Tag Archives: United States

Lisa Scottoline, One Perfect Lie

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I have not been reading tons of bestsellers in the past few years… and lately I was looking for some easy-going reading, suspenseful, if not totally realistic. This book delivered on that count, grabbing my attention from the get go and the ending did keep something of a surprise until at least the last 20 pages.

When we first meet Chris Brennan, he is looking for a teaching job in a small Pennsylvania town. We know right from the start that he is hiding something and I presumed from the hints that the author dropped that he was a Bad Guy. No, wait… a REALLY BAD GUY. I expected him to be a sociopath, using vulnerable teenagers to meet some unspeakable needs and that he intended to gain the confidence of some of the boys he was coaching on the basketball team to execute some very evil, very gory plot. However, what I did not get was why there was a great sense of hurry, why he had to get done quickly, why there was some kind of deadline to be met.

When I realized who he really was and what he was really up to, I realized how misled I had been right from the beginning and could start of concentrate on the real mystery, which Chris was also trying to resolve.

Things do wrap up quite neatly at the end, maybe a little too neatly, like a nice, positive fairy tale, but it was a good read for a nice, quiet long weekend at home.

Beyond the entertaining story that this book tells, it raises questions about the importance of trust, honesty and authenticity in creating viable relationships. Can relationships work where there is a lack of trust? Is there such a thing as lying (or omitting to tell the truth) in order to protect someone? Is it justifiable to lie or to use people unwittingly in order to gain information or further one’s goals for the greater good? What can lack of authenticity lead to in relationships? Or psychologically for the person whose occupation constantly requires them to pretend to be someone or something they are not? These are not questions that have an easy answer. The book raises them but does not necessarily provide answers as they are attached to the specific situations that the characters find themselves in. However, they may occur in our lives as well and we may be able to find parallels. These might be interesting questions to debate in a book club.

Thanks to the publisher for making this book available for review through NetGalley. The book was published on April 11, 2017.

Reference:

Scottoline, Lisa. One Perfect Lie. St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Book club discussion questions provided by the author:

https://scottoline.com/book-clubs/book-club-one-perfect-lie/

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Paula McLain, Circling the Sun

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Circling the Sun is a novel based on the real life of Beryl Markham, a British woman who grew and lived most of her unconventional life in Kenya. What I liked in the novel, besides the well-paced storytelling, was the description of life in Kenya from Beryl Markham’s point of view. While I found in the beginning that it did not have the same liveliness as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, I soon began racing through the book.

Given that Beryl Markham lived in Kenya at the same era as Dinesen, a lot of the same characters, such as Denys Finch Hatton, Barkley Cole, Lord Delamere and Bror Blixen. As the colony was a small world, the British were quite likely to run into each other. Beryl Markham was a lover of Denis Finch Hatton, and worked doing air born reconnaissance for Bror Blixen in preparation for safaris.

Beryl Markham was exceptional because of the way she flaunted conventions to make her own choices. She was a certified horse trainer when the occupation was exclusively occupied by men. She also became a certified commercial pilot in the early age of commercial flight. She is not mentioned in Dinesen’s Out of Africa (the book) but a character in the movie version is said to be based on her (but that can only be very loosely as they do not seem to have the same character at all).

I was wondering about the meaning of the title… Here is my attempt at making sense of it: Maybe Beryl’s life is a series of attempts at meeting goals that eluded her (success, financial stability, happiness, recognition…), that looked like trying to reach to sun, with the related danger of burning one’s wings.

I enjoyed this book as much as I had enjoyed The Paris Wife a couple of years ago. I do enjoy fiction based on some facts (I recently ran into the term “exofiction” for this). I always end up looking up extra info on it and learning quite a bit in the process, in addition to enjoying a good story and good writing, when the job is well done.

Please do go on to read the 2 reviews with the asterisks below… far more critical of the book than I am (at the risk of making me look like a really lazy reviewer!).

References:

McLain, Paula. Circling the Sun. Bond Street Books (Random House), 2015.

