It’s a Mystery: Memory Man, by David Baldacci

Memory Man (Amos Decker, #1)

Memory Man by David Baldacci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Giving this book 4 stars, even though I was not able to finish it. The concept of a man who cannot forget absolutely anything is very intriguing, but this poor main character was afflicted with this condition after discovering the bodies of his murdered family. The writing was competent, but this character’s life was so terribly miserable and depressing that I found myself unable to read to the end. Empaths beware. Otherwise, if you don’t mind this sort of thing, this could be a great story.



View all my reviews

Modern Lit: In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle



My rating: 4 of 5 stars



In Five Years, a novel by Rebecca Serle, is more than a story. Reading it is an experience, with genuine emotional highs and lows. Protagonist Danielle Kohan is a 30-something woman who is the very definition of the type A personality. A corporate attorney living in NYC, Dannie is about to land her dream job and become engaged to long term boyfriend David, and life is going exactly according to plan, thank you very much. In five years, they will be married, living in Gramercy Park, and living large. Returning home from their celebratory dinner and awash in champagne, Dannie falls asleep. In her dreams, she finds herself exactly five years in the future, in a loft apartment not her own, wearing a different engagement ring, in the company of Aaron, a movie star handsome man she’s never met before. The calendar on the wall tells her it’s exactly five years in the future. When she awakens back in her own time and place, Dannie is shaken to her core, unsure about whether she’s had a dream or a vision. What if what she experienced is real?

Up until this point, early in the plot, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue reading what seemed to be a rom-com, but now I was hooked. Dannie attempts to follow her carefully constructed life plan, but she isn’t very good and dealing with uncertainty, and soon there will be other changes that will submerge her into depths of hope and fear, anguish and despair, confusion and anger and depression. Serle is a very good writer, but the center of the novel contained too many emotional elements that I simply prefer not to deal with anymore when reading fiction. But that’s my preference; many other readers, judging from their reviews, don’t feel that way. At the final third of the novel, Dannie’s dream comes back into play in a very interesting way, so the plot was redeemed, and I was glad to discover how Dannie would fare, even though I came to not like her very much. I didn’t enjoy the subject matter, but I can appreciate the skill with which this author can put together a story.




View all my reviews

Seaside State Park, Waterford, CT

Although I’m a lifelong resident of Connecticut, I’d never heard of Seaside Sanitarium until October, 2020, when my husband and I took an open air boat ride out of New

London. In keeping with the pandemic, Seaside Shadows, a ghost tour company based in Mystic, offered a “Historic Epidemics”  tour along the mouth of the Thames River and nearby shoreline. Back in the 1970’s, we had visited Harkness Memorial State Park, a verdant and scenic estate overlooking Long Island sound. At the time, we had no clue about the existence of a sprawling waterfront estate right down the road from Harkness. After our curiosity about it was stimulated on last year’s boat tour, the site went onto the top of our places to visit. Yesterday, a beautiful, mild  spring afternoon when we’d had it with being stuck at home, presented the perfect opportunity to investigate the grounds of the eerie, gothic pile we’d glimpsed from afar on the water.

The Seaside Sanitarium was built by the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission Clinic. Designed by architect Cass Gilbert, it opened in 1934 as the only medical facility in America incorporating a heliotropic approach (lots of sunshine and fresh air) to treating children with tuberculosis. It functioned as a TB hospital until 1958, after effective drugs therapies had rendered sanitariums unnecessary. For the next three years, it was used as a geriatric center, then became The Seaside Center for the Mentally Retarded. It closed in 1996 and has been vacant ever since.

Though an attempt to find other uses for this truly magnificent property, no viable solutions were found, and in 2014, it became Seaside State Park. Since then, the  state has been working on a plan to save the buildings, which are deteriorating, and establish a resort and conference center, but as of July 2019, no progress has been made. For now, the 36 oceanfront acres are open to the public, but the buildings are boarded up, with the main hospital surrounded by a chain link fence. It’s a picturesque place to wander around, albeit a bit eerie, and you can even pick up a few tiny shells on the sandy little beach. Should you decide to visit, there is a small parking lot just before the driveway, which is off limits to vehicles. There is no admission fee.

It’s a Mystery: The Third Girl, by Nell Goddin

My rating: ⭐️⭐️ of five.

