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review 2018-08-16 07:45
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Philip Ashley's older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose's beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear. Now Rachel has arrived at Philip's newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip's grief at Ambrose's death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose's estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.

Amazon.com

 

 

Orphaned at a mere 18 months of age, Phillip Ashley is taken in and raised by his much older cousin, Ambrose. Over the years, Ambrose grooms young Phillip to one day take over as heir to Ambrose's Cornish estate. Then the time come when Ambrose embarks on one of his frequent trips to Florence (where he spends the winters so as not to aggravate his health problems). This year though, Ambrose writes to Phillip to say he has become quite enamored by a woman by the name of Rachel, a distant cousin. The letters continue to come, illustrating the rapid development of the relationship. Before long Ambrose sends word that he and Rachel have married.

 

Ambrose extends his stay in Florence, renting a home there. Ten months away from England, his letters turn from that of a blissed out newlywed to being saturated in melancholy.  The letters get alarmingly more frantic, showing a mental breakdown. A year and a half passes and Ambrose's letters begin arriving in near illegible script and a distinctly paranoid tone. Then one last cryptic letter comes urging Phillip to come quick to Italy, writing "she watches me... Rachel, my torment."  Unfortunately, Ambrose dies before Phillip's arrival, so explanations regarding Ambrose's state of mind at the end remain elusive. 

 

Phillip returns to England to take up his position as the new heir to Ambrose's estate. Shortly after settling into this new role, he gets word that Ambrose's widow is due to arrive any minute and wishes to spend some time on the land that meant so much to her husband. 

 

The novel is narrated by Phillip. Through him, we get a first hand account of his initial impressions of Rachel, even how he imagined her from Ambrose's letters. He gives her a pretty hilarious ripping (describing what he imagines pre-introduction) but in person he finds her quite beautiful and beguiling. Still, he can't entirely shake suspicions that she may have had something to do with Ambrose's unexpected passing. They have a bit of a rocky start, but later Phillip chocks it up (at least in part) to Rachel having difficulty with his physical likeness to Ambrose. 

 

 

Also in the mix is Phillip's longtime friend, Louise --- honestly, my favorite character in the whole story. Her quietly slipped in snark! When Rachel first arrives, Louise later remarks, "Mourning certainly does not appear drab on her." Reading that brought to my mind the scene in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind when Scarlett goes to that first dance / social event after being widowed. But it irked me how annoying and almost bratty Phillip was around Louise. His poor behavior left me feeling like he certainly didn't deserve a friend of Louise's caliber. 

 

A historical note in the edition I read from mentioned that du Maurier may have based Cousin Rachel off of Ellen Doubleday (wife of Nelson Doubleday of Doubleday Publishing), whom it was speculated Daphne had "confused" (as the historical note worded it) feelings for. Going into a du Maurier novel, it's often a given to expect a certain level of mystery to the plot. With this one, there were bits of mystery / intrigue here and there, but overall I didn't find as much suspense as I would normally expect from her work. Rachel was painted a bit like a Borgia in the beginning, but the element of suspense fizzed out a bit as the story progresses. While Rachel is undoubtedly an intriguing character, du Maurier doesn't quite land the full punch in terms of the character's level of sly dastardly-ness.

 

 

 

 

 

But true to her reputation, even here du Maurier does leave questions for the reader to work out. Was there a deeper motive behind the birthday plan? I was perplexed by Phillip's decision!

 

Even so, I appreciated the subtle wit sprinkled throughout passages of dialogue. It's what held my interest during the bits where not much else was going on! 

 

So how does the recent film adaptation hold up? Honestly, I preferred the film! One of the troubles I had with the book is the feeling that sense that du Maurier was not sufficiently answering all the questions or conflicts she posed in the book. But the film expands on what du Maurier offers and gives readers some nice closure on some of those topics, particularly with the film's ending. Some scenes in the film were so beautifully shot they reminded me of Impressionist paintings... it was hard not to be instantly captivated! 

 

 

 

Some changes that caught my attention though:

 

* The whole scene Rachel has in front of the Arno River seems to be cut from the film. The thoughts she had in that book scene, in the film she speaks them to Rinaildi.

