I’m usually not much of a thriller reader, but the premise of Blake Crouch’s newest novel, Recursion, sounded good enough that it gave me pause.
It also has a sci-fi slant to it, and while I don’t read a ton of science fiction, I am a sucker for stories that dabble in manipulation of memory, time and our sense of reality.
Note: This book is sort of hard to discuss without spoilers, so the second half of this review does contains spoilers. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: the second half of this review contains spoilers. I’ll warn you before they start.
Barry Sutton is a detective with the NYPD. New York City has in the past eight months seen a new type of affliction called False Memory Syndrome that leaves its victims with strange memories of other lives.
Meanwhile, Helena is a scientist whose mother has Alzheimer’s, and she is working on research involving human memory and mapping the human brain.
As Barry begins to investigate and his path collides with Helena’s, he realizes there’s a force that’s shaping and twisting reality, memories and people’s perceptions in ways that are terrifying and horrific in their power.
Recursion was just released this week (June 10th), but already has a movie adaptation in development. It was optioned over 9 months refore its release — back in October 9, 2018.
I’m guessing this is partially based off of the success of the television show Wayward Pines, which is adapted from Crouch’s book series of the same name. Though the plot of Recursion is solid enough (in my opinion, anyway) that it’s easy to see how others could see potential for an intriguing movie to be made.
The movie adaptation is being developed by Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves and intended for Netflix. It’s still early on, but I’ll update as things progress.
Book Review (No Spoilers)
I was impressed by Recursion. I had been warned going into it that it was a very plot-heavy book, which it is.
And even with its sci-fi twist, Recursion progresses much as you’d expect with most action-thriller novels. It dives into its plot almost immediately, the text is broken down into short sections, the book moves very quickly, and so on.
That said, this is a legitimate science fiction story, with lots of twists and turns situated around bending the rules of time and memory. It introduces a situation where people have memories in their head they can’t recognize and others are given a chance to redo certain aspects of their lives. I love these types of stories, both in books and in movies, but they tend to vary in quality.
The verdict for Recursion? Not bad. Stories that deal with manipulating reality can often be confusing and full of glaring plot holes, and I think this one side-steps both those major pitfalls effectively. I was left with two minor-ish question marks (discussed in the Spoiler-ish Thoughts section), but overall it holds up.
Recursion stipulates a clear set of rules under which it operates and sticks with it. I especially liked the beginning when people are just discovering what’s going on, which I thought was creative and well-paced.
In terms of all the other aspects of it, let’s be clear, this is definitely a thriller-type novel and reads like it. It’s all plot, all the time. But it’s a damn good plot. Recursion is a very fast read, assuming you can keep up with what’s going on. I know I had to re-read a few sections to make sense of all of it.
I’d also add that despite being all plot, it pokes around the edges of some moral questions that are interesting. It doesn’t offer in-depth discussions, but it naturally forces you to consider whether people can wield power responsibly and issues of that nature.
Read it or Skip it?
I enjoyed Recursion quite a bit. I liked this enough that it’s likely I’ll be reading more books of his, even though this isn’t my typical genre.
If your book club is open to sci-fi thrillers, you should definitely consider choosing this as your next book club pick. It’s an action-packed and exciting ride, but has a few good discussion opportunities as well.
If you’re looking for something literary, this isn’t going to be it. But it is an interesting and well-plotted thriller if you like a little science fiction from time to time. For anyone who’s on the fence, I’d say give it a shot! It’s a fast read. See it on Amazon.
Spoilers start here. Seriously, I’m going to spoil absolutely everything because this is also meant to help people who are confused by the book. So, very major spoilers from here on out. You’ve been warned. Do not read this part if you haven’t read the book yet.
Spoiler-ish Thoughts (Spoilers)
I found the plot surprisingly coherent, considering the fact that it deals with time travel. I also thought Crouch did a good job of making the many twists and turns and bending of reality (relatively) easy to follow.
I think the biggest plot hole (or at least aspect of the story they isn’t fully explained) is why they tried visiting a dead memory with Reed and it failed, and then took it as fact that it was impossible to visit dead memories until Slade said otherwise. Also, I don’t understand why exactly it failed when they tried it with Reed. Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t really explain why it works when Barry tries it at the end.
I also didn’t understand why Slade chooses to send Barry back in time instead of just killing him when Barry first breaks into the hotel. He said something like “because of your past” but I’d don’t really get what that means.
Still, overall, I think those issues are pretty minor. By and large, for a book about time travel, the story is surprisingly consistent.
Recursion’s Time Travel Rules, Explained (Spoilers)
As far as I can gather, this is how time travel works in Recursion.
