10 August 2013

July Book Report

I did slightly more reading than I have in the recent past during the month of July, mostly because my arthritis was flaring up, and I barely knit one stitch.  Plus, it was too hot and humid to go out for a walk during lunch breaks at work, so I would stay inside and read.  Here's what was on the menu for last month.

All the Beggars Riding, by Lucy Caldwell.  This was a book that I had no memory of hearing about, but I'm glad I had it on my Nook to read.  It's not very long, and not like many other books I've read, as far as it's format, but I liked it a lot.

Lara Moorland, the adult narrator, is remembering her life with her mother and younger brother, Alfie, in London.  The children's father was a plastic surgeon who they see only on weekends.  This is because he travels to Belfast during the week to work on people who have been injured in "The Troubles."  (The book starts when the conflict is at a heightened state.) When the book begins, she is telling the reader about a family holiday they took when she was 12 years old, at a resort in Spain.  Her father would be killed in a helicopter crash later that year.  But that isn't the only thing that turns her world around.  It's during the holiday that she learns that her father has a family in Belfast.  Lara and Alfie are his illegitimate children, their mother has been his mistress for years.

The story then switches back to Lara, who is recovering from a long-term romantic relationship, but has no real direction in her life.  She works as a day carer (sort of like a nurse) for an agency, and is attending a writing glass since one of her clients is enrolled.  She participates on the fringe, but follows the assignments.  With encouragement from the teacher, she decides to write her late mother's story.  So we get Jane Moorland's version of the story as Lara imagines it.  It details how she and her lover met, and how she felt for years that he would leave his wife and children, and that the children she gave birth to would bond him to her forever.  Lara writes this to the point where the helicopter crash occurs.  Then she decides that she "gets" it, and wants to move on.

In that last sections of the book, the adult Lara contacts her half-siblings in Belfast, and has a relationship with her half-brother.  She meets someone and falls in love, and becomes involved with her boyfriend's family, which is a large one.  She sees from their example that she doesn't need to feel bad that she is too old to have children, because she can provide a wonderful life and lots of love to foster children.

This is a poor summary of the book, but I wanted to give an idea of the major plot points.  The story ends in the present, and it seems that Lara has finally found a good life for herself, and can understand her parents and their relationship without anger or frustration.

It has a hopeful ending, but not a neatly tied up one.  Very interesting, in my opinion.

The Cat, by Edeet Ravel.  This is a short book, but a full one.  The narrator, whose name we never learn, has just lost her young son (whose name we also never know), killed in their own front yard by a drunk driver, who ironically is also a child psychiatrist.  The boy's father, Neil, is living in the same town, but with another woman and her children.  He and the boy had regular visits, but the boy's mother is the one telling the story, so it is completely her account of things.

She and her son had gone to a shelter and adopted a cat to fill out their family.  The cat, Persephone - or as they call her Pursie - is the only reason that the mother sees to live.  She doesn't want to let her son down, knowing he would want her to always take care of Pursie.  Since she knows no one to give the cat away to, she keeps going so that cat will live.

The book is the story of her grief and how it feels to have no reason left in the world to live.  She prefers for most of the story to stay in her house, with only Pursie for company.  Any efforts by neighbors and bereavement counselors to help are completely ignored.  Eventually, she finds a therapist who is non-judgmental and very understanding.  This helps her become involved again in her own life.   She connects with Neil, looks up some old friends, and starts to take an interest again - however small - in the world around her.

The chapters cover months at a time.  Except for her son's cat, it's clear there would be a tragic end to the story.  But having the cat is what actually saves her in the end.

This book is very raw, and I could see some thinking it was mostly depressing.  I found it to be a real description of loss, grief, and depression.  Though you hope the narrator will come back and join the world, you can't be certain that is going to happen.

Very well written and very realistic.

And When She Was Good, by Laura Lippman.  Helen/Heloise Smith lives in suburban Maryland with her 11-year old son Scott.  When she sees a headline about a "neighborhood madam" being murdered, she feels a little bit of worry, but doesn't really worry about it too much.  She runs a business, called the Women's Full Employment Network, and is a registered lobbyist with the state of Maryland.  However, her business is actually as a madam.  The book goes back and forth, showing us not just her current situation, but what during her life led her to this point.

I found the book interesting enough, but I wasn't overly impressed by it.  Yes, I did read it to the end, and was interested to find out what would happen to Heloise as her world started closing in, but I wouldn't go out of my way to insist that anyone else read it because it was so great.

A Question of Honor : A Bess Crawford Mystery, by Charles Todd.  I really enjoy this series.  For one, the period (World War I) is fascinating - at the end of "old" times and the beginning of "modern" times.  Also the heroine, Bess Crawford, actually DOES things, rather than think about them, moon over any/all of the male characters, or decided she is not ladylike enough.  And the stories are always interesting.

This book begins when Bess is a young girl, living with her parents in India.  One of the young daughters of a soldier in her father's regiment dies.   The little girl is staying with a family in England for her education.  Her mother goes back to see her other child, and make the necessary arrangements, and another soldier from the regiment, Lieutenant Wade, accompanies her.  Everyone is shocked to learn that before Wade left England to return to India, he murdered a family, and then murdered his parents on his return to India.  He hides out, and is later presumed dead.

As an adult years later, Bess is working as a nurse on the front during World War I, when she thinks she sees Lieutenant Wade as a patient.  She finds it hard to believe that it is the same person, but further events make her realize that her suspicions are correct.  So it is up to her to prove her discovery, and then decide whether or not to report him.  But as time goes on, she begins to wonder if he was innocent after all.

