Monthly Archives: July 2016

Before The Fall

Before the Fall cover

Before The Fall

by Noah Hawley

Grand Central Publishing | May 2016

Paperback: 391 pages (978–1-4555-6178-0)
Genre: Fiction/Mystery

ARC: E-book from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★☆ 

 

A luxury private aircraft lifts off from Martha’s Vineyard heading to New York City.

Eighteen minutes later, having passed all pre-flight inspections and BA-Learjet_45_XR_in_flight_5found in tip-top shape, it spirals nose down into the Atlantic.

What happened…Before The Fall?
Who dunnit?  Why?

The writer and producer of the TV series Fargo, Noah Hawley, takes his profound writing skills into his fifth novel.  The story opens with the crew and passengers boarding the nine-seat OSPRY 45XR for the short flight from Martha’s Vineyard to the NYC area. Hawley teases the reader with weather possibilities for the crash such as heavy fog but these teases are obvious and distracting.

The narrator cryptically sets the opening scene much like an old Twilight Zone episode.

“Everyone has their path. The choices they’ve made.
How two people end up in the same place at the same time is a mystery.”

The ground crew refuels the plane, the pilot and copilot go through their pre-flight check lists, and the first of the passengers arrive. The flight attendant, Emma Lightner, an employee of Gullwing Air, knows precisely how to make the rich and famous comfortable. Her job is to serve without being seen; an invisible servant of the air.

David Bateman, a highly successful and extremely wealthy executive in the faux news industry, has chartered the plane to return his family to New York City. His wife, Maggie and two children have spent the previous month on Martha’s Vineyard. Gathering his sleeping young son, J.J. in his arms from the backseat of the Range Rover, David escorts his daughter, Rachel, and his wife, Maggie up the stairway into the plane. Gil, David’s body guard, takes care of loading their luggage. David’s cell phone has been ringing non-stop through the boarding process much to Maggie’s dismay.  She turns to the flight attendant and asks, ” Has Scott arrived yet?

Next to arrive are Ben and Sarah Kipling, more friends to David than Maggie. Ben is a partner at one of the largest Wall Street firms and arrives very anxious to speak privately to David. “I need to talk to you.” David indicates that he is on an important call. Scowling as he concludes his call, David turns to hear what Ben has to say so urgently; the on-board TV in the background blaring something significant happening in the baseball game.

With the two families on-board, the agitated Ben glances at the cockpit and asks if they are waiting for anyone else. David tells Ben that Maggie has invited a friend needing to travel to NYC, a artist, to join them. Annoyed that this friend is late, David tells the flight attendant to give him “five more minutes and he’ll have to catch the ferry like everyone else.”

The British pilot, James Melody and first officer, Charlie Busch finalize their instruments check. David receives one more call, feeling edgy, he directs the flight attendant to close the main cabin door, the pilot starts the engines and at the last minute a man yells, WAIT!

Maggie’s friend, Scott Burroughs, bursts through the door hoisting a dirty green duffel bag over his shoulder. He is directed to a seat and when the flight attendant asks to store his bag for him, startled,  Scott replies, “No. I got it.”

The pilot’s voice appears over their casual conversations to let everyone know they should be buckled into their seats for take-off. Everything is routine and the plane lifts upward through the fog to arrive in the calm peace of a dark night sky. There is no hint that a brief eighteen minutes later the plane will spiral into the Atlantic.

Amazingly, Scott Burroughs and four-year old J.J. Bateman survive the crash. Their survival story is dramatic and improbable in a real world but necessary to tie all the strings together in this mystery. I have to admit I was about as exhausted as Scott by the time he finally made it to shore with J.J.

From this point forward, Hawley spins parallel stories of each passenger filling in their personal stories and leaving out just enough to keep the mystery of what brought the plane down going to the end. We are introduced to the characters that will sift and weave through each of the victims lives looking for the cause of the crash.

The alphabet soup of authorities that always gather after a plane crash-NTSB, FAA, the aircraft manufacturer, the FBI and for some reason, the SEC, crush into Scott’s hospital room. There are good cop-bad cop stereotypes in this group. They grill him for information but he has no memory of the last minutes of the accident.

David’s news channel’s on-air anchorman, Bill Cunningham, best described as Rush Limbaugh on steroids, is very annoying and bombastic. Cunningham’s sleazy informants provide enough fodder for him to generate an escalating slimy theory presented as fact about Scott, the lone adult survivor.

To further fill out the story, the in-laws and out-laws of each family play their parts in the aftermath. And finally the background and histories of each of the flight crew are revealed putting them under the microscope.

