Book Club Read: The Good Girl

It can be really difficult to pick book club books. First, there are the different personalities and reading preferences of the book club members. Then you really do want something that will illicit strong reactions, either way. You want something that isn’t difficult to make yourself read but you want it to inspire discussion.

Before book club I always take a look and see if I can’t find some titles that might appeal to us all, that has been tipped as being a good book club pick because something about it made it good fodder for discussion.

Which is how we ended up reading The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. I had seen it on The Huffington Post’s book section, on a list of books that your book club will love. I don’t think we’d read a thriller before so we thought it could inspire a different kind of conversation.

We haven’t met yet but I don’t think this is that book. Before I started reading it, at least one member had mentioned that the book wasn’t gripping them, that they found it difficult to make themselves get on with the reading. Not a good sign.

the good girl

Mia Dennett, a 24 year old teacher and member of a famous Chicago family, goes missing. The story alternates between the memories and experience of her mother, Eve, the search for Mia as told by Gabe, the detective assigned to find her, and that of Colin, the man who takes Mia. Certain chapters are labeled as before or after, depending on whether it is taking place before or after we know what happened to Mia.

This is another one of those books that takes advantage of its potential similarities to Gone Girl, which means that you spend the entire time waiting for the twist. When it comes, basically at the very end of the book, my reaction was “huh.” I definitely wasn’t blown away, I didn’t need a moment to collect myself, it certainly explained everything but it just wasn’t massive. It was disappointing that no real inkling had come before that there might have been more to Mia than met the eye. The only hint was that it was compared to Gone Girl but I didn’t think that Kubica herself had laid any kind of groundwork for us.

As for the characters, they all seemed dedicated to fulfilling their obligations as set forth by the central casting of books with mysterious disappearances. Eve is in an unhappy marriage, doing everything by rote, berating herself for being a disinterested parent, desperate for any kind of companionship; Gabe, who badly wants to solve this case while the media dissects the whole thing, falls for the attractive and damaged Eve; Colin is a good guy wrapped in bad guy clothes and Mia. Mia thinks she’s in control but mostly seems like she’s in a Stockholm syndrome situation.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to be obsessed with what happened to Mia. But I didn’t really and I certainly wasn’t that invested in the outcome.

I’m curious what the rest of the girls made of it.


The Case Against Sensationalism: Cartwheel

I studied abroad in Amsterdam at the same time that Amanda Knox was in Italy. And we all know how her exchange ended.

I remember it happening and being completely positive that there was no way that she could have done what they said she did. I mean, she was my age (I was 22 at the time, I think she’s actually a year or 2 younger than me), going to school abroad. She couldn’t possibly have killed her roommate!

(I realize those are thin reasons)

I hate to admit that that fascination with Amanda Knox didn’t stay in Amsterdam. I’m less sure if I think she did or didn’t do it. But I still wonder about it from time to time.

Because I’m unsure of her actual role in the whole thing, I’m uncomfortable buying her book.

But then Jennifer Dubois wrote a fictional account of the case, Cartwheel, and I felt like that would be OK to read.

This is another one of those times where a book is on my list for a long time and I had more or less forgotten about it and then found it on a list of “Books to read if you liked Gone Girl…

Despite having been burned by this before, I actively searched out Cartwheel on my next book outing.


If you’re already pretty familiar with the Amanda Knox story (guilty I’m afraid) then there will be nothing new in this book. Right down to the DNA on the bra clasp, the weird boyfriend and the libelous accusation that her boss at the bar did it. Only this time Amanda is called Lily Hayes, poor Meredith Kercher is Katy Kellars, and they studied in Argentina, not Italy. Oh and instead of living with roommates in a little bungalow without adults, Katy and Lily have a shady pair of house parents.