1. To do a time jump, you need to use a specific, vivid memory. A moment where you are especially emotional or happy or in pain, etc. You use the machine to think about that memory, which maps/records the memory. From them on (once it’s been mapped), you will be able to return to the point in time when that memory originally took place.
2. False Memories materialize for other people at the moment the time jump happens in the new timeline. So, if on Jan 1 2010 you go back in time to 2007, then when you reach Jan 1, 2010 in the new timeline, the old memories of the old timeline will materialize for everyone else at that point (this is essentially when the two timelines merge).
3. Reality shifts are the flip side of the false memory coin. When someone goes back in time, essentially there are two timelines that are created, the current one and the past one. For someone else in the past one, they experience a reality shift when the two timelines merge back together. The current “version” of you gets hit with false memories when the merge.
4. You can’t return to False/Dead Memories (or so they think). So, old versions of events (False/Dead Memories) exist in everyone’s memories, but can’t be returned to. Only events that are valid within the current timeline can be jumped to. (Spoiler: In the end, it turns out you can, in fact, return to dead memories.)
Recursion’s Ending, Explained (Spoilers)
I’ve written out a detailed summary (below), but if you just want to understand what happens at the end, here’s a brief explaination.
Basically, by the end, everything has gone to shit regarding the chair/time travel technology. The government has the technology, some terrorists have it, some people are just using it for fun. And other governments are in the process of developing it as well. Reality is getting made and unmade, and the world is on the brink of nuclear destruction because of it (each government wants to prevent others from using it next, so they can go back further in time to mold the world the way they see fit).
Helena ends up going back in time again and again to try meet Barry and figure out a solution. The big problem is that no matter what happens, when a timeline merges with the present (generally sometime on April 16, 2019 because that’s the day Helena jumps back in time) everyone remembers again how to build the chair. They need to prevent those memories from appearing.
So, they keep trying, Helena gets set back, and each time they relive a span of about 30 years. Finally, they remember that Slade hinted there was a way to prevent the dead memories. When this gets confirmed, they abduct Slade, who admits that he was able to revisit a dead memory once, which they previously thought was impossible.
Only by revisiting the original timeline (which is now a dead memory) can they undo everything and prevent the dead memories from appearing. By the time Barry has this knowledge, Helena is dead because her mind fragmented from all the time travel.
Barry visits a memory from the original timeline and finds Slade. The book implies that he kills Slade, which prevents all of this from happening. Barry then tracks down Helena (who is still alive), who he loves. (Presumably, together they make sure the technology is destroyed and never gets out.)
With summer quickly approaching, it’s the perfect time to dig into this summer’s new releases to select the tastiest Wine and Book Pairings for 2019’s Best Summer Reads for all those fellow wine lovers out there.
This summer, there’s a great blend of beach reads, thoughtful stories, suspenseful thrillers and serious fiction. All you need is the right glass of vino to go with it.
Hope you enjoy this list! As a quick note, I tend to be partial to Sonoma wines, since I live near there, and cheaper wines, since I’m not that fancy, haha. And as always, be sure to read and drink responsibly!
The Unhoneymooners and Champagne
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren is a romantic comedy about two sworn enemies who end up in Hawaii together when the rest of the wedding party gets food poisoning. It’s a fun and romantic book with some wedding and (sort of) honeymoon hi-jinks thrown in.
I didn’t used to be a much of a champagne drinker (except on New Years), until I joined the Gloria Ferrar wine club a few years back. They have a beautiful winery about 45 minutes away from me, and I started bringing friends there since wine club members get free tastings at the winery, and I realized how fun it can be to add a little bubbly into the wine mix from time to time.
Champagne adds a little upbeat, festive kick to things, and would be perfect for reading The Unhoneymooners. See The Unhoneymooners on Amazon.
Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys is set to be a major summer release. Coming July 19, it’s about two boys attending a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. Powerful and brutal, the book’s early reviews are fantastic. See The Nickel Boys on Amazon.
For something like this, the smokey and bold flavor of the Malbec is a great wine to go head to head with Colson’s gripping story. Malbecs tend to be darker in coloring and sometimes a little spicy and velvety. It’s definitely a wine for people who love full-bodied red wines.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls is a fun and sexy story spanning the lifetime of one woman as she discovers the excitement and indulgences of New York City. See it on Amazon.
City of Girls would go great with some lively and joyful sangria. I suppose sangria is technically a cocktail (fruit and wine, basically), but since it’s a wine-based cocktail, I’m including it on this list. The classic sangria uses oranges and apples usually, but feel free to mix it up by adding other fruits.
What to Drink: Sangria should always be made fresh, not store bought. I’ve never had a store-bought sangria that wasn’t totally disgusting. Luckily, it’s easy to make. For a red sangria, use a medium-bodied red wine (a merlot or tempranillo work great) and cut up some fruit and add a dash of lime or lemon juice. Plop it all into a pitcher with plentiful ice, and you’re good to go.
