Review: Mr. Lynch’s Holiday

Mr. Lynch's Holiday

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday
By Catherine O’Flynn
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091816, October 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Things don’t always happen as planned. Sometimes, you need to be rescued.

The Rest of It:

After his wife’s death, Dermot Lynch leaves his home in England to visit his estranged son, Eamonn, who’s made a new life for himself in Spain. When Dermot arrives unannounced, what he finds is that Lomaverde is not the ideal neighborhood that Eamonn had described. Its dilapidated appearance, its empty pools and the feral cats are just a few of the tip-offs that things are not going well for Eamonn.

Also hard to ignore, is the fact that Eamonn’s wife Laura,  is nowhere to be found. Shortly before Dermot’s arrival, Laura left him and returned to England. This is not something he wants to discuss with his father, or anyone really, so he tells Dermot that she’s taken a trip. With his father standing before him, Eamonn is forced to play host, when all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep the day away.

This is one of those great, sleeper reads that you come across every now and then. The book came and went without any fanfare and that’s a shame, because it’s really very good. There is a closeness between Eamonn and his father, but it’s not one that is easily seen on the surface. Dermot, is basically a happy guy. He’s at peace with who he is and what he’s done whereas Eamonn is not satisfied with life. His decision to leave a good life, for a better life, blew up in his face and he’s not able to admit it. With the economy the way it is, he can’t sell, so he’s reminded daily of what a failure he is.

What Dermot does, is what any caring father would do. He picks Eamonn up, brushes him off and gets him on his feet, even if that means going to the crazy neighbor’s house for dinner or walking around the compound that has become his prison. It’s all too exhausting for Eamonn but at the same time, he seems to realize that something has to give and that he can’t go on living this way forever. Through these daily interactions, Eamonn begins to realize that perhaps, all is not lost.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday is a quiet, feel-good book. It’s about appreciating what you have, when you have it and finding happiness in the simple things. It’s a lovely story that is both well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read her other books.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Last Days of California

The Last Days of California
The Last Days of California
By Mary Miller
(Liveright Publishing Corporation, Hardcover, 9780871405883, January 2014, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Probably one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve read in a long while.

The Rest of It:

Fourteen-year-old Jess and her family, including her older, pregnant sister Elise, set out from Alabama to California right before the Rapture. Their mission? To save as many souls along the way as possible. As they travel from town to town, handing out their pamphlets to anyone who will take them, it becomes obvious to the girls that their father has lost his job (again) and that there really isn’t money for a trip across the country. Plus, the parents are clueless about their own daughter’s pregnancy and Jess finds herself in a position to protect her sister’s secret for as long as possible.

I loved this family. For all of their faults, they are a family in the biggest sense of the word. As they head out on this road trip, it’s clear that things are at stake. Life, as they know it could be changed forever after the Rapture but Jess and Elise are not convinced of that. They want to believe, but at the same time, they have their doubts.

Because of these doubts, they test the waters a bit. Hanging out with boys, drinking and smoking and basically experimenting as kids are known to do. But what makes it different for them is that they don’t know if the world will exist by the time they get to California. Will they be one of the saved ones? As they stop along the way, they meet people and have experiences that change who they are and in the process, they come to terms with their beliefs.

Books can be such a personal thing but I LOVED this book. I loved the family, the girls (with all of their faults) and the road trip, yes… I love road trips and reading this book was like jumping in the car and taking off for an adventure. I could easily have been their long-lost cousin hiding in the trunk. I FELT as if I was with them every time they stopped for gas and horribly processed snack foods. And every time they jumped into a motel pool, I could literally smell the chlorine.

This was such a great read. It gave me a lot to think about and it took me out of my world and right into theirs. I read it in just a couple of sittings and if you are worried about the religious parts, don’t. It’s not heavy-handed in any way. As Jess contemplates life, you can’t help but fall in love with her as a person.

To truly appreciate it, you must read it for yourself. I’m sure it will be on my list of favorites for 2014.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Canada

Canada
Canada 
By Richard Ford
(Ecco, Paperback, 9780061692031, January 2013, 432pp.)

The Short of It:

The anatomy of a crime, as told by one of the characters most affected by it.

The Rest of It:

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first. (First lines of Canada)

Those opening lines set the stage for Dell’s story. His parents, struggling to make a life for themselves in Great Falls, Montana, rob a bank after getting involved in an illegal business deal. Their hope, is to pay off their debt and begin again. What Bev Parsons does not know, is that his wife Neeva sees this criminal act as a way to escape a lifetime with the man she married. Dell and his sister Berner are left to a family friend who has plans to get them out of the country. But as twins, and only fifteen, they are not sure what to make of the things happening around them.

What a book. I’ve never read Richard Ford before but when my book club picked it for January I had to give it a try. It’s not a book a reader can love. The story is too bleak for that, but I did appreciate the languid writing. Some of the members in the group compared Ford to Richard Russo and I agree. His writing reminded me a lot of Russo.

