Monday, May 1, 2017

Book Reviews April 2017

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Countryby Helen Russell.  This was a fun book – it’s sort of the book you’d get if Bridget Jones traveled to Denmark and lived there for a year.  Helen Russell had a successful career in the fashion magazine world in London, but left to go live in Denmark when her husband got his dream job at Lego.  She had been having a stressful time of it in London, and decides to move to Denmark and embrace exactly what makes it such a happy place.  They move in January and the book is divided by one month per chapter.  The “downside” of the book is that basically all the reasons that the Danish are happy can’t be emulated in another country—you basically need to move to Denmark (or Norway) to achieve that happiness for yourself.  Drat.  It’s interesting to see how well the social safety net works there, although Russell is also honest about the problems she encounters with the Danish way of life.  Russell is a very entertaining writer – she’s very irreverent and very funny, and very au courant.

Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse.  I loved this thriller and couldn’t put it down.  Rowan is a woman in her thirties living as an academic in London when she learns that a childhood friend of hers, Marianne Glass, died in a freak accident falling off the roof of her house.  Although Rowan had been estranged from Marianne for the past ten years, she goes up to Oxford for the funeral and ends up agreeing to house-sit for the family.  Marianne was an extremely successful and famous painter, and it turns out that right before she died she sent Rowan a letter.  Rowan is not convinced that the death was an accident, although she doesn’t know if it was suicide or murder.  She decides to investigate on her own.  Her search reveals more and more, but the reader also finds out some interesting information about Rowan herself, which has the potential to change everything.  It is very suspenseful and very well written.  It’s an excellent book!

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This novel is about the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who in real life were southern women abolitionists in Charleston in the 1800s, and a slave from their household, Handful.  The chapters switch back and forth from Sarah to Handful.  Handful was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday, but even at that age Sarah was anti-slavery so tried all she could do to “give her back.”  She and Handful become friends, and Sarah illicitly teaches Handful to read.  Sarah ends up so out of place in Charleston that she goes to Philadelphia and becomes a Quaker.  Later Angelina joins her and they become abolitionist speakers, which they did in real life.  Meanwhile Handful and her mother meet up with Denmark Vesey and their situation becomes even more complicated.  Sarah had made a promise to Handful’s mother to try to free her, and she attempts to keep that promise.  It’s an interesting book, although I was never able to get very enthusiastic about it.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron.  This was a really good read.  Two couples go on vacation together to Italy, and while in Siracusa, disaster ensues.  Each chapter is from the viewpoint of one of the four main characters, and it is entertaining to get all the different takes on the trip.  Lizzie and Michael are writers from New York, and Finn and Taylor are living in Maine, where Finn owns a restaurant and Taylor works at the tourist bureau.  Finn and Lizzie dated once in their early twenties.  Finn and Taylor also have a daughter, Snow, who is ten and on the spectrum.  Both couples are having marriage problems:  Michael is in the midst of an affair back in New York, and Finn and Taylor have troubles because Taylor is obsessed with their daughter.  Ephron is a really funny writer – I laughed out loud frequently, even though the topics are fraught.  My one criticism would be that Taylor is too one-note and not believable.  She’s too easy to thoroughly dislike.  It’s a fun book though and I will definitely seek out more of Ephron’s novels.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint.  I didn’t enjoy this one very much.  It is about a woman in the early sixties in Queens, Ruth, whose young children, age 5 and 4, go missing and then are found dead.  The detectives believe she did it and do everything they can to convict her.  The reader knows she didn’t do it – although we don’t know who did until the end.  The majority of the story is told from the point of view of Pete, a young reporter who finagles getting assigned to this story in the hopes that it will make his career.  He starts investigating and thinks Ruth is innocent, but more so because he becomes attracted to and obsessed by her.  My problem with the book is that the main point of it seems to be to show how unfairly Ruth is treated because she is a beautiful woman who sleeps around.  This more than anything else motivates the police and detectives to try to prove her guilt, even though she isn’t guilty.  The stressful part is that we only see Ruth through the eyes of the men surrounding her, so as readers you feel rather complicit in her objectification.  Flint doesn’t help us out, because she doesn’t make Ruth really anything more than her like of losing herself in sex with men.  We really don’t know more about Ruth than what the men think they know, and that makes it frustrating to read.


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