Then Again

Before talking about Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, let me say that I’ve never had a strong opinion about Diane Keaton. Her role in Baby Boom was one of my favorite as a young girl, but I never saw her iconic movie Annie Hall until I was in college and at that point, while I could appreciate some of its charm and cinematic significance, it just felt dated. I also knew nothing of her personal life or much about her acting life.

Now that I’ve read Then Again, I don’t feel like I’m better off. For someone who led a pretty interesting life, Diane Keaton mostly focused on her relationship with her mother. A relationship that, while not great, was a pretty decent mother-daughter relationship. She describes her mother as a lost artist and she shares a kinship with her. But, to be honest, I don’t really care about her relationship with her mother. I also was not interested in very much that she had to say. In this memoir, Keaton relates that Woody Allen wrote the role of Annie Hall based on her and her family. That is interesting. Her description of Warren Beatty as a lover, director, and actor didn’t last long, yet it was one of the more interesting sections. Yet, somehow, her mother’s presence dominated the pages.

It felt like Diane Keaton had a ghost writer and anytime something too personal came up, Keaton wouldn’t allow the writer to expand on it. But the writer recognized the interesting parts of the story and tried to include them as best as they could. Or Keaton knew that people’s interest would be peeked by her small personal revelations, and included them to help boost sales. Either way, this book might be better suited to a contemporary of Diane Keaton’s who could appreciate the time period where the majority of movies came out. I kept having to reference her movies online to try to remember if I’d ever seen them. For the most part, I have not.

Overall, I would say this book was not terribly engaging since I knew very little about the topic ahead of time and the most interesting parts were condensed stories. For anyone interested in Diane Keaton’s life, this memoir would be a required read and wouldn’t take too long to get through.

Read July 2014.

Evidence of Murder

Evidence of Murder is the second in Lisa Black’s series about forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. Theresa goes with her police detective cousin to investigate a missing person case, only to have the victim show up days later in a freezing Cleveland park. Theresa has nothing but contempt for the victim until the forensic evidence doesn’t show a cause of death. No signs of hypothermia, drugs, foul play, nothing. It looks as if Jillian Perry walked into the park without proper clothing, sat down and stopped breathing. Since that’s not how most people would be able to control their body’s reflexes in the intense cold to commit suicide, Theresa keeps investigating the physical evidence until she’s able to figure out what cause Jillian’s death.

The cast of possible suspects include her former escort service boss, her stalker best friend, and her internet-game developing husband. All have a possible cause to murder her, but Theresa finds it hard to pin point the murderer until the method of murder is discovered.

This novel kept my interest but there are many plausibility problems for me. First, how would a forensic scientist who’s been kept in the lab find the time to do this investigation. Also, she investigates almost all on her own, hardly ever bringing in her cousin who’s the detective on the case. Throughout the story it is clear that Lisa Black has a strong background in forensic science, and the details about the murder and cover up are great! Its the rest of the investigation that cause me trouble. Its still a decent read if you can let some of the plot problems go.

Read July 2014.

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield brings together a bookworm spinster and a famous novelist to write the novelist’s memoir before she dies. Vida Winter wrote a best seller a year for over 20 years, but has never let the truth about her personal history ever be written. Margaret Lea works and lives in her father’s book shop, not a popular spot but well regarded in the right book circles. Vida Winter hires Margaret to write her story but on her own terms and her own timeline, which is partially determined by her ailing health.

The story that Vida tells is filled with a gothic haunted house, twins left to raise themselves, a dysfunctional mother, deceased father, recluse uncle, and a pair of aging staffers that are trying their best to maintain a sane household filled with insanity. Before accepting the assignment, Margaret asks for provable facts that she can research since Vida Winter is a known storyteller who has told multiple versions of her ‘life story’ over the years. In order to help prove these facts, Margaret travels to Angelfield, where Vida Winter was born and lived for the first part of her life. The whole of her life according to her, since after the fire, her life was in essence over and she began writing her stories. Both woman’s lives are consumed with books and stories and there’s a nice bibliophile aspect of reading this story. Both for the lovers of old books and the stories within those books. Between the visuals we gain from Vida’s story and Margaret’s recent descriptions of the dilapated house, Setterfield brings the reader home to Angelfield. Running between the garden topiary’s or hiding behind the curtains, the reader knows Angelfield and is drawn to its morbid story.

This was a great mystery about what can go wrong in a sheltered home with absentee parents. I loved the past story as well as the relationship between the subject and biographer. Setterfield captured two different time periods and environments and brought the reader inside these closeted worlds.

Read July 2014.

The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is very similar to The Paris Wife by Paula McClain and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Also, although I’ve never read it, I’ve heard it is also very similar to Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. All of these are about the famous man, the forgotten woman and the family burden left to her alone. Of course these men being who they were, their family and wife were never enough to entertain the ego of these men.