For the fruit, oranges or apples are typical, but feel free to try other fruits like blueberries, peaches, strawberries and grapefruit, too. If you like your sangria sweeter, you can add in a spoonful of sugar or two. Or if the flavor is too bold for you, you can water it down with some soda water.
Recursion and Oaked Viognier
Recursion by Blake Crouch is out as of today (June 10). It’s a plot-driven “thriller about time, identity, and memory.” Something called “False Identity Syndrome” has started afflicting the memories of its victims, and a New York cop must battle to discover the truth and defeat it.
To pair with this book, I’d suggest something that’ll keep you on your toes but also has a little more body to go keep up with this book’s ambitious and innovative plot. An oaked viognier (pronounced “vee-ohn-yeay”) will usually have a good amount of substance and body, along with an aromatic lightness so you don’t feel weighed down.
What to Drink: The Cline Viognier (10% cash back via ebates) is rich with a touch of sweetness, and it’s inexpensive. Plus, they have lovely vineyards if you’re ever in the Sonoma area.
Searching for Sylvie Lee and Chardonnay
In Jean Kwok’s Searching for Sylvie Lee, Sylvie Lee disappears after going to the Netherlands to visit her grandmother. Her sisters and mother must work to in unravel the mystery of her disappearance. It’s a twisting but thoughtful story about family secrets, an immigrant family, love and loss. See it on Amazon.
To complement this book, a nice smooth and buttery Chardonnay will pair nicely, taking the edge off the twists and enhancing the book’s thoughtful tone. For something a little more tart, try an Old World (European) Chardonnay, such as one from Chablis, France. For a richer and more fruity flavor, pick a California Chardonnay instead.
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner is a multi-generational novel about two sisters, Jo and Bethie, each navigating and carving out their place in a changing world. Resonant and funny, it’s tackles a range of social issues with humor and heart, making it a great summer read. See Mrs. Everything on Amazon.
Meanwhile, Beaujolais is considered by many to be a fun, lighthearted red wine (it’s actually a wine region and the wine is made from the Gamay grape), due to it’s lighter body and the berry flavors that generally accompany it. It’s sure to pair nicely with both the substance and the style of Mrs. Everything.
Any plans to read these books or any thoughts on other good wine pairings? Cheers!
In The Huntress, Kate Quinn once again has penned a thrilling and captivating piece of historical fiction. This time around, it’s about tracking down a Nazi war criminal.
Quinn’s previous book, The Alice Network, was about a female spy who is recruited during WWI and was very well received. The Huntress came out earlier this year and has been similarly praised.
I’m a bit picky about stories set around World War I or II since there tend to be a lot of them, so I like to choose mine carefully. However, the reviews of The Huntress have been compelling and enough people whose opinions I trust about these sort of things seemed to like Quinn’s books, so I picked this one up from Spectator Books (a nice little bookstore in Oakland) and put it at the top of my to-read list.
In The Huntress, Nina is a former Soviet aviatrix who is trying to track down a Nazi war criminal known as die Jägerin, The Huntress. The Huntress disappeared after the end of the war, but is known mainly for offering survivors refuge and then murdering them.
Nina joins forces with Ian, a former war correspondent whose younger brother was murdered by The Huntress.
Meanwhile, Jordan is a young woman and aspiring photographer in Boston who is suspicious of a woman her father has recently married. Annaliese is beautiful and caring, but clearly has something she’s hiding.
As Nina, Ian and Jordan’s paths converge, they’ll need to come to terms with their pasts and utilize all of their collective skills in order to bring justice to their elusive target.
Female Aviators known as the Night Witches, Rufina Gasheva and Nataly Meklin
I was hooked by this book pretty early on, probably by about 50 pages into it. The plot kicks off right away, and it’s a story that teems with adventure and suspense. The lively narrative zig zags across multiple countries and continents, and jumps back and forth across various time periods before and after World War II.
Like with The Alice Network, Quinn works in a factual, lesser-known facet about women in history to serve as an integral part of her story. In this case, it’s about a group of Soviet female aviation units, known as the Night Witches. In The Huntress, the character of Nina is a former Night Witch, and Quinn is able to tell their story through her.
It’s a lengthy book, but one that flies by surprisingly quickly. Quinn is a capable and experienced writer and it shows. She moves the story confidently along, in a way where it’s easy to get lost in the pages of her thrilling and suspenseful plot.
The narrative is upbeat, with elements of suspense, adventure, action and some romance. In terms of the substance, The Huntress is more plot-focused than literary, but it never feels like it’s poorly written because of it.
