July 16, 2018

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

Once you get to the last, big twist, you'll either going to be stunned and think how brilliant or stunned and think you've been had. I'm firmly of the camp that feels it has been tricked.

If you're still curious, I would caution you to stop right here and just read the book.  

Still here?

Okay, don't say I didn't warn you.

Because although this book is marketed as a thriller, it is not.  It's actually a supernatural story masquerading as a domestic thriller.  I kept reading expecting an ingenious but empirically-based reveal only to find myself in the paranormal realm.  If one weren't expecting this switcheroo one might find it amazing and inventive and creative.  I just felt duped.  Instead of unreliable narrators, this book has an unreliable classification.  

Shame! Shame! Shame!

June 27, 2018

Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they -- and Grace -- know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

I was tearing through a steady diet of domestic thrillers this month when I had a sudden craving for something different. Something that Kate Morton might write, thought I. I half-heartedly perused online, which did not lack for suggestions. “For fans of Kate Morton” is an enticing promise on many a historical novel. But none could tempt so I just decided to read the original, one-and-only.  The House of Riverton is the one that made me a Kate Morton fan and upon revisiting it, I fell in love once again with this haunting story. 

Current summaries compare this novel to Downton Abbey but The House of Riverton was written years before --- and did it much better. The upstairs-downstairs dynamic. The glimpse of English gentry just before and then after World War I, class uprising and suffrage changed everything. 

Secrets, terrible mistakes, doomed love affairs – it’s all here, irresistibly unfolding before my captive eyes and beguiling me anew as if I had not read it all twice before. The journey and the ending are no less devastating. 

This time around, after turning the last page, I began imagining who I would cast as the main characters if I were to make the movie.  If you’ve read The House at Riverton, what do you think of my casting choices?

Robbie Hunter – I immediately thought of Colin Morgan as the doomed poet. He’s striking and beautiful, dark and tragic.

Emmeline Hartford – This was an easy pick as well. Lily James is a shoo-in for the reckless society girl.

Hannah Hartford – I had a bit of trouble with this character. Not only did she have to be beautiful, but have a mysterious aloofness to her. Some substance and spirit, in contrast to Emmeline’s party-loving personality. I loved Blake Lively’s performance as the remote beauty in Age of Adeline, which reminded me very much of Hannah.

Grace – I had trouble with this one too, and in the end I had to refer to the book’s rather suggestive minor character – an actress in modern times who will play Grace in the movie in the book, whose name was “Kiera.”

June 18, 2018

Book Review: Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancĂ©’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would.

When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps.

And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most.

Matchmaking for Beginners is a very charming book, much like the eccentric and otherworldly Blix.  She sees people’s auras and colors and has a sixth sense of which person should go with whom. Knowing that she’s about to die, she bequeaths her Brooklyn house to Marnie, her nephew’s ex, whom she’s only met once. Along with the house, Marnie inherits Blix’s friends and Blix’s magical matchmaking gift. Marnie is at first resistant but eventually, she finds that she was meant for this life.

“You need to forget what society has told you about life and expectations, and don’t let anybody make you pretend.  You are enough, just the way you are – do you hear me? You have many gifts.  Many, many gifts.”

Although the book ends happily, some aspects of the story just felt wrong to me. First is Blix’s declaration to Marnie that she was meant for a “big life” as opposed to the ordinary life Marnie saw for herself – being married, domestic bliss, a job, children, etc. But by “big life”, Blix meant a life in Brooklyn in a charming brownstone with a collection of bohemian friends.  That doesn’t sound very “big” to me.  To me, “big life” means she’s going to find the cure for cancer or have adventures in the Amazon or jump out of planes. Suburbs = small.  Brooklyn = big.  I found nothing especially “big” about the life the author described.  

Secondly, it really grated on my nerves when Blix, and then Marnie, insisted on the introverted Patrick attending parties. The author made it seem like preferring to be around one person at a time versus lots of people as pathetically sad.  Only when he came upstairs to go to their parties was he deemed saved by their extroverted ways.  As an introvert, I found nothing wrong with Patrick preferring to hang with one friend at a time. I hate it when people insist that something must be wrong with me for not wanting to be around lots of people all the time.  This of course is my personal preference. I just saw these scenes in a different way than the author intended. I felt really bad for Patrick being forced to be sociable when he did not want to be.  Blix and Marnie should just have accepted Patrick just the way he was – the way true friends should.

“There is so much fear to wade through before you get to love.”

“The subversive truth about love is that it really is the big deal everyone makes it out to be, and it’s not some form of security or an insurance policy against loneliness.  It’s everything, love is.  It runs the whole universe.”