Lily’s parents and sister come out to support her. And what becomes apparent from the beginning is that Lily has always been a little different, a little wrong. She doesn’t react to the world like people are supposed to – as in she does a cartwheel when she’s being questioned hours after the violent death of her roommate. Again – this detail is lifted from the actual case. And we have to spend time with her oblivious father and seriously angry sister as they work through their shared history, combing through it to see if there’s anything there that proves she did or didn’t do this.

Lily is an a**hole. The way she talks to other people like she’s better, and smarter and bored with your company. She sends messages about how boring Katy is. She is arrogant about her Spanish, when those around her recognize that it’s not actually that good and she’s horribly rude to her house mother while she flirts with the house father in front of her.

It was hard work getting through this book, mostly because the only good person in it is killed. But also because the whole time you feel like you’re doing something vaguely wrong. Reading a fictionalized account of something terrible that really happened just made me feel like a sensationalistic jerk.


The Other Typist: A Case of The Movie Being Potentially Better Than the Book

The book Gone Girl is kind of a big deal. The movie is coming out in the fall and there seems to be an appetite for books in a similar style. So publishers can be forgiven for trying to capitalize on that – books need to make money so that more of them can continue to be published right?

Which brings us to today’s book review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindall. Right on the cover it says  if you liked Gone Girl, you might like this book. I’m not ashamed to admit that that line sold me on this particular book. Reading it I wondered more than once “where is the Gone Girl aspect?”


The Other Typist is a first person narrative told by Rose Baker, a typist with a New York City precinct in 1924-25, right in the middle of Prohibition. Rose is an orphan, living in a shared room in a boarding house, harbouring a crush on the upstanding, older Sergeant she works with. Rose prides herself on her work ethic and her good, clean, law abiding values.

But then Odalie Lazare comes to the precinct to help the typists with all of the extra work that’s been created due to Prohibition and Rose finds herself strangely drawn to this woman. She’s jealous when Odalie pays more attention to the other typists and is thrilled when Odalie’s sights come to rest on her. Before she knows it, she’s moved into Odalie’s grand Park Avenue hotel suite, mysteriously paid for by Odalie’s “father.”

Soon Rose is accompanying Odalie to speakeasies all over town, even running errands for her. She suspects that Odalie has something to do with the bootleggers but she really doesn’t want to know the whole truth so she doesn’t try too hard to figure it out.

I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that the 1920s as a setting for stories is not my thing. I found this novel, the combination of first person narrative and the emphasis on Odalie’s facial expressions as a way of moving the story along, to be better suited to a movie. Everything is explained so much, rather than letting us work out what’s happening. It wasn’t subtle enough.

I found that that real story didn’t get started for a long time. It’s a 350 page book – it took about 200 pages for me to be interested. None of the characters are likeable: Odalie is a fake, you can see that from the beginning; Rose is way too uptight and then she becomes kind of obsessive about Odalie.

A little bit of google sleuthing tells me that this book is actually in pre-production with Keira Knightley in a starring role, so I guess I wasn’t the only one that saw the movie potential here. This may be one of those rare times where the movie is better than the book.


Paperback Princess Loves New Paperbacks!

I really do. I’m not sure when I started holding out in favour of paperbacks (probably around the time when I realized that being an adult is expensive!) but that’s my general MO these days.

So it delights me to be able to bring you all a list of fabulous books that have recently been turned into ready-to-love paperbacks. You know, so that you can start filling up your beach bags and lake totes with great books. So that when you are planning a picnic, you will have a list of books that you can stash in your basket.

I’ve been tricked before by news that the paperback version of Gone Girl was going to be released shortly. But now I’ve seen it with my own two eyes so it’s official. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is finally in paperback. Just in time for those of you that still haven’t read it to get to it before the movie’s release this fall. Seriously though, read this book.

The follow up to the JK Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith penned The Cuckoo’s Calling is coming out this June. For those of you that can’t read The Silkworm until you’ve been introduced to Cormoran Strike properly, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of the freshly printed paperback!

