Search This Blog

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, 2011

Waking up half-drowned on an abandoned beach with no memory of who he is, a man stumbles onto a BMW by the side of the road. When he gets in he finds a loaded gun, some money, and identification belonging to a man named Daniel Hayes. Not knowing what else to do, he drives to the nearest town and discovers he is in Maine. He has no idea why he would be in Maine, but he pawns the expensive watch on his wrist and gets a cheap motel room. For some reason, he feels compelled to watch a certain television show in order to see an actress named Emily Sweet. In fact, he dreams about the woman during the night – dreams that include other disturbing images that he suspects has something to do with his past and why he has no memory of it.

After the man discovers that he is wanted by the police, he decides to drive to the address on the car’s registration, which is in Malibu, California, carefully avoiding the public. When he arrives at the house, he is shocked to discover that it looks exactly like the set of the same television show that Emily Sweet stars in, and in fact, he is married to the actress Laney Thayer, who plays Emily Sweet on television. She has been murdered, and he is the chief suspect. As Daniel struggles to remember the events of that fateful night, he is overcome by the loss of a wife who he cannot remember while he struggles to keep one step ahead of the police. He can’t believe that he would be capable of murder, but as he tries to find out the truth, he discovers things about himself that cause him to doubt his own convictions.

This novel is a quick read, full of suspense, plot twists and surprises. It is an interesting study on what happens when innocent people get caught up in evil that is beyond their control and how they handle that evil. Although I don’t usually enjoy suspense (it makes me too nervous!), this story had just the right amount to keep the pages turning, yet not so much that my heart raced too fast. And the violence wasn’t too gory either.


Other novels by this author:
The Blade Itself (2007)
At the City’s Edge (2008)
Good People (2008)
The Amateurs (2009)

Other titles you may enjoy:

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer (2008)
A man framed for the murder of his best friend seeks revenge against the four men who put him in Belmarsh prison, the highest-security jail in the land, from where no inmate has ever escaped.

Breaking the Rules by Barbara Taylor Bradford (2009)
When a psychopath with deadly intent vows to shatter M's world forever, the muse and star model to France's iconic designer Jean-Louis Tremont will break the rules to protect her family and her life.

Innocent as Sin by Elizabeth Lowell (2007)
Despairing of finding the mysterious figure responsible for the murder of his identical twin, Rand McCree assists a rich socialite with an art exhibition that has inadvertently entangled her in a money laundering operation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
Louisa Young
Harpercollins, 2011

A story that intertwines the lives of two very different couples during World War I follows army soldier Riley as he fights for the love of Nadine, and Riley's commanding officer Peter Locke, who returns home from the war a bitter and scarred man.

This moving and romantic novel starts out slowly. Riley is from a lower class family. Because he has some artistic talent, he is taken in by Sir Alfred, his benefactor, and given art lessons. Nadine is from a higher class family and she also takes art lessons from Sir Alfred; the two become friends. When Riley is informed about the impossibility of the two becoming more than friends because of the class difference, he decides to enlist in the war. Nadine is heartbroken at his leaving without talking to her, so she becomes a nurse, despite her mother’s disapproval, in order to forget Riley.

Meanwhile, Peter is an officer and has left behind his wife Julia. Julia has no children and no idea what to do with herself all day so she keeps her cello perpetually tuned and the pillows always plumped on the sofa, just in case Peter comes home for a visit. Peter’s Cousin Rose works as a nurse in the hospital and tries to be supportive for Julia but realizes that Peter’s wife has no idea what the war is like for the men who are serving. And Peter? He just can’t deal with the perpetual death and misery of the war, so he avoids coming home at all.

The novel really comes together when Riley and Nadine start writing to each other and declare their love and devotion. The author juxtaposes their budding relationship, full of hopes and dreams and plans, to the deterioration of the Locke’s marriage as the war progresses on and on without an end in sight. Without giving away too many details and ruin the reader’s discovery of the interesting plot turns that develop, Peter becomes so disillusioned and depressed that he is unable to connect with Julia anymore, which creates a great divide between the two that seems impossible to bridge. Riley and Nadine have their own problems because of Riley’s injury, which also seem insurmountable. Thankfully, Rose becomes involved in both situations, and her steadfast commitment to the power of love helps each person heal and become whole again.

