I’m reading Before I Go to Sleep, by S. J. Watson

before i go to sleep pic

I just started reading this psychological thriller and I know I won’t be able to stop until I’m finished! This is S. J. Watson’s debut novel and it’s already been made into a movie. The film is written and directed by Rowan Joffe and stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Mark Strong. It will be in theaters in the UK on September 5.

S. J. Watson

S. J. Watson

Here’s what I know so far:  An accident twenty years earlier has erased Christine’s memory and each morning she wakes to a husband and a life she doesn’t know. Everything she recalls during the day is lost when she goes to sleep. Can she trust her husband? Why does her doctor want to keep their appointments secret? And what is written in the secret journal she has kept?

Here's the movie poster!

Here’s the movie poster!

Review coming soon!

Meantime check out S. J. Watson’s website:

http://www.sjwatson-books.com/

Who will believe you when your mind goes?

Elizabeth is Missing pic

Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey
Rating: *** ½

Maud Horsham is falling into a confused world of memories and suspicions and these thoughts are further muddled into her present day surroundings. Her grip on reality is loose, but she’s certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

And so begins a tender look into the meandering mind of an eighty-two-year-old woman who has trouble remembering a recent thought and has pockets full of scribbled and crumpled reminders. While she can’t remember where she’s going or what someone’s just said, she never forgets about Elizabeth.

Written through Maud’s perspective, this story is both a sensitive view of the confusing descent into dementia and a somewhat suspenseful mystery surrounding Elizabeth’s whereabouts and, more importantly, the mystery of Maud’s older sister Sukey, who disappeared in 1946.

Maud’s memories are eventually tied into Sukey’s disappearance as the parallel story of Maud’s family in post-war England and her newly-married sister unfolds. Sukey’s husband, Frank is a smooth-talking business-man with lots of questionable contacts. Maud’s mother likes the extra rations Frank brings the family, but her father senses trouble. Douglas is the family border. He’s a sensitive young man with a crush on Sukey and has lost his mother after their house was bombed. There’s a crazy mad woman who wanders through town, adding to the mystery.

We learn about Sukey in bits and pieces, as these memories come and go in Maud’s mind. Maud’s family continuously puts off her concern about Elizabeth and you’re not completely sure if there’s a mystery here or if Maud simply can’t remember what she’s been told.

I enjoyed reading Elizabeth is Missing. It’s the kind of story you want to read straight through for two reasons. Right away, I became invested in Maud’s character and empathized with her plight. The author shows how frustrating it is to not be taken seriously or understood, just because some of the words are wrong. This perspective shows a sensitive look into the puzzle of dementia and makes you understand that Maud’s thoughts are not completely without logic. The mystery element of the story also carries the reader to the story’s resolution, and although some of the tie-ins were not as satisfying as I would have liked, they do explain the characters’ motives and actions.

I agree with The Perfectionist Pen that this story is more about Maud and her struggle with dementia than it is a mystery. You can read her review at: http://theperfectionistpen.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/review-elizabeth-is-missing-emma-healey/

I enjoyed this original story structure and look forward to more from Emma Healey.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

What’s up next? Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing pic

I saw this debut novel reviewed by my blogging friend, The Perfectionist Pen, (theperfectionistpen.wordpress.com), and I knew it was something I’d want to read. I’m about seventy pages into the story and the only thing I want to do today is sit and read the whole thing!

It’s the story of Maud, who is nearly lost in a world of elderly dementia. She is struggling to understand what has happened to her lifelong friend, Elizabeth. Maud’s daughter and caregivers don’t take her worry seriously.  Surely she is just confused about things.  But Maud is certain something has happened. As she searches for clues, with limited abilities, she’s reminded of the mystery behind her sister, Sukie’s disappearance, shortly after World War II. Clear memories from the past occupy her mind and Maud’s muddled sense of reality places her in a sad and moving position.

This first person narrative takes place in England and is told through Maud’s point of view. It’s a look into the confused perceptions of a woman who is losing her grip of the present, but is holding on for her dear friend, Elizabeth. I’m looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds!