For example, I wouldn’t describe this as a character-driven story, but it does have unique characters with clear personalities. I liked that they didn’t feel like “stock” characters or silly stereotypes. The novel switches back and forth from the three main characters’ various points of view, and it’s a pleasure to get to know each of them.
If you’re going to read this book, I highly recommend reading the book’s notes at the end as well. In it, Quinn talks about little details she culled from real life and what she based her characters on, which are a great addition to the book.
Book Review: Some Criticisms and (Maybe) Anachronisms
While I have a few minor criticisms, I should first mention that I enjoyed pretty much all of it regardless.
The romances were a miss for me, as they seemed unnecessary, but I didn’t mind it. I also was hoping for a little more of a mystery element to the plot or a few surprises along the way, but instead it’s a more straightforward story than I was expecting. Oh, well. I do think the lack of surprises made the lead-up to the end a little less impactful or suspenseful though.
There’s also two cheap “cliff-hangers” in the book (where you think something has happened, but soon find out it was nothing), which I didn’t love especially because the exact same thing happens during both of them. But that’s such a minor thing it’s barely worth mentioning.
The other bit of criticism I had was that it seemed like some of the phrasings or colloquialisms used may have been a little anachronistic. A few things just sounded a bit too modern to my ear, considering most of the book takes place 70-75 years ago (1944-1950).
Just looking at the first few chapters for example, the phrase “get laid” is used to refer to sex. The first (evidenced) usage of this phrase is in 1952 (if that website is to be believed), a few years after the book concludes.
Similarly, the phrase “coming in like a wrecking ball” sounded like it was straight from the Miley Cyrus song. Wikipedia seems to think that wrecking balls weren’t even really in common usage until the 50’s and 60’s, so I’d be surprised if that many people were using it metaphorically (and in exactly the same phrasing as Miley), but who knows.
Putting someone’s “feet to the fire” is also an idiom that the internet seems to think is more of a post-WWII phenomenon.
That was all in the first 30 pages or so. I didn’t comb through the rest of the book in the same fashion, but I assume you’d find more of the same. But again, I think I’m being a little nit-picky. There’s nothing blatantly anachronistic, so it’s not something that detracts from the story.
Read it or Skip it?
I was expecting to like this book, but was still surprised when it surpassed my expectations.
While I think the story would have benefited from a little more of an element of surprise and mystery, it’s still an exciting and enjoyable novel, with a nice sense of action and adventure as well as a full cast of fleshed-out, interesting characters. I read it effortlessly in one weekend, and I quickly ordered The Alice Network right after.
If you like historical fiction, I’d recommend that you take a look at this book for sure. For people who only occasionally read historical fiction, I’d still recommend it as well if you like novels of the page-turner variety. It’s a fun, uptempo and accessible read that delves into a small, but interesting piece of history.
Have you read this or will your read it? What’d you think? See it on Amazon.
Of course, this post is about the film adaptation that just came out. Is it good? Is it faithful to the book? How does it compare?
The series is six episodes long, each running about an hour. All episodes are available on Amazon Prime Video.
The show stars a bunch of recognizable British actors, notably Michael Sheen and David Tennant as the angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley. John Hamm also appears as the angel Gabriel, and Frances McDormand voices the role of God. (Benedict Cumberbach can also very briefly be heard in the last episode as the voice of Satan).
If you aren’t familiar with the story, basically, the birth of the Antichrist means that the end of times is nigh, so an angel and demon who have been happily living on earth decide they need to try to prevent the apocalypse. It’s an apocalyptic comedy, which is very funny but also addresses its subject matter thoughtfully and effectively.
Jon Hamm as Gabriel
Good Omens Adaptation Review
The short version of this review is that the adaptation pretty good.
Fans of the book, I think, will be the ones who are most pleased with it. The adaptation stays largely faithful to the book, and a lot of the lines come verbatim from the book.
But it can definitely be enjoyed by people who aren’t familiar with the book, assuming you like sort of zany, fantastical humor. Also, if you found the book premise interesting, but thought the book was confusing, then the show will probably be a win for you, since the show has streamlined or clarified aspects of the story (see below for the comparison).
To the extent things are changed or added, they generally don’t change the overarching meaning of things. This is unsurprising, since Neil Gaiman served as a showrunner for the series (showrunners are the guys who are there every day, calling the shots), so it was unlikely he’d let it just be butchered when it came to the adaptation.
The production values are relatively high, though you can tell there were a few parts they had difficulty adapting. For example, most of Episode 5 felt awkward to me, and I think it worked better in the book. In the story it’s when stuff starts to really go haywire (which means lots of special effects), so I imagine some of this is due to budget constraints.
They’ve also added a few things that are unique to the show, like a montage of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship through the years, which work really well. The relationship is explained via narration in the book, but seeing them in different time periods and how their relationship develops is fun, especially if you’re already a fan of the book.
