Library Girl's Guide To Books

Reviews and Musings From A Reading Life.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Wife Between Us

                              by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Vanessa meets Richard on a flight back to New York City after visiting her mother in Florida. After he gives up his first class seat to a serviceman on the plane, he ends up sitting next to Vanessa. She doesn't like flying and Richard is kind, talks to her and calms her down. A few days later her asks her out. Vanessa is struggling to make it on her salary as a preschool teacher and lives with her best friend, Samantha, in a cramped apartment in New York City. Although she loves her job and her friends she can't believe her good fortune in meeting Richard. He is handsome, a successful hedge fund manager and loves to lavish her with expensive gifts. He decides to call her Nellie because she was such a Nervous Nellie on the plane. Soon they are engaged and Richard is buying them an expensive home in Westchester. Vanessa loves living in New York City and isn't too sure about the house but she loves Richard and he is so happy and excited about getting the house for her that she goes along with it. She will still be able to see her friends and keep her job, right?  Things are too perfect to be believed. They certainly are!

We soon find out that things did not go well in their marriage and Vanessa/Nellie is now divorced from Richard, living with her aunt and working at Saks selling clothing to women she used to socialize with when she was married to Richard. To make matters worse, Richard is now engaged to Emma, a carbon copy of Vanessa but younger. Vanessa has lost everything and she will stop at nothing to prevent Richard from marrying Emma.

The story is told in first and third person and alternates between time periods. Vanessa is an unreliable narrator who drinks too much but as the story continues we begin to see that there is more going on  than we thought. Richard is a neat freak and is his solicitous manner with Vanessa because he loves her or is he controlling her? Is there something strange about his close relationship with his sister, Maureen? Is Vanessa really becoming mentally ill like her mother and what happened to her dog, Duke?

This novel of suspense has multiple points of view and can be confusing if the reader doesn't pay attention. There are several twists and the ending did surprise me.  I listened to it on audio and Julia Whelan was outstanding, as always, reading this book. Although it has had mixed reviews, I enjoyed it. If you like suspenseful novels with twists, an unreliable narrator and a surprise ending you should like The Wife Between Us. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

                                The English Wife 

                                                               by Lauren Willig         
                                                                                                                                                       

 Family secrets, intrigue, affairs, mistaken identities and murder set the backdrop for an entertaining mystery set in New York City during The Gilded Age.

Georgie, a struggling actress in London, meets Bayard Van Duyvil when he is on his Grand Tour. Bay is kind, generous and from a wealthy, distinguished New York City family. Slowly he and Georgie form a bond and Bay asks her to marry him and move to New York City with him. But is Georgie really Annabelle, a woman from a wealthy family? Annabelle and Georgie grew up together in the same home and Bay is convinced that she is Annabelle. They marry and move to New York City where Annabelle/Georgie meet Bay's tyrannical mother and his mousy sister, Janie.

Bay is a caring, generous, if a somewhat removed husband, and he is building her a home that exactly replicates her childhood home. They have beautiful twins and all should be well but there are rumors that Annabelle is having an affair with the architect who is designing their new home. A house warming party with a Twelfth Night theme is decided on so that they can welcome everyone to their new home. When Bay is found dead with a knife in his chest and Annabelle disappears, Bay's sister defies her mother to investigate his murder. She allies herself with a newspaper reporter to discover what has really happened.

The story uses flashbacks to unfold  the events and it works as a literary device. Janie comes into her own as she  defies her mother and reluctantly works with the attractive reporter to uncover the truth surrounding Bay's death.

The English Wife has references to Shakespeare's plays, wonderful period detail, a good mystery and a surprise ending where we find out what actually happened and who killed Bay. I really enjoyed The English Wife. I listened to it on audio and enjoyed the narration by Barrie Kreinik.

The Woman in the Window 

                                                                   by  A. J. Finn 

I love psychological mystery/thrillers so I was excited to read this debut novel by A. J. Finn. If you are familiar with the Hitchcock movie, Rear Window, you will see some similarities to it in this book.

Anna Fox is a mess. She lives alone in her New York City home. We learn that she is a child psychologist but has such a bad case of agoraphobia that she hasn't left her home in months. She is  also an alcoholic who takes pills for her anxiety while drinking wine and she often spies on her neighbors with her Nikon camera. She also loves classic noir movies and watches them to fill up her time. Although Anna can't seem to help herself, she helps other people suffering with agoraphobia in an online chat group.

