabilitation center/hospital where she met recovering addict Rob.  Even though she's in love with David, she knows he'll get along well with her new best friend Rob once they meet . . . but is she being overly optimistic?

As present events unfold, Louise becomes increasingly suspicious of David.  While he appears kind and loving, disturbing events surrounding Adele make her concerned for her new friend.  Why does Adele have to rush home to take David's calls at a certain time every day?  Why does she take so many prescription medications?  And what about those bruises on her face?  Could David really be dangerous?

Events become more and more nail-biting as we grow more concerned for Adele (is she in danger from David?) and Louise (ditto?).  Could the events that happened during the deaths of Adele's parents have something to do with why she and David are locked in an uneasy marriage?  As is being mentioned, there is a final twist that will surely hit the reader out of the blue (it did me!).  If you like to unravel a mystery and be hit with a shock ending, this is the book for you!

Disclaimer:  I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Behind Her Eyes from Flatiron Books in exchange for this review


About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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