Aziraphale and Crowley at the Globe Theater
Book Comparison (No Spoilers)
There’s a few parts in the show that have been changed that make parts of the plot easier to follow as compared to the books. For example, there’s a baby-switching scene that is (arguably) pretty confusing in the book, and that scene has been lengthened considerable, plus the visual aid makes it a lot easier to understand what is going on.
Other parts have been rearranged or have more narration to provide more clarity about what’s happening, such as the introduction of the Four Horsemen. I preferred the way it’s done in the book where you don’t entirely realize they are the four horsemen until close to the end. However, I’m guessing people found it confusing, so in the show they state very clearly up front in huge letters exactly who these characters are and hammer the point home with additional narration.
The show also adds in some clarifications about things that were left ambiguous in the book. For example, in the book there’s a critical moment where some machinery is messed with and you know that something bad has happened but it’s a little unclear what exactly was going on. In the show, they’re much more explicit.
Finally, towards the end there start to be some changes in the ending, but I won’t give that away, since you should see it (or read it!) for yourself. There’s been more added to the ending, but the meaning is largely the same. There’s also a fun twist involving Aziraphale and Crowley at the end that’s worth seeing.
Watch it or Skip it?
If you like apocalyptic comedy, watch it! My recommendation is to read the book, then watch the show. It’s good enough to enjoy twice, and the show adds some stuff so it’s worth taking a look at even if you’re already familiar with the story.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a story set in the Alaskan wilderness. As referenced in the book, the title comes from a line from a poem by Robert Service (“The Shooting of Dan McGrew”) where he refers to the remote Alaskan lands as the “Great Alone”.
I knew I’d read it sooner or later, since I’d heard so much about it, but it got pushed off for a while when I was reading The Snow Child (also about a family trying to make a life in Alaska). I’m always a little hesitant to jump into books with similar premises or similar settings.
Of course, aside from the general locale, I quickly discovered that these are two very different books — in tone, subject matter, time period and etcetera.
In The Great Alone, the Allbrights are a family who move to a small town in Alaska for a new start. Ernst, the father, is a Vietnam veteran and former POW who has struggled emotionally since the war. Cora, his wife, loves him and tries to help him. Leni is their young daughter.
Leni is hopeful when they first arrive in the small outpost of Kaneq. But as the days shorten and the sky darkens when winter appraches, Ernst’s temper and volatile impulses re-emerge. As Leni grows up, she and her mother must manage Ernst and the demons which haunt him.
The Great Alone is a survival story, both about surviving in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness and about growing up with an abusive and volatile father. Ernst is a deeply flawed man. He prefers the company of survivalist and doomsdayer Mad Earl to that of the cheerier and more optimistic people in town. Cora remembers the man he once was and clings to that memory.
Hannah paints a vivid and memorable image of a family and a community making a life and surviving out in the wilderness. The small community she depicts is sparse, but vibrant, providing warmth and softening the edges of the harsh Alaskan landscape.
To be honest, I enjoyed the parts about surviving in Alaska, Ernst’s transformation and integrating with the community a lot more than and the parts about abuse. This is semi-unfortunate, since the novel becomes increasingly about Ernst’s violent temper as the novel progresses.
As such, I found the initial setup of The Great Alone, which spans approximately the first half of the book, really well done. It’s evenly paced and delivers a steady stream of emotional ups and downs and the Allbrights navigate this new territory and their new lives.
As the novel hits the half-way mark though, the story darkens, the book gets a lot more dramatic and starts to hit a repetitive note. I suppose this is probably a reflection of the experience of dealing with abusive family members and their victims, though knowing that didn’t keep me from feeling a little frustrated as the novel begins to drag on. That said, this is fairly minor and not a reason to skip this book, assuming you’re comfortable with the topic as a whole.
As the book concludes, a lot happens and Hannah rushes through the ending a bit, though I tend to be biased towards books that move a little too fast versus those that move a little too slow. Even with the speedy ending, it still manages overall to be a satisfying emotional journey up until the end.
Book Review: Some Criticisms
Apart from the middle that drags a little, my main caveat about this book is that it gets a little soap opera-y in a few parts. There’s a lot of Big Events that happen in the book that enhance the drama, but also start to feel like a crutch.
I would have preferred a little less melodrama and a little more introspection in this type of story, but it does make for an eventful plot.
The Great Alone Movie Adaptation
The Great Alone film adaptation is in development currently (as of May 2019). Tristar Pictures purchased the film rights in June of 2018. It sounds like the project is still in its early stages, but I’ll update as news comes out.
Read it or Skip it?
The Great Alone is well-written, often heart-breaking and touching and sometimes a little frustrating emotional journey. The story drags on just a tad in the middle and gets a little over-dramatic in parts in terms of Big Events happening, but overall there’s a lot to like about it.