 

* Rachel Weisz, cast as Cousin Rachel, plays the conversation regarding Italian lessons in a rather weepy tone, which threw me. The way the scene is laid out in the book, I imagined the lines delivered with much more of a dark humor with a side of steely glint in the eye vibe.... but the 2nd fight later on was shot just about how I pictured it!

 

* The candles! So many candles SO close to canopy bed drapes! Made me wonder about fires on set lol

 

* It might just be me on this one, but I felt like some scenes had some odd close-ups, strange angle choices, and sometimes even just straight up out of focus. 

 

Overall, the film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book. A good chunk of the dialogue in the film is actually pulled verbatim from the book text. Not surprisingly though, the film does blaze through a number of plot points in the interest of time. One of the major reveals near the novel's end actually shows up smack in the middle of the film!

 

I would definitely recommend reading the book first to experience all these little nuances yourself, but either way there's a pretty good story to be had here... the film brings out what the book dropped off! But as Roger Michell, the film's director, put it: "Of course, the best version of all, perfectly cast, impeccably lit and designed, with the greatest soundscape, most dizzying score, infinite budget and cast of thousands, will always be the one projected into the keen reader's imagination as she or he turns the pages that follow."

 

 

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review 2018-08-15 04:17
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Sixteen people are invited to the reading of the will of Samuel Westing. This will stipulates that all the potential beneficiaries must play a game. The victor wins Westing's fortune, an estimated 200 million dollars. This game, a gauntlet of sorts, will put the players through bombings, blizzards, burglaries and mental puzzles. 

 

I heard about this book through some of my Booktube acquaintances. Apparently this is a common one for kids to get assigned in school these days? It never came up on my school reading lists but I heard so many rave reviews for this story that I was curious to see what I was missing. 

 

Well, now that I've tried it for myself ... this one is going on my list of "Did everyone else read a different book than me?" because I honestly don't get the hype here. The plot had a few entertaining moments but largely felt like a mess and was often pretty slow to boot, and most of the characters were BORING. To make matters worse for this reader, the ending struck me as aggravatingly pointless.

 

This novel won the Newberry Medal in 1978... but WHY? In the book's intro, Ann Durrell (Raskin's friend and editor) writes that when Raskin was crafting the puzzles for this story, nothing was pre-plotted... she just made things up as she went along! Initially, that sounds impressive... but I don't know, man. Sometimes there's something to be said for taking the time to craft an outline!

 

Personally, I found my curiosity struck more by the person Ellen Raskin rather than her writings, learning the little bio tidbits about her: 

 

*The Westing Game was her last book before she succumbed to a connective tissue disease in 1984 at the age of 56

 

* In addition to being an author, she was also an accomplished graphic artist, designing over one thousand book covers over the course of her career, one notable one being the first edition cover of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time 

 

WrinkleInTimePBA1.jpg

 

 

* In 1960, she married Dennis Flannagan, founding editor of the modern day layout of Scientific American magazine. This was her 2nd marriage.

 

*Raskin was a diehard Schubert fan. "Death and the Maiden" was played at her funeral. 

 

 

What's your take on The Westing Game? Was it a favorite of yours as a child?

 

 

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review 2018-08-13 03:24
Disclaimer by Renee Knight
Disclaimer: A Novel - Renée Knight

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day she became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day . . . even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

A woman finds a mysterious book on her nightstand, nobody knows where it came from. When she starts to read, she discovers the book is about her and one of the most painful days of her life. She thought only one other person knew about that day and he's been dead for years. As she digs into investigating who is now after her, she finds her family torn apart and her life gradually & systematically destroyed bit by bit. Her son is also targeted.

 

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of documentary filmmaker Catherine (book recipient) and Stephen, an elderly widower whose voice gets mysteriously more and more angry and vengeful as the story progresses. What is he so upset about?

Pretty cool premise right? Well, I started this thing 2-3 times because it was having a bit of a slow start for me, ended up having a pretty good middle bit, but then Knight did something weird with one of the key players that basically changed their whole characterization for me in a nonsensical way. I don't think she wrote that character with enough depth to do that kind of 180 where it would make sense. Instead, it made me feel like she had a story idea, didn't know how to end it, so just rolled out the craziest curve balls she could think of, reasonable or not, and said be done with it...

