Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I've been reading: September 2015

Wow, September seemed really fast to me. On one hand, I look back and what I've read, and the book at the beginning of the list seems ages in the past. And on the other hand, I can't believe tomorrow is the last day of the month. Weird. In any case, I've been reading some incredible books this month, and I cannot wait to share.

The Third Wife, by Lisa Jewell. In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus, but whether this was a tragic accident or suicide is unclear. At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge. Part mystery, part blended family saga, this was absolutely riveting.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. I loved this so much that I couldn't keep it to myself. You can read my review here.

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. McLain, author of bestseller The Paris Wife, returns to readers here with the story of another remarkable woman lost in the haze of history, this time Beryl Markham (her memoir, West With the Night, was a major source for McLain's novel), a contemporary of Hemingway and his wives. Markham, famed aviator and renowned racehorse trainer, is the focus of McLain's novel, tracing her early years running wild in the Kenyan countryside, learning the racing trade from her trainer father. Until she is pressured into marrying a neighbor when she is sixteen, owing to her father's financial instability and his decision to sell his training operation and move to Cape Town. This relationship, doomed from the start, is unfortunately only the first in a string of complex and constraining ties in Markham's life, driving her to fast horses, cars, and airplanes as a means of freedom and escape. Bonus, the audiobook is thrillingly read by the extremely talented Katharine McEwan.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll. It seems like you can't walk two steps without stumbling over a Gone Girl reference these days, and Knoll's novel has not escaped--in this case, I've seen it referred to as Gone Girl meets Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep. However, I have to say that I think that is a very oversimplified description of a novel which is dark, disturbing, and a thoroughly cynical commentary on our modern culture. TifAni FaNelli, at first glance, has everything: a handsome, wealthy financier fiance from an old, blueblood family; an enviable job at a competitive women's fashion magazine; a wardrobe that would make fashionistas weep. But underneath it all is a past that keeps threatening to overwhelm her and drown her chance at happiness. When an opportunity arises for Ani to finally put some of her past demons to rest, her stress levels increase as she's forced to relive some of the worst days of her life. While the novel is compulsively readable, for me it was morbid fascination as the story unfolded. Ani is, like the characters in Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train, not a sympathetic character for the most part. There is only a glimmer of hope that she might be redeemed. But the enthralling maze of secrets still makes for a fascinating read.

The Girl in the Spider's Web, by David Lagercrantz. Lagercrantz is the Swedish journalist and bestselling author who was asked by Steig Larsson's estate to write a follow-up novel to Larsson's Millenium trilogy featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. No small order, but he does brilliantly, bringing back our favorite characters in full color in this novel of artificial intelligence and corporate espionage, which are enough to bring an at-loose-ends Blomkvist in. Add wrongs that need righting and Salander is on the case. The plot-lines are beautifully interwoven in this smart thriller, and fans, myself included, can only hope that this won't be the last.

This is How, by Augusten Burroughs. This is not your mother's self-help book, which makes sense coming from unconventional thinker Burroughs (Running With Scissors, etc.). Rather, this collection of essays/chapters challenges how we address our lives and our emotions, including unhappiness, stress, and relationships. Each section tackles a different obstacle: grief, depression, shame, and then unravels some of the conventional wisdom and relentless positivity found in most self-help tomes. Instead, this is a manual for how to pick up, right where you are stuck, and move forward. I found it both reassuring and, in some cases, a little eye-opening.

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