Emma Healey

Emma Healey

Emma Healey is a new author from England who has a degree in bookbinding and a second degree in Creative Writing. Check out her website at: http://emmahealey.co.uk/

And be sure to visit The Perfectionist Pen and read her review of Elizabeth is Missing.

http://theperfectionistpen.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/review-elizabeth-is-missing-emma-healey/#more-484

Come back soon – I’ll be reading during this long weekend!

“Gryphon” – a great short story by Charles Baxter

Scribner Anthology

“Gryphon”
by Charles Baxter
from The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
Rating: *****

I really enjoyed this short story, published in 1985, about an alarmingly unusual substitute fourth-grade teacher in rural Michigan. It’s the kind of story that makes you think about the difference between fact and fantasy, of the uncomfortable strangeness of stepping back and forth between the two, and the strong desire to believe in something excitingly unlikely.

When Mr. Hibler develops a cough, Miss Ferenczi steps in as the new substitute teacher. Everything about her is strange, her clothes, the deep lines on her face, and her curious way of talking to the children. They can’t decide what to think about her, but they listen to her ideas, which sometimes seem like they could be true.

When John Wazny makes a mistake with his times tables, Miss Ferenczi doesn’t correct him. Instead she tells him, “Well now. That was very good.” But the children are quick to point out the mistake. They say it can’t be when she tells them that six times eleven can sometimes equal sixty-eight. It’s a “substitute fact,” she says, and then she asks the class, “Do you think that anyone is going to be hurt by a substitute fact? Will the plants on the windowsill be hurt? Your dogs and cats, or your moms and dads?” And when the children have no answer, she adds, “So, what’s the problem?”

They are uncomfortable, but they want to hear what she says. “We listened,” says Tommy. “No one tried to stop her.” Over two days, Miss Ferenczi introduces the class to a new way of thinking and they are secretly and tentatively excited by it. She talks about the Egyptians and pyramids, about planets and diamonds, Beethoven and Mozart, and of angels. She tells them of the time an old man in Egypt showed her a strange animal, a monster, she says, half bird, half lion, called a gryphon. When Carl Whiteside says he thinks Miss Ferenczi is lying about the gryphon, Tommy runs to a dictionary at home for proof of its existence. He shouts with triumph when he finds the word.

All is seemingly forgotten when Mr. Hibler comes back and the class returns to the predictable routine of school. The sun fades the Halloween display and Tommy secretly measures the shorter days with tiny marks on the wall.

Tommy’s heart pounds when Miss Ferenczi returns in December. This time she brings Tarot cards and invites the children to hear their futures. The story turns with these predictions and Tommy has to decide what to believe.

I like how the author makes subtle references to what life is like for Tommy and people in his town. The dirt roads, unemployment, the heap of rusted cars near the playground, and the ordinary realities at Tommy’s house: a hollering baby brother, a mother who is busy in the kitchen, who wipes her forehead with the back of her and tells him, “You have chores to do.” Next to these images are Miss Ferenczi’s fantastical ideas. Is there any question why Tommy and his class would want to believe her?

This is a great view into the small coming-of-age moments of childhood. Baxter has a terrific way of showing what’s important to kids and of the innocent, but surprisingly sophisticated way children think.

I especially like Baxter’s reference to the gryphon and how he compares this mythical creature to Miss Ferenczi. I also read in an interview that Baxter once had a teacher with the same long lines on her face and I enjoyed his comparison to Pinocchio, a puppet/boy known for telling tales. These are the things that make great storytelling!

Here's what a gryphon looks like!

Is the gryphon real or a myth?

Is Pinocchio telling the truth?

Is the teacher telling the truth?

I also like the references to what schools were like back in the day, the ditto machine and the textbook Distant Lands and Their People, a book I’m pretty sure I remember from my own school days!

