The Disappearing Act

The title of Catherine Steadman’s The Disappearing Act appealed to me. Like Maria Semple’s “Bernadette,” sometimes disappearing seems promising. But Steadman is the author of the thriller “Something in the Water,” soon to be made into a Reese Witherspoon movie, so I expected a page-turning drama. The Disappearing Act focuses on a story closer to the author’s alter ego as an actress in London, and the “gaslighting” will have you wondering who the villain really is.

After Mia’s live-in boyfriend surreptitiously dumps her, she leaves from London to Hollywood for a series of auditions, following her successful portrayal of Jane Eyre and her nomination for the prestigious BAFTA award. In the waiting room of one of these auditions she meets Emily, another actor, and the plot thickens.

Returning from putting money into the meter for Emily’s car, Mia finds Emily has left, without her wallet and car keys, and she is determined to get them back to her. A series of plot twists ensue, with the punctuation of a new love interest, a handsome and wealthy producer who meets her when she is plugging the meter. After a series of unsettling incidents – someone breaks into her apartment, her car is mysteriously sabotaged, threatening notes appear – Mia is not sure who to trust. Steadman keeps the plot moving in different directions, until finally resolving the obvious.

The Disappearing Act is a fun and quick read – just the kind of story to distract and entertain.

What I’m Reading Now:

I almost forgot I ordered the two books from Libby, the library’s email guru, but they both appeared together and both due in less than 21 days. I better get reading:

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan and The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Any suggestions on which to start first?

Thrillers for a Quick Fix

Nothing like a fast paced page-turner to get me motivated these days. Chris Bohjalian delivered again with The Hour of the Witch and Laura Dave with The Last Thing He Told Me.

Although “witch” is in the title and the setting is witch-ridden New England, the Hour of the Witch was more of a feminist approach in dealing with an abusive husband. Divorce was not easy back in colonial times, but living with a monster was not an option for Mary Deerfield, especially after her drunken husband drives a three-pronged fork into her hand. Of course, the elders decide she must either live with it or be labelled a witch. Sometimes, being a witch isn’t a bad alternative. A great story from one of my favorite storytellers. I finished it in a day.

In The Last Thing He Told Me, Hannah Hall finds herself in a twisted plot as she tries to escape FBI agents and U.S, Marshalls with her teenage stepdaughter after her husband disappears. Turns out he is not who she thought he was, and you will keep reading to find out not only why he is hiding but what he did in his past. True love prevails in the end, and I had to read this in one setting to find out how.

Next on my wild and frenzied ride through satisfying fast reads is Cynthia D’Aprix new book. Remember the author who caused a controversy when she sold her debut novel “The Nest” to a publisher for a seven figure deal? Turns out she’s not a one-hit-wonder. Her new book Good Company promises another good read. ” On the day of her daughter’s high school graduation, happily married Flora Mancini is looking for an old photograph when she discovers an envelope containing her husband’s wedding ring – the one he said he lost over a decade ago.”

What scintillating fast reads are you reading these days?

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Whereabouts

A sense of accomplishment is overwhelming me. I donated three large boxes of books ( my covid year of reading) to the Friends of the Library this morning, and it wasn’t easy. After driving past a guard gate and through a tunnel, and stopping to ask a few masked strangers, I finally found the donation pallet described in their email among a warehouse of boxes. I just hope someone finds mine.

I’m reading Jhumpa Lahiri‘s new book “Whereabouts.” She is among my favorite authors and she reached a higher rung on my authors to emulate list when she moved to Italy to study the language and translate books. It’s been over ten years since “The Namesake,” and I was anxious to get lost in one her stories again.

But “Whereabouts” has no plot like her other books. Following a middle-aged woman’s thoughts and observations “on the couch, on the balcony, in bed…” was mundane at first and unclear where it was leading. Lahiri wrote the book in Italian and translated her words to English. Being somewhat biased by my own Italian heritage, I love the flow of the Italian language, and l appreciated the phrasing and descriptions she offered in translation. Sometimes a sentence would offer a window into my own world – “feeling reassured but also dazed by the outside world.”