I thought Hannah did a good job with the topic, though ultimately it is largely about abuse, which I think is inherently a dark and (to put it lightly) “unpleasant” topic. It’s just something to be aware of going into the book that the story spends a substantial amount of time on that issue.
I think people who like plot-heavy books about heavy topics will like The Great Alone. It’s an accessible and well-written, though not particularly literary. There’s also a touch of melodrama in there and especially towards the end, which may be a plus or minus for you, depending on your reading preferences.
I wasn’t as captivated by it as some other readers seem to be, but I did think it was an interesting read as far as family dramas go. My favorite part of it was still the first hundred or so pages when the family is first getting settled into their new home in the Great Alone.
Did you read The Great Alone? What did you think? If not, is it something you’d consider reading?
I should start by saying that My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing is definitely not for everyone, and most definitely not for the faint of heart. It is a disturbed story from cover to cover about a couple who decides to spice up their marriage by murdering people.
In My Lovely Wife, our unnammed narrator and his wife, Millicent, are a married couple with two kids living in the upscale neighborhood of Hidden Oaks. He’s a tennis instructor, and she’s a realtor. Based on outward appearances, they appear to be a fairly normal couple, with the same financial stresses and worries about daily life as anyone else.
What separates them from others is that they both find excitement in their marriage by killing people. Their “date nights” are codewords for planning a time to plot murders, and when the book opens, they are in the process of identifying their next victim.
I picked this up because I’d seen it around and was looking for a mystery-type novel to entertain me during a long flight I had. I’d say it only sort of fit the bill. In terms of twists and turns, there is some of that, but overall the book is more suspense-horror than mystery-thriller, if that makes sense.
This book reminded me a lot of the movie Mr. Brooks, if you’ve ever seen that. (It’s about a family man with a serial-killer alter ego. It didn’t do that well in the box office, but has decent reviews.)
In My Lovely Wife, Downing doesn’t shy away at all from her premise. Our unnamed narrator and his wife like killing people, simple as that. The main questions are whether or not they’ll get caught and whether or not they can get away with it.
The resulting book feels dark, suspenseful and relatively convincing. There is a small amount of horror and gore, but mostly the book doesn’t dwell on those aspects.
Instead, it focuses on the character development of the couple instead. Getting into the mindset of our narrator and trying to help us understand his decisions – and seeing them try to keep from getting caught — is what makes the book interesting and entertaining.
I don’t think you’ll end up relating or empathizing to the characters (at least I certainly hope not), but you’ll at least somewhat understand what they’re thinking and what’s driving them, which is about as much as you can ask for with this type of book. I think a story like this one can easily end up being nonsensical or cheesy, and Dowling does a good job of avoiding those pitfalls.
There’s a few parts that stretch the limits of credulity (such as with the involvement/assistance of the narrator’s friend), but overall Dowling manages to present a convincing, suspenseful and disturbed story.
Read it or Skip it?
Whether or not you’ll enjoy My Lovely Wife really comes down to a matter of tastes. It is a psychological thriller, but dips into the horror genre which some people may or may not have the stomach for.
For a book about murder, manipulations and suspense lurking under the shiny exterior of a happy family life, this book does it and does it pretty well.
That said, while I thought it was well-done for what it is supposed to be, but it’s also not a book I would recommend to many people. Not because it’s bad, but just because I don’t think the subject matter would suit most people. Even as someone who enjoys horror movies and thrillers, the book was still felt a bit icky for me personally.
What do you think? Is this something you’d consider reading? Or, if you’ve read it, feel free to share your thoughts!
So, the blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks since I’ve been in Peru on vacation. We visited Lima (the capital), Cuzco, the Sacred Valley (which is where much of the Inca Empire was once situated) and the floating islands of Lake Titcaca (where an indigenous people known as the Uros still live on the water).
A Noticable Lack of Book Blogging in Peru
The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. I actually didn’t think that much about blogging while I was there. Peru is such a culturally vibrant place with a fascinating history, tons of well-preserve archaeological sites, and many groups of indigenous peoples that it’s easy to forget pretty much everything else while you’re there.
I was hoping to get at least one post out, but that didn’t really happen since I was on-the-move pretty much the entire time. I did get a chance to snap a picture of the The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder while I was at Machu Picchu. It’s a short novella set in Peru about the deaths of five people when a bridge in the Incas collapses.
Moray Archaeological Site in Sacred Valley
A Recent Phenomenon
One really important thing I learned was how recently many of these places and groups of people have been “discovered” by the outside world.