The other day I waxed poetic about the perfection of the Paris: The Novel paperback and mentioned that Edward Rutherfurd’s previous city novels didn’t share this flawlessness. But then I went to the bookstore and lo and behold! Perfect paperbacks of London, New York and Russka. So if you’re in the market for that most perfect paperback but didn’t think Paris was your style? Now you have no excuse.

Remember how I loved The Circle by Dave Eggers? I thought it was a most excellent imagining of what could happen to the world if we’re not careful with the direction that social media is taking. It was a big ol’ beast of a book though so I can’t blame you if you wanted to wait for a more portable edition. Your time has come.

Finally, Harper Collins has done us the massive favour of publishing Jonas Jonasson’s brand new book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in paperback right off the bat. I loved his debut novel The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (so did millions of others around the world) and I’m so very excited to crack this baby. Even though technically I’m on a book buying ban, my other half wasn’t there to see me so it totally doesn’t count.

There you go! A list of paperbacks to inspire some book cravings; you know you want to.


The Answer to Your Gone Girl Withdrawal

I’m staring five days of book-reading freedom in the face. We’re heading out of town and I made sure to bring plenty of reading material to keep me occupied. Forget making sure I have weather appropriate clothing (even though the West Coast is the best coast, there’s some tricky weather this time of year. But not snow so this is not a complaint), I need to ensure appropriate reading material at the lake. After careful consideration (priorities guys) I decided to bring along: Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling) and Paris: A Novel (Edward Rutherford).

Then, since I’m almost done The Remains of the Day, I snuck John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in my bag at the last minute.

My intention is not to actually rub this freedom in your faces – presumably you have a long weekend ahead of you as well. I came here today to tell you about a book I read last week: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.

You guys. This book. Delicious. Unexpected. Terrific. So many feelings.

Kate Baron is a single mom working in a fancy law firm. She’s working through a high profile case when she gets a call from her daughter’s school: her daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating on an English essay and has been suspended for three days. Kate needs to come pick her up immediately.

Kate ends up getting caught in midtown traffic and it takes her over an hour to reach the school. When she does, there are police cars and firetrucks all over the place and she is told that her daughter committed suicide. She jumped off the roof of the building.

Weeks later she receives a text message: Amelia didn’t kill herself.

This text drives Kate to find out what actually happened. Does it have anything to do with the texts she’s been receiving about Amelia’s father? What is the deal with the student newsletter? Amelia would never cheat on an English essay, what happened?

This book has been compared to Gone Girl a lot. If you liked Gone Girl, I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Reconstructing Amelia. Like in Gone Girl, the narrative changes back and forth: in one section you are following Kate as she works through the last days of Amelia’s life, drawing all kinds of conclusions. In the next, you are with Amelia as her last days actually unfold.

My immediate reaction when I was reading the Amelia section was that those of you that loved Gossip Girl would love this book. The student newsletter reads like an opening of Gossip Girl. The story follows a bunch of very privileged teenagers with way too much time on their hands. But in the middle of all of their teenaged crap, they are struggling to fit in, to conform, to be equal to their peers. McCreight does an incredible job of channeling their teenaged voices.

It was hard to watch the story unravel seeing, like Kate and Amelia couldn’t, how close each actually was to taking a different path. How many times each wanted to come clean with the other and didn’t, setting them both down this path that leads to so much grief.

If you’re looking for a long weekend read, or you’re starting to mine for beach reads, Reconstructing Amelia. Do it.


I’m in Book Buying Rehab

You know how, in the past, I have imposed book bans on myself in an attempt to stop spending so much money in bookstores and read the books I already own?

Yesterday my other half put me on a book buying ban.

To be fair, in recent weeks my book habit has completely spiraled out of control. I can barely function on a day where I don’t go and throw down some money for my next hit. And it’s not like I have more time to read the ones that I already have. I just can’t stop. There are so many great books out there right now! These poor books were probably so excited to come home with me, looking forward to the moment when I jumped into their stories, eagerly anticipating the chance to share their magic with me.