Anna has suffered a trauma that is revealed later in the book and she is separated from her husband and child, although she talks to them daily. When the Russell family moves in across the street, they seem like the perfect family to Anna with a husband, wife and teenage son. When Mrs. Russell and her son  come over to give Anna a gift, she gets drunk with Mrs. Russell and forms a bond with her.  One day while spying on them, she sees a crime being committed in their house across the street. Or does she? Should she call the police who probably won't believe her because she has been drinking? The police don't believe her and the Russell's deny that any crime has been committed but the Mrs. Russell who talks to the police isn't the same Mrs. Russell Anna met.

This is an atmospheric story with twists and turns. I am a fan of noir movies so I loved that part of the story and it added to the tension in the book. Anna's three story house also plays a big part in the story because it is Anna's whole world now that she can't leave it. Although she is alone in the house, she rents out the basement to a young man who helps her with things around the house but can he be trusted after Anna finds out some things about him?

 I did figure out a few things but didn't figure out how they would all come together at the end of the book. I listened to it on audio and at first wasn't sure how I liked the reader but ended up liking the narration by Ann Marie Lee.

If you like psychological thrillers with twists, an unreliable narrator and noir overtones, you should give The Woman in the Window a try. It was also an Amazon Best Book of January 2018.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Girls in the Picture        

                                  by  Melanie Benjamin

I was excited to start The Girls in the Picture after reading and loving The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. I love stories about old Hollywood and while this was an entertaining read with lots of fun information about the early years of the movie business in Hollywood, I was ultimately disappointed with it.

Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart", was a legend in the movie business. She made the transition from 'flickers' to 'talkies' when other stars of silent movies didn't. Her golden curls were adored by fans. When she wed dashing Douglas Fairbanks, they became the "Golden Couple" and Hollywood royalty. Their dinner parties at their estate, Pickfair, were attended by many notable people including  famous writers, actors and dignitaries. Mary and Douglas founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and D.W Griffith and they revolutionized the movie industry and the way movies right were distributed.

 Mary's closest friend and confidant was Frances Marion who went from being Mary's assistant to become an extremely successful screenwriter winning two Academy Awards. These two strong, trailblazing women made a place for themselves in a male dominated world. The Girls in the Picture is about their close but sometimes turbulent friendship.

I really enjoyed reading about the movie business and how it evolved. Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer and other famous movie people had cameos in this book. With all of this, I should have loved The Girls in the Picture but I didn't and I struggled to finish it. I think what bothered me was the dialogue between the characters. It felt stilted and contrived. However, reading this book did lead me to do some research on some of the people in the book and it was fascinating to read about their real lives.

Thank you to NetGalley and Delacourt Press for providing me with an ARC for an honest review.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunburn  

                    by Laura Lippman         


I am a lover of noir in books and film. When I read a review of Sunburn that said it is a modern noir, I knew that I had to read it and would probably love it. I was right. This is an enjoyable psychological thriller that will keep you interested and guessing till the end.

Polly and Adam meet in a bar in Belleville, Delaware. They are both there for a reason. Polly is running away from something and someone and Dan has his own reason for being there. Both of them are just passing through this small town yet they are strangely drawn to each other. Polly's cool, quiet and aloof demeanor both excites and unnerves Adam.  Instead of moving on, they stay for the summer and are soon engulfed in an intense, steamy, passionate affair. Although Adam doesn't quite trust Polly, he can't stay away from her. As the summer progresses they begin a cat and mouse game that soon turns deadly when someone dies. Was it an accident? Neither Adam nor Polly is who they seem to be. Is Polly a cold blooded killer or a victim?  Why is Adam, an adventure seeking, globe trotting traveler, there in the small town of Belleview?

It has been said that James M. Cain's novella, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was the inspiration for this book. As in some of the Cain books I have read, the man instantly falls for the woman and will do almost anything, even murder, to keep her. Like Postman, this book is set in a diner, the female character is a femme fatale who is irresistible to men and might have been involved in planning a murder.

The twists and turns in Sunburn will keep you guessing and the ending was unexpected. If you like noir and psychological suspense, you will want to read Sunburn.

I listened to Sunburn on audio and Susan Bennett's narration was a perfect fit for the noir tone and feel of Sunburn.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Great Alone

by Kristin Hannah


When  thirteen year-old Leni Albright's father, Ernt, returns from Vietnam, he is a changed man. He is volatile, unable to control his temper and restless. Leni can't remember what he was like before the war but her mother, Cora, keeps trying to remind her that he is a good man deep down. On a whim, Ernt decides that they are moving to Alaska for a fresh start. He believes that he will get his life back and become a changed man in the open spaces in the mostly uncivilized Alaska of 1974. They are going to live off the grid and he assures them that everything will be fine. When they arrive on the Kenai peninsula, they realize that they are woefully unprepared for winter and it is fast approaching. With the help of neighbors, they manage to set up a sparse homestead and learn what they will need to survive the long winter months.

