Category Archives: 4 stars

The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore

Review (Amazon): New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

My Review (Not many spoilers on this since it’s historical fiction):

Executive Summary: Interesting

This was our book club pick for Thriller/Suspense. Why? I don’t really know, as it was definitely a historical fiction in my mind. Ah well, it was still a good read. Not really fast paced, but not slow either.

Have you heard of George Westinghouse? Thomas Edison? J.P. Morgan? Nikola Tesla? Yes? OK, How about Paul Cravath? No, well, he’s the unknown, but central character to this book.

Paul is a young lawyer who has been hired (just him, not his firm) to represent George Westinghouse who is suing Thomas Edison. But Thomas Edison is also suing George Westinghouse. Three hundred and twelve lawsuits to be exact. He’s on his way to meet Thomas Edison for the lawsuits when he sees a electrical line worker get electrocuted. Electricity is just becoming common place and this is not good publicity.

Paul is a recent grad from Columbia. He’s never tried a case. So why did Westinghouse hire him? Probably because he will fight as hard as he can to win, and the fight is the story. Paul is also the tool for the non-electrical engineering (I’m mechanical 🙂 ) reader to have all the technical stuff explained to them in layman terms.

It’s actually quite the epic battle. It’s not just a meager lawsuit over who owns the lightbulb. It’s AC vs. DC currents, and how to get the currents to travel far enough distances that it is a sustainable product for an entire town, let alone city, to subsist on it. They all have their strategies, even going so far as to bringing up the idea of the electric chair, bringing Alexander Graham Bell into the fray, or buying out each other’s company.

In the end, it turns out to be a pretty good feel good story. Paul ends up with the famous singer who has been helping him out with his case. Westinghouse, Tesla, and Edison, despite being basically at war, are all scientists underneath, and they realize each other’s values. The way the book leaves off, they have coffee once a month and talk about science.

Verdict: 4 stars

It’s definitely a very specific book, but I think it’s a good read and a great peek into an interesting point in American history. It’s tough to summarize because it’s very detailed, but it does move at a steady pace and has a lot of fairly surprising twists. I suppose that’s why it was touted as a thriller/suspense, but to me, it’s just an interesting historical fiction

2 Comments

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Review (Amazon): In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: slow to start but really strong ending

This book has a nearly perfect rating on Amazon, but our book club was still a little hesitant to read this one due to a previous Kristin Hannah book we read (Magic Hour, pre-blog) which was very mediocre. I’m happy to report that Hannah has matured as an author and in my mind, pulled off a nearly impossible task–a great ending!!

I apologize that this review will not be quite as detailed as some of my others–I’ve found myself so swamped and want to get this in here before I bet even more swamped with the holidays!

The book starts with an old woman who is being moved into a nursing home due to a poor cancer prognosis, and she is going through her stuff. The book goes back and forth between the old woman and her son (present time) but mostly stays in the past.

Sisters Isabelle and Vianne have been emotionally estranged for most of their lives. Their father came back from the Great War a changed man and when their mother died, the girls were off to boarding school. Vianne was much older than Isabelle and as soon as Vianne was old enough to get married and move on with her life, she did. She married Antoine and despite a number of miscarriages, had a daughter Sophie and lived in Carriveau. Isabelle fared worse. Her sister never stuck up for her and left her as soon as possible. Isabelle failed out of one boarding school after another, unwelcome at Vianne’s and unwelcome with her father in Paris. Vianne’s dream life in the French countryside comes to a dramatic halt when Antoine, a postman, is drafted for war (WW2). Her friend Rachel’s husband is also drafted.

Isabelle is kicked out of yet another school and is sent back to Paris. Her father has no interest in her living with him but he begrudgingly allows her until the Germans invade Paris. Then he sends her to Carriveau to live with Vianne, especially now that she is alone. Eventually the car that she is in runs out of gas and they are forced to walk. The family she was riding with abandons her, and she finds herself alone. Luckily she is stubborn and persistent. She meets a young man, Gaetan who is roasting a rabbit on a fire. They decide to stop by Carriveau, see his mother in Poitiers and then go join the resistance. They finally get to Carriveau, having to walk most of the way. Vianne doesn’t answer as the house has been harassed by other refugees all day so Gaetan and Isabelle sleep in the back. When Isabelle finally awakens, Gaetan has left her with just a note “You are not ready”.

Isabelle grows more and more enraged. She wants to help but can’t. Vianne doesn’t want to rock the boat at all, even when things get more and more dire and France surrenders. After hiding all the valuables despite Vianne telling her how foolish it was, Isabelle turns on the radio and hears General de Gaulle who is talking about the resistance. Isabelle realizes there is some hope…until the Nazis come to Carriveau and a soldier, Captain Wolfgang Beck, billets in their home. In general, he is pretty reserved. He believes he is fighting the good fight, hoping to get back to his own wife and kids.

Isabelle, Vianne, and Sophie go on pretending things are normal–going into town to pick up their rations, growing their garden. One day when Isabelle is going into town to get rations, she picks up a piece of chalk. She notices a war propaganda poster in an alley and decides to draw a giant V on it (for Victory) with the chalk when she is caught. She can’t see who it is who has caught her and where she is being taken, but she eventually realizes it’s not to the Gestapo–it’s to the resistance. They realize that women and girls can get away with a lot more than men so they task her with delivering messages. She is thrilled!

She delivers many messages–sneaking away at all hours to do so. On one occasion, Vianne and Sophie see her and Vianne immediately assumes that Isabelle’s odd behavior is because of a boy.

Meanwhile, Vianne learns that Antoine has been captured, but Captain Beck is able to get messages to him. In return, Vianne lists all Jews, Communists, etc. who are teachers at her school, including her best friend Rachel, and they are all dismissed.

Isabelle gets the message that she is needed, and heads into town. She is needed for bigger tasks–the first being to take a message to Paris and stay there to be the contact. She convinces Captain Beck to give her a pass on account of her father being ill. Vianne still assumes that Isabelle is going on about for a boy and Isabelle lets her believe it. She arrives in Paris and sees the bookstore all boarded up, and waits in the apartment until her father returns. Eventually she convinces her father to let her stay. She meets her first appointment with another woman messenger. She is brought into their group and given a false identity (Juliette Gervais) and given more tasks especially when they realize that her fancy education has taught her German and English. She reopens her father’s bookstore to use as a front and it earns her a little money as well.

One night on her way home from picking up food (leftovers from the Germans in the restaurant), she finds a British RAF pilot. She decides to take him to their apartment and hide him in the closet in her room. She takes him to the other resistance people who don’t know what to do. They are trying to figure out how to get the downed pilots into Spain but that means having to cross the Pyrenees. Isabelle has a family friend who is a Basque and she thinks that she can help by going undetected and getting the men to safety. As she is helping flesh out the plan, in comes Gaetan. He tells her that he left because it’s dangerous and he wanted to forget her, but now it turns out they’re working together like she had wanted.

When she gets home, she discovers another surprise. Her father too is working for the resistance. He works for the Nazis where he can create fake papers for people including her. He knew about the airman she was hiding and told her that he had sent her away to protect her. He already knows about her plan to lead the airmen to Spain and gives her the name of the family friend. He tells her that she will never be able to come back because she will have to go completely underground from now onward.

The first trip is the biggest risk as they can’t be sure that Madame Babineau will help them, but when Isabelle appears with 4 airmen, Madame Babineau indeed does. Isabelle, Eduardo (guide) and the airmen make the rough 5-day trek across the Pyrenees into Spain. Isabelle presents them at the British consulate and is provided with money to set up safe houses, food and clothing for the inevitable other airmen. She sent word back that “The Nightingale has Sung” alerting the resistance that she made it.

In the meantime in Carriveau, everyone is nervous about the collaborators and people are being rounded up for the slightest infractions. The Jews, including Rachel, have to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing.

Over the next months, the Nightingale continues to escort airmen into Spain as the Germans start closing in on her. The Resistance sets her up with a job doing clerical work for the Nazis. No one knows what she’ll be doing. When she arrives, she finds that she is sorting foreign born Jews from native born. When she sees the name of the mastermind behind her branch of the resistance on the list, she feigns flu and leaves. All the foreign born Jews are being rounded up and sent to the camps in Germany. In Carriveau, the same is happening. However, Captain Beck alerts Vianne that Rachel should not be home the following morning. This time Vianne listens and she, Rachel and Rachel’s two kids take the long walk to see if they can cross the border with Rachel’s false paperwork. When they get close, something goes awry and the guard opens fire on the crowd. Sophie’s best friend Sarah does not survive. Rachel and Ari hide in Vianne’s barn while Vianne buries Sarah.

The next day, they walk with Rachel back to her house later in the day (because somehow they thought they would round everyone up in a couple hours in the morning) and she is picked up by the gestapo. Since Ari was born in France, he can stay, and Vianne takes him in. She tells Captain Beck what she has done, and he promises to not turn her in and even gets her a set of fake papers for him.

Isabelle returns to Carriveau on a mission and upon arrival stumbles upon a downed airman. She and her colleagues take him to Vianne’s house where they hide in the safe spot under the car in the barn. Unfortunately the airman was too far gone and dies. All the soldiers in Carriveau are looking for this pilot, including Captain Beck. Vianne sees the barn door is astray and thinks it’s Rachel. She is shocked and annoyed when she finds that it’s Isabelle and the pilot and says some terrible nasty things to Isabelle. When Beck returns home, he realizes that he has not searched her barn. When he goes out there, he finds the trap door, and Vianne hits him over the head with a shovel as he opens the door and Isabelle shoots him.

Isabelle is taken to a safe place, the bodies are disposed of, and Vianne tells the soldiers that Captain Beck went looking for the pilot and never returned. Vianne gets a new, much worse Nazi billeting with her in his place. Whereas Beck did not like the direction that the war had moved, Captain von Richter did and he took his power very seriously. Vianne begins to grow a spine and take part in a plan where she moves Jewish children into the church orphanage. To keep suspicion down, she is a good little French woman to von Richter who repeatedly rapes and beats her.

Meanwhile Isabelle keeps the Nightingale going, meeting Gaetan secretly when they cross paths. On a trip to the Pyrenees, the safe house is raided and everyone is captured. Isabelle is questioned for days, but everyone assumes the Nightingale is a man.

Isabelle’s father goes to Carriveau to tell Vianne the news that Isabelle has been captured. He tells her, as best as he can, how sorry he is about everything. He tells her that she needs to be strong for Isabelle and asks her what she would do to save Sophie before going off and confessing that he is the Nightingale to free Isabelle and save her life. She is thrown onto a train with other political prisoners and is left there until the war ends and she is freed.

Antoine returns to a broken and pregnant Vianne. They manage to hold it together for Sophie and Ari. Vianne continues to search for news of Isabelle but cannot find any. She learns that Rachel and her husband have died, and one day, two Jewish men come for Ari. He has family in New York who want to look after him, and it is important for him to learn the Jewish customs since so few of his generation remain.

SPOILERS!!!

Isabelle returns to Carriveau, gravely sick. Antoine, Vianne, and Sophie keep her alive until Gaetan arrives and she dies peacefully.

The story returns to the old woman, who we now know is not Isabelle like I had assumed (and hoped). It is Vianne and her child Julien born from the Nazi captain. Vianne has been invited to speak in Paris on account of Isabelle where she is posthumously presented an award for her service. She sees Gaetan there who tells Vianne that he loved her (Isabelle) all his life. And then lastly, she meets Ari who has come there to reconnect with her, telling her how she saved his life. Julien admires his mother in a way he never knew.

Verdict: 4 stars

I actually found myself getting a little misty eyed in parts during this book which doesn’t happen frequently. I really liked Isabelle and was rooting for her during the book. I was really surprised to find that the “old woman” was actually Vianne in the end and in general, I really thought the flash forwards were woven in thoughtfully (which is not that common). I’m really racking up my WW2 books this year as I’m already reading another one!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks – E. Lockhart

  Summary (Amazon): Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate Club. Her father’s “bunny rabbit.” A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. Frankie Landau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: relatable

I read another book by E. Lockhart earlier this year which I really liked so I thought I would also read this one. It did not disappoint!

The book begins with a letter from Frankie (Frances) to Headmaster Richmond and the Board of Directors at Alabaster Preparatory Academy confessing to a variety of crimes. It’s definitely going to be a good book!

In between freshman and sophomore years of school (at Alabaster Preparatory Academy), Frankie grows up physically, but her parents still consider her to be “Bunny”. She had been doing OK socially at school because her sister was a senior last year and was fairly popular. After her sister left for college, Frankie, her mother, and some uncles and cousins went to the Jersey Shore. On the last day, fully fed up with the youngins tries to convince her mother to let her go into town and eventually her mother settles on letting her go to the boardwalk (even though her 12 year old cousin was allowed to go into town alone). She meets a cute boy there but doesn’t get his name.

Frankie’s dad also went to Alabaster. He and Frankie’s mom separated when she was young, but he pays for the girls’ tuition to his alma mater. Senior (as Frankie’s dad is called) remembers high school fondly as the best time of his life.

Upon returning to school, she spends time as typical 15 year old girls do. Avoiding her last-year boyfriend Porter (who she caught cheating on her with Bess Montgomery), crushing after a new boy (Matthew Livingston), and navigating popularity. Her roommate Trish was a good friend although interested in much different stuff than Frankie. She had a boyfriend Artie who she’d had for a long time who would prove to be very useful in the end.

During a bike ride to the pool, Frankie spots Matthew and accidentally (or is it?) crashes her bike. Matthew comes over to her and they begin flirting. He assumes that she is a freshman, and she corrects that she is a sophomore. Her sister had introduced her to Matthew on multiple occasions, but he has forgotten (either intentionally or not). Regardless, they leave the “scene of the accident” together.

Matthew and Frankie become some sort of an item, and Matthew tells her about his friend Alpha who has returned from New York. When Frankie sees him, she realizes that he is the boy she met on the Boardwalk. But he pretends that he doesn’t recognize her even when she baits him. She’s Matthew’s now, and Alpha doesn’t want to step on any toes. But Frankie also realizes that all of the popular kids pretend not to notice the small people because it makes them feel powerful. And it pisses her off.

Frankie switches out her elective from Latin to Cities, Art, and Protest. During this class, they talk about the panopticon (which gave me some déjà vu as it was heavily discussed in the last book I read!) which starts putting some ideas into Frankie’s head.

Matthew finally (after other invitations had already been distributed) invites Frankie to the party of the year. When she gets the invitation, she notices that the seal on the envelope is a Basset Hound which sparks some memories of her father. The “Bassets” were/are a club on campus that is men only and top secret. Based on Senior’s stories, Frankie deduces that all the Bassets ever did was cause mischief. However, she knows that they kept a record of the mischievous deeds in a notebook that they called The Disreputable History.

As Matthew starts being more secretive with her as time goes on, blowing her off to hang out with Alpha, she decides to do a bit of sleuthing. She realizes that the current Bassets have no idea where The Disreputable History is any more. (The Bassets of past hid it somewhere for safe keeping but no one knows exactly where.) Frankie remembers some of Senior’s drunken reminiscing with friends and realizes that the song that they were singing was actually the treasure map to find this notebook so she locates the notebook on her own (utilizing her roommate’s boyfriend’s set of school keys which she has copied), reads all of the exciting pranks that were committed, and deduces that the Bassets of current are super lame comparatively. So she decides to become the secret orchestrator of Basset pranks!

Her own relationship with Matthew is a typical teenage relationship–tumultuous. She is contacted by her ex who warns her about Matthew. Matthew gives her his favorite t-shirt and she is torn between loving it and hating being marked as property. The confusion is not aided by her Berkley-attending sister either.

Also at this point, Frankie discovers an infatuation with what she calls “neglected positives” and “imaginary neglected positives”. As in impetuous means hotheaded, unthinking, impulsive. However, the word petuous does not exist. So it’s an imaginary neglected positive that could be used for a synonym of careful. The whole thing cracked me up as Frankie continues to use words like gruntled (disgruntled), turbed (distubed), etc. throughout the book.

Her first prank was executed for Halloween. Alpha’s mom conveniently pulled him out of school a few days prior to this  for a yoga retreat which allows Frankie to alias herself as “THEALPHADOG” online. Trish’s boyfriend is dressing up as a woman for Halloween which gives her an idea. Boobs are (indirectly obviously) the reason that she can’t join the Bassets. She emails the Basset members their roles, and when the students awake on Halloween, all statues and portraits (and even a few trees) throughout campus have bras affixed to them. The main  prank though was for the library dome which had a tan parachute with a pink center covering it with a sign saying “IN THE LADIES WE TRUST”. Everyone is atwitter about it, but Matthew and the others keep completely mum, which mostly pisses Frankie off. When Alpha returns, he takes credit for the prank although it’s clear he is very confused. Frankie decides to up the stakes.

She emails Alpha directly from thealphadog gmail address. She mentions how she now has The Disreputable History and he is mad. Prank number two involves a little bit of breaking and entering, but she has realized that no one at the school is paying that close of attention (or caring enough about it). She found an entrance into the old, unused gym, and creates a path for others to get into it afterwards. A week or so later, the windows in the old gym were illuminated with Basset hound figures wearing Santa hats. Upon the success of this, she can’t stop. She has all of the Bassets learn how to draw Basset hounds, break into buildings and draw them on the chalkboards. She masterminds sending every seniorclassman a rubber dog mask to be worn to the school concert. Alpha keeps emailing her but she manages to brush him off.

Frankie realizes that she has the power to plan something that would actually make a change. Thus the origination of “The Canned Beet Rebellion”. A generous alumna was the CEO of a large soft drink company. The school had recently changed to only products of that company and its conglomerates. There are no real fresh vegetables anywhere–only canned products and frozen items. When the CEO arrived at the school for a lecture, all students received buttons to wear saying things like “ketchup is not a vegetable”. When the caterer arrived, the main platter was a basset hound comprised entirely of vegetables. The CEO realized that she was being punked, but the result was real change in the school’s cafeteria–giving Frankie what she wanted.

Before leaving for Thanksgiving, Frankie sees a printout of the emails between her and her ex, Porter, in Matthew’s bag. She’s unsure as to what that means and focuses her off-time planning her final semester prank, one that is important to her as a Jewish student. The Bassets steal the Guppy (a statue at the school) leaving a plastic Basset in its place. The ransom note states that assemblies are to be held in the auditorium of the arts complex rather than in the Chapel as it is an affront to non-Christian students (and Christian students for its mixing of announcements in a religious venue). Once agreement was made, a series of clues leads some students and a janitor to the Guppy which is waiting in the abandoned swimming pool. As Frankie is debating the meaning of this with Matthew, she becomes enraged that he is treating her as though her ideas are cute and insignificant and she lies and tells him she has to study. Instead, she heads back to the abandoned gym to roll up the string she has left as a guide because she realizes that Matthew and the others are too dense to clean up after themselves. As she’s walking along, the string suddenly goes slack and she realizes that someone is on the other end. She runs out, catching a security guard who is heading into the tunnels.

When she gets back to the dorm, she hears some of the other girls discussing the headmaster’s speech about the “vandalism”. Since the pranks have progressed to stealing school property, it is now being taken seriously.

The next day, Frankie ends up going to the infirmary for the burn on her arm that she got when running out of the tunnels. Matthew comes to visit her, and she tells him that he underestimates her. He tells her that she’s adorable. He proceeds to tell her that the security guard found Alpha in the tunnels, and he refused to tell them why he was there. He was therefore charged with vandalism, theft, trespassing among other things. Alpha was the huge mastermind of all the pranks. He will be expelled from school. She asks Matthew if he knew about the pranks and he still told her that he had no idea, so she tells him how she burned her arm. She tells him how mad she was that he would never let her into his exclusionary club so she foiled him at his own game. He turns her into the headmaster.

She is called in where she writes the letter that was at the beginning of the book. She does not get expelled because she has never been in trouble before and her father of course is an active alumni. He also decides to only put her and Alpha on suspension. When she went home for winter break, she wasn’t Bunny any more.

Upon returning to school, she is treated simultaneously as a legend by some and a traitor by others. She goes to a counselor regularly by her mother and sister’s insistence. The counselor suggests she join field hockey. Frankie doesn’t really get into it because there isn’t even a boys’ field hockey and it feels inferior. Matthew moves on, and she finally realizes, so does she.

Verdict: 4 stars

I loved this book. It has a lot of depth for a YA book, and it really felt realistic of how being a teenager can be (as far as I can remember. It’s been a few years!! 🙂 ). Frankie is trying to figure out everything and is simultaneously concerned with popularity as well as the pressures of society. Even as an adult, that’s a very tough line to toe. Plus, pulling off awesome pranks is totally up my alley!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Review

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

  Summary (Amazon): When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: fun

This book is kind of a beach read. There’s not a whole lot of substance to it, and frankly the general story has been told before. Poor girl begins dating secret rich guy and eventually finds out about his wealth (and all the family drama that goes with it). However, the people in this book were various types of Chinese descendants which made the story interesting for me. (Also the author has noted that the book was designed to appeal to North Americans)

The book itself has a family tree at the front for reference as the various family lines can be a bit confusing. Essentially three family lines, all super rich, are intertwined in the story. However, the main part of the story is about a couple in their late twenties–Nick and Rachel. They are both professors at NYU. Rachel is an “ABC” (American born Chinese) from California. Nick is from Singapore. Since Nick’s family is abroad, Rachel has never met them in the two years that they have been dating, but they have a great opportunity of going to Singapore for the summer for Nick’s best friend’s wedding.

Nick’s family is extremely wealthy, but he has kept this hidden from Rachel as he has sort of been opposed to it for his adult life. He works in a job that pays very little in a location that is isolated from the rest of his family. He hasn’t even told his mother that he has been dating anyone because he doesn’t want all the questions. She inevitably finds out prior to him telling her. She initially thinks that Rachel is going to be one of those “Taiwanese tornadoes” but eventually finds out that Rachel is *gasp* a mainlander (aka from actual China) which obviously means she’s a gold digger who is only there to steal Nick’s inheritance. Eleanor (Nick’s mother) gets a PI to investigate Rachel’s family.

When they arrive in Singapore, after traveling first class, they are greeted by the engaged couple–Colin and Araminta and go to a hawker center (food court of sorts that they have in Singapore). Everything seems like it’s going great. The following day when Nick goes to help out with Colin for wedding details, Rachel heads out with her college friend Peik Lin whose family lives in Singapore. Peik Lin and her family are fairly nouveau riche and are all about keeping up with the Joneses (probably a different saying for Asians). Regardless, Peik Lin knows EXACTLY who Colin and Araminta are and cannot believe that Rachel is going to essentially Singapore’s royal wedding. But Peik Lin has no idea who Nick is and she isn’t sure why since she knows everyone! This is when Rachel starts to realize that there is more to things than she initially suspected.

Rachel goes to Araminta’s bachelorette party where she is astounded by the lavishness–a private island. All attendees can pick out clothing items from an exclusive boutique that the bride’s mother has paid for. While there, someone steals her clothes and puts a gutted fish in her bag. Some of these girls think she’s a poor gold digger who is after one of their own.

Once Nick and Rachel return from their respective parties, Eleanor is finally back from her spy mission. She has dinner at her place and invites all her snobby friends including one of the girls from the bachelorette party who all but admits to the fish incident. Things are not going very well.

As the days of celebration for the wedding near, Peik Lin takes Rachel out to buy her some new outfits because she obviously can’t repeat wear something. When Rachel and Nick arrive to the first party, they are happily upstaged by Nick’s cousin’s girlfriend Kitty who is an actress and arrives wearing a see-through dress!

Despite the meddling of his family and family friends, when Nick sees Rachel at the wedding, he knows that it is time to propose to her. Unfortunately they are again thwarted by an old flame who interrupts the emotional moment. They head to the reception which is on par with an Olympics opening celebration complete with Cirque du Soleil performers and a ferry to a custom built castle. At the reception, the girl who broke up the proposal and the girl who admitted to the fish incident tell Rachel about how they had a threesome with Nick and he has never forgotten it. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back for the whole situation for Rachel. She and Nick decide to get away from it all and head to Malaysia.

Nick tells his mother that they are leaving and that he plans to propose to Rachel. Eleanor is flabbergasted and does not support it, but Nick doesn’t care and heads out anyway. Unfortunately, his mother and grandmother beat them there to stop the proposal. Rachel does not come from a proper enough family and Eleanor has the background to prove it. Although Rachel thought that her father had died, Eleanor has tracked down that he is actually in prison in China. Rachel is obviously completely in shock and she has Nick drive her into town where she proceeds to take a taxi back to Peik Lin’s.

Eventually Rachel calls her mother and shouts at her for not telling her the truth. She then slips into a depression not accepting calls from her mother or from Nick. Eventually she does meet with Nick to tell him that things are over. They are just far too different. Nick is undeterred and flies Rachel’s mother to Singapore to mend fences. Rachel discovers that the truth is much deeper than expected. Her mother’s husband who was abusive is now in jail in China, but the man who she believes to be Rachel’s father is someone different who she let go out of her life. Rachel and her mom make up, and for the thoughtfulness of it, Rachel decides to give Nick a second chance. Rachel, Rachel’s mom, Peik Lin, and Nick head off to a hawker center arguing about which one is the best.

Verdict: 4 stars

I mostly covered the plot in my review which really is not the best part of this book. It’s the subtle stereotyping, the constant brand name dropping and the hilarious snobbery all guised in this satirical book. The author does a great job of describing the absurd amount of wealth in a way that does not feel too weighed down, and all in all it was just a fun book to read.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Review

The Martian – Andy Weir

 Summary (Amazon): Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: hilarious

We picked this book for book club this year, and I have been VERY IMPATIENTLY waiting to read it. My husband read it. My dad read it. It feels like the entire population except for me had read it. But finally! I joined the club. And it was worth the wait.

The simple summary of this book is that Mark Watney was accidentally abandoned on Mars by his crew during a storm because they thought that he was dead and they needed to get out of there before they were all dead.

The long summary is a nerdy hilarious story of Mark Watney’s attempt to stay alive. Hilarious both because Mark has a great dorky sense of humor that made me laugh out loud multiple times, and also because of his sometimes disastrous attempts at making things work.

Once he realizes that he is alive and was abandoned on Mars, he manages to seal his spacesuit and assess the situation. He has no way to contact Earth. The next mission isn’t expected for 4 years, and he only has food for 300 days. On the plus, he has solar cells, water, and oxygen as well as plenty of vitamins. He also has terrible 70s television and disco music. He realizes that he was sent to Mars with some actual potatoes so that they can have a Thanksgiving. He decides to plant the potatoes using a combination of poop and Mars soil. He has to collect quite a lot of both to fill the space he has for crops (which is inside the Hab). He also has to figure out how to generate more water, which he does, although he almost blows himself up in a hydrogen bomb in the process.

Eventually a low level employee at NASA realizes that Watney is still alive due to various things moving around. They can’t contact him, but they keep track of him with their camera. They decide to not tell his returning crew because there is great concern of their morale of leaving a crew member behind on a long trip back to Earth. (Eventually they are told though.)

This is my favorite quote from the book: Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense!

While Mark’s potatoes are growing, his next task is to trick out the Rovers so that he can take a journey partly as a test run for his 3200 km journey to the area where Ares 4’s MAV has already landed. And partly so that he can find the Pathfinder probe from 1997 for communication. He takes the battery from one rover so that he can swap out. He loads up the solar cells, and takes it for a test run. It gets far too cold so he decides on a crazy idea–using the radioactive power cell to supply heat. Once he works out the bugs, he heads out with Houston (and the rest of the world) watching remotely. A fairly uneventful trip, he recovers the Pathfinder and upon returning to the Hab, he manages to get it up and running.

With contact from Houston, things get better but also way more complicated. Mark can’t be a maverick doing whatever he wants any more. He has a world’s worth of scientists analyzing his every move. They have him double-check that all the safety mechanisms are still operating correctly, and they evaluate his farming. Everything is good. Everyone sets on finding a way to get Mark off of Mars. In the meantime, a fluke accident occurs causing a tear in the Hab, which ruins many of the potatoes–causing the situation to be much more urgent.

The main problem is that the planets are not lined up in a way that is optimum. NASA hurries a probe full of food to keep Mark until he can be rescued as food is the major issue. Unfortunately due to rushing it, it doesn’t launch properly, and now situations are really dire.

Luckily the sneaky Chinese have been developing a probe, and they are willing to cut a deal with the Americans. If NASA promises to put a Chinese astronaut into the next Mars mission. NASA agrees. In the meantime, one of the engineers at NASA has come up with an alternate proposal. They have to decide whether to launch the Chinese probe to land directly on Mars six weeks after Mark is scheduled to run out of food -OR- to reroute the returning Ares 3 to pick up Mark as he launches in the MAV adding over a year to their journey. With much debate, the decision is made to go with the first option so as to only endanger one life.

However, one NASA employee thinks otherwise and decides that there’s a way to force option two. He sends an encrypted message to Ares 3; they take a vote and decide to turn back. Once they have turned back, it’s too late to change. Mark begins his preparations for traversing to the MAV. NASA provides him with a plan to convert the second rover, which will be hitched to the other, so that he can carry everything that he needs for the journey. As he is doing the conversion, he short circuits his communication home. They can still see him, but he cannot communicate with them. Periodically he lays out rocks to spell out things in Morse code to communicate back, but it takes time and he has a lot to do. Eventually he gets everything ready to go and he heads out to the MAV. It is a long journey, but without too much disaster. He avoids a sandstorm (you’re humming that song too, aren’t you?) which is slowly making his solar cells not achieve a full charge (thus reducing the distance he can travel each day). He also has a small accident where he careens into a bit of a crater due to some powdery soil upsetting both his truck and trailer. But he makes it.

Upon arrival, he can again communicate with Earth, and they begin to communicate instructions on modifying the MAV so that it can be lightweight enough to make contact with Ares 3. It is ghetto. Mark cuts most of the roof off of the expensive piece of equipment to reduce the weight, and then reseals it with tarp from the Hab. He is using his urine along with a lot of his other water supply to generate fuel to power the MAV (hydrogen). “If I survive this, I’ll tell people I was pissing rocket fuel.”

Upon launch, everything starts according to plan. However, the makeshift roof does not hold up, and causes the aerodynamics of the MAV to be severely hindered. It causes the MAV to miss its target and Mark is passed out inside due to the severe g’s that he encountered. The crew of the Ares 3 decides to use the atmosphere as thrust to get to Mark to intercept him. They blow a section out which allows Beck to have an appropriate velocity to get Mark and return to the ship. Hooray! Everyone’s saved.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was great. It was nerdy and funny, but I was a little wishy washy on the ending. I get it. You have to end a book somewhere, and maybe it’s set up for a sequel. But the crew has so long remaining in space with a damaged ship. It made the ending seem a little preemptive. But I guess it is called The Martian and not The Astronaut so once they leave Mars, the title and thus the book can end. I may have to assume that they all made it back and that Astronaut Johanssen didn’t have to eat them all. That certainly changes things if that was actually the real ending. Happy Halloween!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

 Summary (Amazon): The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: Sweet

This is our love/romance book for book club this year. Partway through, I told my husband that I was reading a love story book and really liking it, and he said something along the lines of, “Are you feeling OK?” Needless to say, this is typically not the sort of genre I’m interested in. But this book isn’t typical. This book is written by a man (not too unusual given the popularity of Nicholas Sparks) but also the main character is a man, Don Tillman. Don is a socially awkward genetics professor in his late 30s. With encouragement from a fellow professor, Gene, and his wife Claudia (his only friends), Don embarks on the wife project after many failed dates.  The wife project is a questionnaire to which Don has already selected one acceptable answer for each. There are no gray areas. Don collects a variety of completed questionnaires from various sources, and he discusses the results with Gene. Due to Gene’s own research (trying to have sex with a woman from every country), he tells Don that he will take the questionnaires, review them, and select some candidates who may be worth some compromises. Shortly thereafter, a woman arrives at Tillman’s office at Gene’s request. Don asks her to dinner that evening to which she sarcastically suggests (presumably) an expensive place. Don doesn’t understand the nuance and agrees.  He calls Gene who will reveal nothing except that her name is Rosie. Don arrives at the restaurant that evening and is wearing his very practical clothing for biking there. He is not allowed to enter the restaurant without a jacket (read: sport coat) as the place has a dress coat. Don argues that he is in fact wearing a very expensive jacket and ends up getting into a fight with the doorman, knocking him down with his aikido skills just as Rosie arrives. The two leave, and go back to Don’s house where he cooks dinner. The same dinner he cooks every single Tuesday. He learns that Rosie is on a mission to figure out who her real father is because her eye color, brown, is impossible with two blue eyed parents (my uncle has brown eyes and two blue eyed parents too). Eventually Don calls Rosie a taxi and she leaves. He calls Claudia to ask what Gene was thinking with Rosie since she smokes, drinks, is mostly a vegetarian (but will eat sustainable seafood), does not follow an exact timeline, and has dyed hair. Gene is not there, and has told his wife he had been hanging out with Don. Despite knowing that Rosie is unsuitable for the wife project, the geneticist comes out in Don, and he decides that he ought to help Rosie find her father. He knows where she works and tracks her down at the gay bar where she works. Rosie tells Don to call her. The meet the following day and begin to form a plan. Rosie believes that her father is a man who graduated with her mother from medical school, specifically someone who was at the graduation party. She has a few main potential candidates to begin with, so they start there. The first one is a family friend, so Rosie schedules an appointment to go see him and his wife, getting his DNA in the meantime. Unfortunately it is not a match. Rosie and Don go grab some dinner and drinks (even though Don has his daily dinner ingredients at home). There, they see Gene and one of the applicants of the Wife Project. At the end of the night, Don asks Rosie who is next, and she suggests two additional family friends. Rosie and Don make appointments to meet with both of the potential fathers. The first has died from prostate cancer, so they meet his daughter and steal some hair from her brush. The other is now a faculty member at a university, and they meet at a coffee shop, where Rosie inquires about attending medical school there. Don is simultaneously impressed with her fake credentials and also a little embarrassed since she is only a bartender. They obtain DNA off of the coffee cup, and return to his lab to check both. Neither is the father. Rosie, disappointed, leaves. Don is hooked on the Father Project and begins doing some internet research. Don finds pictures of the graduation class and the graduation party. He locates a discussion board where he finds that the 30 year reunion is coming up in three weeks. He goes back to the gay bar to find Rosie, but she is not working. Don realizes he knows very little about Rosie, but reappears the following night when the bar opens to speak to her, but she asks him to come back at closing when she isn’t busy–at 3AM. Don is shocked, but he agrees. When he returns, he convinces Rosie to pull some strings to be a bartender at the reunion. Rosie appears at Don’s apartment two days later to inform him that they are BOTH bartending at the reunion, and she leaves him a copy of The Bartender’s Companion to review. The event goes swimmingly with Don having memorized the cocktail book and having an exceptional memory for drink orders and names. They manage to get a bunch of samples, however, none are a match. While they are running the tests, Don informs Rosie that he is not interested in her as a partner, and she says that she understands and agrees. So he asks her why she applied for the Wife Project, and to no one’s surprise, she didn’t. Gene and she had a bet and that’s why she showed up at Don’s office. She is a bit aghast at the whole sexist idea of the Wife Project, and when Don refers to her as a barmaid, she clarifies that she is a PhD student in psychology and walks out. Luckily for Don, he has an applicant to the Wife Project who meets all the requirements. One minor issue for Don though is that the candidate, Bianca, is an accomplished ballroom dancer, and she expects her partner to be as well. Don RSVPs to the faculty ball and begins practicing his steps. He’s distracted though by the thought of Rosie and the Father Project (despite her not being around) and conversations with Claudia about his feelings. When Don and Bianca arrive at the reception, Rosie is there too, with her date, Stefan. Stefan is aggressive toward Don, and eventually takes the microphone from the band to announce that there is a former national dancing champion in their midst. So Don and Bianca are drawn out to the floor to dance, which is a complete train wreck. Bianca leaves, embarrassed. Rosie is furious with Stefan for behaving that way. Rosie saves the day by taking Don back out to dance, revealing little secrets of her life. Her mother realized that Rosie wasn’t Phil’s when her eyes changed from blue to brown, and then she told Phil. And he was “all over the place” like once he promised to take her to Disneyland, and she told everyone at school, but he never took her. Don takes Rosie home, and she asks him to come upstairs. He says no. When she asks him if he finds her attractive, he says “I haven’t really noticed.” Ugh! Come on, Don!!! In fairness, Don realizes he screwed up, and he schedules a run with Gene to discuss. Gene agrees as long as Don brings him Bianca’s contact info. Gene suggests that Don do a bit more research into two-person sex. lol. As he is doing research in his office, the Dean arrives. She brings with her one of the doctors from the reunion who was a Father Project candidate to discuss funding. Don goes to talk to Rosie about sex, which is even more awkward than imaginable as Stefan is there, and Rosie dismisses Don fully, even the Father Project. Don sulks for a while, talking to Claudia, and continuing the Father Project on his own, narrowing it down to only a few candidates. He begins loitering in the cafeteria to “accidentally” catch Rosie. On the third day, she appears, and he asks her to go to New York with him so that they can get two of the three final candidates. Eventually she agrees, and Don decides to collect the final sample which is a long drive away. But he doesn’t test it because he still wants the excuse to go to New York! When they get to New York, Don reluctantly agrees to relinquish two days’ plans to Rosie’s schedule. She gets him to break free from his schedule and experience some new things including a baseball game where Don made a new friend and was introduced to baseball stats. They manage to get all the samples they need, and one of the potential candidates figures out what they are doing and gives Don a warning.  Don and Rosie are growing closer over the trip, and they get to being intimate, and Don awkwardly gives Rosie the sexual positions book that Gene gave him for the trip. Rosie changes her mind. On the trip back, Don does some soul searching and realizes that he really likes Rosie, and he needs to make some changes.  Don meets with Gene and realizes that Gene was the one who took the graduation photo they have been using for the Father Project, so Don takes Gene’s DNA too. Don meets Rosie the following week to check the four samples, and he asks her if she might consider him as a partner. She dismisses him because he doesn’t know how to love, doesn’t understand social interaction, and can’t not have a schedule. He decides to rectify these. Don breaks his weekly menu schedule and starts trying new things. Gene tells Don that people have never taken him seriously and everyone always just regards him as a buffoon. Don tells Gene to grow up and stop treating Claudia like crap.  The final father candidate is Phil so Don schedules a personal training session with him to collect a sample and also to question him about Rosie. Phil does not understand why Rosie has hung onto the Disneyland thing forever and tries to convince Don that he tried to be a good parent. Don continues his changes and gets a new wardrobe and a new haircut and then invites Rosie to dinner at the restaurant where he previously was kicked out. He plans on proposing to her but she leaves before he can, upset that he can’t love her.  When Don eventually goes into his office, he finds the roses he has given to Rosie along with a note saying that she knows who the napkin belongs to (Gene). Don rushes to fix the miscommunication and finds Rosie and Claudia in the cafeteria. Phil and Gene appear with Gene looking worse for the wear. Rosie agrees to marry Don. And Don has tickets for he, Rosie and Phil to go to Disneyland!  Rosie and Don get married and move to New York, and it’s revealed that Phil actually is Rosie’s father.

Verdict: 4 stars

This is definitely one of the better love stories I’ve read, and certainly a fun modern take on it. My only real issue with it was that it ended so quickly and predictably, but certainly certainly not enough to sway my opinion of the entire book. Apparently a movie version will be coming out soon. I’ll probably wait until it comes available for borrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

  Summary (Amazon): 

Barcelona, 1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife, Bea, have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julián, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past.

His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940s and the early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love, and will ultimately transform their lives.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary:

This book is our mystery for the year and is also the sequel to the much loved mystery from last year, The Shadow of the WindFrom this book, it’s obvious that Zafon was not just a one-hit wonder. This book focuses itself more on Fermin and Daniel and their story. And it leaves it open for more! If you haven’t read the first book, you should go do that now!

The book begins at Christmastime in 1957 in Barcelona. The bookstore was being passed over by the holiday shoppers until Daniel’s father gets the bright idea to set up a nativity in the window to entice more shoppers. While he’s out acquiring the nativity, a strange old disabled  shopper comes in while Daniel is all alone. The shopper gravitates to the expensive case, and selects a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Daniel tries to dissuade him as he doesn’t want such a notable copy falling into such rough hands, but the shopper hands him a 1000 pesata note (3x the asking price) and tells him to keep the change. The stranger then takes the book and writes inside the front cover, “For Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future. 13”. He then leaves the book and walks out.

Daniel is so intrigued that he allows the man a bit of a start before closing up the shop to follow him. He ducks into a scribe shop, where he learns that the stranger had stopped in earlier the week for some writing. The stranger is missing some fingers, making it difficult to write. The stranger takes off again, and Daniel follows him to a shady rent-by-the-hour sort of establishment, where he asks the porter for information. The porter tells Daniel that the stranger’s name is Fermin Romero de Torres! Daniel hurries back to the scribe and finds that the letter that was written had mention of a key.

Daniel gets back to the bookstore and is relieved that his father isn’t back yet. It gives him time to ponder how to give Fermin the book. Fermin has been in a dark mood recently, and it’s suspected that perhaps it is because of his upcoming (February) wedding to Bernarda, but no one is for certain. Fermin comes in shortly before Daniel’s father returns with the nativity. Once Daniel is alone with Fermin, he tells Fermin about the stranger and shows him the book. Fermin makes Daniel promise to not say anything about it to anyone and then Fermin walks out.

That evening, Bea (Daniel’s wife) tells him that she ran into Bernarda (Fermin’s fiancee). Bernarda told her that Fermin had been refusing to fill out the church papers for the wedding. And that she is pregnant!

To add an extra secret in the mix, Daniel finds a letter in Bea’s jacket from her old boyfriend Pablo in which he professes his love for her and asks her to meet him.

Fermin and Daniel have dinner to discuss their predicaments, and Daniel manages to get Fermin to talk. Fermin does not want to sign the wedding papers, in fact he can’t, because Fermin Romero de Torres is not his real name as he told Daniel in the last book. During the war, Fermin had to abandon his old name and he chose the name of a bullfighter whose name he saw. And the additional problem is that the second, non-bull fighter named Fermin Romero de Torres died in 1940 in the prison of Montjuic Castle, cell number 13. Like the dedication that the stranger left in the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. 

Fermin proceeds to tell Daniel how that happened. In 1939, Fermin arrived at the Montjuic Castle. When asked for his name, Fermin Romero de Torres was the name he provided. When he is put into his cell, he finds that the previous tenant is still there. In a body bag. He takes the clothes off the dead body on the advice of the person in the neighboring cell, David Martin. Martin is an author and of special interest to Governor Mauricio Valls, who thinks he is also an author. Martin is not faring well in prison, having poor health and many moments of delusion, and is nicknamed “The Prisoner of Heaven” by the doctor in cell 12 who is tasked with keeping him alive.

Martin had come to the prison at the request of the governor himself because of a series of crimes he didn’t commit (a common occurrence). The governor made a proposal to Martin, asking Martin to review his writings as Martin was more in touch with the common man. Martin agrees to protect his friend, Isabella. Isabella and her husband run a bookshop that holds a special place for Martin.

After six months, Fermin gets a cell roommate, Sebastian Salgado. Shortly thereafter, he is taken to speak to the governor. The governor wants him to spy on Salgado because he killed a family of jewelers and stole money and jewels and to spy on Martin for anything unusual, particularly the mention of a cemetery of forgotten books. The governor also tells Fermin to encourage Martin to do the job that the governor has asked so that Senora Isabella, her husband, and her son won’t be penalized.

It’s at this point that Daniel realizes that he is the son that was referred to. His mother’s name was Isabella.

Fermin proceeds with the story. Salgado is taken away for “questioning” (aka torture). When he returns to the cell, Fermin asks him why he won’t just say where the money is, but Salgado insists that the money is his future. However, one morning, Fermin witnesses Salgado taking a key out of his um, internal pocket, and hiding it in the wall of the cell. Meanwhile, Martin is plotting Fermin’s escape. Salgado somehow realizes this and makes a deal with Fermin. Salgado will keep quiet if Fermin will tell Valls an exact story of how to get Salgado’s money. He also makes a deal with Martin that in exchange for his escape, he will promise to take care of Isabella and her family.

Fermin tells Valls that he must go to the old factory at midnight, find the old guards’ lodge and say “Durruti lives.” He also tells Valls the location of the Cemetery is under the Borne Market. While Fermin is talking to the governor, Martin has fainted in his cell. The doctor/cellmate attends to him, and later in the evening, he convinces the jailer to abandon his post to get more medical supplies. During the distraction, the doctor gets a bottle of (presumably) chloroform to Fermin who uses it to fake Salgado’s death. The jailer brings a sack for the dead body. Fermin switches his clothes with Salgado’s, gets the key that Salgado has hidden, and puts himself into the sack.

While this is happening at the prison, Valls has agreed to meet with Isabella. The lawyer that she hired for Martin has told her about the governor’s plan to have Martin write his work. He waits at a diner for her with two cups of tea, one which has been poisoned. She is obviously upset upon arrival and is easily convinced to drink the calming tea. She eventually realizes that something has happened and stumbles out of the restaurant. She lives only a few days more. En route home, Valls and his driver stop at the old factory where the driver, not Valls, follows Salgado’s instructions and is obviously killed.

The gravediggers come to pick up “Salgado” shortly before Valls returns to the prison. Valls is told that Salgado has died, but he demands to go to the cell where he figures out the slip. The gravediggers take Fermin to an open grave filled with quicklime and dump the sack. Fermin gets out as quickly as possible and heads toward Somorrostro, the city of the poor. Fermin rests and recovers there for a length of time, and when he has finally recovered, he find that he has been pronounced dead from falling into a ravine while escaping from the law. The man who attended to Fermin as he recovered also escaped from Cell 13, and he gives Fermin the name of a lawyer, the same one who helped Martin, to help him when he eventually returns to Barcelona.

When Fermin arrives in Barcelona, he goes to find Martin’s address, but it has been destroyed during the war. He decides to sleep in the rubble where he is found by a priest who takes pity on him. The following day, he stands up for Rocito who is being abused by her pimp, and she repays him with food and a place to stay. He finds his way to the lawyer’s office where he learns that Isabella is dead. Martin is still in prison, in solitary confinement. Fermin stays with Brians and helps organize and bring in new clients. One day Brians goes to check on Martin at the prison, but he is no longer there. No one is sure what happened to him. Fermin leaves Brians, returning to the streets where eventually Daniel finds him (book 1).

Back in the present, Daniel realizes that he knows who Mauricio Valls is. He had been the Minister of Culture until recently, well known as the great author and thinker of the time. Daniel is upset and wants to take vengeance on Valls, but he doesn’t know where to find him. Fermin and Daniel’s father both try to dissuade him from doing anything foolish.

Daniel and Fermin go to visit the strange old man who left Fermin the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which the reader has now figured out is obviously Salgado. Fermin returns the key that he took to Salgado and after a brief head start, they follow him. They follow Salgado to a train station where he removes a case from a locker. He opens it, pauses for a minute, and then walks off leaving the case. Daniel goes to retrieve the case which he finds to be empty while Fermin follows Salgado. When Daniel catches up with them, Salgado is dead. He just keeled over. Fermin believes that the loot was stolen by Valls.

Daniel sends Fermin home while he takes on his second task–getting Fermin’s name restored with the help of Professor Albuquerque and the scribe he met earlier in the book. While speaking to Albuquerque, Daniel inquires further about what Valls has been up to recently, but no one really knows. Professor Albuquerque knew that Valls had set up a publishing house a number of years ago which is still active although no one sees Valls around there any more. Daniel continues digging about Valls and pinpoints the exact last time he was seen in public–1956.

Eventually the day arrives that Bea is supposed to meet her old love, Pablo. Daniel is an emotional mess. He decides to call the hotel where they are supposed to meet, and he finds that Pablo is reserved under a company name. The Ariadna publishing company–the same company that Valls started! Daniel decides to go to the hotel where Pablo is to meet Bea. Daniel finds him, but luckily Bea did not turn up. Upon physical pressure, Pablo confesses that one of Valls’ secretaries convinced him to write the letter, but he doesn’t know why, and he has never seen Valls in person. Fermion arrives and pretending to be an inspector, takes Pablo’s story to protect Daniel from charges.

Daniel manages to get Fermin his papers. He has a rager of a stag night, and first thing in the morning on his wedding day, Daniel takes Fermin to the cemetery of forgotten books. Fermin chooses a book written by David Martin. Isaac, the caretaker of the cemetery, alludes to them that he has seen Martin recently! And the last time that Martin was there, he left Isaac a package to give to Daniel–the book which he had written while imprisoned. It contains a note for Daniel telling him to not seek revenge for his mother’s death because Martin intends to take care of that task for him.

Fermin and Bernarda get married and the book ends with an epilogue showing a potential address for Mauricio Valls. To be continued???

Verdict: 4 stars

Zafon is such a great author. The books are so enchanting and keep the reader engaged to the end. I’m excited to read book 2 (the prequel) and I truly hope that there is a book 4. There are just too many loose ends to not have one!!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review