Friday, May 13, 2016

What She Knew ~ Gilly MacMillan



MacMillan, Gilly.  2015. What She Knew. New York: William Morrow. $15.99 USD.  ISBN. 978-0062413864

This novel of literary suspense was a hard one to read at first, because it deals with a topic that is horrifying to any parent: the abduction of a child.  We feel very vividly the terror, guilt, grief and anger of the mother, especially, but also of the other family members, as well as the frustration of the detective who investigated the case.  Once the author has overloaded you with more emotion than you can quite handle, the book moves more swiftly into a mystery to be solved.  I am not ashamed to admit that I read the end of the book first, to make sure I could handle spending all the time I would have to with the main character's anguish.

 The sections from the detective's point of view were interesting, as they were in the format of his therapist's notes from his work-mandated therapy sessions.  Grueling is the word that comes to mind, but they also shed light on the impact that traumatic cases can have on the officers who investigate them.  It's not a book I would choose to read more than once, but it was very well done.

Sleeping Giants ~ Sylvain Neuvel

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Neuvel, Sylvain. 2016. Sleeping Giants. New York: Del Rey Books, a division of Ballantine Books.  $26.00 USD.  ISBN 978-1101886694

This novel, a debut written by linguist and translator Sylvain Neuvel, is a fascinating mystery and an elegant piece of science fiction. Written entirely in the form of interviews with an anonymous interrogator, it explores the lives of various characters involved in the discovery and reclamation of a giant robot, body part by body part, buried by an unknown entity or advanced alien species sometime in the past. The story is revealed gradually through the interviews, and the author does a fantastic job of giving distinct personalities to each of the novel's characters. It is also the first novel of a series, so we are left with some unanswered questions to look forward to being resolved in a future title. What is distinctive about this novel is its format.  I've seen novels written in diary or journal entries, emails or text messages, or a mixture of these with prose. But the interrogation/interview format is new to me, and Mr. Neuvel has used this technique to write a novel of propulsive suspense.

My Name is Lucy Barton ~ Elizabeth Strout



Strout, Elizabeth. 2016. My Name is Lucy Barton. New York: Random House.
$26.00 USD.  ISBN 978-1400067695

From the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Olive Kitteridge.  In this slim volume, a young mother is recovering from a surgery gone bad in a New York hospital sometime in the 1980's in the shadow of the Chrystler Building. She is missing her husband and children, who cannot visit her.  One day, her estranged mother shows up and spends five days with her in the hospital, and from there the story begins.  The simple, almost child-like narrative is jarring at first, until one realizes that her mother's visit has caused the protagonist, Lucy Barton, to revert to the insecure, abused and abandoned child she once was, still hoping for some show of affection from her mother.  The story slips by like snapshots from the past and casts shadows on Lucy's childhood, marriage, writing career and her relationships, including those with her daughters.  It is a poignant read of "poverty and abuse," but also of love, which is so fragile, yet resilient as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos ~ Dominic Smith




Smith, Dominic. 2016. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. New York: Sarah Crichton Books.  ISBN 978-0374106683. $26.00 USD.

I am not usually a fan of historical fiction.  I much prefer contemporary fiction, literary suspense, mysteries and urban fantasy.  However, this rather slim volume caught my eye, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  The Last Painting of Sara De Vos explores the history of one painting and the lives it impacts, from three separate time periods and locations: the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Manhattan in the 1950's and Sydney, Australia in the year 2000.

This novel is a mesmerizing look at the lives of a fictional female Dutch painter, the owner of the painting and its forger, and how these lives intersect in history and mystery.  The author writes in alternating chapters from the perspective of each of these three characters, and wonderfully develops each one.  The novel provides voluminous details about the Dutch Golden Age of art and the intricate techniques involved in painting restoration and forgery. The details of the different eras are so exquisitely described that I felt I was entering into those time periods. I got so caught up in this story that I did not want to stop reading as it raced to a surprisingly suspenseful resolution.  I admit this novel may have changed my opinion about reading historical fiction! Very well done.