Forty-something, recently divorced Molly Sutton moves to a classic French village to begin a new life as the proprietor of a classic French gite (B&B). She falls in love with the ambiance and the villagers and already has some bookings. When a gifted English art student disappears, Those in town are especially worried, because two other young women disappeared a year or so earlier. Is there a serial killer living among them?

The gendarmerie begin investigating, but there is frustratingly little to go on. The narrative switches between the work of the three officers and Molly’s observations of the reactions of her new neighbors. There are a few moments of mild suspense, but basically The Third Girl fits snugly into the cozy genre. While there is plenty of conversation there isn’t much action. Surprisingly when the setting is in the south of France, the author frequently mentions the beauty and charm of the village without actually describing it. With the exception of Molly herself, the characters are rather bland, and Molly is prone to making iffy decisions based upon emotion. As for the mystery, there are no clues that could lead the reader to discover whodunnit.

Yawn.

Historical Fiction: Beheld, by TaraShea Nesbit

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ of 5

Was there a murder on the Mayflower? Maybe. But without doubt, a murder did occur in Plymouth Colony, ten years after its founding. That crime is the vehicle upon which TaraShea Nesbit builds a story that blows America’s long standing myths about the “godly” Pilgrims clear out of the water.

Nesbit’s two protagonists are women, Alice, the wife of Governor William Bradford, and Eleanor, married to indentured servant John Billington. On a daily basis, all must grapple with a myriad of unfamiliar dangers as they try to establish successful lives in a strange new environment. In spite of the pious religious ideals espoused at the meeting house, the identical socio/economic tensions that existed in Europe continue to cause tremendous strain in the new world. Bradford is responsible for allocating land allotments to all colonists, and does so with an uneven hand. With every new wave of incomers, tensions multiply, and when the elites conspicuously fail to assuage them, the first murder of a colonist by a colonists occurs.

The story plays out in alternating chapters, essentially mini-autobiographies, narrated by the educated, refined Alice Bradford and the working class Eleanor Billington. In spite of their status difference, as women, each of them is virtually powerless in this society, as their experiences make clear. Through their words, we watch conflicts take root that grow so innate that they continue to dominate America today.

Nesbit’s research for her novel appears sound and deep, and her prose is evocative. Read this short but compelling book, and watch the the cloying myth of the noble and selfless puritans finally shatter.

It’s a Mystery: Confessions on the 7:45, by Lisa Unger

Confessions on the 7:45Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

There has been a rash of crime novels lately that involve train rides, and Confessions on the 7:45 is one of the better ones. This is a complex, two sided tale that takes place over a period of ten years. Selena is a happily married career woman who, little by little, discovers that her husband is quite different from the man she thought he was. Hers is the story with which the book opens. Pearl is an orphaned teenager adopted after her mother’s murder by one of her mother’s kind employees. After the introduction of Pearl, the twin threads alternate in a long series of episodes that build high drama and suspense. Their stories, merging only gradually, provide the author with the opportunity to explore the myriad delusions that people adopt as reality when the truth is too painful to face. How well do we ever know the people we love and trust? How do we know when we’re being manipulated? Why and how do we ignore our own instincts? What does it take to force us to recognize and let go of our illusions? How do we recover?

This thriller is the product of a skilled writer. The plot is multi-layered, the characters well drawn and relatable. How would we react, or perhaps more importantly, act, when placed in the situations facing Selena and Pearl? There is little behavior here that does not commonly play out, to some extent, in our own lives.

Historical Fiction: My Dear Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having recently watched the video “Hamilton” on TV, I found various scenes rather confusing. The last time I read anything about Alexander H. I was in 8th grade. As a result, I decided read up on him before attempting to watch the musical again, and downloaded the audio version of Stephanie Dray’s My Dear Hamilton. Based upon Eliza Hamilton’s own letters, this book is a fictionalized narrative, related by Eliza, of her experiences as Mrs. Hamilton.

Part romance, part autobiography, and part eyewitness to history, the amount of detail in in My Dear Hamilton is nothing short of astounding. And therein lies the problem. While many sections were fascinating, others were melodramatic and repetitive. The book in print runs to nearly 700 pages, the audio version to 24 hours. I gave up listening at 18 hours, after Hamilton’s death, no longer able to persevere. Though I remain curious to learn about Eliza’s life as a widow, I’ll look it up online. Then I’ll give the musical another go, with song lyrics in hand.

