Saturday, May 30, 2020

With the success of the first season of Serial, interest in true crime podcasts exploded. I myself am a huge fan of the genre, and never miss an episode of True Crime All the Time, My Favorite Murder, Casefile or Murder Mile (among many others).  I was interested to read The Night Swim, because the main character, Rachel Krall is a true crime podcaster.  Her podcast, Guilty or Not Guilty, has gained a cult following and made her a star, although she guards her identity and no one really knows what she looks like.  That's why, when she goes to the town of Neapolis, North Carolina, to cover a court case for her the new season of her show, she is unnerved when notes begin appearing on her car begging her to investigate a suspicious death from long ago.

The current case that Rachel is covering involves a rape trial.  In a case based loosely on a recent well-known event, a star athlete from a well-connected local family has been charged with assaulting a local high school girl.  He denies the charges, and the town is split among those who support the young man, and those who believe the young woman.  Rachel is attending the trial and then summarizing it daily on her podcast.  Her usual sidekick Pete (the Steven! of the set-up, if you will) has been hospitalized after an accident, so she is working alone.

After the success of her podcast, many people have reached out to Rachel to ask for help in investigating murders and disappearances of their loved ones.  The requests have become so overwhelming that form letters are sent out to those who write in, offering sympathy but little else.  So when notes begin appearing for Rachel, on her car and at her hotel, she is unnerved . . . but also intrigued.  The writer asks Rachel to investigate the death of her sister some 25 years ago in the same town where Rachel finds herself for the trial.  The story moves between the current rape trial and the story of the dead girl from the past.  Hannah, the younger sister of the dead girl, tells her own story in alternating chapters:  how her sister Jenny died, how Jenny’s death devastated her family, and how she’s never stopped trying to get justice for her dead sister.

The events, mirrored on similar incidents that have been in the news recently, helped to give the book a real sense of timeliness.  It is uncomfortable reading about the abuse of some of the young women in the story, but the attitudes and divisions in the small town mirror what goes on all too often in situations where the misdeeds of some are covered up or excused by those with the power to do so. 

I received an Advance Readers’ Edition of The Night Swim from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Poor Becky Farwell.  Growing up in a small farming town with a widowed father with a failing farm equipment business, there was never any question that she could attend college, despite her amazing talent for numbers.  She quickly gets a job in the accounting department for the city of Pierson, IL, and notices that "the way things have always been done" is sloppy and inefficient.  Worse, when she tries to bring mistakes to the attention of her superiors, she's treated with contempt and told not to make waves.  It's no wonder that The Talented Miss Farwell soon begins to take advantage of the lack of oversight and the slap-dash ways of the office to create a little secret slush fund of money that no one misses.
With an elderly, ailing father, a family business to keep afloat, no time for dating, and a job where she's unappreciated, is it any wonder she needs a hobby?  This soon manifests itself in a newly discovered love of art.  Soon Becky is attending art auctions and using her secret account to buy paintings, which she then re-sells at a profit.  For a while, she repays the money she "borrows" but soon her addiction leads her to purchase more expensive pieces.

Once she grows tired of the nearby art scene in Chicago, she decides to head to where the real action is: New York City.  Among her artsy friends, she's Reba:  sophisticated, always expensively dressed, and knowledgeable about all aspects of the art business.  To the people of Pierson, she's Becky: dependable, boring, and highly efficient at her job.  She's known for being able to "magically find money" when the town needs something repaired.  At the same time, due to the poor economy, the town is in a financial hole (not helped by Becky's skimming).  How long until her Activity (as she calls her new venture) is discovered?

I enjoyed reading about how Becky got more and more reckless with her embezzling and the lengths she had to go to in order to cover up her deception.  The element of danger was alluring, as was the opportunity to escape her drab daily life to be a high-flyer in the art world.  Her uncanny eye for spotting valuable bargains should have enabled her to keep both her Activity and the town of Pierson afloat, but her need to continually chase the next great artwork meant she could never be satisfied.  

I received an Advance Reader's Edition of The Talented Miss Farwell from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Don’t you just hate destination weddings?  I mean, not only do you have to spend a lot of money to (basically) go on someone else’s vacation, but you have to bring along expensive clothes, deal with drunken guests, potentially get murdered . . . well, those are some of the things the wedding party has to deal with in TheGuest List.

Will and Julia are the “it” couple of the day.  Both successful in their careers (he as a reality TV star, she as the owner of a successful blog/online lifestyle magazine), they invite guests to an isolated Irish island for their lavish wedding.  The chapters are narrated by various people on the island:  Aoife (the wedding planner who owns the venue), Hannah (whose husband is the bride’s best friend), Johnno (the best man), Olivia (the bride’s younger, damaged sister), Jules (the bride herself), etc.  Each person seems to have a deep, dark secret that they are trying to overcome.

The story moves back and forth in time, so that we soon find out that someone has been found murdered just after the wedding ceremony.  It takes a while for it to come out as to who the victim is and why the murder happened.  Then, with all the secrets, it seems there is no shortage of motives, so we are left to find out which secret was worth killing for.

The premise of the story is interesting:  people are ferried to the island and then are basically cut off from the rest of the world with a killer in their midst.  It was hard to feel much sympathy for anyone as they were all pretty unlikeable (the bride and groom were very pleased with themselves and everyone else was basically had chips on their shoulders).  Still, the action moved along at a fast pace and you were left wondering who the victim and murderer were.  It felt like it took an overly long time to get to that point, however and while there was a need to have plenty of suspects, it was hard to root for anyone.

I received a free copy of the Guest List from Netgalley in exchange for this review

Millicent “Missy” Carmichael can be difficult to like.  A 79 year old lady who lives alone in a big empty London house, she lives for the yearly visit of her son and grandson from Australia.  Her daughter lives closer, but they’ve had a falling out recently and don’t speak much (they were never really close anyway).  The Love Story of Missy Carmichael shows what happens when you open yourself up to new experiences.

