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Posts Tagged ‘Paula Hawkins’

The summer books are beginning to roll in, offering diversion for the long, hot months ahead. If you were a fan of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, you’re no doubt longing to dive into her new one, Into the Water (Penguin, purchased hardcover). Alas, I found it a bit of slog, with too many narrators muddying the waters. One even says as much: “How is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head.” The most recent victim is Nel Abbott, a single mother who loved swimming and was writing a book about Beckford village’s “Drowning Pool,” where “troublesome women” have perished since the days of witch hunts. Did Nel fall or was she pushed from the cliffs?  It’s not clear, unlike the obvious suicide of schoolgirl Katie, which her grief-stricken mother Louise somehow blames on Nel. Pretty much every one in Beckford has an opinion. The rotating chorus of voices includes, just for starters,  Nel’s teenage daughter, her estranged sister, a secretive copper, his mousy wife, a high school teacher and an elderly psychic. Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine did this Hitchcockian style of suspense and misdirection very well, Hawkins not so much. At least not yet.

Scott Turow is a pro at writing substantive legal thrillers, and Testimony (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley) is further proof as middle-aged Midwest attorney Bill ten Boom heads to the Hague. The rumors of a heinous war crime have circulated for years: In 2004, 400 Romas — Gypsies — living in a Bosnian refugee camp all vanished one night never to be seen again. Now, more than a decade later, a surviving witness has come forward to testify to the circumstances, and it’s up to Boom and a Belgian investigator to determine the truth of his testimony. Were the masked men with guns who herded the villagers into trucks Serb paramilitary, or were they from a nearby American base? The complicated case takes Boone to Bosnia and elsewhere in Europe, and he encounters such fascinating characters as a femme fatale Roma lawyer, a retired American general and a ruthless war criminal with blood on his hands and more murder in mind. Befitting the intricacy of the house-of-cards plot, the pace is mostly measured, even slow, the exception being a heart-stopping kidnapping scene. Things are not what they seem, and so things do not go as planned. But as in the masterful Presumed Innocent, Turow doesn’t miss a trick.

Now for the fun stuff. The late Michael Crichton’s recently discovered and newly published Dragon Teeth (HarperCollins, digital galley) combines the historical suspense of The Great Train Robbery with the ancestors of the featured creatures in Jurassic Park. That’s right, these dinosaurs are dead — fossilized, in fact — and fought over by real-life paleontologists during the “Bone Wars” in frontier America. Fictional Yale student and tenderfoot William Johnson signs on with a dinosaur-digging expedition in the summer of 1876. Left behind in Cheyenne by one eccentric professor,  he joins a rival group going to Montana and encounters gunslingers, buffalo and enough Wild West adventure to fill a book.

Dorothea Benton Frank writes vacations in a book. In Same Beach, Next Year (Morrow, review copy), two couples’ 20-year-friendship is cemented by joint summer visits at Wild Dunes resort in lowcountry South Carolina, but is threatened by jealousy on both sides.  Eliza, who shares narration with husband Adam, knows that Eve, now married to handsome doctor Carl, and Adam were high school sweethearts. What she doesn’t know is that Eve’s witch of a mother, Cookie, drove the young lovers apart, and that sparks still fly between the old flames. Still, the see-saw plot often takes a backseat to the descriptions of the lush landscape, both in the lowcountry and on the Greek island of Corfu, and the delicious dishes concocted by sassy Eliza. (Eve is a terrible cook).

You don’t have to have read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend to be entertained by his new novel. Rich People Problems (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley). Kwan catches us up quickly on the major characters — Nick Young, who risked disinheritance to marry less well-off Rachel, and his cousin Astrid, desperate to get out of her marriage, and Kitty Pong, insanely jealous of her fashionista stepdaughter Colette. All these people be crazy rich, but the richest of all is Su-Yi, Nick’s grandmother and matriarch of the Shang-Long clan. When it appears that Su-Yi is on her deathbed, family members from near and far rush to her massive Singapore estate, where they can share their rich people problems while waiting to share in the family fortune. It’s all over the top and wildly funny: the people, the clothes, the jewelry, the food, and, yes, even the footnotes.

