Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Groundhogs Have Spoken

And by an overwhelming majority, it looks like an early spring...but there's still plenty of winter to read one of these great books...

More than Words by Jill Santopolo
Nina Gregory was raised by her single father, the owner of New York City’s luxury Gregory Hotels; Nina knew one day she would need to take the helm of the hotels that her grandfather started, and that reputation and family were paramount.  Dating her childhood best friend Tim, Nina feels secure in her future, until her father dies, leaving her unprepared to take over the hotels, currently working on the mayoral campaign of Rafael O’Connor-Ruiz, with the election only a few weeks away, and with a growing attraction between Nina and her boss obvious.  When secrets are revealed about her father, one personal, one professional, Nina finds herself reeling and questions her choices and the life she is leading.  Nina quickly, almost too quickly, realigns herself, and finds the inner strength to make the choices she knows are right, and to ultimately live her life the way she wants to without having to compromise the values on which she was raised.  Fans of women fiction and book groups will find a lot to enjoy in Santopolo’s follow up novel to The Light We Lost.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Anna, a ballerina, and her husband Mathias have moved from Paris to St. Louis for Mathias’s job.  Anna has slowly been losing weight, but the move, and no longer dancing, has progressed her disease and Mathias admits her to an inpatient care program designed to help her regain weight, her health, and work through the anguish that is the underlying contributor to the disease.  At the house at 17 Swann Street, Anna meets others like her, and yet, unlike her.  A vegan, she has difficulty adjusting to having to adjust to eating what she is told, including cream cheese and cottage cheese, but three refusals of food result in a feeding tube inserted.  Anna has Mathias’s full support: he visits every evening during the house’s visiting time and talks about a time when Anna will be able to return home, return to the life they imagined.  As Anna watches those around her, her own struggle and pain are palpable; Anna’s past is an amalgamation of incidents that have contributed to her disease, but it never feels as if they come together to form a complete picture of Anna.  Painful and heartening at the same time, this novel shows promise for the debut author.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Harper’s third novel, a non-series, is set in the remote Western Australian outback where three brothers’ cattle ranches all border one another.  When Nathan and his youngest brother Bub meet at the fence line one day, hours from either’s home, they find their middle brother Cameron dead under the sun near the tombstone of the fabled Stockman, fodder for local lore and legend.  Nathan and Bub return to Cam’s ranch to their mother, Cam’s wife and two daughters, to grieve, comfort, and heal.  Something about the circumstances of Cam’s death begins to gnaw at Nathan: it doesn’t feel like suicide, but in the outback, there are very few murder suspects.  As Nathan examines his brother’s life, he finds things he’d rather not see, and make him take a look at his own history, and relationships, and how all might begin to heal and be mending like the cattle ranch fences in this novel with characters that reflect the landscape: lonely and remote, but not without value and hope.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson had it all: she was a successful, London-based artist married to Gabriel, a highly regarded fashion photographer.  So why did she shoot Gabriele five times in the face upon his return from home one evening, and why hasn’t she said a word since?  What story does the painting she painted after the murder, Alcestis, tell, and why is psychotherapist Theo Faber so anxious and insistent on working with Alicia to unravel all of her secrets?  This debut psychological thriller is fresh and unlike no other with a twist impossible to see coming.  A #1 LibraryReads Pick for February.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Conklin’s sophomore novel (after 2013’s The House Girl) begins when, in 2079, 102-year-old-poet Fiona Skinner is giving a reading at a university, in a world that has been decimated by floods, global warming, and other disasters brought about by the climate.  After reading “The Love Poem”, written 75 years earlier, inspired by a woman named Luna, a young woman in the audience, also named Luna, after Fiona’s poem, rises and asks Fiona the story of the original Luna.  From here, Fiona is transported to when she was four years old and her father died, sending her mother into a deep depression that became known among Fiona and her siblings, Renee, 11, Caroline, 8, and Joe, Fiona’s protector and confident, 7, refer to as “the Pause”.  As the siblings fend for themselves, with Renee in charge, they create a world of their own and bonds that can never be undone, until their mother, Noni, emerges from her depression, announcing that women must be strong and self-sufficient.  Renee becomes a sought-after doctor, married, but avoids the idea of having children; Caroline marries her high school sweetheart, creating what appears to be the perfect domestic scene for the family, in spite of the fact they move often as her husband chases first his PhD and then a tenured track positon.  Fiona, who has been the most protected and the most unsure of adulthood, takes a job of no importance with a nonprofit, while blogging about her sexual encounters numerically.  Joe is the sibling who has been damaged most by what occurred in his childhood, and after a series of missteps, carefully hidden by his older sisters from his mother and younger sister, has an accident causing them all to reevaluate their relationships, where they are in life, and where they go from here.  