View all my reviews

Nonfiction Worth Reading: So You Want to Talk About Race, by Iljeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About Race
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now more than ever, it’s imperative for those of us who are not black or brown to listen with an open mind to what those who are black or brown have to say about their daily experiences. First we need to understand what “white privilege” really means. It’s not about money. It’s about the sorts of barriers that being white protects you from having to face, for the most part on a daily basis. And it’s vitally important that whites have a clear picture of what comprises those barriers and who is responsible for making them so strong and impregnable. Ijeoma Oluo writes with force and clarity. She doesn’t mince words, laying the blame at the feet of the rich, white, male capitalists who, from the birth of this country, have made certain that only the select members of their coterie can share in the profits and power that they have enjoyed at the great expense of everyone else. There is a strict pecking order, in which people of color have been entirely disenfranchised , with women and those of certain ethnic groups following close behind. Our entire middle class is now in jeopardy, having grown expendable since factory jobs have dried up. I have become increasingly aware of this fact over the last couple of decades. Reading Ms Oluo’s detailed, elegant account of the threats, struggles and insults that so many Americans of color must grapple with every day has been even more eye opening.

Please read this book, or one like it. As Mark Twain said, “The truth hurts, but silence kills”.

View all my reviews

What to Do With All Those Statues

One of the hottest topics during this most controversial and disquieting of summers has been what to to about all those statues of figures who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Many have been removed, but now what? IMHO it’s important to use these symbols to tell the unvarnished story of what they represented when first erected (decades after the war ended) and what they represent today. And boy, is that a loaded question in this era of red and blue states and renewed demands for racial justice. In my recollection, our country has not been this divided since the VietNam era, and our very future is at stake. It’s hard to find reasons to hope…..

This morning I came across an article in one of my favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, which every day posts a digest of the the unusual and often downright quirky places scattered around the world. What snagged my interest this afternoon is their article about what Germany, which has long had their own social and political controversies, has decided how to handle their own monuments that “symbolize racism, antisemitism, and other forms of violence and oppression”. Rather than destroying them, they have established the Citadel Museum in Spandau, in which to display them. There  aim is to use them “ to contextualize the past, putting uncomfortable realities on display in productive, educational, and sometimes challenging ways.“

2889FA13-51D6-4A8E-B659-CD9152E88BE7

 

The museum’s message is clear: A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.

1989F36B-20C9-4E20-A596-EAEDEE5F55A2

I love this idea, and now my hope is that we can do something like this in several American cities, north and south. These are issues we desperately need to talk about in a supportive environment.

The article goes on to discuss other ways German  people are working to confront their own history. Well worth taking a look at here.

 

Modern Lit: East Coast Girls, by Kerry Kletter

East Coast GirlsEast Coast Girls by Kerry Kletter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four high school girls, intelligent, pretty, and vivacious, share a series of idyllic summers on the beaches of Long Island. All of them have less than ideal home lives, and their deep friendship helps to fill that void. Their final vacation together after graduating is bittersweet, separation looming as they prepare to set forth as individuals into life’s next phase. Driving home on their last day, they vow to remain close and visit often, when the unthinkable happens. East Coast Girls is the story of how each copes with a future quite different than what was confidently expected.  Now, at age 30, they meet at the beach one last time, but not without trepidation.

For the reader, what happened on that tragic night is a mystery, clarified slowly and haltingly, until the book ends. None of the women, for that matter, know the whole truth about what actually took place. This is what motivated me to keep reading, because much of the tale, related by each of characters in turn, seemed like a coming of age novel.  Having outgrown the support system they had created, and in the absence of any other, their confidence has dwindled in the face of the daunting difficulties that life pitches at them.

The summer reunion is beautifully developed. It is in this sequence that the characters are their most authentic. It reminded me of the movie The Breakfast Club, which in essence was a successful group therapy session. As in the film, these struggling, damaged women somehow find the nerve to speak painful truths to one another, and can come to understand and accept those truths because they are told by people they once trusted and can come to trust again. During this process, the reader ultimately learns about the traumatic experience that once had the power to divide them, and now has the power to unite.

Difficult material. Well done, Kerry Kletter!

View all my reviews