Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Drowning Kind (Jennifer McMahon)

I've loved Jennifer McMahon ever since I took Island of Lost Girls on vacation and didn't want to do anything else but find out what happened next. She has had some misses over the years (looking at you Burntown), but for the most part, I've enjoyed the books she's written. I've heard her called the modern-day Shirley Jackson -- her books are creepy and atmospheric and leave you wanting more.

The Drowning Kind might be her creepiest book yet. One day, Jax receives a slew of missed calls from her sister, Lexie. She is tired of Lexie's manic episodes, and so, doesn't answer the phone. The next day, she is devastated to find out that her sister has drowned in the pool at their late grandmother's house. Jax discovers that Lexie has been researching the history of the house, and that may have had something to do with her death.

But Jax is not the only one whose eyes readers see this story through. They also go back in time to 1929 to meet Ethel Monroe, who desperately wants a baby. Her husband takes her to a hotel in Vermont which has a natural spring on its grounds; this spring is said to grant wishes but it also takes something in return. The stories of Jax and Ethel run parallel to each other until the reader discovers how they are connected.

I've found that so often, a book like this is ruined by the ending, but that's definitely not the case here. I didn't see it coming. Read this one with the lights on!


Available April 2021

Thursday, November 19, 2020

How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (Gary Raymond)

 As a yearly watcher of Love Actually, I picked this book up out of curiousity. I didn't think it was going to change my feelings about the movie (which are generally positive), and I was correct. But it did make me think more about the sensitivity of some scenes.

There are a few parts of Love Actually that have always been problematic -- the "cue card" scene, the "fat jokes", etc. Raymond goes further by basically dissecting each scene with his analysis, but some of his comments were so snarky that it was hard to take them seriously. In a bookstore, I wouldn't know if this book would be shelved in the humor section or in film criticism. But he did have some valid points that hit home for me (particularly about the Prime Minister). 

So I will still be watching and enjoying Love Actually in December, but I might look at some scenes in a new light.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Author in Chief: The Untold Stories of the Presidents and the Books They Wrote (Craig Fehrman)

Craig Fehrman’s Author In Chief details a selection of America’s presidents and the evolution of book writing style over America’s history. Our nation’s past presidents have long written books for various reasons - Thomas Jefferson wrote a first person review of Virginia as a way to share his views of the state to the wider (European) audience, with the shift to books for campaigning taking place with the use of the Lincoln-Douglas debates by Abraham Lincoln in the run-up to 1860. The nation’s thirst for learning more about the person in the office (not necessarily the gunk of the political process), combined with the country’s increasing economic and marketing machine, has changed the game for presidential writing arguably more than the men who have occupied the office.

Fehrman’s book captures the transformation in great detail, including first-person letters and dialogue from presidents and those close to them. Not every president is covered in this book, but a large swath of attention is given to those whose book or books has changed the course of how presidents wrote...and ultimately wrote about themselves. If you ever wanted to know more about the man known as “Silent Cal” (Calvin Coolidge) for being a man of few words, this book will show how much his writing changed the game for the presidential memoir.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and students of history - and presidential history - will find it well worth their time to read.


Monday, October 26, 2020

The Night Swim (Megan Goldin)

Because of the cover and description, I went into Megan Goldin's The Night Swim thinking that it was going to be a psychological thriller. Instead, it's more of a crime drama that you might see on television -- with some surprises, but mostly predictable twists.

Rachel Krall hosts a true crime podcast, with each series of the podcast covering a particular trial. This time, she is in Neopolis for a rape trial. Here, a star swimmer and Olympic hopeful is on trial for raping another high school student. In between covering the trial, she also begins receiving letters from Hannah Stills, whose sister Jenny was brutally raped and murdered in the same town twenty-five years ago. Hannah asks Rachel for help in finally bringing her sister's murderer to justice. While investigating, Rachel finds startling connections between the two cases. 

Goldin covers the topic of rape with sensitivity, however, I didn't find the writing very powerful. As I said, I expected more suspense. All in all, I found The Night Swim to be very average.



Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Best Presidential Writing: From 1789 to the Present (Edited by Craig Fehrman)

America’s near 250-year history as a nation has changed dramatically in how the presidency has been viewed and used by the men who have occupied the office. Their words, or words that have been written for them, reveal much about how they thought, why they acted the way they did, and their beliefs in governing and leadership.

Craig Fehrman has chronicled many of their speeches and excerpts from past books for a collection of The Best Presidential Writing.  While not every White House occupant was granted a seat at this table (sorry James Buchanan and Zachary Taylor, among two examples), many consequential speeches and excerpts from presidential writing were. Fehrman takes great care in showing the reader how the presidency evolved, not only in how they viewed themselves and wrote about themselves, but also in the manner and tone of speeches and addresses that they delivered.

I enjoyed reading The Best Presidential Writing, as it was a reflection of us as a nation, its continual evolution, and how we still have so far to go to become the “more perfect Union” that was outlined in the Constitution’s preamble. Fans of history and biographies will enjoy Fehrman’s curation of writing and speeches and how the story of our nation evolves and is shaped through these men's words.


Monday, September 28, 2020

The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution (Kevin Weddle)

Kevin Weddle’s account of the American Revolution’s Saratoga Campaign, The Compleat Victory, is a well-written chronicle of what is arguably the turning point of the American Revolution.

Weddle walks readers through the British and American perspectives of the battles, the early struggles the Americans had in fighting back British advances from Canada, and the series of strategic miscues made by British leadership and field commanders which paved the way for the surrender of British forces in October 1777. The author then discusses the subsequent turn of events after the American victory, which included not only France’s support of the American cause but also the potential power play to usurp George Washington’s command.

Most of us are aware that the Saratoga battles mark the point when America’s fight for independence went from fighting chance to legitimately possible. Weddle takes our basic knowledge of the campaign and adds the strategic moves and tactics throughout the events of the Saratoga campaign, tying them to create the inside information on how the Americans won in Upstate New York. The Compleat Victory is well worth your time if you have an interest in historical battles and the American Revolution.



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway (Michael Riedel)

In Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, journalist and theatre critic Michael Riedel takes readers into one of the most transformative decades in Broadway history -- the 1990s. In addition to British musicals like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera staying fan favorites, musicals like Rent, The Lion King, and The Producers made their wildly popular debuts.

But lest you think everything was covered in roses in the '90s, Riedel also takes us behind-the-scenes of Broadway's total flops, shocking downfalls, and bitter disputes. He also goes beyond the '90s to September 11, 2001, sharing how New York mayor Rudy Giuliani asked Broadway to reopen just two days later to allow people to come together and boost morale.

The weakness of The Truimph of Broadway? Many fans probably know some of these stories already. However, whether you know them or not, The Triumph of Broadway is still an enjoyable walk down memory lane.


Available November 10, 2020