And what did I do? I pushed them aside in favour of another book that caught my eye. A book that I felt was more important than the others, in that moment.

On my kitchen table there are at least 10 books that I’ve brought home with me in the last two weeks or so. Those are the books that I haven’t even shelved yet. That’s in addition to the stack of 5 on my bedside table and all the others that continue to sit on my bookshelves unloved and unread.

On my birthday, we went to the bookstore (obviously) and I came out with: The Count of Monte Cristo, which is my friend’s favourite book and I’ve always meant to read it; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight because it mentioned Gone Girl on the cover and if something says it’s like Gone Girl, game over, you’re mine; Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin because this is the second Inspector Rebus book and it was the first time I’d seen it.

Then I got a gift certificate to the bookstore from a friend for my birthday (who knows and loves me so well) and I can’t hold onto that for any period of time so back I went. That time I was good. I only picked up Eva Stachniak’s Empress of the Night because I was going to see her at an event at the library that week; and Frog Music by Emma Donoghue because I took this quiz on Buzzfeed which told me that this was the book I was meant to read this spring.book pile

I don’t even remember when I picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman but it’s been on my list for forever so I’m glad I could read it tomorrow if I wanted to. I’d been waiting for Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd to show up in paperback and when it did: mine. We’d talked about my frustration at discovering that Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman should have followed The Redeemer, not The Devil’s Star but I hadn’t managed to find it. Until a few days ago.

Then two nights ago we were in Costco and you know what happens there. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (look at me reading more YA fiction!) and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell were in my hands before I even realized it. I almost brought home Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power but I knew I was already pushing my luck.

And all of those are in addition to the books I already had to read at home. Night Film, Claire Tomlin’s Charles Dickens biography, a biography of Princess Louise, War and Peace, Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and A Winter’s Tale are all still sitting at home waiting for me.

Did I mention that I got my sister to lend me The Bone Season?

I’m out of control. I need some book rehab.


Book Club Pick: The Dinner

I just finished reading The Dinner for the second time.

I think this is one of the first times that I’ve re-read a modern book. I re-read Austen or Bronte all the time, but a modern novel? That doesn’t happen very often.

I first read Herman Koch’s The Dinner last summer. I had heard great things about it; it was hailed as the European Gone Girl. It had recently been translated from the original Dutch and takes place in Amsterdam- there was no way I wasn’t going to read this.

So I read it last summer and then I had no one to talk it over with. Months later, I hosted book club and as the ladies were perusing my bookshelves, The Dinner was taken down and I couldn’t help gushing about how great it was, how messed up and that I had wanted to talk it over with someone ever since. But no one had read it.

It became our next book club book.

I think I enjoyed it more the first time. But only because the first time, in an effort to take in the whole story and all the characters, I was only able to do a surface read. The second time, I was able to understand the characters better, and I didn’t love them.

the dinner

Paul and Claire Lohman are on their way to have dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette. The couples are having dinner (at a fancy Amsterdam restaurant) to discuss their two teenage boys, Michel and Rick. The boys have clearly done something but you don’t know what it is until about half way through the book. Paul arrives at the restaurant ready to pick a fight – he’s annoyed that he has to pay 10 euros for an appertif after the manager makes it sound like it’s on the house. His brother, Serge, waltzes in like he owns the place. He is the favoured candidate in the ongoing Dutch election which further complicates their relationship.

Over dinner the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. Paul remembers the past 11 years by revisiting significant moments: the time his employer suggested he see a psychiatrist, the time his wife was in the hospital for a significant amount of time and Serge and Babette came by to take Michel to stay with them, the time his son came home and told him about the neighbour down the street that invited the boys on the block to come into this home and listen to records.

As the story unravels and you sort of realize what Paul is (as the narrator, Paul refuses to ever go into specifics because that stuff is private and he doesn’t understand why everyone has to make everything so public all the time) and what his son has done, the story shifts to how best to handle it. Paul and his brother have very different ideas of what the next steps should be.

