Monday, March 25, 2013

The Perfect Ghost – Linda Barnes

When celebrities want to write their “Autobiography”, but, cannot write it themselves they call upon ghost writers like Em Moore and her partner, Teddy Blake. Under the pseudonym, T. E. Blakemore, Em is the writer and prefers to spend her days indoors listening to taped interviews with their current subject. Teddy is the charismatic, outgoing, charming other half of the partnership who is responsible for arranging, taping and conducting the interviews. He has received many accolades for his “writing” and is well known and trusted to do a good job, while Em, on the other hand, is not so well known, choosing to live in the shadows of her tiny apartment (which she rarely leaves) and of Teddy, who she adores.

When Teddy dies in a bizarre road accident, Em decides to finish their current work, an autobiography of Garrett Malcom, a reclusive and extremely famous film director whose star is still rising. First though, she has to get from her apartment in Boston to his Cape Cod home to do the final interviews. When she eventually gets there, after a terrifying journey, she finds Garrett to be a lot nicer and far more attractive than she had previously thought he would be. He notices her timidity immediately and is very kind to Em offering her a room in his house so she can slot into his hectic schedule and finish the interviews. Soon, it becomes clear to Em that there are troubling questions about the Malcom family fortune and their history is filled with a mystery which she believes Teddy was onto before he died. As Em digs deeper into the Malcom story, slowly but surely, things begin to unravel.

None of the characters in this book are quite what they seem and I found some of them quite disturbing. The story is narrated by Em as she has an on-going dialogue with the recently departed Teddy. She is a very shy and mousy character and it becomes clear how much she relied on Teddy as a link to the world outside. She cannot let him go even after he dies.

Other than what I have said already it is very difficult to add more detail here without giving too much away. What I will say though, is that it is a chilling tale and I was almost at the end of the book when I realised what was actually happening. Linda Barnes has written a clever thriller with lots of twists and turns in the plot. It is a real page turner and I couldn’t put it down. I still remember the “Oh My God” moment I had when I put two and two together and the shock that came with it.

If you like thrillers and stories which keep you wanting to know more and more this is the book for you.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Wedding in December - Anita Shreve

At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, seven former schoolmates gather for a wedding. Two of the friends, Bill and Bridget, are to be married at last after being high school sweethearts who eventually drifted apart. They met again at the twenty-fifth high school reunion and it is Bill’s greatest wish to reassemble the group and marry Bridget, in spite of the possible illness which lies install for her. Bill and Bridget arrive at the inn with Bridget’s fifteen year old son, Matt, who will give his mother away at the wedding.

Nora owns the inn and over the past two years has re-invented herself following the death of her controlling, emotionally violent and cruel husband, the famous poet, Carl Laski. She has remodelled the inn and taken it to new heights of luxury, friendliness and popularity. She will host the wedding and her schoolmates for the weekend and is particularly excited that Harrison has agreed to join them for the weekend.

Harrison is still haunted by memories of a terrible event at Kidd Academy twenty-six years ago when they were all friends there. He has since moved to Canada and has made a success of his life. He lives with his wife and two sons in Toronto and this is the first time he has seen many of the group for over twenty years.

Rob is now a celebrated concert pianist and arrives with his partner, Josh. He used to be a baseball pitcher on the high school team but when his family realised his talent for the piano, he was no longer allowed to play. These days he travels the world playing concerts far and wide.

Jerry is a New York financier and causes a stir when he arrives in a stretch limo with his wife the beautiful and very successful, Julie, who is somewhat over shadowed by the loud and rude Jerry.

Agnes makes up the group. She is now a history teacher at Kidd Academy and though she is still single she has been living a double life for almost three decades. She and Nora stayed in touch from schooldays and Agnes was a regular visitor to the inn when Nora’s husband, Carl, was still alive, but even Nora doesn't know what Agnes has been keeping to herself all that time.

An important eighth member of this group of friends is conspicuous by his absence. The popular, charming, talented, sporty, Stephen, toast of the debating society and avid baseball player as well as the life and soul of the party was unknowingly haunted by alcohol induced depression and self-doubt. Stephen never made it to adulthood and it is his tale as well as their own that binds this group of friends together.

This is a story of friendship, revelation, forgiveness and love. Anita Shreve is masterful at building the tension within the group dynamic whilst at the same time rounding out the characters and their stories. We also get to know more about the cruel Carl Laski and one of the old teachers and now colleague of Agnes, Jim Mitchell. She weaves them all together in events so terrible that as I was reading I began to wonder how they all came out relatively unscathed. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear to see just how affected each of these people have been by past events and in spite of everything, how they are still bound by an enduring friendship.

This is a really great book full of emotion which is handled with great perception by Anita Shreve. I loved the characterisation and how believable each of the cast became. The prose and conversation is easy to follow and flows very naturally. I also liked that Agnes filled her empty life by writing a work of fiction about the Halifax disaster and a young eye surgeon, Innes Finch, who tended the wounded after the terrible explosion in Halifax Harbour almost a hundred and fifty years before. The serious topics of loss, guilt, loneliness, illness, cruelty and keeping secrets are handled expertly.

As this is the first book I have read of Anita Shreve’s I will absolutely look for more of her work and very likely read this one again.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

How to Wash a Cat - Rebecca M Hale

How to Wash a Cat is the debut novel in the “Little Shop of Secrets” mystery series by Rebecca M Hale. The main character and narrator of the story is anonymous until the last page when we find out that it is none other than Rebecca Hale herself, she is Uncle Oscar’s niece! The story also stars Isabella and Rupert, the two cats belonging to the narrator and who play a key role throughout.

Uncle Oscar owned an antique store in the Jackson Square neighbourhood of San Francisco. He dies in mysterious circumstances and as his sole and closest relative, his niece, a shy, quiet accountant who has lived in SF for the past five years, inherits everything. Uncle Oscar has left more than just the shop and it’s contents, however. It turns out that he was onto some of the mysteries of the Gold Rush era and his fate seems intrinsically linked with that of William Leidesdorff, an enterprising and highly successful businessman who  made San Francisco his home before the Gold Rush. He too was said to have died in mysterious circumstances in 1848, just after gold was found on his land!

This story is filled with bold, colourful and flamboyant characters. It is underpinned with historical fact and all the more interesting for it. It is fun and quirky and the cats inclusion in the story only added to it’s charm in my opinion. This is the first in a series of mysteries connected with Uncle Oscar and the antique shop and although some of the mystery of Uncle Oscar’s death was solved in this story, there are still many unsolved questions at the end of the book to be answered.

If you want a light hearted, interesting bit of escapism with a couple of adorable cats and characters, then How to Wash a Cat will give you all that. I will definitely look out for the next book in the series.