December books

130. Through the Glass – Shannon Moroney
Story – A personal memoir by a woman whose husband, one month after they married, kidnapped, raped and assaulted two other women in his store and at their house. (He had been a convicted murderer when she married him, although all his therapists/ parole officers/ corrections department really believed it was a one off thing and he would never reoffend, so I don’t know).
Thoughts – I went into this one prepared to be sympathetic. I’d read reviews that slammed the author for thinking of herself as a victim, and I was willing to give her a break on that. I mean, people can be hard on others having a tough time because “it’s not as bad as X” and I don’t always think it’s fair. I think having your new husband turn out to be nothing like you thought is going to be a pretty big and horrible thing to come to grips with. But oh my god, the author made me want to shake her! Yes, she was a ‘victim’ of her husband’s crimes, because he had set up a hidden camera in their bathroom and filmed her and some of their guests, but that’s really not victimisation in the same sense as the woman he bound, forced to engage in sex acts and then gagged and sodomised in the back room of his store, or the other woman who came in and was cut with a knife, bound, digitally raped and then both of them were wrapped in plastic and taken in a truck to his house, where he kept them tied up in the basement. Shannon DID express a lot of concern for the victims, I’ll give her that, but she spent a whole lot more time whining about her victimisation and the stigma and judgement that she experienced. She really lost me though, when she found out that one of the victims was the stepmother of a child at her school and she kept insisting she should be told who it was (she didn’t know by the name). I mean, Shannon didn’t really have any bad intentions, but even so, the victim deserves her privacy! Shannon even argued with friends when it was revealed that the husband of the victim had worked on a charity board with Shannon and some friends previously. The man had asked the other friends not to tell Shannon that he was married to the victim, and Shannon was furious that they’d actually followed his wishes (and by proxy, the rape victim’s wishes) and kept her in the dark. Basically, this memoir took a subject that has a lot of depth and raises a lot of questions about restorative justice and the families of criminals, and made me so irritated that I couldn’t even appreciate the good parts of it!

129. A Detail of History – Arek Hersh
Story – A holocaust memoir of a Polish boy who survived the ghetto and Auschwitz and death marches, all while only in his teens.
Thoughts – The tiny little accidents of fate that made some people survive the holocaust and some people not are both fascinating and terrifying. Arek’s initial survival (when he was eleven) happened because he was thirsty and went for a jug of water, which meant he missed being rounded up and put on a transport of women and children who were all taken straight to the gas chambers and killed. This was another strong memoir that mixes hope and horror.

128. Fifteen Words – Monica Jephcott-Thomas
Story – The story of a German couple separated during WW2, and how they came back to each other. Max is Catholic and disagrees with the Nazi regime, whereas Erika grew up a privileged girl who was very active in the Hitler Youth Movement. They both become doctors, but the war comes and Max is sent to the front almost immediately after their wedding. Even when defeat comes, Max is transported to a Russian prison camp and the two of them being together seems like it may never happen again.
Thoughts – I thought the recurrent idea of the fifteen words was really clever as a way of pulling the story together. I loved Max and his friendships with the other doctor prisoners. I found Erika’s history with the Hitler Youth to be really interesting, and the fact that she was very much a Nazi sympathiser was an unusual and compelling facet to the story. Too bad she was such an awful character though! In the end this was a good book, although it felt a bit choppy.

127. If it’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother – Julia Sweeney
Story – A funny personal story of one woman’s choice to adopt as a single mother, and how her family then evolved.
Thoughts – I like reading about adoption, and parenting in general, so I enjoyed this. The author’s voice was cute and funny, and I loved how she got her daughter and came to appreciate the child’s own unique personality. I completely disagreed with her chapter railing against prams, but apart from that it was good!

126. Available – Matteson Perry
Story – This is the true story of a serial monogamist who made a vow to stay single and date only casually for a year.
Thought – When I started, I thought this book could go either way – either I would enjoy the author and his adventures, or he would turn into a complete jerk and treat the women horribly and I would hate him. Fortunately it turned out to be the first one! It was a fun and funny story, although I am still left with the one question…what kind of a name is Matteson?

125. Evelyn, After – Victoria Helen Stone
Story – Evelyn think her life is running smoothly, until one night she is woken by a phone call. Her husband has been in an accident and needs her help…but he is not alone. Obsessed with finding out details of his affair, Evelyn demands answers, and when her husband cannot supply them she begins her own investigations into the personal life of her rival.
Thoughts – This book was surprisingly good. I was a little bit afraid that it would be one of those stories where you spend the whole time in an agony of frustration as you watch the characters make one stupid decision after another but, although the characters were making plenty of stupid decisions, this didn’t read that way. Mostly I just wanted to know what was coming next.

124. Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult
Story – Ruth is a midwife with more than twenty years experience and an exemplary record, working at a Connecticut hospital. But Ruth is also black, and a routine day at work turns into something else when a couple of new parents, white supremacists, demand that she not be allowed touch their child. The hospital goes along with them and Ruth is reassigned to a different patient. But then the baby goes into cardiac arrest while Ruth is alone in the nursery, and when he dies someone must be held accountable…
Thoughts – Racism is a deep and complicated issue, and a story that examined some of those layers is pretty timely right about now. This story was very good, with the alternate chapter viewpoints that Jodi Picoult always employs. This time there were chapters from Ruth, from the lawyer, and from the white supremacist father. His chapters were uncomfortable and distasteful to read, but also the most absorbing simply because it’s a character type that I’ve rarely encountered. Honestly, for 95% of the book I was really engaged with the story and the characters and thought it was great. But then the ‘twist’ at the end came and that just blew it for me. I hated it. Even so I’d recommend the book, but be warned that the ending might ruin it for you too.

123. The Girl Who Cried Wolf – Bella James
Story – The story of Anna, a teenager more interested in partying and her friends than school, who finds out that she has cancer.
Thoughts – As far as cancer books go, this one was pretty meh. Anna just wasn’t a likeable character, and even at the end of her story arc I didn’t find her much improved at all. I didn’t care what happened to her, and that’s pretty damning when she’s on death’s door from her brain tumour.

122. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
Story – Rachel travels on the same commuter train every day, and every day as she passes a row of homes that back onto the tracks she looks for ‘her’ couple, a pretty girl and handsome man. Rachel sees them so often that she has begun to feel that she knows them. Then one day she sees something shocking, and when news of the girl’s disappearance reaches her Rachel goes to the police. But things are more complex than they first appear, and Rachel may be doing more harm than good as she becomes more deeply embroiled in the mystery.
Thoughts – This book has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and it’s pretty obvious why- there’s a mystery, the question of the narrator’s reliability etc. Having said that, I enjoyed The Girl on the Train more. Right from the start it drew me in, and the pacing kept me reading fast and constantly guessing. I’d definitely recommend this one. I think that they’ve actually made a movie of it, and I want to see it.

121. The Hundredth Man – Jack Kerley
Story – Headless corpses with writing on the torso involve detective Carson Ryder in the first case of his special homicide investigative division.
Thoughts – This is the first book in a series, so there was some setting up of place and character. I wasn’t very interested in the politics of the police department, but the actual mystery was interesting and well paced. (Although the ebook I read was obviously dodgy and had shitty formatting, so that did throw it off for me). I’ve got other books from this series, and although I didn’t think this one was brilliant there was enough potential in it for me to want to try another.