Monthly Archives: August 2018

‘The Cactus’ by Sarah Haywood

Susan Green has a perfectly ordered life. She has a flat ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and a relationship that is intimate enough, but also not too demanding–until, of course, she finds herself in a messy situation that begins to spiral her life out of control. Just as Susan discovers that she will become a mother herself, her own mother passes away, leaving everything to her lazy brother who has always been a torment to her. As her family problems escalate and her due date approaches, the usually prickly heroine Susan finds help and discovery in the most unlikely of places.

There’s been a run on humorous and charming novels about quirky emotionally isolated and overly practical protagonists in the last number of years. The Rosie Project was the first one so it was praised for its originality and the fact that the main voice was male.  Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, was actually less of a love story, and focused more on community and human connection. What I liked about this one was the deadpan humour and some interesting twists and turns, in addition to the pleasingly inevitable outcome! Thanks for the suggestion Pam!

‘Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say’ by Kelly Corrigan

Listening to the audio version of this book got me through a rainy day of curtain sewing, and I must say it was a great way to read this book–the time flew by. With candor and wit, Kelly Corrigan talks about parenting, marriage, mothering, career, family, friendship, illness, aging, and mortality. Some of her language is a bit jarring, but I appreciated her deeply honest vulnerability and her willingness to share her own stories in order to give us (and herself) permission to not have all of the answers, but still have something simple yet meaningful to say in tough situations. And of course sometimes the best thing is to say nothing at all!

So what are some of the hardest things to say? Here’s a sample few to give you the idea, and note, these are said without nattering on and including our own stories, excuses, reasons, or explanations:  “Tell me more.” “I know (but only if you actually do).” “I was wrong.” “I don’t know.” And of course the one we all struggle with, “No.”

‘Let Me Lie’ by Clare Mackintosh

The police say it was suicide.

Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

This is my third domestic thriller by Clare Macintosh and I finally figured out why I like her stories so much–she really makes me care about the characters and that can be rare in a plot driven novel. There are plenty of twists and turns in her books, and a final gasp at the end, but each story is unique–nothing formulaic here. Incidentally, this clever author’s titles always have double meanings.

Losing one parent to suicide is hard enough, but imagine losing the second parent only six months later, ending their life in exactly the same manor–jumping from one of the cliffs at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, UK. Anna is struggling to come to terms with her parents’ deaths, unable to comprehend why they chose to end their lives. She has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl named Ella, and is living with her partner Mark in her parental home. With a brand new baby she realizes the strength of a mother-child bond, and is missing her mother more than ever. Why would her mother put her through terrible grief again after losing her father so recently? There’s something that doesn’t sit right with Anna about the whole situation. But is it better to investigate, or just let it lie…

Beachy Head is one of my favourite scenic places in the world, and I have stayed in Eastbourne more than once, so the setting of this mystery really appealed to me. Of course the breathtaking height and views of the sea from these abrupt cliffs also hold tragic opportunity, which is sobering and renders the beauty bittersweet. My favourite of Mackintosh’s novels so far is still I Let You Go, but this and her other one called I See You, are all great choices if you are in the mood for an engrossing page turner.

‘The Dutch Wife’ by Ellen Keith

Marijke de Graaf and her husband are arrested for being involved in the resistance movement and deported to separate concentration camps in Germany. Marijke is given a terrible choice: to suffer a slow death in a labour camp, or have a chance at survival by volunteering to join the camp brothel. In Argentina, a political prisoner is also enduring captivity and searching to find ways to resist, even from his prison cell. The flyleaf promises that this novel is about “love, the blurred lines between right and wrong, as well as the capacity of ordinary people to persevere and do the unthinkable in extraordinary circumstances.”

Although this WW2 historical fiction offers a unique and candid view into the topic of war camp brothels, if it wasn’t a book club assignment, I might not have finished it. I found it hard to read because it felt gratuitously brutal and explicit in ways that were not necessary. The author makes the mistake of doing too much telling, rather than showing. I found the characters shallow, the Argentine thread out of step with the rest of the story, and the writing weak and immature, especially the ending. The whole ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ scenario just steps from where her husband was slaving away, made the book feel like nothing more than a cheap romance set in terrible times. In its favour, the author took on a weighty topic and made a highly readable novel that will appeal to many readers, and indeed already has, judging by numerous glowing reviews.

‘Swimming Lessons’ by Claire Fuller

“Writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line.”

“Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.”

Past and present merge seamlessly in alternating chapters that tell a well-crafted story of a passionate yet tragic marriage. At times the pace was riveting and at others as slow and exhausting as a long hard swim against the tide. I do so love epistolary novels (books written in the form of letters) because it makes the reading seem so personal. There are interesting themes in this novel, but not everyone will like it.

I’d love to say more, both positive and negative, but that would involve spoilers. I am looking forward to the book club meeting where I can discuss it with others. There is hidden depth to this novel that is haunting, like something hiding right beneath the surface of the water that can’t quite be seen but is definitely there! Of course there are so many things in life we will never know, especially about the lives of our parents and grandparents. Sometimes it’s nice when the author doesn’t spell everything out and the reader is allowed their own interpretation, but it can be frustrating as well. It’s definitely a novel to ponder and think about, in fact I keep thinking about it, and that says something.