The Fifth Letter (Nicola Moriarty, 2017)

fifthletter

Why did you choose this book?

I order books for the fiction collection at my library.  I read the synopsis of this one while deciding whether or not to buy it and was immediately intrigued.  Also, Nicola’s sister is Liane, who wrote “Big Little Lies.”

What’s it about?

A group of four friends, who have been inseparable since elementary school.  As a bonding exercise, the clingiest of the group (Joni) suggests that they all write an anonymous letter containing a secret, to be read out loud to the group and discussed.  Someone writes an extra letter, having gotten cold feet after pouring out their dirtiest secret – that they are so jealous they want to kill or maim another member of the group.  Who wrote it?

Categories

Fiction

Review

I wanted this book to be good so badly.  “The Fifth Letter” borrows from the format and style of BLL, and is well-written, but OMG I didn’t care.  I never really felt that the characters were in danger, and to be honest, I didn’t really care if they were or not.  I also thought the revelations of secrets at the end of the novel were blah.

Refresher (here there be spoilers)

No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis

Ok, I warned you…

The secrets:

Trina: feels like a bad mom, abusive husband.  Saw that coming and all moms have insecurities about motherhood.

Joni: a bunch of secrets – just have an honest convo with your hubby already!  So many misunderstandings could have been avoided.

Eden: Claimed to have had a baby as a teenager, but really was scarred as a result of a rape and the fact that her mother never believed her about what happened.  Pushes Joni, who cracks her head open on the edge of the pool and almost dies.

Deb: attends a divorce support group as a result of her parents’ divorce when she was a child.  Wants to kill Trina (but not really – “I would never act on it!”), because Trina (who doesn’t remember this) used to make fun of her for having warts on her hands.

Also, Eden’s hubby and Joni almost kissed, which sends everyone into fits of jealousy.  Dudes, calm down.

And there are sections where Joni “confesses” the whole story to a priest, basically as an excuse for the author to explain occurrences to the reader without actually describing the whole scene.  I think in the end Trina ends up dating the priest, who decided to become a psychiatrist after listening to Joni’s confession.  He was my fave character, which should tell you something.

I read this entire book in 3 hours (which is rare for me with adult fiction), and I kind of wish I hadn’t even given it that much time.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (Cynthia Barnett, 2015)

rain

Why did you choose this book?

I haven’t read very many microhistories (histories of one specific object or topic), and I wanted to give an unconventional one a try.  Most of the microhistories I’ve seen focus on things like birth control pills, corn, cotton, paper, water, etc.  Rain is a more abstract idea and an interesting one to tackle.

What’s it about?

All of the ways that rain has played into life.  This ranges from acid rain and climate change to cloud-seeding for warfare.

Categories

Nonfiction, science.  It could also be history but the overall feel was more scientific than historical.

Other recommended reads?

There are several microhistories on water.  If you like this then you’ll probably like those as well.

Review

I did learn several things from this book.  I enjoyed the discourse about different phrases used to describe heavy rain, and I learned about the use of cloud-seeding during the Vietnam War.  That being said, it took me nearly three weeks to finish this book (which is unheard of!).  It was a dense, slow read that needed to be broken up across many days.  I didn’t hate it, but I sure didn’t love it either.

Up next?

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

 

Terrorist (John Updike, 2006)

terrorist

Why did you choose this book?

As my long-time readers know, I lead the monthly fiction book discussions at my workplace.  This was our most recent read.

What’s it about?

Ahmad is half Egyptian and half Irish.  After his father disappeared from his life, he filled that void with devotion to his faith: Islam.  As Ahmad grew older, his shaikh became more and more influential in his life, eventually convincing him to give up on college and begin work as a truck driver.  Ahmad’s first job is with a furniture store, but after a few months his boss approaches him with an offer.  He wants Ahmad to carry out a terror attack.

Categories

Literary fiction

Other recommended reads?

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim.  A nonfiction book about how the son of a terrorist made his own life choices, despite or because of his father’s.

Review

John Updike won more literary prizes than most authors, including two Pulitzers.  I’ll try some of his other work, but color me unimpressed by this entry.  I felt that Ahmad and the other Islamic characters were too stereotypically drawn, with little or no motivation outside of faith for any of their actions.  I felt that Ahmad’s Irish mother was a caricature, and that Ahmad’s actions in the final chapters were sudden and the reader was not presented with the reasons behind them.  Some of the novel’s other characters were more believable (like burnt-out high school guidance counselor Jack Levy).  The novel was well-written but not necessarily an enjoyable read.  Admittedly, I read it late at night the day before the discussion, but I didn’t skim, and I think reading it more slowly would have left me with the same impression.

Up next?

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

Those We Left Behind (Stuart Neville, 2015)

those we left behind

Why did you choose this book?

I lived in Ireland for a few months while in college, and had the opportunity to travel to the northern counties (still a part of the UK).  I’ve been drawn to any and all Irish fiction since those travels, and this novel is set in Belfast.

