Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I've Been Reading: March 2015

Here we are at the end of March, and folks, it's fairly slim pickings. Two of my four titles for the month (yes, only four. Even super-readers have slumps.) were fairly high page-count, and two of them begged to be savored instead of devoured, but in the end, here are my four reads for the month of March.

Crash & Burn, by Lisa Gardner. In this rather creepy suspense novel from Gardner, Nicole Frank crawls free of the wreckage of her crashed SUV, only to find that she has gaping holes in her memory. When her husband tries to help her remember upon arriving at the hospital, Nicole begins to doubt everything he says in addition to the odds and ends she thinks she remembers. It falls to Boston PD Sergeant Wyatt Foster to help Nicole piece the story together, even as he helps her search for a missing girl who may not even exist. While this book was a bit of a slow start, once I got about a third of the way in, the plot took off like a shot and all I could do was hang on to the very twisted ending. I'm a fan.

Caribou Island, by David Vann. I recently came across a review of David Vann's new book (Aquarium, which was released earlier this month) which lauded the author as one of the greatest American novelists of our time. I was admittedly intrigued, because that's a lot to live up to. I picked up Vann's 2012 debut novel, Caribou Island, on audiobook and immediately fell down the rabbit hole. Set in the wilds of Alaska, this is the story of a family pulled apart by rage and regret. Gary feels consistently frustrated and thwarted, mourning thirty years of a life he thought would be different. His wife, Irene, does her best to go along with Gary's latest great project, a cabin built on Caribou Island; dissent only provokes arguments. She can feel Gary pulling away, and even as she tries to keep their family together, her own body begins to betray her with a headache that has no medical cause and that will not respond to medication. Their devoted adult daughter, Rhoda, attempts to maintain the peace, anxious at the increasing strain between her parents and equally worried about the state of her relationship with her fiance, Jim. The book builds to an almost unbearable tension, beautifully written and paced. I am looking forward to more great things from Vann.

The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. Since discovering my love of Conroy's slow, deliberate prose when reading Beach Music a number of years ago, I have made an effort to pace myself with the reading of his work. Since he typically only publishes perhaps two or three times each decade, it has been a challenge for me to be moderate. So I have been reading The Prince of Tides, and savoring it, making it last. I admit I've never seen the movie, so I have come to the novel unspoiled by expectations. This is the story of Tom Wingo and his gifted, troubled twin sister Savannah, spanning decades as they each try in their own way to come to terms with their darkly secretive and extraordinary family legacy. I could talk about my love of Conroy for hours. Note: The audiobook version was read by the late, great Frank Muller. Conroy later said that he was grateful to Muller, because the reading of the novel gave him, Conroy, a version of the book he didn't know had existed.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I have to thank my friend Wendy for encouraging me to read this, as she knew I was in a bit of a reading dry spell. I think the spell might be broken. At least, I hope so. And it would be in part because of this deeply emotional novel, set in France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, have never been close. Vianne, 10 years Isabelle's senior, enjoys her small, simple life in the Loire Valley. She has a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and a job teaching at the village school. Isabelle cannot accept what is expected of her--she has been expelled from a number of boarding schools, and now at nearly nineteen, she returns to their emotionally distant father in Paris, only to be shunted off to live with Vianne. As France falls to the German occupation and soldiers are billeted with the sisters, Isabelle finds herself drawn into the French resistance movement, driving another wedge between the sisters. This is a deeply moving story of family ties during a time of crisis, and I thought it was excellent.

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