With help from her father's protege Simon Brandon, and even her mother, Bess becomes involved in the mystery of Lieutenant Wade.  There are plenty of twists and turns until the end.

A very enjoyable read.

Murder in the Marais, by Cara Black.  This title was one that is brand-new to me.  I read somewhere a review of the latest book in this series, and was intrigued, so I thought I'd start at the beginning.  Aimee Leduc is the daughter of a police officer in France who was killed in a terrorist attack.  She has her own business investigation computer crimes, with her loyal partner, Rene.  One day an elderly man arrives at her office to ask her to deliver something to a woman who lives in the Marais section of Paris, which had been a strong Jewish neighborhood at the time of World War II.  Aimee explains that she doesn't do that kind of work, but he says that he was a friend of her late father's and that he had been told if he ever needed help, to seek her out.

Aimee goes to deliver the material, and finds the recipient dead in her apartment, with a swastika carved into her forehead.  And thus begins a tale of Nazi collaborators, modern day Aryan nation groups, and former Nazis who have returned to the city with new identities, working in political offices.

This book is fascinating, in that I learned a lot about the police system in Paris, and the white supremacist groups who cause problems there.  I also was fascinated by the backgrounds of the various characters, and how they arrived at their current state.  Occasionally I was a little confused, but a lot of that was because I was not as familiar with names and places in France as other locales.  But the story was the thing that made me keep reading.

I am anxious to see what Aimee Leduc does next.  She is pretty interesting, with a penchant for designer clothes, and adventure, while her business - at least in this book - is having financial troubles.

I liked this quite a bit.

French Women Don't Get Fat : The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, by Mireille Giuliano.  Yeah, I know that everyone read this years ago.  I just wasn't really interested, so I didn't go out of my way.  However, it came up as a $1.00 special for the Nook, so I decided to give it a shot.

It's not really a bad book, but it's nothing amazing either.  Basically, she is saying that the best way to take care of yourself/to live, is to take a page from French culture.  Pointing out that for the French, eating good food is part of a good life, not something to be ashamed of.  They also do not devour gigantic portions, as many Americans do, or eat as much processed and/or fast food.  I believe this is probably true.  In so much of America, food is talked about, but often in terms of guilt for eating something "bad" or because you ate too much.  The author of this book is saying that it's possible to enjoy food and the satisfaction it brings and eat less of it without suffering through a lot of popular diet programs and fads.

Most of what I read in this book seems to be common sense, at least to me.  However, I can see that for some people, this would have been a new way of thinking about food and inspired them to try to change their bad habits.  I'm not perfect, and I very often each way too much, but I am at the point in my life where, when that happens (and sadly it's pretty often), I realize it and try hard not to overindulge all of the time.  It's not easy, but I do agree that in order to be successful in your food choices most of the time, you have to allow yourself some treats or things that are not always that nutritional some of the time.

So I think if you are interested in a different approach to controlling your weight and/or your food behaviors, you could find a lot of good examples in this book.  It's not, of course, medical advice, so if your own doctor tells you to avoid certain things, you should do that.  But if you just want to see how it might work to eat and drink what you like and not immediately gain a lot of weight, you might like this book.

The Accused, by Lisa Scottoline.  This book brings us back to Mary DiNunzio, now a partner Rosato & DiNunzio, along with her friends, family, and clients.  Mary is, as is mentioned, now a partner in her law firm, and trying to adjust to that fact, and what it means for her and her role in the office.  She has also become engaged to her boyfriend, Anthony, though she can't get excited about it, for whatever reason.

Allegra Gardner, a precocious thirteen-year-old with a trust fund, appears in the office one day, hoping to find an attorney who will reopen the murder case from six years ago, where her older sister Fiona was murdered at the grand opening of the family business' new headquarters in downtown Philadelphia.  Allegra is convinced that the man serving time for the murder is innocent (even though he admitted to the murder), and is making it her project to free him.  Mary in particular is taken by Allegra, and agrees to see what she can do.

One of the biggest problems though, is that Allegra's parents are against her plan, and are convinced that the right man was convicted.   The Gardner family is very well off, and very influential in Philadelphia, and think that Allegra has emotional problems that are causing her "obsession."  Mary soldiers on, while several things happen to make her wonder just how pulled together Allegra actually is.

In the meantime, Mary's parents are ecstatic that she is engaged, and so is her fiance's mother, Elvira (or, "El Virus" as Mary calls her).   Her father's best friends, The Three Tonys, also figure into the story.

As with most of the Lisa Scottoline books, this is well written and an enjoyable read.  Mary's character is very believable, and though she is determined and successful, she doesn't always feel that way.  Readers feel like they know her family, her associates, and others just like her.  I had fun reading this one.


One thing that I found to be an odd coincidence, is that about a week ago, my niece and her husband came for a visit.  While they were here, they told us about a trip they made to Paris this past spring, and were telling us about the apartment they rented in the Marais!  I'd never heard of that neighborhood in Paris before reading the book above, and so I thought it was so funny that just a few weeks after finishing it, it came up in conversation ...

At the moment, I don't have any of the above books to offer, as others are reading them.  Hopefully they will return them, and I can let you know, so stay tuned!


pam said...

I've added a couple of these to my list.

Lorraine said...

Bridget- I saw that French lady when the book came out, and sadly, they DO get fat.

Someone told me they don't eat standing up- but rather sit and enjoy the food.

I see people eating while they're driving.

kathy b said...

I enjoy your reviews ! Thanks for some good suggestions!! Channon did some book reviews too today