French Exit – Patrick DeWitt

french exitFrances Price in French Exit reminds me of a blue-blood, eccentric friend of my mom’s who was so blind to her wealth that once, while enjoying her first experience dining at a Waffle House, asked if they had Russian dressing for her salad. Another time a waiter explained that there was no smoking allowed inside the restaurant, and she casually waved her cigarette in the air and said, charmingly disarming him, “Well, let’s just pretend, shall we?”

French Exit is the story of the disdainful and weary Frances Price, widowed and rapidly running out of money, and her feckless son, Malcolm. Shocked to  learn of their dwindling funds, Frances and Malcolm flee to Paris in order to stay rent-free in a friend’s apartment. Accompanying them in their getaway is Small Frank, the aloof cat that Frances believes houses the soul of her dead husband. Once in Paris, Frances and Malcolm unintentionally acquire a coterie of hangers-on that create madcap antics while attempting to contact Frances’s dead husband (who is cavorting around the Paris streets as a cat). Trust me, it actually makes sense.

This story is chockablock full of quirky, clueless, insolent characters that are completely endearing. You can’t help but love them. They are full of entitlement and haughtiness that lends itself to deadpan humor and dry satire. Their complacency, however, is only a fine sheen over their much deeper heartbreak and tenderness.

French Exit is ultimate DeWitt. Enjoyable through and through.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for an advance copy in exchange for my review. When DeWitt writes his next book, can I review it, pleasepleaseplease?

 

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Tuton

7 deaths
Publication Date: Sept 18, 2018

In case you’re as confused as I was, this is the same book as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. An extra ½ death was added into the title for the US publication, for reasons I can only speculate. Perhaps the discrepancy is due to the similarity of another recently-published book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Regardless, that extra ½ death is just one more reason you may need an aspirin and a glass of wine after reading this book.

Our main character is trapped on an estate with numerous guests all planning to attend a party that evening where a murder will happen at exactly 11pm. Our protagonist (giving away his name is almost a spoiler) inhabits eight people, or “hosts”, during this one day in an attempt to solve the murder. Honestly, giving away any more information will inhibit your reading experience. Nothing is linear, time is relative, and the mystery is never straightforward.

This book is “Quantum Leap” + Memento + “Sherlock”, a triumph of complexity. Like the author mentioned in the Q&A at the end of the book, there are fourteen things happening at 1:42 pm and you have to keep it all together. If you can’t, don’t worry. The author leads you through the muddle and you never get so lost that you’re floundering. A little confusion and some mental staggering only make the story more interesting.

I couldn’t stay away from this book. Even though I may not have followed every detail in the mystery and despite being perplexed multiple times, I enjoyed this immensely. I looked forward to reading it every chance I could. It is a whirlwind of clues and twists and red herrings. Seldom do I read a book that captivates my attention from beginning to end. The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle had quite a strong grip on me, and kudos to the author for keeping everything straight.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Bookish First, and Sourcebooks for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

The Waiter – Matias Faldbakken

the-waiter-9781501197529_hrI really didn’t know what star rating to give this. I enjoyed reading it, and there were some astute observations, some of which made me smile or chuckle, but as far as actual plot goes, there really wasn’t one. This book has been inaccurately likened to A Gentleman in Moscow, but it reminded me more of Nicholson Baker than Amor Towles.

The Waiter shows us a slice of life in the shabby yet historic restaurant, The Hills. The regulars come in at their usual times, and the waiter passes the time with his observations of their motives and facades of personality. There is also an endearing little girl, Anna, whose father frequently dumps her at the restaurant who charms the waiter and brings some joy into his mundane life.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the patrons, the wry humor, and nods to Old World sensibilities. It was an interesting book, but one I wouldn’t recommend to a casual reader as it is more about nuanced character interaction than plot.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Gallery / Scout Press for this advance copy in exchange for my review.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa

Nana, a stray cat named for his crooked tail that looks like the number 7, has no patience for:

  •             People trying to grab him from his carrier by his scruff
  •             Humans chastising him for not eating what he kills
  •             Being pet on his tail
  •             Other cats

Nana, however, is loyally bonded to Saturo ─ no other human understands Nana like Saturo does. Saturo also adores Nana, but for reasons not initially revealed, he is on quest to find Nana a new home. Saturo and Nana embark on a journey, and Nana discovers the friends of Saturo’s past and the hardships Saturo endured before adopting him.

cat

The Travelling Cat Chronicles appealed to what I love about cats ─ their haughty independence, their tenacious loyalty, and their finicky inability to be appeased. I also appreciated the Japanese setting that explored the beauty of the country as well as the culture of daily life that was new to me.

