Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller – Book Review

swimming-lessons

I received a copy of this book from Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a little gem. At 294 pages it packs as much story and feeling in it as a 400 page book.  While the plot is portrayed as a study of a marriage, I found it was much more than that.  It was also about betrayal, motherhood and sisterhood – the usual blood relationship we mean when we call someone a sister, but also the best friend that is considered a sister.

The novel begins in the present with Gil Coleman. He is in a bookstore when he happens to look out the window.  He believes he sees his wife, Ingrid, who disappeared years prior and was assumed dead.  While running after this woman, he injures himself and is hospitalized.  His oldest daughter, Nan contacts her sister, Flora who ends up coming home to help look after her father.

Through letters that Ingrid has written to Gil over the years, we learn how they met, their marriage and their life.  They meet when Coleman is a university professor and Ingrid is his student.  He is twice her age, a heavy drinker and a published author.  Ingrid is quiet, not very confident and lonely.  It doesn’t take long after she begins his class that their affair begins.  It also doesn’t take long for her to become pregnant with their first daughter, Nan.  Once pregnant, Gil is determined to marry Ingrid and while they do tie the knot, Ingrid’s sacrifice is great – only needing to complete her final exams in order for her to receive her diploma, she is expelled from university for having the affair and becoming pregnant.  Gil is also let go from his position and together they move to what is called “The Swimming Pavilion” – property in the country that Gil inherited that used to be old change rooms and has been turned into a house.  Here Gil takes up full-time writing and Ingrid settles in to become a mother and housewife.

After Ingrid finishes writing each letter, she places it into one of the thousands of books that fill their home. I thought the author utilized an interesting concept – after Ingrid signed each letter, she wrote what book she was placing the letter in.  I started to see a pattern in that the book she picked had something to do with the subject that she was writing about.  There were times when I had never heard of the book she listed so I would have to look it up to see if I could figure out what the connection was to the story.

While Ingrid and Gil have another child, Flora, Ingrid finds herself disconnected to both of her daughters. She felt that she never formed any bond with them right from the time that they were in her womb.  Nan, the oldest daughter, is very self sufficient while Flora requires a lot of attention and while close to her mother, constantly craves her father’s attention, which at times is difficult to get as he disappears for months at a time.

Once Ingrid has completed her last letter, she disappears.  The police rule it as either an accidental drowning or a suicide by drowning.  Nan is 15 years old at the time of Ingrid’s disappearance and becomes Flora’s surrogate mother so while they are sisters, there is a definite dynamic of mother/daughter relationship happening at the same time.  Because Nan was older she saw and understood more of the reality of her parent’s marriage and had no doubts that her mother was dead, while Flora has never believed that her mother drowned and thought that Ingrid just left them.  When she returns home to help Nan care for their father, she starts obsessing about what happened to Ingrid.

There are many references in this book that bookworms will love. First of all, Gil is an author who has accumulated thousands of books in his home.  He spends a lot of time at the local used bookstore where he adopts many books to join the ones already at home and Flora is dating a man who works in a bookstore.  When he meets Gil, they have an instant connection due to their love of Flora and books.

I am rating this book on Goodreads as 4.5 out of 5 stars. While I had been looking forward to reading this book I have to admit I was surprised at how much depth there is to this novel and how much I really enjoyed it.

Thanks to Anansi Press for allowing me to review this book prior to publication.

 

 

Advertisements

Friday Reads – January 13.2017

It has been quite a while since I have blogged.  It is amazing how easy it is to get out of the habit of doing something – even something that a person enjoys doing.

I am currently reading The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts.  This is a sequel to his previous book Shantaram.  I purchased this book well over a year ago and it has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust.  I had read Shantaram in 2006 and while I enjoyed it, for me it was a three star read.  I don’t remember why I rated it only 3 stars other than I recall comparing it to A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and found Shantaram lacking when comparing the two.  In retrospect this wasn’t fair as they are completely different in quite a few ways.

The other reason I have put it off is that it is 872 pages.  It is a biiiiiiiiig book (and heavy).  But that leads me back to my 2017 reading goals which is to read some of my big books – I currently own 74 books that I have not yet read that are 450 pages or longer.  I really need to buckle down and get some of them read – I have a tendency to be concerned about the quantity of books rather than the quality/enjoyment factor, which leads me back to my 2017 reading goal.

I picked up The Mountain Shadow five days ago and am already close to 60% complete.  I am enjoying this book so much more than Shantaram.  The book picks up two years after Shantaram ended.  The main character, Lin, is still working as a passport forger, however, things are changing in Mombai and competition is not only becoming stiff but dangerous – “The Company” is getting into drugs and guns and Lin doesn’t want anything to do with it.  I hope the second half of this book continues to be as good as the first half.

So my big book project is getting off on the right footing.  My next read will be a smaller book and then it will be back to a big book again.