 

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter is an award-winning American author of five novels, many short stories, poetry and essays. His most recent novel, The Soul Thief, was published in 2008. Gryphon – New and Selected Stories was published in 2011. A graduate of Macalester College, he earned a graduate degree at State University of New York – Buffalo. He began his teaching career at Wayne State University in Detroit and later taught English at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. He currently teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Here are some links to Charles Baxter’s website:

http://www.charlesbaxter.com/

http://www.charlesbaxter.com/curriculum_vitae/curriculumvitae_main.htm

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Back to school blues!

Back to School Blues

Schools are open in our town.
The kids are seeking knowledge.
There’s one less place set at our table.
He’s eating at his college.

We had some bedroom switches.
Our hamster crossed the hall.
Alarms and iPhones have now been set
To the schedules for the fall.

We’ve had a couple mishaps,
Some debacles with transportation.
It’s been a long first couple days.
What a back-to-school sensation!

I also bought twelve one-inch binders,
And some folders in colors fine.
But this year there won’t be much paper.
All their stuff’s online!

Oh how I do remember,
My old school days with pride.
When books were carried to and fro
With papers stuffed inside.

I did my homework at our table,
There was no technology.
And I somehow managed to get by,
Without knowing Schoology!

Summer Beach Read – Coma, by Robin Cook

Anyone else remember this cover?

Anyone else remember this cover?

Coma
by Robin Cook
Rating: ***

There are certain traditions that go hand-in-hand with going to a beach house. Hair dryers and make-up stay in the bag. Socks are rarely worn. Meals are casual. Maybe you do a little crabbing or fishing, take the kids to play mini-golf and, of course, you go to the beach.

You might already have a book to read on the beach or maybe you do what I sometimes do: take your chances and see what’s on the shelf at the house, a beach house library with a crazy mix of reading options. My choices this year included Gone with the Wind, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, a couple popular mysteries and my ultimate selection, Coma, by Robin Cook.

If you were around in the seventies, you might remember the cover, a naked body hanging from wires like a creepy marionette. This book quickly became a best-seller and was named “the #1 medical thriller of the year” by the New York Times.

Susan Wheeler is a third-year medical student and has just begun a surgical rotation at Boston Memorial Hospital. On her very first day, she senses that something very strange is going on. Perfectly healthy patients, in for routine operations, are falling into irreversible comas. Susan is smart, beautiful and persistent and she’s determined to get to the bottom of this disturbing medical situation. She uses her brains, female charm and dancer’s athleticism to access files, request computer searches, crawl through recessed ceilings and run from the bad guys.

I enjoyed reading Coma. Its easy style and fast-moving plot carry the story, despite its dated feel and superficial characters. You have to read a book like this with a certain anything goes attitude. Unrealistic coincidences abound, characters are a bit stereo-typed and the dialogue is pretty wooden, but the plot eventually takes off and the action and suspense rule in the second half.

There is a great deal of medical jargon, but don’t worry if you’re not a doctor. Since the author is also an MD, I’m sure these descriptions are legit and they add credibility to the story.

Susan gets herself into a lot of trouble, first with various hospital executives and doctors and later with some dangerous characters. The suspense continues to the last page and ends with a little ambiguity, enough to make you just a little bit scared.

I think I made a good choice. The cover fell off half-way through and of course it got wet and sandy at the beach, but that’s part of the fun of a beach-house read, isn’t it?

 

Robin Cook

Robin Cook

Robin Cook is a best-selling author of twenty-eight medical thrillers, including Mindbend, Blindsight, and Contagion. Cook says that he writes thrillers because they give him “an opportunity to get the public interested in things about medicine that they didn’t seem to know about.” His most recent book, Cell, was published in 2014.

Coma was published in 1977 and was made into a popular movie in 1978, written and directed by Michael Crichton.  It stars Geniviѐve Bujold and Michael Douglas (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077355/).

Coma was also made into a 2012 TV miniseries on A&E, starring Lauren Ambrose, Steven Pasquale and Geena Davis (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2132641/).

