NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

4.0 out of 5 stars How much is one life worth?, January 23, 2011
Although a somewhat difficult and painful read, this story will stay with me for a long time. The characters are disturbingly realistic and their experiences and reactions to the events that transpire in the novel make them seem like they could be your neighbors or relatives. The underlying moral and ethical conflicts in the narrative -- the abuses of the insurance industry and the health care crisis -- are timely and important.

Shep Knacker is a very good man -- the kind of dutiful and responsible guy you'd like to have as best friend, employee, son, brother, father or husband. He works hard, pinches pennies and saves every dime while planning his ultimate escape to Pemba and the Afterlife -- retirement and freedom from all his middle class cares and worries. When his somewhat caustic and pampered artist wife Glynis is diagnosed with cancer, his kindness and obligation are brought to a supreme test.

Glynis enters treatment for mesothelioma (a cancer that has been associated with asbestos exposure) while Shep still has his healthy Merrill Lynch portfolio worth nearly a million dollars -- all earmarked for his planned one-way trip out of the USA. He quickly learns that he won't be able to leave after all because he needs to work in order to keep his health insurance for Glynis's fight against the cancer. He nobly accepts his care-taking role and soon finds himself at odds with work and his family and friends because of the tremendous pressure and stress on him to continue to provide. Inexorably, we see that Shep is slowly being metaphorically exsanguinated (bled dry) by all the demands placed on him at work, at home with Glynis, with his sister and father, by his children, and with his best friend Jackson. In addition, there goes the bank account -- draining dollar by dollar for drugs and treatments that don't seem to be doing much.

At the heart of this novel is the question -- how much is one willing to pay for a few extra hours, days, weeks or months of life? How much is one person's life worth and when is enough good enough? As Shep continues to take care of the bills and the people in his life, he becomes more resigned and trapped by the realization that even after Glynis dies, he still won't be able to escape to Pemba because he will be completely broke. And to what end? Glynis is still going to die.

I really cared about the people in this novel. There are other side plots dealing with Shep's friend Jackson and Jackson's family, Shep's sister and father that also provided insight into the character of a man who indeed "shepherds" those he cares for. It was neither an easy read nor a particularly uplifting one. It was, however, a poignant testimony to the power of love and the virtue of duty. I recommend it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen

* * * stars
This one left me cold..., January 15, 2011
This review is from: Ice Cold: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel (Hardcover)

Although this 8th book in the series featuring Boston medical examiner Maura Isles and homicide detective Jane Rizzoli is a very quick read, it lacks the depth and complexity of other novels featuring this duo. The setting in icy Wyoming and the plot involving a polygamous cult separate the two colleagues and make this book less about their team approach to solving murders but more about Maura's harrowing experiences while there.

While there is a mystery to solve and the story is suspenseful, I much prefer the Rizzoli and Isles novels that involve a murder investigation and the forensic details that I've come to know and love in the series.

I definitely hope that Gerritsen returns to the medical thriller formula that has made her previous books a hit with me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy book of the year -- read it!, January 6, 2011
This review is from: Freedom (Audio CD)
DO believe the hype. This was a very good book about a family -- yes a dysfunctional family in some ways -- but is what I think is a fairly astute picture of a husband, wife, son, and daughter facing and trying to deal with the changes that life and circumstance put in front of them. Rather than write a synopsis of the plot, I would rather the reader consider this merely a portrait of a Midwestern middle class family - no, not a typical family per se, but one that could live next door to you.

Franzen's prose is stark. He writes with a pen as sharp as a scalpel sometimes revealing the inner workings of the mind that perhaps are normally kept hidden -- even from ourselves. I liked his other book, The Corrections: A Novel, as well. He has a biting sarcasm and a wry sense of humor that I find incredible and his perceptions about life are razor edged. I know he's not for everyone. He has a way of writing and putting out there the things you don't ever want to think or say and I believe he makes many very uncomfortable. I think he's brilliant.

I am not usually a person who prefers an audiobook to a paper book, but I quickly became engrossed in the story. The reader, David LeDoux, did male voices extremely well. Unfortunately his rendering of the voice of Lalitha got on my nerves! His accent made her unlikeable and she sounded rather simpering which was the opposite of what I believe that Franzen intended that character to be. Other than that annoyance, the voice, despite the changing points of view, was easy to follow and I thought he delivered them believable and entirely human.

The only thing I really didn't like that much about the way the story was told was the way the author jumped back and forth between characters and with sequence. I'm a reader who prefers sequential narrative; nevertheless I found the novel deeply satisfying and one that many of us who struggle with obstacles and unexpected hurdles can understand.

All things considered, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Devotion of Supsect X by Keigo Higashino

4 stars

A battle of wits, January 2, 2011
This is a very clever mystery novel originally written in Japanese and translated into English and is this author's first major English publication. Apparently this novel is a continuation of a popular serial drama, Galileo, and has also been made into a Japanese film, Suspect-X that was released in 2008. The recurring character in the series is Manabu Yukawa, a brilliant physics professor at Imperial University who is respectfully called Detective Galileo. He assists the local police sometimes with particularly vexsome cases, and this murder is one of those.
Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced mother working in a box lunch shop. She left her old life as a hostess behind and is trying to live a quiet existence while raising her teenage daughter, Misato. Unfortunately for her, she has a deadbeat ex-husband who is looking for her and who wants to get back together and who wants money. When he comes to extort her and threatens to harm her daughter at her apartment on that fateful evening, she and her daughter murder Shinji Togashi. Overhearing the scuffle, next door neighbor -- a mathematics teacher named Tetsuya Ishigami -- comes to her door and offers Yasuko total salvation. He tells her that he will take care of everything and will help them avoid prosecution and imprisonment if only they do exactly as he says.
Although the lead detectives on the case suspect that the alibis of Yasuko and her Misato aren't quite ironclad, police are confused about whether or not they are truly suspects in the murder. With fantastic misdirection and precise circumlocution directed behind the scenes by Ishigami, the pair are continuing their daily lives as if innocent. Meanwhile the intrepid and faithful Ishigami is still pulling the strings of the investigation. Detective Kusanagi, certain that something fishy is going on, consults his friend Yukawa. It so happens that Yukawa knows Ishigami from their shared history at Imperial University where they both attended -- Yukawa majoring in physics and Ishigami in mathematics. What follows after Yukawa gets involved is a true battle of wits between the two former classmates.

I enjoyed the way the investigation unfolded and the interaction between the characters. The novel is complex and is definitely a thinking person's read. Scattered throughout are complex philosophical questions and mathematical proofs. The highly intelligent Yukawa and Ishigami provide point and counterpoint as the multilayered elements of the crime are slowly revealed. The conclusion, however, is painful. I closed the book with a profound sense of grief.
Recommend to discriminating readers. Don't be put off by this perhaps being an unfamiliar author, or by the fact that it is a translation from Japanese.