My favorite parts were the children. They felt real and well described. Images of the recovery of the bodies from this crash brought back memories of the news coverage of the recovery of young JFK, Jr and his plane. I felt sympathy for Maggie Bateman’s sister as grappled with the permanent changes to her life with the loss of her sister and the arrival of her nephew, J.J. into her household. Scott’s story line was contrived at times.  Who has a “Paris Hilton” ready to hide you in her home? At other times, you couldn’t help feel sympathy for the way he was maligned by just about everyone.  I liked, what I have decided to call vignettes, that propel each person’s story forward to a point where they all connect in those final eighteen minutes.

But I am not sure I liked it when I arrived at that all important moment in the book where the mystery was solved, I thought, WHAT? Really?

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They Left Us Everything

they left us everything cover

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

by Plum Johnson

First publication: Penguin Canada 2014

award

2015 RBC TAYLOR PRIZE
Excellence in the field of literary non-fiction.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons | July 26 2016
Hardback: 288 pages
ISBN: US edition 978-0399184093
Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir

★★★★☆

ARC: E-book from First-To Read in exchange for an unbiased review.

Garden gate porch

Photo courtesy of Plum Johnson

Point O’ View

Nineteen years, one month, and twenty-six days of eldercare have brought me to my knees.

This award winning Canadian memoir of the death of aging parents will be available in the US in July of 2016. If this topic scares you, don’t go away! Her family will amaze you with its rich history! If you or anyone in your family has become a caregiver, you will find that you are not alone in your feelings.  Johnson has handled this story with grace and dignity.

Plum Johnson’s Toronto message machine blasts her cantankerous 92 year-old Mum’s voice. “Promise you’ll drive out first thing tomorrow! Damn this machine call me!”

For “First Daughter” Plum Johnson the death of her 92 year old mother marks the end of a tumultuous and emotionally painful 20 years as caregiver that has left her painfully stranded between who she was before, who she has become and what she will be next. As she opens the garden gate and leads us inside the family home, she shares the emotional turmoil in the intimate corners of herself. The physical tour of the house and its belongings taken in step with the inventory of her feelings and self reflection will stir up sadness, joy, amazement, anger and love.

The wartime marriage of a British Naval officer and an American Red Cross Director endured and left a legacy of treasures measured in 5 children, memories and 23 rooms filled with mementos, artifacts and yes, junk. After their deaths, the children discover incredible personal mysteries hidden in the home and answers to questions they wish they knew to ask while they are alive.

Divorced, self-employed and an empty nester, Plum was the obvious choice to serve as caregiver to her parents.  For 13 long years she cared for her father as she watched his retreat from life into Alzheimer’s deep fog. Three years after his death, Plum is still in life limbo caring for her mother. But her mother’s ever growing cantankerous disposition and demanding nature have eroded any remaining compassion or patience. All encounters become jousting matches that leave no winners.

Friends of mine who lost their mother’s early kept telling me, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are… I’d  give anything to have my mother back for just one minute.’All I wanted was my freedom. I looked into the future and thought, will I ever get my life back?’

Grief has no expiration date.  It has no parameters. It can’t be exchanged or coerced.  This heartfelt story of one person’s experience expressed honestly and candidly.  In the end, she and her siblings learn one of life’s greatest lessons.  Parents are people with their own dreams, ambitions, faults, and tragedies. When we stop seeing Mom as mother and we stop seeing ourselves as a wronged child, it is possible to love Plum as Plum and Anne as Anne. And with that knowledge a person regains compassion, understanding and the freedom to move on….

Reviewers  note:

There are references to other non-fiction books about members of this family. I encourage others to read the gripping tale of her father’s escape from a Japanese POW camp. I was, at first, very angry at her father’s harsh disciplinary style but as I learned more about him personally I came to see that he was doing his best with what he knew from his own experience. It doesn’t excuse his actions but shows that he is at heart a deeply loving father.

Plum Johnson’s childhood is far from average and goes to show that you can not make assumptions about another’s life. As stated above, Grief knows no bounds and we are all more than one dimensional beings.

I want to thank the author for permission to use her personal photo in my review.  I also want to thank her for reminding me of things in my life that I discovered when we cleaned out the closets and basement of my family home.

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The Never-Open Desert Diner

Never-Open-Desert Diner3

The Never-Open Desert Diner

by James Anderson

(originally published by Caravel Books in 2015)

Crown | March 2016
Paperback: 304 pages (978–1-101-90652-1)
Genre: Fiction/Utah/

ARC: Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★☆

desert road polaroidThe highway ahead lolled in sunlight.

rte 117It was mine and it made me happy. It didn’t bother me that it was mine because no one else wanted it.

Ben Jones
Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service

This gem has been sitting on my to-read shelf and from the minute I opened the cover and read the first few pages I couldn’t stop reading.

