Moonlight Becomes You

I’ve figured it out. How I’m going to get my name in the Guinness Book of World Records. I am going to set the world record for the fastest time to read all of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels. I mean, I am basically already doing that.

Just finished Moonlight Becomes You, and I’m pretty disappointed. I think maybe I’m reading too many MHC’s too fast, and it becomes evident how formulaic they are. Here is the formula (potential spoiler for all MHC books): girl seems smart, capable, successful. Girl meets one or two guys who she dates casually. Girl gets involved in a murder, somehow solves it BEFORE any officials can, then gets attacked by the killer, who is typically her boyfriend. Girl is rescued by OTHER boyfriend. The end.

Moonlight Becomes You tells the story of Maggie Holloway, who has just reconnected with her ex-stepmother. When Maggie goes to visit her, she finds Nuala murdered. Then all of Nuala’s friends, who all reside in a nursing home, begin to die. Maggie has to figure out the mystery herself, as all of the cops in the town are inept. And yes, this follows the typical formula.

Would not recommend, unless you are stuck in a cellar for 48 hours or something. Next up, I’m reading Devil in the White City. Cannot wait.

-A

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All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy has been on my list of “authors I should probably read” for a long time. I can’t decide if I am happy that I read All the Pretty Horses or not. One the one hand, it was super depressing (which is apparently something I should have known to expect from a McCarthy book). On the other hand, however, it was beautifully written and holds some of my newest favorite quotes.

All the Pretty Horses follows sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole on a thrilling adventure from his hometown of Texas into Mexico in the 1940’s(?). Cole and his best friend, Rawlins, encounter danger, adventure, and love along the way, eventually ending up in a lethal Mexican prison. The story, while straightforward, often plunges into deep metaphorical discussion. Typically, I would find it hard to believe that two teenage boys would sit around discussing death and religion, but somehow, McCarthy makes this plot believable.

I would have enjoyed this book MUCH more if there was not so much Spanish involved. I have never taken a day of Spanish in my life, and basically had to look up every single Spanish word besides hola. This proved to be very time-consuming and a little bit obnoxious. But I guess I learned some Spanish from it!

Definitely recommend this, especially to anyone with a third grader’s grasp of Spanish and above.

-A

Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio; 2012

Everyone should ready Wonder for a lesson in kindness. I’m not really a fan of those signs in Barnes & Noble that say “Books Everyone Should Read” because #thecanon. However, this book has a very practical, universal, and meaningful lesson for everyone: “kinder than necessary.”

Ten-year-old August Pullman was born with several genetic abnormalities. Inside, August knows that he’s just like everyone else. But after 27 surgeries, people who see him for the first time do “that look-away thing,” if they manage to hide their shock at all. August is terrified when his parents want him to start the fifth grade at Beecher Prep instead of being homeschooled. Though targeted by Julian, the fifth grade bully, August eventually gains a camaraderie of good friends who see him for who he really is: a funny, smart, generous boy.

Wonder is narrated by August and other children around him, including his sister, Via, and his friend Jack. Through these varying perspectives we get a better understanding of the transformative role that August has on the people around him. The close relationships that August has with his parents and friends reminds us that this type of support and love is what’s most important. We walk away thinking that with all of the love that he has to give and receive, August may just be in an enviable position.

The Immortal Irishman

My 2016 reading challenge for myself was to read more non-fiction. I just finished The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan. The biography follows Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary who was sentenced to exile in Tasmania in his early twenties. Meagher played a key role in the failed 1848 rebellion in Ireland against Britain. Saved from the typical fate of revolutionaries (drawn and quartered), Meagher and his accomplices were sent into exile in the farthest reaches of the British Empire.

From Tasmania, Meagher escaped to New York City, where he began the second biggest role of his life, that of an American hero. Meagher, a staunch supporter of Lincoln, lead one of the most famous brigades in all of the civil war. The Irish Brigade was respected and feared by all they encountered. Meagher’s mysterious disappearance in 1867 is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the American West.

Egan tells Meagher’s story well, with slight pacing problems. The entire section of the biography when Meagher was stuck in Tasmania, and then when he was in the American west fighting vigilantes, I was completely bored. The rest of the biography, however, really blew me away. Egan vividly depicted Ireland during the years of the famine, as well as America during the Civil War. I was constantly surprised and entertained by just how much Egan knew about Meagher and, well, everything.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history (American or Irish). So thankful that I followed my dad’s recommendation and got through this hefty biography.

