Tuesday, 23 May 2023

The Senator's Wife by Liv Constantine

"Book clubs evolved into so much more, expanding our literary range and introducing us to works and ideas to which we might never have been exposed."

Book clubs exploded onto the reading scene in the late 1990s and have become a global phenomenon. There are neighborhood book clubs, online book clubs, library book clubs, celebrity book clubs.... It’s almost impossible to find someone who does not belong to a book club, and many people belong to more than one. We first joined them for the social time with friends and to have a pleasant discussion about a book we’d all read. But somewhere along the way, book clubs evolved into so much more, expanding our literary range and introducing us to works and ideas to which we might never have been exposed.

Since each member chooses a book to be read for the year, (depending on the size of your book club), pretty much everything you read is chosen by someone else. We’ve been in the same book club with the same women for over 25 years. We can’t count the number of times over those years that we’ve looked at a selection and sighed in dismay at a book we had no interest in reading, but we're hard pressed to think of even one time we were sorry to have read it.

Book clubs introduce us to genres we thought we weren’t interested in and compel us to read authors we might never have considered. This serves to broaden not only our breadth of reading but also our knowledge in general. We learn things we might never have learned. We read more closely and carefully in order to participate more fully in the discussion. When we delve into an author’s biographical information and the time period in which the book was written, we get a more layered understanding of the book itself. We listen to other people’s interpretations and analyses that sometimes reinforce our own takeaways and sometimes contradict them. It gives us insight into why certain books touch one person and not another––we don’t all love the same things.

Our book club begins every meeting by having each person rate the book on a scale of one to ten. That’s before we even begin to discuss the book. The last time we met, we changed it around a little. We asked everyone to only think of their rating without sharing. At the end of the discussion, we asked each member if their rating had changed. Without exception, all the ratings went up after the discourse. We believe that’s because the varying viewpoints, perspectives, and observations of the group bring a richness to our reading that we don’t achieve in isolation.

Potatoes Are Cheaper by Max ShulmanThe very first book club we belonged to consisted of my sister, my mother, and my aunt. Of course, we didn’t call it a book club back then. But we’d all read the same book and pass it along to each other and then discuss it. Our favorites were sweeping family sagas written by authors like Pearl Buck and Susan Howatch. Occasionally an outlier would come along, and we still recall the laughs we shared when reading Potatoes Are Cheaper by Max Shulman. These conversations took place in more informal settings, over dinner, taking walks, a part of our lives. There was no wine or book-themed appetizers. That would all come later as we began to participate in formal book clubs. But these early discussions laid the foundation of our love of reading and desire to discuss and analyze literature.

What better way to spend an afternoon or evening than with other book lovers who are excited about what they’ve just read?

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Lynne and Valerie are Wall St. Journal and USA Today international bestselling authors with over one million copies sold worldwide. They are Library Reads Hall of Fame authors. Their books have been translated into 28 languages, are available in 33 countries, and are in development for both television and film. Their debut novel, The Last Mrs. Parrish, is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection.

An Ode to Book Clubs: Reading Together, Learning Together
Liv Constantine
Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Wrong Place, Wrong Time
by Gillian McAllister
William Morrow, May 2023, $18.99 trade paperback

In Gillian McAllister’s latest standalone Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Jen Brotherhood finds her life torn apart after her son inexplicably stabs a stranger. The teenaged Todd is a sweet, nerdy boy and Jen can’t figure out for the life of her what drove him to do it. But after she spends a restless night tormented by the tragedy, she finds herself waking up the day before. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Jen has been given the chance to not only undo her son’s crime, but discover what led to it.

The further back in time she gets, the more she learns about not only the fatal act, but about her own family. She may not know her amiable husband Kelley as well as she thinks, and son Todd may have known his victim better than he claims. Jen is at times driven, euphoric, lost, and even desperate, as she repeats her life from different vantage points, each one with strong emotions attached.

At first, the conceit of the story can be a little difficult to get into. Because Jen is going back every single day, it’s hard to see the actual significance of her actions. After all, when she wakes up again, everything she does, and every conversation she had the day before is erased. Slowly, though, it becomes clear that she is learning something new about the crime with every revisited experience. As the picture comes into focus, it’s hard to look away.

Jen, Todd, and Kelley are powerfully drawn. They feel like a family you know, or could even be a part of. The characters on the periphery, however, can feel roughly sketched out in comparison. Particularly as time passes, these people drift in and out of Jen’s life without making a real impression. Many never become important beyond plot points. This makes sense, given how focused Jen is on her own disaster, but the sharp focus on the main characters can make things seem a little fuzzy at the edges.

Despite this small flaw, the mystery itself is solid. The reader is pulled along by a good plot and strong central characters. There is never a moment of doubt that the ending will satisfy, and the story evokes genuine emotion as it proceeds there. Though the time travel element of being pulled back repeatedly is interesting, it doesn’t always seem crucial. A good story is a good story, even without the frills.

A review of this novel in hardcover first appeared in the print issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Review: "Wrong Place Wrong Time" by Gillian McAllister
Margaret Agnew
Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone

Two Nights in Lisbon
by Chris Pavone
Picador USA, May 2023, $19 trade paperback

is a fast-paced, dramatic adventure that takes on a wealth of today’s issues, from crimes against women to a justice system that serves the rich. While the catalyst of the story—the kidnapping of an American in Lisbon—takes two days, it may take the reader far longer to recover from the thought-provoking insights the story ignites.

Ariel Pryce, on her honeymoon, wakes one morning to find that her husband John hasn’t returned from his walk. Neither the local police nor a misogynistic clerk at the American embassy take her seriously when she reports his disappearance, but the CIA decides to take a closer look. Seems the questions of who John is and why he disappeared could be a matter of national security. The tension in this novel is palpable. A countdown appears at the beginning of each chapter marking how long John has been gone and Ariel’s fear rachets up with every hour. The fear of being a victim of a crime in a foreign country is one the reader can easily understand, as is Ariel’s frustration with trying to make herself heard, both as a woman and as an American.

When a ransom demand comes in, Ariel makes the ominous decision to ask for money from a man she hates—but who has every reason to pay her to keep his secrets. Those secrets are at the core of this novel, and Pavone does a fine job of slowly revealing that truth while juggling the hurried pace of the rest of the story.

There are many moving parts in Two Nights in Lisbon, and when they finally fit together, it’s a mic drop moment. When all is revealed, the depth of plotting—both on Ariel’s part and the author’s—leaves an impression long after the last page is turned.

A review of this novel in hardcover first appeared in the print issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Review: "Two Nights in Lisbon" by Chris Pavone
Vanessa Orr