But as the long winter drags on, Ernt begins to drink again and he becomes more and more paranoid. His violent streak escalates and Leni watches as her beloved mother bears the brunt of Ernt's anger and jealousy. Her only salvation is a local boy, Matthew, who becomes her friend. But Leni must keep her friendship a secret from her dad and soon everyone is walking on eggshells.

The Great Alone has a wonderfully developed sense of place. I felt the cold seeping into their bones, felt the danger that were dealing with in this wild place but also appreciated the beauty of it. The colorful characters in the town added to story. Everyone pitched in and helped everyone else.  A story about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and  domestic violence isn't uplifting and as Ernt's violence grew I wanted to scream at both Leni and Cora to get out and run but Cora wouldn't leave him. She tried to get Leni to leave but Leni wouldn't leave her mom. After five years, Leni does try to leave with devastating consequences.

This book is in part a coming of age story, a love story and an adventure. The title of The Great Alone comes from a poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew  by Alaskan poet Robert Service "were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear, And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear..." 

I loved Kristin Hannah's 2015 book The Nightingale. It was the best book I read that year so I was hoping to love The Great Alone. I liked it but didn't love it. I listened to it on audio and Julia Whelan was a fantastic narrator!



Saturday, March 10, 2018

The  Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck:  

A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life

             by Mark Manson

Mark Manson is a superstar blogger with 90.9 K followers on Twitter. I am now one of them. When I read this book I thought that finally someone is making sense. The title kind of turned me off because I am not a fan of the F -word but I had heard so many good things about this book that I decided to try it on audio. The F-word is used a lot in the beginning of the book and at one point I thought I would have to stop listening. I kept with it and I'm so glad that I did because the word isn't used as much after that. Manson calls this the anti self-help book. Most self-help books focus on what people perceive their shortcomings to be and then laser in on them. Some examples are, I'm not pretty enough, I am too fat, I don't make enough money and self-help books are very eager to tell you how to make more money become prettier, lose weight. These books are reinforcing your perceived shortcomings. Manson feels that the media is constantly bombarding people with the message that the key to a successful, happy life is more: more money, more things and then we get into what he calls the Feedback Loop From Hell. We don't make enough money so we are upset, then we are upset that we are upset about that and then we get anxious and then we are anxious about feeling anxious and the loop goes round. 

The author feels that the key to a happier life is to be honest about your life. The popular focus on being positive all the time is doing more harm then good. Life sometimes stinks and we need to face this fact and learn to deal with it. The feel good mindset isn't helping anyone. We need to learn to deal with the bad things that come our way because doing that makes us better.We all have limitations and once we know our limitations and accept them, we can be successful in life. Someone will always make more money than we do, have a nicer car or house or job and we have to let all of that go. Failure is inevitable and we need to accept it and take action. Manson feels that shielding kids from adversity is a huge mistake. If children are constantly shielded from adversity, when it comes, they won't be able to deal with it. He also feels that giving a child a participation medal, just for showing up, is wrong too. It doesn't work that way in real life.

Fear of failure holds a lot of people back from pursuing their dreams. Manson uses some real life examples, including himself. He had failed at a lot of things and was basically living with various friends and sleeping on their couches. He wanted to start an Internet business but was afraid of failure. But he thought, I am already a failure so what do I have to lose.? He proceeded and he has become wildly successful. 

This book isn't about being apathetic and not giving a F*ck  about anything but rather that we need to choose what we are going to give a F*ck about.  Don't get upset over the little things but give a F*ck about what is important.

There is so much in this book and it is difficult to  review because of that. Here are some of the things that struck me:
  • We must know our limitations and accept them.
  • Choose what you give a F*ck about.
  • Live with some negatives things because we learn from them.
  • Accept failure and take action.
  • Don't shield children from adversity because they won't be able to deal with it when it comes. 
  • True happiness comes from solving problems
  • We are not entitled or special, so get over it.
  • Suffering has value and we can learn from it.
The language in this book might offend some people but I agree with so many of the points that the author makes. I listened to it on audio and Roger Wayne's narration is fantastic. 

The Wife Between Us                               by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen Vanessa meets Richard on a flight back to...