In summer, my reading always picks up. And during holidays, I had the chance to read quite a few books, some of which I really enjoyed.
Now that I am back to the daily grind, I decided to take a look back at my August reads and (hopefully) somehow feel as if I’m back on vacation again, relaxed with a good novel at hand. *Sigh*
I was eagerly anticipating this novel ever since I read Klaussmann’s excellent debut novel Tigers in Red Weather. Unfortunately, despite all the elements that made me think I’d love this novel: post World War I in the south of France, glamorous expats, authors, artists, it didn’t live up to my expectations. This was a shame, since I wanted so much to like it, but the characters all felt rather flat to me. The artist Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara were an integral part of the Lost Generation and their famed parties in their Riviera villa attracted the illuminati of that exotic intellectual circle. The Murphys were said to be the inspiration behind Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night. Sara and Gerald didn’t develop for me much on the page, and Gerald’s constant and tortured struggles with his sexuality didn’t capture my attention. However, I did enjoy many of the cultural and generational aspects of the novel and there were individual scenes beautifully written. But it didn’t match novels set in this period that I loved like The Paris Wife or Hemingway’s Wives, where I felt far more invested in the stories and the voices of the characters telling them.
I enjoyed Willig’s novels The Ashford Affair and That Summer, so I was looking forward to another historical fiction novel, this one set in 1920s London. Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she must return to England for her mother’s funeral. Rachel discovers the father she believed died when she was a child is very much alive, a feted earl with a new family and another daughter, Olivia. Rachel sets out to infiltrate the world of wealthy London society, with the aim of getting closer to Olivia and her father. The plot was a little far-fetched from the outset, but the real problem, as I saw it, is that these characters never came to life. As a reader, I didn’t feel invested in what happened to Rachel and none of the characters truly came alive on the page. The romantic angle also seemed a bit forced. Rachel doesn’t seem to know what she wants either. Revenge? Answers? Closure? The chance to dress up in great clothes? I think her indecisiveness and lack of development as a character kept this from being more engaging than it could have been. What Willig did well were the period settings and some of the era’s dialogue among this smart set, with its lingering sense of loss and ennui following WWI.
I knew nothing about this book or its author when I picked it up, but I was drawn in very quickly to a world I (hope to) avoid living abroad: the world of helicopter parenting in the high-stakes game of Getting-into-Harvard for teenagers today. Rather befitting that one of the book blurbs came from the author of You’re Not That Special, the book that argued that high school children (and their parents) should start to realize their talented students are only one of countless other talented teenagers throughout the world and that the culture of constantly cheerleading one’s children is best abandoned. None of this is being had at the Hawthorne household, where the whole family is obsessing about high school senior Angela Hawthorne’s chances of getting into Harvard early admission. In fact, there is no plan B. Angela is only applying to Harvard. After all, she’s valedictorian at her California Bay Area high school, runs in cross country, and studies Spanish. She’s obviously a shoe-in, or so she and her parents think. Not surprisingly, this conviction that as long as you continue to stay top of your class in your hometown, there’s nothing to worry about eventually causes Angela to crack. Her parents, Nora and Gabe, are swept away in the madness, but they have their own stress caused by secrets they do not want revealed. A nice send-up on ‘You’re so incredibly special and unique’ parenting today and the student and family stress as college acceptance season rolls around. This brilliantly written book fell apart for me just a bit toward the end as problems work out just a little too neatly all around, but still an excellent and entertaining read.
This was another nice find. I kept coming across this in book stores while I was in New York, and liked the ‘Sliding Doors’ premise of the plot: how one little choice – to stay at a party or leave early – could set off a series of events that would lead to two entirely different life choices. For don’t we all feel like that sometimes? That one little choice in our life could have set us on entirely different paths? The writing was engaging and this was a quick read, following Hannah Martin through her two alternate lives chapter by chapter. It was fun to skip between two alternate, and realistic, lives. The only aspect that I felt weakened the story is that Hannah – who is decidedly in need of making some smart decisions on where her life is headed after years of drifting – ends up with two remarkably similar paths. I would have liked seeing two more divergent life paths, but otherwise an enjoyable read.
I don’t read mystery/thrillers all that often, but the plot looked intriguing and I picked this up looking for a summer read. Successful lawyer Kate gets a call at work that her overachieving daughter, Amelia, is being suspended from her exclusive Brooklyn high school. When Kate arrives at school, Amelia is dead, a presumed suicide. Kate, unsatisfied with the seeming speed with which the police seem willing to close the case, begins an investigation of her own and discovers worrying details about her daughter’s life, her group of friends, and dealings with school that lead her to believe Amelia did not take her own life. I’m still not completely convinced this is a genre I enjoy, but I did like how this novel was executed, told through the perspective of Kate and Amelia, using teenage social media entries to allow the story to unveil slowly (and in turn sending a chill of terror down the spine of parents who wonder if their own children could be so naive). I certainly found this enjoyable and read along quickly to discover the outcome. BUT, as I find with so many of these stories (Gone Girl and Girl On A Train, too) there are too many elements that force me to suspend disbelief. Reconstructing Amelia was no exception. The silliest perhaps being the seasoned police officer taking on the bereaved mother as his sidekick to investigate her own daughter’s death – questioning suspects and all. I’m starting to think this goes along with the genre, but nevertheless, I thought this was an engaging summer read.