This is a powerful and moving story. The slow beginning may be challenging but be assured that it will eventually build into a compelling and rewarding effort.


This is the author’s first novel for adults.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (2010)
Follows the fates of five interrelated families--American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh--as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

Deafening by Frances Itani (2003)
Left profoundly deaf from scarlet fever, Grania O'Neill grows up protected from the hearing world and learning sign language, but her life changes when she falls in love with Jim Lloyd, a hearing man, on the eve of the Great War.

13 Rue Therese by Elena Shapiro (2011)
American academic Trevor Stratton discovers a box full of artifacts from World War I as he settles into his new office in Paris. The pictures, letters, and objects in the box relate to the life of Louise Brunet, a feisty, charming Frenchwoman who lived through both World Wars. As Trevor examines and documents the relics the box offers up, he begins to imagine the story of Louise Brunet's life: her love for a cousin who died in the war, her marriage to a man who works for her father, and her attraction to a neighbor in her building at 13 Rue Therese. The more time he spends with the objects though, the truer his imaginings of Louise's life become, and the more he notices another alluring Frenchwoman: Josianne, his clerk, who planted the box in his office in the first place, and with whom he finds he is falling in love.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

As Husbands Go

As Husbands Go
Susan Isaacs
Scribner, 2010

Astonished when her seemingly devoted husband is found murdered in a prostitute's apartment, Susie, a mother of four-year-old triplets, bristles at the idea that her husband cheated on her. She thought they had the perfect relationship, even if they were super busy with their careers and children and didn’t have much time for each other. Determined to prove that her husband would never stray, Susie undertakes her own investigation to prove that the high class call girl did not kill her husband, even if it means she alienates everyone around her except her long-lost grandmother.

I picked this title up to read because I had never read this author before, and she is considered one of the first to write in the genre of Women’s Lives and Relationships. In fact, I had heard that Jennifer Weiner, my of my favorite authors, considered Susan Isaacs to be her personal favorite. All I can say is: WHAT? I couldn’t have been more disappointed in a book. Now I’m wondering if I happened to pick up the worst book she ever wrote and maybe should try another one of hers just to make sure. Maybe she was having a bad week when she wrote this one. In any event, I could not stand the main character, who seemed more worried about the embarrassment of her husband sleeping around than her husband being dead. And there are more red herrings thrown around than a reader knows what to do with.

And I could care less about designer clothes, jewelry and name brands, which meant that about half the book was meaningless to me. If I was going to be fair, I would have to admit that I finished it just to verify the identity of the murderer, which I knew anyway, but I had to be sure. So, that deserves two cupcakes instead of the one I was going to give this book. Sigh.


Other novels by this author:
Compromising Positions (1978)
Close Relations (1980)
Almost Paradise (1984)
Shining Through (1988)
Magic Hour (1991)
After All These Years (1993)
Lily White (1996)
Red, White and Blue (1998)
Long Time No See (2001)
Any Place I Hang My Hat (2004)
Past Perfect (2007)

Other books you may enjoy:

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (2006)
Living within New York City's most elite apartment building, five women pursue relationships and personal dreams amid the social and sexual politics of New York's privileged.

Lovers and Players by Jackie Collins (2006)
Engaged to a powerful real estate tycoon, New York heiress Amy Scott-Simon has a one-night fling with male model and former drug addict Jett and is horrified to discover that Jett is her fiancĂ©’s younger brother.

