1. What are you currently reading?
The Astonishing Thing by Sandi Ward. A moving and inventive look at mental illness and the impact it has on the lives it touches. Our narrator is the family cat, Boo. As the book begins, Boo adores "Mother," and their bond is so close the cat sees no reason to pay much attention to other members of the household. One day, Mother packs a bag and disappears. Everyone -- including Mother's two teenage children and husband -- is confused and heartbroken. Their pain and struggle brings them closer together, and Boo tries to understand what is happening to her humans and does what she can to help.
It would be easy to shorthand this by saying it's The Art of Racing in the Rain, but this time with a cat. And I suppose that's kinda true. But just as dogs and cats are different, the tone here is different. Boo is less ambitious than Enzo the dog. And this story unfolds slower and more carefully than Racing in the Rain did. Perhaps because Boo is more cautious with her tender little heart than Enzo was.
I have been drawn in. I think about this family even when I'm not reading. This book is so involving, wise and compassionate that I find it hard to believe it's Ms. Ward's debut novel, but it is.
2. What did you recently finish reading?Alibi in High Heels by Gemma Halliday. Since this book's central character is a designer, I think it's appropriate to invoke Coco Chanel. She once said of accessorizing, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off." I wish Ms. Halliday had looked at the outline of her book, which is filled with extraneous plot points, and removed at least one.
Shoe designer Maddie Springer is invited to work a show in Paris! But almost as soon as she arrives, Fashion Week is rocked by a murder, and it looks like someone is setting Maddie up as the prime suspect. She should be thrilled when her sexy Beverly Hills cop boyfriend jumps a jet and flies over the save the day, but she's not. His arrival reveals fissures in their relationship and she's not sure she wants his help.
That paragraph above? It's the outline of a perfectly entertaining chick-lit mystery. It's got glamour and romance and murder in a glittering setting. I wish that's what Halliday had written.
Instead, she adds all this distracting stuff. Maddie is hit by a car for no particular reason, which puts her on crutches for the entire book. It makes the whole frame-up thing a little hard to believe. Why would the killer try to pin the dastardly deed on a woman who has to conspicuously clomp-clomp-clomp in and out of the murder scene? Why can't Maddie produce an alibi witness from the dozens of Parisian hotel employees and waiters who at the time of the murder had to deal with clumsy American with the big foam boot and an inability to speak French? And there are side trips -- little day jaunts, really -- to London and Milan. Have you ever flown with a bum leg? It's not easy. Yet Maddie rather effortlessly navigates international airports.
Besides, since when aren't Beverly Hills and Paris exciting enough?
I think I was so annoyed by this book because it really was well plotted and could easily have been much better. If only Halliday had looked in the mirror and decided that the necklace and brooch together were too much and took one off.