It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The official description of this book is meant to be mysterious and intriguing. Instead, it helped me figure out "the big twist" when I was about 2% of the way into the story.


"When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing."

So I spent the majority of the book nodding to myself as the evidence mounted up that I was, in fact, correct. True, there were a few more twists toward the end, but I was absolutely correct when I guessed what the big secret was.

You would think that this would ruin the book for me, but it didn't. I actually really enjoyed reading it, perhaps partly because I wanted to vindicate my surmise, but also because it was just plain good.

Honestly, I don't know how anyone would NOT figure this out after reading the description, so I think the publisher should have gone with something else. But judging from the reviews I've seen, an awful lot of people didn't figure it out and were thoroughly shocked.

I found myself telling everyone I knew about this book. I gave multiple recommendations to women who had read The Girl on the Train and/or Gone Girl and liked them. Because that's the genre this falls into. I call it The Girl Who genre. You know what I'm talking about. And it's a genre I like a lot, so it was a relief that this book was so good, despite its transparent plot.

Rating out of 5 stars: 4

I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalley.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It

This book is great if you are interested in the history of Liverpool shipping, castaways, or (like me) pretty much anything to do with man's interaction with the sea. But I would not necessarily suggest it if you are not already into this kind of thing.

Brian Murphy has written an easily readable, detailed book about the sole survivor of a packet ship's collision with an iceberg, but it is not exactly action-packed or thrilling. I'm afraid that is what some folks would look for when picking up this kind of book. Personally, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

My nautical reading is usually centered around whaling or arctic exploration, so this is the first book I've read that focuses heavily on commercial shipping in the 1800s and I learned quite a bit. I also don't remember running into the prominent Nye family before. But now when that name pops up among a list of well-known captains or citizens in New England, I will recognize some old friends. I also found the information about Irish immigrants coming to America by way of Liverpool quite interesting.

I received this book as an advance copy from NetGalley. As soon as I read the description, I knew this was a book I wanted to read.

Publication date: September 4, 2018

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

 lets us in on the history of neuroscience, the inner workings of our brains, and his own family's interaction with one of the sadder cases of human guinea piggery you will read.

If you are at all interested in any of those subjects, you will likely enjoy this book.  I received an advance copy through NetGalley, so it was not the finished product. That means I can't really speak to what the published book is like, but I hope they fixed a bit of what gave me trouble.  See the spoiler section if you want to hear my complaints.

H.M. was Henry Molaison, a man suffering from severe seizures. In 1953, a surgery performed by the author's grandfather, the brilliant Dr. William Scoville, was intended to alleviate the problem. But it left Henry without the ability to form new long-term memories. This ruined his life, but gave doctors and scientist a remarkable insight into how our minds operate.


If you don't want to find out any of the "secrets" of the book, please scroll down past the random picture of someone holding a brain.

Alright, now that it's just us chickens, I will tell you that I was shocked by what I viewed as a huge oversight in the composition of this book.  Up through the middle of the book, we hear a lot about how the author's grandmother had "issues".  When her children were young, she did odd, inappropriate things and seemed to be deteriorating, becoming more erratic.  But when the author knew her in his youth, she always seemed placid, but a bit detached.  Now, this woman's husband was a brain surgeon, one who specialized in LOBOTOMIZING people who had issues very similar to his wife's.  Often his patients had problems less severe than his wife's.

So I just assumed that gramps performed said surgery on his own wife in order to alleviate her strange behavior and that the author had even mentioned this somewhere along the way.  Imagine my surprise and confusion when we are finally told toward the end of the book that hey, MAYYYYYBE Scoville lobotomized his own wife?!  Well, duh.  This was not a man overly concerned with the ill effects of his procedures, and anyone who has read the book up to that point would have no problem believing he would do such a thing.

This means that I was really shocked on two fronts. 1) Did Dittrich honestly not think that his readers wouldn't see the inevitable coming when he described his grandfather's controlling streak and the vastly changed behavior his grandmother exhibited over the years? 2) Did it honestly surprise Dittrich that this spouse-on-spouse lobotomy was a possibility?

Dittrich admits that despite searching for records of such a procedure, he was not able to find any.  But for a man of Scoville's clout, it would not have been difficult to cut into his wife's skull off the books, even if he used the operating room where he normally worked and had multiple witnesses.

And if you do plan to read the book, I don't think that the spoiler section above will ruin it for you.  In fact, maybe it would save you from the same confusion I felt.