 

The first twelve chapters read a little slow to me but Chapter 13 offers a few reveals that give the impression that the suspense is going somewhere. The story seemed to drag on a little longer than necessary, I thought... and then that damn character flip. 

 

SUPER disappointed with the ending chapters.

 

 

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review 2018-08-12 16:44
Whispers Under Ground - Ben Aaronovitch
Whispers Under Ground - Ben Aaronovitch

Auch der dritte Teil der Rivers of London-Serie ist gewohnt amüsant. Fokussierter als die ersten beiden Bände, weniger überfrachtet mit allerlei magischen Figuren, was der Handlung gut getan hat. Die Ermittlungsarbeiten zum Mordfall haben sich für meinen Geschmack etwas zu lang hingezogen, wirkliche Spannung wollte da nicht aufkommen; aber ich mag die kleinen Abschweifungen und Fakten zur Geschichte und Architektur Londons.

 

Schade finde ich, dass die englischen EBook-Ausgaben so lieblos gesetzt sind. Häufig fehlen Interpunktionzeichen, mitten im Satz, wo ein Komma stehen sollte, steht plötzlich ein Punkt... Es sind Kleinigkeiten, aber ein bisschen Sorgfalt sollte man doch schon walten lassen, wenn man ein Produkt verkauft.

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review 2018-08-11 08:30
"Snap" by Belinda Bauer - a first-rate thriller and a pleasant surprise on the 2018 Man Booker Longlist
Snap - Belinda Bauer

"Snap" was my second Man Booker Longlist read. As soon as I started it, I felt like I was in 'familiar territory - albeit well-written familiar territory. 

 

"Snap" is an evocatively written thriller that starts with one timeline in 1998 about a pregnant mother vanishing from the motorway after her car broke down and another timeline in 2001 with a pregnant woman at home alone when someone breaks in.

 

The chapters are short, immersive and paced to maximise the tension.  I knew the two timelines must intersect but part of the fun was not knowing how.

 

"Snap" is just the sort of thriller I'd choose to buy. but I was at a loss to understand why it was on the Man Booker Longlist. Were they doing fun, accessible, genre reads now? 

 

I rapidly reached the halfway point in the novel, ("Snap" was hard to put down) but I still didn't really know what was going on, even though the two storylines had finally collided in a completely surprising and deeply intriguing way.
 

Yet NOT knowing but REALLY WANTING to know and being confident that you will eventually find out and when you do it will be something surprising but that feels true and finally makes sense of all of the angst and pain, is the essence of what makes a thriller a thriller.

 

"Snap" has best-seller written all over it from page one. It took me to the second half of the book to understand Mann Booker's interest: it is deeply rooted in the characters of the people who are entangled in the events: their faults, their fears, their deepest desires. It is about the impact of abandonment, the need for hope and the power of a constantly refilled cistern of anger that HAS to escape somehow.

 

"Snap" isn't one of those one-shot, I-didn't-see-THAT-coming trickster thrillers that were once fun but that now feel so me-too that I eschew them. This is a thriller where the plot is pushed by emotion rather than the mechanics of a police procedural novel.

 

The main characters are children: resourceful but damaged, surviving but not thriving. constantly feeling the loss of the life that was stolen from them the day their mother disappeared  It seemed to me that the story took on the wish-fulfilment magic that children use to cope with the unbearable. The police are also a little child-like, bumbling along, powered by ego and opinion and replacing best practice with intuition and testosterone.

 

Throughout the story, the young boy dreams that he has found his mother. In his sleep, he returns to the day that, as he thinks of it, he failed to find her. The dreams are a painful mix of guilt, anger and grief.

 

It seems to me that these dreams, the boy's guilt, his bone-deep need to make things better, his conviction that he will fail, set the tone for the novel.

 

The ending may be a little too fairytale to satisfy fans of hard-bitten crime stories but it felt appropriate to me. While it's at the borders of the plausible, it's exactly where it needs to be to make those dreams no more than a memory.

 

I recommend "Snap" both as a thriller and a strong Mann Booker contestant.

 

I wonder, if it wins the Man Booker, will it sell fewer copies than if it had been given the usual "this is Gillian Flynn on steroids" hype?

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