The Nannie Diaries by Emma McLaughlin (2002)
A satirical glimpse into Manhattan's upper class follows Nanny, a struggling NYU student who takes a position caring for the son of the rich and glamorous X family, as she learns how to juggle a vast array of tasks so that a Park Avenue wife never has to lift a well-manicured finger.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My New American Life

My New American Life
Francine Prose
Harper, 2011

Lulu is an illegal alien from Albania who has overstayed her welcome on a tourist visa. After working under the table at a restaurant in New York, she answered an au pair ad on the Internet to care for a 17 year old high school student, Zach. Zach and his college professor turned Wall Street businessman father have been on their own ever since their mentally disturbed wife and mother left them. Lula's job is simple: she is to make wholesome meals for Zach while also keeping him out of trouble. Fortunately for Lulu, her employer discovered she was in the country illegally and he has asked his high power attorney friend to get her a green card. But, just when Lulu starts to relax whenever she sees a police car, some Albanian “cousins” show up and manipulate her into some questionable activities that, if discovered, will surely get her deported.

Set in the aftermath of 9/11 while Bush is in office, Lulu is more cynical and world-weary than the average citizen, most likely because of her past experiences in Albania. She is thankful that she has such a cushy job, but her life is pretty quiet for a 26 year old whose only excitement so far has been buying junk food at the grocery store and sneaking weak mixed drinks to her charge. She finds herself creating elaborate stories for her employer and her lawyer to justify her reluctance to return to the corrupt and violent Albania. When her “cousins” ask her to hide a handgun, she accepts despite the chance that she will get caught and be deported. Poor Lulu can’t seem to stop herself from doing whatever the Albanians ask – maybe because she finds one of the “cousins” very cute and wants him to come back to visit. Not the smartest thing, she knows, but she just can't help it.

The satirical nature of this novel may not appeal to everyone. Prose has some obvious targets here: the college that accepts disinterested Zach because they recently had a school shooting and are desperate for students; the mentally ill mother who goes to Sedona on a spirit-quest; the immigration attorney who’s made a mess of his own life, etc. While it is interesting to see our country through the eyes of an immigrant character, and while Lulu is engaging and appealing, the novel slowly builds suspense only to fall flat with a disappointing and predictable ending. I’ve enjoyed some of Prose’s other works much more than this one.


Other novels by this author:

Guided Tours of Hell: novellas (1997)
After (2003) -- YA
A Changed Man (2005)
Blue Angel (2005)
Bullyville (2007) – YA
Goldengrove (2008)
Touch (2009) – YA

Other books you may enjoy:

The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall (2005)
After growing up in England and serving an apprenticeship under a drunken tattoo master, Cy heads for America, setting up a shop on Coney Island and falling in love with a circus performer.

Closing Costs by Seth Jacob Margolis (2006)
Possessing a talent for exposing the weaknesses of her rivals and playing them off of one another, Lucinda orchestrates three large deals that become subject to the real estate market's twists and turns, as well as such factors as embezzlement and forgery.

Too Much Money by Dominick Dunne (2009)
Writer Gus Bailey witnesses the disappearance of the old-money society that once occupied him and investigates the murder of one of the world's wealthiest men, an effort that is sabotaged by the man's calculating wife and schemers within Gus's own set.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Amy Greene
Knopf, 2010

Six voices tell the story of Myra Lamb, a girl born to trouble on Bloodroot Mountain. Raised by her Granny Byrdie because her mother left the mountain and died young, Myra inherited sky blue eyes and “the touch” with animals, passed on through generations of granny women. Byrdie can see that Myra is destined for something special; she hopes and prays that good things will happen for her despite the curse that the family has suffered. This curse, probably generated from the ruby ring that Granny herself stole to give to her new husband, has left each family member with much heartache and disappointment over the years.

Six voices tell the story of Myra, and six voices also tell their own version of events that touched all their lives. One of the storytellers is Myra herself, but she has left her mark on the other five that will never go away no matter how much they try to escape it. From the neighbor boy who falls in love with her to the husband who tries to tame her to the twin children who can’t forget her, they all suffer from having known her. And Myra herself? She takes her own turn at expressing all the love, hate, regret, disappointment and forgiveness they each experience on Bloodroot Mountain.

This is a complicated novel that will take you from character to character forward and backward in time. There are many sides to each of their stories and many ways to interpret their motivations and behaviors, but two things triumph in the end: hope and forgiveness. The ending is especially meaningful and may cause you to want to reread the whole thing immediately, just to see if you could have guessed what would happen. I was awestruck by the characters' voices in this book and I couldn't stop thinking about the sequence of events as the author portrayed them. This was a fascinating and mesmorizing story.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)
Reaching her sixteenth year in the harsh Ozarks while caring for her poverty-stricken family, Ree Dolly learns that they will lose their house unless her bail-skipping father can be found and made to appear at an upcoming court date.