I remember reading it the first time and kind of agreeing with Paul about what the best way to handle his son’s future was. This time I was horrified by it and was hard pressed to find a redeeming character in the whole thing. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it the second time – I did. It just means that this reading experience was really different from the first one and that surprised me.

One thing is for sure – this little novel packs a big punch leaving us with loads to discuss at book club next time.

PS The Dinner was recently released in paperback.


The 2012 Review

This is the time of year when everyone looks back on the past 12 months and looks at the best and worst of etc.

I’d like to pretend like I’m different, but I’m not.

This was a big reading year for me.

I’m working through my Top 5 or other arbitrary number list in my head, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at my reading trends and feelings this year.

Up for it? It’s happening, you don’t actually have a choice.

Like I said – big reading year for me. I make a goal for myself each year. In the past it’s been a bit lofty and I’ve handicapped myself by having to choose books that I think will get me to my goal. At the same time if I choose a goal that’s too low, it’s not going to be any kind of a challenge. This year I settled on 50. Left me room to play around with bigger books but also, 50 books is a lot.

I surpassed my goal. By a lot. As of today I’m working on finishing my 81st book. Which is the most I’ve ever read since I started keeping track of the books I read each year. And let’s face it, probably ever.

This year I discovered the delights of Agatha Christie. I never thought I was a murder mystery kind of reader but I am. I really really am. Aside from Agatha Christie, I devoured works by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Camilla Lackberg (The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stonecutter, The Stranger). I even read a real life crime book about a serial killer in Paris during World War II. That book was a lot more difficult to read. Like terrifying.

My failure to read Les Miserables in time for the movie’s release notwithstanding, I did seem to be drawn to books about the French Revolution. Charles Dickens and I came to an understanding when I fell in love with A Tale of Two Cities and I gave Michelle Moran a chance to wow me (she did) when I picked up Madame Tussaud despite the awful cover. While I was fascinated by the French, I became enamoured of Russian Royals, learning all about Catherine the Great thanks to the incredible biography by Robert K. Massie. That turned into a bit of an obsession with Nicholas and Alexandra and I just picked up a book about Royal Russian women by Julia P. Gelardi (which I’m really excited about because she wrote one of my very favourite royal biographies about the five granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became a Queen in her own right).

My book club had a big impact on my reading choices this year. Our selections ranged from so-so to downright scandalous once we started on the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I was also on the hunt for anything that might have something to do with Downton Abbey and I finished off all of the available Song of Ice and Fire books. I caved and read The Hunger Games books (which I loved), and tried my best to read War and Peace, but was ultimately foiled when my copy was missing a sizeable chunk of pages. I still haven’t managed to sort that out – when I took a copy out of the library to read the missing pages, it was a completely different version.

It was a pretty low key year for non-fiction, something I plan to work on in the New Year. I did manage to continue my love affair with Malcolm Gladwell (he kind of changed my life with Outliers this year) and was completely fascinated by the lives of the Kennedy Women (Lawrence Leamer) and members of The President’s Club.

This was also a year when I made a lot of book mistakes, which was kind of a first for me. There were a number of books that I read that I just didn’t care for. A couple that I abandoned altogether (Catch-22, Little Shadows, The Vampire Lestat) and others that I struggled through that I wanted to abandon (The Stranger’s Child, The Prague Cemetery, Bride of New France, The Firefly Cloak).

But in the end, I read almost 81 books. And that’s pretty badass.


Gone Girl

I finally broke down and bought the book everyone was proclaiming to be the ‘book of the summer.’ Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn did not disappoint.

Let’s run through the basic plot points.

Amy and Nick have been married for five years and are currently weathering a bit of a rough patch. They’ve relocated to Nick’s hometown to care for his parents and both have recently lost their jobs. Nick has managed to find a new job but Amy spends her days trying to keep busy as everything she has ever known and taken for granted to be true, is gone.

