BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins

When riding the New York City subway as a small child, my mother would have us play a game to help pass the time. We would pick out a person somewhere in our subway car and each tell what we think that person’s life is like. Rachel in our story plays that very same game.

Rachel rides the train into London every weekday morning and back home each evening. The faces she sees and the places she passes all conjure up thoughts and images and her mind clamors to tell their stories from the little that she sees.

One street of houses is particularly well known to Rachel. It was there that Rachel spent some happy times – before her troubles began, before her drinking began. Each trip provides another glimpse into the lives she passes, and she longs for each sneak peek.

Rachel’s vision of the world is often a blur, altered by her frequent cans of gin and tonic and her bottles of wine. When the young woman four houses down from the home she used to call hers goes missing, Rachel immerses herself in the mystery. She even goes to the police to tell what she saw, what she knows, what she thinks she understands.

The story is told from three perspectives. From the eyes and mind and lips of Rachel, a sad and lonely alcoholic, the mystery of Megan’s disappearance is explored and explained. Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband recounts her problems, her anguish, her despair, all wrapped up neatly under cover of the blissful suburban housewife. Megan reveals her own tale of wedded instability, discontent, and betrayal, a tale that differs from what everybody sees.

Paula Hawkins plays the game my mother taught me so many years ago, and plays it beautifully.

Remember the Astroturf?

There once was a magic carpet that landed on my balcony. Two months later, a genie appeared to reclaim it. By this time, the magic carpet, filthy beyond description, was now also drenched in rainwater. Genie voluntarily described its usefulness. The grossest details were reported here. In brief, she explained that it is what her “dog uses to do its business.”

Today the following notice appeared on our condo bulletin board in the lobby.

Your magic carpet ride awaits. And its FREE!

Mother’s Gift

When my grandsons visit, the first task is to survey the kitchen, a routine they learned from their father, no doubt. Today, Mother’s Day, Grandson #1 was quick to notice an empty box of fudgsicles , Grandson #1 was hell-bent on having one, empty box or not.

Finally, after inspection of the empty box and an ensuing hullaballoo, Grandson #1 is given a fudgsicle from another box in the freezer.

He tastes it.

Grandson:           What is it?

Grandma:            A fudgsicle.

Grandson:           Why is it cold?

Grandma:            Um…

BOOK REVIEW: Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia

by Kimberly McCreight

Amelia is a 15-year-old high school student attending an exclusive private school in Brooklyn, New York. We are off to a great start. I can identify with Amelia’s stomping ground. The streets, the subways, the landmarks are all familiar to me.

Amelia was born to a single parent, an ambitious mother who pursued a demanding law career with the help of a nanny in the home. Amelia’s father, not known with any certainty by Amelia’s mother, remains  totally unknown to Amelia, a mystery that plagues Amelia. Yet Amelia at 15 is bright, pretty, and outgoing, and has a keen eye toward her future.

One autumn day Amelia climbs to the rooftop of her school and falls to her death on the ground below. Ruled a suicide, a simple anonymous text message to Amelia’s mom (“Amelia didn’t jump”) turns Amelia’s death into a homicide investigation. Through text messages, facebook posts, and interrogations, the events leading up to Amelia’s death are unraveled.

This could be called the bullying book. It is a conversation starter for anyone who has a teenage child, ever knew one, or ever was one. Well done from cover to cover.

Mitten Making

Winter has finally stepped aside to let spring warm us. However, mittens, I am told, have not survived. The granddaughters will need new mittens next winter.

I have looked and looked, but I cannot find a crochet pattern for mittens that I like for a child. I did find a mitten pattern for an adult that I like, but I have to modify it to fit a child. With measurements not immediately available, I was suddenly hit with a brainstorm!

That’s right, hit. It felt just like a sharp slap bringing me to my senses. So brilliant it is.

I located a serving platter that my darling granddaughters (with the help of their mother) had made for me 2 years ago. It has a hand print for each of the girls. Not only that, but the hand prints are beautifully labeled with each child’s name AND AGE!

Voila! I have the models I need for mitten making.

And when done, I can serve myself a sweet reward from the very same tray.

BOOK REVIEW: Tara Road

Tara Road
by Maeve Binchy

Ria and Danny Lynch live the good life on Tara Road in Dublin, Ireland. They live in a large house on an upscale street. They have two children. All’s right with the world – until wonderful Danny wants a divorce.

Marilyn Vine lives across the pond. She, too, enjoys a comfortable lifestyle, a large home with swimming pool, loving family, and success, until her son is killed in a tragic accident.

The two women, strangers at first, agree to swap houses for a summer, the swap creating a kind of renewal for each. As it turns out, the two women not only swap houses, but they swap lives, as well. Each settles in with the other’s friends. Ultimately Ria and Marilyn become best friends forever.

Over 650 pages, the story unfolds in real time; I grew old right alongside them. It went on and on. There was nothing truly remarkable about any of the characters (save Jack Ryan). They lead ordinary lives in ordinary times. The book reads like it wants to be a soap opera, but it falls short.

Dialogue is simple. Vocabulary is even simpler. The author, with all her words, fails to create mood and atmosphere and so instead must tell the reader when someone is happy, sad, excited, worried, and so on.

The characters are well developed though, all except Jack Ryan. He is a drunkard and a wife abuser. There might be the story. However, his role remains in the background and although we are told that much, we do not feel his pain (or hers). When he dies in a car accident, we do not feel sad, or glad, or anything.

Easy reading. No thinking required.

January 1953

Meet the Great Grandparents, Great Aunts, Great Uncles – January 1953.