Machu Picchu was only first introduced to non-Inca people in 1911, with tourism to the area beginning less than a hundred years ago. The Spanish (who originally colonized the place) didn’t even know about it, which is why it is so well preserved. A lot of the other Inca ruins became that way because they were looted by the Spanish or purposely destroyed by the Inca people before the Spanish got there.
It’s still possible to meet people in Peru who remember or have parents/grandparents who remember the places before there was any tourism which make for much more interesting stories.
Similarly, when we went to stay with the Uros people (who live in reed houses, built atop floating reed islands on the water), we found out they only started interacting with outsiders around 15 years ago, with tourism to the area beginning around 10 years ago. I might actually do a separate post about this. I definitely want this to stay focused as a book blog, but it’s pretty fascinating to see how different these people’s lives have become in a span of just a decade or so.
A weaving demonstration in Chinchorro
The Food! You Should Go to Peru Just for the Food!
The food is Peru is amazing, especially if you are someone who enjoys the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables. Because of the high elevations and the mountains, there’s lots of places that get a ton of sunlight (which means larger, jucier food). The differing elevations also means that Peruvians have spent pretty much thousands of years finding the perfect elevations to grow their food.
The point is, there is a ton of fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables everywhere and it’s totally amazing. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it, honestly.
Saturday Brunch in Lima
Other Fun Stuff
I also took a cooking class when I was in Cuzco, where we made Cuzco-styled ceviche (made with trout, which is more abundant there) and Pisco Sours (including a version with passionfruit instead of lime juice, which I highly recommend).
Beyond that, I saw a bunch of llamas (my favorite animal) and alpacas and lost a bunch of weight because the high altitude in the mountains tends to decrease people’s appetites if you’re not used to it.
I might do one more post about Peru (about the floating islands), but I promise there’ll be much more book-ish content to come after that!
It’s been a source of embarrassment to me that I never actually finished reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read the beginning many, many years ago, but that’s about it. So, with the Hulu adaptation of it due to be released this week, it seemed like a good a time as any to cross this off my to-do list.
Still, I decided to read it more because I felt I should and less because it seemed like there was any pressing reason to do so. I’ve always known more or less what the crux of it was, so it’s been less of a priority for me — what can a 50-year-old story have to say that’s worth thinking about now? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
George Clooney as Scheisskopf in Catch-22 (Hulu, 2019)
If you’re not familiar with it, Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian, an Army Air Force captain and the lead bombardier stationed on a small island near Italy during WWII. It’s a war satire, and the term Catch-22 (used to describe no-win situations) was coined by Heller because of this book. It’s a story about bureaucratic absurdities and the paradoxes of war.
There’s a jarring contrast in the tone of book, which is sort of absurdist and humorous, and the content of the book itself, which deals primarily with an army pilot who simply wants to survive the war. Yossarian is a man who does not really want to die for his country — is that really so crazy, asks Catch-22?
While Yossarian comes off as playfully but determinedly trying to save his own skin in the beginning, as the book progresses, it’s clear that Heller’s comedic tone and playful dark humor are a diversion from the more serious issues the characters are facing.
Catch-22’s events are the result of the multitude of failures — failures of the bureacracy, failures of courage, failues of character, and the many Catch-22’s that crop up. Plus the nature of war itself is also at issue. Catch-22’s satire of these shortcomings and how they interplay with each other is relentless. And as incisive as it is, it’s also, quite frankly, kind of depressing.
I didn’t realize until now how deeply cynical Catch-22 is. As much as I have respect for this book, I’m not sure reading it could exactly be described as enjoyable.
The characters in the book all operate in a tangle of cross-purposes with any sincere, well-meaning intentions easily defeated by bureaucratic absurdities. While the book is largely devoid of anyone resembling a hero (with one exception), the officers and army leadership get the most withering portrayals, all acting solely out of self-interest and cowardice.
In Catch-22, Heller pens a quote that is just as true and relevant now as ever, and it sums up perfectly what bothers me about the world and the many, many immoral and self-serving people in it: “What does upset me, though, is that they think I’m a sucker. They think that they’re smart, and that the rest of us are dumb. And, you know, Danby, the thought occurs to me right now, for the first time, that maybe they’re right.”
Yossarian in Catch-22 (Hulu, 2019)
One of the strongest aspects of the book, regardless of your level of interest in war satire, was the structure of the book and the way the story is old. The story is told somewhat achronologically with various flashbacks filling in the details. What initially seems to be kind of a zany, satirical story about a mischievous army captain slowly reveals itself to be a lot more (and quite a bit darker).
I thought Heller’s way of providing a timeline was particularly clever — while various events are revealed out of order, the book gives us updates on the number of missions that Yossarian has gone on and the number still he still needs to hit in order to be released, which keeps changing. It serves as a way to point out his inability to escape from the situation, but also provides a guide to the chronology of the story.
