Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Reviews

When I reviewed Sara Gruen's first book, Water for Elephants, I commented about how put off I was by the blurb on the inside flap:
I got as far as "circus", "depression", "parentless and penniless" and I was turned off.  If I bothered to read any further, I would also have shied away from a story about "freaks, grifters and misfits".
But once I started reading I fell into the story and loved it.  After that, I believed I had learned a lesson about judging a book by it's setting.  But when I picked up At the Water's Edge, I cringed - a story about hunting for the Loch Ness Monster?  How stupid was this going to be?  

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster.
The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed.

It took a bit to get started.  Maddie is surrounded by such unlikeable characters that it took me a while to realize she was different.  But when I did - splash! - I feel into the story head first.  This book contains surprise twists, a tale of friendships forged through adversity, a history lesson and a beautiful love story.  Lesson learned - again.  A well-written story is not confined by where and when.  Ms. Gruen - I promise not to doubt your next book!

Not so with my next pick.  I probably won't give Elizabeth Strout's next book a passing glance.  I can't believe I wasted a Book of the Month pick on this.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

This story contained virtually nothing.  It was boring and depressing.  The only reason I gave it one star was because there was an occasional "glimmer" in the writing - details hinted at but ultimately left untold so you could make up your own, infinitely more intresting, story.

To recover from my disappointment with Lucy Barton, I turned to a reliable, old friend - Nancy Drew.  Nancy always minds her manners, always helps others and always solves the case.  This volume was written in the 40's and the reliance on "snail mail" and telegrams to investigate the clues was comical, and almost frustrating, in the age of Google.  But, I have to admit, Nancy solved it before I did - so some things stand the test of time.

The Secret in the Old Attic by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew races against time to unravel the clues in a dead man’s letters. If she succeeds, Philip March and his little granddaughter can be saved from financial ruin. Following obscure clues, Nancy undertakes a search for some unpublished musical manuscripts which she believes are hidden in the dark, cluttered attic of the rundown March mansion. But someone else wants them enough to put many frightening obstacles in Nancy’s way. Will she outwit a trio of ruthless thieves and solves the Marches’ problems?


  1. Tami, I enjoyed At the Waters Edge too. I might have Water For Elephants on the shelf still, the cover blurb didn't really grab me either. I will definitely read it now. I'll skip Lucy Barton and save my time.

  2. Going to read them both. You have tempted me.