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readingwomanWhen I first read in British novels about Oxbridge students’ reading parties, I was disappointed that they were really talking about study groups. “Reading party” sounds much more elegant, with everyone sitting around comfortably, inside or out, sipping an appropriate beverage, communing with their book of choice. My vision is no doubt influenced by the beautiful paintings reproduced in The Reading Woman calendar, which I gave my mother for Christmas.

I thought about reading parties when I heard that that this Saturday has been designated National Readathon Day by the National Book Foundation, with fundraising activities going on at bookstores, libraries, schools and universities across the country. The hosts are providing quiet areas where participants are asked to read from noon to 4 p.m. Oh my — what punishment! Please, please don’t throw me in that briar patch!

Still, four hours of non-interrupted reading time seems quite lovely, even for people like me who read like we breathe. A readathon sounds too much like work, though, or that you have to read while walking on a treadmill. So I’m planning my own reading party for Saturday afternoon, when I hope to make a dent in my towering TBR stack. Maybe I’ll invite some friends to join me. I have comfy chairs and, goodness knows, I have books, including these two involving novels.

traingirlThe hype regarding Paula Hawkins’  The Girl on the Train (Riverhead/Penguin, purchased e-book) is mostly well-deserved. It’s fast-paced, well-written psychological suspense with three unreliable narrators — hence the comparisons to Gone Girl — but I saw its twists coming, and you will, too, if you know your Hitchcock films and Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine books.

The titular narrator, Rachel Watson, is a mess: lonely, alcoholic, divorced, still in love with her ex, Tom. Although she was fired from her London job months ago, she still travels back and forth from the suburbs to London on the train, passing her old home where she sometimes sees her husband’s new wife Anna and baby. Just down the street are a golden couple that she imagines are everything she has lost, but her fantasies are shattered when she sees the pretty blonde wife kissing a dark, handsome stranger. Rachel’s drink-fortified decision to see what’s going on results in her waking the next morning with no memory of the night before, only to hear the news that the blonde woman, Megan, has gone missing. Megan is the book’s second narrator, and Anna is the third. Hawkins neatly splices their stories together, time-shifting so as to increase the suspense, piecing out what everyone is up to before and after Megan’s disappearance. Rachel, in hopes of recovering her memory, inserts herself into the investigation, which brings her into contact with the police, Megan’s husband Scott, a mysterious man who keeps showing up on the train, as well as Tom and Anna, who want no part of her. Rachel is undeterred.

“I feel like I’m part of this mystery, I’m connected,” she thinks to herself. “I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose. I want Megan to turn up safe and sound. I do. Just not quite yet.”

pariswinterUnlike Hawkins’ tale, which hooks you from the first page, Imogen Robertson’s historical thriller The Paris Winter (St. Martin’s Press, paperback ARC) takes awhile to build up a head of steam. Young Englishwoman Maud Heighton is having a tough time in 1909 Paris as she struggles to pay the fees at a school for women artists. Her paintings won’t feed or clothe her during the coming winter, but she is befriended by the model Yvette and fellow student, Tanya, a Russian heiress. They direct her to a charity that helps her find a job with a French gentleman, Christian Morel, who needs a companion for his fragile sister, Sylvie. All is more than well, even after Maud discovers that Sylvie is addicted to opium, and she vows to keep the Morels’ secret while Sylvie tries to wean herself from the drug. But the Morels are playing a long game, and Maud becomes a pawn in a plot involving stolen jewels, secret identities and murder.

If the book’s first half is a leisurely stroll through belle epoque Paris, the second half is an action-packed adventure when Tanya and Yvette again come to Maud’s aid. As floods threaten to engulf the city, the three friends seek revenge in a fight for their futures. Hawkins is very good at evoking both the romance and squalor of the City of Light’s dark side.

 

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