It’s two book reviews – in one!
It was a long and harrowing day and while I’m taking a break from the madness while watching a documentary, here are reviews of the two books I finished on the car ride on the way back from Iowa: Trick or Treachery, of the Murder: She Wrote series by Donald Bain, and The Worst Day of My Life So Far by M. A. Harper.
First up, the mystery of the moose heads: Trick or Treachery. It’s one of the few in the Murder: She Wrote series that I hadn’t been able to pin down, so my mom brought me a copy from the public library back home and I read it in like a day and a half – which is probably how long it took to be written. Given the tiny size of the book, especially in comparison with the tomes I’ve been reading for research, it felt like I was reading a book for a child. This Jessica Fletcher mystery is one of those rare books in the series that actually takes place in Cabot Cove, Maine, AKA the Murder Capital of New England (seriously, there have been studies done on the unlikely murder statistics of such a small town). It centered on a Halloween costume party at a clothing company manufacturer’s house, where a strange woman ends up dead, and most, if not all, of the suspects wearing similar-looking moose costumes at the time, as part of a company employee deal. I figured out some of the clues, but ultimately, the person who was the killer was someone who was never even on my radar, a person I barely knew existed before the final few chapters, but pretty much the definition of “the butler did it,” – the only character that didn’t seem to have a motive. The explanation for solving the case was kind of cruddy, and it felt like a slapped-together happy coincidence, complete with the whole “was it Santa Claus?” thing at the end. Not my favorite, but I’m glad I’m finished it.
Second, M. A. Harper’s The Worst Day of My Life So Far. This book is one that I got forever ago at the Book Thing. A month or so back, I pulled a few books from my shelf that I didn’t think were titles that were probably worth keeping for the rest of my life, and this was one of them. A few I posted on PaperBackSwap, but this one was on a few bookcrossers’ wish lists, so off it goes to Florida the next time I get to the post office.
The book is mostly from the perspective of Jeanne Roth, a divorced mother who has left her life in New York City to care for her rapidly-deteriorating mother in her tiny hometown of Auletta, Louisiana. Having witnessed losing an elderly family to a gradual slope of Alzheimer’s, I could really identify with Jeanne’s struggles on that front, her own personal marriage/relationship/self-pity problems notwithstanding. It wasn’t a memoir or a diary, but it didn’t feel like fiction either – sort of in between. Generally, a book of this caliber would be all doom and gloom, or maybe the protagonist would find romance or some greater truth, but this book kicks all of that to the curb; there are some funny and endearing moments mixed in alongside the sad ones, but in the end, there’s no real answer, or definitive ending. And to give a nod to the title, she does talk about “the worst day of her life, so far” in several contexts, but it just kind of seems that every day is the worst day of her life, so far, and she somehow gets through it. Even in what happens in the last chapter – which is pretty devastating – she manages to grumble through it, at least as far as the reader knows. For fun, I looked up some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, which I do for some books, and most give it five stars and call Jeanne graceful, honest, and humorous, I wouldn’t necessarily agree. However, the negative reviews commented on the “graphic nature” of the book (read: there are curse words and discussions of nudity, anatomy, and bodily functions! GASP!), and the fact that the main character is perpetually blaming other people and pitying herself. While I wouldn’t call Jeanne a saint, I wouldn’t call her a limp noodle; she’s a character, one who happens to have some particularly rough edges and odd traits, and things that are exacerbated by both her stage in life (dissolved marriage, husband and son both moving on), and her place in life (tiny town in Louisiana with no one in her daily life but her Alzheimer’s-addled mother). Even though she is divorced from her husband Larry, they still have something of a relationship, which even took me by surprise, and even more surprising is her positive relationship with her ex-mother-in-law Nancy, who seems to genuinely care for her despite coming from an entirely different background. In some chapters, Jeanne is efficient, industrious and thoughtful, and in others, she’s grouchy, bitter, and resentful, which are traits with which all of us can identify. Overall, I liked this book more than I thought I would, and I will probably think of it again but I’m glad to have it on my list of books that are read and ready to go.
This book review was brought to you by Route 20 and my desire to gain a feeling of accomplishment.