Told from Nana’s perspective, this book was amusing with quips that will charm cat lovers. I’ve always thought that each cat has a Person ─ the one they bond to, the one they love above all others. Saturo is Nana’s Person, forever, no matter what happens.

Many stars for this book.

Thanks to Penguin’s First to Read program for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Women of the Dunes – Sarah Maine

dunesI love a mysterious story set in Scotland! This is the perfect book for those who enjoy Kate Morton and Susanna Kearsley. This novel is structured with interconnected stories spanning three generations of women: one from the 9th century, one from 19th century, and one in present day.

Ullaness, Scotland, an island on the western coast, is named for the legend of Ulla, a woman who escaped her cruel husband with her lover and remained there with a monk until she died in childbirth. The question still remains, who was the father ─ Ulla’s husband, lover, or the monk?

Libby Snow, archaeologist, has arrived in Ullaness to excavate near the Sturrock estate, hoping to find clues to the legend of Ulla. An unexpected discovery of a body in the dunes dating to the 19th century raises more questions, and deepens the mysterious connection between Libby, her ancestor Ellen who lived in Ullaness in the 1800s, and the legend of Ulla.

This novel is a tangled story of lovers and daring escapes. There is passion, betrayal, and sacrifice. It was a fascinating puzzle that pieces together with Libby’s discoveries and her relationship to the present-day owners of the Sturrock estate.

A very enjoyable read that I tore through in a few days. Many thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for the copy in exchange for my review.

 

Meet Me at the Museum – Anne Youngson

museumThis is just what I wanted.

I love epistolary novels. A story in letters creates a novel that is immediately intimate. Meet Me at the Museum is well-crafted and heartfelt without being maudlin or sentimental.

Tina Hopgood, farm wife in East Anglia, writes to Dr. Glob in Denmark, a professor who dedicated a book about The Tollund Man to her and her classmates when she was a girl. Dr. Glob is deceased, so the curator of the museum, Anders Larsen, responds to Tina’s inquiry, which at first sparks a casual, friendly correspondence that soon blossoms into letters between two lonely people confiding their fears, regrets, and hopes to one another.

Anders and Tina are both in their 60s, a time of life, Anders explains, where there is more behind them than ahead of them, and yet there’s still time to make a change. Anders is widowed and his children have grown up and moved away. He is alone, and lonely. Tina is married with a farm full of her children and grandchildren, and yet she is also alone and lonely. The both find the companionship they never had in one another.

The ideas explored in this book were profound: feeling alone in a crowded room, questioning life decisions and wondering if those choices mattered, being overwhelmed with noticing things one once took for granted. This book is far from being trite; it offers insight into the big questions that are revealed when one takes a step away from the mundane.

It is a beautiful book. At fewer than 300 pages, there is still enough substance within the letters to gradually develop a relationship that is succinct and revelatory, and the denouement is satisfying without giving away too much.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Meet Me at the Museum is a stellar example of all that can be accomplished with letters.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Flatiron Books for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Dear Mrs. Bird – AJ Pearce

3.5-4 stars 

mrsbirdDear Mrs. Bird is a sweet, charming story; almost saccharine, but nevertheless lovely with a satisfying plot. 

Recommended for readers who liked Letters from Sky by Jessica Brockmole, or As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner, or The Memory of Us by Camille de Maio. It’s also reminiscent of shows like “Call the Midwife” and “Land Girls”.  

 In London during WWII, Emmeline is a young woman longing for a career in journalism, and she unwittingly takes a job as a typist for a brash woman, Mrs. Bird, who writes an advice column for a ladies’ magazine. Em takes it upon herself to respond to the “inappropriate” letters that Mrs. Bird refuses to answer, getting more and more daring and ultimately sneaking them into the magazine.  

Em’s self-appointed career as an advice columnist is only part of the story. This book raises some deeper issues regarding women’s often overlooked trials during the war. Losing spouses either to combat or desertion, rationing, and the constant bombings throughout the city led to some unprecedented struggles with grief, guilt, and fear. The women left behind at home were told to “buck up” and put on a brave face for the men returning from the fight. They weren’t allowed to feel the pain of their fears and sacrifices. Dear Mrs. Bird addresses this issue with finesse around an enchanting story.  

Many thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.