Reading Update – November 24, 2016

It is lightly snowing outside as I type this and I am starting to feel a bit Christmasy.  The tree is up, the decorations are out, the gift shopping has begun and I am chomping at the bit to read Charles Dicken’s The Christmas Carol.  Of course I have seen the movie several times but I have never read the actual book.  I am holding myself back from starting it until December when I will have presents wrapped and under the tree, it has gotten colder (we have been having unseasonably warm weather) and I have started playing Christmas music. I want the full Christmas experience when I curl up to read this classic tale.

In the meantime, I have read several books since my last blog.  They are:

 

Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin – 3 stars – It is not often that I give a Rebus book less than four stars, however, I have to say that I just wasn’t interested in the storyline of this installment.  I did enjoy the continued development of Rebus in that he is less grumpy than his younger self, he now has a girlfriend and he is developing a grudging friendship with Malcolm Fox.

Ruth’s First Christmas Tree by Elly Griffiths – 4 stars – I just love Elly Griffiths’ character, Ruth Galloway.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that she is my favorite literary character in my current book world.  This short story was published a few years ago but I could never get my hands on it.  It wasn’t available for sale on Kindle, Kobo or in print form.  When Christmas is over each year, I forget about it but a few days ago my memory was triggered and I did another search and I actually found it on the internet for free in .pdf format.  I was so excited, I downloaded it immediately and devoured it.  I would love to see a book in this series set around the whole season of Christmas now that Ruth’s daughter is no longer a baby.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – 3 stars – I enjoyed this book but did find it quite sad.  The reader learns from the first sentence that Lydia Lee, a teenager, has died but her family doesn’t know it yet.  Her mother has placed all of the expectations that she had for her own life onto Lydia and the book slowly has the characters come to this realization and deal with the consequences.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf – 3 stars – This is a very short novel and is Kent Haruf’s last book (he passed away either shortly before or after it was published).  Addie Moore, the female protagonist is 70 years old and has been widowed and lonely for a number of years.  Louis Waters’ wife has also passed away and Addie approaches Louis with the suggestion that he come over and spend evenings sleeping at her house so they won’t be so lonely.  Sex is not the purpose of the visits but companionship is the goal.  He agrees to this plan and while it is unorthodox, both find the arrangement very satisfying – they are no longer lonely, are sleeping better with someone else in bed with them and are overall enjoying life more.  Things seem to be going well until the gossip in this small town begins and Addie’s son becomes aware of the arrangement.  Again, I found this book to be quite sad as the ending was not what I expected.

the-boston-girlI am currently reading The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant and am finding this to be a fast read.  I expect that I will finish it this weekend or early next week.  I am impatiently waiting for Lauren Graham’s book “Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between”.  It gets released on Tuesday but delivery isn’t guaranteed until December 2nd so I probably won’t be able to read it until next weekend.

So until then, happy Thanksgiving to my United States friends and enjoy your turkey!

 

Weekend Reads – November 4.2016

I am very pleased with what I got read this last week.  I finished off:

Girl With A Pearl Earring (4 stars) and went on and read The Crucible (3 stars), And Then There Were None (3 stars), The Joy of Leaving Your Shit All Over The Place (2 stars), The Green Road (3 stars) and The Blue Bath (4 stars).  I am currently reading Missing, Presumed and although I have just nicely gotten into it, I am finding that it is a really good read with an interesting female protagonist.

 

Book Review – Pumpkin – The Raccoon Who Thought She Was a Dog

pumpkinThis was just a fun read with great pictures.  Pumpkin is raccoon Instagram star who, when only a few weeks old, fell out of a tree in the Bahamas and broke her leg.  Her parents had abandoned her and she was adopted by a couple who have raised her with their two dogs, Oreo and Toffee.  Pumpkin is so cute but can get into a lot of trouble but it is so enjoyable reading those stories (especially if you aren’t responsible for cleaning up the mess after).  Every day, her human-mom has been posting a picture or a video of her on Instagram and Pumpkin became an instant star.  The proceeds of this book are going to benefit animals in Bahamas so not only is it a great coffee-table book, but the money goes to a good cause.

Book Review – A Great Reckoning

a-great-reckoningThis is the latest installment of the Louise Penny series starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the former head of the Surete in Quebec.  He has just nicely accepted the position of the head of the Surete academy so that he can clean it up.  The staff in power previously had been corrupt and had taken promising cadets and humiliated, mentally harassed and endangered them to the point that these cadets turned into vicious, vindictive officers.  Gamache was determined to turn things around so that the new crop of cadets going through the academy would be exceptional officers.

We again return to Three Pines where an old map of the area, drawn around the time of World War I, has been found in a wall of The Bistro.  Copies of the map are given to four cadets by Armand and they are tasked with finding out why this map was created and what it means.  Shortly thereafter, a professor is found murdered at the academy and in his nightstand drawer is one of the copies of the map.