What’s it about?

Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster parent at the age of 12.  Now in his early twenties, he has been released from prison.  Ciaran is overjoyed to see his older brother, Thomas, but unsure of what to make of the world into which he has been released.  His parole officer (Paula Cunningham) and the officer who took his original confession (Serena Flanagan) suspect there is more to the story, and as strange things again surround the pair of boys, both women are determined to get to the bottom of the case once and for all.

Categories

I think it’s supposed to be suspense, but to me it just read like a mystery.  I didn’t really feel that the main characters were in danger from the “villain.”

Other recommended reads?

The overall tough detective feel reminded me of Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights.  A more enjoyable Irish police procedural/mystery novel is Conor Brady’s A June of Ordinary Murders.

Review

I kept this novel on my to-read pile for months, waiting until just the right moment to crack it open.  I finally decided to do so, and found myself underwhelmed.  The novel is a fast read.  I felt that it could have been set anywhere, and the only real Irish touches were the names.  I also felt that the characterization could have been stronger, with many characters (like Thomas, Ciaran, and Serena) feeling one dimensional.  I probably won’t read the rest of the series, but I don’t regret reading this entry.

Up next?

The Legend of the Rift by Peter Lerangis

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies (Kate Anderson Brower, 2016)

first women

Why did you choose this book?

If there’s one area of history I’m passionate about, it is presidential history.  I haven’t had the chance to read Brower’s first book yet, but I probably will in the future.  I’m working on amassing all of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books and I love love love answering presidential trivia.

What’s it about?

What the subtitle says.  It covers Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.  That includes their accomplishments as first ladies, their attitudes toward the role, and their relationships (good and bad) with each other and with their husbands.

Categories

Nonfiction, popular history

Other recommended reads?

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller.

Review

I was so excited and then so let down by this book.  It was written in a very gossipy style (like The News Sorority), rather than the more academic narrative nonfiction I prefer (like David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin).  I found it off-putting that the author had biases toward different first ladies.  She seemed to idolize Kennedy and revile Obama.  She also provided uneven coverage of the women, barely addressing the Bushes (especially Barbara) at all.  I did learn a few things from the book, but I expected so much more than it delivered.

Up next?

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

 

July’s People (Nadine Gordimer, 1981)

july's people

Why did you choose this book?

You may remember that I was doing books set in Africa for a class at the library.  This is the second one I read all the way through rather than skimmed (don’t tell…).  As for why I chose this book to present in the class, I was told I had to do a Gordimer because she’s a Nobel laureate, and this one seemed like it would be the most evocative of a time and place in Africa.

What’s it about?

The Smales family is forced to flee Johannesburg as a result of apartheid-induced violence.  The only place they can go is with their manservant, July, to his ancestral village.  He is the chief of that village, though not of his tribe.  Their attempts to understand the new culture and the new role of this man they have known for years are the underlying themes of the book.

Categories

Fiction

Other recommended reads? 

It’s hard to say.  This book is unique because it was written before the end of apartheid, so Gordimer was only guessing what she thought would happen.  It’s the author’s vision of South Africa.  So it’s not really historical fiction or dystopian.  Just somewhere in between.  And, yes, I realize I failed to answer the question.

Review

This is an extremely short book, which can easily be read in just a few hours.  I had a hard time with the writing style and didn’t find the descriptions of Africa or village life as evocative of a place as I had hoped, and as I saw in other books like Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible or Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees.

Up next?

A Diamond Deal with the Greek by Maya Blake

Stormstruck (John Macfarlane, 2015)

stormstruck

Why did you choose this book?

Honestly, we received an ARC at the library.  My officemate, upon seeing a dog on the cover, handed it to me.  I shrugged and took it home, where it has been sitting for more than six months.  I went on a 2 day trip and decided it was the perfect short read to take with me.

What’s it about? 

Sam’s parents decide it is time to euthanize his beloved Labrador, Pogo.  Pogo originally belonged to Sam’s older brother, who was killed in the war (I assume Iraq or Afghanistan).  To save him, Sam takes him out on his sailboat and runs away from home.  The duo encounter various obstacles, and end up spending a few days marooned on a previously abandoned shipwreck with no food or water.

Categories

Adventure, juvenile fiction

Other recommended reads?

If you’re into juvenile fiction about dogs, try some of the other classics like Old Yeller, Big Red, Where the Red Fern Grows, or Because of Winn-Dixie.

If you’re reading it for the adventure, try Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Review

I only finished this book because it was short (like 130 pages or so).  I thought Sam was far too self-centered, even for an impulsive kid.  He got on my nerves.  The book also had tons of nautical jargon about sails and navigation and parts of boats.  Those sections were too advanced for me, and I read at an adult level, which is far above the target reading level for this novel.  I would only recommend this book to kids who frequently go sailing and already have nautical knowledge.

Up next?

Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell