There are always quite a few murder mysteries in my TBR pile, so only the really good ones stand out. Orient by Christopher Bollen is definitely in that pile – I have to admit that I did not guess the murderer until the very end, and I certainly didn’t guess the motive. I like it when a book can surprise me.
Mills is a bit of a drifter, a foster kid who has fallen on hard times and is rescued by a neighbor, Paul Benchley. We know from the first few paragraphs of the book that there will be murders. We know that Mills will be blamed for them, even though he didn’t commit them, and he gives us some clues as to the murderer. The clues didn’t help me unmask the killer; they just made me suspicious of everyone we meet in Orient.
Paul offers to take Mills to his family home in Orient, on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an isolated town, lots of families who have been there for generations, and the town is undergoing some rapid changes as new money and new people flood in. In particular, there are a lot of artists coming to the community. Not nice folks who want to paint the lighthouses along the shore. No, these are big-time, big money modern artists, the kind who will bash through your dining room wall with a sledgehammer, expose the pipes underneath, throw glitter on them and call it an installation piece (and charge you $100,000). They have very different sensibilities than the long-time residents, and the cultures are bound to clash. Some neighbors welcome the new blood and the new money that comes with it. Others are afraid of losing the quaint and peaceful town they’ve always known. There is plenty of hostility and distrust on both sides.
In addition, there is the threat of Plum Island Animal Disease Center – a research facility that some residents believe is working on dangerous projects. When a strange, mutated carcass washes up on an Orient beach, even the skeptics begin to wonder…
Paul puts Mills to work cleaning out two generations of hoarding in the old family home, where he discovers some secrets about his benefactor and the town. He becomes friendly with Beth, a failed artist struggling with her husband’s artistic success and a bad case of “I have everything I wanted so why am I not happy?” There are conflicts on the island between the successful artists who are driving up real estate prices and long-time residents who want to keep Orient a sleepy village, frozen in time. When long-time residents start turning up dead, it’s easy to point fingers at the new kid in town.
I didn’t recognize, at the start of the book, that the places Bollen mentions – Orient, Plum Island, Oysterponds, etc – are real places. I think that adds to the appeal of the book, the idea that you could take a drive through the streets you’ve read about, stand on the beach and look towards the lighthouse.
Beth became a real source of annoyance for me (which may have been intentional, on Bollen’s part). She’s an artist who doesn’t paint because she’s afraid to fail, even though her husband is supportive and encouraging. Her husband agrees to leave New York City and move out to this little island town because his wife wants to go home again. Her mother gives her a beautiful, spacious home on the island. She and her husband want to have a baby, but now that she finds out she’s pregnant, she hasn’t told her husband and she is considering an abortion. She has everything she wants, she gets everything she asks for and she is still not happy. She is the kind of character you want to grab by the shoulders and give them a good shake, ask them if they have any clue just how lucky they have been and how pathetic they are for not appreciating it. It’s infuriating! But you hope they have time to work it all out.
Really enjoyed this one, mostly because it was tough to see where the story was going. There were several angles – conflict on the Historic Board, a drunken handyman who knows all the town’s secrets, crazy artists and the looming presence of Plum Island, which may be slowly poisoning the residents. I admit I didn’t care for that last storyline, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying the mystery.
Wreckage by Emily Bleeker
Lillian Linden is a liar. On the surface, she looks like a brave survivor of a plane crash. But she’s been lying to her family, her friends, and the whole world since rescue helicopters scooped her and her fellow survivor, Dave Hall, off a deserted island in the South Pacific. Missing for almost two years, the castaways are thrust into the spotlight after their rescue, becoming media darlings overnight. But they can’t tell the real story—so they lie.
The public is fascinated by the castaways’ saga, but Lillian and Dave must return to their lives and their spouses. Genevieve Randall—a hard-nosed journalist and host of a news program—isn’t buying it. She suspects Lillian’s and Dave’s explanations about the other crash survivors aren’t true. And now, Genevieve’s determined to get the real story, no matter how many lives it destroys.