Read it or Skip it?
As far as “classic” literature goes, Catch-22 is not a particularly difficult read and worth reading at least once at some point. Still, it’s not exactly a beach read. I wouldn’t recommend it for general pleasure reading, since it’s a bit of a downer for most of the book.
Also, I would add a caveat that while I still think it’s worth reading and the points it makes are all still valid and important (pretty much all its criticisms about bureaucracy, capitalism and self-interest will ring true for anyone who has ever worked in an office before), the book is not quite as topical now as it was when it was released. As discussed in this very well written article, part of the reason Catch-22’s caught on and became so ingrained in our national consciousness had to do with the political environment when it was released. It was ideal reading material with the Vietnam War debate heating up and anti-establishment-ism on the rise.
(In 2019, the biggest questions about war probably have more to do with whether the use of drones is ethical, whether sending our country’s poorest populations off to die for us and then failing to take care of them is ethical and what type of role the U.S. should be playing, especially when it comes to distributing arms to other countries. )
However, Catch-22 is a book that wants to challenge your worldviews and does so adeptly with a hard dose of dark and absurdist comedy. Its place on the “best books” lists is well deserved, even if it is a very cynical ride. I’m glad I finally got to read this, and I’m interested to see how the adaptation goes — though I’m thinking I’ll follow up this book with some lighter fare!
Did you read this book? If, so was it for school or on your own? What were your thoughts?See it on Amazon.
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere has been high on my to-read list for a while, since its release back in the Fall of 2017. It’s gotten fantastic reviews, and it’s in development as a Hulu series (produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington).
I held off on reading it because I had lukewarm feelings about her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, but I had a chance to read it this weekend and was pleasantly surprised.
The book opens with a fire in the well-heeled neighborhood of Shaker Heights — a culmination of simmering tensions in the community.
The town has been divided over a thorny issue involving the adoption of a baby by a couple in the neighborhood. While the couple is well-off with good intentions, the birth mother has been searching for her baby since she left her at fire station in desperation and then subsequently realized her mistake a few days later.
In story about adoption, motherhood, race and social divisions, Celeste Ng presents a thoughtful and gripping drama about community wrestling with difficult questions about character, class and values.
I read Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, a little over a year ago, and had generally positive but fairly lukewarm feelings about it. In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng presents a more confident, compelling story while maintaining the positive aspects – solid writing, empathetically written characters, etc – of her first novel.
Here, Ng draws detailed portraits of a neighborhood, family and friends divided by a thorny issues. The Richardsons are well-off with a cadre of promising teenage kids, and Mrs. Richardson is close friends with the couple that has adopted the baby in question. Meanwhile, the Warrens are a modest family of two — a single mom and her daughter — who are minorities and less financially stable. Mia Warren is the one who tells the birth mother about the baby’s whereabouts.
I really liked that Ng fleshes out each character in her story, and each one of them feels like an individual. There are no easy answers in this book filled with good intentions and imperfect people caught in an impossible situation. In the process of giving each character a full background, there’s a few parts that drag a little, but it’s a pretty minor issue.
Throughout the story, a range of characters with differing backgrounds, values and mindsets attempt to make sense of the situation, coming to vastly different conclusions. Ng treats each of these viewpoints with respect and diligently attempts to present the best arguments on each side. She handles tricky topics with deftness, discussing things like the inherent difficulty of reconciling the desire for social justice against the desire for social order. Adoption, abortion and even surrogacy all crop up in this book, and Ng handles each with care and measured consideration.
It’s a thoughtful and insightful book, presented through a lens of a neighborhood drama that gives the story its beating heart and provides the book with the action and intrigue to drive the plot forward.
Little Fires Everywhere Film Adaptation
There’s also a promising adaptation of this book in the works. The Little Fires Everywhere adaptation is planned as a 2020 Hulu mini-series. Reportedly, there was a huge bidding war before Hulu won the rights to the series.
Reese Witherspoon (as Elena Richardson), Kerry Washington (as Mia Warren) and Rosemary DeWitt (as Linda McCullough) are included on the cast list.
Little Fires Everywhere is one of those books that’s easy to recommend, but is best read if you’re in a thoughtful mood. It’s well written, accessible and poses intriguing questions about complex issues. There’s a lot of stuff to mull over in its brisk 300 or so pages. This has been a popular book club pick ever since its release back in 2017, for good reason.
This is more of a considered, issues-focused book than a plot-heavy thriller or anything like that, so I’d recommend taking that into consideration and deciding if that’s something you’re interested in.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which I found very engaging. It’s a story that’s well worth a few hours of your time. I’m very interested to see what she comes up with next!
Have you read this or are you thinking about it? Feel free to share your thoughts below!See it on Amazon.