Home by Marilynne Robinson (2008)
Returning to Gilead to care for her dying father, Glory Boughton is joined by her long-absent brother, with whom she bonds throughout his struggles with alcoholism, unemployment, and their father's traditionalist values.

Within Arm’s Reach by Ann Napolitano (2006)
A lyrical novel narrated from six different points of view chronicles the effects of an unexpected pregnancy on three generations of an Irish-American Catholic family.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dreams of Joy

Dreams of Joy
Lisa See
Random House, 2011

This sequel to Shanghai Girls takes up the story of Joy, confused daughter of Pearl, who has discovered a family secret. Devastated by her discovery, Joy impulsively runs to China to search for her real father, Z.G. Enamored by Chinese Communism, Joy is ready to join the Revolution and renounce her American citizenship. Meanwhile, Pearl follows her to China, willing to do anything to find her and convince her to come home again.

When Joy finds her father, she is disappointed at his lack of interest in her. Determined to impress him and also fulfill her own her goal, she joins him when he visits a commune in the country to teach art to the citizens there. Joy has to learn to be a peasant or she risks condemnation by the others, but she adjusts to the different way of life – and falls in love with a young man. Pearl finds herself in a different situation when she arrives in Shanghai. In order to stay in the country, she must follow a strict set of rules, find a job, and renounce her western ways. Both Pearl and Joy eventually find each other only to be forced to separate again as each must go her own path to a dangerous and unpredictable future.

This glimpse into communist China during the late fifties and early sixties provides a fascinating backdrop to a touching story of love, redemption and forgiveness. The detailed descriptions vividly illustrate the confusion and despair that existed during that time as the bureaucratic corruption and ridiculous direction from the leaders take the country on a downward spiral. It may sound trite and corny, but history does come alive in this book. I didn’t know much about the Mao years in China, but reading this book motivated me to do my own research into this subject. Even more importantly for us novel readers, I felt like I was in Shanghai or Green Dragon Village with Pearl and Joy, struggling as they struggled, suffering as they suffered – at least as much as one can do while reading about it. I highly recommend this book, but be sure to read them in order!


Other novels by this author:
The Interior (1999)
Dragon Bones (2003)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)
Peony in Love (2007)
Flower Net (2008)
Shanghai Girls (2009)

Other books you may enjoy:

Big Breasts and Wide Hips by Yan Mo (2004)
Jintong, his mother, and his eight sisters struggle to survive through the major crises of twentieth century China, which include civil war, invasion by the Japanese, the Cultural Revolution, and communist rule in the new China.

White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway (2006)
The children of a war-photographer father and beautiful but remote mother, Frankie and Kate, two American sisters, grow up in Hong Kong during the turmoil of the Maoist revolution of the late 1960s.

Wild Ginger by Anchee Min (2002)
A story of desire during the time of the Cultural Revolution follows Wild Ginger, who becomes a national model for Maoism, which prohibits romantic love, forcing her to make a difficult decision when she falls in love with a young man.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Emily, Alone

Emily Alone
Stewart O’Nan
Viking, 2011

Dear Grandma,

I recently finished reading a book called Emily Alone and I couldn’t help but think about you. The main character is an elderly woman named Emily. Her husband has died recently and she is very lonely. She used to have lots of friends and neighbors that she did things with, but now her circle of contacts has diminished so much that she pretty much waits by the phone for someone to call her. Most of her friends have died, her neighbors have moved away or relocated to assisted living facilities, and her children are not close. Her world has narrowed much like yours did. In fact, Emily spends a lot of time wishing her children and grandchildren would call her or come visit her. It made me wish I had made the time to call you more often. As I read this book I imagined you waiting by the phone wishing for one of your grandchildren to call you, just like Emily does.

