5 stars

Week 10: A Three Dog Life – Abigail Thomas

I scooped up several copies of Abigail Thomas’ memoir, A THREE DOG LIFE, after hearing her read at a local, indepdendent bookseller a couple of years ago. The seal of approval on the cover by Steven King noting it as “The best memoir I have ever read.” was certainly intriguing, but I was more taken by her and the glimpse she gave us into her life.

Simply told, in April 2001, Thomas’ husband Rich took their dog Harry for a walk and was hit by a car. The accident shattered his skull and the life that he and Abigail once shared. Not so simple was the reality of what would happen next. All were left traumatized by the event that permanently altered Rich, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and a sketchy recollection of the world he once inhabited.

Thomas’ memoir is a love letter to her husband and the one, then two, then three dogs that ultimately helped her through the emotionally painful and unpredictable moments that followed Rich’s accident. She imparts so many lessons learned on the value of living in the moment, appreciating what you have right now, and wasting no time worrying about the future.

That’s not to say her road to these realizations was an easy one. Thomas regularly struggled with guilt about what happened and her husband’s eventual placement in a skilled facility that could better manage his volatile emotional state and physical limitations than she ever could.

Her writing is simple without being simplistic, authentic and just plain good. One of my favorite passages is when she realizes that life can go on and she can even expereince moments of joy and happiness:

If only life were more like this, you will think, as you and the dogs traipse up to bed, and you realize with a start that this is life.”

I was certain this book could have the possibility of wrecking me, sucker punching me when I least expected it, or even when I did. Thomas’ story is such a tragic one, but one that is offset by her sheer commitment to her husband and herself. It’s so beautifully told that I actually came away not with feelings of sadness but admiration for her, her perspective and her expertly and seemingly effortlessly crafted words.

Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 208

Week 8: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

I’ve had a secret: This week’s book was actually attempted last week and I made an executive decision to put it down and hold until another time, a less busy week, a week when I would have more time to devote to what I could tell was going to be a wild ride of a book.

I’ve got a another secret: It won’t do you any good to save this book until you have several days available to read. You will need a nice solid block of time because once you dig in, you won’t be able to put it down. The dishes, facebook, e-mail and maybe even meals will have to wait.

Okay, so maybe those weren’t the bombshells you were expecting. I will leave the juiciest secrets to the masters, the late Stieg Larsson being one of them. A former Swedish journalist, Larsson wrote three unpublished books–the first being THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (TGWTDT), before his untimely death of a massive heat attack at age 50 in 2004. According to sources at wikipedia.org, Larsson had no intent of publishing the books, it was how he filled is leisure time at the end of the day serving as editor-in-chief of Sweden’s Expo magazine.

Thankfully, the books were published and readers can experience the page turning exhilaration of an expertly crafted thriller. TGWTDT centers around a disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is hired by wealthy industrial mogul Henrik Vanger to investigate the decades-old disappearance of beloved family member Harriet Vanger. Out of work, for reasons you will learn when you read the book, Blomkvist reluctantly takes on Vanger’s obsession with no real thought that he would discover anything new that trained professionals hadn’t unearthed over the years.

But that’s where he’s wrong.

Quickly, Blomkvist finds himself mired in the details of the contentious Vanger family history; a history that when further researched turns up far more questions than answers. It seems as though the mystery will never be resolved. Further complicating matters is the young, heavily tattoed researcher with multiple piercings he’s forced to partner with to decode the secrets, all the while maintaining a host of her own.

Larsson’s work strikes all the right notes of a perfect freaky-deaky-ultra-creepy thriller and he kept me guessing up until the end. In creating two lead characters that so effectively work together, despite their glaring differences, he’s also elicited enough intrigue to make me want to pick up his subsequent novels involving Blomkvist and the curious girl with the dragon tattoo: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIREĀ and the soon-to-be-released THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST.

Perhaps you’ll do the same.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 480 pages
Genre: Thriller

Week 1: You Remind Me of Me – Dan Chaon

My January book club’s selection of Dan Chaon’s YOU REMIND ME OF ME is my first read of the first week of the year. It also happens to be my hosting month and this was one of three options I gave the group.

It has been a while since I have read something that is just so exquisitely written and Chaon’s first novel (after reaching critical success with a collection of short stories, Among the Missing) is one that I am adding to my short list of all-time favorites. Following a shifting timeline, Chaon takes the reader Bowville, South Dakota and St. Bonaventure, Nebraska to tell the story of three troubled individuals seeking to understand their role in the world, find connection and uncover meaning. Spanning over 30 years, the book opens with a tragic accident that will shape the main character, Jonah, and forever change his view on the world and other’s view of him.

Chaon is a master of the details without being overbearing and has painted such clear pictures of pain, loneliness and isolation that I couldn’t help but feel empathy for his lot of misfits, who, in actuality have a lot about them that is unlikeable. However, Chaon writes with objectivity, simply telling their story, free of judgment and it’s this perspective that enabled me to embrace these characters and plow through the book not wanting to put it down. In fact, YOU REMIND ME OF ME would be the perfect book to pick up on a long rainy weekend, when a comfy couch and a warm blanket are within arm’s reach.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 356
Genre: Fiction