Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Place Last Seen (2000) by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

If you enjoy spending time hiking in the great outdoors, the setting of this book will appeal to you.
My blog friend Andrea recommended this book to me and I was lucky to find a copy of it in the library.  I love that it is a first novel - one of my favorite things!  And it was very well written and kept me up half the night last night to find out what happened. was not an easy story to read.

The story begins as Anne, a mother of two, realizes that her 6-year-old daughter with Down's syndrome, Maggie, has gone missing during a family hike in the Sierra Nevadas Desolation Wilderness Area in California.  Maggie was playing hide-and-seek with her ten-year-old brother, Luke, and never returns.  As Anne, her husband and Luke try desperately to find Maggie, they slowly come to the realization that they are going to need to call in professional help to find their daughter, and the novel is the chronicle of the ups and downs of the rescue operation.

I'm not going to say anymore so as not to spoil the ending, but the author takes her time to paint each and every character in this book in beautiful emotional detail.  She also compels the reader to think about loss, responsiblity, and contemplate how we handle the inevitable tragedies in life.  Finally, the contrast between the concern and focus of the search teams and the indifference of nature, and the barren but beautifully unusual setting make it an excellent read.  Thanks for the recommendation, Andrea.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips (2005)

Yet another painful and gripping story about an abusive mother; this time set in the 1950's in a small town in Georgia.  Rozelle Quinn, a mother of ten children by as many fathers, reminded me in many ways of "Mommie Dearest" with her unbelievable cruelty towards her children and other people in her life.  It was sometimes almost too heart wrenching to continue reading.

The narrator of the story is her daughter, Tangy Mae, the darkest skinned of the family, but at the same time the most intelligent.  Tangy Mae is desperate to finish high school, but has to work around her mother's demands that she help supplement the family's income by cleaning during the day and accompanying her to work as a prostitute by night.  At the same time, Tangy Mae has to take care of and protect her younger siblings, and deal with the rivalries that crop up between her and the older siblings.  No one seems to be safe or cherished in the Quinn household at any time.  Their mother literally gets away with murder, and not just once, but three times in the course of the book!

Unfortunately, the story ends just as Tangy Mae manages to escape.  I would have loved to be able to follow her on her journey out of hell and see how she managed to turn her life around after surviving all she did.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Expats by Chris Pavone (2012)

I was lucky enough to win an advance reader's copy of this book earlier this year and due to circumstances, only got hold of it recently.  But it was a really great read - I started it yesterday evening and just couldn't put it down to go to sleep and then luckily I had a pretty quiet day today, because I had to finish it.  Yes, it's that kind of book.

It's a fast paced thriller, but the neat thing about it is that it is set in sleepy little Luxembourg, of all places.  And the characters get to visit Paris, Brussels, the Ardennes, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Geneva..  All places I have been throughout these years I've lived here and so it feels so familiar.  The author certainly used the year and half he himself spent in Luxembourg as an expat very well - the details and descriptions of the different cities but also everyday life, the food, the way things work, the people you see - they all ring very true.

The other familiar theme in the book is a career woman who gives up her job to follow her husband to another country and become a stay-at-home mother...I could certainly relate to many of the scenes that detail her frustration at the mundane details of domestic life, when you are the sole person in charge of making sure the shopping, cooking, and cleaning all get done while your spouse is off on weekly business trips.   

What was not familiar to me was the fact that this particular stay-at-home mom, Kate, has a huge secret that she's been hiding from her husband for ten years.  Her job was not really what she's told him it was.  But as she soon discovers while navigating her new life in Luxembourg, her husband is also hiding a huge secret about his professional life from her.  And their new best friends, another American couple, aren't exactly who they seem either.  Unable to resign herself to the boredom of expat life, Kate is compelled to find out what is going on.  And that's where things start to get exciting. 

For the attentive reader, there are lots of little clues dropped along the way, but still the ending has some surprising twists and things I hadn't seen coming.  This was an entertaining read, and I could definitely see it being made into a movie - perhaps that would help change Luxembourg's reputation as a boring banking town to a sexy location for intrigue?