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating out of 5 stars: 4

Friday, May 25, 2018

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

For a rich girl, Maddie's had it pretty rough. Her upbringing was less than ideal and now she's married to a man who seems like a good choice, but quickly turns out to be a jerk at the very least. His main interaction with her is telling her what to wear.

Maddie's husband, Ellis Hyde, was sadly rejected from service in WWII because he's colorblind. This has lead to lots of drinking and disapproval from his wealthy parents. What's the solution for this? Well, in Ellis' opinion, it's finding the Loch Ness Monster! This is a task at which his own imperious father failed and which will bring everlasting glory to the Hyde name.

So Ellis, Maddie, and Ellis' handsome BFF, Hank, pack up and head for Scotland. Once there, the boys promptly dump Maddie in an inn filled with enigmatic Scotsmen and sassy women. While the menfolk spend hours on the frigid Loch with a camera, she desperately attempts to fill her empty days and get to know some of these new acquaintances. For instance, Angus, the innkeeper.  But Angus, it turns out, has a secret!  And so does the Loch! So really, no surprises there. A fairly predictable plot ensues with a few unexpected turns.

At the Water's Edge is a pleasant read with well drawn characters. Other reviews refer to them as shallow, but what's happening here is that some of the characters are shallow people, not shallowly depicted. Maddie starts out as one of the shallowest, but we learn alongside her that there is more to the world than it seems. A happy ending for most includes a brush with a mysterious force.

I obtained my copy for free through NetGalley.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Thursday, May 24, 2018

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter

This is the kind of title that gets my attention. The funeral industry is a passion of mine. My grandparents owned and lived in a funeral home until I was about 12 and so visiting them meant hanging out a few dozen yards from a room full of casket samples and a body prep room. When I tell people this, a light of understanding shines in their eye. Ah, so that's why you're like this.

Rachael Hanel's memoir is nothing unusual. We hear about her family tragedy and vivid memories of growing up in a small Minnesota town. We hear about family stories from before she was born. Stories that are sometimes remarkable, but not so different in theme and outcome from stories most of us have. (And yes, her father was a gravedigger. Hanel spent many of her early years in cemeteries as her father went about his work.)

It is the tone of this book that has stayed with me for years. It is truthful and touching without breaking your heart. The story of a family as told by someone who can see the story for what it is: sad and happy and frustrating and hopeful. Hanel understands that our pasts make us who we are and perhaps even more than that; our family's past shapes us in ways we can never fully grasp and never, never escape.

I received a digital copy for review through NetGalley.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Neil Gaiman and Other Haunting Questions

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has this question.

How do you pronounce Gaiman?

It's common enough that it is the very first question under his FAQs. I'm reading Norse Mythology and enjoying it thoroughly, but this is my first venture into the Gaimanverse and the sight of his last name on the book spine nagged at me until I had to search for it through my trusty Swagbucks and satisfy my curiosity. I've heard people say it before, but better to get it from the horse's mouth.

I'm not going to answer the question for you; you'll have to check for yourself. Although it turns out I had it right, of course.

On a side note, Marvel has been completely misleading us about how the Norse pantheon works. What else have they been hiding?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Just One Damned Thing After Another

Title: Just One Damned Thing After Another
Author: Jodi Taylor
Genre: Wacky, intelligent fiction
Format in which consumed: Kindle ebook
Rating out of 5 stars: 3.75

This book is smart, funny, and interesting. But for some reason it took me forever to read. There was just no urgency for me to find out what was going to happen.

Max, the main character, is witty and well-educated with some kind of vaguely tragic backstory. And I don't know quite how to put this, but she was made all the more relatable because it's easy to forget she's a woman. I imagine it would be easy for a male reader to put himself in her shoes because she's neither very feminine nor masculine. She just sort of goes about her life, pursuing the bizarre occupation of time-traveling historian and eventually falling in love with a man, thereby providing some of the few reminders that somewhere under those dusty coveralls, there beats the heart of a girl. But other than her awkward love life, there is nothing much to set her or any other female apart from their co-workers other than their education and titles at St. Mary's (hotbed of secret historical research via never-explained time travel pods).

And maybe that's not a good thing. Because I honestly couldn't keep the characters straight, even Max's love interest. Other than Max it was just a blur of snarky, subversive people who were constantly popping out of hallways and making off-kilter statements.

I know that isn't a ringing endorsement, but if you enjoy smart books about history and adventure with a little bit of sci-fi flavor, you will probably love it.