Emily’s life changes a little when she decides to buy a new car. She had tried to drive her husband’s old car, but it was too big and used too much gas. Driving gives her a little more independence, but it doesn’t take away the loneliness. Her life still centers on weekly brunches with her sister-in-law, taking care of her old dog, and waiting for winter to end. Emily’s life makes me think of old age and how empty it can be for some people. I wonder what that type of loneliness would be like. I remember you used to tell me you were ready to die and I didn’t like to hear you say that. I know you had things to keep you busy: your garden, and Miss Sophia the cat, and my uncle’s many adventures to complain about, but I sure wish I had been more aware of how things were with you. I’m sorry I didn’t visit you more often, sorry I didn’t take the time to send you little notes more often, and sorry I didn’t bother to call you more often.

Maybe this book will make other grandchildren call their grandma more often, before it’s too late. It's too late for me to make things right with my grandmother; I hope Emily's grandchildren end up making things right with her.


Other novels by this author:
Snow Angels (1994)
The Speed Queen (1997)
A World Away (1998)
Everyday People (2001)
Wish You Were Here (2002)
The Night Country (2003)
The Good Wife (2005)
Last Night at the Lobster (2007)
Songs for the Missing (2008)

Other books you may enjoy:

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg (2009)
After the death of her husband, Helen Ames is shocked to discover that he spent their retirement savings before he died, but what he did with their money leads Helen and her twenty-seven-year-old daughter Tessa to embark on new adventures.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates (2003)
The daughter of a migrant worker finds her life in the deprived and ugly transient world shaped by her father, lover, husband, and son.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
The idyllic lives of civic-minded environmentalists Patty and Walter Berglund come into question when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors, green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry, and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Silver Sparrow

The Silver Sparrow
Tayari Jones
Algonquin, 2011

James Witherspoon is a bigamist. He divides his time between his legal wife and daughter (Chaurisse) and his second wife and daughter (Dana.) Dana and her mother both know about James' other daughter, but Chaurisse and her mother are blissfully unaware of James's secret family. Dana and her mother live in the shadows – they must be careful everywhere they go to not run into Chaurisse and her mother. It even affects where Dana goes to school. But this doesn’t stop the two of them from spying on Chaurisse and her mother every chance they get in order to compare what James gives his first family and what James provides for his second.

When Dana accidently meets her half-sister, the two of them become friends. For Dana, it's an irresistible opportunity to secretly see how much better her father’s “real” family lives. She sees that they have a nicer house, better clothes, and more time with James. For Chaurisse, Dana is a glamorous friend--a "silver girl" possessing all the style, popularity, and long pretty hair that Chaurisse thinks would make her happy. But this friendship is doomed from the start. As the two girls spend more time together, the secret is bound to come out, and when it does, Dana and her mother discover that they have much more to lose than they thought.

This fascinating look at the dark side of bigamy had me glued to the book until the end. It is set in the 1980s, and the author includes many details about the fashion, politics, and attitudes of the time period, which helped to put the situation in perspective. I found Dana’s and Chaurisse’s voices to be authentic and realistic – and very sad. This book doesn’t wrap everything up neatly, but that’s what makes it hard to stop thinking about afterward. It will make you think about the choices people make and how these choices have far-reaching consequences for others beside ourselves.


Other books by this author:
Leaving Atlanta (2002)
The Untelling (2005)

Other novels you may enjoy:

Falling in Love with Natassia by Anna Mondardo (2006)
Born to college students unprepared for parenthood, Natassia is raised by her father's parents, but the end of Natassia's teenage romance and the resulting emotional collapse forces all of the adults in her life to re-evaluate their relationships.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
Forced to leave Shanghai when their father sells them to California suitors, sisters May and Pearl struggle to adapt to life in 1930s Los Angeles while still bound to old customs, as they face discrimination and confront a life-altering secret.

Sea Escape by Lynn Reeves Griffin (2010)
Balancing her roles as a wife and mother with the responsibility of caring for a parent who is recovering from a stroke, Laura reads love letters exchanged by her parents during the 1950s and tumultuous Vietnam War period, a correspondence that reveals unexpected truths.