Other things:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beryl_Markham

* http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/books/review/circling-the-sun-by-paula-mclain.html?_r=0

http://www.readinggroupguides.com/features/featured-guide/circling-the-sun

* http://maebookblog.blogspot.ca/2016/06/circling-sun-by-paula-mclain.html

https://www.sarahsbookshelves.com/sarahs-snippets-book-review-circling-the-sun-by-paula-mclain/

Melissa Lenhardt, Sawbones

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This Western novel was inspired by the appreciation that the author’s father had for Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove. In the book, the main female character, a young doctor accused of committing murder in New York City, flees to the frontier to start a new life. The convoy she travels with through Texas is attacked by Indians and she is the lone survivor. One of the officers involved in her rescue is injured and she treats him, saving his life. They fall in love and they flee together when information about her real identity surfaces and she is threatened.

The writing is conventional and effective; the author is a good storyteller. The emotional dimensions of the book, though, remain superficial and could have been better exploited. We are told about emotions but the writing is not conducive to experimenting them vicariously, especially when it comes to the development of love and affection between the main character and the officer she saves. I found the first half of the book quite interesting but the second half felt more rushed.

The portrayal of characters and their relationships were rather stereotypical. There are some attempts at introducing nuances (such as when the young doctor gets to know the prostitutes who serves the frontier town) but most are one-sided stereotypes. Even accounting for the fact that the novel is set in the 19th century, it constricted how interactions and dialogues were handled in the novel.

Future works may show an evolution in a direction that might make them a more satisfying read for me.

I was given access to this book by the publisher through Net Galley.

Reference:

Lenhardt, Melissa. Sawbones. Redhook Books, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.melissalenhardt.com/

John Grisham, Sycamore Row (L’allée du sycomore)

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This is a conventional legal procedural depicting small town or rural administration of justice where old judges hold quite a bit of sway due to their long tenure. There was nothing surprising in this book, and nothing new in terms of the contemporary perception of race relations in the deep South. Similarly as other Grisham novels I have read, the main character is a younger lawyer who is confronted with a new challenge, and his association with more experienced professionals given the occasion for “teachable moments” and some lengthy discourse or dialogues about the history of some legal approaches or practical approaches that can be applied to deal with the challenge at hand.

The storytelling is competent, the plot is well-paced, the characters congenial although a little one-sided. The book can easily be turned into a movie scenario and one can just see this one playing out as a movie as one reads. A good escapist beach book!

I read this one in French, against my principle of reading books in the original if I can read that language, because it was lent to be by a friend who liked it. I was not crazy about the translation and use of French terms for American ones that do not reflect the structure of American institutions and culture.

Reference:

Grisham, John. L’allée du sycomore. JC Lattès, 2014.  (Originally published by Random House in 2013)

Reece Hirsch, Surveillance

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This is a well-paced techno-adventure novel that I quite enjoyed reading. The main character is a lawyer, Chris Bruen, with a newly opened office in the San Francisco area. He specializes in cybercrime. A potential client knocks on his door; he has stumbled on an ultra-secret government agency that has a mandate that goes beyond that of the NSA and as a result, he fears for his life. This agency uses all means of surveillance technologically available, even beyond what is permitted by law even in extraordinary circumstances. This is not in Bruen’s usual field, but he does report this to the authorities, somewhat informally. He is immediately targeted and members of his staff are killed.

He, his associate and the potential client go on the run, and much of the rest of the book is about the challenges they encounter while fleeing. They end up being mixed up with the cyber theft of a large sum of money belonging to a South American drug lord. While that may be even more dangerous that than discovering a rogue government agency, they survive.

In the end, they are back in the office but are by no means free of surveillance.

While this is an effective thriller, it is less fantastic than the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise. It is also lacking the edginess of Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson, and the political undertones of Cory Doctorow.

This book came out in March. Thanks to Net Galley and the editor for access to a review copy.

Reference

Hirsch, Reece. Surveillance. Thomas and Mercer, 2016.