The Aviator’s Wife is about Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Benjamin included great details about the Lindbergh’s life including a heart breaking section devoted to the Lindbergh kidnapping. There were great stories about how Anne flew with her husband, not just as a passenger, but as an active navigator, radio operator, and fellow explorer flying around the world creating new flight routes which would help develop the burgeoning world of commercial aircraft. There were stories about being trapped by paparazzi before there was even a term to describe the reporters stalking the couple and their family. I learned more about Charles Lindbergh’s association with Hitler and the Nazis and how it almost brought down the great legend than I’d ever heard before.

Even with all this, this story felt like it had already been told. A book club friend speculated that after the popularity of all the other ‘wife’ books someone rushed to research the wife of the famous aviator. Anne Lindbergh’s life sounded interesting but the writing and story telling techniques felt tired and it wasn’t enough to hold my interest very well. Perhaps if I had read this book first, I would have felt different. But I didn’t.

Interesting facts and an ok read.

Read June 2014.

Inferno

Dan Brown’s newest Robert Langdon mystery, Inferno will feel familiar to his readers. This twisted tale begins with Langdon awaking in a Florentine hospital with no memory of the previous 2 days. As he pieces together his purpose in Florence and an underground network of people who are working to limit the human population, Brown leads us around renaissance Florence, Venice, and to Istabul’s hidden underground.

As usual, Brown loves to taunt the reader with historically significant stories, and Inferno is no different. A madman uses Dante’s Divine Comedy to lead a team of scientists around the world to try to find a potential virus that is meant to decimate the human population in order to restore balance to the world. The idea that human population has gotten out of control and needs to be put into check by Bertrand Zobrist, the unelected head of a Transhumanism movement. Its an interesting concept that the world’s population has grown to an unsustainable number and that something needs to be done for humanity to survive. Although Brown’s novel is a fantastic view of what could happen if a brilliant, wealthy, patron to decides to take action on overpopulation, it is an idea worth thinking about.

Although this novel has all of Brown’s known twists and action while jumping around beautiful buildings in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, something seemed to be missing for me. It seems like Brown was trying to fit into his own pattern without having the passion to deliver like he has in the past. Since reading The DaVinci Code, I’ve become a fan of crime and mystery novels and have read many fantastic writers in this genre. Maybe after reading novels that subtly dissect societal ills, its hard to read such a heavy handed approach to the end of the world. I think reading Dan Brown’s Inferno is like watching Hollywood’s summer blockbusters, while authors like Per Wahloo, Maj Sjowall, Gillian Flynn, Henning Mankell deliver the mystery and dissect society with the required quietness for true introspection.

Overall, an ok summer read.

Read May 2014.

The Ice Princess

The The Ice Princess, by Camilla Lackberg takes place in the small coastal town of Fjallbacka, Sweden. Erica Falck is thrown into small town relationships and histories in a bitter cold picturesque place. This very small town of her childhood is changing with the urban wealthy moving into vacation homes and changes even more when her childhood friend is found dead, frozen in her bath with her wrists slit.

No events in this novel stand alone, everything is tied to events of the past. When Alex’s body is found, Erica must examine her own relationship with her childhood friend and how childhoods can scar for a lifetime. Secrets are hidden under the surface and every thing and one are connected through them.

As a biographer, Erica uses the life of Alex to explore the crime and her own past. Its interesting to watch Erica come alive in her quest for a story. It seems unlike her, but with the help of the local police, she makes discoveries to unearth the story of Alex’s death. All of the characters have histories they would like to keep hidden and many of them have unexpected connections to the beautiful murder victim which Erica unravels slowly to find the murderer.

This was a beautifully told crime novel with unexpected turns. Recommended crime novel.

Read May 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird

There is a reason that To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most recognizable titles and characters in modern literary culture. I read this when I was in high school and I didn’t remember much about it other than Boo Radley as the neighborhood ghost story. I think that I might have been too young or inexperienced with the world to understand the innate racism that pervades our country and how well Harper Lee captures it. Generation after generation were raised, especially in the south, to think of the black man as somehow separate from humanity. They were treated like chattel and it takes more than a law to change how someone feels and what they believe to be true.

Harper Lee’s choice to have the main protagonist as a young girl allowed her to explore the role of race as well as gender in a changing world. Scout’s tomboyishness is a reflection of the value she witnessed in the sexes. Its not until the end that Scout is exposed to how powerful and smart women are in their private world, so of course she would mimic the gender of the powerful.

While Scout’s struggles in her small world dominate the book, all of the characters’ struggle to understand human equality versus the racism they are witnessing are spelled out. Jem, on the verge of manhood, almost cannot bear to learn what the trial of Tom Robinson does to his small townsfolk. Atticus reached his children through his patience and his honesty. I don’t know if there will ever be a more honorable man than Atticus Finch and without his thorough teachings, I don’t think any of the children would be able to understand the significance of the events surrounding them.

Its not just Harper Lee’s grasp of the societal norms of a small southern town that makes this a great novel, its all the characters. Harper Lee created such memorable characters and her use of the southern vernacular brings the reader into this tiny world where there’s a reclusive hero down the street and a drunk stealing sips of coca cola from a bottle in a paper bag.

Beautiful, powerful story told by a great story teller. Most highly recommend this for everyone to read.

Read May 2014