Tag Archives: Joyce Maynard

Review: Under the Influence

Under the Influence

Under the Influence
By Joyce Maynard
William Morrow & Company, Hardcover, 9780062257642, February 23, 2016, 336pp.

The Short of It:

A complex look at friendship and how much you are willing to overlook when happiness is at risk.

The Rest of It:

Divorced and saddened by her current situation, Helen’s decision to drive while under the influence causes her to lose custody of her young son, Ollie.  Distraught, she joins Alcoholics Anonymous as an attempt to get her life back on track realizing that she has a long road ahead of her.

Desperate to make a little money, Helen accepts a job serving appetizers at an art gallery party. The party is filled with rich, well-to-do types so it surprises Helen when one of the guests talks to her about art. Ava Havilland is beautiful, well-dressed and in a wheelchair and yet she exudes the type of confidence that Helen lacks. Ava’s husband, Swift is this larger-than-life personality. Together, the two are a force to be reckoned with. Needless to say, Helen is in awe of them and in no time, Ava has taken Helen under her wing by offering her gifts, clothing, inviting her to dinner and even hiring her as a photographer to work on a special project back at the house.

Let me tell you, this story got my blood pressure up in so many ways! There is an element of danger that you simply can’t ignore. Helen is so vulnerable. She’s just lost custody of her son and has trouble making ends meet and in walks this perfect couple and they are more than willing to offer their assistance, but why? There is literally tension on every page and I just loved it.

Surprisingly, Helen is not a likable character. She’s manipulative. She has a lot of faults and doesn’t always make the right choices but at the same time, I could relate to her situation and understand what this couple meant to her even though every piece of me wanted to scream at her and tell her to take her blinders off.

The entire time I was reading, I felt as if I knew what was going to happen but the story took a different turn and although I was glad to be surprised, I found it to be a little convenient and not that realistic.

That said, the ending didn’t affect my love for the book at all because that tension I mentioned is what kept me reading and Maynard digs deep when it comes to alcoholic tendencies and how tempting that one glass of wine can be. Under the Influence would make a great book club pick because there is plenty of good stuff to discuss. This was my third time reading Maynard’s work and I’ve enjoyed reading all of her books. I highly recommend them.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: After Her

After Her

After Her
By Joyce Maynard
(William Morrow & Company, Hardcover, 9780062257390, August 2013, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Touching, poignant and moving. A beautifully written novel by one of my favorite authors.

The Rest of It:

In the late 1970’s, Marin County, California was rocked by the murders of several young women in the area. The killer, known as the “Trailside Killer”, preyed on women hiking Mount Tamalpais. The detective working on the case at the time, Detective Gaddini, had two young daughters of his own, so the continued loss of life hit him hard knowing that these young women would never return home. After Her is loosely based on the details of this real-life case.

Maynard’s book, follows sisters Rachel and Patty Torricelli as their father, Detective Anthony Torricelli investigates the murders of female hikers in the area. The area in question just happens to be the mountain behind their home but even with the added danger and their father’s orders to stay off the mountain, the girls continue to spend their days there.

When the killings continue without any significant leads, the community becomes restless over the investigation’s lack of progress. Rachel. fiercely loyal to her father, takes matters into her own hands.

Oh, what a gem of a book!

I’ve only read one other book by Maynard (Labor Day, soon to be a movie!) but what impressed me so much with that one is what impresses me here. Her sense of place and her knack for creating honest, likable but flawed characters is what immediately attracted me to the story. I loved these girls! Rachel and Patty are what you and I envision sisterhood to be. Rachel, the older of the two, adores Patty. Patty, is often the more sensible of the two, yet Rachel’s imagination is what makes living on the mountain what it is. After their parent’s divorce and the obvious withdrawal of their mother, they are left to fend for themselves. What could be a depressing, dire situation becomes opportunities for adventure.

I loved the simple love and admiration displayed by these sisters. Without a TV in the house, they spend their evenings camped out in backyards, hoping to catch something good on their neighbor’s TV. They play games, shoot baskets and talk about boys. But when the mountain becomes the center of the investigation, staying off of it is close to impossible. Their innocence, given their proximity to the case is endearing. If you long for simpler times, as I do, this book will leave you with a heavy sense of nostalgia.

When the killer makes himself known, I could not help but be angry. As much as they struggle to keep the mountain pure and untouched, there’s no denying that it’s changed for them. And seeing the changes in their father, as he struggles to put the pieces together is enough to almost break them.

Oh, and their father! Anthony Torricelli’s love for his daughters literally leaps off the page. I ADORED him, which is how most women in the story feel about him even with his tendency to be a bit too friendly with the ladies. His tireless efforts to catch the killer, and his remorse over how things ended with his ex-wife lend a sympathetic air to the situation.

Another blogger noted that at page 150, not much was going on but now that I’ve finished the book, I understand what she meant. This book is about many things, but most of all, I found it to be a book about family and what it means to be a family and Maynard’s decision to spend so much time on the girls and the relationship with their father is what makes this story so endearing and heartbreaking. Against the backdrop of the serial killings, the backstory of these characters is like a gentle reminder of all things good.

Lately, readers have been asking me if a book I’ve reviewed is too dark or violent so I do want to mention that although there is mention of rape, the details of the murders themselves are largely left up to your imagination. And given the subject matter, I did not find this book to be dark or depressing.

It’s a mystery, a love story, a coming of age novel and a scrapbook (of sorts) of what it was like to be a kid in that decade. It’s charming, heartbreaking and at times funny. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss

Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.