The reader is once again entertained with the characters from Three Pines, but I think Louise Penny has outdone herself in this book with respect to Ruth.  The dialogue and part she has written for Ruth in this edition is laugh out loud funny.

I highly recommend this mystery series.  The development and growth of the characters is one of the best that I have ever seen in a series.  This is book 12 and it is no-where near getting stale like a lot of series that I have read.  Her characters continue to grow and develop and it is a joy to pick up each new book in the series.

Weekend Reads – October 28, 2016

girl-with-a-pearl-earringI just finished reading Girl With A Pearl Earring last night and I really enjoyed it.  I question how much is actually true but it was an entertaining story nonetheless.  If I am ever in Holland again, I want to travel to The Hague and see this picture in person.  I am planning on renting the movie tonight while the book is still fresh in my mind (cozy blanket, good snacks, pajamas and a good movie – best Friday night ever!!!).

the-crucibleI am currently reading The Crucible by Arthur Miller.  I bought it in the new limited  Penguin Orange edition and I absolutely love the cover.  While I am interested in the actual story of the Salem witch trials, this is in a play format and it is the first play that I have read.  I am not really enjoying this format very much and with there being a lot of characters, am finding it a bit of a slog but I do want to finish it.  It is so short that a couple of more hours and it will be done anyways so I should polish this off sometime this weekend.

and-then-there-were-noneThere a few library books waiting for me which I will go and pick up later today so I’m not sure if I will start one of those or read my first Agatha Christie – And Then There Were None.  The other option is The Joy of Leaving Your Shit All Over The Place which sounds like the anti – life changing magic of tidying up.  Should be a humorous read.

the-joy

Weekend Reads – October 21.2016

a-great-reckoningLast night I picked up Louise Penny’s newest installment in the Armand Gamache series, A Great Reckoning.  I am only forty pages in and already I had a hard time putting it down this morning in order to arrive at work on time.  As I plan out my weekend activities, I find myself looking for huge blocks of time so that I can indulge myself and dive right into this book.  So, that’s my plan for the weekend!

Book Review – The Likeness

the-likeness

I originally read this book in 2011 and until the newest book in the Dublin Murder Squad, The Trespasser, was published in 2016, The Likeness was my favorite Tana French book.  I finished reading The Trespasser a few days ago and the experience made me want to re-read The Likeness.  I knew that in five years, I would have forgotten most of the plot and I did find that it read like a brand new book for me.

The premise of the story is that a group of five university friends live in a house in a small village outside of Dublin.  One of the young women in this group is found deceased from a stab wound in an old run down cottage on the outskirts of the village.  When the police are called, they believe that it is one of their own, Detective Cassie Maddox that has been killed as she is a doppelganger for the deceased.  The identification on the deceased’s body shows her name as Alexandra (Lexie) Madison, an alias that Cassie used in an undercover case a number of years prior.  And so begins the plan to have Cassie go undercover and pretend that she is Lexie in order to try to determine who the killer is.

The story given to the four university friends is that Cassie has short-term amnesia and cannot remember the last few hours before she (Lexie) was stabbed and only recalls waking up in the hospital.  This way if any of the four friends are the killer, this may put them at ease that Cassie/Lexie cannot remember the attack.  Cassie easily slides into Lexie’s life and soon becomes entrenched in the lives of these friends to the point where her supervisor begins to get concerned that she is losing objectivity.

Once again Tana French delves into the psychological as we begin to get to know these characters.  I enjoyed this book immensely the first time around and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.  The only reason I could not give this book five stars is that although Cassie apparently looked exactly like Lexie, the probability of someone being able to successful slip into someone else’s life without notice, is next to impossible so while the premise of the story is intriguing, I felt I couldn’t give it five stars.

Book Review – Black Water Lilies

black-water-lilliesI knew very little about Claude Monet’s life prior to reading this book other than I loved his water lily paintings.  The setting for this book is Giverny, France which was not only Monet’s home but also where he painted his famous waterlilies.  Until I read this book, I didn’t realize that he created the Japanese garden at his home in Giverny and painted all his waterlilies there.  Each year tourists flock there to see the famous gardens and some of his paintings.

The story begins with a body, Jerome Morval, being found in Monet’s gardens.  He has been murdered and the new police inspector, Laurenc Serenac, is on the case.  At first this seems to be a rather methodical, but quite boring mystery.  At times I was tempted to DNF it but because I had really looked forward to purchasing it, I carried on until I finished.  About 85% of the way through I was sure that I was going to end up rating it two stars, however, very close to the end of the book, there is a twist.  A marvelous twist that I did not see coming – my respect to the author for being able to pull this story line off.  I did increase my rating to three stars due to the twist, however, I did find that the story moved very slowly and I easily became distracted by other books simply because this story did not keep my attention for long.