As an Irish soul myself, the final passage of The Immortal Irishman gave me chills: “It is the living, of course, who need these markers of the dead in order to make sense of their place in this world–more than eighty million people with some Irish blood, most of them no longer looking for a country to call home. For them, memory is not an unwelcome burden but the raw material of stories that will always be passed on, in song, verse or tale, the great survival skill of the Irish.”

-A

Arcadia

Arcadia by Lauren Groff; 2012

Laura Groff’s Arcadia opens with an early memory of Ridley “Bit” Stone, his mother goddess-like in a pastoral landscape, washing linens in a river. Bit is introduced as a five-year-old child of the utopian commune called Arcadia, founded in the early 197os in upstate New York. Bit is the first child born in Arcadia, and we see the commune develop, thrive, and eventually collapse through his eyes. The novel is composed of four parts, with leaps of several years between them, as we follow Bit through his life in Arcadia, and eventually outside of it. Among the Arcadians, we meet Hannah and Abe, Bit’s parents; Handy, Arcadia’s charismatic leader and likely charlatan; Astrid and Helle, Handy’s imposing Scandinavian wife and beautiful, troubled daughter. The book ends in 2018 in a future that we can see with little effort, and Bit’s life moves from utopia to near-apocalypse. It’s a heartbreaking but rewarding read.

IMG_4350This is the first book that I’ve read in a long time where I felt completely consumed by its world. Arcadia and the Arcadians felt entirely real to me. Despite how it might sound, this isn’t a book about hippies, but a book about finding yourself, meaning, and beauty through community and nature. Arcadia is loosely positioned beside the literary tradition of humanism and moralism; there is a genuine goodness in the Arcadians and they understand themselves through their connections to one another and the beauty of the world around them. And, ultimately, Arcadia teaches its populace how to live.

Pay attention, he thinks. Not to the grand gesture, but to the passing breath.

Groff’s writing is truly spectacular, her sentences lush and lyrical. It’s worth it to read Arcadia just to see her pair words together. There are hints in Arcadia of what was to come with Fates and Furies: a bud of female fury born in Hannah later in life; Greek mythology-inspired; shifting perspectives. I love to be able to see an author develop his/her ideas from book to book. I’m dying to jump into her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, but I think I’ll save that one for a future treat.

MUST READ!!!!!!

-M

Beloved

I’m on a Toni Morrison kick. I also just read The Bluest Eye. I liked Beloved better, though. Beloved was harder for me to get through, I had to pace myself so as not to get too depressed with the heavy themes of the novel.

Beloved follows the life of Sethe, an escaped slave in the 1800’s. When the novel begins, Sethe lives in Ohio with her daughter, Denver. Denver is the only child Sethe has left, having lost one in a mysterious incident after escaping. Her two sons have left their sister and Sethe. Sethe finally begins to feel optimistic about her future when Paul D., a slave from the same plantation back home, finds her in Ohio. The three: Paul D., Sethe, and Denver, begin to start a normal life together. A new arrival to the family home, however, changes everything. Beloved has no memory of where she came from, and harbors a secret obsession with Sethe. Spoiler Alert* Beloved is Sethe’s dead daughter, and her arrival allows Sethe to begin to relive her turbid, violent history.

I feel like Morrison tried to end her horribly depressing novel with some uplifting notes, and it almost worked. Here is Paul D., remembering what another slave told him once about love: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order” (321). While I love this quote, I was left feeling very depressed after reading this book (which I was completely expecting, but still). I would recommend this book to almost anyone over the age of 15, but it is definitely dark.

-A

 

The Island

The Island, by Elin Hilderbrand; 2010

“A” and I are hitting the beach early this year – FRIDAY! – so I broke out my favorite favorite favorite summer-beach-read girl Elin Hilderbrand early this year as well. Double bonus.

The Island is one of my favorite Hilderbrands that I’ve read YET. Chess Cousins abruptly calls off her wedding to dream man Michael Morgan, sending her mother, aunt, and sister, Tate, back to their family summer home on Tuckernuck Island where they haven’t been in 13 years. The women return to the island for the month of July and are basically in total isolation there except for their caretaker Barrett Lee, who visits them with their groceries twice a day. Obviously Barrett is young and handsome. All four women deal with heartbreak, ex-lovers, secrets, etc.

I enjoyed the stories and evolutions of Birdie and India – Chess and Tate’s mother and aunt – a lot more than the two younger sisters, much to my surprise. Tate was borderline annoying. As usual, the storytelling is on point, and really can anyone describe food as well as Hilderbrand can…? This book is about soul-searching, relationships, and reconnecting. A MUST READ while you’re lounging on the beach.

-M