Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Twenty: First Family - David Baldacci

Willa, the daughter of the First Lady's brother, is kidnapped from her home the night of her 16th birthday party. Her mother - Pam - is killed while her brother, her sister and her father are drugged.

Sean King and Michelle Maxwell were on their way to Willa's house after being summoned by Pam, when they hear gunshots coming from the house. Michelle is able to get a few shots off at the suspects as they exit the garage before they get away. From that moment on, Michelle & Sean are on the case unofficially.

Sean helped the current President escape political scandal during his senatorial campaign. Jane - the First Lady - did not forget all that Sean did for her and her husband. She asks Sean and Michelle to lead their own investigation - separate from the FBI & Secret Service - into the whereabouts of Willa.

As Sean and Michelle start their investigation - they find out that first night that Sean met the President & the First Lady is very relevant to Willa's kidnapping. Michelle also has to fight off her own "demons" of her past and focus on a family murder investigation - her mother is murdered. In the end - everyone realizes that mistakes made in the past can sometimes come back to haunt you in the present.

David Baldacci's books are like my "chick-lit". I use them to escape reality. They are for pure entertainment and nothing more. First Family fell into this category well. While some of the plot lines were predictable, David knows how to hook his readers from the first page.

Nineteen: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

March Book Club Selection

Christopher Boone finds a neighbor's dog - Wellington- dead in his neighbor's backyard. After being arrested (and released) for attacking a police officer, Christopher decides that he is going to investigate the murder of Wellington himself. And since he likes murder mysteries - Christopher decides to write about this real-life murder mystery. And thus begins the story of Christopher, the murder of Wellington and his parents.

As Christopher investigates Wellington's murder, he interviews some folks from the neighborhood. Mrs. Alexander engages him the most and ends up sharing with Christopher that his mother and Mr. Shears (one of his neighbors) had an affair. Wellington was Mr. Shears' dog.

After Christopher gets "caught" by Mrs. Shears snooping around her garden, Christopher's father makes him promise not to continue investigating Wellington's murder. The next day his father finds Christopher's journal detailing his "investigation" out on the dinner table. They fight again and Christopher's father hides his journal in the house.

The following week Christopher decides to search around his house to find the hidden journal, but instead finds a box of letters addressed to himself. He reads a few of the letters and finds out that his Mother is not dead like his father had told him - but living in London with Mr. Shears. At this moment, Christopher's world comes tumbling down around him. He's still in a fog when his father returns home and finds out that Christopher found the letters. They fight a bit and his father admits to killing Wellington himself. Suddenly, Christopher can not be farther away from his father. He leaves the house and hides behind the shed until the morning.

Not knowing what to believe and where to go, Christopher works through all his choices and decides to head to London to stay with his mother. He walks 40 minutes to his school. Seeing his father's van parked outside the school, he asks a stranger for directions to the train station. Getting lost within the city, he traverses the city streets in a grid pattern until finally reaching the train station. Once inside - he is overwhelmed with the number of people walking around. A policeman comes up to him and asks if he needs help. The policeman helps Christopher get money out of the ATM and buy a train ticket.

As Christopher boards the train, he runs into the same policeman who tries to convince him to get off the train and meet up with his father. Before Christopher can respond, the train starts to move and the policeman decides that they will meet his father at the next stop. Christopher goes to the bathroom and then decides to hang out in the dark luggage rack across from the bathrooms. The train arrives at the next stop and Christopher can hear the policeman calling out for him. A few more stops later, the train arrives in London and Christopher decides to get off. Stopping at the information desk, Christopher is directed to the Underground in order to travel to his mother's place.

Again Christopher uses his powers of observation and mimics other passengers to get into the Underground. Once there he reads the map and determines which track to go to. The main issue occurs when the train approaches the station and causes lots of noise and the number of people increases. Christopher ends up staying 5 hours in the station before having the courage to get on the train.

Christopher finally arrives at his mother's place only to find her not there. She arrives shortly with Mr. Shears. Christopher tells her that his father said she was dead and he killed Wellington. They decide that Christopher can stay in London for a bit. The next day - Christopher's father arrives and demands that he comes back with him. Eventually, Christopher ends up living with his mother back in his home town - Swindon. Even though his father apologizes to him and gives him a puppy, Christopher never forgives his father.

I've not had experience with an autistic child/person in real life, therefore it's hard for me to relate to Mark's depiction of Christopher - an autistic boy - in this book. This character was clearly a composition of many characteristics (even stereotypes) of autism. The chapter numbers being prime numbers did throw me off at first. The math or science tangents got old by the end of the book. It's hard to believe that no one would have helped a young boy in the Underground for over 5 hours. The first half of the boy tended to drag until Christopher found out about his mother. In addition, the plot didn't engage me again until he started his journey to London. The ending was abrupt and was awkward.

I know this book won a few awards and was heralded as a first-rate insight into the mind of an autistic person. Maybe my lack of first-hand experience does not allow me to see the "brilliance" within this book. Or maybe since its been 6 years since this book was first published - the mind of an autistic person is not as "ground-breaking" as it was back in 2004.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Eighteen: The Season of Second Chances - Diane Meier

All Joy Harkness ever wanted was to be a fashionable and part of New York's high society. After seeing an ad for Chemical Bank which featured a young woman walking purposely up Park Avenue commanding people's respect - Joy wanted to be that girl. In fact she opened an account with Chemical Bank the next day. She got a tenured professorship at Columbia University, a view of Hudson River and multiple published books - but none of it equalled a life in New York City that she dreamed of.

One summer when an avant-garde professor from Amherst College actively recruited her to move to the middle of nowwhere Massachusetts to build a quinque undergraduate program, Joy didn't think twice. She sold her apartment with the great view of the Hudson (only if you stuck your head out the window), packed up her belongings and bought a run-down Victorian house in the middle of town. The first night Joy stays in her house, the plumbing bursts and sewage is all over multiple floors of her house. The next day she makes an appointment with local handyman Teddy Hennessy to start making repairs on her "new" house.

When Joy starts her new job, she realizes that everything is going to be different at Amherst. Her office mate - Josie - is friendly and personable. Her assistant Fran is competent. And her colleagues are genuiuely glad to have her in their department. Life is totally different for her. She is settling into a routine and working with Teddy on her house. She goes out on dates with three "coyotes" - single professors on campus. She falls hard for Will - coyote #3 - so much so that they are engaged and about to get married. One night as Will and Joy are walking home - a student "attacks" Will and accuses him of being untrue to himself. At that moment Joy realizes that Will is gay and just trying to put together a "perfect" environment so that he could be the dean of the English department.

Joy recovers by jumping into a relationship with Teddy. But things are not what they seem. Teddy is very dependent on his mother and she relies on him for everything as well. Joy is warned that Teddy's mother has hijacked every relationship he's had. As Joy and Teddy's relationship grows, they are thrust into helping chauffer and entertain a friends' kids while their mother is in the hospital. In the end, Joy realizes that a relationship with Teddy will never work out. She ends things and just focuses on moving on and enjoying her time at the college.

This book was a quick read and it had an interesting point of view. I respected Diane not writing a happy ending. I would say that Diane's writing style is not like her husband's (Frank Delaney) - but the book was still enjoyable.