Mini-reviews: The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon; Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; and The Good House by Ann Leary

theoneileftbehindTitle: The One I Left Behind
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Genre: Thriller, contemporary fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: It began with the hands.

Goodreads blurb: The summer of 1985 changed Reggie’s life. Thirteen, awkward, and without a father, she finds herself mixed up with her school’s outcasts-Charlie, the local detective’s son, and Tara, a goth kid who has a mental hold over Reggie and harbors a dark secret. That same summer a serial killer called Neptune begins kidnapping women. He leaves their severed hands on the police department steps and, five days later, displays their bodies around town. Just when Reggie needs her mother Vera-an ex-model with many “boyfriends” and a thirst for gin-the most, Vera’s hand is found on the steps. But after five days, there’s no body and Neptune disappears.

Now a successful architect who left her hometown behind after that horrific summer, Reggie doesn’t trust anyone and lives with few attachments. But when she gets a call from a homeless shelter saying that her mother has been found alive, Reggie must confront the ghosts of her past and find Neptune before he kills again.

This was a really creepy read! I read McMahon’s Don’t Breathe a Word earlier this year, and it was creepy, too, but for some reason the idea of serial killer Neptune really got under my skin. I didn’t want to read anything else until I found out what happened, why Reggie’s mother was suddenly back, and where she had been all those years. Reggie was a great character, and I liked the way her architectural ideas were connected to her state of mind. The One I Left Behind is a gripping read, and I will definitely be seeking out more of McMahon’s work.

beautifulruinsTitle: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: HarperAudio
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Edoardo Ballerini
Audiobook length: 12 hours and 53 minutes
First line: The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly – in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier.

Goodreads blurb: The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

There are not enough words to tell you how much I absolutely adored this book. Based on the cover blurb and my experience with Walter’s previous book, The Financial Lives of Poets, I was a bit flummoxed as to what to expect, and I worried that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for an epic, multi-generational story. Walter pulled me right in, though, and I was immediately hooked. I loved every single storyline, and enjoyed the different ways in which the story was told: a chapter from a novel, a section from a play script, part of a memoir. Walter is a genius, and so is Edoardo Ballerini, who brought each and every character to life. You must read this book, and if you do audio, you must listen to it.

goodhouseTitle: The Good House
Author: Ann Leary
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: MacMillan Audio
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Mary Beth Hurt
Audiobook length: 10 hours and 12 minutes
First line: I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions.

Goodreads blurb: Ann Leary’s The Good House tells the story of Hildy Good, who lives in a small town on Boston’s North Shore. Hildy is a successful real-estate broker, good neighbor, mother, and grandmother. She’s also a raging alcoholic. Hildy’s family held an intervention for her about a year before this story takes place—“if they invite you over for dinner, and it’s not a major holiday,” she advises “run for your life” — and now she feels lonely and unjustly persecuted. She has also fooled herself into thinking that moderation is the key to her drinking problem.

As if battling her demons wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Hildy soon finds herself embroiled in the underbelly of her New England town, a craggy little place that harbors secrets. There’s a scandal, some mysticism, babies, old houses, drinking, and desire—and a love story between two craggy sixty-somethings that’s as real and sexy as you get. An exceptional novel that is at turns hilarious and sobering, The Good House asks the question: What will it take to keep Hildy Good from drinking? For good.

Hildy Good was a fantastic character to spend time with, although I worry a bit that anyone who struggles with alcoholism might relapse a bit after reading/listening to her story! She makes the process of drinking sound so heavenly, so fulfilling, that I was continually craving a glass of wine as I listened. Of course, all is not as wonderful in Hildy’s world as she wants us to believe. This was another pure delight to listen to, because of Ann Leary’s charmingly acerbic main character as well as narrator Mary Beth Hurt’s perfect characterization.

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7 Responses to Mini-reviews: The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon; Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; and The Good House by Ann Leary

  1. JoAnn @Lakeside Musing
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    Ugh oh… I ‘m going to pick up my audio copy of The Good House at the library tomorrow… maybe I should get a bottle or two of wine on the way home, too! 😉

  2. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads
    says:

    Can you believe I haven’t read / listened to any of these! They are all on my list, but I just haven’t gotten to them.

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I’ve heard so much about Beautiful Ruins, I’m anxious to read it.

  4. Pingback: The Sunday Salon – July 21, 2013 | BOOKS AND MOVIES