In this intriguing tale of survival, secrets, and redemption, two everyday people thrown together by tragedy must finally face the truth…even if it tears them apart.
I am becoming a Dennis Lehane groupie – that’s all I can say. I loved The Drop. I loved Live By Night. And I loved the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, World Gone By. This was a story that really drew me in, the kind of book where you keep re-reading pages, going back to an earlier section because you want to hear those words one more time. You can’t wait to see where the story is going, but you don’t really want it to end.
At the start of World Gone By, Joe Coughlin is a single father, a widower after the death of his beloved wife, Graciela, raising his 10 year old son, Tomas, on his own. His career has taken a surprisingly traditional turn- he has retired and become a consultant, a consigliere to the crime families that dominate South Florida. With his help and advice, the families are making money. Their businesses are thriving. Joe has no enemies. So why has someone put out a contract on him?
There is something unsettled in South Florida and Joe can feel its effects. He begins to see a ghost, a young boy who shows up at odd moments, in crowds or alone in Joe’s office. (In one of the most disturbing scenes of the book, Joe tells his doctor about the ghost. After Joe leaves the office, the doctor confronts his own demons and they are not pretty.) Dion Bartolo, may be losing his grip on the business – people are beginning to notice his vices. Rico DiGiacomo, Joe’s long-time friend, may be keeping his own secrets. Even Joe’s love life is unsettled, and the pressure is building. Joe wants to keep Tomas safe, but he’s not willing to run and hide. He knows the game and he knows the players, but the rules are changing.
Joe Coughlin is a bad guy that you can’t help rooting for. Whoever has put the hit out, you want Joe to figure it out. You want Tomas to be safe. You want Joe to be able to protect his friends and sniff out his enemies. You can’t really say that Joe does the right thing, but there are flashes – like when he doesn’t kill Loretta in Live By Night, even though it would be safer and easier – but you read the pages of World Gone By with a nagging feeling that Joe has missed something, that there is trouble headed his way and he may not be able to dodge the bullet this time.
This one was hard to put down. This is the final book in the Joe Coughlin trilogy and it is remarkably well done. There is no judgement here – yes, the characters are gangsters and killers, but that’s not the point. They are also fathers and husbands, wives, brothers, and friends. The mob might be run by criminals, but it’s a business; you take orders from the people in charge and someone is always watching the bottom line. The problem seemed to be that Joe wanted to live some semblance of a normal life as a retired consultant, raising his son, tending to his investments, maybe taking a new wife, but he wasn’t in a normal situation. This wasn’t the kind of story for that.
Currently, Ben Affleck is directing and starring in the movie version of Live By Night. I love the women they’ve cast so far – Zoe Saldano as Graciella and Elle Fanning as Loretta. Easy to picture that cast. I’m hoping they decide to adapt this novel for the big screen, as well. I can easily imagine turning this into an amazing film.
My copy of World Gone By is an Advance Reader Copy, provided by the nice folks at William Morrow.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
– Scout Finch, character in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is another title that my cousin, Ann, donated to the collection. She wasn’t 100% sold on it, but I still want to give it a try. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner:
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2013 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
New York magazine’s number one book of the year and named a Best Book of 2013 by The Wall Street Journal; Vogue; O, The Oprah Magazine; Los Angeles Times; The San Francisco Chronicle; The New Yorker; Time; Flavorwire; Salon; Slate; The Daily Beast; Bookish; The Jewish Daily Forward; The Austin American-Statesman; Complex; and The Millions, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. Includes a new essay by the author, with a folio of images.
Reno, so-called because of the place of her birth, comes to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity—artists colonize a deserted and industrial SoHo, stage actions in the East Village, blur the line between life and art. Reno is submitted to a sentimental education of sorts—by dreamers, poseurs, and raconteurs in New York and by radicals in Italy, where she goes with her lover to meet his estranged and formidable family. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, Reno is a fiercely memorable observer, superbly realized by Rachel Kushner.
Another helpful title: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin:
The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change?
Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Beforeexplains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.
Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:
• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?
Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Beforewill make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.
All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.