Ben Jones, a 38-year old independent truck driver, is our narrator and he begins his story on the road from the cab of his sixteen wheeler. Ben’s delivery route is on Hwy 117, a remote 100 mile stretch of high desert that dead-ends against a mesa just outside of an old coal mining town. Like the road itself, the inhabitants of Hwy 117 have dead-ended there by choice burrowing into a solitary existence with no desire for interference or contact with the outside world. Like a high-stakes poker game they keep the reasons they are there to themselves and repel interference from the barrel end of a gun.

I knew everyone of them, though the sum total of every word ever exchanged between us might not equal what could be squeezed on the back of a drugstore postcard…Conversation in the high desert was parceled out like water and often with less enthusiasm, each drop cherished for the life it represented.

There’s the side characters that make you smile at there comments and cringe at their lives.  Meet John the Preach and owner of the True Value and the First Church of the Desert Cross. Spring through fall, John walks up and down Hwy 117 carrying a heavy 10 foot tall wooden cross. There’s the Lacey brothers, Fergus and Duncan, living in two sand-scoured red railroad boxcars mysteriously set in the desert sand. There’s the pregnant homeless teenage waitress, Ginny, determined to dig herself out of an undeserved tragic life.

Ben’s life is no less isolated than the misfits, lonely cattle ranchers and hermits on Hwy 117; the only difference is his life is on wheels and the others hide in the sagebrush and gullies. Abandoned on an Indian Reservation wrapped in an old red Indian blanket, shuffled through foster homes until finally adopted by an elderly couple. The search for his birth parents ended on the porch of the health clinic when a former nurses aide remembered seeing a young Jewish social worker from a local mental health facility there the morning he was found.  Being a Jewish Indian lent to a lonely and bullied life growing up. A brief rough patch with alcohol and violence led him to the desert to escape further digression into a wasted life.

Finding his calling on Hwy 117 as friend and trucker made him happier than any other time in his life. Sadly, his life on the road is threatened as so many of his customers owe him money that he now faces the loss of his truck through bankruptcy. As he stresses over his money woes, Ben’s personal life changes overnight with a discovery and an unexpected chance at true love.

We ride shotgun with Ben and our first stop is a delivery behind the Oasis Diner, long closed and now known to locals as the Never-Open Desert Diner. Young Walt and Bernice Butterfield ran a very successful diner right up until the day Walt was away and Bernice was assaulted by four men. Bernice never recovered from the assault and spent her days sitting at the same table in the corner staring into the distance at her lost future.  After Bernice died Walt closed the diner to the public but keeps it alive inside and out- spit polished and shiny. Walt, now 79 years-old is still strong and sturdy. Known for his take-no-prisoners attitude, violent temper and his sledge hammer fists solution to perceived slights now spends his days in a Quonset hut with his vast motorcycle collection. Walt figures prominently in Ben’s story.

Stopping to relieve himself along the highway, Ben discovers an old road he has never spotted before. Seeking privacy he wanders down the road to discover one abandoned house in a maze of lots and roads from an undeveloped housing project. He wanders over and relieves himself on the house as he peers curiously into a window. A woman’s face is peering out at him startling him.  He makes a hasty retreat.

Unable to forget her face, Ben chances a second visit to the abandoned house to find the woman and apologize for watering her wall. Peering in a window to see if she is still there, Ben spots a naked Claire Tichnor playing a stringless and bowless cello with intense concentration. This time he is greeted on the porch by a gun barrel and snarl. Over time these two form a complicated love relationship. Clair is hiding from her husband and harbors a dark secret.

Mysterious encounters with strangers befall Ben that ultimately involve Clair and Walt Butterfield and lead Ben into potential legal trouble with the local police. And along the way, Ben takes his sixteen wheeler into areas of rough desert that no truck has gone before.

My thoughts
I was surprised to learn the book was highly praised in major review sources such as the Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Review when it first appeared in 2015 but received tepid marketing by the original publisher.  Crown Publishing has given it a second chance at success in 2016 .

Some book reviews from sources such as Goodreads.com have disliked the stark style of writing reminiscent of Robert Parker’s character Spenser. Personally I loved it. It felt true to the desert setting. In a land of dry sand and blistering heat you wouldn’t want to waste your breath trying to explain yourself.

The prose was so well done that I felt I could taste the blowing sand and feel the scorching sun blinding me.  The heavy rains and flooding arroyos reminded me vividly of my flooded home in west Texas years ago.

In conclusion, I would recommend the book highly.  I’ll leave you with part of the author’s dedication.  If you like the following authors grab a copy of this book for your next vacation or business trip.

Dedicated in memoriam to the following authors for creating characters who became some of the best friends I’ve ever had, real or imaginary:

John D. MacDonald for Travis McGee
Robert B. Parker for Spenser
Stephen J. Cannell for James Rockford.

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