 

Other things:

http://www.reecehirsch.com/surveillance.php

http://bookofbogan.com/review-surveillance-by-reece-hirsch/

Elizabeth J. Church, The Atomic Weight of Love

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I always like stories that show the daily life of college students. When I was younger, I fantasized about attending college, while doing my university studies I fantasized about the whole deal being more exciting, and the allure of college-based stories never waned as time went by. So this book had me from the get go with the story of a young woman from Pennsylvania who gets to study science in Chicago. Where this gets more complex is the time at which this particular story takes place; the young woman attends college in the 40s where women were not really expected to use this education. Their primary role was that of wife and homemaker. So the young lady of the story falls in love with a physics professor who is asked to the join the secret lab developing the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She puts her plans to go to graduate school on hold to follow him there. What follows in a beautifully layered tale of the difficult choices she had to made, the accommodations that followed, the rebellious moments, and the creative ways she found to make life meaningful in spite of the constraints that she faced. In the background, we have a world that is quickly changing, even if some of the changes seem slow to come to Los Alamos.

This is the kind of book that can provide an excellent choice for a book club; there are many themes that can be discussed:

  • The role of women in science / access to higher education
  • Gender relations / inequalities
  • Marriage / gender roles / social expectations
  • Ethical issues related to the development and use of the atomic bomb
  • Ornithology / bird watching / study of bird behavior / intelligence of crows / parallels to be made for the understanding of human beings in society
  • Understanding of life through science vs. art (objectivity vs. subjectivity)

Thanks to Net Galley and Algonquin Books for access to a review copy of this book.

Reference:

Church, Elizabeth J. The Atomic Weight of Love. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, 2016.

Other things:

http://algonquin.com/book/the-atomic-weight-of-love/

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/elizabeth-j-church/atomic-weight-of-love/

 

Terri Arthur, Fatal Decisions: Edith Clavell, World War I Nurse

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Written as a novel, this book tells the story of Edith Cavell, a British nurse who established the first nursing school in Belgium just before WWI and got involved in the underground railroad smuggling foreign soldiers separated from their units (and often injured) through the border to evade the authorities under german occupation. Edith Cavell was eventually condemn to death by the German authorities for her activities.

The book is structured in three parts: the period in which Edith Cavell completed her training and started her career in England, the period during which she established a nursing school in the Brussels area, and finalky, the period during which Belgium was under German rule and Edith Cavell was involved in smuggling foreign soldiers out of the area.

The novel format makes this book a lively read. It gives an interesting picture of the development of the nursing profession at the  beginning of the 20th century when hospital-based support functions were being professionalized after the previous involvement of religious orders.

I knew of a mountain named Mount Edith Cavell in Western Canada but i had no idea who it was named after and this is what first attracted me to the book.

Thanks to the editor and NetGalley for access to this book.

Reference:

Arthur, Terri. Fatal Decisions: Edith Clavell, World War I Nurse. 2nd edition. HenschelHAUS Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 2014.

Other things:

http://preferreading.blogspot.fr/2012/04/fatal-decision-terri-arthur.html

https://agoldoffish.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/fatal-decision-edith-cavell-terri-arthur/

http://middlesisterreviews.com/?tag=terri-arthur

Claudia Roesch, Macho Men and Modern Women

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This book describes the perceptions of gendered family roles in the population of Mexican origin established in the United States. The author uses a variety of sources such as publications by agencies providing social services to this population. The book is based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis and as such is of an academic nature. There is a lengthy conceptual and methodological introduction to give context to the findings of the study. Those with a bit of an academic background and some knowledge of historical or social science research methodology will be familiar with this type of material but others may find it a little more challenging. However, it is still possible to read the book by focusing on its factual content and to learn quite a bit about how Mexican Americans have changed over time.

One of the things that struck me in this book is how some publications seemed to have repeatedly based their description of the behaviors of Mexican Americans on false information (or not based on actual data). One key example given by the author is the frequent statements about large family sizes amongst Mexican Americans when survey data actual showed very little gap between and the average American family. I would assume that such repetitions may be at the source of negative stereotypes about specific social groups. That they are perpetrated by agencies purporting to help these social groups is ironic to say the least.