As the short chapters evolve into a retrospective of her life, the narrator seems to emerge from complaints and despair of the past, and begins to appreciate the present. In the end, she has received a fellowship and is traveling to an unknown country for a year of study. The last short chapter shows her with a mix of hope, anxiety, and anticipation, leaving this reader a little befuddled but nonetheless satisfied.

NPR says “Whereabouts” is the literary equivalent of slow cooking; it demands patience.”

I bought a signed first edition of this book and I plan to reread it now and then. It will not be going to the library warehouse.

Review of the Year That Shall Not be Named – in Books

With the end of a year like no other, I am again looking back to list the twelve books, one for each month, I especially loved reading.  This year, however, is tinged with the evolution of 2020 from high expectations at January to slow disintegration as the months wore on.

One of my favorite authors, humorist Dave Barry, offered his observations in his Year in Review 2020 – giving a few laugh out loud moments in following his monthly reminder of a year gone awry.  He inspired me to think about how my reading morphed with my own view of the world as history marched through a challenging year.

Here is my list of twelve books read and reviewed (click on the title to read the review) throughout the year.  My favorite has a star.

January:  What better way to start than a book with January in the title and doors magically opening to new worlds- Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January

February: The world news was getting a little scary, so I kept escaping to fantasy land with A.J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten

March: The world was really looking grim by now, so I turned to Jose Saramago’s story of how it all could be worse in Blindness

April: Spring didn’t really look like a flowery bower, so I buried myself in Eric Larson’s epic observation of Winston Churchill in The Splendid and the Vile

May: As the pandemic raged on, many of us wondered what life would have been like if 2016 had brought a different president; Curtis Sittenfeld filled the void with Rodham

June: By now, I was looking for a fictional world I did not live in; thankfully, Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, came through with a delightful The Redhead by the Side of the Road  *

July:  We all knew the pandemic was real when we heard beloved actor Tom Hanks had it in March, but his recovery led to his role in the movie adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ News of the World in July.  In July, I enjoyed Jiles’ new book Simon the Fiddler 

August:  By now it was clear my European travels were going to be curtailed for a while, but my dreams of Paris were fed vicariously by Liam Callanan’s Paris By the Book

September: Although I couldn’t visit my Los Angeles family, I could revisit favorite landmarks in Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

October: Graphic novels with short but philosophical views of life are hard to find these days. Calvin and Hobbes is in retirement, but Allie Brosh has her own brand of art and humor, easy to read and fun to explore, in Solutions and Other Problems

November: By now I was watching more TV than reading, and Netflix lured me into a series called “The Undoing.”  When I discovered it was based on a book, I had to reread Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known

December: The year is finally coming to an end, and I have been drinking a lot of coffee to wash down all the cookies, but none taking me back into the past like the Japanese translation of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold

* Although I am still careful to drink up all my coffee before it gets cold, Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road was my year’s favorite.

What books do you remember from this year?  Any favorites to recommend?

Agatha Christie Solves the Mystery of Happiness in Marriage

hercule-poirot    After enjoying Edward Sorel’s cartoon in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review – The Literati Sketchbook – I was inspired to research Agatha Christie and her marriages.

Archie Christie, Agatha’s first husband, was a dashing pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. After fourteen years of marriage to Agatha, he did leave her for a younger woman, Nancy Neele.  Surprisingly, Archie Christie did love golf, as noted by Sorel, and belonged to the  Sunningdale Golf Club. (“He spent many of his weekends there while Agatha worked on her novels in their London flat.”)

After discovering her husband’s affair, Agatha did disappear:  “A major police hunt was undertaken, and Christie was questioned by the police. She was discovered ten days later at the Old Swan Hotel in Yorkshire, registered under the name of her husband’s lover… and suffering from a complete loss of memory when found and identified by her husband.” – just as Sorel depicts in his cartoon.

After divorcing Archie, Agatha meets and marries Max Mallowan, an archeologist fourteen years younger.  They live happily ever after for forty-five years.

In the last frame Sorrel shows an old Agatha solving the mystery of happiness in marriage, saying:

“An archeologist is the best husband any woman can get. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”

Amazing what cartoons can teach us.   Might be fun to see the 1979 film version with Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha.  Roger Ebert reviews the film – here.