When You Read This by Mary Adkins
When 33-year-old Iris Massey dies of cancer, she leaves behind grieving friends and family, but also a request to publish her blog postings from DyingtoBlog.  Her former boss Smith, who was a bit in love with Iris is devastated:  his business is floundering, his gambling addiction rampant, and he misses his friend.  Smith reaches out to Iris’s sister Jade to get her to agree to publish the entries, but is met with resistance and even some hostility:  Jade is suffering from her own grief and doesn’t want her sister’s secrets published for all the world to see, even though they were originally part of a blog.  Little by little, through e-mails, journal entries, and Iris’s postings, those Iris left behind learn what was in her heart and how much everyone meant to her, as they heal their own relationships and create new ones.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Every winter, nine friends from college gather for a New Year’s Eve celebration.  This year, after several days at a remote Scottish hunting lodge, only eight will return, one of them possibly a murderer.  Miranda and Katie have been chums for most of their lives, becoming close with Julien, Mark, Samira, Giles, Nick, and Bo at Oxford, adding Emma to the crowd when she married Mark, though this year, Emma has gone all out planning the trip, down to the foie gras, Dom Perignon, and all other sorts of delicacies.  When they arrive at Lock Corrin, they learn there is an unexpected set of guests, Icelandic backpackers, and find the game warden, Doug, a little more than off putting, and Heather, the manager, a big of an enigma.  Early on, a guest goes missing, and Doug tells Heather he has found the body, but the identity is not immediately revealed, adding to the tension, as flashbacks, from various points of view, rehash how the reunion came to be, and explain some of the dynamics between different participants.  As secrets are revealed, as roles change, the scene shifts, and old grudges are brought to light, offering several viable suspects.  The atmosphere and the plotting are the strengths of this novel, the character development a little too pat, but everything still comes together to make for a suspenseful take on a locked room mystery.

The Winter Sister by Megan Collins
One night, sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s older sister Persephone snuck out to meet her boyfriend Ben as usual, but this time, she did not return.  Persephone’s body was found several days later and her murder remains unsolved, though Sylvie is certain that Ben is responsible.  Sylvie and her mother Annie, once close, are now estranged, but Sylvie must return home to care for her mother through her cancer treatments, her own guilt about the evening Persephone disappeared smacking her in the face, especially when she learns that Ben is a nurse in the cancer center.  As Sylvie and Annie navigate their new relationship, Sylvie still cannot let go of the past and as an adult living in her childhood home begins to uncover secrets of the past, secrets that may lead to the truth about Persephone’s death.  Atmospheric and compelling, this debut’s strength lies in the complex relationships of its characters. 

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Aimee Sinclair, rising movie star, comes home one day and finds her husband missing.  Though she is an actress, Aimee isn’t sure what to do and the police think she knows more about her husband’s disappearance than she is letting on.  When Aimee learns her bank account has been emptied and that she supposedly is the one who emptied it, she becomes convinced that her past, the one she has so carefully kept hidden, has come back to haunt her and she fights to maintain a sense of normalcy while trying to unravel what has happened to Jack and who has learned of her past and is pulling the strings.  The plot is complex, complicated by the fact that Aimee is an actress, making it even harder to know if she is to be believed or not.  Twists and turns will keep some guessing until the final page.