The study examines five decades in the 20th century, from the 1920s to the 1970s. The earliest decade saw a focus on Americanization of Mexican men and women with an expectation that family structures would resemble that of American families. The following decade saw the rise of the influence of eugenics in the discourse on the American population, and on calls to reduce Mexican immigration and to curb family size. In the 1940s-1950s, the focus turns to modernization and its links to the ideal of the nuclear family. In particular, the author discusses the perceptions that the absence of fathers led to increase juvenile delinquency. In the 1950s-1960s, psychoanalytical concepts started being used to explain poverty, especially in relation to family structure. In the last decade, ethnic differences acquire a new status and it becomes more acceptable for a community to exhibit cultural different with the American mainstream. A Chicano movement rose in parallel to the American Civil Rights movement.

Of course, this sizeable book covers a lot more ground, with many nuances, to understand how the changing paradigms influence policy analysis and program development, as well as social movements. It is a fascinating read, well structured and documented.

Given the very high price of this book, I suspect most people interested in this topic will seek the use of library copies… I would!

Thanks to De Gruyter and NetGalley for providing access to a review copy of this book.

Reference:

Roesch, Claudia. Macho Men and Modern Women: Mexican Immigration, Social Experts and Changing Family Values in the 20th Century United States. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2015.

Other things:

http://www.uni-muenster.de/Geschichte/en/histsem/NwG-ZG/Mitarbeiter/croesch/index.html

Marilynne Robinson, Lila

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Where does wisdom come from? From book learning? From years of studying scriptures and reflecting on them? From life experiences good and bad? And what happens when such experience cannot be expressed into words? Does one then not know?

Lila, the title character, thinks that she knows nothing, or at least, nothing worth sharing. Since she is not a knowledgeable person, has not gone to school beyond what it took to learn to read and count, she thinks she has little to offer in intellectual conversations.

John Ames, the elderly pastor who marries her, seems to have a very different opinion on this subject. He is in fact quite fascinated by some of the things she says and seeks to understand from where her perceptions and opinions on the world originate.

Lila obviously has had a difficult life, from an early childhood of neglect to a later childhood spent in the care of social outcast Doll, with whom she lived a life of vagrancy walking from farm to farm to find work. They did live in the city for a time, which enabled her to attend school. She ends up working as a prostitute, then as a housekeeper in a hotel. She goes back on the road and makes a scant living helping people with their gardens and laundry until she meets Reverend Ames and agrees to marry him and live with him.

It is difficult to see what draws these two introverted characters together but they both seem to get comfort from each other’s presence and they both look forward to the arrival of a child.

The story is told in a rather indeterminate present time with many flashbacks to earlier parts of Lila’s life. As she feels shame for many of the things she has done and the circumstances of her life, she shares such information with her husband with parcimony.

One gets a sense of two solitudes sharing a home, but never quite meeting.

I did not read the first two books by Marilynne Robinson, so I had absolutely no preconceived ideas when I read this book. It took me a while to get into and to start seeing where it might be going so I could care enough about the characters to keep reading. But I did, and it was greatly rewarding.

Reference:

Robinson, Marilynne. Lila. Harper Collins, 2014.

Other things:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/lonesome-road

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/marilynne-robinson-lila-great-achievement-contemporary-us-fiction-gilead

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/11151458/lila-by-marilynne-robinson.html

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/10000-lila-robinson?showall=1

Christina Crosby, A Body, Undone

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This memoir was fascinating and I could hardly put it down. There are three reasons for this. The first one is that as a medical sociologist, I am always interested in the intersection between the personal experience of health and illness and the health care institutions as well as other structures in society. Second, I like good stories about overcoming adversity. And third, I found the exercise the author undertakes to make sense of her own experience in terms of academic interests, namely English literature and queer studies.

The author suffered a spinal cord injury in a bicycle accident a few days after her 50th birthday. She had to learn to live with serious physical limitations and severe chronic pain, as well as to renegotiate relationships and the world of work, following her accident.

 

Reference:

Crosby, Christina. A Body, Undone: Living On after Great Pain. New York University Press, New York, 2016.

Other things:

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/christina-crosby/a-body-undone/

Book preview in Google Books