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick leaves the house early after a breakfast of anniversary crepes prepared by Amy. When he returns later, there are signs of a struggle and Amy is gone.

This book is a terrifying look at marriage. Seriously. Having just read Committed and felt OK about the idea of marriage, Gone Girl scared the bejeezus out of me. After the disappearance, we follow Nick as he tries to work out what the hell has happened to his wife, all the while realizing that he’s probably not reacting the way a scared, worried husband of a missing woman should. In between the Nick chapters, are the Amy chapters where she takes us back to the beginning of their relationship and fleshes out how they got to this point.

Amy and Nick talk about the same things but tell different versions. One or both of them aren’t being completely honest.

Honestly I didn’t really like either of them. Which I think may have been the point? They were so honest about their flaws, so transparent when it came to explaining their actions, they don’t leave a lot of room for one to feel sorry for them or identify with them. At least I don’t.

But despite that, or maybe because of it, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out what these two people did to each other.

This book is dark and twisted. It reminded me a little of Camilla Lackberg’s books but in those books we’re always outside of the investigation, following the police side of things. In Flynn’s book, we’re a part of the crime, desperately following Nick as he tries to unravel the clues that have been left for him. This book is brilliant too. I don’t want to give away too much but this book is diabolical and it makes me wonder a little bit about how Flynn’s mind works, that she was able to pull this off.

I can see why people have been hooked on this book this summer. There is something delicious about sitting out in beautiful weather to read a deeply disturbing book. Gone Girl is deeply disturbing and filled with pure unadulterated hate.

I loved it.


Put The World On Pause

I’ve come to the horrifying conclusion that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things that I would like to do.

Mainly, read all the books I want to read.

I have a pretty substantial list of Books I Want To Read going. I like to think that I’m pretty selective and thoughtful when I add books to this list because I do want to actually try and read all the books on the list. Eventually. But recently I’ve started feeling overwhelmed by The List.

There are so many great (I assume) books on the list and great books (again, working on the assumption that they are great) keep being released and I just don’t have time to read them all! And how is that fair?

There are those titles on my list that have been there for ages. Things like Catch-22, Secret Daughter, Atonement, State of Wonder and The Night Circus. Then there are those that are sitting on my shelf waiting for me to choose them, titles like The Shadow of the Wind, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Lone Wolf. That’s before we even get to how War and Peace sits abandoned while I wait for a replacement copy to make its way to me!

Can we just agree to put the world on pause for a little while? Just for a few days to allow us all to catch up on some of the reading we want to do? That would really help me out. It would allow me to get on board with some of the great books I keep hearing about.

I’ve been seeing great reviews of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn all over the place. With my current crime fiction obsession, the psychological thriller about a wife who goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary seems like a really great fit for me right now. Chris Cleave, brilliant author of Little Bee and my favourite, Incendiary, has come out with his new book just in time for the London Olympics. Gold is the story of 2 competing Olympic cyclists who are also best friends, who ultimately have to decide what is more important: their friendship or the gold medal? With Olympic fever gearing up, it just seems like the right time to read this!

I’m already months behind with reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I bought it for a friend as a gift (I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a moment where I thought I could keep this and buy her a shirt) and I’m told it is hysterical (as if it could be anything else with Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess behind it) but I don’t think that makes me feel any less behind on this one. When I get to borrow it (soon I’m told) I am going to read the shit out of it.

Since I’ve finished with the Fifty Shades trilogy, I’ve been feeling kind of hard up (ha) in the erotic literature department, so it was basically a godsend when I heard about Bared To You. This novel by Sylvia Day is supposed to be the answer to my Fifty Shades withdrawal. There’s a character called Eva in it for god’s sake (I choose to read her name as pronounced Ava, the Euro Way a la me). I am definitely supposed to read this.

So we’re agreed then? We’re pausing the world for a bit?

Good talk.