Many of the details shared are “day in the life” type details but at the same time, Ford uses foreshadowing to string the reader along. It works. I read these 400+ pages in two sittings. Telling the story from Dell’s sheltered perspective is somewhat limiting at times, but his wide-eyed wonder at the things going on around him made him vulnerable which lent the story a fragile, precarious quality.

What I most enjoyed, is the discussion that took place afterward. It’s hard to imagine what drives people to do the things they do, but it was fun to discuss it. Dell’s parents were never normal, in the traditional sense of the word. They kept their kids sheltered, were not successful in any way and tried to remain under the radar. Living in that small town, they managed to avoid most of their neighbors and didn’t seem to know how to interact with the people around them, or each other. This should have helped them in the end, but it’s really what did them in.

Ford can tell a tale and his sense of place is strong here. I enjoyed his style of writing so much, that I will be sure to seek out his other books. Have you read any of his books?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780099448471, 2006, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

In true Murakami fashion, all of the elements are here. A love triangle, a mysterious protagonist known only as K, a beautiful setting and buckets of ennui.

The Rest of It:

It’s no secret how much I love Murakami but this book seemed the most balanced to me. The characters are strange and deep, in the way they usually are but not overly so and the conflict presented, happens to be something any reader can relate to.

Sumire, is this deep, untouchable writer-type who has the talent to write, but can’t seem to effectively gather her thoughts into anything more than just a few words on a page. She’s frustrated and shares her angst with her male friend, known only as K. He sees her potential but at the same time is blinded by his passion for her. Sumire is not interested in K as a lover. Instead, she meets an older woman by the name of Miu, and falls in love with her. Miu shares a very special friendship with Sumire, but does not want to be her lover. This rejection, throws Sumire into a deep well of despair and when Sumire goes missing while vacationing with Miu in Greece, Miu calls K to help find her.

So. Much. Angst. Oh, how I love angst!

These characters are torn between love and passion. They love each other and have passion for one another but the feeling is not mutual. As hard as this is for K, his concern over Sumire outweighs his frustration over the situation. He drops everything to find Sumire and in the process, realizes that some alternate universe exists and that the world as he knows it, will never be the same.

The beauty of this book is the writing itself. It’s delicate. Like taking tiny, measured tastes of a delicious pastry. So many people ask me which Murakami to read first. I am always torn because it really depends on your mood at the time, your tolerance for ennui and angst, etc. But this one would be great for anyone wanting to give Murakami a try. His books can be sexually explicit, but this was tame in comparison and the tone, mild.

Out of all of his books, this is one of my faves. I read this with a couple of other readers for #readingsputnik and it was just what I needed to jolt me out of the reading rut I was in.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Cartwheel

Cartwheel

Cartwheel
By Jennifer du Bois
(Random House, Hardcover, 9780812995862, September 2013, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

One of those stories that is ripped right out the headlines, and yet you still find yourself eagerly turning pages even though the story is not new to you.

The Rest of It:

There has been a lot of praise for Cartwheel and after finishing the book, I can certainly see why.

Largely inspired by the Amanda Knox trial, Cartwheel follows the events leading up to the murder of Katy Kellers, a young American living with a host family in Buenos Aires. Her American roommate, Lily Hayes is accused of the crime. With no alibi to speak of, and what the crime investigator sees as questionable behavior in the form of a cartwheel, perfectly executed by Lily in the interrogation room, Lily is looking quite guilty even by those who know her.

Lily Hayes makes a very interesting character study. She is slightly off kilter in her thinking and no matter how dire her situation seems to be, she fails to see the severity of the situation. You cannot believe anything that she says and because of that, it’s impossible to know what is going on in her head. As she sits in prison, awaiting her trial, she appears to be a victim, but is she? When her parents and sister fly out to see her, what they see is what she WANTS them to see. A victim. A disheveled, dirty, largely misunderstood victim. But what about that cartwheel? A cartwheel? In the middle of an interrogation? With absolutely no regard to how that might look to anyone watching?

As a reader, we learn a lot about Lily, but I have to say that I never felt as if I really knew her. She’s as complex as she is frustrating. The investigation, headed-up by the lead prosecutor in the case, Eduardo Campos, is not always on the up-and-up either. He’s pretty sure that what he has in front of him is cut and dry, and yet… he continues to wonder about her motive. I enjoyed his take on what was going on, but by the end, I have to admit that I was still a bit confused over whether or not she was guilty of the crime. I think I know, but I can’t be sure.

Cartwheel is a page-turner. No lie. But what I didn’t expect is just how similar this fictional tale is to what really happened with Amanda Knox. Lily employs the use of a cartwheel, whereas Amanda Knox did yoga. There is a bar owner in both Knox’s case as well as Lily’s and the whole thing with finding DNA on the bra clasp appears in both stories. I think as a fictional work, DuBois could have taken us somewhere else with all of that, but I can’t say that knowing the real-life facts took anything away from the story.

Overall, it was a gripping read but not because there is a lot going on. More so, because as you read, you can’t help but review the facts and come to your own conclusion on what happened or could have happened. For that reason, you pay attention to every word on the page. It’s a book that I could easily fall back into even after reading other books in between. That’s saying quite a bit given my attention span at the time I read it.

In a nutshell, it’s a keeper.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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