Inside the O'Briens/The Closer I Get/Their Eyes Were Watching God/The Count of Monte Cristo/My Cousin Rachael

Inside The O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova's books give the reader an up close and personal look a number of debilitating diseases: Alzheimers in Still Alice, Autism in Love Anthony, a syndrome called Left Neglect in Left Neglected, and ALS in Every Note Played. This one shows us what it's like to live with Huntington's Disease. 

Officer Joe O'Brien is a soft-hearted cop with a gruff exterior. He has a good marriage and a loving family; life is pretty good. Then the diagnosis comes and he has no idea how to process it or plan for the terrible changes it will bring. Even worse, he has to tell his kids there's a fifty percent chance they would have inherited it from him.

Genova has said that she writes these stories to raise awareness of the diseases and raise money for the cause. That's where these books really shine. In this one, and all of them, we walk through the various stages of the disease with the patient. We see the frustrations, the anger, the confusion and the pain as Joe loses the ability to do his job and look after himself. Seeing his humiliation as he becomes totally dependent on others helps us to understand the devastation this disease brings to people's lives. 

My favourites are Still Alice and Left Neglected, but I've learned a lot even from the books I didn't enjoy as much. And that's why I'll keep reading them.  

The Closer I Get by Paul Burston
This is a disturbing, but gripping story about an author trying to finish his novel while being stalked by an online fan. Evie is obsessed with Tom, but she's not the only one with psychological problems. He gets a restraining order against her but finds he can't let it go at that. He has to find out what she's up to, so he follows her activity online and is drawn into a downward spiral of suspicion and paranoia. The chapters alternate between his narrative and hers, and as the tension builds you begin to question who the real criminal is. It's a relevant story in this day of online relationships, and all the creepier for that. A real page-turner.   

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston  
Excellent. Well written, fascinating characters and lots to ponder. Most of it is written in the dialect of the deep south and I found that slow going in the beginning, but got better at it as I went along. 

Janie, the main character,  is strong and intelligent, and longs to be independent; a goal not easily achieved by a black woman in the 1930's deep south. We follow her through three turbulent marriages and the very different lifestyles they offer her, until she finally finds peace. She has depth and a poetic way of expressing herself that  I found beautiful, and yet she's also down to earth and practical. A memorable character and a very good story. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Fourteen hundred and fifty-four pages was a bit daunting but I muddled through. It's the unhappy tale of a man wrongly imprisoned who escapes to seek revenge on those responsible for his misery. It's creative and well thought out, a puzzle  that all fits together surprisingly well in the end. But the end is a long time coming. There are many characters and each one's story is told and told  and told... I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but there did seem to be more of it than necessary. I watched a movie adaptation made a few years ago that I thought was excellent, so was surprised when I didn't particularly like the Count in the book. He was brilliant, and good to those who were good to him, but passionate about avenging himself and destroying the lives of the people who had wronged him. The time, money, and energy he spent on that goal consumed him. It became his whole life. I'll have to watch the movie again to see why the Count was more likable in that...maybe because the role was played by Jim Caviezel and, as I see it, he can do no wrong. 

My Cousin Rachael by Daphne DuMaurier 

Phillip Ashley is orphaned at a young age and raised by his cousin Ambrose, a man he loves and admires deeply. They are both happily settled  in their all-male household until Ambrose goes to Europe on vacation and subsequently writes home to tell Phillip he has married a woman called Rachael. Soon Ambrose becomes ill and writes Phillip that he suspects Rachael of having a hand in his illness and fears she will eventually kill him. After Ambrose dies, Phillip meets Rachael, and drawn in by her beauty and charm, falls hard. It's a love story and a mystery, a change from the usual in that the woman has all the power in this one. In the end you will have to decide for yourself if Rachael is guilty or innocent. A good gothic mystery.