NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

3.0 out of 5 stars Secrets and lies..., April 18, 2010
By Denise "DC" (Missouri, USA) - See all my reviews
I read all the 5 star reviews of this book and wondered, "What book were these people reading?" because it sure was not the same one that I struggled through over a week or two. Typically I read a book in a single evening, but this one seemed to drag on and on. I couldn't get into it.

First of all, I don't typically care for books that go back and forth in time with different sets of characters. We know they are related somehow and can usually figure out pretty quickly what the connection is though the author doesn't let us in on the secret until the last chapter.

I have read several of Maggie O'Farrell's other books and she does the same thing in each one. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox irritated me for the same reason this one does -- it's not a straight forward read. On the other hand, I did really like After You'd Gone.

That said, this novel is interesting enough. The women are the heart of this story; Lexie is a far more interesting character and more developed in the novel than is Elina. The men are not as complexly drawn and are less intriguing. The book is about secrets and lies and the connection between the two couples.

I would, however, recommend that if you want to read it, you borrow rather than buy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Every Last One

Bittersweet and Beautiful..., April 5, 2010 5 STARS

Not since One True Thing: A Novel, an earlier novel turned into a movie, have I really raved about this author's books! But now I've found one I can do my book stalker act with. This is a wonderful novel about the power and resilience of the human spirit to continue trying to live when all the reasons to do so are gone.

Several reviewers have mentioned the back of the book synopsis as being a spoiler; I think it is necessary to give a potential reader some idea of what is to come and to properly set up the anticipation of what crisis or tragic event might be revealed. I didn't guess what was going to happen because I don't try to second guess the author -- I just go with the flow of the story and enjoy the revelations as they come. That said, the visceral punch of that climactic violent event was stunning in the way Quindlen wrote it.

The synopsis of the plot and the explanation of the characters in the book have already been described by other reviewers. I would say that the story is mainly about a woman's coming to terms with the limits of what she can be and do as mother and as wife. Can anyone really ever fully protect or save another human being? Is home a safe haven where family can feel secure? And do you ever really know the ones you love or those whom you see and interact with every day?

After a horrible tragedy, Mary Beth is forced to confront her own uncertain future. The story is less about what happened than it is about what WILL happen now. Without further spoilers it's difficult to get across to a potential reader how much beauty is in this story. The author writes well and the emotions experienced by the friends and family are real and ring true in every sense of the word. It was easy to relate to those thoughts and actions of the characters during the course of the narrative.

It may very well be true, as Mary Beth remarks to Dr. Vagelos, that "every fear you ever have, every one - thunder or spiders or roller coasters -- they're all fear of dying. Every last one."

Highly recommend but if you have suffered a recent loss, this might be overwhelmingly sad and a difficult read for you.

The 13th Hour

Enjoyable, fast read..., March 28, 2010 4 stars

Although the author's prose is overwrought and excessively philosophical and maudlin at times, and despite the fact that the characters are so one-dimensional, I did enjoy this thriller. The concept of time travel is not new, but the starts and stops at each hour along the path backward in time as Nick races to prevent the murder of his wife (and others along the way) is definitely a different take on the typical story involving manipulation of time.

The story begins with the main character, Nick, in an interrogation room where he is being held on suspicion of murdering his wife. A stranger appears in the room and gives him a special watch and some curious instructions -- he is being given a chance to discover who killed his wife and why. There is a caveat, however. Nick is only allowed to go back one hour with each backward move and each time it seems that something untoward and worse happens as he races against the 12 hour clock to try to prevent his wife's murder that evening.

He blunders along trying to stop events from resulting in several tragedies and most of the novel is centered on preventing a burglary and a plane crash. The science of this time traveling device is not explained though the reader learns later how it came to be in Nick's possession and why. The central theme of the story, other than what a man is prepared to do to save his beloved wife, seems to be that each action a person commits has a ripple effect that cannot be foreseen. Perhaps a call to remind readers to take more care and give more thought to what we might think are situations and activities that have no significance to anyone else. Every hour, something Nick does or doesn't do has an affect that he didn't quite anticipate and he generally has to rethink his plans.

I enjoyed this novel and would read another by this author.

One Amazing Thing

Mildly absorbing but incomplete, thus unsatisfying..., March 27, 2010 3 stars

After I finished the book I went back to the beginning again just to clarify how it all began. Found a second read of it more interesting. BUT, I hated the ending. It's what I consider a NON ending and thus leaves me as a reader very frustrated. I don't like reading books that make me have to try to guess what happened. If I wanted to write a story, I would. I expect the author to finish her job and to give me some type of ending. Because of the way the book ended, it left a more negative impression with me than I probably would have had if she had just said what happened to the people. Even an epilogue or afterward indicating something of their outcome would have helped. I think that would be my main question to the author -- what happened? Did they all die? I tend to think they did.
I would hesitate to recommend the book to many of my friends because of the lack of closure experienced and I know how they like to know "what happened" when they read books. I did share this book with my two daughters and all of us agreed about that. We said, "The ending sucked."
Something I thought was missing in this book was the rest of the survivor's reactions to the stories they were hearing. Knowing that they all were in dire straits would have made each story all the more important as each person chose exactly what small part of his/her life he or she would share with the group. I also think it would be unusual not to get questions and I also think the person telling the story might want to give answers. Funny how telling a story out loud might lead to self reflection and assessment and perhaps revelations to be experienced and shared.
I might or might not read another book by this author, but I'd wait to see if she did the no ending thing again.

Now, as far as telling private personal stories of this nature to a group of strangers -- well it depends on the circumstances. I suppose if I thought I was going to die it would be nice to reflect and share my "amazing thing" stories but I am not sure if I would, in the end, keep them to myself or not. It is often easier to tell things to total strangers than to friends or relatives. It's the judgment thing. I did not find the stories the captives told all that interesting, frankly.

Borrow, don't buy.

The Executor

Smart and taut --, March 14, 2010 4 stars

This was a very fast-paced suspense thriller that grabbed me from the opening pages and didn't let go until I read the final chapter a few hours later. I could not put the book down!

The characters are believable, unique, and interesting. The prose is incredibly clever and the narrative moves along quickly as the tension builds. Although the reader is not quite sure what exactly is going to happen, it's obvious that it's going to be huge, messy and dramatic! Although he has no way to know it, Joseph Geist makes a bad decision the day he answers an ad placed in the Harvard Crimson to apply for a position that asks him to be a conversationalist. He's down on his luck as he's just been terminated from the PhD program where he's been halfheartedly attempting, for about 8 years, to write his dissertation for philosophy and has been kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment. How much trouble can a guy get into just talking with this very nice, intelligent 80 year old woman who lives in this incredible house and asks nothing more than a couple of hours of good debate every day -- and is willing to pay him for it?!

As the two become close, other elements and events that occur start to ratchet up the sense of dread that something BAD is going to happen -- and the plot thickens! This author really knows how to turn a phrase and the inclusion of many different philosophical tenets and theories adds another interesting dimension to the story.

I liked this one -- recommended for a discriminating suspense lover who likes a smart and tightly drawn novel that is quite original.