Check out these additional links for information about Robin Cook:

http://robincook.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Cook_%28American_novelist%29

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk –Still a Big Story

Youngblood Hawke pic

Youngblood Hawke
by Herman Wouk
Rating: *****

If you don’t know already that Youngblood Hawke is Number One on my Top Ten List, now you do! Before my review, I’m going to give you ten reasons why this book sits on top of my pile:

  • Its main character, Youngblood Hawke, is someone you instantly like, despite his flaws and weaknesses. I love his good nature.
  • The rest of the many characters are weak and strong in different ways and very realistic. A couple of them you will love to hate. Others are good and honorable, but their weaknesses often surface and cause problems.
  • The dialogue is great, and it’s not just between a few characters. There is a lot of variety in personalities and situations.
  • There are some serious themes and social and political commentary, but…
  • It’s not all serious – there are many funny parts, particularly the scenes that involve Arthur’s mother.
  • The big machine of business in New York and Hollywood is always interesting. The story takes place between 1946 and 1953 and, while times have changed in many major ways, the way people relate to each other as they negotiate these fantastic deals still seems relevant.
  • There is plenty of romantic drama, though it’s certainly subdued compared to today’s standards!
  • Youngblood Hawke’s work ethic is awesome! It certainly is his downfall, but it’s fascinating to imagine a writer who is so driven and who has such long view of what he wants to say. He always has two or three future books mapped out in his head, and beyond that a plan to get down to his serious work.
  • There is a lot of foreshadowing. I enjoy looking back on this and I think it is one of the ways to tie together a great story.
  • It has a very satisfying ending, not to be revealed here!

 

Youngblood Hawke is the story of a young author from the coal mines of Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist. Publishers, agents, Broadway producers, filmmakers, real estate developers and, of course, women, all want a piece of this larger-than-life, good-natured and ambitious personality. Hawke’s goal all along is to make enough money so that he can really get down to business and write his most serious work, something he calls his American Comedy.

He has a work ethic like no other, writes all through the night, sleeps very little and spends the rest of his time trying to manage his new successful life.

But there are many daytime detours. He’s in love with his editor, Jeanne Green, but he can’t resist the lure of Frieda Winter, an attractive older married woman, who is eager to set him up in the Plaza and manage his affairs. And Hawke can’t resist lots of other women. He also jumps right into a variety of questionable investments, including hog futures and other commodities. And unable to say no, Hawke agrees to a series of risky real estate ventures with smooth-talking Scotty Hoag, an old college friend. There are also movie rights to negotiate, screen plays to write, and plays to adapt. And of course there’s the brownstone he’s gutted and is refurbishing, a major money pit.

Almost all of these characters are pre-occupied with money and success, and also avoiding taxes. Hawke’s mother is obsessed with a lawsuit about mining rights, convinced she was bilked out of a huge sum of money by her dead husband’s unfriendly relatives. No one takes her seriously, but she has a way of sensing a con and is tenacious about getting her due. Scotty Hoag is at the center of this ongoing lawsuit and Wouk shows us how he tries to wriggle free.

Wouk also gives us a good look at the business deals, contracts and the crazy negotiations that take place on both coasts and the huge contrast between Hollywood glitz and New York’s publishing world. His story shows us the difference between money and art and gives us characters that struggle with honor.

This is a huge book and an entire section of the book shows one character’s such struggle with honor as he is forced to testify about his links to the Communist party. Karl Fry’s personal battle against pressure to name names shows the power of his resistance and the personal toll it takes. It’s a battle that brings all the key players together and sets up Hawke’s ultimate challenge.

Pushed to his limits, Hawke ignores recurring symptoms of a head injury from years ago. We watch and hope for the best as he works maniacally and under incredible financial pressure to complete his latest book. His dream is just ahead and we hope for the best.

Youngblood Hawke is 800 pages of thinking entertainment. It’s not exactly a fast read, but it’s lots of fun and well worth the commitment. So go on back to the 1940s and 50s, get to know this terrific character and see if this book makes it to the top of your list!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!