Missy, daughter of an early, ardent feminist, went off to college and shone brightly as a classics scholar.  One night at a party she meets handsome Leo Carmichael, and is instantly smitten.  They have a brief affair, but then he goes off and she’s left with her books and her longing for him.  When he eventually returns a few years later, they marry and (as women did at the time) she instantly devotes herself to having children and keeping things running while he becomes a famous historian and author.

Current events in the novel are interspersed with earlier events from Missy’s life.  Her beloved grandparents, fiercely determined mother, and adored yet absent husband all help to explain how Missy came to be alone, bitter, and yet still yearning after connections.  A decision to go out to a local event leads to unimagined benefits in Missy’s solitary life.  After a spell of light-headedness, Missy meets single mother Angela and her young son Otis (who reminds Missy painfully of her absent grandson), interior designer Sylvie, and, eventually, the new love of her life: a patient yet excitable dog named Bobby.

Walking Bobby (who Missy agrees to look after “temporarily” for a friend of Angela’s) exposes Missy to a whole new group of acquaintances:  the park dog-walkers.  Since she now has an area of common ground, Missy finds herself suddenly shedding her prickly persona in favor of exchanging dog stories with others who are eager to talk about their furry companions.  Angela is also delighted to find a compliant and available baby-sitter, and young Otis enjoys the attention of a surrogate grandmother.

Soon Missy’s life is opening up in ways she could never have imagined.  Having spent her entire life looking after others (with little appreciation or thanks) it’s nice to see her finally enjoying herself and living a little.  There are a few surprises at the end as more and more of Missy’s secrets are exposed.  Overall, the adventures of Missy and Bobby make for an enjoyable and inspiring story of how it’s never too late to find new loves.

Disclaimer:  I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Love Story of Missy Carmichael in exchange for this review

When driven career-girl Leena has an public humiliation at work, she’s directed by her boss to take two months off work to sort herself out.  She has a flat in London complete with quirky roommates and a boyfriend, but suddenly all she wants to do is travel back to the small Yorkshire village where she has her roots.  Her grandmother, Eileen, is still smarting from her husband leaving her for another woman.  As each woman finds herself at a crossroads, they decide to swap lives in The Switch.

Leena soon has to come to grips with the many activities her grandmother has left for her.  She has to chair the Neighborhood Watch meetings, drive the van to bingo for elderly local residents, plan the May Day Festival, and walk the dog of one of the village residents.  It’s a full calendar of events, but organized, take-charge Leena sees no problem in getting it all done.

Eileen, who married young and left behind her dreams of big-city life, also soon finds many projects to keep her busy in London.  Number one on her agenda:  put a dating profile out there and learn to use it.  She gets help with this from Bee, Leena’s best friend.  Soon she is arranging dates as well as attempting to get to know all the neighbors in the apartment building.  In the big city, where people generally don’t know their neighbors, this takes a bit of determination and dedication.

Complicating matters even further, Leena has still not really had time to process the recent death of her sister Carla.  She had a huge disagreement with her mother over Carla’s treatment, and their relationship has been on shaky ground ever since.  Since her mother lives in the village, though, unexpected encounters are sure to occur.

Both Eileen and Leena adapt quickly to their changed surroundings.  Away from their usual routines, they can take stock and see what they need to change in order to be happy.  Not only their lives, but those of the people they interact with, are shaken up and impacted in ways that they didn’t expect.  Reading about Eileen’s adventures makes you realize that all that reaching out to those around you can yield unexpected results.  Many of the events that eventually play out are not unexpected, but the journey that both women take is enjoyable and heartwarming.

I received a copy of The Switch from Netgalley in exchange for this review.

People in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana are startled one day by a small booth that suddenly appears in the local grocery store in the Big Door Prize.  Upon entering the booth, people were directed to swab their cheek, insert the swab into a slot, and out came a blue paper showing what career they were best suited for, based on their DNA.  Nearly everyone in the town is suddenly gripped by the frenzy of the life that “should have been.”  People who had been going about their daily lives believe totally in the mysterious results and begin planning for new careers as cowboys and musicians.  At the same time, the residents of Deerfield are planning for a big bicentennial celebration but the distraction of potential more exciting lives elsewhere is making it difficult to prepare.

The book mostly centers on two different families:  the Hubbards and the Richieus. Douglas Hubbard is a teacher at the local high school.  His wife Cherilyn spends her days working on crafts and on committees in town.  They didn’t have children and now seem to have reached a crossroads in their relationship (matters not helped by the DNA booth).  Jacob Richieus’s father is the mayor of Deerfield, but the high school junior is socially awkward and has spent his entire life being overshadowed by his more outgoing twin Toby.  After Toby’s recent death in a car accident, his girlfriend Trina begins showing an interest in Jacob.  Is it because she likes him, or that she wants him to be a substitute for Toby?  She soon begins to hint that there is something not quite right with Toby’s accident.

The characters in the book all seem to be going around in a daze.  Once the possibility of a different, more exciting life is dangled in front of people, they begin to live with hope and exhilaration.  Most people experience an “I knew it!” moment when they seen their results, but not everyone is pleased with the results. 

I enjoyed reading the book because I had no idea where it was headed!  The mystery of the DNA booth was intriguing and there is a vague sense of dread over what the teenagers are getting involved in.  It was interesting to read about how quickly people are ready to believe something about themselves without questioning where the information is coming from.  While the DNA booth gave hope to many, it also caused nearly everyone to question the life choices they had made so far. 

I received a copy of the Big Door Prize from the publisher 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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4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

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