As I'm sure many, many people out there have been waiting with bated breath to find out which books I chose off the "beach read" list, I'll finally end the suspense.
I began the trip with an audio book version of Barbara Delinsky's The Secret Between Us. I have enjoyed past novels of hers, including The Woman Next Door and Lake News. After beginning this novel, however, I felt unable to continue listening. The story seemed contrived -- a woman and her daughter hit a man on a rainy road, the man turns out to be the daughter's teacher, and the woman takes the blame to "save" her daughter. I never really got far enough to judge properly, but it does say something that I fell asleep during the first CD... Maybe I'll give it another try (but not very likely).
When I woke from my nap, I started reading Linwood Barclay's mystery/ suspense novel Too Close to Home. Again, a slightly contrived storyline (I won't give away the ending, but the plot evolution is far-fetched). This time, however, there were several redeeming qualities that kept my attention. The novel opens with an attention-grabbing triple murder. Initially written in third-person from the point of view of a teenage boy, Barclay then switches to first-person perspective in the voice of the boy's father. Jim and Ellen Cutter have had their share of problems -- extramarital affairs, fits of temper, job loss, teenage pranks from their son. Their lives get a lot more complicated -- and dangerous -- when their next-door neighbors are killed. Barclay develops the character of Jim Cutter in a way that makes the reader care about him. He also provides interesting subplots which intertwine with the main plot in a myriad of ways. The surprise ending -- however unbelievable -- is unexpected and creative.
NOT ON THE LIST: I also finished a novel I'd been reading off and on for several weeks, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. While I took issue with the undeveloped supernatural elements in the novel, Jackson's story of sisters with a difficult past and relationship is intricate and beautiful. Hailed as a modern southern gothic writer, Jackson describes Laurel and Thalia's ancestors' small town perfectly. The town of DeLop, Alabama, is realistic in its portrayal of the despair that exists in places with deep-seated poverty. Jackson juxtaposes trailer-ridden DeLop with Laurel's new suburban Florida town, rich with McMansions and gated communities. Laurel's newly found perfect existence is threatened when her preteen daughter's friend Molly drowns in their backyard pool. As Laurel searches for the truth behind what happened that night, the ghost of Molly appears to Laurel and brings all the ghosts of Laurel's past with her. Jackson writes the kind of novel I like best -- southern, female, and with a tortured protagonist thrown into the mix. While I'm not much for ghosts as characters in fiction, this novel shines nonetheless. Jackson also writes her own blog about life in the deep south called Faster Than Kudzu.
My nonfiction pick for the week read like a novel, but told the real-life story of Leslie Morgan Steiner and her first marriage. Steiner's memoir Crazy Love tells the events leading up to her first marriage and the warning signs she should have seen that the person she was walking down the aisle towards would almost kill her one day. Steiner, a successful business executive and mommy-blogger, details being choked, pushed down stairs, and having a gun held to her head. Coming from a wealthy family and being a Harvard graduate, Steiner breaks the stereotype that all battered wives are uneducated and living in trailer parks. She pleads with readers through her story to have hope if they are living in the same hell she experienced, or to understand if they know someone who is. She talks about turning away from people at cocktail parties who discuss domestic violence as if it were the woman's problem. Why, they ask, doesn't the beaten woman just leave? Steiner attempts in her memoir to help outsiders understand the difficulty in breaking the cycle. Steiner was interviewed about her book on NPR's All Things Considered. The interview provides information on everything from her family's reaction to Steiner's opinion on Chris Brown and Rihanna's tumultuous relationship.
I began Dean Koontz's The House of Thunder on the way home and I've hardly been able to put it down. I even packed it in my work bag this morning with the hope that I might have a moment at lunch to peek at what happens next. That didn't happen, but I'll return to it as soon as I finish this post (well, it and DVR-ed episodes of Project Runway). I never knew that Koontz wrote such scary novels, but (in this one, at least) he does. This is my first Koontz read, and while the plot has my attention, he isn't the best writer out there. Plot drives a novel, though, and Koontz definitely has that wrapped around his finger. Full review when I complete it!